Near the close of school, I find, perhaps, on my desk a paper, of which
the following may be considered a copy. It is called the indictment.
We accuse Miss A.B. of having waste papers in the aisle opposite her desk,
at 11 o'clock, on Friday, Oct. 12.
I give notice after school that a case is to be tried. Those interested,
twenty or thirty perhaps, gather around my desk, while the sheriff goes
to summon the accused and the witnesses. A certain space is marked off
as the precincts of the court, within which no one must enter in the
slightest degree, on pain of imprisonment, that is, confinement to her
seat until court adjourns.
"Miss A.B., you are accused of having an untidy floor about your desk.
Have you any objection to the indictment?"
While she is looking over the indictment to discover a misspelled word,
or an error in the date, or some other latent flaw, I appoint any two of
the by-standers jury. The jury come forward to listen to the cause.
The accused returns the indictment, saying she has no objection, and the
witnesses are called upon to present their testimony.
Perhaps the prisoner alleges in defense that the papers were out _in the
aisle_, not _under her desk_, or that she did not put them there, or
that they were too few or too small to deserve attention.
My charge to the jury would be somewhat as follows:
"You are to consider and decide whether she was guilty of disorder,
taking into view the testimony of the witnesses and also her defense. It
is considered here that each young lady is responsible not only for the
appearance of the carpet _under her desk_, but also for _the aisle
opposite to it_, so that her first ground of defense must be abandoned.
So, also, with the second, that she did not put them there. She ought
not to _have_ them there. Each scholar must keep her own place in a
proper condition; so that if disorder is found there, no matter who made
it, she is responsible if she only had time to remove it. As to the
third, you must judge whether enough has been proved by the witnesses to
make out real disorder." The jury write _guilty_ or _not guilty_ upon
the paper, and it is returned to me. If sentence is pronounced, it is
usually confinement to the seat during a recess, or part of a recess, or
something that requires a slight effort or sacrifice for the public
good. The sentence is always something _real_, though always _slight_,
and the court has a great deal of influence in a double way - making
amusement and preserving order.
The cases tried are very various, but none of the serious business of
the school is intrusted to it. Its sessions are always held out of
school hours, and, in fact, it is hardly considered by the scholars as a
constituent part of the arrangements of the school; so much so, that I
hesitated much about inserting an account of it in this description.
VI. RELIGIOUS INSTRUCTION.
In giving you this account, brief as it is, I ought not to omit to speak
of one feature of our plan, which we have always intended should be one
of the most prominent and distinctive characteristics of the school. The
gentlemen who originally interested themselves in its establishment had
mainly in view the exertion, by the principal, of a decided moral and
religious influence over the hearts of the pupils. Knowing, as they did,
how much more dutiful and affectionate at home you would be, how much
more successful in your studies at school, how much happier in your
intercourse with each other, and in your prospects for the future both
here and hereafter, if your hearts could be brought under the influence
of Christian principle, they were strongly desirous that the school
should be so conducted that its religious influence, though gentle and
alluring in its character, should be frank, and open, and decided. I
need not say that I myself entered very cordially into these views. It
has been my constant effort, and one of the greatest sources of my
enjoyment, to try to win my pupils to piety, and to create such an
atmosphere in school that conscience, and moral principle, and affection
for the unseen Jehovah should reign here. You can easily see how much
pleasanter it is for me to have the school controlled by such influence,
than if it were necessary for me to hire you to diligence in duty by
prizes or rewards, or to deter you from neglect or from transgression by
reproaches, and threatenings, and punishments.
The influence which the school has thus exerted has always been
cordially welcomed by my pupils, and approved, so far as I have known,
by their parents, though four or five denominations, and fifteen or
twenty different congregations, have been from time to time represented
in the school. There are few parents who would not like to have their
children _Christians_ - sincerely and practically so; for everything
which a parent can desire in a child is promoted just in proportion as
she opens her heart to the influence of the spirit of piety. But that
you may understand what course is taken, I shall describe, first, what I
wish to effect in the hearts of my pupils, and then what means I take to
accomplish the object.
1. A large number of young persons of your age, and in circumstances
similar to those in which you are placed, perform with some fidelity
their various outward duties, _but maintain no habitual and daily
communion with God_. It is very wrong for them to live thus without God,
but they do not see, or, rather, do not feel the guilt of it. They only
think of their accountability to _human beings_ like themselves; for
example, their parents, teachers, brothers and sisters, and friends.
