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different accommodations; for children engaged sometimes in study and sometimes in recitation ; for children whose health and success in study require that they shall be frequently, and every day, in the open air, for exercise and recreation, and at all times supplied with pure air to breathe ; for children who are to occupy it in the hot days of summer, and the cold days of winter, and to occupy it for periods of time in different parts of the day, in positions which become wearisome, if not in all respects comfortable, and which may affect symmetry of form and length of life, if the construction and relative heights of the seats and desks which they occupy, are not properly attended to; for children whose manners and morals,—whose habits of order, cleanliness and punctuality,—whose temper, love of study, and of the school, are in no inconsiderable degree affected by the attractive or repulsive location and appearance, the inexpensive out-door arrangements, and the internal construction of the place where they spend or should spend a large part of the most impressible period of their lives. This place too, it should be borne in mind, is to be occupied by a teacher whose own health and daily happiness is affected by most of the various circumstances above alluded to, and whose best plans of order, classification, discipline and recitation may be utterly baffled, or greatly promoted, by the manner in which the school-house may be located, lighted, warmed, ventilated and seated.?
With these general views of school-architecture, let us contrast the condition of the places where most of the public schools of the State were kept in the winter of 1843–44, as presented in an abstract of the returns of teachers and committees, corrected from notes taken during my first circuit through the several towns.
As the schools were then organized, four hundred and five school-houses were required, whereas but three hundred and twelve were provided. Of these, twenty-nine were owned by towns in their corporate capacity; one hundred and forty-seven by proprietors; and one hundred and forty-five by school districts. Of two hundred and eighty school-houses from which full returns were received, including those in Providence, twenty-five were in very good repair; sixty-two were in ordina. ry repair; and eighty-six were pronounced totally unfit for school purposes ; sixty-five were located in the public highway, and one hundred and eighty directly on the line of the road, without any yard, or out-buildings attached ; and but twenty-one had a play-ground enclosed. In over two hundred school-rooms, the average height was less than eight feet, without any opening in the ceiling, or other effectual means for ventilation ; the seats and desks were calculated for more than two pupils, arranged on two or three sides of the room, and in most instances, where the results of actual measurement was given, the highest seats were over eighteen inches from the floor, and the lowest, except in twenty-five schools, were over fourteen inches for the youngest pupils, and these seats were unprovided with backs. Two hundred and seventy schools were unfurnished with a clock, blackboard, or ther. mometer, and only five were provided with a scraper and mat for the feet. In view of these facts, the following summary of the condition of the school-houses was given in my report on school-houses, which is repeated here, as still applicable to many places where the public schools are now taught.
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 ihe least possible expense of material and labor.
They are too small. There was 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 were inserted on three or four sides of the room, without blinds or curtains to prevent the inconvenience and danger from cross-lights, and the ex. cess 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 had 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 the 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, 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 room, 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 indis. pensable 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, sink, basin and towels to secure cleanliness; and no places of retirement for children of either sex.
Such was the condition of most of the places where the public schools were kept in the winter of 1843-44, in the counties of Kent, Washington and Newport, and in not a few districts in the counties of Providence and Bristol. In some districts, an apartment in an old shop or dwelling-house was fitted up as a school-room ; and in eleven towns, the school-houses, such as they were, were owned by proprietors, to whom in many instances, the districts paid in rent a larger amount than would have been the interest on the cost of a new and commodious school-house. Since the passage of the Act of January, 1844, empowering school districts to purchase, repair, build and furnish school-houses, and since public attention was called to the evils and inconvenience of the old structures, and to better plans of construction and internal arrangement, by public addresses, and the circulation of documents, (Appendix XI.) the work of renovation in this department of school improvement has gone on rapidly. If the same progress can be made for three years more, Rhode Island can show, in proportion to the number of school districts, more specimens of good houses, and fewer dilapidated, inconvenient and unhealthy structures of this kind, than any other state. To bring about thus early this great and desirable result, I can suggest nothing beyond the vigorous prosecution of the same measures wbich have proved so successful during the past two years.
