Copyright by the editor, Hal Morris, Secaucus, NJ 1997. Permission is granted to copy, but not for sale, nor in multiple copies, except by permission.
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The following is from James G. Carter, Essays on Popular Education, (Boston, 1826), quoted in Education in the United States, A Documentary History, vol 3, p1286ff.
Note that the following refers to New England (particularly Massachusetts), which was unusual for its provision of any free schools at all, and generally thought to have the best school system in the country.
"It will be convenient to point out the faults of [public secondary education] under the following heads; first the "Summer Free Schools," which are generally, taught in the country towns for a few months in the warm season of the year by females; and second, the "Winter Free Schools," which are taught by men, commonly, for a shorter period, during the cold season. Children of both sexes of from four to ten or twelve years, usually attend these primary summer schools, and females often to a much later age. ... What has been done [towards the advancement of education in this age group]? Nothing at all, absolutely nothing at all, even in our best schools. This period is vitally important as it regards the cultivation of the heart and the affections. What has been done here? Chance and ill-directed efforts make up all the education, which we have received or are giving to our children in the schools in this department.
"The teachers of the primary summer schools have rarely had any education beyond what they have acquired in the very schools where they begin to teach. ... This is the only service, in which we venture to employ young, and often, ignorant persons, without some previous instruction in their appropriate duties. ... We would not buy a coat or a hat of one, who should undertake to make them without a previous apprenticeship. Nor would anyone have the hardihood to offer to us the result of his first essay in manufacturing either of these articles. ... Yet we commit our children to be educated to those, who know nothing, absolutely nothing, of the complicated and difficult duties assigned to them.
"... any one keeps school, ... who wishes to do it, and can persuade, by herself, or her friends, a small district to employ her. And this is not a very difficult matter, especially when the [pay] is so very trifling. The farce of an examination and a certificate from the minister of the town, for it is a perfect farce, amounts to no efficient check upon the obtrusions of ignorance and inexperience. As no standard if fixed by law, each minister makes a standard for himself, and alters it as often as the peculiar circumstances of the case require.
[regarding the free winter schools, generally taught by young men.]
The young man, who lays down his axe and aspires to take up the "rod" and rule in a village school, has, usually, in common with other young men, a degree of dignity and self-complacency, which it is dangerous ... And when he comes to his minister, sustained by his own influence in the parish, and that of a respectable father and perhaps a large family of friends, and asks of him the legal [certification to teach], it is a pretty delicate matter to refuse it. A firm and conscientious refusal ... has led, in more insances than one, to a firm and conscientious refusal to hear the minister preach. ... he has found himself at last "unsettled" and thrown with his family, perhaps in his old age, upon the world to seek [a living] as he may. This is truly martyrdom. And martyrs in ordinary times are rare. ... So much for the literary qualifications of instructers."
From New York State, Dept. of Public Instruction, Annual Report of the Superintendent of Common Schools, ... 1843 (Albany, 1843) quoted in p1294, Education in the United States, A Documentary History, vol 3.
"Another, and the last class of teachers I will mention, are those who, to gain a notoriety, ... They ... have no ideas of the business they are about to engage in, or of those things they are required to teach. They enter their schools without seeing any thing clearly. Their minds are confused, and they know not what to do, how to act, or what to expect. If called upon to explain the principle upon which any rule in arithmetic is founded, they are utterly at a loss to know what is meant by the question. It has never once entered their heads that the rules of arithmetic are founded upon any principles whatever.
[an extreme case]
"In the examination of a teacher, whose school I visited last winter, I asked him why he carried one for every ten in addition of whole numbers. "Because figures decrease from the right hand to the left in a tenfold proportion." "But sir, you cannot mean 'decrease' can you?" "Sartin, I mean decrease, and that is what the rule says; for I have larnt it by heart." He could recite as he had learned them the tables of weights and measures in arithmetic; but could not answer one question in ten when asked promiscuously. I desired him to tell what part of speech "wise" is in ... "Into the will and arbitration wise of the Supreme." After looking at it for some time with a vacant stare, he replied, "I don't get hold of the meanin of the author in that place, and don't know what part of speech wise is. I never studied grammar only about tu weeks, and I don't pretend to understand it perfectly; but I reckoned how I understood it well enough to keep the school in this deestrick." I asked him to spell potato, and tell me which syllable had the full or primary accent? He spelled the word, and said "The full accent is on the last syllable." I then pronounced the word with the accent agreeably to his notion, and asked him if it was right? He thought not. He then said "it is the first;" but after making a practical application of accent to the first syllable, he perceived he was mistaken, and said "it is the second." I asked him which is the most northeastern State? He did "not know sartin, but he bleaved it was Ohio or Indiana."
The last piece is drawn from the description, in The Cornerstone, by Jacob Abbott, of a spontaneous religious revival that occured at Amherst college. Pages 313ff are a mix of mundane day to day routine, together with Abbott's view interpretation of college life as a dramatic struggle for the souls of the students against "haters of religion".
