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Documents referred to in the Report of the Commissioner of Public Schools,
submitted November 1, 1845.
Under this head it will be sufficient to enumerate the principal features of school-houses as they are.
They are, almost universally, badly located, exposed to the noise, dust and danger of the highway, unattractive, if not positively repulsive in their external and internal appearance, and built at the least possible expense of material and labor.
They are too small. There is no separate entry for boys and girls appropriately fitted up; no sufficient space for the convenient seating and necessary movements of the scholars ; no platform, desk, or recitation room for the teacher.
They are badly lighted. The windows are inserted on three or four sides of the room, without blinds or curtains to prevent the inconvenience and danger from cross-lights, and the excess of light falling directly on the eyes or reflected from the book, and the distracting influence of passing objects and events out of doors.
They are not properly ventilated. The purity of the atmosphere is not preserved by providing for the escape of such portions of the air as have become offensive and poisonous by the process of breathing, and by the matter which is constantly escaping from the lungs in vapor, and from the surface of the body in insensible perspiration.
They are imperfectly warmed. The rush of cold air through cracks and defects in the doors, windows, floor and plastering is not guarded against. The air which is heated is already impure from having been breathed, and made more so by noxious gases arising from the burning of floating particles of vegetable and animal matter coming in contact with the hot iron. The heat is not equally diffused, so that one portion of a school-room is frequently overheated, while another portion, especially the floor, is too cold.
They are not furnished with seats and desks, properly made and adjusted to each other, and arranged in such a manner as to promote th comfort and convenience of the scholars, and the easy supervision on the part of the teacher. The seats are too high and too long, with no suitable support for the back, and especially for the younger children. The desks are too high for the seats, and are either attached to the wall on three sides of the rooin, so that the faces of the scholars are turned from the teacher, and a portion of them at least are tempted constantly to look out at the windows, or the seats are attached to the wall on opposite sides, and the scholars sit facing each other. The aisles are not so arranged that each scholar can go to and from his seat, change his position, have access to his books, attend to his own business, be seen and approached by the teacher, without incommoding any other.
They are not provided with blackboards, maps, clock, thermometer, and other apparatus and fixtures which are indispensable to a well regulated and instructed school.
They are deficient in all of those in and out-door arrangements which help to promote habits of order, and neatness, and cultivate delicacy of manners and refinement of feeling. There are no verdure, trees, shrubbery and flowers for the eye, no scrapers and mats for the feet, no hooks and shelves for cloaks and hats, no well, no sink, basin and towels to secure cleanliness, and no places of retirement for children of either sex, when performing the most private offices of nature.
II. GENERAL PRINCIPLES OF SCHOOL ARCHITECTURE
1. LOCATION_STYLE_CONSTRUCTION. The location should be dry, quiet, pleasant, and in every respect healthy. To secure these points and avoid the evils which must inevitably result from a low and damp, or a bleak and unsheltered site, noisy and dirty thoroughfares, or the vicinity of places of idle and dissipated resort, it will sometimes be necessary to select a location a little renioved from the territorial center of the district. If possible, it should overlook a delightful country, present a choice of sonshine and shade, of trees and flowers, and be sheltered from the prevailing winds of winter by a hill-top, or a barrier of evergreens. As many of the pleasant influences of nature as possible should be gathered in and around that spot, where the earliest, most lasting, and most controlling associations of a child's mind are formed.
In the city or populous village, a rear lot, with access from two or more streets, should be preferred, not only on the ground of economy, but because the convenience and safety of the children in going to and from school, the quiet of the school-room, and the advantage of a more spacious and retired play-ground will be secured.
In the country, it will sometimes be desirable for two or more districts to unite and erect a school-house at some point, to which all the older children can go from all parts of the associated districts, while the younger attend school in their several districts. In this way the school-houses can be more appropriately fitted up, and the advantage of a more perfect classification in respect both to instruction and government, as well as a wiser economy in the employment of teachers, be gained.
The style of the exterior should exhibit good, architectural proportion, and be calculated to inspire children and the community generally with respect for the object to which it is devoted. It should bear a favorable comparison, in respect to attractiveness, convenience and durability, with other public edifices, instead of standing in repulsive and disgraceful contrast with them. Every school-house should be a temple, consecrated in prayer to the physical, intellectual, and moral culture of every child in the community, and be associated in every heart with the earliest and strongest impressions of truth, justice, patriotism, and religion.
The school-house should be constructed throughout in a workmanlike manner. No public edifice more deserves, or will better repay, the skill, labor, and expense, which may be necessary to attain this object, for here the health, tastes, manners, minds, and morals of each successive generation of children will be, in a great measure, determined for time and eternity.
2. Size. In determining the size of a school-house, due regard must be had to the following particulars.
First.—A separate entry, or lobby, for each sex, furnished with scraper, mat, hooks or shelves, sink, basin and towels. A separate entry thus furnished, will prevent much confusion, rudeness, and impropriety, and promote the health, refinement, and orderly habits of children.
Second. A room, or rooms, large enough to allow, 1st, each occupant a suitable quantity of pure air, i. e. at least 150 cubic feet ; 2d, to go to and from his seat without disturbing any one else; 3d, to sit comfortably in his seat, and engage in his various studies with unrestricted freedom of motion; and, 4th, to enable the teacher to approach each scholar in his seat, pass conveniently to any part of the room, supervise the whole school, and conduct the readings and recitation of the several classes properly arranged.
