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THE NEW EDDCATION IN THE NEW SOUTH.

BY A. D. MAYO

!

During the past five years the writer of this paper has been occu-
pied, in the school months of each season, with journeyings in the
cause of education through fifteen of the Southern States of our
Union. He has observed their systems of education ; visited schools,
public, private, academical, and collegiate, for both races ; those sup-
ported by endowments from the North, but especially those estab-
lished and conducted by the Southern people themselves. Through
the great kindness of teachers, school authorities and the people in
all the States visited, he has been able to obtain a large amount of
reliable information concerning the present condition of educational
affairs in this portion of the country. From the observations and
experiences of those deeply interesting years have come the opinions
and expectations to which the fair-minded reader is invited, in the
following statements concerning The New Education in the New
South.

Almost one hundred years ago, young Thomas Jefferson drew up
a scheme for the education of the people of Virginia, which, had it
been adopted, would have changed the history of that and of every
Southern State and the Nation. He proposed to emancipate the
slaves and fit them, by industrial training, for freedom ; to establish
a free school for every white child in every district of the colony ;
to support an academy for boys within a day's horseback ride of
every man in the Old Dominion ; and to crown all with a university,
unsectarian in religion, elective in its curriculum, teaching every-
thing necessary for a gentlemen to know. This plan received the
indorsement of many ot the most eminent men of the day, and
exalts the fame of Jefferson as an educator even higher than his
reputation as a statesman.

But in vain did he and his faithful friend, Joseph Cabell, urge this
wise policy upon the colony and the State. Old Virginia was not
prepared for such an advance upon the aristocratic ideas of that day,
and rejected the entire plan for a whole generation. At the end of
that long debate, the State, in 1819, adopted the head of the scheme,
and called the old, disappointed statesman from Monticello to lay the
corner-stone of the University of Virginia. The academical system






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was left to depend on sectarian religious or private enterprise foi
support, and a feeble and unpopular system of free instruction, for
poor white people, " dragged its slow length along " till the breaking
out of the late war.

Every other Southern State followed the example of Virginia, and
in all the aristocratic educational policy of old England prevailed.
The children of the superior classes were instructed, often expen-
sively, at home and abroad, and promising youth from the poorer
classes assisted to obtain an education. But the common white
people were left to fall away into ignorance, and the colored folk
were almost wholly untaught. Such was, virtually, the status of
education in the South till the breaking out of the great war. The
chief exception to this condition was in several of the larger cities of
these States, which had established and supported a creditable sys-
tem of public schools, for white children, several years before 1860.

But the grand conflict of sections, so long threatened, came at last,
and for ten mournful years the battle of arms and of reconstruction
through provisional governments and political estrangement went on.
It closed with the utter defeat of the attempt to divide the States,
and with such a complete prostration of the leading cla.ss, that
brought on the war, as never has been known in modern history,
save, perhaps, in the overthrow of the nobility ih the French revolu-
tion. Of course, the whole educational system of the old South was
left prostrate. In 1865, outside a few establishments, every college
and academy in the revolting States was simply a pile of buildings,
even if so much was spared. Their endowments were gone ; their
teachers dead or dispersed ; the foremost people too poor to send
their children from home to school ; and five millions emancipated
slaves, wholly untaught, and several millions of poor white people,
deplorably ignorant of letters, were flung upon society.

During the war and the ten years following various attempts were
made, by the government of the United States and people in the
North, for the instruction of the freedmen and the more ignorant
portion of the white people of the Southern States. All these
efforts were honestly made and carried on with as much success as
could be expected under the circumstances. During the period of
provisional governments, from '65 to '76, a system of free, popular
instruction for both races was attempted in all the revolting States ;
and, spite of great difficulties, some important results were obtained.
The masses, white and colored, were for the first time really waked
up to a strong desire for education. So, when the leading class,
returned to political power, from '70 to '76, they confronted a popu-



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lar demand for the common school impossible to resist. It is proba-
ble that, from 1861 to 1876, not less than $50,000,000 were expended
by the North and the nation in these experiments; although a por-
tion of this sum was levied from the people of the South.

The grand result of this effort was a considerable number of good
school buildings erected by the U. S. government ; perhaps a hun-
dred schools for the colored people, supported by northern churches,
which have since developed into important agencies, especially for
training teachers ; a general awakening of interest and a fertilizing
of the ground for the effort that was to come.

But no people can be educated without its own hearty co-operation ;
and not till about 1870 (curiously enough, the very period of the
great revival for popular education in England) did Virginia lead off,
followed, in due time, by all the sixteen Southern States, in the final
effort for the education of the masses of both races. New Virginia
now took down the free school for white and colored and the indus-
trial training school for the freedmen, proposed by Jefferson a hun-
dred years ago, and, to-day, the State of Jefferson is doing everything
proposed by him in what was regarded his visionary scheme in the
old time ; supporting the free common and the high school for both
races ; subsidizing the State University of Virginia; and contributing
to the support of the famous normal and industrial school for colored
students, at Hampton.

