learned names. We want them to read well, to write well, and to
calculate well, and not to waste their time in studying about pistils,
and stamens, and nonsense."
Now what is the duty of the teacher in such a case? Why, very plainly
her duty is the same as that of the governor of a state, where the
people, through their representatives, regularly chosen, negative a
proposal which he considers calculated to promote the public good. It is
his duty to submit to the public will; and, though he may properly do
all in his power to present the subject to his employers in such a light
as to lead them to regard it as he does, he must still, until they do so
regard it, bow to their authority; and every magistrate who takes an
enlarged and comprehensive view of his duties as the executive of a
republican community, will do this without any humiliating feelings of
submission to unauthorized interference with his plans. He will, on the
other hand, enjoy the satisfaction of feeling that he confines himself
to his proper sphere, and leave to others the full possession of rights
which properly pertain to them.
It is so with every case where the relation of employer and employed
subsists. You engage a carpenter to erect a house for you, and you
present your plan; instead of going to work and executing your orders
according to your wishes, he falls to criticising and condemning it; he
finds fault with this, and ridicules that, and tells you you ought to
make such and such an alteration in it. It is perfectly right for him to
give his opinion, in the tone and spirit of _recommendation or
suggestion_, with a distinct understanding that with his employer rests
the power and the right to decide. But how many teachers take
possession of their school-room as though it was an empire in which they
are supreme, who resist every interference of their employers as they
would an attack upon their personal freedom, and who feel that in regard
to every thing connected with school they have really no actual
In most cases, the employers, knowing how sensitive teachers very
frequently are on this point, acquiesce in it, and leave them to
themselves. Whenever, in any case, they think that the state of the
school requires their interference, they come cautiously and fearfully
to the teacher, as if they were encroaching upon his rights, instead of
advancing with the confidence and directness with which employers have
always a right to approach the employed; and the teacher, with the view
he has insensibly taken of the subject, being perhaps confirmed by the
tone and manner which his employers use, makes the conversation quite as
often an occasion of resentment and offense as of improvement. He is
silent, perhaps, but in his heart he accuses his committee or his
trustees of improper interference in _his_ concerns, as though it was no
part of _their_ business to look after work which is going forward for
their advantage, and for which they pay.
Perhaps some individuals who have had some collision with their trustees
or committee will ask me if I mean that a teacher ought to be entirely
and immediately under the supervision and control of the trustees, just
as a mechanic is when employed by another man. By no means. There are
various circumstances connected with the nature of this employment, such
as the impossibility of the employers fully understanding it in all its
details, and the character and the standing of the teacher himself,
which always will, in matter of fact, prevent this. The employers always
will, in a great many respects, place more confidence in the teacher and
in his views than they will in their own. But still, the ultimate power
is theirs. Even if they err, if they wish to have a course pursued
which is manifestly inexpedient and wrong, _they still have a right to
decide._ It is their work; it is going on at their instance and at their
expense, and the power of ultimate decision on all disputed questions
must, from the very nature of the case, rest with them. The teacher may,
it is true, have his option either to comply with their wishes or to
seek employment in another sphere; but while he remains in the employ of
any persons, whether in teaching or in any other service, he is bound to
yield to the wishes of his employers when they insist upon it, and to
submit good-humoredly to their direction when they shall claim their
undoubted right to direct.
This is to be done, it must be remembered, when they are wrong as well
as when they are right. The obligation of the teacher is not founded
upon _the superior wisdom_ of his employers in reference to the business
for which they have engaged him, for they are very probably his
inferiors in this respect, but _upon their right as employers_ to
determine _how their own work shall be done._ A gardener, we will
suppose, is engaged by a gentleman to lay out his grounds. The gardener
goes to work, and, after a few hours, the gentleman comes out to see how
he goes on and to give directions. He proposes something which the
gardener, who, to make the case stronger, we will suppose knows better
than the proprietor of the grounds, considers ridiculous and absurd;
nay, we will suppose _it is_ ridiculous and absurd. Now what can the
gardener do? There are obviously two courses. He can say to the
proprietor, after a vain attempt to convince him he is wrong, "Well,
sir, I will do just as you say. The grounds are yours: I have no
interest in it or responsibility, except to accomplish your wishes."
