E. A. (Edward Austin) Sheldon.

Autobiography of Edward Austin Sheldon online

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Pestalozzian principles. This was just what I wanted to
do. Some of the books procured in Canada were the out-
growth of this institution. I resolved to secure, if pos-
sible, a teacher from this school.

I accordingly opened a correspondence with its secre-
tary, to ascertain whether such a teacher could be ob-
tained, and on what conditions. As I sat writing this
letter, Hon. A. C. Mattoon who always seconded my move-
ments most heartily said to me : "Tell them we want a per-
son who can introduce these methods into this country."

In due time a letter came in answer to mine, saying that
Miss Margaret E. M. Jones, who had been a teacher with
them for eighteen years, had consented to come at a salary
of one thousand dollars and all living expenses. This
seemed to our board a very large sum to pay, and they
hesitated. But I said to them: "If you will appoint this
woman, I will guarantee to the board that it shall not
cost the city one cent," and on the strength of this they
offered the resolution, being careful to put into it my
guarantee that "it should not cost the city one cent."

I was careful to keep my word with them, and showed
them at the end o'f the year that Miss Jones had not only
been no expense to them, but had actually put into the
treasury three hundred dollars over and above expenses.
It was done in this way. In the first place I charged a
tuition of fifty dollars to all persons not residents of Os-
wego who joined the class. In the second place I persuaded
a number of the more progressive teachers to contribute
one-half of their salary for the year, in view of the bene-
fit that would come to them from the instructions of the


"London Training Teacher." In the third place, by con-
verting one of the schools into a school of practice, I saved
the salary of one teacher. In this way I made the train-
ing school a help rather than a hindrance to the finances of
the board.

This movement was going on in the spring of 1861, and
in May the school was opened with Miss Jones at the

The arrival o'f Miss Jones was quite an event. Mr.
Mattoon and I went to the train to meet her. We stood
on the platform waiting at the time announced by her
telegram. As no one left the cars whom we could call
the London lady, we boarded the train, but to our astonish-
ment we found no one but an unpromising looking woman
with a weather-stained face, and in a stooping position,
half buried in boxes and bundles.

We could not entertain the thought that this was our
importation and passed her by, but as there was no other
person in the car, we could but inquire if this was Miss
Jones. To our great chagrin she proved to be the veritable
Miss Jones; but between Mr. Mattoon and me, we managed
to review her and her bundles and get her onto the plat-
form. Mr. Mattoon kindly invited her to his home until
we could arrange a permanent boarding place for her.

Miss Jones entered at once upon her duties, and when
she was fairly over the effects of her sea voyage and
travel, and the skin no longer peeled from her face, but
was restored to its natural color, her appearance improved
greatly; and as time went on it became very evident to
all that we had the services of no ordinary woman. She


proved herself to be all that was represented to us, and
fully equal to the work she had undertaken.

The school was opened in a wooden school building that
stood on the west side of West Fourth Street, near Bridge
Street, about half-way between the First M. E. Church and
the First Presbyterian Church. In this building was a
primary school of perhaps two hundred children, which
constituted the practice school. There was also a junior
school in the same building, but with this we had nothing
to do.

In the regular training class were nine pupils. Miss
Jones met her class for special instruction and direction
in a small cloak 'room off from the school of practice. The
accommodations were very limited, and so was the class.

For the purpose of giving opportunity to attend Miss
Jones' class, to those teachers who cared to gain a knowl-
edge of the "new methods," the schools were closed at an
early hour in the afternoon. At 3.30 she met these teach-
ers, in connection with her regular class, and discussed
general principles underlying teaching, and their applica-
tions in teaching the various branches. In the same way
she met them every Saturday morning. By this plan all
the teachers in the public schools who were interested had
the opportunity to get the general plan and scope of Miss
Jones' work. Some entered into it at once with enthusiasm.
Others looked on with doubtful minds but as the work
progressed they caught the spirit of it and became deeply
'interested, while others showed a total indifference 'to
the whole plan, and a small number were active in their
opposition. Little attention was given to the indifferent or
the opposers; we had with us the wide-awake, progressive


teachers, and these comprised the greater number. Among
these were some who subsequently made their influence
strongly felt in wide educational circles.

In addition to the regular school of practice, we had
one model school, used exclusively as a school of observa-
tion, and one school taught successively by the members
of the training class. These schools were in the Academy
building. This was the first Teachers' Training School
ever organized in America. They are now to be found in
nearly every populous city, but I have yet to learn that
any radical improvement has been made on the "Oswego
Training School."*

The work of introducing these objective methods into
the successive grades in the public schools went steadily
on under the constant and careful supervision of the super-
intendent, and very commendable progress was being

At the end of the year, the period for which Miss Jones
was employed, she indicated her intention of returning to
England. She was, however, induced to remain until the
close of the summer term.

