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TEACHING AS A PROFESSION.
BY NELSON WHEELER.
The choice of a profession involves one of the most important questions which a young man is ever called on to decide. It ought, in all cases, to be made the subject of the most careful and anxious inquiry; for according as the choice is wisely or unwisely made, so may virtue, competence, happiness, and honor ; or vice, poverty, wretchedness, and ignominy be his portion, and constitute the inheritance which he shall bequeathe to his children. Especially does this become a question of superlative importance in a country, and under a government like our own. Here no castes throw their adamantine chains around the youth, to bind him down to the employments, the habits, and the modes of thought, which, for two thousand years, may have characterized his progenitors. Here no relics of feudal ages, institutions and usages the growth of centuries, rear their menacing forms to check the aspirations of the humble citizen who chooses to aspire to the highest offices in the land. No monopoly of honors, or laws of primogeniture offer to bolster up the royal knave and
princely fool, whose sole expectancy under our institutions would be the certainty of sinking to their proper level. Parental authority, even, may not overstep the limits of minority, and dictate the course which the aspiring youth shall pursue when the laws shall have once pronounced him “his own man.”
And here, too, there is not only freedom to choose, but the most imperative necessity is laid upon every one to exercise that choice. Not only is every man the architect of his own fortune, but every man must have some vocation, though it be but in name. To be without any particular profession or special calling, however competent in fortune a man may be to meet his own wants and those of his family, is a disgrace : it is an unpardonable offence in the eyes of an excessively active and enterprising people.
The motives which for the most part determine the choice of a profession are various, and deserve a moment's consideration. The majority, in this country, are influenced by considerations of wealth ; some regarding it as a means, others as an end, and still others having both objects in view. With some, again, honor and fame, immediate or remote, and the love of power and place, are the great controlling influences. Others give themselves up to the passing current, ready to pursue now this course, and now that, as wind and tide may promise to waft them on to fortune, or threaten to engulf them in ruin. A few, whom genius has chosen as special favorites, owe their choice to some uncontrollable bent of their nature, or to some remarkable occurrence or combination of circumstances which has
powerfully arrested their attention in early life. With such, their choice is not unfrequently a necessary part of their being, and to be relinquished only with life. A few, a very few, forgetting themselves and their own present wants, look rather to the good of others, and to the estimation in which they shall be held by the great and good of coming ages.
If all young men are bound by every consideration of duty and interest to make the choice of a profession a subject of careful and anxious inquiry, with the educated youth it assumes a two-fold importance. Gifted, it may be, with powers which fall not to the lot of ordinary men, and these powers nurtured, enlarged, and invigorated by a long course of patient application, his capacity, both for receiving and communicating, is greatly increased. How important, then, that that capacity receive such a direction that both himself and others may reap the full benefit of it.
I have been led to make these remarks as preliminary to the attempt to urge upon young men of talents and education who are about making their choice, the claims of that profession which we represent on the present occasion. The same attempt may also be viewed in the light of an apology, if apology be necessary in such a case, for choosing this field of labor in preference to those which are more usually sought. An apology or defence of this sort is the more appropriate, as it has appeared to me, in consequence of the estimation in which the calling has usually been held. That it has not been held in very high repute, I need not assert, much less attempt to prove. But why it
has not been held in higher estimation, is a question more easily asked than answered; for it is a profession which gives promise of competence, honor, gratitude, and the opportunities for self-improvement and benevolent effort, to an extent to which scarcely any other profession can lay claim. Let us inquire whether the teacher's profession be not, in all these respects, an eligible one.
In the first place, is it not an eligible one, so far as competence is concerned? And here, allow me to say, I begin with this, not because it possesses any superiority over the other inducements yet to be named ; on the contrary, viewed as a motive power in the settlement of such a question as this, in the mind of an educated man, I would rank it as one of the very lowest. It deserves notice first only because the first question to be asked and answered by him who is about to choose a profession, is, whether it will yield a support for himself and for those who may be dependent on him in life. No one, certainly, could be expected to enter any profession, however inviting in other respects, directly in face of starvation and beggary. A competence, then, may be relied on by every teacher of fair abilities and deter. mined spirit, - a competence, I say, not a fortune, , though even that might be hoped for, if a man could see nothing fair but gold, and were willing to become a mean, miserly wretch, to obtain it. But we protest against the idea of valuing a man's services to the public by gold. We cannot but look with utter loathing and abhorrence upon the attempt to make professional skill a matter of mere merchandise, to be bought and
sold, and held at its market price, and valued in dollars and cents. Nor can we forbear to express with what supreme contempt we look upon that man, be he in either of the learned professions, who seeks his only or his chief compensation in a pecuniary form. Those who cannot appreciate the luxury of benevolence, who have no conception of the priceless value of gratitude and love, unless followed by the means of luxurious ease and sensual indulgence, have no business in those pursuits and callings where love and gratitude are the great staple commodities. There are professions in which love of justice and benevolence should be the great ruling motive; but reverse the order, and make these motives subservient to a love of gain, and you rob them of half their power, and in their relations to humanity, of more than half their excellency and loveli
The time has been, perhaps, when talent could not command so high pay in teaching as in many other departments of labor, or, if you choose, in the other learned professions. I may even say it was not sufficiently rewarded to meet its actual necessities for efficient service. But in this respect, we all know very well, there has been a rapid improvement going on of late. In the cities and more populous villages of this State, the salaries of teachers have attained to a condi. tion little below that of our most talented clergymen, to say nothing of the agents and secretaries of insurance and other moneyed corporations. Indeed, all over the State and country, the signs of the times are still auspicious. The absolute necessity of the right educa