« AnteriorContinuar »
republicanism, it becomes my duty to make known to you, the people whom I propose to represent-my sentiments with regard to local affairs.
“Upon the subject of education, not presuming to dictate any plan or system respecting it, I can only say that I view it as the most important subject which we as a people can be engaged in. That every man may receive at least a moderate education, and thereby be enabled to read the histories of his own and other countries, by which he may duly appreciate the value of our free institutions, appears to be an object of vital importance, even on this account alone, to say nothing of the advantages and satisfaction to be derived from all being able to read the scriptures and other works, both of a religious and moral nature, for themselves. For my part I desire to see the time when education, and by its means, morality, sobriety, enterprise and industry, shall become much more general than at present, and should be gratified to have it in my power to contribute something, to the advancement of any measure which might have a tendency to accelerate the happy period."
Indeed, the necessity for the education of the children of the State was pressing. Immigrants were coming by the thousands; the eyes of the East were turned toward the West. Should the State grow up in lawless barbarism, due to ignorance, or should it become enlightened through the schools ? All were agreed that a common school education was needed, but how to get a system for that purpose was unsettled. Judge Hall summed up the situation thus: “Common schools have increased a little in number, though not much perhaps in character. The defect exists altogether in the want of some general system. Education is decidedly popular, and all classes were willing to contribute to the introduction and support of schools. But how to obtain the desired object, is a question upon which there is as yet no settled opinion."
Hall concluded by saying that a local, individual school system was practically valueless. A state system should replace it. "A common school may enlighten to some extent a little neighborhood; but in order to disseminate intelligence throughout the whole mass of people, to elevate national
? Sang. Jr., March 15, 1832. A Lincoln, • Ill. Month. Mag., Dec. 1831, p. 102.
character, and to develop the mental resources of the whole country, there must be a union of action among the friends of education. Our politicians must become deeply imbued with a sense of the importance of the subject; and our professional, literary, and scientific men must come out from the retirement of their closets, and the enthralments of their private avocations and labor for the public. The subject needs to be stripped of many theories that disfigure it, or give it a shadowy existence in the eyes of practical men; and to have its realities presented in their naked truth, and vigor, and beauty. The clouds of prejudice, which envelope it, ought to be dispelled, prejudices which relate to forms, to systems, to men, and to sects, and not as we sincerely believe, to subject matter. Every rational man desires knowledge, and wishes to see his children elevated in the scale of human beings. The objections are to means, the agents, and the manner of in. struction."
The education of the children of Illinois was, moreover, a national affair. Mr. Gatewood, who championed the bill of 1835, in his address to the senate, said that the scepter that ruled the country would pass from the East to the valley of the Mississippi. Therefore, the education of the children was primary.
“The time is not far distant, and many, who are now active upon the stage, may yet live to see the day, when a majority of the people comprising these United States will reside in the Valley of the Mississippi. The scepter must soon pass over the Alleghanies, never again to retum. The North, the East, and the South must soon, in a political point of view, be tributary to the West. The Land of the Puritans, the Empire State, the Old Dominion, and all, with their ancient institutions, their laurels, their heroes and their statesmen, big as they are with the praises of other days, must in a short time do homage to the great Valley of the Mississippi. The liberties of all America must be committed to the people of this valley for safe-keeping and preservation. The preservation of these liberties must depend upon the virtue and intelligence of the people of the West; must depend upon the very children, one-third of whom, are now destitute of the
* Ill. Month. Mag., v. 1, p. 273.
means of instruction and growing up in ignorance. The subject of education in the West then must be
it is a subject of deep and anxious solicitude."'5
The time was ripe for the statesmen of the day to make plans for the creation by law of a common school system, acceptable to the people. Judge Hall, the foremost literary writer of the State, was invited to address the people in Vandalia on the subject of education. This opportunity was seized to organize, in 1833, “The Illinois Institute of Education," the purpose of which, as stated in the constitution of the society, "shall be the advancement of education in Illinois, especially in the common schools.'
After re-affirming the belief in the value of education as the savior of republican institutions, the association decided on three lines of action:
“1. Information can be obtained from every county in the State of the numbers and condition of primary schools, the time for which they are taught in a year, the average number of scholars that attend, the branches taught, the books received, and the mode of instruction pursued, the cost for each school, or even for each scholar, the probable number of children who ought to receive aid from public funds, and many other particulars relative to the present condition of the primary schools of this State."