1. The public mind in the backward districts must be aroused to an active sense of the close connection of a good schoolhouse with a good school, by addresses, discussions, conversa
tion and printed documents on the subject, and by the actual results of such houses in neighboring districts and towns.
2. Men of wealth and intelligence in their several neighborhoods, and capitalists, in villages where they have a pecuniary
interest, can continue to exert their influence in this depart— ment of improvement.
3. School committees of every town can refuse to draw orders in favor of any district which will not provide a healthy and convenient school-room for the children of the district; and to approve plans for the repairs of an old, or the construction of a new house, which are to be paid for by a tax on the property of the district, unless such plans embrace the essential features of a good school-house.
4. The Commissioner of Public Schools must continue to furnish gratuitously, plans and directions for the construction and arrangement of school-houses, and to call the attention of builders and committees to such structures as can be safely designated as models.
Districts should make regulations to preserve the schoolhouse and appendages from injury or defacement, and authorizing the trustees to make all necessary repairs, without the formality of a special vote on the subject.
3. School attendance.
After an efficient organization by which public schools can be instituted, and after healthy, attractive and convenient school-houses are provided, the next step is to secure the school attendance of all children of a proper school age, of both sexes, and in every condition in life. There are differences of opinion, not only as to what is attainable, but as to what is desira.
ble in respect to the school attendance of children; and par. * . ticularly as to the age, when it should commence. The fam
ily circle and the mother, are unquestionably the school, and the teacher of God's appointment, — the first and the best, for young children. Were every home surrounded by circumstances favorable to domestic training, and had every mother the requisite leisure, taste and ability to superintend the proper training of the feelings, manners, language and opening faculties of the young, their early school attendance would not be an object of great importance. But whatever may be the fact in a few homes, and with few mothers, there can be no doubt, that in reference to many homes, so unfavorable are many surrounding circumstances,—so numerous are the temptations in the street, from the example and teaching of low bred idleness,—so incessant are the demands on the time and attention of the mother of a family, that it is safe to say, that with the large majority of children, their school attendance should
commence when they are five years old. In the densely populated sections of large cities, and in all manufacturing villages, provision should be made for the attendance and appropriate care and instruction of children, two and three years younger. No one at all familiar with the deficient household arrangements and deranged machinery of domestic life, of the extreme poor, and ignorant, to say nothing of the intemperate,of the examples of rude manners, impure and profane language, and all the vicious habits of low-bred idleness, which abound in certain sections of all populous districts, can doubt, that it is better for children to be removed as early and as long as possible from such scenes and such examples, and placed in an
infant or primary school, under the care and instruction of a o kind, affectionate and skillful female teacher.
The primary object in securing the early school attendance of children, is not so much their intellectual culture, as the regulation of the feelings and dispositions, the extirpation of vicious propensities, the pre-occupation of the wilderness of the young heart with the seels and germs of moral beauty, and the formation of a lovely and virtuous character by the habitual practice of cleanliness, delicacy, refinement, good temper, gentleness, kindness, justice and truth. The failure of much of our best school education in reference to moral character, is to be attributed to the pre-occupation of the ground by idle, vicious, and immoral habits acquired at home and in the street,
before the precepts, example and training of the school com* menced.
Until children are ten or twelve years of age, they should be subjected to a regular, systematic and efficient school training through the year, with such vacations as the health and recreation of the teacher may require. Except during the very hot days of summer, and the most inclement weather in winter, and the established or occasional holydays, children should never require vacations on their own account. T'he daily exexrzise of the school should not in any case overtask the brain, or weary the physical strength, beyond the power of the playground and the light slumbers of childhood to restore. They should leave the school, day after day, in the radiant health and buoyant spirits which nature associates with their years, when spent in obedience to her laws.
After the age of ten or twelve, a portion of each year spent in the discharge of domestic duties at home, or in healthy labor in the field, the mill, the counting-room, or the workshop, under the direction and supervision of parents, or natural guar. dians, will prove of more service to the physical training of most children, and the formation of good practical habits of thought, feeling and action, than if spent over books in the