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Delivered before the Washington County Association for the Improvement of
Public Schools, at Wickford, January 3, 1845.
BY ROWLAND O. HAZARD, ESQ.
The grand element--the essential condition of human happiness, is progress, and we hail with joyful feeling whatever accelerates it.
It is a cause of gratulation, that the means of individual improvement are extending, and that through them, our community, our country, and our race are advancing. And it is a cheering thought, that to this progress there is no limit,--that success in removing one impediment, but nerves us with victorious energy to encounter another,- that every advance but brings us in view of some higher posi. tion to be attained, while the horizon of perfection remains at the same apparent distance, or recedes as we rise into a purer atmosphere. In this way, obstacle after obstacle has been overcome, and one stage of our progress after another accomplished, until we have now arrived at the subject of universal education. In conformity with that universality, which is characteristic of this age, it is proposed to provide the means of literary instruction for the whole people. Obvious as is the importance of the measure to bare investigation, we are not proceeding on mere theoretical grounds. We have witnessed its results in portions of this, and in other states.
It is not long since our legislature employed a competent person to make a geological and agricultural survey of our territory. A spirit of inquiry was thus induced, and much valuable information disseminated, the good effects of which are already so obvious, in improved and inore economical modes of cultivation, that I think I should be within bounds in saying, that the expense of that survey has already been repaid an hundred fold. With such results of an experiment in one portion of science, it is not surprising that the state should extend its views and its efforts to its other departments—that it should adopt measures to diffuse information, awaken interest, and increase the desire for the extension of knowledge generally, with liberal provision for its accomplishment, and thus embracing the whole subject at once, secure its numerous advantages as early as practicable.
For this purpose an agent has been engaged to co-operate with the citizens, and give them the aid of his experience and mature thought in the important work of reformning the schools. The wisdom of this course is now apparent, and it is gratifying to find, that those on whom the expense principally falls, are most zealousyin advocating, and most assiduous in their efforts to promote its accomplishment.
This is honorable to our state, and particularly so, as this concurrence manifestly arises, not from any sordid calculations of interest, but from noble and philanthropic feelings. To a people actuated by such high and disinterested motives, it would be worse than useless to hold up any lower inducements: but I may here remark, that in this as in other cases, generous action, based on liberal and correct principles, secures those minor advantages which are the ultimate and exclusive objects of a grovelling, narrow policy. For leaving out of the account, all.the delightful anticipations of increased comfort, virtue and happiness, and all the benevolent satisfaction of being useful to the world, the man who appropriates a portion of his wealth to the diffusion of knowledge, is still making an investment, for which, even in a pecuniary view, he will be ainply repaid. For go where we will, we find the value of property very much depending on the intelligence of the community where it is located-an obvious consequence of the fact, that intelligence is necessary to make property productive. It developes all the resources of a neighborhood, and applies them in the best manner. Besides this, it brings the advantages of superior society—of good literary, moral and religious instruction, and various benefits, which a union of intelligent persons may easily command, but which no one individual, however talented, or however wealthy, could so effectually compass. And these all make the real property of such a community more desirable, and of course more valuable.
It also enables men better to discharge the duties of legislators, judges and jurors. General education then, will enhance the nominal and intrinsic value of property, while it also renders it more
How far it is expedient to make popular education the subject of legislation, is an important question. In Prussia, an amiable king, disposed to exercise the despotic power with which he is vested, in a paternal care of his subjects, has furnished the means of instruction to all, and by penal enactments, made it obligatory on parents and guardians, to send their children to the schools he has established.
Such legislation would be worse than useless here. It would be repugnant to our feelings, and in opposition to the spirit of all our institutions. In some minor matters, regarding schools, imperative legislation has failed even in states where the people are more accustomed than we are, to the interference of legislative authority with the sphere of individual duty.
I apprehend, that in proportion as a state assumes the task of regu.ating the mode of instruction, parents will feel themselves absolved from its responsibilities; and it is the care and thought of parents in educating their children, which forms the foundation, or a very large portion, both of parental and filial virtues, the destruction of which would annihilate all that is most beautiful and holy in the social fabric.
Air, light and partial warmth, are all that a wise Providence has bestowed on us, without some efforts of our own, but having furnished these pre-requisites of life and activity, has made the rest de
pendant on that thought and labor which are also necessary to devel
the energies of body and mind. Let a state then provide the money essential to the existence of public schools-adopt means to enlighten the public mind on the subject, and to warm it into effort, adding such suggestions and recommendations, as on such a subject may very properly come from its selected talent and wisdom, and leave the rest to the free thought and voluntary action of the community.
The immediate connection of education with the interests and the condition of mankind, is too obvious to have been entirely overlooked, by any but the most barbarous tribes; and yet in its present aspect it may be said to be new. Though pursued by many with higher views, it has too often been sought, merely for the selfish advantages which the instructed derived froin it, in competition with the uneducated—advantages which its general diffusion would destroy. Hence at one time, the learned sought to express themselves in a manner unintelligible to any but the initiated ; and the clergy, by the exclusive advantage of superior knowledge, gaining the ascendency of the political and military power, established an ecelesiastical despotism, which, with the most tyrannical insolence, dictated to nations, and arrogating to themselves the powers of darkness, and scarcely less infernal powers of earth, by the combined terrors of hell, and the tortures of the inquisition, destroyed every vestige of freedom, and left scarcely a ray of hope to humanity. It was fraud monopolizing knowledge, to subdue the ignorant, and prostrate their minds in a bondage the most cruel, and the most direful that history records. The institutions of Lycurgus embraced a system of general education. Under them the Spartan youth were trained to endure privation, fatigue and pain, and habituated to the use of arms, that they might more effectually serve their country in war, and were taught to steal, that they might be prepared for its stratagems.