Consequently, they think most of their _external_ conduct, which is all
that human beings can see. Their i>hearts_ are neglected, and become
very impure, full of evil thoughts, and desires, and passions, which are
not repented of, and consequently not forgiven. Now what I wish to
accomplish in regard to all my pupils is, that they should begin to
_feel their accountability to God_, and to act according to it; that
they should explore their _hearts_, and ask God's forgiveness for all
their past sins, through Jesus Christ, who died for them that they might
be forgiven; and that they should from this time try to live _near to
God_, feel his presence, and enjoy that solid peace and happiness which
flows from a sense of his protection. When such a change takes place, it
relieves the mind from that constant and irritating uneasiness which the
great mass of mankind feel as a constant burden; the ceaseless
forebodings of a troubled conscience reproaching them for their past
accumulated guilt, and warning them of a judgment to come. The change
which I endeavor to promote relieves the heart both of the present
suffering and of the future danger.
After endeavoring to induce you to begin to act from Christian
principle, I wish to explain to you your various duties to yourselves,
your parents, and to God.
2. The measures to which I resort to accomplish these objects are three:
First, _Religious Exercises in School_. - We open and close the school
with a very short prayer and one or two verses of a hymn. Sometimes I
occupy ten or fifteen minutes at one of the general exercises, or at the
close of the school, in giving instruction upon practical religious
duty. The subjects are sometimes suggested by a passage of Scripture
read for the purpose, but more commonly in another way.
You will observe often, at the close of the school or at an appointed
general exercise, that a scholar will bring to my desk a dark-colored
morocco wrapper containing several small strips of paper, upon which
questions relating to moral or religious duty, or subjects for remarks
from me, or anecdotes, or short statements of facts, giving rise to
inquiries of various kinds, are written. This wrapper is deposited in a
place accessible to all the scholars, and any one who pleases deposits
in it any question or suggestion on religious subjects which may occur
to her. You can at any time do this yourself, thus presenting any doubt,
or difficulty, or inquiry which may at any time occur to you.
Secondly, _Religious Exercise on Saturday afternoon_. - In order to bring
up more distinctly and systematically the subject of religious duty, I
established, a long time ago, a religious meeting on Saturday afternoon.
It is intended for those who feel interested in receiving such
instruction, and who can conveniently attend at that time. If you have
no other engagements, and if your parents approve of it, I should be
happy to have you attend. There will be very little to interest you
except the subject itself, for I make all the instructions which I give
there as plain, direct, and practical as is in my power. A considerable
number of the scholars usually attend, and frequently bring with them
many of their female friends. You can at any time invite any one whom
you please to come to the meeting. It commences at half past three, and
continues about half an hour.
Thirdly, _Personal Religious Instruction._ - In consequence of the large
number of my pupils, and the constant occupation of my time in school, I
have scarcely any opportunity of religious conversation with them, even
with those who particularly desire it. The practice has therefore
arisen, and gradually extended itself almost universally in school, of
writing to me on the subject. These communications are usually brief
notes, expressing the writer's interest in the duties of piety, or
bringing forward her own peculiar practical difficulties, or making
specific inquiries, or asking particular instruction in regard to some
branch of religious duty. I answer in a similar way, very briefly and
concisely, however, for the number of notes of this kind which I receive
is very large, and the time which I can devote to such a correspondence
necessarily limited. I should like to receive such communications from
all my pupils; for advice or instruction communicated in reply, being
directly personal, is far more likely to produce effect. Besides, my
remarks, being in writing, can be read a second time, and be more
attentively considered and reconsidered than when words are merely
spoken. These communications must always be begun by the pupil. I never
(unless there may be occasional exceptions in some few very peculiar
cases) commence. I am prevented from doing this both by my unwillingness
to obtrude such a subject personally upon those who might not welcome
it, and by want of time. I have scarcely time to write to all those who
are willing first to write to me. Many cases have occurred where
individuals have strongly desired some private communication with me,
but have hesitated long, and shrunk reluctantly from the first step. I
hope it will not be so with you. Should you ever wish to receive from
me any direct religious instruction, I hope you will write immediately
and freely. I shall very probably not even notice that it is the first
time I have received such a communication from you. So numerous and so
frequent are these communications, that I seldom observe, when I receive
one from any individual for the first time, that it comes from one who
has not written me before.
Such are the means to which I resort in endeavoring to lead my pupils to
God and to duty, and you will observe that the whole design of them is
to win and to allure, not to compel. The regular devotional exercises of
school are all which you will _necessarily_ witness. These are very
short, occupying much less time than many of the pupils think desirable.
The rest is all private and voluntary. I never make any effort to urge
any one to attend the Saturday meeting, nor do I, except in a few rare
and peculiar cases, ever address any one personally, unless she desires
to be so addressed. You will be left, therefore, in this school,
unmolested, to choose your own way. If you should choose to neglect
religious duty, and to wander away from God, I shall still do all in my
power to make you happy in school, and to secure for you in future life
such a measure of enjoyment as can fall to the share of one over whose
prospects in another world there hangs so gloomy a cloud. I shall never
reproach you, and perhaps may not even know what your choice is. Should
you, on the other hand, prefer the peace and happiness of piety, and be
willing to begin to walk in its paths, you will find many, both among
the teachers and pupils of the Mount Vernon School, to sympathize with
you, and to encourage and help you on your way.