Third.-One or more rooms for recitation, apparatus, library, and
3. Light The arrangements for light should be such as to admit an abundance to every part of the room, and prevent the inconvenience and danger of any excess, glare, or reflection, or of cross-light. A dome, or sky-light, or windows set high, admit and distribute the light most steadily and equally, and with the least interruption from shadows. Light from the north is less variable, but imparts less of cheerfulness and warmth than from other directions. Windows should be inserted only on two sides of the room, at least three and a half or four feet from the floor, and should be higher and larger, and fewer in number than is now common. There should be no windows directly back of the teacher, or on the side towards which the scholars face, unless the light is modified by curtains or by ground glass. Every window should be suspended with weights, and furnished with blinds and curtains; and if in a much frequented street, the lower sash should be glazed with ground glass.
4. VENTILATION. Every school-room should be provided with means of ventilation, or of renewing the vital portions of the atmosphere which are constantly absorbed, and of removing impurities which at the same time are generated, by the breathing and insensible perspiration of teacher and pupils, and by burning fires and lights.
The importance of some arrangements, to effect a constant supply of pure air, not only in school-rooms, but in any room where living beings congregate in numbers for business or pleasure, and where fires or lights are kept burning, has been strangely overlooked, to the inevitable sacrifice of health, comfort, and all cheerful and successful labor. We practically defeat the beautiful arrangements of our Creator by which the purity of the air would otherwise be preserved by its own constant renewal, and the harmonious growth and support of the animal and vegetable world maintained. We voluntarily stint ourselves in the quantity and quality of an article, which is more necessary to our growth, health and comfort, than food or drink, and which our beneficent Father has furnished pure, without money and without price, to our very lips, and so abundantly that we are, or should be if we did not prevent it, literally immersed in it all our lives long.
The atmosphere which surrounds our earth to the height of forty-five miles, and in which we live, and move, and have our being, is composed mainly of two ingredients, oxygen and nitrogen, with a slight admixture of carbonic acid. The first is called the vital principle, the breath of life, because by forming and purifying the blood it alone sustains life, and supports combustion. But to sustain these processes, there is a constant consumption of this ingredient going on, and, as will be seen by the facts in the case, the formation and accumulation of another ingredient, carbonic acid, which is deadly hostile to animal life and combustion. This gas is sometimes found in wells, and will there extinguish a lighted candle if lowered into it, (and which should always be lowered into a well before any person ventures down) and is not an uncommon cause of death in such places. It is almost always present in deep mines and at the bottom of caverns. Near Naples there is one of this description, called the Grotto del Cane, or the Grotto of the Dog, because the guides who accompany strangers to the interesting spols in the vicinity of Naples, usually take a dog along with them to show the effects of this gas upon animal life. Being heavier than common air it flows along the bottom of the cavern, and although it does not reach as high as the mouth or nostrils of a grown man, no sooner does a dog venture into it, than the animal is seized with convulsions, gasps and would die if not dragged out of it into the pure air.
When recovered, ihe dog shows no more disposition to return to the cavern, though called by his own name, than some children do to go to places called school-houses, where experiments almost as cruel are daily and hourly tried. But this gas, bad as it is in reference to animal life and fires, is the essential agent by which our earth is clothed with the beauty of vegetation, foliage, and flowers, and in their growth and development, helps to create or rather manufacture the oxygen, which every breathing creature and burning fire must consume. The problem to be solved is how shall we least mar the beautiful arrangement of Providence, and appropriate to our own use as little as possible of that, which though death to us, is the breath and the life blood of vegetation.
The air which we breathe, if pure, when taken into the mouth and nostrils, is composed in every one hundred parts, of 21 oxygen, 78 nitrogen, and 1 of carbonic acid. After traversing the innumerable cells into which the lungs are divided and subdivided, and there coming into close contact with the blood, these proportions are essentially changed, and when breathed out, the same quantity of air containes 8 per cent. less of oxygen, and 8 per cent. more of carbonic acid. If in this condition (without being renewed,) it is breathed again, it is deprived of another quantity of oxygen, and loaded with the same amount of carbonic acid. Each successive act of breathing reduces in this way, and in this proportion, the vital principle of the air, and increases in the same proportion that which destroys life. But in the mean time what has been going on in the lungs with regard to the blood ? This fluid, after traversing the whole frame, from the heart to the extremities, parting all along with its heat, and ministering its nourishing particles to the growth and preservation of the body, returns to the heart changed in color, deprived somewhat of its vitality, and loaded with impurities. In this condition, for the purpose of renewing its color, its vitality and its purity, it makes the circuit of the lungs, where by means of innumerable little vessels, inclosing like a delicate net work each individual air cell, every one of its finest particles comes into close contact with the air which has been breathed. If this air has its due proportion of oxygen, the color of the blood changes from a dark purple to a bright scarlet; its vital warmth is restored, and its impurities, by the union of the oxygen of the air with the carbon of blood, of which these impurities are made up, are thrown off in the form of carbonic acid. Thus vitalized and purified, it enters the heart to be sent out again through the system on its errand of life and beneficence, to build up and repair the solid frame work of the body, give tone and vigor to its muscles and restring all its nerves to vibrate in unison with the glorious sights and thrilling sounds of nature, and the still sad music of humanity.
But in case the air with which the blood comes in contact, through the thin membranes that constitute the cells of the lungs, does not contain its due proportion of oxygen, viz. 20 21 per cent, as when it has once been breathed, then the blood returns to the heart unendued with newness of life, and loaded with carbon and other impurities which unfit it for the purposes of nourishment, the repair, and main