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“These inconveniences can be remedied best by the establishment of common schools, under the direction and patronage of the state. In these schools should be taught, at least, those branches of education which are indispensably necessary to every person in his intercourse with the world, and to the performance of his duty as a useful citizen. Reading, writing, arithmetic, and the principles of morality, are essential to every person, however humble his situation in life. Without the first, it is impossible to receive those lessons of morality, which are inculcated in the writings of the learned and pious ; nor is it possible to become acquainted with our political constitutions and laws; nor to decide those great political questions, which ultimately are referred to the intelligence of the people. Writing and arithmetic are indispensable in the management of one's private affairs, and to facilitate one's commerce with the world. Morality and religion are the foundation of all that is truly great and good, and are consequently of primary importance. A person provided with these acquisitions, is enabled to pass through the world respectably and successfully; If, however, it be his intention to become acquainted with the higher branches of science, the academies and universities established in different parts of the state are open to him. In this manner, education in all its stages is offered to the citizens generally.
“In devising a plan for the organization and establishment of common schools, the commissioners have proceeded with great care and deliberation. To frame a system which must directly affect every citizen in the state, and so to regulate it, as that it shall obviate individual and local discontent, and yet be generally beneficial, is a task, at once perplexing and arduous. To avoid the imputation of local partiality, and to devise a plan, operating with equal mildness and advantage, has been the object of the commissioners. To effect this end, they have consulted the experience, of others, and resorted to every probable source of intelligence. From neighboring states, where common school systems are established by law, they have derived much important information. This information is doubly valuable, as it is the result of long and actual experience. The commissioners by closely examining the rise and progress of those systems, have been able to obviate many imperfections otherwise inseparable from the novelty of the establishment, and to discover the means by which they have gradually risen to their present condition.
“ The outlines of the plan suggested by the Commissioners are briefly these : that the several towns in the State be divided into school districts, by three commissioners, elected by the citizens qualified to vote for town officers : that three trustees be elected in each district, to whom shall be confided the care and superintendence of the school to be established therein : that the interest of the school fund be divided among the different counties and towns, according to their respective population, as ascertained by the successive census of the United States: that the proportions received by the respective towns be subdivided among the districts into which such towns shall be divided, according to the number of children in each, between the ages of five and fifteen years : that each town raise by tax annually, as much money as it shall have received from the school fund : that the gross amount of moneys received from the State and raised by the towns, be appropriated exclusively to the payment of the wages of the teachers : and that the whole system be placed under the superintendence of an officer appointed by the Council of Appointment.
“Let us suppose that the school fund were arrived at that point where by law it is to be divided. There will then be $50,000 of the public money to be distributed among the schools ; and as by the contemplated plan a sum is to be raised annually by tax, equal to the interest of the school fund, the gross amount of moneys which the schools will receive will be $100,000. There are in this State forty-five counties, comprising, exclusively of the cities, four hundred and forty-nine towns. It will be very evident, therefore, that the proportion of each town must be necessarily small. As, however, the school districts are authorized to raise by tax a sum sufficient to purchase a lot, on which the school
house is to be built, to build the school house and keep the same in repair, and as the school moneys are devoted exclusively to the payment of the teachers' wages, the sum, however small, which each district will be entitled to, will be from these considerations so much the more efficacious. It will, however, be evident to the Legislature, that the funds appropriated from the State for the support of the common school system, will, alone, be very inadequate. And the commissioners are of opinion that the fund, in any stage of it, even when the residue of the unsold lands shall be converted into money, bearing an interest, never will be, alone, adequate to the maintenance of common schools ; as the increase of the population will probably be in as great if not a greater ratio than that of the fund. But it is hardly to be imagined that the Legislature intended that the State should support the whole expense of so great an establishment. The object of the Legislature, as understood by the commissioners, was to rouse the public attention to the important subject of education, and by adopting a system of common schools, in the expense of which the State would largely participate, to bring instruction within the reach and' means of the humblest citizen. And the commissioners have kept in view the furtherance of this object of the Legislature; for by requiring each district to raise by tax a sum sufficient to build and repair a school house, and by allotting the school moneys solely to the payment of the teachers' wages, they have in a measure supplied two of the most important sources of expense. Thus every inducement will be held out to the instruction of youth.”
