« ElőzőTovább »
study of the earth. its physical, moral and political divisions, its mysterious connection with the heavens; its inhabitants, rational as well as irrational; its history, natural and civil—are subjects calculated to excite the admiration of the philosopher and kindle afresh the zeal of the christian. But where is this glorious science taught? In this boasted land of education there is not an original treatise on geography which deserves to be admitted into a school. In former times, old Jedediah Morse, imitating the method of Salmon and of Guthrie, compiled a pleasant and instructive treatise for the use of colleges and schools; but the taste for simplification has supplanted it, and children are now taught nothing but names. We have it from authority in which we place the utmost reliance, that young gentlemen will now apply for admission to college who cannot distinguish between latitude and longitude, and whose information on the subject of civil geography does not extend beyond the naming of the capitals of States. And this ignorance is found too where the programme of every college in the land calls for a knowledge of geography and of grammar as indispensably necessary to the admission of students.
Is this the fault of teachers? We think not. It is the fault of the system. The text books, as we have before said, teach nothing but names; but more than this, the minds of children cannot comprehend many of the mysteries of the science. Peter Parley is no teacher of either history or geography, and his books may make flippant children, but wretched men. In times not loisg gone by, geography and grammar formed parts of a collegiate course, and we hazard the prediction, that before long, the good sense of the people will compel their restoration to those seats of learning.
We forbear to notice any other departments of learning which the benevolent friends of education suggest as necessary to be taught in our schools, and proceed directly to consider the reforms which have been proposed to be made in the free school system.
The first and most obvious, and one which has been suggested by every man who has the spirit of a reformer, is the appointment of a general head or superintendant; next, it is proposed to increase the school fund; thirdly, to establish normal schools and schools for the education and training of teachers; fourthly, to provide the schools with proper books; and lastly, it is rather obliquely hinted than directly proposed, that the commissioners of schools shall be paid for their services.
We will dismiss the last first. We hope the day is far, very far distant, when our country gentlemen will consent to accept the paltry remuneration which it has been proposed to bestow upon them for their services in this department. Those who make the proposition do not understand the Carolina planter. We confess that we still have faith in the benevolence, the integrity and the public spirit of the Carolina gentleman, aud we are proud to see them assume parish and district offices to which no compensation is attached. And well are those offices discharged. They are the unobtrusive but efficacious efforts of genuine patriots to advance the true interests of their neighborhoods, and though no paid officer has been employed to herald to the world their mighty effort in the work of improvement, they have not the less labored, sincerely, ardently, faithfully and successfully, in the blessed work of advancing the cause of improvement. But we shall return again to this subject.
The most popular improvement suggested is the appointment of a superintendant. We object to this on every principle, and regard it as fatal to the whole system. Let it be recollected that South-Carolina, though one of the small States of the Union, is more distinctly divided into two sections than many others, which contain perhaps several times the amount of either territory or population. The lower division contains all those districts which border on the coast and lie generally below the granitic region. These include Charleston city, and contain altogether a white population of about ninety thousand. Comprehending in this division the districts of Barnwell, Orangeburgh, Sumter, Darlington and Chesterfield, it covers about one-half of the territory of the State, contains a little more than one-third of the population, contributes very nearly two-thirds of the annual revenue of the State, and receives about half of the annual appropriation for the support of schools. In these districts the good lands, which lie chiefly on the water courses, are in the hands of the wealthy planters, and the poor are scattered over the country so sparsely that even the appropriation for schools, liberal as it may appear to be when compared to the amount which is received per capita by the other division, is quite insufficient to place a school within the reach of all those crildren the circumstances of whose parents make the aid of the State desirable or necessary. The upper division presents a more dense population, and wealth is perhaps more equally distributed among the people. They have the advantages, also, which villages afford. From the lower division we ought to except Charleston, as she occupies a unique position and has the means of improvements which cannot be conferred on the other portions of the State.
If the superintendant should make his office a sinecure, we would be perfectly indifferent respecting the appointment of one. Though we cannot approve of the practice of creating offices to provide for a meritorious politician, yet if the clamor against the present system could be allayed by the payment of two or three thousand dollars yearly, to an officer who would do nothing but faithfully receive his wages, we would be content. But the danger to be apprehended is, that he may be a conscientious man, who is unwilling to eat the bread of idleness; he may be a vain man, and unwilling that his administration should be distinguished by no improvements; he may be a philosopher, who religiously believes that the present generation is infinitely superior to that of our fathers, and so tempted to essay some experiments at improvement; he may be desirous to do good, and so foster an incubus on the institution by the establishment of a system.