This movement has gone on until, to-day, every Southern State,
by the deliberate action of its own people, without compulsion from
without, has established a system of free education for children of
both races, and indorsed the whole American idea of the support of
the secondary and higher instruction by the Commonwealth. In
some of these States the school laws need amendment ; but the
poorest of them is a system which, if faithfully administered, would
destroy the curse of illiteracy which now vexes that portion of the
country.

At the same time the old colleges and academies have been largely
restored, and many new ones established, with large attendance of
students. The secondary and higher education was never in so
hopeful a condition through the South as to-day ; although none of
these schools are-suitably endowed, and most of them are hindered
by trials and discouragements such as even the New Northwest has
never known.

This long neglect of popular education, with the subsequent inter-
ruption of superior training during the school-life of one generation,
is now felt most keenly, when these States have actually girded



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themselves for the grand work of educating their children and youth,
and placing themselves among the foremost communities of modern
times. The colleges and academies are really inaccessible to multi-
tudes of the best families. The free school system for elementary
instruction, in some of the border States, has had a gratifying suc-
cess, and is improving everywhere. But in two-thirds of these com-
monweaths the child of the laboring man cannot expect over three
months of school instruction during the year, and even this is ob-
structed by a scattered population, habits of vagrancy among chil-
dren, and the indifference of ignorant parents. Of course, the
amount of money that can be appropriated for education in a country
just rising from utter prostration is comparatively small ; and the
masses of Southern people have not yet learned the indispensable
necessity of local effort to supplement the aid of the State. The
majority of public school teachers, though faithful according to their
light, have had poor opportunities for training in their art, and are
not paid enough to encourage them to unusual effort.

Enough to say that now, when the South is being awakened to its
duty, and is taking in hand the mighty work of educating its own
people, its leading classes find themselves involved in a vast and
wide-spread ignorance, with all which that signifies in a republican
government. There are now, in sixteen Southern States, 4,000,000
white and nearly 2,000,000 colored children and youth of school age,
of whom not one-third can be said to be in any effective school.
Seventy per cent, of the negroes, over ten years of age, are illiterate,
and, in North Carolina, one of the oldest of these States, nearly one-
third of the whites are in the same condition. And illiteracy, in a
land like ours, has an ominous and perilous meaning. Southern
illiteracy means, that, in sixteen States, is massed an army of igno-
rance that, in any great emergency, under skillful leaders, in league
with the barbarism of our great Northern cities, might contest the
political supremacy of the republic. Perhaps the worst feature of
popular ignorance is, that in every form of society the barbarism of
a numerous lower class is a temptation to despotism, dishonesty, and
general demoralization in the higher class that no set of men, how-
ever distinguished by honorable descent, culture, or religious privi-
lege, was ever yet known to resist. Especially does this law hold in
American communities, where sometimes a quarter, a third, possibly
a half of the voters, from their ignorance and general unfitness for
good citizenship, must be at the mercy of the superior orders of
society.



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There is nowhere a more devoted band of workers than the better
class of teachers and school officials in these sixteen Southern States.
Indeed, it may be said that in no country, at present, is the teaching
force, especially of women, drawn from a social class relatively so
high ; while the school officials are certainly equal in character, hon-
esty, and fidelity to those of any part of the country. But all experi-
ence shows that even faithful teachers and zealous officials, in a
country like ours, cannot succeed without the hearty support of the
majority of the people. The development of the common school
sentiment in all these States has been remarkable in the past ten
years, and every State is now fully committed to popular education.
But, owing to the impediments I have mentioned, there is this differ-
ence between the position of the teacher in North and South.

When the Northern schoolmistress steps into her little red country
schoolhouse upon the hills, or the prairies, she has behind her the
intelligent determination of the people, the support of all profes-
sional classes, largely the sympathy of the church, the good will of
society, the aid of the press, the popular lecture, the village library-
and a reading habit largely diffused among "all sorts and conditions
of men." And, thus sustained, she moves on her work, if competent
to appreciate its magnitude, like a gallant ship, sailing into port with
" a fresh breeze and a flowing sea," favored by all the forces of nature
and backed by the mighty energies that now propel our national life.

But when the Southern country schoolmistress steps upon her
platform, she too often stands, an isolated missionary, in a commu
nity without libraries or habits of reading; with poor access to an
influential press ; in some cases with the professional class not in full
sympathy, and the ignorant class constantly interfering with her best
work. And she is like a vessel beating about amid the fogs and
storms and shifting sands of our dangerous northeastern coast,
always in peril, and at any moment liable to be sunk by collision or
overwhelmed in a stormy sea.

