Зображення сторінки

the students of ove branch suffer from those of another, which must retard the progress of the whole school. It is a much more eligible plan to appropriate an apartment to each branch of education, with a teacher who makes that branch his sole employment. * * * Indeed what is now called a liberal education disqualities a man for business. Habits are formed in youth and by practice; and as business is in some measure mechanical, every person should be exercised in his employment in an early period of life, that his habits may be formed by the time his apprenticeship expires. An education in a university interferes with the forming of these habits, and perhaps forms opposite habits; the mind may contract a fondness for ease, for pleasure, or for books, which no efforts can overcome. An academic education, which should furnish the youth with some ideas of men and things, and leave time for an apprenticeship before the age of twenty-one years, would be the most eligible for young men who are designed for active employments.

But the principal defect in our plan of education in America is the want of good teachers in the academies and common schools. By good teachers I mean men of unblemished reputation, and possessed of abilities competent to their station. That a man should be master of what he undertakes to teach is a point that will not be disputed; and yet it is certain that abilities are often dispensed with, either through inattention or fear of expense. To those who employ ignorant men to instruct their children, let me say, it is better for youth to have no education than to have a bad one; for it is more difficult to eradicate habits than to impress new ideas. The tender shrub is easily bent to any figure; but the tree which has acquired its full growth resists all impressions. Yet abilities are not the sole requisites. The instructors of youth ought, of all men, to bo the most prudent, accomplished, agreeable, and respectable. What avail a man's parts, if, while he is "the wisest and brightest," he is the “meanest of mankind ?" The pernicious effects of bad example on the minds of youth will probably be acknowledged; but, with a view to improvement, it is indispensably necessary that the teachers should possess good breeding and agreeable manners. In order to give full effect to instructions it is requisite that they should proceed from a man who is loved and respected. But a low-bred clown or morosc tyrant can command neither love nor respect; and that pupil who has no motive for application to books but the fear of the rod, will not make a scholar. LETTER FROM REV. HEMAN HUMPHREY, D. D.

PITTSFIELD, December 12th, 1860. Hon. HENRY BARNARD: Dear Sir-I am glad to hear from you, still engaged in the educational cause, and that you are intending to "give a picturesque survey of the progress of our common schools, their equipment, studies, and character.” If my early recollections and experience will give you any little aid, I shall esteem myself happy in affording it.

The first school I remember was kept a few weeks by a maiden lady, called Miss Faithy, in a barn. I was very young, as were most of the children. What I learned then, if any thing, I have forgotten. This was in the summer, of course. The next was a school, so called, kept a month or two by a neighbor of ours, who was the best trout fisher, with his horse-bair line, in all those parte. He wrote a fair hand, as I remember, on birch bark. What he taught us, but to say tue and due, has escaped my recollection. We had no school. house then in our district, and we met as much for play as any thing, where we could find shelter. The next winter, another neighbor took us a few weeks into one of the rooms of his own house, where every thing but learning was going on. His speech bewrayed him of Rhode Island origin, and whatever he knew, he certainly could never have had much if any chance of being whipped in school when he was a boy. I remember his tremendous stamp when we got noisy in si hool-time, and that is all. This, however, is not a fair sample of school accommodations in my boyhood; and I had a better chance for two or three winters afterward.

School-houses. Most of the other districts in the town had school-houses, but not all. The tirst winter that I kept school myself, was in a room next to the kitchen in a small private house. Some of the school-houses were better than others; but none of them in that or the adjoining towns were convenient or even comfortable. They were rather juvenile penitentiaries, than attractive accommodations for study. They were too small, and low from the ceiling to the floor, and the calculation of the builders seemed to have been, to decide into how small a space the children could be crowded, from the fireplace till the room was well packed. Not unfrequently sixty or seventy scholars were daily shut up six hours, where there was hardly room for thirty. The school-houses were square, with a very narrow entry, and a large fireplace on the side near the door. There were no stoves then. They were generally roughly clapboarded, but never painted. They had writing-desks, or rather, long boards for writing, on two or three sides, next to the wall. The benches were all loose; some of them boards, with slabs from the saw-mill, standing on four legs, two at each end. Some were a little lower than the rest, but many of the smaller children had to sit all day with their legs dangling between the bench and the floor. Poor little tl ings! nodding and trying to keep their balance on the slabs, without any backs to lean against, how I pity them to this day. In the coldest weather, it

was hard to tell which was the most difficult, to keep from roasting or freezing. . For those nearest to the fire it was sweltering hot, while the ink was freezing in the pens on the back side of the room. “Master, I am too hot"-"Master, may I go to the fire ?" That was the style of address in those days, and we did our best to be masters, anylion,

All the school-houses that I remember stood close by the traveled road, without any play-grounds or inclosures whatever. If there were any shade trees planted, or left of spontaneous growth, I have forgotten them. And in most cases, there were no outside accommodations, even the most necessary for a moment's occasion. I now marvel at it, but so it was. In that respect, certainly, the days of the children are better than the days of their fathers were.