But to increase the general happiness, and secure the freedom of man, by a system of education which shall impart useful knowledge, intellectual power, and moral elevation, to the whole people, is an idea of our own times.
That the period for the practical development of this idea has arrived, is manifest from the unanimity of public sentiment in its favor. I may almost say, that none deny its importance, or doubt its utility, though there may be some diversity of opinion as to the mode of its accomplishment. To devise and bring into action the best means in our power for this purpose, is the object of this Association. I need not labor to secure your interest in its favor, by dwelling on the beneficial results which may be expected from the success of the enterprize, for I cannot believe that any one who has at all reflected upon the influence of increased thought, and the extension of knowledge, upon individual happiness and progress-upon national prosperity and national honora-upon our intellectual and moral condition, and upon our political and social relations, can contemplate with indifference the efforts now making in this country in behalf of education.
I wish I could claim a more active participation in them.
But I must confess myself one of those, whose time and thoughts have been too much tasked by business pursuits, to permit me to render as much personal aid to this important movement as I desired, or so much as my views of duty to the community dictated. But I have observed, with deep interest, the noble efforts of those gentlemen, whose labors in this cause have laid us under high obligation, and claim our warmest gratitude and sincerest thanks. It is gratifying to find that they have sanguine hopes of success. They do not, however, expect to escape the difficulties, or to avoid the obstacles which ever beset the path of the pioneer in social improvement. They know that popular prejudices are to be dispelled, that the iron grasp of avarice is to be relaxed, and supineness stimulated by a sense of duty which they must awaken in the public mind. They know that the reformer requires industry, zeal, energy and perseverance. By the intelligent exercise of these qualities, they have already accomplished more than was anticipated in the time, and there is now much to cheer us all to effort, to animate and exalt our hopes, and inspire us with lofty and generous purpose. And it is a work in which the aid of all is required. The object we aim at is nothing less than a system-a better system, for the improvement of man.
If in such a cause, the people are inert, it will be in vain that legislators pass acts, and make liberal appropriations of money. If parents do not take an interest in it, and perform their duties, the labor of those philanthropists who have made it an object of earnest investigation and deep solicitude, and sought to inspire others with a kindred interest, will be fruitless. Properly to sustain and carry forward such a movement, the whole people must unite in it heart and hand, thought and action. They must think, and think justly and liberally. They must act, and act with the energy of excited interest.
We must not content ourselves with dreaming over the prospect, however encouraging. I know it is delightful to regale the imagination with visions of an intelligent and happy people, under a wise and benevolent government, such as may be anticipated from the general diffusion of knowledge; and to indulge in all the luxury of benevolent feelings, amid those congenial scenes of felicity and vistue, which a prophetic fancy may here so vividly portray. And it is allowable, it is useful, thus to warm ourselves to effort, by dwelling in imagination, on the intended, the probable results of our labors.
But we must not stop here. We sow the seed in hope and faith, but we must bestow the careful vigilance—the laborious attention of actual business, before we can expect to gather the fruit. Money may be freely appropriated, and yet not a single spring necessary to the success of the movement be put in action. The plan may be wisely conceived, and put forth with all the attractions of eloquence, and illustrated and enforced by all the powers of argument, and yet little be done towards its practical accomplishment.
But I do not fear that the interest now manifested, is the mere effervescence of popular enthusiasm, or that it is such an excitement
as dissipates its fervor in idle imaginings. I am persuaded that it is the result of deliberate thought, terminating in the firm conviction of the importance—the necessity of earnest attention to the objects for which we are now assembled. That object has already been stated to be the improvement and extension of the means of education. An object, the beneficial tendencies of which, are manifest and manifold in every aspect of the subject-o manifest that one can hardly speak of them without uttering truisms.
It is a trite remark, that the success and stability of a popular government depends on the intelligence and virtue of the people. It is obvious that these qualities are no less essential to individual happiness than to national prosperity or national security.
In despotic governments, the object of education is to make the people good subjects. On us devolves the higher task, of so educating them, that they may become good sovereigns. And to the inducements growing out of these considerations I may add, what under our institutions, seems the grand desideratum, that there is nothing which has so great an influence in lessening and neutralizing the inequalities of society, as a system of education which embraces all in its provisions. It opens to all a common source of enjoyment and aggrandizement. The rich and the poor here meet on common ground. Seated side by side, the heir of wealth finds that the circumstances of birth afford no advantages in the competition for intellectual superiority, while the child of poverty also learns, that his advancement depends on his own efforts, and on his own conduct. Give him the key to the stores of learning and the treasures of thought, and he may complacently smile at the little glittering pile on which the merely rich man rests his title to consequence.
He may look with scorn on the miserable ambition, or with pity on the folly, which contents itself with those accidental advantages which an accident may destroy, to the exclusion of those benefits, which becoming identified with mind, can only be lost by the destruction of the spiritual being.
The great object of education, is not to give those who receive its benefits an advantage over others in the competition for wealth or place, but to increase their rational enjoyments, and their usefulness in whatever circumstances their lot may be cast. If wealthy, to use their wealth with intelligent and noble purpose; if poor, to apply a like intelligence to the economical management of their concerns ; if in retired life, gracefully to perform the duties of a private citizen, and shed a right and happy influence in their sphere; or if called by their country to official station, to perform its duties with credit to themselves, and benefit to the public; but more especially, to enable them to enjoy that happiness which arises from a consciousness of the performance of every duty, and of progress in the scale of being: In short, to make them more happy in themselves, and more useful to others.
To fulfill these purposes in the highest degree, requires strong and active minds, and pure hearts with cultivated affections, in sound bodies. Hence education, in reference to these objects, must em