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And now, reader, what thinkest thou of the supply of virtue and intelligence, furnished by our primary schools ? At the great table of knowledge, where our youth are fed, where their physical powers and intellectual and moral faculties are nourished and expanded, from their first appearance in the infant, to their full growth in the perfect man, what proportion is supplied by School EDUCATION as it is? Is it really more than “ A beggarly account of empty boxes,"
thinly scattered, to make up a show?” Shakspeare. Are not most of our district schools, places where foundations are laid, upon which no superstructure is to be reared ; acquisitions made merely for the rust and the moth to corrupt ?*
We shall presently see, what different results might reasonably be expected from the School, as it should be ; where real knowledge should be dispensed, instead of its semblance; kernels, in place of husks and shells. Meanwhile, let us continue our examination of the School as it is, under the different aspects of physical, intellectual, and moral, education.t
* In a Report on the State of Education in Bengal, published by order of the government of that country, the following melancholy picture is drawn of the state of the schools. We leave it to every one to decide for himself, how much of it is applicable to those of New England. 6. The scholars are entirely without instruction, both literary and oral, regarding the personal virtues, and domestic and social duties. The teacher, in virtue of his character, or in the way of advice or reproof, exercises no moral influence on the character of his pupils. For the sake of pay, he performs a menial service, in the spirit of a menial. On the other hand, there is no text or school-book used, containing any moral truths or liberal knowledge ; so that education, being limited entirely [chiefly) to accounts, tends rather to narrow the mind and confine its attention to sordid gain, than to improve the heart and enlarge the understanding.
# In an address delivered at Worcester, Massachusetts, a few years ago, the orator said, “We see the magic influence of our schools, in the habits of industry, sobriety, and order, which prevail in the community ; in the cheerful obedience yielded to the laws; and in the acts of charity and benevolence, which are, every day, multiplied around us." This sentence, to be correct, should be read thus : “ If properly conducted, we should see the magic influence of our schools, in the habits of industry, sobriety, and order, which would prevail,”' &c. That the community do possess habits of industry, sobriety, and order,
PHYSICAL EDUCATION relates to the body. To it belong the proper training and strengthening of all its powers, and the avoidance of every thing calculated to injure its structure. Nature, here, is the great preceptress. If we only attend to her warnings, we shall seldom go wrong ; and, when we neglect them, we are sure of punishment, more or less severe. Our present duty, then, will be, chiefly, to point out the deviations from Nature's course, while the child is at school.
The first and most striking error, in physical education, is the unnecessary confinement to which the child is subjected. At the early age at which he first goes to school, nothing can be more painful, nor more pernicious. No one that has observed a youth, between the age of three and six, can doubt, that Nature requires, that he should be almost constantly in motion, during his waking hours. At this period, he is all activity, for ever engaged in some employment, by which he is acquiring knowledge, at the same time that he is developing and strengthening his physical powers. How painful, then, how unnatural, must be his situation in school! Pent up, for nearly six hours a day, confined to one seat, and that, generally, a very uneasy one, where, notwithstanding, he is forced to sit perfectly still and silent, without employment, (for the pretence of study, at that age, is truly ridiculous,) how irksome must be his condition, how prejudicial to his health! And what aggravates the evil is, that it is wholly unnecessary. For the extended confinement defeats the very purpose for which it is imposed. “The body and mind,” says Sterne, “are like a jerkin and its lining. If you rumple the one, is undoubtedly true ; but the speaker attributed them to a wrong source. Nor can any one doubt, that the schools might easily be so modified, as to have a powerful influence in improving and extending such benyou rumple the other.” Besides the injury to his health, his mind becomes heavy and dull, and his progress, consequently, is not half what it would be under a more rational course. What that course should be, will be pointed out in its proper place.
The next evil, imperatively calling for a remedy, is the improper location of the schoolhouse. This, from a paltry spirit of niggardliness, is usually placed, immediately on, nay, sometimes even in, the highway, to the constant annoyance of the school, from dust and noise, when it is in a populous neighborhood. There is, commonly, no playground. The scholars must either use the road for that purpose, to the manifest danger of their own lives and limbs, as well as those of passing strangers; or they must trespass on the adjoining property, thus giving rise to disputes and feuds in the community, and, among themselves, to a want of respect for the property of others, leading to various injurious results.
