Indiana. General Assembly.

Documentary journal of Indiana 1856, part 1 (Volume 1856, pt.1) online

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APPENDIX NO. VI.

Circular to Township Boards.

Department of Public Instruction, 1
Indianapolis, Dec. 15, 1856, j

To the Township Trustees:

Gentlemen: — Having had the pleasure of a personal interview
•with many of you during the period of my official life, in addition
to divers circular conferences, I cannot consent to close my educa-
tional relations with you, without one more expression of sympa-
thy with you in your arduous duties, one more effort to aid you in
meeting your official responsibilities, one more word of cheer to
quicken your flagging spirits. To me these interchanges of thought,
these comparisons of views and experience, these free expressions
of opinion on the workings of our educational system have been
both pleasant and profitable. I trust, also, that they have not been
altogether devoid of interest or advantage even to you, though in
some instances they were necessarily brief. This pleasure would
have been materially heightened, and the satisfaction essentially
increased, had no obstacle intervened to prevent a full attendance
of your respective boards at the time and place designated for the
aforesaid conference. Notwithstanding the infelicity of the time,
in some instances, being in the midst of pressing agricultural labor,
and in others, the failure of the notice of the meeting to reach the
auditors, or their announcement of the conference not being re-
ceived by all the members of the township boards in due season,
yet I have met almost six hundred trustees, representing near one-
third of the civil corporations of the commonwealth. The number
would doubtless have been greatly increased had not the afore-
said adverse circumstances and kindred obstacles, prevented.

To magnify one's office and discharge faithfully its incumbent
duties, it is necessary to be impressed with a clear, vivid, and abid-
ing conviction of the magnitude of the interests in charge. You
sustain a relation to the cause of popular education, that makes
your office the most important of all in the whole catalogue of
educational functionaries. Each of the others may do their duty,
and yet the enterprise may prove a failure ; but if you are true and
faithful to your trust, the educational interests of the common-
wealth are safe. Hence, it is neither flattery nor exaggeration to
say that the most important educational office created by the sta-
tute is the township trusteeship.



568

Let the township trustees of Indiana do their duty faithfully,
fearlessly, and our rural corporations will be divided into school
localities of the proper dimensions. One of the prominent objects
of the township feature of control, was to remedy an evil which
we had begun to feel, and of which others have had sad experience
enough. An evil that curtails present blessings and leaves no hope
of their expansion in future, and entails on the coming generation
the perpetuity of the curse of small and weak districts. This is
the first step, the preliminary movement, that will herald the intro-
duction of concomitant measures of kindred character. Let our
districts be large, the school sites at a proper remove from each
other, and the people will soon see the wisdom and economy of the
policy that concentrates effort, funds and fixtures. Fewer schools,
more comfortable structures, and superior teachers, are the natural
and legitimate results. If trustees act wisely and firmly in the
premises, irrespective of this man's whims or that neighbor's ca-
price, they will carry with them the sober second thought of a ma-
jority of their fellow citizens.

Let them take the next step, in a like intelligent and decided
manner, and there will rise, on these sites, spacious, tasteful and
convenient structures, the glory of the commonwealth, the joy and
delight of the teacher, a comfort and blessing to our children, both
physically, mentally and morally. A good school house is an edu-
cational instrumentality of no mean potency, none the less real
and substantial, though scores of teachers and hundreds of parents
have had no experience of its power to bless. There is most em-
phatically money, as well as mental culture, in such structures.
Did not the nine brick school houses, 25 by 38 feet in length and
breadth, with windows suspended and ample means for ventilla-
tion, erected this year in one of our old counties, at the cost of one
thousand dollars each, add nothing to the value of the real estate
of that township ? Erect these educational lightning rods at
proper distances in a corporation and they will soon relieve its
moral atmosphere of the surplus electricity of crime and pollution,
with which it may be surcharged. Locate these literary light-
houses on every suitable site, and the barks of ignorance will be
able to reach the haven of knowledge, and the expense will be
reimbursed, a hundred fold, by the moral and intellectual wealth
thus introduced into the corporation.

To make these structures what they ought to be, it will be nec-
essary for those, charged with the responsibility of their erection,
to study the science of ventillation and understand its vital impor-
tance, in order to appreciate the wisdom and economy of being
governed by its principles and heeding its suggestions. Let no
school house go up hereafter in Indiana, without being an embodi-
ment of taste, experience and science. No township board in the
State can plead a want of suitable information. There are in
every township library of Indiana, or ought to be, (for they have
been purchased and forwarded to the same,) the two standard and



569

popular works in this department, Barnard's and the Pennsylvania
School Architecture. Let the school houses be all that could be
desired in external dimensions, length, breadth and height. In
the latter respect, let none be less than twelve feet in the clear.
We have a pre-emption right to as much of the space above, as
we can appropriate, and it is most emphatically a vital article in
the business of education. Let the furniture, internal arrange-
ment and fixtures correspond to the external form and finish.
Remember that penny wisdom generally results in pound folly,
entailing no praise on its advocates, and securing no comfort to
its objects.