"The appearance which a NewEngland College exhibits to a traveller, is that of a group of large brick buildings, generally a hundred feet long, and four stories high, standing ... on the borders of some quiet country village. The buildings are connected with one another, and approached from various directions, by gravelled walks, and perhaps, ornamented with shrubbery; and one among them, distinguished usually by a form somewhat different from the rest, and surmounted by a sort of cupola, indicates that the whole constitute some public establishment.
A fresh admission of students takes place in the autumn of each year, consisting ordinarily of young men, from twenty years of age, down to thirteen. These students are united into one class, and commence one course of study, which extends through a period of four years. During these four years, there will of course be three more admissions, making four classes. and only four in the institution at the same time.
The large buildings I have alluded to, are divided into rooms, as nearly alike as possible;-eight usually upon a floor, and consequently, thirtytwo in all. Each one of these rooms is assigned to two of the members of the class admitted, and it is to be for one year their home The first day of the collegiate year, those portions of the building assigned to the Freshmen, as the last admitted are called, exhibit a scene of very peculiar and striking character. ...
In every class there is a large number of youthful members, whose parents' situation in life is such, that they have been the objects of constant attention from infancy, and have accordingly been early fitted for college, and sent to the institution before their minds are sufficiently matured, and their moral principles firmly enough established, to resist the new and strong temptations to which they are henceforth to be exposed. Others are older and more mature. Many of these have prepared themselves for college by their own exertions, and have entered under the influence of strong desires to avail themselves of its privileges. In these two classes may be found almost every variety of human character. Every virtue and every vice here exhibit themselves. There is infidelity, cold, calculating, malicious infidelity, establishing her wretched reign in the bosoms of young men just opening into manhood. There is vice, secret and open, of every species, and in every degree. There is intemperance and profaneness, and hatred of religion, and an open and reckless opposition to the cause of God and holiness, scarcely ever surpassed by the animosity of any veteran foe.
The lines between the enemies and the friends of God are thus drawn in college more distinctly than in almost any other community:-and the young and inexperienced in every new class, are marked out by the idle dissipated, and abandoned, for their prey. The victim first listens to language and sentiments which undermine his regard for the principles of duty, and weaken those cords which Christian parents had bound around his heart, when he left his early home, and he soon falls more and more under the influence of these ungodly companions. Half allured by their persuasions and half compelled by their rude intrusions into his room, he spends the hours which college laws allot to study, in idle reading, or in games of chance or skill. He first listens to ridicule of religious persons, and then joins in it, and next begins to ridicule and despise religion itself. The officers of college do all in their power to arrest his progress. They see the first indications of his beginning to go astray, in the neglect of his studies, and in the irregularity of his attendance upon college duties; and again and again appoint one of their number to warn him, and expostulate with him, and kindly to put him on his guard. How many such efforts have I made! As I write these paragraphs, I can recall these interviews to mind with almost the distinctness of actual vision. A short time after sending the messenger for the one who was to receive the friendly admonition, I would hear his timid rap at the door. He would enter with a look of mingled guilt, fear, and shame, or sometimes with a step and countenance of assumed assurance. How many times in such circumstances, have I tried in vain to gain access to the heart! 1 have endeavored to draw him into conversation about his father and mother, and the scenes of home and childhood, that I might insensibly awaken recollections of the past, and bring back long lost feelings, and reunite broken ties. I have tried to lead him to anticipate the future, and see the dangers of idleness, dissipation, and vice. I have endeavored to draw forth and encourage the feeble resolution, and by sympathy, and kindness, and promises of aid, to bring back the wanderer to duty and to happiness. He would listen in cold and respectful silence, and go away unchanged; perhaps, to make a few feeble resolutions, soon to be forgotten; but more probably to turn into ridicule the moral lecture, as he would call it, which he had received; and to go on, with a little more caution and secrecy perhaps, but with increased hardihood and rapidity, in the course of sin.
In many cases, college censures and punishments frequently follow, until expulsion closes the story. In other cases, the individuals conceal their guilt, while they become more and more deeply involved in it, and more and more hardened. They associate with one another, and at length, in some cases, form a little community where ungodliness, infidelity, and open sin, have confirmed an unquestioned sway.