Some of the best teachers in our country, or, rather, of those who might
be the best, lose a great deal of their time, and endanger, or perhaps
entirely destroy, their hopes of success by a scheming spirit, which is
always reaching forward to something new. One has in his mind some new
school-book by which Arithmetic, Grammar, or Geography are to be taught
with unexampled rapidity, and his own purse to be filled in a much more
easy way than by waiting for the rewards of patient industry. Another
has the plan of a school, bringing into operation new principles of
management or instruction, which he is to establish on some favored
spot, and which is to become, in a few years, a second Hofwyl. Another
has some royal road to learning, and, though he is trammeled and held
down by what he calls the ignorance and stupidity of his trustees or his
school committee, yet, if he could fairly put his principles and methods
to the test, he is certain of advancing the science of education half a
century at least at a single leap.
Ingenuity in devising new ways, and enterprise in following them, are
among the happiest characteristics of a new country rapidly filling with
a thriving population. Without these qualities there could be no
advance; society must be stationary; and from a stationary to a
retrograde condition, the progress is inevitable. The disposition to
make improvements and changes may, however, be too great. If so, it must
be checked. On the other hand, a slavish attachment to old established
practices may prevail. Then the spirit of enterprise and experiment must
be awakened and encouraged. Which of these two is to be the duty of a
writer at any time will of course depend upon the situation of the
community at the time when he writes, and of the class of readers for
which he takes his pen. Now, at the present time, it is undoubtedly
true, that while among the great mass of teachers there may be too
little originality and enterprise, there is still among many a spirit of
innovation and change to which a caution ought to be addressed. But,
before I proceed, let me protect myself from misconception by one or two
1. There are a few individuals in various parts of our country who, by
ingenuity and enterprise, have made real and important improvements in
many departments of our science, and are still making them. The science
is to be carried forward by such men. Let them not, therefore,
understand that any thing which I shall say applies at all to those real
improvements which are from time to time brought before the public. As
examples of this, there might easily be mentioned, were it necessary,
several new modes of study, and new text-books, and literary
institutions on new plans, which have been brought forward within a few
years, and have proved, on actual trial, to be of real and permanent
These are, or rather they were, when first conceived by the original
projectors, new schemes, and the result has proved that they were good
ones. Every teacher, too, must hope that such improvements will continue
to be made. Let nothing, therefore, which shall be said on the subject
of scheming in this chapter be interpreted as intended to condemn real
improvements of this kind, or to check those which may now be in
progress by men of age or experience, or of sound judgment, who are
capable of distinguishing between a real improvement and a whimsical
innovation which can never live any longer than it is sustained by the
enthusiasm of the original inventor.
2. There are a great many teachers in our country who make their
business a mere dull and formal routine, through which they plod on,
month after month, and year after year, without variety or change, and
who are inclined to stigmatize with the appellation of idle scheming all
plans, of whatever kind, to give variety or interest to the exercises of
the school. Now whatever may be said in this chapter against unnecessary
innovation and change does not apply to efforts to secure variety in the
details of daily study, while the great leading objects are steadily
pursued. This subject has already been discussed in the chapter on
Instruction, where it has been shown that every wise teacher, while he
pursues the same great object, and adopts in substance the same leading
measures at all times, will exercise all the ingenuity he possesses, and
bring all his inventive powers into requisition to give variety and
interest to the minute details.
To explain now what is meant by such scheming as is to be condemned, let
us suppose a case which is riot very uncommon. A young man, while
preparing for college, takes a school. When he first enters upon the
duties of his office, he is diffident and timid, and walks cautiously in
the steps which precedent has marked out for him. Distrusting himself,
he seeks guidance in the example which others have set for him, and,
very probably, he imitates precisely, though it may be insensibly and
involuntarily, the manners and the plans of his own last teacher. This
servitude soon, however, if he is a man of natural abilities, passes
away; he learns to try one experiment after another, until he insensibly
finds that a plan may succeed, even if it was not pursued by his former
teacher. So far it is well. He throws greater interest into his school,
and into all its exercises, by the spirit with which he conducts them.
He is successful. After the period of his services has expired, he
returns to the pursuit of his studies, encouraged by his success, and
anticipating farther triumphs in his subsequent attempts.
