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Formation of Districts. The proper division of a town into districts is a matter of considerable importance, particularly in thinly settled neighborhoods, where a great temptation exists to multiply them too much, in order to have the schoolhouse sufficiently near to accommodate the younger branches of families. In such cases, it should never be forgotten, that it is infinitely better to have a good school, which, with the exception of vacations for a few weeks in Spring and Autumn, shall be kept permanently, though at a considerable distance, than to have a poor school close at hand, and kept but for six or eight months in the year. Even should it be too far off for children under six years of age, all their time will not be lost, though it be spent in nothing but harmless amusement. They will acquire strength of body, and their knowledge and love of Nature will be all the while constantly on the increase. If, in addition, the mother, or an elder sister or brother, should spend only ten or fifteen minutes a day, in teaching them to read in a judicious manner, and showing them how to hold a pencil, so that they may scribble on their slates at pleasure, such children will probably overtake most of those who have attended school from the most tender age.*
Care should be taken, however, not to run into the * Dr. Humphrey, President of Amherst College, in his Thoughts on Education, observes, “I am strongly impressed with the belief, that, if the experiment could be fairly tried upon a great scale, those infants that are rightly managed in other respects, but who do not know a letter, till they are five years old, would ultimately surpass, both in strength and acquirements, such as begin their studies two or three years earlier. I have no doubt, that ten of the latter are seriously injured, both in body and mind, by taxing the brain too early, where one of the former suffers in his education, by not commencing early enough.”
opposite extreme. One mile should be the greatest distance from the primary schoolhouse to the furthest house in the district. Such a district might probably be about one and a half miles square, containing about two and one fourth square
miles. A town of six miles square would, therefore, contain sixteen. If a district of this size could not support a good permanent female school, with the assistance it received from the public funds, a larger amount should be furnished by the town, or, rather, by the State.
in which school-funds are distributed in New England, under the appearance of the most rigid equality, is, in reality, exceedingly disproportionate and unjust. Such distributions are generally made per capita ; that is, in proportion to the number of scholars in a district. But, surely, the intention of the Legislature must have been, to put all, as far as practicable, on an equal footing, as to the means of education, and not the granting an equal sum of money to each child. And yet it requires but a moment's consideration to perceive, that one dollar, in one situation, will go as far as five, in another. In practice, then, it would appear, that the object of the Legislature, in dealing equally with all, is completely frustrated. Nor is this all
. Not only are great numbers of the poorer classes injured, in their future prospects, by this partiality, but the whole community suffer by the procedure. A tax for the support of education can only be justified on the principle, that it is essential to the safety of the State, that all should be enlightened. What, then, shall we think of the government of an intelligent commonwealth, like Massachusetts for instance, which shall raise a tax of nearly half a million of dollars, annually, for her schools, and yet allow it to be so partially distributed, tha in some portions of the State education shall be thorough, in others almost wholly inefficient? The same remark holds good of every State, in which this mode of distributing school money prevails. But are not the inhabitants of Boston, Portsmouth, Hartford, Burlington, and of every rich and populous town, interested in having the benefits of education extended to the poorer, and hitherto neglected, corners of our land ? Shall such spots be suffered to become pestiferous little nests for rearing dupes for demagogues and impostors, nurseries for the inmates of penitentiaries and poor-houses ? Surely not. Whatever our Legislatures can do, at all, they can and ought to do, properly and effectually. A very slight addition to the tax for education would entirely remove this serious difficulty. In most States, in fact, it might probably be effected without any additional tax, by a slight change in the mode of distribution.*
In the more thickly-settled parts of the country, and in the villages, it may not be necessary to have the districts quite so large as in the more sparsely-settled spots. But even there, it will be found unprofitable to have them small. For, if the schoolhouse be properly constructed, and of sufficient size, great advantages would arise from having a large number of scholars together. Let us suppose, for instance, that there are two hundred children under twelve years of age, in a district not too large for conveniently collecting them into one building. This number would be enough for what would be considered four large schools; and, in fact, four teachers, in separate establishments, could scarcely do them justice. But, so great are the advantages of a division of labor, that the same number of teachers in one school of two hundred would be abundantly competent to their task, and the school would be much more efficient, than one with a single teacher, even with not more than thirty scholars. For such a school as has been mentioned, besides a room large enough to hold all, with convenience, there should be three recitation rooms. In one of those, a teacher should be exclusively occupied with the younger reading classes ; in the next room, another teacher, with the older reading classes ; in the third, should be the recitations of geography and arithmetic, with illustrations on
* The Legislature of Vermont have, in their present session, (October, 1839,) made a slight approximation to equality, by directing that one fourth of the public money for schools should be distributed equally among the districts, and the remaining three fourths, per capita.