In many places, there is no woodhouse; or, if there be one, it is too small
, to accommodate the children, during recess, in bad weather. They are, consequently, confined at such times to the schoolroom, where the checked prompting of Nature to play and exercise spends itself in injuring and destroying the school-furniture.
The schoolroom is too small, either for convenience, comfort, or health. The seats are narrow, and too high
of the children, so that their feet hang dangling, thus adding to their uneasiness, increasing their restlessness, preventing proper attention to their books, and having, also,
a direct tendency to produce deformity in the limbs. For, if the seat be narrow, half the thigh, only, rests upon it; if too high, the feet do not reach the floor. Now, most children go first to school while many of their bones are still in the forming state, little else but gristle, and when any of the numerous joints may be easily loosened or distorted. “They go almost as early as when the Chinese turn their childrens' feet into the shape of horses' hoofs; or when some tribes of Indians make their children's heads as square as a joiner's box. And, at this period of life, the question is, whether the seats shall be conformed
to the children, or the children deformed to the seats. Let any man try the experiment, and see how long he can sit in an upright posture, on a narrow bench or seat, without being able to reach the floor with his feet, and, consequently, with the whole weight of his feet and the lower part of his limbs acting with the power of a lever across the middle of the thigh bones. Yet, to this position, hundreds of children are regularly confined, month after month; and, while condemned to this unnatural posture, Nature inflicts her punishments of insupportable uneasiness and distress on every joint and muscle, if they do sit still, and the teacher inflicts his punishments, if they do not. A gentleman, extensively known to the citizens of this State, for the benevolence of his character, and the candor of his statements, who, for the last twenty years, has probably visited more of our common schools, than any
person in the State, writes to me as follows : 'I have no hesitation in repeating, what I have so often publicly declared, that, from the bad construction of our schoolhouses, there is more physical suffering endured by our children in them, than by prisoners in our jails and prisons.' There are no convenient places under the desks, for putting away the books and slates. The closet for hats and coats is small and inconvenient, or altogether wanting, so that the children acquire disorderly and wasteful habits with their clothes, either throwing them, carelessly, on the benches, or heaping them on the table, which leads to a scene of tumult and disorder at the close of the school. The room is badly ventilated, so that, in cool weather, when the doors and windows are kept shut, the children are forced to breath the same air, over and over, until it has become unfit for respiration, thus laying a foundation for debility and disease.
The lighting of the room, also, frequently becomes a source of serious evil. Furnishing too much light is a prominent error in American architecture. quickly accommodates itself to a moderate portion, and the glare of sunshine is always pernicious. A northern
Report of the Secretary of the Board of Education of Massachusetts, on the subject of schoolhouses.
exposure gives a steady light, and is therefore always chosen by the painter and the engraver, who are also careful to avoid cross lights. Children, beginning to strain their eyes with small characters, are placed under similar circumstances, and parents would act wisely, if they made for them a similar choice. But, if the building will not admit of such an arrangement, by all means let there be windowcurtains, effectually to exclude the direct rays of the sun.
The building is, generally, badly adapted for retaining the heat in Winter. When constructed of wood, the underpinning admits the passage of the cold air under the floor, and there is no plastering below, to intercept it. The feet, consequently, are always cold, and, where that is the case, there can be neither comfort nor health. The window-sashes are sufficiently loose to admit air, and, as there is no warm air introduced to supply the place of that which is consumed by the fire, and carried off by the draught, a steady stream of cold air enters by every crevice, laying the foundation for incurable pulmonary and bronchial complaints.
The management of the stove, in Winter, is almost always bad. Any one that chooses is allowed to fill it ; and, as children have little judgment in such matters, and think only of the present moment, it is commonly crammed so full, that those who are near, to escape roasting, are forced to open doors, or windows, or both. Matters remain in this state, till a chill is felt, when another child undertakes to mend the fire, who generally brings about pretty much the same result. And thus goes on a reguiar alternation of freezing and roasting, whose consequences it does not require the knowledge of a physician to foretell. A share of the blame, frequently, should fall on the prudential committee. From a false economy, or want of forethought, and, sometimes, from want of a woodhouse, the fuel is green, or dry, soft wood, and the school have Hobson's choice, a great fire or none. For want of a basin of water on the stove, too, the air becomes unnaturally dry and unwholesome, especially where a large fire is constantly kept up. Lastly, although the ceiling is low, the stove-pipe is carried the whole length of the