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EMMA WILLARD: A SKETCH AND A LETTER

It is the peculiar and particular prerogative of the historian to emphasize continually the wisdom of the Preacher, who, nearly one thousand years before the Christian era, from out the store of his accumulated learning, advanced the axiom that "there is no new thing under the sun,' and that if there is any new thing whereof it may be said, See, this is new! It hath been already of old time, which was before us.”

In the educational field, we are wont to imagine that this, that, or the other theory is not only new but practical, whereas, if the truth were but known, it is undoubtedly really as old as the pyramids, and possibly it has been tried and discarded, only to reappear again in a slightly altered and more plausible form in some subsequent century. We of today are apt to pride ourselves on the modern establishment of free public schools, possibly, because we are unacquainted with the fact that on August 6, 1773, the Reformed Dutch Consistory of New York established by resolution a free public school in the city of New York, at which boys over nine and girls over eight years old were to be received and were to remain for three years' education. Possibly in the sentimental desire of our orators on the hustings and the platform to give special prominence to the little, old, red schoolhouse of the New England type, we have lost sight of the fact that the little, unpainted, gable-ended schoolhouse of the Dutch type, with its educated teachers from Holland, had done much to mold the character of New York's population before it was overwhelmed by the wave of New England migration.

In days not long gone by we were prone to take pride in our system of teachers' institutes, which, having served

their purpose, have been abandoned and done away with. They, however, raised the teaching standard so greatly that even in country districts, where adequate salaries can not always be paid, there is a demand for normal-school graduates as teachers. Now city institutes and similar organizations for teachers have succeeded them in turn, so that the teaching of teachers by paid instructors still goes on.

A few months ago I found among some private papers a letter from Mrs. Emma Willard, the founder of the famous seminary for young ladies, at Troy. At the time the letter was written, my father, the late Austin W. Holden, M.D., well known to northern New Yorkers as the Historian of Warren County, was county superintendent of common schools, a position which existed until the creation of the office of school commissioner some years later. From an old and yellowing scrapbook, I have ascertained that the teachers' institute for which this letter was prepared, was held at Luzerne in Warren County, on October 26, 1846. At this institute, which was apparently held for the benefit of the inhabitants of the vicinity as well as for the scholars who took part and for which a “finance committee” was appointed (probably to meet the necessary expenses) there were present twenty-five women and twenty-three men, all of whom had duly qualified as members of the institute. It is interesting to know in these days of discussion, that, at that time, the meetings were opened each day by the reading of the Scriptures, the singing of a hymn,

prayer. The exercises were as follows: Topic exercises, 10 minutes; written arithmetic, 40 minutes; writing and composition, 25 minutes; drawing, 25 minutes; mental algebra, 35 minutes; spelling and analysis, 20 minutes; phonology, 20 minutes. In the afternoon came mental arithmetic, 30 minutes; English grammar, 40 minutes; natural philosophy, 20 minutes; music, 10 minutes; science of government, 30 minutes; geography, 30 minutes; reading and elocution, 45 minutes.

The complimentary resolutions adopted by the institute, with but a few changes, would hardly differ from those

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prepared and past by any similar gathering of teachers today. In addition to the superintendent, the lecturers were S. R. Sweet, a well-known instructor of the period, assisted by Messrs. J. Jenkins, William Trumbull, and Miss C. M. Goodman, all graduates of the state normal school, “to whose assistance” says the reporter, “in elevating the standard of education in this county, we feel greatly indebted.”

The subject matter of Mrs. Willard's letter, as it was presented before this institute, was so interesting in the light of modern pedagogy, that it was turned over to President Finley with the idea that it might be of some historical value, and that it might be of use in showing that in those days, long before the civil war, educational thought in New York State was not so primitive as we sometimes are wont to think it was, and that many a new plan, like those mentioned by “The Preacher,” “hath been already of old time."

5 1 3

Troy, September 5, 1846.
A. W. HOLDEN, ESQ.

County Superintendent
Sir:

Accept my sincere thanks for the honor done me by your invitation of the 19th ultimo. When it reached Troy I was absent, on a tour of the United States, from which I returned day before yesterday.

I rejoice in the occasion of your meeting, for my heart is in the cause of education; and that of the common schools is the foundation of the whole. If the great body of children in our country could be well trained morally, we should have a virtuous population; if well instructed intellectually, we should have an intelligent people—if they are well educated physically, in which the care of the parent is needed as well as the teacher, then they would have the “sound body” to carry into effect the dictates of the "sound mind.” And to meet and consult how these objects can be effected is right and wise.

I regret that I can not meet with you. While traveling in Ohio, I received a severe injury from the upsetting of a stage. One of my wounds, after apparently healing, broke out afresh; and tho I am in a fair way fully to recover, yet I am under the surgeon's care, and ought to keep as quiet as possible for the present.

I hope your meeting will prove the happy occasion of a kindling spirit of new zeal. Let me give you one word in connection with the subject before you, viz., the means of improving common school education—that word is Time. This is what is given to make improvement out of—the material of which the whole is to be constructed. The teacher's time in most schools is employed, but in many, not judiciously.

