Imagens da página
PDF
ePub

THE PRESIDENT'S ANNUAL ADDRESS.

MEMBERS OF THE INSTITUTE, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN :

It is well for fellow-laborers in any department to assemble occasionally, for the purpose of reviewing, in company, the doings of the past, and, from the light and encouragement thus gained, to form new plans for the future, and to prepare for more efficient and successful operations in carrying forward the work in which they are mutually interested. Aided by the light of experience, it is the high privilege, as well as duty, of all to expand and increase their efforts and to make success more general and sure with each advancing year. In no department is this more true than in that of education, and it will ever be the aim of the true teacher so

To act that each to-morrow

Find him further than to-day.

A mutual interest in a common cause has brought us together on this occasion. We have come hither to “hold sweet counsel.” We have come to review the past, to survey the present, and if possible to gain new light and increased strength for future action. If true to ourselves and the occasion we shall return to our several spheres of labor with wiser views, better purposes, truer devotion, higher and nobler aspirations.

I trust it will not be deemed inappropriate if I invite your attention, for a half hour, to a cursory review of educational changes and operations which have taken place mainly within thirty years. And while we are free to admit that all changes are not improvements, we shall contend, and hope to show, that progress, and that of a very decided nature, has marked the cause of education no less than other departments, and that, as a whole, we have the most abundant reason to feel that the interests of popular education have been steadily and surely onward and upward.

It is now less than forty years since a general and widespread apathy prevailed over all the land in relation to common schools. So far as concerned popular education, darkness brooded over the country, and the gloom of neglect hovered around the schools. The school-houses were unseemly in appearance, inconvenient and uncomfortable in their arrangements, uninviting in their location and surroundings; teachers were poorly paid, and more poorly qualified; text-books were few in number, and many of them ill adapted to the wants of pupils; apparatus was almost unknown; blackboards, charts, and maps were unthought of; and had any one proposed the purchase of a clock for the school-room, or advocated the adornment of its walls with pictures, and paintings, and mottoes, he would have been regarded as a fit subject for a mad-house. Schools were seldom, if ever, visited by parents or citizens. The teacher“ kept” school because hired so to do, and the children were sent as a matter of custom, or more frequently to “keep them out of the way." But little in any way was done for the schools, but little was expected of them, and but very little good did they accomplish. Popular education was but a name, and the public school à sort of pauper establishment, — well enough for the children of the poor, — but not to be thought of for the sons and daughters of competence or affluence. It was under such a state of affairs that a few true friends of education set themselves about the work of reforin; and as a first step they put forth efforts to enlist the interest of teachers and friends of education to work upon the public mind, and, if possible, arouse it from the lethargic sleep into which it had fallen. Not only was the public mind to be awakened, but prejudices were to be overcome, ignorance dispelled, and a true spirit of life infused. To accomplish the ends desired, it was deemed indispensable that there should be concentrated and associated action and effort.

Thirty-five years ago, a small band of teachers and other friends of education met in the city of Boston, to consider what could be done to strengthen and advance the cause in which they were interested and engaged.* After several preliminary meetings, they determined to call a convention of teachers and friends of education from various parts of the country, for the purpose of more surely and effectually accomplishing the objects at which they aimed. Circulars of invitation were extensively scattered in the several States, and in August of 1830, several hundred persons, mostly teachers, assembled from as many as eleven different States. At this meeting the American Institute of Instruction, now the oldest educational association in our land, was organized, and commenced a noble mission. In the language of Dr Emerson, one of its earliest friends, “ The leading object of this association was to promote the cause of popular education, by diffusing useful knowledge in regard to it. The members met originally, and they continue to meet, for the purpose of elevating the character of instruction, of widening its sphere, of ascertaining more clearly what should be its objects, and of perfecting its methods; for the purpose of raising the teacher, by making him feel how high and noble is the work in which he is engaged, how extensive and thorough must be his preparation, and how entire his devotion; for the purpose of making more apparent to the people the absolute importance of education to the existence and continuance of our free institutions, and to the advancement of our race; and thence the duty of improving our schools, especially our common schools.” They have met from that time to the present annually, devoting at least three days at each session in listening to lectures from leading educators, comparing observations and opinions, and contributing in various ways, each to a common stock for the benefit of all. They have met to cultivate and extend their acquaintance, “ to quicken to a warmer glow the fire in their own breast, and to kindle it as far as possible in the breasts of others.” They have met to give character to the common school, and make it the co-worker with the church, feeling, with the poet, that

* The first Teachers' Association in the United States was formed at Middletown, in this State, in 1799, under the title of the “School Association of Middlesex County.” The Rev. William Woodridge, instructor of a female school in Middletown, was chiefly instrumental in the organization of this association; and its avowed objects were; “ to promote a systematic course of school education, to secure the inculcation of moral and religious principles in the school, and to elevate the character and qualifications of teachers.”

The riches of the Commonwealth
Are free, strong minds and hearts of health ;
And more to her than gold and grain
The cunning hand and cultured brain.

She heeds no sceptic's puny hands
While near her school the church-spire stands;
Nor fears the blinded bigot's rule
While near the church-spire stands the school.

For thirty-four consecutive years have the annual meetings of this association been held in different parts of the Northern States, and many thousands of teachers have been profited by its lectures and discussions, and the whole community has been revived and quickened by its well-directed efforts. At first, — and for several years, – the meetings were not very numerously attended, but during the last twenty years

the largest halls and churches in the several places of meeting have been well filled by those in attendance. Almost contemporaneously with the organization of the American Institute two other associations were formed, -the Essex County Teachers' Association in Massachusetts, and the Western College of Professional Teachers in Cincinnati, Ohio. The former has continued to hold its semi-annual meetings until the present time, — thirty-two years, — accomplishing a vast amount of good. Now, in most of the States not in rebellion, we have State and county associations, all coöperating in the great and good cause of popular education, and doing much in diffusing throughout the country correct views in educational matters, and causing the teachers to be more honored and better appreciated and rewarded.

In 1839 the first Teachers' Institute ever held was convened in the city of Hartford, under the direction of Hon. Henry Barnard, assisted by the late lamented T. H. Gallaudet and others. From this beginning the number of Institutes has continued to increase until now we may safely say that several hundred are held annually in the Northern and Western States, and many thousand teachers yearly participate in their benefits. Who can begin to estimate the amount of good which these important conventions have exerted throughout the community in which they have been held ? But the march of improvement does not stop here. The next, and higher step, was the establishment of Normal Schools. The first of these useful institutions was opened at Lexington, Mass., in 1839. The attendance at first was very limited, and considerable opposition was manifested, but by the judicious efforts of its friends it grew in numbers and in favor continually, and now the State of Massachusetts has four Normal Schools well supported by the State and all well filled with students even in these times of war, and so popular

« AnteriorContinuar »