But all things are possible to any commonwealth of American
people, when once determined to achieve a great result for the ele-
vation of man. It is one of the most dramatic points of our history,
this persistent way in which the idea of Jefferson clung to the pro-
gressive people of his own State, until, at the end of a hundred years,
it came forth even more beneficent and powerful than was conceived
by its founder. The omens of encouragement are now many and
cheering, as I am happy to testify, after the most free and thorough
examination of the educational movement through these States.

The first omen of good is the fact that the people of the whole



South have taken the decisive step toward the free schooling of
every class, and have indorsed, in full, the American idea that the
State is bound to aid in the education of its people. I undertake to
say that no people in human history has made an effort so remarka-
ble, all circumstances considered, as the people of the South during
the past fifteen years, in what they have already done for the school-
ing of their children. In many of their cities the public schools will
compare favorably with those of other parts of the country. Their
reviving colleges and academies are mainly in the hands of able and
devoted teachers. Their schools for girls are improving, and there is
a great deal of interest in the higher education of women. Their
teachers, as a body, are doing more good work for less pay than any
class of their profession in our country, and not unfrequently are
making sacrifices which amount to absolute heroism in their devotion
to their work. I have just come from the State of South Carolina,
where I have seen the largest audience-rooms in a score of her prin-
cipal towns and cities crowded with their best people, to listen to
addresses on public education. And, generally, there is no topic of
public spee^trtn^t^ate^oniversation that now seems more generally
interesting and even electric, through great portions of these States,
than this. Last year the Southern States paid no less than
$17,00x3,000 for the education of their children and youth of both
races ; probably five or six millions for the schooling of people who
were held as property twenty-five years ago. And when one has seen
the actual condition of the Southern people, as I have witnessed it,
he can understand that $17,000,000, down there, represent countless
millions in our wealthy, prosperous, and powerful North.

Another fact, full of encouragement, is found in the good quality
of the native Southern stock of white people, and the capacity for
good educational training by the great majority of the children, even
of the poorer classes. Outside a few localities, it is almost entirely
composed of one of the best in the world for educational purposes.
The percentage of recent ignorant foreign immigration is remarkably
small, and the great mass of the white people, educated or unedu-
cated, is of British and German descent, and will respond most
readily to good educational efforts. Beside, we must remember that
the South, beyond the Alleghenies, has given to all its people a
train in^urtrrerclosely'fesFmblihg that of the Northwest, and that out
of the labors, toils, and achievements of the last half-century in the
Southwest has emerged one of the most vigorous populations in the
world, educated in all ways, except in the training of letters, which
it has now made up its mind to take in hand. As a consequence,



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the white children of the South, when properly handled, are remark-
ably good subjects for schooling by the beautiful new methods that
are everywhere prevailing in all good schools.

The two millions of colored children and youth of school age are in
nowise a discouraging material for the schoolmaster. To all depre-
ciation of the colore^d American citizen there is this decisive answer :
No people, since the dawn of history, ever got so far out of the woods
of Pagan barbarism in two hundred and fifty years as the colored
people of the United States. In that time they have learned the
three great lessons of American civilization, continuous and profita-
ble work, the English language, and the Christian religion. Their
youth now enter upon the race of knowledge, far behind the white
child, with his inheritance of a thousand years of training, but yet
with the sympathy of the whole world, and such an opportunity for
advancement on every hand as was never offered to a race of freed-
men since the world began. The chief danger in the schooling of
the colored people is no longer from the hostility of the white man,
but from the crude notions of education in their own race, which are
constantly baffling the efforts of those who most have their good at
heart. When the colored pupils in Southern schools have thoroughly
learned God's eternal law, to begin at the beginning and "make
haste slowly," the great work of their final enlightenment and culti-
vation will have fully begun.

Another most cheering sign in the educational skies of the South
is the great number of young women, daughters of the best -known
families, who are~no^w^rJecoming teachers' in all the schools. The
war itself, and the years that followed, have been the great women's
university in all these States, calling forth the energies of thousands
who otherwise would have lived in thoughtless ease, and inspiring
among large numbers of the younger women a most affecting enthu-
siasm for the best culture, and a willingness to devote themselves to
the teaching of the most ignorant and needy in their States. I find
everywhere these young women teaching for the smallest compensa-
tion, in little schools of both races, making great sacrifice to obtain
the education upon which their hearts are set, and coming to the
front in a thousand ways which are changing the whole face of
Southern society. So wonderfully has Providence brought the high-
est and best culture of the land in contact with the most needy ; as
if all things conspired to second this new revival through these
vast areas of the republic.

