CHAPTER XIX. General remarks continued - The common schools - Their defect - Difficulties - Management of the schools - The free academy - Railways - Telegraphs - Poverty - Literature - Advantages for emigrants - Difficulties of emigrants - Peace or war -
At a time when the deficiencies of our own educational system are so strongly felt, it may be well to give an outline of that pursued in the States. The following statistics, taken from the last census, show that our Transatlantic brethren have made great progress in moral and intellectual interests.
At the period when the enumeration was made there were 80,958 public schools, with 91,966 teachers, and 2,890,507 scholars; 119 colleges, with 11,903 students; 44 schools of theology; 36 schools of medicine; and 16 schools of law. Fifty millions of dollars were annually spent for education, and the proportion of scholars to the community was as 1 to 5.
But it is to the common-school system that the attention should be particularly directed. I may premise that it has one unavoidable defect, namely, the absence of religious instruction. It would be neither possible nor right to educate the children in any denominational creed, or to instruct them in any particular doctrinal system, but would it not, to take the lowest ground, be both prudent and politic to give them a knowledge of the Bible, as the only undeviating rule and standard of truth and right? May not the obliquity of moral vision, which is allowed to exist among a large class of Americans, be in some degree chargeable to those who have the care of their education - who do not place before them, as a part of their instruction, those principles of truth and morality, which, as revealed in Holy Scripture, lay the whole universe under obligations to obedience? History and observation alike show the little influence practically possessed by principles destitute of superior authority, how small the restraint exercised by conscience is, and how far those may wander into error who once desert "Life's polar star, the fear of God." In regretting the exclusion of religious instruction from the common-school system, the difficulties which beset the subject must not be forgotten, the multiplicity of the sects, and the very large number of Roman Catholics. In schools supported by a rate levied indiscriminately on all, to form a course of instruction which could bear the name of a religious one, and yet meet the views of all, and clash with the consciences and prejudices of none, was manifestly impossible. The religious public in the United States has felt that there was no tenable ground between thorough religious instruction and the broadest toleration. Driven by the circumstances of their country to accept the latter course, they have exerted themselves to meet this omission in the public schools by a most comprehensive Sabbath-school system. But only a portion of the children under secular instruction in the week attend these schools; and it must be admitted that to bestow intellectual culture upon the pupils, without giving them religious instruction, is to draw forth and add to the powers of the mind, without giving it any helm to guide it; in other words, it is to increase the capacity, without diminishing the propensity, to do evil.
Apart from this important consideration, the educational system pursued in the States is worthy of the highest praise, and of an enlightened people in the nineteenth century. The education is conducted at the public expense, and the pupils consequently pay no fees. Parents feel that a free education is as much a part of the birthright of their children as the protection which the law affords to their life and property.
The schools called common schools are supported by an education rate, and in each State are under the administration of a general board of education, with local boards, elected by all who pay the rate. In the State of Massachusetts alone the sum of 921,532 dollars was raised within the year, being at the rate of very nearly a dollar for every inhabitant. Under the supervision of the General Board of Education in the State, schools are erected in districts according to the educational necessities of the population, which are periodically ascertained by a census.
To give some idea of the system adopted, I will just give a sketch of the condition of education in the State of New York, as being the most populous and important.
There is a "state tax," or "appropriation," of 800,000 dollars, and this is supplemented by a rate levied on real and personal property. Taking as an authority the return made to the Legislature for the year ending in 1854, the total sum expended for school purposes within the State amounted to 2,469,248 dollars. The total number of children in the organised districts of the State was 1,150,532, of whom 862,935 were registered as being under instruction. The general management of education within the State is vested in a central board, with local boards in each of the organised districts, to which the immediate government and official supervision of the schools are intrusted.
The system comprises the common schools, with their primary and upper departments, a normal school for the preparation of teachers, and a free academy. In the city of New York there are 224 schools in the receipt of public money, of which 25 are for coloured children, and the number of pupils registered is given at 133,813. These common or ward schools are extremely handsome, and are fitted up at great expense, with every modern improvement in heating and ventilation. Children of every class, residing within the limits of the city, are admissible without payment, as the parents of all are supposed to be rated in proportion to their means.