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THE TEACHER IS AN AGENT, NOT A
BY J. W. ALLEN, ESQ., OF NORWICH, CONN.
With no common pleasure, I find myself amid the green vales of my native State. Memory has already touched chords which vibrate to the spell of other days, while the spirits of the by-gone wipe away the dust and sweat of life’s battle.
Inadequate to impending considerations is the pen you have selected to occupy your attention; but, “as much as in me lies,” I shall speak humbly, yet fearlessly, the burden of my message. The cause, and the cause alone, has drawn me out on this occasion.
Most fitting is the hour for such a convention as is here assembled. On martial fields are the ripened harvests of past education. The reapers are the soldiers. The sickle is the sword. Tares, the growth of misinformed and ill-directed intellect, have grown to maturity, and the natural and inevitable productions are secession, rebellion, and misery. The pure grain is also garnered, -patriotism, valor, and liberty. The darkness of the political heavens has served but to exhibit the “red right arm ” of Minerva, who above the clouds has marshalled the destinies of our country through the agency of teaching. We are suffering to-day that which timely culture would have removed.
Our theme, “ The Teacher is an Agent, not a Servant."
The distinction of these terms is neither difficult nor unimportant, while upon their correct interpretation hangs much of the bearing and success of teaching.
A servant supposes a master who not only intimates the field but prescribes the mode of execution. He differs from the slave only in the right of primary self-ownership. The servant, for a consideration, lends his executive abilities to his master, while slaveship assumes the original right of property in human beings. The servant, as such, becomes a machine to be run after another's mind. It matters not whether his work be useful or useless, as viewed in the light of his own estimate; but he is a perfect servant who completely fulfils his master's directions.
An agent has points of sameness with the servant. His conduct is regulated by stipulations, and his labor is performed for a consideration. Yet he retains his individuality. The field is indicated, and advice and information to any extent may be given, but the agent, and not the employer, is responsible for the result. For the modes of prosecuting the desired object, and for the resulting success, the agent is alone to be called to account.
Under which of these classes does the teacher rank? Have teachers no profession, or are they the parasites of every profession? Are they the foot-ball of society and the lap-dog of caprice, or are they men who retain the use of their own judgments and autocracy? Evidence, positive as Niagara, crowds forward to support the teacher as an agent.
Every other profession is an agency. The physician is not called to execute the directions of the family, but to fulfil his own better judgment. His mind dictates, albeit advice and information are freely asked and generously given; and, within a certain sphere, he is answerable for the life or death of his patient.
What client does anything more than suggest or inform on the cause committed to the lawyer, who is the teacher of legal justice ?
Our legislators, who teach public justice by enactments, are confessedly agents, supposed to possess certain abilities and qualities which entitle them to a certain amount of plenipotentiary power, for the use or abuse of which they are held amenable to their constituents.
The teacher of divinity is not the servant of the people's minds, although, in action, he is servant of all. Every reason that obtains for the agency of these professions appertains to the teacher of science. The intrusted interests are as important, their qualifications are superior, and the feeling of responsibility should be quite as imperative. .
The demands laid upon the teacher require him to be an agent. Within certain limits, the teacher is expected not only to impart information, but to improve the mind. The child is to be cultivated in mind, manners, and morals. Education, to-day, does not consist in being able to cipher, but produces a perfected character, a rounded humanity. It consists, according to modern definition, in the development and discipline of the entire being, — body, manners, morals, and mind. In order to meet these requirements, the teacher must have room. If his plans are continually prostrated by foreign influence, direct or indirect, his aim cannot be reached ; and every family compelling him to assume their armor will necessitate failure, if not defeat. What influence can the earnest teacher have over a petted childhood, the curse of our nation, when it is known that the will or caprice of the parent is to be his rule and guide? The child becomes in school what he is at home, restive of restraint, and heedless of improvement. Moreover, if the principle be admitted that the teacher is
but the passive tool of the parents, or even of the committee as representative and delegate, not only the most intelligent and reasonable, but the most querulous and illiterate, must share the same immunity. The deference due the teacher, control and all proper influence over the scholars, and suitable progress in study, are neutralized. Manhood is lost amid conflicting suggestions, and all that feeling of individuality which is requisite for success in every vocation is eventually obliterated. All that regard to improvement which should ever command his mind and heart, and transcend the narrow limits of the mass, and lead to higher modes of tuition, is forever set at rest. The man who should dare to know more than his unthinking employer would do it at the peril of his vocation.
The evidence of this position is too palpable for lengthened argument; yet the example of too many teachers in the past has been sadly at variance with this legitimate position. In fact, no one is more at fault for the servile condition to which we have been reduced, than teachers themselves. Too often have they listened to Madam Rumor, — not to secure information, but to learn the public caprice. To know what was the popular idea, was to determine, beyond a question, their course of action. These teachers have no higher aim than to secure the “ filthy lucre" in the easiest manner possible.