He goes on through college, we will suppose, teaching from time to time
in the vacations, as opportunity occurs, taking more and more interest
in the employment, and meeting with greater and greater success. This
success is owing in a very great degree to the _freedom_ of his
practice, that is, to his escape from the thraldom of imitation. So long
as he leaves the great objects of the school untouched, and the great
features of its organization unchanged, his many plans for accomplishing
these objects in new and various ways awaken interest and spirit both in
himself and in his scholars, and all goes on well.
Now in such a case as this, a young teacher, philosophizing upon his
success and the causes of it, will almost invariably make this mistake,
namely, he will attribute to something essentially excellent in his
plans the success which, in fact, results from the novelty of them.
When he proposes something new to a class, they all take an interest in
it because it is _new_. He takes, too, a special interest in it because
it is an experiment which he is trying, and he feels a sort of pride and
pleasure in securing its success. The new method which he adopts may not
be, _in itself,_ in the least degree better than old methods, yet it may
succeed vastly better in his hands than any old method he had tried
before. And why? Why, because it is new. It awakens interest in his
class, because it offers them variety; and it awakens interest in him,
because it is a plan which he has devised, and for whose success,
therefore, he feels that his credit is at stake. Either of these
circumstances is abundantly sufficient to account for its success.
Either of these would secure success, unless the plan was a very bad one
This may easily be illustrated by supposing a particular case. The
teacher has, we will imagine, been accustomed to teach spelling in the
usual way, by assigning a lesson in the spelling-book, which the
scholars, after studying it in their seats, recite by having the words
put to them individually in the class. After some time, he finds that
one class has lost its interest in this study. He can compel them to
study the lesson, it is true, but he perceives, perhaps, that it is a
weary task to them. Of course, they proceed with less alacrity, and
consequently with less rapidity and success. He thinks, very justly,
that it is highly desirable to secure cheerful, not forced, reluctant
efforts from his pupils, and he thinks of trying some new plan.
Accordingly, he says to them,
"Boys, I am going to try a new plan for this class."
The mere annunciation of a new plan awakens universal attention. The
boys all look up, wondering what it is to be.
"Instead of having you study your lessons in your seats, as heretofore,
I am going to let you all go together into one corner of the room, and
choose some one to read the lesson to you, spelling all the words aloud.
You will all listen, and endeavor to remember how the difficult ones are
Do you think you can remember?"
"Yes, sir," say the boys. Children always think they _can_ do every
thing which is proposed to them as a new plan or experiment, though they
are very often inclined to think they _can not_ do what is required of
them as a task.
"You may have," continues the teacher, "the words read to you once or
twice, just as you please. Only, if you have them read but once, you
must take a shorter lesson."
He pauses and looks round upon the class. Some say "Once," some "Twice."
"I am willing that you should decide this question. How many are in
favor of having shorter lessons, and having them read but once? How many
prefer longer lessons, and having them read twice?"
After comparing the numbers, it is decided according to the majority,
and the teacher assigns or allows them to assign a lesson.
"Now," he proceeds, "I am not only going to have you study in a
different way, but recite in a different way too. You may take your
slates with you, and after you have had time to hear the lesson read
slowly and carefully twice, I shall come and dictate to you the words
aloud, and you will all write them from my dictation. Then I shall
examine your slates, and see how many mistakes are made."
Any class of boys, now, would be exceedingly interested in such a
proposal as this, especially if the master's ordinary principles of
government and instruction had been such as to interest the pupils in
the welfare of the school and in their own progress in study. They will
come together in the place assigned, and listen to the one who is
appointed to read the words to them, with every faculty aroused, and
their whole souls engrossed in the new duties assigned them. The
teacher, too, feels a special interest in his experiment. Whatever else
he may be employed about, his eye turns instinctively to this group with
an intensity of interest which an experienced teacher who has long been
in the field, and who has tried experiments of this sort a hundred
times, can scarcely conceive; for let it be remembered that I am
describing the acts and feelings of a new beginner, of one who is
commencing his work with a feeble and trembling step, and perhaps this
is his first step away from the beaten path in which he has been
accustomed to walk.
This new plan is continued, we will suppose, for a week, during which
time the interest of the pupils continues. They get longer lessons and
make fewer mistakes than they did by the old method. Now, in
speculating on this subject, the teacher reasons very justly that it is
of no consequence whether the pupil receives his knowledge through the
eye or through the ear; whether they study in solitude or in company.
The point is to secure their progress in learning to spell the words of
the English language, and as this point is secured far more rapidly and
effectually by his new method, the inference is to his mind very
obvious, that he has made a great improvement - one of real and permanent
value. Perhaps he will consider it an extraordinary discovery.
But the truth is, that in almost all such cases as this, the secret of
the success is not that the teacher has discovered a _better_ method
than the ordinary ones, but that he has discovered a _new_ one. The
experiment will succeed in producing more successful results just as
long as the novelty of it continues to excite unusual interest and
attention in the class, or the thought that it is a plan of the