This would be right. Or he might say, "Sir, you have a right to direct
upon your own grounds, and I do not wish to interfere with your plans;
but I must ask you to obtain another gardener. I have a reputation at
stake, and this work, if I do it even at your direction, will be
considered as a specimen of my taste and of my planning, so that I must,
in justice to myself, decline remaining in your employment." This, too,
would be right, though probably, both in the business of gardening and
of teaching, the case ought to be a strong one to render it expedient.
But it would not be right for him, after his employer should have gone
away, to say to himself, with a feeling of resentment at the imaginary
_interference_, "I shall not follow any such directions; I understand my
own trade, and shall receive no instructions in it from him," and then,
disobeying all directions, go on and do the work contrary to the orders
of his employer, who alone has a right to decide.
And yet a great many teachers take a course as absurd and unjustifiable
as this would be. Whenever the parents, or the committee, or the
trustees express, however mildly and properly, their wishes in regard to
the manner in which they desire to have their own work performed, their
pride is at once aroused. They seem to feel it an indignity to act in
any other way than just in accordance with their own will and pleasure;
and they absolutely refuse to comply, resenting the interference as an
insult; or else, if they apparently yield, it is with mere cold
civility, and entirely without any honest desire to carry the wishes
thus expressed into actual effect.
Parents may, indeed, often misjudge. A good teacher will, however, soon
secure their confidence, and they may acquiesce in his opinion. But they
ought to be watchful, and the teacher ought to feel and acknowledge
their authority on all questions connected with the education of their
children. They have originally entire power in regard to the course
which is to be pursued with them. Providence has made the parents
responsible, and wholly responsible, for the manner in which their
children are prepared for the duties of this life, and it is interesting
to observe how very cautious the laws of society are about interfering
with the parent's wishes in regard to the education of the child. There
are many cases in which enlightened governments might make arrangements
which would be better than those made by the parents if they are left to
themselves. But they will not do it; they ought not to do it. God has
placed the responsibility in the hands of the father and mother, and
unless the manner in which it is exercised is calculated to endanger or
to injure the community, there can rightfully be no interference except
that of argument and persuasion.
It ought also to be considered that upon the parents will come the
consequences of the good or bad education of their children, and not
upon the teacher, and consequently it is right that they should direct.
The teacher remains, perhaps, a few months with his charge, and then
goes to other places, and perhaps hears of them no more. He has thus
very little at stake. The parent has every thing at stake; and it is
manifestly unjust to give one man the power of deciding, while he
escapes all the consequences of his mistakes, if he makes any, and to
take away all the _power_ from those upon whose heads all the suffering
which will follow an abuse of the power must descend.
REPORTS OF CASES.
There is, perhaps, no way by which a writer can more effectually explain
his views on the subject of education than by presenting a great variety
of actual cases, whether real or imaginary, and describing particularly
the course of treatment which he would recommend in each. This method of
communicating knowledge is very extensively resorted to in the medical
profession, where writers detail particular cases, and report the
symptoms and the treatment for each succeeding day, so that the reader
may almost fancy himself actually a visitor at the sick-bed, and the
nature and effects of the various prescriptions become fixed in the mind
with almost as much distinctness and permanency as actual experience
This principle has been kept in view, the reader may perhaps think, too
closely in all the chapters of this volume, almost every point brought
up having been illustrated by anecdotes and narratives. I propose,
however, devoting one chapter now to presenting a number of
miscellaneous cases, without any attempt to arrange them. Sometimes the
case will be merely stated, the reader being left to draw the inference;
at others, such remarks will be added as the case suggests. All will,
however, be intended to answer some useful purpose, either to exhibit
good or bad management and its consequences, or to bring to view some
trait of human nature, as it exhibits itself in children, which it may
be desirable for the teacher to know. Let it be understood, however,
that these cases are not selected with reference to their being strange
or extraordinary. They are rather chosen because they are common; that
is, they, or cases similar, will be constantly occurring to the teacher,
and reading such a chapter will be the best substitute for experience
which the teacher can have. Some are descriptions of literary exercises
or plans which the reader can adopt in classes or with a whole school;
others are cases of discipline, good or bad management, which the
teacher can imitate or avoid. The stories are from various sources, and
are the results of the experience of several individuals.