It was at this time that the question arose as to who
should be principal of this training school when Miss Jones

*The first "Normal" schools in America were established in Massachusetts
one at Lexington and one at Rarre. Mr. Sheldon claims the first "Training"
school. He refers to the training of teachers in the actual practice of their
profession, which was not included in the work of the earlier "Normal" schools.
The need of the "Training" school was recognized and acknowledged by lead-
ing educational men of the day. A very complete and interesting thesis on the
"Rise and Growth of the Normal-School Idea in the U. S.," by Prof. J. P.
Gordy, constitutes Circular of Information No. 8, 1891, from the Bureau of
Education, Washington, D. C. (It can be obtained free on application.)
Gordy says: "The history of the Normal School at Oswego, N. Y., constituted
an important chapter, not only in the history of training teachers, but in the
history of the public schools of this country." He presents an exhaustive
history of the school and its influence, and a description of its work. He
further points out its secondary influence, as the parent of the Worcester
Normal School. ED.


sholud leave. Among those who had taken an active in-
terest in the work was Mr. E. D. Weller, principal of
Senior School No. I. He was a graduate of the Albany
Normal School, and had proved himself an intelligent, effi-
cient teacher. I proposed to the board that he be made
principal. Mr. Weller hesitated about accepting it, being
doubtful as to the final outcome of the experiment. When
Miss Jones heard of my proposition to make Mr. Weller
principal, she went to the members of the board and
stoutly protested, insisting that Mr. Sheldon should be
made principal. To her recommendation the board listened
rather than to my own, and I was thus made Miss Jones'
successor a position to which I did not aspire, and for
which I seemed to myself to have no suitable qualifications.
I yielded, however, to the urgent solicitations of Miss
Jones and the board.



Viewing the past from our present standpoint,
it seems to us there has been little system or philosophic
principle involved in our methods of teaching in this coun-
try. We have paid little regard to the philosophy of the
human mind, to its various attributes, the order of their
development and the subjects of study, and modes of pre-
senting them to the different states and stages of such de-
velopment. We have treated the mind too much as though
it was composed of but two faculties, the memory and
reason; and the severity with which these were taxed was
the true measure of success in mental discipline. In prose-
cuting this idea, it would sometimes seem as though we
had almost ignored the understanding, as not worthy of
being taken into account, or misapprehended its real power
and the true sources of its development. Here we have
taken quite too much for granted. It is just here that
the most fatal mistake is liable to be committed. We begin
by teaching the unknown through the medium of things,
or their symbols or representatives, which are equally un-

We require the child to repeat the tables without giving
him the slightest conception as to the character of these
numbers, or what they represent. He says six times six
are thirty-six, six times seven are forty-two, without hav-
ing first formed a correct and definite idea as to how much
thirty-six or forty-two really are. He says nine is con-
tained in sixty-three seven times, in eighty-one nine times,






but has no just idea of the process herein involved. He
repeats three feet make one yard, twenty-five pounds one
quarter, three miles one league, without having been pre-
viously taught what a foot, a pound and a mile are. We
are continually describing objects by their position, form,
size, weight, color and number, without stopping to con-
sider that the child has never been taught the true meaning
of the terms we are using. If describing an animal, we say
he is six feet long from the tip of his nose to the end of his
tail, weighs forty pounds, is of a fawn color, and can run
a mile in five minutes. But in all this we have conveyed
no accurate idea of this animal to the child. He has yet to
learn what a foot, a pound, a mile and a minute mean ; and
of color he absolutely knows nothing. We say of an ob-
ject it is oblong, or triangular, or octagonal, or rhomboidal
in some of its parts, has certain sides parallel, perpendic-
ular, horizontal or inclined, but not one of these terms
conveys any clearly defined idea to the child, for the very
simple reason that the meaning of these terms has never
been properly taught him. These names have never been
applied to these forms and lines while under the inspection
of his senses, those faithful teachers upon which he solely
relies for all his early acquisitions in knowledge.

Thus we are continually taxing the memory with, to him,
unmeaning names and terms, and undertake to teach him
to reason, before this faculty has scarcely any perceptible
development, by giving him formulas to repeat, which con-
vey to his mind no clearly defined ideas. In all this we
are satisfied with mere form, without the substance; and
can it be doubted that such a process fails to give us sym-
metrical, harmonious development? The habit in the child
of accepting words and forms without thoughts is in it-
self highly injurious. In this we are teaching him to be
superficial ; a pernicious influence that will follow him in all
his future progress.



