« SebelumnyaLanjutkan »
OF MARIETTA, O.
LATE COMMISSIONER OF EDUCATION FOR THE UNITED STATES.
A measure of ignorance, a sign of darkness, an invitation to fraud, a cover to iniquity, illiteracy is hostile to man's welfare, hinders industry and prosperity, obstructs virtue, imperils piety. Every alliance to promote human good may fitly discuss illiteracy as a most serious obstacle. Who shall measure its resistance to man's advancement ? Was ignorance ever hailed as the mother of devotion ? Must not all who go forth bearing the light of the gospel seek to increase knowledge and have the divine word read ? How does illiteracy stand in the way of the consecration of American life to its highest ends ? A full answer must not be attempted.
1. The amount and relations of illiteracy. We are dependent upon the decennial census for data.
Both the reading and writing tests are applied, giving as “intelligent,” a low measure of attainments; besides, considering the inclination to claim ability, when not possessed, some experts would correct the figures by adding thirty-three and one-third per cent. Can we say how much ignorance is meant by illiteracy? Is it a lack of erudition, or only of power to read and write the alphabet ? Could we determine the exact relation of intelligence to virtue, our task would be greatly relieved ; but no one would assume to draw an unvarying line around either ignorance or intelligence, nor will we attempt to measure out the exact size or significance of illiteracy. We may consider all illiterate who cannot read or write. What a world of thought and fact, human or divine, must remain unknown to them! Commit to them the progress of mankind, with all its present attainments, and how soon our boasted arts would be buried in the barren wastes of barbarism! If knowledge is power, ignorance is weakness, and in the presence of perverted intelligence becomes a temptation, adding greatly to its power for evil. Do we not count the mere presence of knowledge as a safeguard ? Make the ignorant know, and how soon they begin to protect themselves! How are vices and crimes reduced by lighting the streets of our cities by night! Our theories of the action of the will may allow it to choose wrong in the sense of right. The advance of civilization may carry with it possible evils, that must be prevented by the greater effectiveness of virtue. We need not here enter upon this relation of ignorance to evil, or attempt to explain exceptions. We believe that the life of Him whose name describes our civilization is the light of men, and that it is ours to labor to hasten the day when it shall lighten every man who cometh into the world. We believe that thus come our purer social life, our advance in the sciences and arts, with our larger liberties, our free institutions, our government, resting on the intelligent will of the majority manifested in the form of beneficent laws.
First. Consider our adult male illiterates or ignorant voters. Our total voting population numbers 12,830,349, of whom 11,343,005 are whites, and 1,487,344 are colored. Of the whites 886,659, or 7-8 per cent, are illiterate, and of the colored race 1,022,151, or 68.7 per cent, are illiterate. We cannot pause -sufficiently to consider the depth of meaning in these figures. Of every one hundred white male adults, eight, and of every one hundred colored male adults, sixty-nine voters, or jurymen, or witnesses, or soldiers, are illiterates. Did the Fathers build this fair fabric of freedom in the belief that it could stand the shocks and storms of years on a foundation with so large a fraction of ignorance? How far could this per cent be increased, and the day of ruin put off which has been predicted by the foes of our government? These ignorant men have a right to seek and accept office. What eight per cent of offices would you assign to these whites, what sixty-nine per cent to these blacks? The figures do not allow native whites to escape from the responsibility of this ignorance by charging it to foreigners or blacks. No section is free from its perils. Bring these masses face to face with the majorities in our elections, and mark how many their united strength would determine !
The members of our respective political parties believe in the rightness of their principles, and seek to make their appeal to reason and conscience ; but the figures declare the alarming fact that in eleven states these illiterate voters outnumbered the votes cast by either of the political parties in the presidential election occurring near the taking of the census. Thus, should these multitudes unite under any strong, impassioned leader, they could take control of legislation in these eleven states, and elect twenty-two members of the United States Senate, and a corresponding number of the national House of Representatives. May I not be excused from attempting to delineate the possible influence of this adult male illiteracy, upon bossism, bribery and other forms of political corruption ? Should these 1,908,810 ignorant voters be set apart in states by themselves, they would equal all those entitled to vote in all the New England states, together with all those in the states of Alabama, Mississippi, Florida and Oregon. Should these concentrations be made, what chance would there be for liberty regulated by law among them? How long could these states be guaranteed a republican form of government? Who could tell the disastrous influence upon our public affairs, our own peace and our prosperity ? Moreover, it should not be forgotten that the vastness of our country, its varied climate and natural resources, and the complex elements of its population and civilization, must increase the difficulty of solving the questions to be decided by majorities, and thus demand a more extended intelligence on the part of a larger number of citizens, if these questions are to be peaceably determined for a long period in the future. Something more than the eternal vigilance of illiteracy is required as the price of our liberties. How long would an ignorant body of voters guard the nice balances which preserve the harmony of our social, civil and religious forces—each in its own orbit, all moving toward the perfection of human government ? Did not our liberties rest on the will of the people, did they depend on the decree of czar, or the action of an aristocracy or an oligarchy, there might, according to some notions, seem to be an excuse for indifference; and yet even imperialists are admonished, by Sadowa and Sedan, that the terrible arbitrament of arms finds victory in intelligence and defeat in illiteracy.
