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THE CLAIMS OF TEACHING TO THE RANK
OF A DISTINCT PROFESSION.
BY ELBBIDGE SMITH.
Gentlemen of the Mass. State Teachers' Association :
It was a principle in the Roman military system always to commence an action with the skirmishing of the light troops. It is in consequence of the adoption of a similar tactic by the Executive Committee of this body, that it becomes my duty to address you at the opening of our present session. I know not that I can better perform my part as an humble member of the velites of this Association, than, during the few moments it will be my duty to claim your attention, by setting forth, as best I may, the claims of our occupation to the
Ι rank of a distinct and independent profession. It will not be deemed arrogance on my part, to claim for this subject a peculiar fitness to the circumstances under which we are assembled. The organization of this Association was in itself a most emphatic assertion of the sentiments to which it will be my aim, this evening, to give expression.
We met in convention last year, ostensibly in obedience to a call from the “ Essex County Teachers' Association,” but really in obedience to a call from our own bosoms, a fundamental law of human nature which impels men of similar pursuits to unite their sympathies and energies in the prosecution of their common work.
It was a matter of regret, gentlemen, that we came so late to the work. We should have led the vanguard in the great enterprise of connecting, by some strong bond of union, those throughout our land, who, in their silent and unobtrusive labors, are shaping the destinies of the rising generation. It was, I might almost say, the prerogative of this ancient Commonwealth, within whose limits common schools first gained a foothold, to be foremost in every enterprise pertaining to their elevation and improvement. If we are true to ourselves, the step we have taken is destined to work an era in the history of public school instruction in Massachusetts; and I may also add, in her civil and religious history. No greater event can possibly transpire in the history of any State, than when the instructors of her youth unite in an earnest and determined effort rightly to appreciate and worthily to discharge the high functions of their office. And this is the purpose, if I understand the object of our meeting, for which we are now assembled. Let us then endeavor to obtain clear ideas of the relation we sustain, of the claims which we have upon society, and of those which society has upon us.
The great concerns of humanity, the preservation of life and health, the protection of individual rights, and the still higher interests of the soul, have, from the ear.
liest dawn of civilization, been entrusted to those who have made these things the subjects of their exclusive study and attention. The writings of the father of medicine have come down to us in the simple garb of the later Ionic dialect, and the blind old bard of Scio has thought the wrongs of an injured priest worthy of a place in the opening of his immortal poem. The names of Solon, Lycurgus, and Draco, are foundation stones in the great structure of Grecian art, genius and eloquence. In sacred history we go back to still earlier periods, and the names of Moses and Aaron, the Hebrew lawgiver and priest, are associated with the awful scenes of Horeb and Sinai. The three learned professions seem thus to have sprung into being in the earliest infancy of the race. The progress of society and the consequent development of civil and natural laws have extended the boundaries of professional study, until each contains within itself departments almost as distinctly marked as were originally the professions themselves. The ambitious attempts of Grecian philosophy to account for the origin of all things, are no longer considered indications of true wisdom. Knowledge is becoming more microscopic in its character. While the field of observation has been narrowed, it has been more carefully explored, and the value of knowledge has come to be estimated in the inverse ratio of the number of subjects to which it extends. tion of this principle which political economists call division of labor, has long since given rise to the occupation in which we are engaged.
It is interesting to observe how clusely in Christian
The operacountries the work of the teacher has been allied to that of the clergyman. Teaching has been, in fact, one branch of the clerical profession ; and, in some instances, no little difficulty has been experienced in the attempt to sever what has come to be considered a natural and almost necessary connection between them. This is especially true of our colleges and professional schools. The subordinate stations in our common and high schools, as they are termed, have been filled by those who have found them convenient stages in a course of professional study, or by those who have discovered what nature might have taught them, that they were not designed for the bar or the pulpit.
No calling in the country has been followed more as a means and less as an end, than that of teaching. In no class in the community will be found a greater number of hirelings, men who prize their work not as a means of influencing and controlling mind, but simply as ministering to the supply of the sensual wants. The reputation of being a profound jurist, or a successful advocate, an elegant preacher, or an able divine, a skilful surgeon or therapeutist, is in itself sufficient to enlist the energies of the ablest mind. The position in society secured by preëminent professional, far outweighs in every noble mind the paltry considerations of mere pecuniary gain. But motives of this character, in the present condition of things, cannot have a controlling influence upon the teacher's mind. It was not the hope of pecuniary profft that gave to the world Blackstone's Commentaries, nor Butler's Analogy, nor Edwards's Treatise on the Will. It was entire devotion