1. HATS AND BONNETS. - The master of a district school was accidentally
looking out of the window one day, and he saw one of the boys throwing
stones at a hat, which was put up for that purpose upon the fence. He
said nothing about it at the time, but made a memorandum of the
occurrence, that he might bring it before the school at the proper time.
When the hour set apart for attending to the general business of the
school had arrived, and all were still, he said,
"I saw one of the boys throwing stones at a hat to-day: did he do right
There were one or two faint murmurs which sounded like "_Wrong_" but the
boys generally made no answer.
"Perhaps it depends a little upon the question whose hat it was. Do you
think it does depend upon that?"
"Well, suppose then it was not his own hat, and he was throwing stones
at it without the owner's consent, would it be plain in that case
whether he was doing right or wrong?"
"Yes, sir; wrong," was the universal reply.
"Suppose it was his own hat, would he have been right? Has a boy a right
to do what he pleases with his own hat?"
"Yes, sir," "Yes, sir;" "No, sir," "No, sir," answered the boys,
"I do not know whose hat it was. If the boy who did it is willing to
rise and tell me, it will help us to decide this question."
The boy, knowing that a severe punishment was not in such a case to be
anticipated, and, in fact, apparently pleased with the idea of
exonerating himself from the blame of willfully injuring the property of
another, rose and said,
"I suppose it was I, sir, who did it, and it was my own hat."
"Well," said the master, "I am glad that you are willing to tell frankly
how it was; but let us look at this case. There are two senses in which
a hat may be said to belong to any person. It may belong to him because
he bought it and paid for it, or it may belong to him because it fits
him and he wears it. In other words, a person may have a hat as his
property, or he may have it only as a part of his dress. Now you see
that, according to the first of these senses, all the hats in this
school belong to your fathers. There is not, in fact, a single boy in
this school who has a hat of his own."
The boys laughed.
"Is not this the fact?"
It certainly is so, though I suppose James did not consider it. Your
fathers bought your hats. They worked for them and paid for them. You
are only the wearers, and consequently every generous boy, and, in fact,
every honest boy, will be careful of the property which is intrusted to
him, but which, strictly speaking, is not his own.
2. MISTAKES. - A wide difference must always be made between mistakes
arising from carelessness, and those resulting from circumstances beyond
control, such as want of sufficient data, and the like. The former are
always censurable; the latter never; for they may be the result of
correct reasoning from insufficient data, and it is the reasoning only
for which the child is responsible.
"What do you suppose a prophet is?" said a teacher to a class of little
boys. The word occurred in their reading lesson.
The scholars all hesitated; at last one ventured to reply:
"If a man should sell a yoke of oxen, and get more for them than they
are worth, he would be a prophet."
"Yes," said the instructor, "that is right; that is one kind of
_profit_, but this is another and a little different," and he proceeded
to explain the word, and the difference of the spelling.
This child had, without doubt, heard of some transaction of the kind
which he described, and had observed that the word _profit_ was applied
to it. Now the care which he had exercised in attending to it at the
time, and remembering it when the same word (for the difference in the
spelling he of course knew nothing about) occurred again, was really
commendable. The fact, which is a mere accident, that we affix very
different significations to the same sound, was unknown to him. The
fault, if any where, was in the language and not in him, for he reasoned
correctly from the data he possessed, and he deserved credit for it.