The next step, in the ascending series of improvement, is the
employment of competent teachers. The old saying, "poor pay
poor preach," is not without its significancy and pertinence to edu-
cational interests and policy. Saw as it may be, it will neverthe-
less cut both ways, as many, who have used it, have found to their
sorrow. Cheap teachers are generally costly instructors, and the
economy of employing such, frequently proves the perfection of
extravagance. Aim to get the genuine article, and be willing to
pay the market price. Remember that in matters of mental cul-
ture, time is emphatically knowledge. Why feed our children
with the husks of ignorance rather than the bread of wisdom?
Why deprive them of the benefits of real training, for the mere
pittance to be gained by the employment of a dunce, at a reduced
compensation? Adopt a wiser and more economical policy. Em-
ploy good teachers, adapted to the varied character of your several
districts, and make them still better by frequent visitation. No
man should assume the responsibilities of school trustee whose
soul is not in sympathy with the cause, and whose zeal has not
power enough to secure his presence at least once in every school
taught in the corporation. Some boards have committed the mis-
take of supposing that the appointment of district directors exone-
rated them from the obligation or duty of visiting the schools.
That provision of the statute was not designed to make the director
a substitute for, but a subsidiary of the trustee. There is room
enough, in the educational sphere, for both of these luminaries to
revolve and shine without any danger of collision or eclipse. Do
not be guilty of the preposterous attempt to reduce all your teach-
ers to the same uniform compensation. There may be, in many
townships, a degree of similarity in a portion of the districts, but
as great a dissimilarity may exist between another portion, forbid-
ding the idea of securing appropriate teachers on any uniform
scale of compensation. No such equality ever existed under the
old district regime, and there is no propriety in attempting it under
the township policy. It would create far more dissatisfaction than
an independent course, guided by wisdom and directed by circum-
stances.

Some trustees have likewise misapprehended the spirit and in-
tent of the statute, giving the people of a district the privilege of



570

expressing and enjoying their preference for a particular teacher, if
they chose to exercise it. Such boards have converted said privi-
lege into an incumbent duty, and therefore devolved the entire re-
sponsibility of procuring a teacher, on the people of their respective
districts, instead of promptly meeting it themselves. It is to be
hoped no board will hereafter adopt that course. It will prove a
fatal perversion, and result in an entire destruction of that feature
of the statute. The township principle of control rests its claims
of superiority on the assumption that the board of trustees will be
an embodiment of the educational wisdom, zeal, and discretion of
the corporation, and therefore the most competent to meet the
aforesaid responsibilities. If the action of the people does not
correspond with the theory of the statute, the fault is not in the
law.

There is another important duty devolving on the trustees, which
is but imperfectly understood and correspondingly carried out by
some boards, and which requires attention and prompt correction.
It is the use and preservation of the township library. By most, the
responsibility has been properly met and faithfully and wisely dis-
charged, as their reports show; while others have grossly and
shamefully neglected their duty. Some libraries have been located
in places very unsuitable for access and consultation, so repulsive
and forbidding to many who wish to use the books, that it amount-
ed to a practical exclusion of them from the privilege. There is
but little affinity, to say the least, between a library and a grocery,
between the fumes of whiskey and the flowers and fragrance of
literature. Select an appropriate place for its location, and make
it as attractive as possible, so that our youth and all, wishing to
use the books, can have an easy and pleasant access to them.

The period for which the books may be retained, if desired,
should not be less than four nor more than six weeks. The term
last named would frequently be but a reasonable time for the
perusal of large volumes, and accord with the circumstances of
the citizens in the rural districts. I would also suggest that the
fines, for not returning the books at the proper time, be so gradu-
ated as not to seem exorbitant in the outset. A careful record of
the books taken by individuals, should be kept, both for safety and
an annual report of the use of the library. You will find the
library an efficient educational auxiliary, and you would do an
important service to the cause, by calling the attention of the
youth of your corporations to its rich treasures of instruction and
entertainment, and counseling them to form the habit of resorting
to that source of amusement and valuable knowledge. A weeldy
access to it should be enjoyed by all who wish to explore its
treasures, and it is doubtful whether it should be more frequent.