“ The Legislature will perceive in the system contained in the bills submitted to their consideration, that the commissioners are deeply impressed with the importance of admitting, under the contemplated plan, such teachers only as are duly qualified. The respectability of every school must necessarily depend on the character of the master. To entitle a teacher to assume the control of a school, he should be endowed with the requisite literary qualifications, not only, but with an unimpeachable character. He should also, be a man of patient and mild temperament. A preceptor,' says Rousseau, 'is invested with the rights, and takes upon himself the obligations of both father and mother. And Quintillion tells us, that to the requisite literary and moral endowments, he must add the benevolent disposition of a parent.
“When we consider the tender age at which children are sent to school; the length of the time they pass under the direction af the teachers; when we consider that their little minds are to be diverted from their natural propensities to the artificial acquisition of knowledge; that they are to be prepared for the reception of great moral and religious truths to be inspired with a love of virtue and a detestation of vice; we shall forcibly perceive the absolute necessity of suitable qualifications on the part of the master. As an impediment to bad men getting into the schools, as teachers, it is made the duty of the town inspectors strictly to inquire into the moral and literary qualifications of those who may be candidates for the place of teacher. And it is hoped that this precaution, aided by that desire which generally prevails, of employing good men only, will render it unnecessary to resort to any other measure.
"The commissioners, at the same time that they feel impressed with the importance of employing teachers of the character above described, cannot refrain from expressing their solicitude, as to the introduction of proper books into the contemplated schools. This is a subject so intimately connected with a good education, that it merits the serious consideration of all who are concerned in the establishment and management of schools. Much good is to be derived from a judicious selection of books, calculated to enlighten the understanding, not only, but to improve the heart. And as it is of incalculable consequence to guard the young and tender mind from receiving fallacious impressions, the commissioners cannot omit mentioning this subject as a part of the weighty trust reposed in them. Connected with the introduction of suitable books, the commissioners take the liberty of suggesting that some observations and advice touching the reading of the Bible in the schools might be salutary, In order to render the sacred volume productive of the greatest advantage, it
should be held in a very different light from that of a common school book. It should be regarded as a book intended for literary improvement, not merely, but as inculcating great and indispensable moral truths, also. With these impressions, the commissioners are induced to recommend the practice introduoed into the New York Free School, of having select chapters read at the opening of the school in the morning, and the like at the close in the afternoon. This is deemed the best mode of preserving the religious regard which is due to the sacred writings.
“The commissioners cannot conclude this report without expressing once more their deep sense of the momentous subject committed to them. If we regard it as connected with the cause of religion and morality merely, its aspect is awfully solemn. But the other views of it already alluded to, is sufficient to excite the keenest solicitude in the legislative body. It is a subject, let it be repeated, intimately connected with the permanent prosperity of our political institutions. The American empire is founded on the virtue and intelligence of the people. But it were irrational to conceive that any form of government can long exist without virtue in the people. Where the largest portion of a nation is vicious, the government must cease to exist as it loses its functions. The laws cannot be executed where every man has a personal interest in screening and protecting the profligate and abandoned. When these are unrestrained by the wholesome coercion of authority, they give way to every species of excess and crime. One enormity brings on another, until the whole commuuity, becoming corrupt, bursts forth into some mighty change or sinks at once into annihilation. 'Can it be said Washington, that Providence has not connected the permanent felicity of a nation with its virtue.' The experiment, at least, is recommended by every sentiment which ennobles human nature.
“And the commissioners cannot but hope that that Being who rules the universe in justice and in mercy, who rewards virtue and punishes vice, will most graciously deign to smile benignly on the humble efforts of a people, in à cause purely his own, and that he will manifest this pleasure in the lasting prosperity of our country.”