In short, if we look at what has not been done, on the shadowy side
of this problem of Southern education, we may stand almost appalled



at the magnitude of the work ; and this is the view which the mass
even of friendly people at the North too often take of the situation
in the South. But the man who goes among these people and looks
in the faces of the children and youth, feels the spirit prevailing
among their better sort of teachers and schoolmen, and notes the
widening and deepening flow of the school sentiment in every State,
forgets these discouragements and comes back to prophesy for the
good. For here, as in every region of life, the Southern people are
showing that they are Americans in the highest sense, in that they
despair of nothing they believe worthy to be done, and yield to no-
body in their desire to come to the front in all the elements of the
highest civilization of modern times.

And now the question forces itself on us : What can the Nation
and the Northern people do for the South at school ?

The time to help a people is when it begins to help itself. Even
with the South not yet aroused to its own highest interest and duty
in this respect, every consideration of public policy, of enlightened
self-interest, and national prosperity would demand that the people
of the North and the national government should come to the rescue
and help in the work. But, now that the South is awakened with a
mighty motion through all its vast areas, conscious of its own great
need, and through its representatives in the government makes its
desires and interests known, every motive of patriotism, of philan-
thropy, of Christian fellowship comes in to enforce the obligation.

I have no words to waste on any man or party holding off in this
emergency, on the pitiful plea that the Southern people should be
left to do this work alone. It was one thing for the old States of the
North to gradually develop their systems of popular instruction,
through a century, in which they, with all their imperfections, led
the world in the general intelligence of their people. It was a
much easier problem for the new West, out of munificent public
endowments of land and a constant stream of private beneficence
from the East, with a flood of the most vigorous young people setting
in from the whole world, to establish, in one generation, the splendid
arrangements for schooling the masses of which they are so justly
proud. But, surely, the man who demands of the Southern people,
in their present condition, the effort necessary to establish a good
country district school of six months in the year, with suitable free
elementary graded schools in the towns, and normal instruction for
teachers, in addition to the support of the secondary, higher, profes-
sional, and industrial education, in a way to overcome the terrible
illiteracy of the country in a reasonable time, and aid in the develop-



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ment of intelligent industry and the solution of the most embarrass-
ing of race problems, must either have a very inadequate notion of
the work to be done, or a desire to visit the offences of the fathers
on the children ; or he must be one of those "strict constructionists,"
in college, congres^, or court who would save a doubtful interpreta-
tion of the Constitution, even though a commonweath slid down to
perdition. I believe constitutions were made for men, and I further
believe this American Union will hold together only while a public
necessity, in the most remote corner of the land, is felt to be the
public obligation of the whole American people.

Time will fail to more than hint at four vital points in which the
people of the North can speed this great revival of universal educa-
tion in the Southland.

First, this object can be served by the effort to obtain from the
general government a generous grant for national aid to elementary
education, which, for a limited time, under wise administration,
shall help the people to establish the common school in every dis-
trict of that vast area.

Second, by generous and judicious donations of money like those
of Peabody, the Vanderbilt family, Corcoran, Sceney^_S]atei,-Mrs.
Hemenway, and many ot our WesTern pliiTantriropTsts, for the build-
ing up of secondary and collegiate schools for white and colored stu-
dents. Here the one condition to be observed is, that it is better to
strengthen a good institution already on the ground than experiment
on new enterprises. For a generation the South can be greatly
helped in this way.

Third, by encouragement and generous help, by our best Northern
educators and national aid, in the training of teachers for all sorts of
common schools. The South does not need an invasion of second-
rate or invalid teachers from the North, or, indeed, any great addi-
tion, numerically, to its own teaching force. It has admirable mate-
rial, of both races, for competent teachers. But it needs facilities
for training these young people in normal schools, institutes and
good educational reading ; and, in this way, a great lift can be given
to the good cause.

Fourth, the South needs industrial schools of several kinds. I,
Schools of housekeeping, to train a class of good colored servants
and instruct thousands of girls of both races in the art of skilled
home making. 2. Schools of agriculture, to reconstruct the igno-
rant labor that so retards the development of this country, so favored
by nature. 3. Schools of mechanics, like the excellent manual
training schools now rising in all our Northern cities, to develop a



class of skilled workmen and workwomen and aid in the progress of
the higher manufacturing interests, which must be cared for in the
near future. The most serious disability of the South in its material
development is uneducated and unskilled labor, and its future power
and glory in this direction must all pass through the schoolhouse
door.

In all these ways, for a generation to come, the South will be the


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Online LibraryA. D. (Amory Dwight) MayoThe new education in the new South → online text (page 1 of 2)