Secondly. The economic relations of illiteracy.
This Alliance believes in this world as well as the next. Christianity gives promise of this life and of that to come. It enforces the value of time, urges the duty of honest industry, emphasizes the improvement of means, holds a man responsible for his posses, sions, reveals the laws according to which wealth will conduce
neither to effeminacy nor corruption nor oppression, and according to which labor will neither be defrauded nor suffer want. When fortune drops wealth into the hands of the ignorant, who expects from it any of its higher uses? In all questions between capital and labor, ignorance is liable to become a hindrance to justice by preventing the prevalence of clear and large views, and by bringing into play passion and violence instead of reason and moderation. Every man's wealth has its beginning somewhere in the hand of toil. Labor and capital are alike dependent upon its efficiency. Shall we enumerate the embarrassments to the productiveness of labor and capital by the illiteracy of the laborer ? Untaught: first, he is not observant; second, he is not so thoughtful or reflective; third, he cannot so surely see errors or correct them; fourth, he cannot improve processes, or implements, or machinery so readily; fifth, he is more clumsy, and suffers the disadvantage of having to use heavier and ruder implements; sixth, he is more liable to destroy and waste; seventh, he works by rule of thumb, and cannot so well follow those of science; eighth, he requires more supervision; ninth, he is less able to understand the complications of labor, and less capable of acting wisely for the interest of himself and associates, and less likely to use methods of reason, and more likely to be trapped into hasty and useless schemes by the designing; tenth, he is more likely to become a pauper or a criminal. It would be interesting to ascertain how much this ignorance among laborers has to do with their non-attendance upon churches, Sabbath-schools, and other means of religious improvement, and the absence of their children from public schools.
Thirdly. The great mass of illiterates, ten years old and over, in relations other than political and economic.
We take these figures as they are, without considering those under ten who will never receive further instruction, or those over ten who may yet have the benefit of schools. The total population, ten years old and over, was 36,761,607, of whom 6,239,958, or seventeen per cent, were illiterate. There were 32,160,800 whites, of whom 3,019,080, or 9.4 per cent, were illiterate; the colored numbered 4,601,207, of whom 3,220,878, or 70.1 per cent, were illiterate. Notice how nearly equal are the white and colored, each numbering over 3,019,080, the colored exceeding the white only by about 200,000. How shall we measure the tremendous fact that there are more than 6,000,000, who can have no communication with their fellow-men by writing, and who are shut out from so many of the influences which elevate the intelligent. Fortunately, they are so intermingled with them, and are surrounded by so many influences which speak to the senses and the untaught reason—fortunately the personal activities required in the exercise of American liberties are such that they are subject to a measure of education, and are often carried forward to good results in spite of their illiteracy. Yet, substantially, in vain for these millions do we establish libraries, print and circulate Bibles, tracts, books, magazines, newspapers. Send them the colporteur, or Sabbath-school teacher, or the preacher, and he can accomplish little, save as he gives oral lessons or teaches letters. Our Sabbathwork is mainly among the intelligent.
The number of illiterate brought under any form of Sabbath instruction is small compared with the great mass. How shall we measure the significance of their illiteracy to the family, society and the church, to the progress of truth, liberty, virtue and piety ? Suppose these illiterates should be put by themselves in a territory the size of New York; they would equal its entire population and have remaining 1,157,087, or more than the entire population of New Jersey. When these regions were thus peopled they would become missionary ground; and should there appear among them the advocates of the Bible and their opponents, and the advocates. of the supremacy of the church over the state, the defenders of a free conscience, the Mormon and anti-Mormon, the destroyer of the Sabbath and its defenders, the friend of purity and the advocate of impurity, the defender of the family and its destroyer, the teacher of the common school and his opponent, the preacher of temperance and the rum-seller, the friend of law and order, and the socialist, communist and anarchist—would not this Alliance, nay the whole world, contemplate the contest with the profoundest interest ? Would not every bad cause consider the prevailing ignorance ground for its success, and every good cause see in it the disadvantage to itself, and unite with every other good cause to eradicate the universal illiteracy?
Again, suppose all these illiterates are put in families by themselves—indeed they are very much so now, and on this account the family is less available for their elevation-the number of persons in our families ten years old and over would hardly average four to the family. If this average should pre