We cannot deem any apology necessary for the space occupied by these extracts from this admirable report: shadowing forth as it does, the great features of that system of public instruction subsequently adopted, and successfully carried into execution; and laying down in language at once eloquent and impressive, those fundamental principles upon which alone any system of popular education, in a republic like ours, must be based. The leading features of the system proposed by the commissioners, were adopted and passed into a law by the Legislature, during the session of 1812, with the exception of leaving it discretionary with the electors of the several towns, after the first distribution of public money, to receive their share and to raise an equal amount by tax, or to dispense alike with the burthen and the benefits of the legal provisions, by vote at their annual town meetings.
Administration of Gideon HAWLEY, Superintendent of Common Schools 1813 to 1821.
On the organization of the system, GIDEON HAWLEY, Esq., then of the county of Saratoga, was appointed by the Council of Appointment, Superintendent of Common Schools.
On the fourth day of February, 1814, the first annual report of Mr. Hawley, as Superintendant of Common Schools, was transmitted to the Legislature; in which he informs that body that, in pursuance of the act for the establishment of common schools, passed on the 19th of June, 1812, he had at the commencement of the preceding year given due notice of an intended distribution of the interest of the school fund, and that by means of such notice, that act had been carried into operation so far as depended on him: that although no official returns bad been received from which an estimate might be formed of the beneficial operation of the act, yet that satisfactory evidence had been obtained, that in many cases its operation had been prevented by the refusalor neglect of towns to comply with its provisions; and that in other cases where such compliance had beer ma le, and the act thereby carried into effect, its operation had been
much embarrassed by difficulties, arising, as was believed, from the imperfection of its provisions; that notwithstanding these obstacles and embarrassments, its influence had already proved very salutary, and that with the aid of legislative amendment, it promised to yield all that encouragement to common schools which it was designed to give. “It was not to be expected,” continues the Superintendent, “ that any system for the establishment of common schools could be devised, which in its first form should be wholly free from imperfections ; and accordingly it has been found that the existing law for the establishment of such a system is, in some respects, defective in its provisions, and obscure and doubt. falin its meaning." The report goes on to suggest such amendments as were deemed requisite in various particulars, not necessary to enumerate here. The operation, however, of that portion of the law which left it optional with the several towns to comply with its conditions and participate in its benefits, or not, as the inhabitants at their annual town meeting might determine, is worthy of special notice. We quote from that portion of the report which examines this feature of the system.
" The fifth section of the act provides that such towns in every county as shall have complied with the law, by directing their Supervisors to levy on them the sum required by the act to entitle ther to their proportion of the public money, shall receive by appointment, from the board of supervisors, the whole dividend of the county, according to their respective population, to the exclusion of such towns as shall not have complied with the law. By a subsequent part of the same section, it is further provided that the sum required to be raised on each town, to entitle it to a share of the public money, must be equal to the sum apportioned to such town by the board of supervisors. By the operation of these several provisions in the act, the case may be that a single town in a county shall be entitled to receive the whole dividend for such county; and although this sum shall be more than sufficient, (as in ordinary cases it will be,) to support all its schools, it must nevertheless be subjected by tax to the payment of an additional sum equal in amount to the sum it is entitled to receive; and this additional sum must, in law, be applied to the support of its schools, which may have had (and in ordinary cases will have had) an excess of support already. Although the case here supposed has not yet occurred, to the knowledge of the Superintendent, there is nevertheless good reason to believe it will occur; satisfactory evidence having been obtained, that in some counties but few towns have complied with the law, or shown any disposition to comply therewith. The mischief herein complained of, may be remedied by providing that the board of supervisors shall not, in any case, raise by tax on any town, a sum exceeding the sum which such town shall be entitled to receive out of the county dividend, if all the towns in the county had complied with the law."