The time of the scholars in too many cases is miserably wasted—rows of young creatures are kept sitting on benches with nothing to occupy either their heads or their hands. In such cases they become listless, and either fall into sly and mischievous ways, or sink into habitual dulness. But where the school is large the teacher can not be at every moment teaching and overlooking every scholar. The teachers' time is only one. Let parents consider these truths, and then they will withdraw their prejudices against allowing the teacher to select some of the most suitable of his pupils as assistant-teachers; or otherwise provide competent assistants.

When subjects admit of pointer-teaching from maps or charts, the teacher can then call on the whole school to give their attention to what he is teaching, and to repeat together the answers to his questions. To give this advantage in the saving of time was one object of my reducing to a visible form the subject of “American Chronology” in the “American Chronographer" -and the vast theme of Universal Chronology in the "Temple of Time." Geography is taught to whole schools by the pointer from outline maps. Exercises in elocution, spelling and arithmetic are given by the master in many schools on the blackboard, where large classes may be benefited at the same time by his instruction.

Time may be saved by making the same exercise answer more than one good end; and the more of the proper objects of education are at once attained, the more is made of time, that sole material of improvement. Pardon me if I again make an allusion to my own works; and why should I not, for I have devoted my time to such labors as seemed to me best calculated to promote the great cause in which I have spent my life. But to return to the subject of giving to children such exercises as shall at the same time advance their improvement in several material respects, I will mention one exercise which would at the same time teach them to read and to read in a right manner according to the use of that art, which will give them the foundation of geography and general information-which will be calculated to give them right moral and patriotic impressions, and to lay the foundation of the knowledge requisite to the statesman. This is to make history the reading lesson for classes who already read intelligibly American History rightly prepared in the first place, and Universal History in the second.

When so many objects may be effected by the judicious use of the time to be devoted to reading, it seemed melancholy to me that no object but that of learning to read should be proposed, and that the subject matter of what was read should be considered of little import. But who does not find that the subjects which he read in school while learning to read, are among the most vivid of his recollections? The judicious teacher of elocution having no other object in view but to make his class read well, finds it necessary to explain the subject, and set it in strong lights, so as to give the pupil understanding and feeling, in what he is to read. And why should all this, be as it often is, wasted on fiction? Why not thus learn to understand and to feel important truth? By teaching reading where the manner alone is regarded, and where it is not considered of any importance that the subject matter be remembered, a manner deviating from the simplicity of nature, is likely to be acquired. If a child was never to walk but when he was under training to acquire an elegant manner of walking, would he not be likely to fall into

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ridiculous flourishes? Would not the boy or girl who learned to walk by going straight forward for useful purposes walk far better? To add the graces of motion should come afterwards. Good intelligible reading for common purposes should first be gained. Rhetorical reading should be a matter of after-consideration. By this I do not refer to articulation. That should be taught early and late, for narrative reading, as well as poetical, requires that the elementary sounds of the language be perfectly formed.

But however these ideas may be received none will controvert our general proposition that Time is the material out of which improvement is to be made; and therefore it should be made the most of and husbanded in the best manner. The time of the scholars is what they have to improve in-the time of their teacher is what they have to improve by. But there is other time which is important to the cause of education—the time of the superintendents—first of the town, and then of the county. In the year 1840, I received from the Society of Kensington in my native place, Berlin in Connecticut, the office of superintendent or overseer of their schools; and by the way, this is, I fancy the first time that an elective office has been conferred upon a woman in this, or perhaps any republican country. But why in the name of common sense, should the school society hesitate to make a woman overseer of the children's schools if they had good reason to believe she was fit for the office, any more than the district should to make a woman their teacher-or than any man among you should get a woman to make his coat rather than a man, when he had reason to think she would fit him better? At any rate I had the votes, accepted the office, and at the close of my labors, received the most gratifying evidence of the full satisfaction which my efforts had given to my constituents. But the use I wish in this connexion to make of the fact is, to show that having personally labored as a superintendent I know something of the call on the time of an individual which this office makes. I had five schools under my superintendence, one being a class of older girls, whom I specially instructed concerning the duties of teachers. For the period in which I was engaged, I gave the whole of my time to the duties of my office, not even allowing myself to read other books than those connected with the subject of the improvement of schools. It is seldom that any persons can be found whose other avocations will admit of their devoting themselves so exclusively to the work of superintending the schools; whatever their zeal may be.

But I found enough to do to fill all my time with my five schools. I can see then how the town and especially the county superintendent who is faithful, must find himself prest for time to do all that he could wish, But he can do much by making a proper selection among the various objects which solicit his attention. He can encourage talent and faithfulness among teachers, and discourage ignorant pretension. Both the county and town superintendents in this state have done much for the great cause by pro

1 The superintendents can do much in the choice of school books, those silent teachers. which infuse the minds of their authors into those of the youth who use them. And let me exhort you to see that your children keep honest company. Avoid book-thieves as much as any others. Before any superintendent shall adopt Wilson's History let him compare it with my Abridgment of American History which he has first falsely aspersed and then pirated.

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