It is always interesting to glance over the early records of the First Settlers of our country - especially those which relate to their educational system. Education with them was a business of primary importance - if they failed in this they failed in every thing. To procure the means for the support of schools, called into exercise their earliest efforts after establishing themselves in their wilderness home. Their immediate legislation shows how deeply imbued were their minds with the importance of educating all their youth. Hence as early as 1642, we find the people of the Massachusetts Colony making provisions by law for the support of schools in every town containing fifty families, and soon after, it was enacted that every town containing one hundred families should raise the means for supporting what they called a Grammar school (answering to an Academy among us) in which young men should be fitted for the University. All this led ultimately to the establishment of the free school system as now known in very many of the States - and how admirably is this system adapted for meeting the demands of our population. Whoever labors for the extension and advancement of education through the means of our public schools, labors for the best interests of the whole community - for how very large is the proportion of our population who are to receive their entire education in these little Seminaries?
It has been estimated that not more than one in twenty of the entire population of the United States has the advantages of a more extended course of study than the common public school affords.
If the citizens of every township of Washington County, containing one hundred families, with all the advantages they possess beyond those enjoyed by the Pilgrims, were to put forth the same amount of effort in the cause of education as was put forth by our pious ancestors, what might not be achieved here in the business of education! Soon should we see our Common Schools our best schools, and all our youth in the way of a most thorough intellectual and moral training. And here it may be stated that at this very time there are in operation three things connected with the advancement of education that can scarcely fail of producing immense good, directly and permanently in every district in the county.
The first to be mentioned, is the thoroughness of examinations to which all, who expect to teach free schools, are obliged to expose themselves. Your Board of Examiners, I believe, have made a resolution to give in no instance a certificate to any Teacher until by entering with him into a thorough investigation of every branch required to be taught, they are satisfied that he is master of his profession so far as it relates to book knowledge. This is as it should be - for if there is a failing here - if our Board of Examiners - those upon whose fidelity the interests of our schools so directly depend, are remiss in their duty, we have no remedy.
The next thing to be noticed as tending to the well being of our schools is the very large number of well qualified Female Teachers that are employed to manage them. There is one consideration that must be, at once, apparent to every one at all conversant with school operations, which proves conclusively the superior excellence of well educated Female Teachers in the business of training the young. It is this. Imparting instruction is the female's own appropriate duty - she is so placed by Providence, that it must be so. The young will ever be under her influence. No matter what station she may occupy in life - the business of giving direction to the mind's first operations must and will devolve more or less directly upon every female in the land. When therefore she is employed as a teacher of children, whether in a public or a select school, she is only employing her energies for the better discharge of future duties. She is upon the highway of her existence - every new power she may develop will come into use in future life - she engages in her work with energy and cheerfulness and is emulous to excel.
Experience proves that success has attended the efforts of female teachers in our winter as well as summer schools, where there had been failures on the part of young men. The increased number of female teachers employed at the present time in winter schools, shows that the public mind feels assurance upon this subject, and nothing can be more certain than if suitable compensation were offered to females, we should at once bring into our schools all the talent and energy that could be desired. I speak of our district schools to a considerable extent.
The third means in operation tending to improve our schools is the general supervision which parents are beginning to exercise over the concerns of the school-room. To a considerable extent in almost every district there is an attention to the progress of the scholars and an interest in their advancement not hitherto so manifest. This is as it should be. The moment that parents take it in hand to see that their children are punctual at school and ascertain that they are studious while there, that moment they give an efficiency to the teachers' efforts that cannot but ultimate in the improvement of our schools.
I cannot close without suggesting one other means of improvement, and it would be gratifying to see it introduced into all our school districts where are a considerable number of pupils over fourteen years of age. It is that of using in school a well conducted Newspaper. It would afford admirable reading lessons. A part from the great amount of valuable information which the readers would gain from it, a habit of reading correctly would be formed. It would make our youth intelligent upon a great variety of important subjects. A portion of one day in a week spent by the more advanced pupils in reading the weekly news, would give a zest to all other school duties. Growing up to be freemen as our young men are, the principles they might gain from thus reading the County paper, would fit them to fill the places in future life which their fathers now occupy, and which must continue to be filled by intelligent freemen.
Who of our young men at school between the ages of fourteen and twenty have derived knowledge enough without reading a good newspaper to answer the following questions? What is Civil Liberty? What is Political Liberty? What is a Sovereignty? In whom is the Sovereign power of the United States vested? What is a Government? What are the principal forms of Government? What is a Despotism? What are the advantages of a Despotism? What are the evils to which it is liable? What is an Aristocracy? What is a Democracy? What are the advantages of this kind of Government? To what evils is it liable? Upon whose consent is the Government of the United States founded? What is a Constitution? What is Common Law? What is Statute Law? Which is superior, Statute or Common Law? What is a Corporation? What is a Charter? In what is the Legislative power of the United States vested? What is Legislative power? What is the object of dividing the Legislative power between two bodies? For how long a period are our Representatives to Congress elected? What is the object of having frequent elections?