It would be a fatal experiment. In every system the weak must be made to conform to the ways of the strong. But without entering into a course of argument to show the injustice which must be done by any system based on philosophical principles, let us in fancy follow the superintendant, watch the beginning of his career and its subsequent progress. Those who know anything of philosophy and the condition of our State will acquit us of drawing a picture which will not in all probability be fatally realized.
He takes, as the point at which he is to commence his experiments, some place where, like Charleston, Pendleton or Greenville, a large concourse of spectators, as well as of scholars, will be easily assembled, to witness the "start." He finds every thing calculated to natter and encourage him. A dense population, a large number of children, a tolerably full attendance and the novelty of the establishment, inspire the parents with anew-born zeal in the cause of education. He now commences the system of teaching on an improved scheme a course of reading and of writing, of physics and of metaphysics. The school house is new, built perhaps after the latest model of the Smithsonian school of architecture. The books are new, the children arrayed in their best garments. the teacher, elevated in fancy to the dignity of a professor in a Lyceum, forgets the humble but more useful labors of the pedagogue, and enters zealously into a scheme the merits of which he can but imperfectly understand. Every thing gives the fairest promise of success, and our worthy superintendant, hugging himself with ecstacy at the success of his system, writes out that afternoon the first sheet of his annual report, which is to place him in the temple of fame in a niche far more elevated than that of Lancaster or of Pestalozzi. .Having set the system in motion in Pendleton and Sp irtanburgh, our reformer travels onward and reaches the middle and lowland districts. Then, if he is a sanguine man, his spirits will perhaps even rise at the prospect of the reforms which must necessarily be accomplished in order to perfect his scheme. He will doubtless determine that, against his return to the school, a neat Gothic edifice shall adorn the site now occupied by a rude log cabin, imperfectly protected against the inclemency of the seasons by clap-boards or clay; that a neat chimney, with marble mantle-pieces, shall take the place of that broad hearth which now hospitably covers the whole gable end of the cabin; that a chair, and not a tripod, (however classical the latter may be,) shall be provided for the teacher; that the children's seats and desks shall be constructed on the most approved system of physiology, practically applied to academic architecture; that the ground floor, literally so called because made of earth, shall no longer disgrace the temple of science, and that the tout ensemble shall have that aspect of respectability which ought to accompany learning. To these material improvements he contemplates adding others of a moral, perhaps of a more important character. He will, in his lecture to the people of the precinct, enlarge on the importance of education, he will stir up their hearts, and they shall be
ashamed to let the next visitation disclose so large a roll of scholars with so sparse an appearance, so general and punctual an attendance on the part of the teacher and so great an amount of lost time reported against every scholar. And as our superintendant hugs himself in delightful anticipation of the material and moral good which his benevolent labors are destined to develope, a secret goad, applied by the old Adam which lurks unsuspected in his glowing bosom, suggests a latent regret that all this good should be done in a corner, that this moral garden shall have to smile in a wilderness. He would have the temple of science on the road side, where even those who run may read the glorious results which are to be effected by his reformation. But as reform philosophy, like charity, hopeth all things and believeth all things, he represses the mortifying suggestions of vanity, and sees in the distance a new earth springing up under the workings of his moral labors. He determines that not only the sterile waste of the heart shall be fertilized, but under its vivifying ininfluence the barren pine lands shall be made to yield to the delighted cultivator harvests good as, and infinitely more triumphant than, those which spring from soils more kindly disposed by nature.
The first annual report of a reformer will be a glorious one. He will therein unfold his scheme and report its progress. He will take his place by the side of Horace Mann and others who have distinguished themselves in the cause of popular instruction; but the good easy man will not dream that his first satisfactory report will also be his last.
For bo it remembered that the superintendant will be required to visit more than seven hundred schools in the course of a year. It may be ensily ascertained that he cannot bestow on each more than two or three hours. All that he can do is to set his system in motion. Having in imagination assisted, as the French say, in the establishment of the system in one of our lowland schools, let us accompany him on his return, at the end of a twelvemonth, to the same school.
The evening before the visitation he stops, perhaps at an inn, but as that is an article of rare occurrence with us, he accepts the hospitality of a planter, perhaps a member of the board of commissioners. In the morning he finds