The teacher should always discriminate carefully between errors of this
kind, and those that result from culpable carelessness.
3. TARDINESS. - "My duty to this school," said a teacher to his pupils,
"demands, as I suppose you all admit, that I should require you all to
be here punctually at the time appointed for the commencement of the
school. I have done nothing on this subject yet, for I wished to see
whether you would not come early on principle. I wish now, however, to
inquire in regard to this subject, and to ascertain how many have been
tardy, and to consider what must be done hereafter."
He made the inquiries, and ascertained pretty nearly how many had been
tardy, and how often within a week.
The number was found to be so great that the scholars admitted that
something ought to be done.
"What shall I do?" asked he. "Can any one propose a plan which will
remedy the difficulty?"
There was no answer.
"The easiest and pleasantest way to secure punctuality is for the
scholars to come early of their own accord, upon principle. It is
evident, from the reports, that many of you do so, but some do not. Now
there is no other plan which will not be attended with very serious
difficulty, but I am willing to adopt the one which will be most
agreeable to yourselves, if it will be likely to accomplish the object.
Has any one any plan to propose?"
There was a pause.
"It would evidently," continued the teacher, "be the easiest for me to
leave this subject, and do nothing about it. It is of no personal
consequence to me whether you come early or not, but as long as I hold
this office I must be faithful, and I have no doubt the school
committee, if they knew how many of you were tardy, would think I ought
to do something to diminish the evil.
"The best plan that I can think of is that all who are tardy should lose
The boys looked rather anxiously at one another, but continued silent.
"There is a great objection to this plan from the fact that a boy is
sometimes necessarily absent, and by this rule he will lose his recess
with the rest, so that the innocent will be punished with the guilty."
"I should think, sir," said William, "that those who are _necessarily_
tardy might be excused."
"Yes, I should be very glad to excuse them, if I could find out who they
The boys seemed to be surprised at this remark, as if they thought it
would not be a difficult matter to decide.
"How can I tell?" asked the master.
"You can hear their excuses, and then decide."
"Yes," said the teacher: "but here are fifteen or twenty boys tardy this
morning; now how long would it take me to hear their excuses, and
understand each case thoroughly, so that I could really tell whether
they were tardy from good reasons or not?"
"Should you not think it would take a minute apiece?"
"It would, undoubtedly, and even then I could not in many cases tell. It
would take fifteen minutes, at least. I can not do this in school hours,
for I have not time, and if I do it in recess it will consume the whole
of every recess. Now I need the _rest_ of a recess as well as you, and
it does not seem to me to be just that I should lose the whole of mine
every day, and spend it in a most unpleasant business, when I take pains
myself to come punctually every morning. Would it be just?"
"I think it would be less unjust to deprive all those of their recess
who are tardy; for then the loss of a recess by a boy who had not been
to blame would not be very common, and the evil would be divided among
the whole; but in the plan of my hearing the excuses it would all come
After a short pause one of the boys said that they might be required to
bring written excuses.
"Yes, that is another plan," said the teacher; "but there are objections
to it. Can any of you think what they are? I suppose you have all been,
either at this school or at some other, required to bring written
excuses, so that you have seen the plan tried. Now have you never
noticed any objection to it?"
One boy said that it gave the parents a great deal of trouble at home.
"Yes," said the teacher, "this is a great objection; it is often very
inconvenient to write. But that is not the greatest difficulty; can any
of you think of any other?"
There was a pause.
"Do you think that these written excuses are, after all, a fair test of
the real reasons for tardiness? I understand that sometimes boys will
tease their fathers or mothers for an excuse when they do not deserve
it, 'Yes, sir,' and sometimes they will loiter about when sent of an
errand before school, knowing that they can get a written excuse, when
they might easily have been punctual."