The system which we have adopted is justly termed Pes-
talozzian, for to Pestalozzi, that greatest of all modern
reformers in education, may be credited the development,
and in many important points, the origin of those ideas
which lie at the basis of this system. It is true that these
ideas, and the modes of applying them in the development
of the human faculties, have been somewhat modified and
improved during the experience of half a century, but they
are none the less the real thoughts and discoveries of this
great philosopher. Its principles have become more or
less widely diffused, but have been more generally and
thoroughly incorporated with the methods of teaching in
many of the countries of Europe, than in our own .

This plan claims to begin, where other systems have
ever failed to commence, at the beginning, and here laying
surely and firmly the foundation, to proceed carefully and
by natural and progressive steps to rear the superstruc-
ture, ever adapting the means to the results to be attained.
Following this course, we first begin with things, the quali-
ties of which are cognizable to the senses of the children
awaken, lead out, and guide the observation and quicken
perception. That the observation may be the more accur-
ate, the various senses are carefully cultivated. These are
the earliest, and in childhood, the most strongly developed
of the human faculties. This fact must settle, beyond a
doubt, the correctness of this mode of procedure. Says
Herbert Spencer: "Every faculty during the period of its
greatest activity the period in which it is spontaneously
evolving itself is capable of receiving more vivid im-
pressions than at any other period." Moreover, if we fail
just at the right time to cultivate this, like every other
faculty similarly treated, it becomes blunted and dull, and
comparatively incapable of vigorous and healthy action.
Now these senses gain development by coming in contact


with surrounding objects, in discovering their visible and
tangible qualities.

There is a point here, however, that should be carefully
guarded. The danger is, that we shall begin with the
complex, a point which the child can only reach through
the medium of the simple, indecomposable elements. "Fol-
lowing, therefore, the necessary law of progression from
the simple to the complex, we should provide for the infant
a sufficiency of objects presenting different degrees and
kinds of resistance, a sufficiency of objects reflecting differ-
ent amounts and qualities of light, and a sufficiency of
sounds contrasted in their loudness, their pitch and their
timbre."* We begin then by presenting simple forms, and
the primitive and more distinctive colors. Once familiar
with these, the children are led to trace them in the objects
of nature about them, and lastly to observe their various re-
sultant combinations. In each object their attention is
called to the individual characteristics or qualities which,
combined, constitute the object, and distinguish it from
every other object.

From the concrete they are led to the abstract. Through
the medium of things known they are led to the unknown.
They are now prepared to form clear conceptions of things
they have never seen, through the medium of things they
have seen.


Some of the principal reasons which led the Board to
establish this school are given in a report of the Committee
on Teachers, and in the remarks of the president, found in
another part of this report; and therefore little need be
said here in explanation. It is to be a kind of practising
school, where beginners serve their apprenticeship. In
many mechanical trades, years of toilsome apprenticeship
have to be served out before the artisan is trusted alone

'Herbert Spencer.


with his tools. If then such great care is taken to prepare
for his work, him who has to form the senseless block of
wood or marble into lines and forms of beauty, how much
more, infinitely more important is it that he who has to
mould and give form and symmetry to the immortal mind,
should make some preparation for his work ; should at least
receive some hints and suggestions from a master's hands.
He ought also to have some understanding of his subject,
as well as the tools he is to use, and the best method of
using them. Pupils are expected to spend one year in ob-
servation and practice in this school, before receiving an
appointment to teach in our city schools. At least one half
of each day is to be spent in this way, and the other por-
tion in study and recitation in those branches of natural
history and mental science of immediate importance in
connection with this system of instruction. Two hours
each day will also be devoted to instruction in methods of
teaching. Primary School No. 4 has been selected for this
Model School. There are accommodations here for three
pupil teachers to be engaged in practice at the same time.
The teacher who is to organize and take charge of this
school for the coming year is a lady who has for fifteen
years had charge of an important department of the Home
and Colonial Training Institution, Gray's Inn Road, Lon-
don, a school established by a pupil and friend of Pesta-
lozzi twenty years ago, for the preparation of teachers for
the work of primary instruction on philosophic and Chris-
tian principles. So that the training of teachers is with
her a profession. In this arrangement the Board hopes
not only to greatly benefit and improve our own schools,
but be the means of introducing the system into the country
under the most favorable auspices. The Normal Schools of
several different States have already made arrangements
to send representatives here to become familiar with this
system, for the purpose of introducing it into these insti-
tutions. Some of our best and most experienced teachers


at home, and several from abroad have also arranged to
join this class .

Remarks by C. T. Richardson, President of Board of

Education at the public exercises of the High

School: (1861)

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN : As the Board of Education has
decided upon some changes not only in the organization of
the High School, but in the system of teaching to be pur-
sued in the other schools of the city, it has been thought
best that at this time I should make some explanation of
those changes, of the reason for them, and their cost, that
the Board may not be accused of innovating rashly, or of
trying experiments from which no good may be expected;
or the taxpayers be afflicted with those qualms to which
they are so liable.

