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The fact undoubtedly is, that the art of teaching, as now understood, beyond the simplest elements, was neither known nor deemed necessary in our country schools in thrir day of small things. Repetition, drilling, line upon line, and precept upon precept, with here and there a little of the birch—constituted the entire system.
Let me here repeat an anecdote, which I have indeed told before, but which I had from the lips of its hero, G . . . H . . ., a clergyman of some note thirty years ago, and which well illustrates this part of my story. At a village school, not many miles from Ridgefleld, he was put into Webster's Grammar. Here he read, "A noun is the name of a tiling—as horse, hair, justice." Now, in his innocence, he read it thus: "A noun is the name of a thing—as horse-liaiir justice."
"What then," said he, ruminating deeply, "is a noun? But first I must find out what a horse-hnir justice is."
Upon this he meditated for some days, but still he was as far as ever from the solution. Now his father was a man of authority in those parts, and moreover he was a justice of the peace. Withal, he was of respectable ancestry, and so there had descended to him a somewhat stately high-backed settee, covered with horsehair. One day, as the youth came from school, pondering upon the great grammatical problem, he entered the front door of the house, and there he saw before him, his father, officiating in his legal capacity, and seated upon the old horse-hair settee. "T have found it I" said the boy to himself, as greatly delighted as was Archimedes when he exclaimed Eureka—"my father is a horsehair justice, and therefore a noun I"
Nevertheless, it must be admitted that the world got on remarkably well in spite of this narrowness of the country schools. The elements of an English education wore pretty well taughfthroughout the village seminaries of Connecticut, and 1 may add, of New Kngland. The teachers were heartily devoted to their profession: they respected their calling, and were respected and encouraged by the community. They had this merit, that while thoy attempted but little, that, at least, was thoroughly performed.
As to the country at large, it was a day of quiet, though earnest action: Franklin's spirit was the great "schoolmaster abroad"—teaching industry, perseverance, frugality, and thrift, as the end and aim of ambition. The education of youth was suited to what was expected of them. With the simple lessons of the country schools, they moved the world immediately around them. Though I can recollect only a single case—that already alludod to of Ezekiel Sanford—in which one of Master Stebbins's scholars attained any degree of literary distinction, still, quite a number of them, with no school learning beyond what he gave them, rose to a certain degree of eminence. His three sons obtained situations in New York as accountants, and became distinguished in their career. At one period there were three graduates of his school, who were cashiers of banks in that city. Hy mind adverts now with great satisfaction to several names among the wealthy, honorable, and still active merchants of the great metropolis, who were my fellow-students of the Up-town school, and who there began and completed their education."
To the advantages, such as they were, of the district school, Mr. Goodrich adds an account of his experience on the farm, and his juvenile sports, as well as his early attempts at whittliny and other mechauical arts aud adds the following reflections:—
Now all these things may seom trifles, yet iu a review uf my life, I deem them of some significance. This homely familiarity with the more mechauical arts was a material part of my education; thin communion with nature gave me instructive ami important lessons from nature's open book of knowlcdgo. My technical education, us will bo seen hereafter, was extremely narrow and irregular. This defect was at last partially supplied by the common-place incidents I have mentioned. The teaching, or rather the training of the senses, in the country—ear and eye, foot and hand, by running, leaping, climbing over hill aud mountaiu, by occasional labor in the garden and on the farm, and by the use of tools—aud all this in youth, is sowing seed which is repaid largely and readily to the hand of after-cultivation, however unskillful it may be.' This is not so much because of the amount of knowledge available iu a(ter-lil<. which is thus obtained—though tills is not to be despised—as it is that healthful, vigorous, manly habits and associations—physical, moral, aud intellectual— are thus established and developed.
It is a riddle to many people that the emigrants from the country into the city, in all ages, outstrip the natives, and become their masters. The reason is obvious: country education and country life are practical, and invigorating to body and mind, and hence those who are thus qualified triumph in the race of life, it has always been, it will always be so; the rustic Goths and Vandals will march in and conquer Romo, in the future, as they havo done in the past,. I say this, by no means insisting that my own life furnishes any very strikiug proof of the truth of my remarks; still, I may say that but for the country training and experience I have alluded to, and which served as a foothold for subsequent progress, I should have lingered in my career far behind the humble advances I have actually made.