For the most part, the winter schools were miserably supplied with wood. I kept school myself in three towns, and in but one of the schools was there any wood-shed whatever; and no wood was got up and seasoned in summer against winter. Most of what we used was standing in the forests when the school Tegan, and was cut and brought sled length by the farmers in proportion to the number of scholars which they sent. Not exactly that, either; for sometimes, when we went to the school-house in a cold morning, there was no wood there. Somebody bad neglected to bring his load, and we were obliged to adjourn over to the next day. In many cases, the understanding was, that the larger boys must cut the wood as it was wanted. It always lay in the snow, and sometimes the boys were sent to dig it out in school-time, and bring it in, all wet and green as it was, to keep us from freezing. That was the fuel to make fires with in the morning, when the thermometer was below zero, and how the little children cried with the cold, when they came almost frozen, and found no fire burning; nothing but one or two boys blowing and keeping themselves warm as well as they could, by exercise, in trying to kindle it. Such were our schoolhouses and their disaccommodations.

Branches Taught. They were reading, spelling, and writing, besides the A B C's to children scarcely four years old, who ought to have been at home with their mothers. They were called up twice a day by the master pointing with his penknife, “What's that?" "A." "What's that ?” “D.” “No, it's B.” “What's that ?" "N." "No, you careless boy, it's C;" and so down to ezand. "Go to your seat; you will never learn your lesson in the world, at this rate." Our schoolbooks were the Bible, "Webster's Spelling Book," and “Third Part," mainly. One or two others were found in some schools for the reading classes. Grammar was hardly taught at all in any of them, and that little was confined almost entirely to committing and reciting the rules. Parsing was one of the occult sciences in my day. We had some few lessons in geography, by questions and answers, but no maps, no globes; and as for blackboards, such a thing was never thought of till long after. Children's reading and picture-books, we had none; the fables in Webster's Spelling Book came nearest to it. Arithmetic was hardly taught at all in the day schools. As a substitute, there were some evening schools in most of the districts. Spelling was one of the leading daily exercises in all the classes, and it was better, a good deal, I think, than it is now.

The winter schools were commonly kept about three months; in some favored districts four, but rarely as long. As none of what are now called the higher branches were taught beyond the merest elements, parents generally thought that three or four months was enough. There were no winter select schools for the young above the age of sixteen or seventeen, as I remember, till after I retired from the profession, such as it then was. There may have been here and there an academy, in some parts of the State; but not one within the range of my acquaintance.

Spring Exhibitions. At the close of the winter schools we had what we used to call our Quarterdays, when the schools came together in the meeting-house, with a large congregation of parents and friends. The public exercises were reading, spelling, and speaking single pieces and dialogues. Some of the dialogues we wrote ourselves, for our own schools. Most of them were certainly very flat; but they brought down the house, and answered the purpose as well as any wo could pick up. We thought then, as I think now, that those quarter-days were of great advantage to the schools. The anticipation of them kept up an interest all winter, and stimulated both teachers and scholars to do their best in the way of preparation. As the time approached, we had evening schools for roading and rehearsing the dialogues, so as to be gute not to fall behind in the exhibitions. None of our college commencements are now looked forward to with greater interest than were those vernal anniversaries.

Another thing that helped us a good deal was the occasional afternoon visits of the parents and other friends of the schools. They came in by invitation, or whenever they chose, and their visits always did us good.

Still another practice we found to be quite stimulating and useful. We had a mutual understanding that, without giving any notice, any teacher might dismiss his own school for an afternoon, and, taking along with him some of the older boys, call in to see how his brother teacher got along in the next or some other district. The arrangement worked well. We made speeches, compli

mented one another as politely as circumstances would allow, and went home | resolved not to fall behind the best of them.