From a partial trial during the past year in the Pri-
mary Schools, which has been very satisfactory, and from
information obtained from various sources, the Board has
decided to introduce as far as practicable the system of
teaching known as Pestalozzian, the basis of which is Ob-
ject Lessons.

It will be necessary to make a brief explanation of the

The name originated with Pestalozzi, a Swiss philan-
thropist of Italian extraction, who first, about one hundred
years ago, among the children of Switzerland introduced
its distinctive characteristics. Since his time it has been
modified and improved, and his ideas have been established
and developed, until under one name or another they form
the basis of all truly philosophical mental culture. The
central ideas of the system are as follows:

First. That all education should be according to the
natural order of development of the human faculties.

Second. That all knowledge is derived in the first in-
stance from the perceptions of the senses, and therefore


that all instructions should be based upon the observation
of real objects and occurrences.

Third. That the object of primary education is to give
a harmonious cultivation to the faculties of the mind, and
not to communicate technical knowledge.

The development of the faculties of the mind in the na-
tural order is in this wise: First the power to receive
impressions; after that the power to conceive thoughts;
after that the power to reason. In other words, the Sense,
the Understanding, and the Reason.

The proper method, then, consists in presenting to the
child's mind the quality of knowledge suited to its state of
development. The ordinary method disregards this prin-
ciple and is frequently just the reverse of this practice. In
arithmetic, for example, the children are taught to repeat
rules. Now a rule is a generalization from many simple
facts, and to a child ignorant of those facts conveys no
idea whatever, although it may repeat it by an effort of

By the new method the idea of number is made familiar
to the child by appealing to the faculties that are already
developed; that is, by showing them objects, marbles, peb-
bles, etc. When the idea of concrete number is obtained,
they are led to dispense with the objects and deal with
figures which are symbols and rules which are abstract.

How many children can repeat the ordinary tables of
weight and measure, but how few have any real conception
of what constitutes an inch or a pound?

Usually a child is taught as a vessel is laden at the
wharf, in bulk; facts are thrown in loose without any re-
gard to the fitness of the child's faculties to receive them,
and when a certain amount has been committed to memory
the child is considered educated. The true course is to pre-
sent no other facts, and those no faster than can be as-
similated and organized into the mind. By this method,
education answers its definition ; it is to lead out the facul-


ties. It is organic it is growth from within, not an ad-
dition from without. It is just the difference between
knowledge chemically combined with the child's mind, and
knowledge mechanically held in solution.

Take the growing plant putting forth in all directions
its roots and fibres seeking food. But put the right ele-
ments in its way and the plant will organize them into
its growth, varying its demands according to its different
stages, obstinately refusing at a later period what it ob-
stinately demanded at an earlier, and vice versa, till we
have first the blade, then the ear, then the full corn in the
ear. So with a child's mind. If when it requires simple
impressions on the senses you feed it with complex ob-
stractions, it pines and withers, or at best attains but the
development of one 'faculty at the expense of the rest. But
if you place before it the right elements, it absorbs them,
organizes them, each faculty taking what it needs, till
the simple elements reappear, in the leaf, the flower, the
ripe fruit of vigorous healthy mental growth.

It is in simply placing in the child's way the knowledge
suited to its natural requirements that the art of Teaching
consists. The Teacher must furnish the material at the
right time. The child must educate itself.




AT THE request of several gentlemen interested in these
improved methods of primary instruction the Board of
Education issued the 'following call for a meeting of a few
of the leading educators of the country to examine into
these methods and make a report, setting forth their views
in regard to its value and importance as a system of pri-
mary education, and as to the practicability of its general
introduction into the schools of the country :




Oswego, Dec. 2, 1861.

Dear Sir :

In accordance with a resolution of the Board of Education, we
desire to call your attention to a system of Primary Instruction we
have been introducing into our Public Schools, from the Training
School of the Home and Colonial School Society, London.

We are so much pleased with its principles and practical work-
ing, that we wish to invite a careful examination of it, on the part
of the leading educators of the country. For this purpose, at the
suggestion of several persons interested in the movement, the Board
of Education has decided to invite the following gentlemen, together
with such others as may desire to attend, to meet at Oswego, on



Tuesday, the nth day of February next, to give the subject such
examination as they may desire :

Hon. V. M. RICE, Supt. Public Instruction of State of New York ;
D. H. COCHRAN, Prin. of State Normal School, Albany, New

S. B. WOOLWORTH, LL.D., Sec'y of Board of Regents, New


Dr. FISHER, Pres't. of Hamilton College, Clinton, N. Y.;
Dr. HILL, Pres't. of Antioch College, Ohio;

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Online LibraryE. A. (Edward Austin) SheldonAutobiography of Edward Austin Sheldon → online text (page 10 of 18)