I must say a word or two now in regard to the ordinary routine of daily life at college, in order that the description which is to follow, may be better understood. Very early in the morning, the observer may see lights at a few of the windows of the buildings inhabited by the students. They mark the rooms occupied by the more industrious or more resolute, who rise and devote an hour or two to their books by lamplight on the winter mornings. About day, the bell awakens the multitude of sleepers in all the rooms, and in a short time they are to be seen issuing from the various doors, with sleepy looks, and with books under their arms, and some adjusting their hurried dress. The first who come down, go slowly, others with quicker and quicker step, as the tolling of the bell proceeds:-and the last few stragglers run with all speed, to secure their places before the bell ceases to toll. When the last stroke is sounded, it usually finds one or two too late, who stop short suddenly, and return slowly to their rooms
The President or one of the Professors reads a portion of scripture by the mingled light of the pulpit lamps, and the beams which come in from the reddening eastern sky. He then offers the morning prayer. The hundreds of young men before him exhibit the appearance of respectful attention, except that four or five, appointed for the purpose, in different parts of the chapel, are looking carefully around to observe and note upon their bills, the absentees. A few also, not fearing God or regarding their duty, conceal under their cloaks, or behind a pillar or a partition between the pews, the book which contains their morning lesson:-and attempt to make up as well as the faint but increasing light will enable them, for the time wasted in idleness or dissipation on the evening before. When prayers are over the several cusses repair immediately to the rooms assigned respectively to them, and recite the first lesson of the day.
During the short period which elapses between the recitation and the breakfast bell, college is a busy scene. Fires are kindling in every room. Groups are standing in every corner, or hovering around the newlymade fires:-parties are running up and down the stairs two steps at a time, with the ardor and activity of youth:- and now and then, a fresh crowd is seen issuing from the door of same one of the buildings, where a class has finished its recitation, and comes forth to disperse to their rooms;-followed by their instructer, who walks away to his house in the village. The breakfast bell brings out the whole throng again, and gathers them around the long tables in the Common's Hall, or else scatters them among the private families in the neighborhood.
An hour after breakfast the bell rings, to mark the commencement of studyhours:-when the students are required by College laws to repair to their respective rooms, which answer the threefold purpose of parlor, bedroom, and Study, to prepare for their recitation at eleven o'clock. They, however, who choose to evade this law, can do it Without much danger of detection. The great majority comply, but some go into their neighbors' rooms to receive assistance in their studies, some lay aside the dull text book, and read a tale, or play a game: and others, farther gone in the road of idleness and dissipation, steal secretly away from college, and ramble in the woods, or skate upon the ice, or find some rendezvous of dissipation in the village, evading their tasks like truant boys They, of course, are marked as absent; but pretended sickness will answer for an excuse, they think, once or twice, and they go on, blind to the certainty of the disgrace and ruin, which must soon come.
The afternoon is spent like the forenoon, and the last recitation of the winter's day, is just before the sun goes down. An hour is allotted to it, and then follow evening prayers, at the close of which the students issue from the chapel, and walk in long procession to supper.
It is in the evening, however, that the most striking peculiarities of college life, exhibit themselves. Sometimes literary societies assemble, organized and managed by the Students, where they hold debates, or entertain each other with declamations, essays, and dialogues. Sometimes a religious meeting is held, attended by a Portion of the professors of religion, and conducted by all officer; at other times the students remain in their rooms, some quietly seated by their fire, one on each sire, reading, writing, or preparing the lessons for the following morning:-others assemble for mirth and dissipation or prowl around the entries and halls, to perpetrate petty mischief, breaking the windows of some hapless Freshman,-or burning nauseous drugs at the keyhole of his door,-or rolling logs down stairs, and running instantly into a neighboring room so as to escape detection;-or watching at an upper window to pour water unobserved upon some fellow student passing in or out below;-or plugging up the keyhole of the chapel door, to prevent access to it for morning prayers; -or gaining access to the bell by false keys, and cutting the rope, or filling it with water to freeze during the night:-or some other of the thousand modes of doing mischief to which the idle and flexible Sophomore is instigated by some calculating, and malicious mischief maker in a higher class. After becoming tired of this, they gather together in the room of some dissolute companion, and there prepare themselves a supper, with food they have plundered from a neighboring poultry yard, and utensils obtained in some similar mode. Ardent spirit sometimes makes them noisy;-and a college officer, at half past nine, breaks in upon them, and exposure and punishment are the consequences;-disgrace, suspension, and expulsion for themselves, and bleeding hearts for parents and sisters at home. At other times, with controlled and restrained indulgence, they sit till midnight, sowing the bitter seeds of vice; undermining health, destroying all moral sensibility, and making almost sure the ruin of their souls.
In the meantime, the officers of the institution, with a fidelity and an anxious interest, which is seldom equalled by any solicitude except that which is felt by parents for their children, struggle to resist the tide. They watch, they observe, they have constant records kept, and in fact, they go as far as it is possible to go, in obtaining information about the character and history of each individual, without adopting a system of espionage, which the nature of the institution, and the age of a majority of the pupils, renders neither practicable nor proper. They warn every individual who seems to be in danger, with greater and greater distinctness, according to the progress he seems to be making, and as soon as evidence will justify it, they remove every one whose stay seems dangerous to the rest; but still the evil will increase, in spite of all the ordinary human means, which can be brought against it.