" It will be found by inspection of the act, that one of its principal features is the provision which gives every town an election, either to comply with the act and receive its benefits, and bear its burdens, or to refuse such compliance, and thereby forego its benefits and avoid its burdens. In the exercise of this choice, it has already been observed that many towns have refused to comply with the act, and it is believed they will generally persist in such refusal, and that some other towns which have already complied with the law, will endeavor to retract their compliance. By allowing such an option to every town, the operation of the act depending on the pleasure, and not unfrequently the caprice of a few individuals, will be always partial and fluctuating; it will, moreover, be embarrassed by all the difficulties which are naturally connected with instability of system and intricacy of form. It is therefore submitted whether this provision in the act may not be so amended as to make it obligatory on towns to comply with the act, and also on the board of supervisors of the several counties to levy on their respective towns, a sum equal to the sum which shall be apportioned to such towns out of the public money to be distributed.”
This suggestion was adopted by the legislature, and the act amended in this and various other respects, in conformity to the recommendation of the Superintendent.
On the 11th of February, 1815, Mr. Hawley transmitted to the legislature his second annual report as Superintendent. The returns which had been made to him from the several counties were, however, so few in number, and in general so extremely defective in substance, and inartificial in form, that he did not deem it advisable to communicate them to the legislature, preferring to defer the performance of the duty required of him in this respect until more perfect returns, in accordance with forms and instructions to be prepared by him, should enable him to discharge it more beneficially to the public.
On the first day of April, 1816, the Superintendent transmitted his third annual report, from which it appeared that returns relative to the condition of the schools had been made to him from 338 towns in thirty-six of the forty-six counties then in the State ; that the whole number of districts from which reports had been received by the commissioners, in conformity to law, was 2,631; that the whole number of children between the ages of five and fifteen in said districts was 176,449 ; and that 140,106 had been under instruction during a portion of the year reported, in the common schools. The Superintendent, however, observes :
" The returns not being complete, and many of them being defective in some one or more of their necessary requisites, it is difficult to form any certain estimate from them. Taking, however, the most correct and full returns for a criterion, it would appear that there are within the state about five thousand districts in which common schools are established; that the number of children taught in them is at least two hundred thousand; and that the number of children between the ages of five and fifteen years, residing in those districts, is about two hundred and fifty thousand. The city of Albany and the city and county of New York, not being divided into school districts under the act are not included in this estimate." These being the first statistical returns under the act of 1812, it may not be uninteresting to contrast them with those for the year 1849, after a lapse of thirty-nine years. The whole number of school districts is now eleven thousand four hundred; the number of children between the ages of five and sixteen is about seven hundred and fifty-thousand and not less than eight hundred thousand are under instruction during the whole or a portion of the year in common schools.
But to resume our quotation from Mr. Hawley's report:“The Superintendent has also had the satisfaction to learn from other sources, that the establishment of common schools by law has already produced many great and beneficial results. The number of schools has been increased; many school houses have been built; more able teachers employed, and much of that interest which ought to be felt in behalf of common schools, has been generally excited. The beneficial operation of the act has also been visible in the pecuniary aid which many schools have derived from it. A perpetual annuity of twenty dollars, which is the average sum received by each district, under the act, ought not to be considered a trifle unworthy of any account. It has been very sensibly felt, especially in those districts where, from the inability of the inhabitants, or from any other cause, common schools have not been kept open for the whole year, and when the revenue of the fund shall have attained its full growth, the distributive share of each district will be so much more considerable, that the munificence of the legislature cannot fail to be more gratefully acknowledged.
" But the great benefit of the act does not lie in any pecuniary aid which it may afford. The people of this state are, in general, able to educate their children without the aid of any public gratuity, and if they fail in this respect, it is owing more to their want of proper schools than of sufficient means. The public gratuity is important, as it tends to excite an interest in the affairs of common schools which might not otherwise be felt, and is also beneficial in many other respects. But the great benefit of the act consists in securing the establishment of common schools, wherever they are necessary; in organizing them on a suitable and permanent foundation, and in guarding them against the admission of unqualified teachers. These were the great ends proposed in