In the school, we made up our minds to be masters, in fact as well as in name. Though of late years I have not had very good advantages for making the comparison, I believe the schools were quite as well governed sixty years ago as they are now. Among other things which we did to maintain our authority, was to go out now and then and have a snowball skirmish with the boys, and though we commonly got beat, nothing we could do was more effectual.

Corporal punishments, I believe, were sparingly resorted to in most of our schools. Though I myself believed in Solomon fully, I never flogged but ove scholar in my life, though I shook the mischief out of a great many. I think Sam was of the opinion, in the premises, that the rod was laid on rather smartly, for I anderstood he promised, some day, to pay me in kind, which, however, I suppose he never found it quite convenient to undertake.

We schoolmasters within convenient distances used to meet in the winter evenings for mutual improvement, which, to own the truth, we needed a good deal. Our regular exercises were reading for criticisms, reporting how we were getting along, and conversing upon the best method of managing our schools. This was very profitable, as we thought, to us all.

In those ancient times, it was an almost universal custom in the rural towns of Connecticut, for the teachers to board round, and upon the whole I liked it. It was a good school for us. By going into all the families we learned a great deal. We were looked upon as baying more in our heads than we could fairly claim, and they always kept us on the best they had. It is true, the cooking was not always the best, nor sheets always so clean as to guard against infection; and if, perchance, it sometimes broke out, we knew how to cure it.

Our wages were generally screwed down to the lowest notch by the school committees, under the instruction of the districts. For my first campaign I received seven dollars a month and board; for the next, nine; for the third, ten ; and I think I never went above thirteen till quite the last of my teaching before I went to college. As I had some reputation in that line, I suppose I was as well paid as my brethren.

With regard to the summer schools of that period, I have very little to say. They were kept by females upon very low wages, about as much a week as they could earn in families by spinning or weaving. They took good care of the little children, and taught them as well as they could.

As we had no grammar schools in which the languages were taught, we most

of us fitted for college with our ministers, who, though not very fresh from their classics, did what they could to help us.

Finally, you ask me whether there were any schools for young ladies in those old times? There may possibly have been in two or three of the largest towns, but the only one of which I had any knowledge was in Litchfield, kept by Miss Pierce, and I am not quite sure that her school was established as early as your question contemplates.

These, dear sir, are some of my old remembrances, which you may make such use of as you please.

Respectfully yours,



CAMBRIDGE, December 10th, 1860. HENRY BARNARD, Esq.: My Dear Sir-I cheerfully comply with your roquest to give you some account of the schools and the educational books that were in use about the close of the last century. I never had the privilege of attending any liigher institution of learning than the common district schools of Connecticut, in the town of Windham; but I have no doubt that those of that town were a fair type of many others, probably most of them, except such as were kept in the larger towns or thickly populated villages.

According to the best of my remembrance, my school days began in the spring of 1783. The school to which I was admitted was kept by a lady, and, like most of the district schools, was kept only for the younger pupils, and was open for two months during the summer season. The upper class in the school was formed entirely of females, such as could read in the Bible. The lower classes read in spelling books and the New England Primer. The spelling books, of which there were not, probably, more than three or four in the school, I believe were all by Dilworth, and were much worn and defaced, having been a sort of heir-loom in the families of the pupils. The teacher of this school was the daughter of the minister of the parish. She kept a rod hanging on the wall behind ber chair and a ferule on the table by her side; but I do not recollect that she used either of them. The girls who constituted the first class were required, every Monday morning to repeat the text or texts of the preceding day's discourse, stating the book, chapter, and verse whence it was taken. The next summer, 1784, the same lady, or one of her sisters, kept school in the same district. The same books were in use, and there was the same routine of exercises. It was kept on the first floor of the steeple. The lower end of the bell-rope lay in a coil in the center of the floor. The discipline way yo strict, that no one, however mischievously disposed, I believe, ever thought of taking hold of it, though it was something of an incumbrance. I was then four years and a half old, and had learned by heart nearly all the reading keons in the Primer, and much of the Westoninster Catechism, which was taught as the closing exercise every Saturday. But justice to one of the best of mothers requires that I should say that much the greater part of the improvement I had made was acquired from her careful instruction.

In December, 1784, the month in which I was five years old, I attended, for a few days, the school kept by a master--I do not remember his name. When asked up for examination, he asked me if I could read without spelling? I said

« НазадПродовжити »