Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

LECTURE VI.

THE RELATION OF COMMON SCHOOLS

TO HIGHER SEMINARIES.

BY CHARLES HAMMOND.

[ocr errors]

The system of common or free schools, so generally prevalent in this country, is mentioned with praise in all lands. It has conferred a most honorable distinction on that section of the American Union, where primary schools for the training of all the children and youth of the State, at the public expense, were first established, and where, from the first, they have been sustained with a constantly increasing interest.

It is to the lasting honor of New England, that, with so many of the elements of her most ancient institutions, this principle of universal, popular education, has been infused into the national character.

The fathers of New England were fortunate, in their efforts to found an empire to become the home of a free people, and they were fortunate, also, above all other founders of new states, in their clear apprehension, from the first, of the grand features of a policy which would prevail, when their infant institutions should be

a

come vigorous and mature. They founded a new and noble empire, and designated the true methods of making that empire immortal.

Fully aware that new systems of civil and church polity implied, as an absolute condition of success, great “maturity of reason,” and high public morality, they aimed to instruct both the people and the teachers of the people in the best manner possible. Thus would the commonwealth be furnished with wise counsellors, and the churches, with learned pastors; and the people would be able to understand their public teachers, and judge for themselves of the conduct of all their public servants.

Their efforts grew out of their firm convictions that the truth for which they had suffered so much, and contended for with so much success, would make free, even as they themselves were free, both their own descendants and all who should embrace it. They were well acquainted with all the forms and results of European civilization, and they had abandoned them in hope of " a better country.” They most highly prized the schools and universities of the Old World, for their leading statesmen and pastors had enjoyed all the advantages of those seats of learning, and it was by means of the mental training thus received, that their own views of civil polity and religious doctrine were formed, and they were thus enabled, afterwards, to establish wisely and judiciously the foundations of a new State.

Knowing that they themselves must pass away, and leave to others their labors unfinished, they saw that their own great conceptions, and their own far-sighted

policy would be poorly transmitted to future ages by tradition. They knew the utter impossibility of maintaining a commonwealth after their model, if the people were ignorant, or swayed by brute passion. Their rulers must be men of enlightened wisdom, whilst both the rulers and the people must be alike submissive to the restraints of Christian morality. And, therefore, as the author of the first written history* of Harvard College has told us, “ For some little while, there were very hopeful effects of the pains taken by certain men of great worth and skill, to bring up some in their own private families for public services. But much of uncertainty and of inconveniency in this way, was in that little time discovered ; and they soon determined that set schools are so necessary, that there is no doing without them. Wherefore a college must now be thought upon - a college, the best thing New England ever thought upon."

Thus did they found their University, and every where, in all the settlements, as soon as comfortable habitations had been provided for themselves, the house of public worship and the house for public instruction arose simultaneously, thus showing the inseparable connection in the minds of the earliest colonists, between their religious and educational institutions, and the life of their infant commonwealths.

The system of popular education in New England was one which aimed at more than to meet the wants of the first generations by whom it was established. It

[ocr errors]

* Mather's Magnalia, Book 3.

was a system wisely adapted to all the changes of growth and progress, from the feeblest beginnings to the full vigor and maturity of the national life. In the year 1647, eleven years after the foundation of Harvard College, it was ordered “ To the end that learning may not be buried in the graves of the fathers, that every township, after the Lord hath increased them to the number of fifty households, shall appoint one to teach all children to read and write, and when any town shall increase to the number of one hundred families, they shall set up a Grammar School, the masters thereof being able to instruct youth so far as that they may be fitted for the University.”

This order of the legislature of Massachusetts will be immortal in the annals of popular education. It deserves to share the honors of the Declaration of Indepence, and of the Charter of Runnymede, in the history of popular liberty. The renown of this order is not owing solely to its aim to secure universal education in the rudiments of learning. It is no less celebrated for its full conception of the gradation system. The grade system, the great desideratum of the present time, is not a modern improvement. Its origin belongs to the earliest age of our history.

of our history. Like the fabled Minerva, it sprang to life at once in perfect form and panoply. It was the glory of the Puritans to have originated a system of universal education, with a perfect method. It was the disgrace of later times, that this method was so generally abandoned. With all that is said, at this day, in favor of a gradation of schools, we can hardly hope that the ancient system will be so fully apprehended in its first intention, and so energetically adopted, that every town with a hundred families,"

“ shall maintain a “ Grammar" or High School, “ the masters thereof being able to instruct youth so far as they may be fitted for the University.” When that day shall come, which shall witness the full realization of the perfect method of the Puritans, it will be understood better than it now is, that grades of schools, from the highest to the lowest, arise naturally from the urgent wants of the community; that each claims the popular smypathy and support; that each contributes essentially to the efficiency of the entire system of public instruction; and that all are alike connected with the vital interests of the Commonwealth.

The Fathers of New England paid but little regard to the forms of European society, when they formed their civil constitutions. They looked with still less favor upon most of the systems of Church polity belonging to the Old World. They thought the tri-fold distinction of orders and officers in the Christian church, though ancient, was yet unscriptural. They merged the titles and duties of a bishop, presbyter, and deacon, into those of a pastor of a laity church. But, in their system of public education for the entire people, we find three grades of officers and three orders of teachers clearly developed. These distinctions will remain, so long as the genuine Puritanism of New England is in a thriving condition. It is an unpardonable misnomer, to regard the Universities and the intermediate Academies and Seminaries as aristocratic, rather than popular, in their aims and tendencies. The mind that cherishes

« VorigeDoorgaan »