Let me illustrate and verify my meaning by specific examples. In my youth I became familiar with every bird common to the country: I knew his call, his Bong, his hue, his food, his habits; in short, his natural history. I could detect him by his flight, as far as the eye could reach. I knew all the quadrupeds— wild as well as tame. I was acquainted with almost every tree, shrub, bush, and flower, indigenous to the country; not botanically, but according to popular ideas. 1 recognized them instantly, wherever I saw them; I knew their forms, hue, leaves, blossoms, and fruit I could tell their characteristics, their uses, the legends aud traditions that belonged to them. All this I learned by familiarity with those objects; meeting with thorn in all my walks and rambles, and taking noto of them with tho emphasis and vigor of early experience aud observation. In after days, I have never had time to make natural history systematic study; yet my knowledge as to theso things has constantly accumulated, and that without special effort. When I have traveled in other countries, the birds, the animals, the vegetation, have interested me as well by their resemblances as their differences, when compared with our own. In looking over the pages of scientific works on natural history, I have alwiiys read with eagerness and intelligence of preparation; indeed, of vivid and pleasing associations. Every idea I had touching these matters was living and sympathetic, and beckoned other ideas to it, and these again originated still others. Thus it is that iu the race of a busy life, by means of a homely, hearty start at tlio beginning, I have, as to these subjects, easily and naturally supplied, in some humble degree, the defects of my irregular education, and that too, not by a process of repulsive toil, but with a relish superior to all the seductions of romance. 1 am therefore a believer in the benefits accruing from simple country life and simple country habits, as here illustrated, and am, therefore, on all occasions anxious to recommend them to my friends and countrymen. To city people, I would say, educate your children, at least partially, in the country, so as to imbue them with the love of nature, and that knowledge and training which spring from simple rustic sports, exercises, and employments. To country people, I would remark, bo not envious of the city, lor in the general balance of good and evil, you have your full portion of the first, with a diminished share of the last
THE HOMESPUN ERA OF COMMON SCHOOLS.
The Rev. Horace Bushncll, D. D., of Hartford, a native of the Parish of New Preston, "composed of the corners of three towns, (Washington, Woodbury, and New Mijford,) and the ragged ends and corners of twice as many mountains and stony-sided hills," in a Discourse pronounced at the Centennial Celebration of Litchfield County in 1851, thus describes the schools of his boyhood.
But the schools—we must not pass by these, if we are to form a truthful and sufficient picture of the homespun days. The schoolmaster did not exactly go round the district to fit out the children's minds with learning, as the shoemaker often did to fit their feet with shoes, or the tailors to measure and cut for their bodies; but, to come as near it as possible, he boarded round, (a custom not yet gone by,) and the wood for the common fire was supplied in a way equally primitive, viz., by a contribution of loads from the several families, according to their several quantities of childhood. The children were all clothed alike iu homespun; and the only signs of aristocracy were, that some were clean and some a degree less so, some in fine white and striped linen, some in brown tow crash; and, in particular, as I remember, with a certain feeling of quality I do not like to express, the good fathers of some testified the opinion they had of their children, by bringing fine round loads of hickory wood to warm them, while some others, 1 regret to say, brought only scanty, scraggy, ill-looking heaps of green oak, white birch, and heaps of green oak, white birch, and hemlock. Indeed, about all the bickerings of quality among the children, centered in the quality of the wood pile. There was no complaint, in those days, of the want of ventilation; for the large open fireplace held a considerable fraction of a cord of wood, and the windows took in just enough air to supply the combustion. Besides, the bigger lads were occasionally ventilated, by being sent out to cut wood enough to keep the fire in action. The seats were made-of the outer slabs from the saw-mill, supported by slant legs driven into and a proper distance through auger holes, and planed smooth on the top by the rather tardy process of friction. But the spelling went on bravely, and we ciphered away again and again, always till we got through Loss and Gain. The more advanced of us, too, made light work of Lindley Murray, and went on to the parsing, finally, of extracts from Shakspcare and Milton, till some of us began to think we had mastered their tough sentences in a more consequential sense of the term than was exactly true. Oh, I remember (about the remotest thing I can rememberi thai low seat, too high, nevertheless, to allow the feet to touch the floor, and that friendly teacher who had the address to start a first fooling of enthusiasm and awaken the first sense of power. He is living still, and whenever I think of him, lie rises up to me in the far background of memory, as bright as if he had worn the seven stars in his hair. (1 said he is living; yes, lie is here to-day, Hod bless him!) How many others of you that are here assembled, recall these little primitive universities of homespun, where your mitnl was born, with a similar feeling of reverence, and homely satisfaction. Perhaps you remember, too, with a pleasure not less genuine, that you received the classic discipline of the university proper, under a dress of homespun, to be graduated, at the close, in the joint honors of broadcloth and the parchment.
