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NEW ENGLAND PRIMER DAYS.
BY PRINC. FRANK A. Hill, Chelsea, Mass.
[ABSTRACT.] Sir Wm. Berkeley, the governor of Virginia, in a letter to the king two centuries ago, thanked God there were no free schools within his jurisdiction to make the people discontented and seditious. Not far from the same time, Cotton Mather was addressing these words to his congregation in Boston: “ The more liberal education we bestow on our children, though we should pinch ourselves for it .... the greater blessing are they like to become, not only to ourselves while we live, but also unto the Commonwealth when we shall be dead and gone.”
These men spoke for two widely different policies; the one Southern, the other Northern ; the one to perpetuate ignorance, the other to dispel it; the one in the interest of overseers, the other in that of humanity.
Our forefathers began at the top. When they numbered but four thousand souls, and were hardly by the camping-out stage, they founded Harvard College. They knew that noble inspiration comes from above, not from below. The free school system was made compulsory in 1647, but free schools existed many years before.
The evolution of the school-house was here traced by the speaker and illustrated by sketches ; log cabins beginning the series, but palaces ending it. These houses were planned by men educated at Eton, Harrow, Rugby ; and so the stamp of Old England was impressed on the simple architecture of the New England wilderness.
The first teachers were men exclusively,—stern, strong, and orthodox. School and church worked together, each acting in the aid of the other. Girls did not attend the public schools nor were women employed in them as teachers until near the beginning of the present century. They were not educated like the boys, and so were not competent to instruct. Indeed, the girl was of little account in the educational schemes of our fathers. She received a little attention, perhaps, in the dame and nursery schools. She was well-educated if she could read. To write, to cipher, — these were accomplishments. What did not bear directly and obviously upon cooking food, scrubbing floors, spinning yarn, milking cows, – what could not be seen to have an immediate market quotability, — all this was not practical, would n't help a girl fill her station one whit more acceptably, and was, therefore, useless. She worked into the system very slowly, and usually in the face of protest. She recited to the master after the boys were dismissed; she was provided for in separate schools; she was permitted to attend summer schools with the boys, but not winter. And so for a long time she hung about the outskirts of the system.
In separate schools for the sexes to-day, old-time conservatism is shown. It has been only five or six years since Boston has decided to give her girls the sạme opportunity to fit for college that her boys have had for two hundred and fifty years. The attempt to open to them the doors of the old Latin School failed, and so a new school, the Girls' Latin School of that city was organized
The discipline of the early schools was harsh. Perversity in the young was to be expected and provided for. They were all theoretically depraved, and some naturally. The flesh needed to be mortified.
These old-time schools began commonly at seven A. M., and closed at five P. M., with an hour's intermission. The winter hours were eight and four.
Studies were few. Chiefly Latin and Greek in the grammar or college-fitting schools, and reading and writing in the English schools. Books were scarce. There was the Bible everywhere and always. There was the “Bay
State Psalm Book” that sounded the depths of poetry if - it didn't scale the heights. For more than one hundred
years, and well into the present century, the “ New England Primer” was the almost exclusive juvenile book. It was the first book in language, the first in religion, and to many the first and only book in literature. Its range was from a – b, ab, to the profoundest dogmas of theology.
The sombre thought-drift of the times is caught in a list of twelve six-syllable words to be spelled, five of which are abomination, edification, humiliation, mortification, purification. The primer bounds in six pages from the alphabet to the Apostles' Creed. The rhymed couplets designed to convey bits of advice, moral lessons, suggestive facts, are familiar to all. The illustrations were crude, and varied with the ingenuity of the printers who frequently designed them, and the capacities of the poorly-equipped offices from which they came. Nearly half the primer is devoted to the Westminster catechism, whose one hundred and seven points had to be committed to memory by nearly all. The effect (of this work) on New England character was marked if not uniform.
The primer days may be said to have closed about the time of the great educational awakening that witnessed the founding of the American Institute of Instruction in 1830, of the Massachusetts Board of Education in 1837, of Massachusetts Normal Schools in 1839, and the general quickening of educational life in this state, and later throughout New England, under the fearless leadership of Horace Mann.
The lecture was rich in details and sketches illustrating the progressive inovement of the schools. It showed most impressively how wisely the fathers planned, even though in their execution they fell often painfully short of their ideal. But the ideal has existed in our statutes from the beginning, clear, bright and lofty, high above the attainment even of the present time.
LANGUAGE TEACHING IN PRIMARY AND GRAMMAR
Every child should be trained to use language correctly and with facility, both orally and in writing. This “end” to be gained by our language teaching should constantly be kept in mind by the teacher, that the methods of instruction may be wisely chosen and intelligently applied in the class-room.
The word “grammar" once covered all our language teaching but when it was clearly understood that the study of “grammar” did not necessarily secure a correct use of language on the part of the student, the most thoughtful teachers began to divide the whole subject into two parts ; viz., Language and Grammar: the one having special reference to the correct use of language, and the other to the construction and arrangement of sentences, and also to the inflections of the various parts of speech.
Facility in the correct use of language comes largely from habit. A child who seldom hears or sees incorrect forms of speech, seldom uses them; and on the other hand, the child who is surrounded by what may be termed an atmosphere of incorrect English, seldom uses language well, whether he studies its grammar or not.
The pupil who spends but a few years in the lower