The wisdom of prompt action and systematic effort, in procur-
ing suitable teachers, and visiting schools, cannot be too strongly
impressed on the minds of the township boards. This is a funda-
mental point. It is, in fact, the hinge on which the door must



571

turn that admits us to the pleasure and satisfaction of seeing the
system in harmonious and successful operation. Fidelity at this
point will ensure success. Labor and personal sacrifice will be
requisite to meet these responsibilities, but the acceptance of the
office implied a pledge on your part, that these elements of suc-
cess should not be wanting. A Board that is familiar with each
district, its number of pupils, their character and progress, will
find but little difficulty, by prompt action in the premises, in pro-
curing a corps of teachers suited to the varied character and
circumstances of said districts. When you have made the con-
tract with all your teachers, in respect to compensation, you have
the means of determining the length of your schools for the year.
This result will be reached by dividing the amount of the school
funds on hand, by the aggregate cost of all your teachers for one
day. If there be a district, for which you cannot get a teacher,
or which prefers their school in the summer, from your acquaint-
ance with the character and progress of the pupils, you will be at
no loss to determine the probable cost of a teacher for said dis-
trict, and with this estimate as an element in your calculation,
you need not be embarrassed in your action, even by such occur-
rences.

In utter disregard of this plain and obvious method of proceed-
ure, some Boards have divided the tuition funds among the
districts equally, and then applying the procrustian process to the
teachers, have reduced everything to the dead level of uniformity.
Others have divided the school funds on the per capita basis, in
defiance of the requisition of the 27th Section of the Revised
School Law, requiring schools to be of uniform length in all the
districts of the same township. The latter is clearly forbidden by
the statute, and the former is neither required nor contemplated
by the law. The adoption of the cash system, commended to
your favorable regard in a former communication, will relieve you
from much perplexity, the teachers from no small amount of vex-
ation, and the corporation from the infelicity of being in the
market with nothing more reliable than promises, which are
always subject to discount. Do a cash business, and you can
command the services of competent men, provided you do not
place intellectual capital below mere physical force, on the scale
of pecuniary remuneration. A Board, that would propose to pay
a less per diem compensation for teaching their children, than
they would give for digging a ditch, ought to be appointed swamp
land commissioners rather than chosen school Trustees.

While you aim to give each district a school house suited to its
reasonable wants, both present and prospective, which will neces-
sarily involve a variety not inconsistent with uniformity, cases will
occasionally occur, in' which the people of some localities may
wish improvements and appendages not embraced in your pro-
gramme of building. You can gratify their preference, on the
basis of their furnishing the means for these extras without any
ID. J. — H



572

claim for receipts therefor. One wants a bell, another windows
suspended. Consistency would require you, either to supply all
with these conveniences, important and desirable as they may be,
or none, at the general expense. No school house should be
erected without an ample provision of black-boards, and a teacher
who has no appreciation of their value and no sympathy with
their use, may well be deemed unqualified for his calling. All
school structures in the rural sections should be provided with
shutters, with proper fastenings, to protect the windows from dam-
age and the house from unauthorized or surreptitious entrance.

There is another matter of prime importance that should neither
be underrated, overlooked, nor neglected even in the rural districts.
It is a modification of the graded system, which you are author-
ized by the 8th section of the law to establish, if you deem it wise
and necessary. There will often be, in more or less of the districts
in older townships, a number of advanced scholars, whose attain-
ments require a teacher of superior experience and qualifications.
Let provision be made for these, by the establishment of such a
school at some central point. While it would be but a simple act
of justice to this class of pupils, it would prove an admirable in-
vestment of a portion of your school funds and enable hundreds
of our sons and daughters to get an education of superior charac-
ter while under the paternal roof and the daily guardianship of the
the parental eye. The elevating influence of such a school at the
centre would be felt to the very extremities of the corporation. It
would awaken educational aspirations of no mean power, stimu-
late efforts and rouse mental energies that would otherwise be
dormant, and develop capacities in unexpected localities. Its
benefit to the schools of an inferior grade would be an ample re-
muneration for all the expense. These suggestions have been made
from a conviction that, on careful examination, they will be found
not unworthy of your consideration, and with the hope also, that
some of you may find yourselves in circumstances that will justify
their adoption.

In admitting pupils from other districts to any of your schools,
be very cautious and not crowd the school, and thereby impair the
value of the educational privileges of the citizens of said district.
Serious injury has been done, and just cause of dissatisfaction has
been given by trustees, by not acting discreetly in this matter.
Make the district your own and fancy your children members of
said school, and you will not be liable to go far astray in the ad-
mission of foreign pupils. The tuition, paid by such pupils, be-
longs to the school fund of the township and should be used as
such.

There is also another point claiming the attention of the Town-
ship Board, which should not be overlooked, — uniformity of text-
books. The purpose of the statute, in requiring the State Board
to recommend a series of school books, was wise, and, if faithfully
carried out by Trustees, would effectually eradicate an evil of a



573

very formidable character to the progress of the pupils and the
prosperity of our schools. A rigid adherence to that list of books
would relieve you from no slight vexation, arising from the impor-
tunity of teachers, the whims, caprice and selfishness of parents,
and from various outside influences and pressure, productive of
change and instability. Nothing could be more adverse and disas-



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