"Yes, sir," "Yes, sir," said the boys.
"Well, now, if we adopt this plan, some unprincipled boy would always
contrive to have an excuse, whether necessarily tardy or not; and,
besides, each parent would have a different principle and a different
opinion as to what was a reasonable excuse, so that there would be no
uniformity, and, consequently, no justice in the operation of the
The boys admitted the truth of this, and, as no other plan was
presented, the rule was adopted of requiring all those who were tardy to
remain in their seats during the recess, whether they were necessarily
tardy or not. The plan very soon diminished the number of loiterers.
4. HELEN'S LESSON. - The possibility of being inflexibly firm in
measures, and, at the same time, gentle and mild in manners and
language, is happily illustrated in the following description, which is
based on an incident narrated by Mrs. Sherwood:
"Mrs. M. had observed, even during the few days that Helen had been
under her care, that she was totally unaccustomed to habits of diligence
and application. After making all due allowance for long-indulged habits
of indolence and inattention, she one morning assigned an easy lesson to
her pupil, informing her at the same time that she should hear it
immediately before dinner. Helen made no objections to the plan, but she
silently resolved not to perform the required task. Being in some
measure a stranger, she thought her aunt would not insist upon perfect
obedience, and besides, in her estimation, she was too old to be treated
like a child.
"During the whole morning Helen exerted herself to be mild and obliging;
her conduct toward her aunt was uncommonly affectionate. By these and
various other artifices she endeavored to gain her first victory.
Meanwhile Mrs. M. quietly pursued her various avocations, without
apparently noticing Helen's conduct. At length dinner-hour arrived; the
lesson was called for, but Helen was unprepared. Mrs. M. told Helen she
was sorry that she had not learned the lesson, and concluded by saying
that she hoped she would be prepared before tea-time.
"Helen, finding she was not to come to the table, began to be a little
alarmed. She was acquainted in some measure with the character of her
aunt, still she hoped to be allowed to partake of the dessert, as she
had been accustomed to on similar occasions at home, and soon regained
her wonted composure. But the dinner-cloth was removed, and there sat
Helen, suffering not a little from hunger; still she would not complain;
she meant to convince her aunt that she was not moved by trifles.
"A walk had been proposed for the afternoon, and as the hour drew near,
Helen made preparations to accompany the party. Mrs. M. reminded her of
her lesson, but she just noticed the remark by a toss of the head, and
was soon in the green fields, apparently the gayest of the gay. After
her return from the excursion she complained of a head-ache, which in
fact she had. She threw herself languidly on the sofa, sighed deeply,
and took up her History.
"Tea was now on the table, and most tempting looked the white loaf. Mrs.
M. again heard the pupil recite, but was sorry to find the lesson still
imperfectly prepared. She left her, saying she thought half an hour's
additional study would conquer all the difficulties she found in the
"During all this time Mrs. M. appeared so perfectly calm, composed, and
even kind, and so regardless of sighs and doleful exclamations, that
Helen entirely lost her equanimity, and let her tears flow freely and
abundantly. Her mother was always moved by her tears, and would not her
aunt relent? No. Mrs. M. quietly performed the duties of the table, and
ordered the tea-equipage to be removed. This latter movement brought
Helen to reflection. It is useless to resist, thought she; indeed, why
should I wish to? Nothing too much has been required of me. How
ridiculous I have made myself appear in the eyes of my aunt, and even of
"In less than an hour she had the satisfaction of reciting her lesson
perfectly; her aunt made no comments on the occasion, but assigned her
the next lesson, and went on sewing. Helen did not expect this; she had
anticipated a refreshing cup of tea after the long siege. She had
expected that even something nicer than usual would be necessary to
compensate her for her past sufferings. At length, worn out by
long-continued watching and fasting, she went to the closet, provided
herself with a cracker, and retired to bed to muse deliberately on the
strange character of her aunt.