In an Address delivered by the editor when Superintendent of Common Schools in Connecticut, before the State Teachers' Association held at Washington, (in which town the Parish of New Preston is mainly situated) in 1850, the following reference was made to the past school habits of the people.
The School Society in which we are assembled is a beautiful and striking illustration of what an agricultural people can do, under many disadvantages, to cultivate the minds and souls of the children and youth, and to send out a nice of men to achieve for themselves wealth and distinction, and reflect a truo glory on the rugged homesteads whero their childhood and youth were nurtured. New Preston eujoys a wide, and will enjoy a still wider celebrity for the number of eminently useful, and in some departments of effort, eminently distinguished men, whose birthplace was on these rugged hillsides, and whoso bodily energy, and whose freshness and force of mind wore secured by the puro air, the rough exposure, the healthy sports, and laborious toil of their country life. Bred as boys were, and still are in these agricultural homes, they can endure longest the wear and tear of hard study; and in the calmness and seclusion of their outward life, thoy can acquire that habit of reflection which appropriates knowledge into the very substance of the mind. There is also a freshness of imagination.—nurtured by wandering over mountain and valley, and looking at all things whether fixed like the everlasting hills, or growing and waving like the forests which diversify their sides, or giving out music and life liko the streams which leap down and between,—which, untired in its wing, takes long and delightful flights. There is ardor and eagerness after eminence, which gathers strength like a long pent fire, and breaks out with greater energy whero it has room to show itself. Above all there is often, and may be always, a moro perfect domestic education, as parents have their children more entirely within their control, and the home is more completely, for the time being, the whole world to the family. Wherever these favorable cirourntances are combined with the advantages of good teachers, good books, and the personal influence of educated men, as clergymen and physicians, there will boyhood ami youth receive its best training for a long life of useful and honorable effort. How
S much the labors of such men as Jeremiah Day, Kbenezer Porter, in the pulpit, and in their pastoral and school visitations—how much that old social library which once brought so many of the great and the good of other towns and other counties to join your firesides—how much your teachers from time to time, combined with the habits of labor, of thrift, and strict domestic culture and training, has had to do in giving to our State and country such men as the Days, the Whoatons, the Bushnells, the Whittleseys—it will be impossible to determine. It is enough that this little parish, as described by Dr. Bushnell, "made up of the comers of throe towns and the ragged ends and corners of twice as many mountains and stony-sided hills," has exhibited the highest results of industrial, intellectual and religious training. The power of this little parish (witli less than a thousand inhabitants,) it is not too much to say, is felt in every part of our great nation. Recognized, of course, it is not; but still it is felt.
The following is an imperfect list of the truly eminent and useful mcu which the schools and domestic training of this little agricultural community in loss than fifty years has given to the public service of the country.
Nathaniel Smith, a lawyer, a member of Congress, and Judge of the Superior Court
Nathan Smith, Lawyer and Senator in Congress.
Perry Smith, Lawyer and Senator in Congress.
Daniel N. Brinsmade, Lawyer, member of General Assembly forty-three sessions, Justice
of the quorum ten years. Ephraim Kirby, United States District Judge, Commissioner of the Revenue, and
first reporter of Judicial decisions in Connecticut. Daniel Sheldon, Secretary of Legation to France. Nathaniel Pitcher, Lieut-Governor of New York, acting Governor after Dew in Clinton's
death. Zina Pitcher, M. D.t (brother of the above.) a distinguished scholar and physician of
Thomas Gooilsell, M. D., Professor in several Medical Colleges, Uttca.