“2. Correspondence with public institutions and individuals in other states would furnish legislative documents relative to school statistics, plans of operation, application of public funds, qualifications of teachers, and the branches taught in different parts of the country, the various results of public and private munificence, and many other facts."
“3. Through the channels of the press, and by public addresses, information may be thrown before the public.
The literature of the time carried this notice and these questions relative to the first plan of the association in which a survey of the primary educational status of the State was to be made:
“Friends of education, teachers and preachers of the gospel throughout the State are requested to correspond with
6 Sen. Rep. on Educ., Doc. No. 8. p. 8. 6 State Supt. Rep., 1885-6, p. 110.
John Russell, Esq., Postmaster, Bluffdale, Greene County, and to furnish such information as may be in their power on the topics involved in the following questions. The information of ladies as well as gentlemen is requested. And gentlemen out of the State are solicited to furnish the Institute with such facts and documents as may be needed, to be addressed to J. M. Peck, Postmaster, Rock Spring, St. Clair County.
1. What kind of a schoolhouse have you? 2. How many months in a year is school taught? 3. What is the cost of your school per annum, including pay of teacher, books, fuel, and repairs of schoolhouse? 4. What is the cost per scholar? 5. How many different scholars attend? 6. What is the average number of scholars? 7. How many children need aid from public funds. 8. How many schools in the county? 9. What branches are taught in your schools? 10. What books are used in spelling? In reading? In arithmetic! In geography? In grammar? 11. Are the elements of natural history taught? 12. Does your teacher lecture the scholars on the branches of science? 13. Does he ask questions on every reading lesson? 14. How many adults in your settlement who cannot read? 15. Have you a public library, and if so, how large, and under what regulations? 16. Could not a small library of useful books be had for the use of your school, and loaned to the scholars as rewards for proficiency in study, and good behavior? 17. Would you like to have a good teacher permanently settled with you, and would the school support him? 18. How would a circuit teacher do who should conduct four or five schools, visiting them once a week as teachers of singing do, and lecturing and explaining the branches taught? 19. What measures, in your opinion, or those of the people around you should the State adopt in relation to school funds? 20. Can you get up meetings of the people on court day, or any other convenient time, on the subject of education? 21. Will any gentleman make public addresses, or deliver lectures to the people on the subject of education and schools? 22. What proportions of the families take newspapers, or any other periodical???
The information contained in these questions became the subject matter for the second meeting of the Illinois Institute,
State Supt. Rep., 1885-6, p. 111.
convened in December, 1834, at Vandalia, at the same time and place as the General Assembly. The deliberations of the educational convention were formulated in an address to the people of Illinois, and in a memorial to the legislature.
“A well devised system of primary schools will secure to their families increased prosperity and happiness to their country, wealth, glory and freedom.” The means of providing common free education were stated in three ways: 1. Massachusetts had a policy of taxation exclusively; 2. Connecticut had the interest from a vested fund; 3. New York had the combination of the first and second plan-a tax and the interest on a vested fund. These three plans were concretely described and the position of Illinois in comparison was found most favorable, the New York plan being recommended.
But the whole heart of the system to be established, said the address, rested on the teacher who must be trained in special schools. “One of the great defects in the common schools of New England and New York is the incompetency of their teachers. * * * A child under competent instruction will acquire as much learning in three years, as is commonly attained in six under existing teaching, and hence, it is the interest of the people to employ skillful instructors. Would you trust the shoeing of your horse to any but a smith ? You would not. Then we pray you by your parental affections, to pause, before you commit the education of your infant and immortal children, into the hands of men, ignorant of the laws of physics, and totally unused in the operation of the human intellect. If the blacksmith should learn his trade, surely the school teacher should study his profession.”' 9
The Institute recommended to the legislature, in accordance with those ideas, the following principles to be established by law: 1. The citizens of a community shall elect their trustees and teacher and a majority of the citizens of a district may petition the county commissioner's court to lay off a school district. 2. “The teacher shall be required to keep a schedule, exhibiting the names and number of scholars, and the number of days that they respectively attend school,
8 State Supt. Rep., 1885-6, p. 117. • State Supt. Rep., 1885-6, p. 119.