the blackboard. The fourth teacher should attend to the discipline and general arrangement of the school, and overlook the writing exercises and arithmetical operations on the slate, in the large hall. That such an arrangement would be very much superior to those in our common schools, is evident, from the fact, that each teacher would be almost exclusively confined to one branch, and that, the recitation rooms being separate, the studies could be pursued without the slightest hindrance.
of the arrangements necessary for the scholars of twelve
over, we shall presently speak.
Gradation of Schools. The evils, arising from the present system of alternating male and female schools, have already been noticed, [Part I, Chap. iv.] The following plan for a gradation of schools will, it is believed, not only obviate these evils, but place our whole system of education on a more efficient footing.
Let a female school be kept in every district, throughout the year, with the exception of two short vacations ; the teachers being engaged, not for any specific time, but as long as both parties remain suited. Let the studies, in such schools, be confined to reading, writing, composition, (which, of course, includes orthography, and a certain extent of grammar, and the structure of sentences,) arithmetic, and geography. Let these be considered as the primary schools, through which every child must, of necessity, pass, to prepare himself for a different series of studies, in a higher grade of schools, to be called Central, or High Schools. Of these, let there be one, or, in large, populous towns, two, in each town. Generally, these central schools would only be kept during the Winter; though some of the larger villages might, perhaps, afford them employment throughout the year. In such cases, additional assistants would be wanted during the Winter season, when the larger children of the farmers, &c., would generally attend. To prevent the younger children, who lived convenient to those central schools, from pressing in, too soon, and, at the same time,
to avoid the invidiousness of preliminary examinations, it would be well to adopt, as an undeviating rule, that no instruction should be given in the branches taught in the primary schools, excepting in composition, which should be attended to, on a more extended scale, one afternoon in the week.
The central schools should be considered as town schools, and, of course, should be partially supported by a proportion of the public funds from all the districts. It would not be proper, however, that these contributions should be in an equal ratio.. They should be adjusted on some principle favoring the districts, in proportion to their distance from the schoolhouse. It would scarcely be practicable to suggest a rule, that would apply, fairly, in all cases ; but something like the following might, probably, be satisfactory in the greater number :-Let such neighborhoods, within certain limits,) as would agree to furnish the schoolhouse, or make the most liberal offer towards that item of expense, have the right of fixing the site, and also have the use of the building for purposes not inconsistent with its character, when not occupied as a school. With respect to the other expenses, that part of the teachers' wages, not paid by the public money, might be raised by an equal tax on the scholars; while, in addition, the expense of board might be defrayed by those living within one mile of the schoolhouse, and of the fuel by those within from one to two miles. The more distant families would thus be compensated for the inconvenience of their remoteness, by their exemption from these expenses. Besides, as the children would not probably be prepared for the central school, till about the age of twelve, the increased distance would then be a matter of but trifling moment.
Attached to the central schoolhouse, there should always
a long shed, for the accommodation of the teams of the distant families, who would probably make some arrangement to furnish such a convenience, by turns; while those, who were unprovided, might pay a reasonable portion of its expense, by their labor. The schoolhouse itself should be on a scale sufficiently large, to admit of