E. A. (Edward Austin) Sheldon.

Autobiography of Edward Austin Sheldon online

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as are most useful and necessary to complete a good edu-
cation." One half as much as was appropriated by the
State was to be raised by tax on the towns, to be applied in
the same manner. Local supervision was provided by the
election of commissioners in the several towns, but no ar-
rangement was made for a general supervision. This act



232 APPENDIX

expired by limitation, as did also, to a very great extent,
the schools brought into existence by it. It is true, a few
schools continued, but in a languishing and feeble condi-
tion; and the system was practically given up.

Five years after the expiration of this grant we find
Governor Lewis, in a special message, urging upon the
Legislature "the application of the proceeds of all the State
lands for the benefit of colleges and schools; the entire fund
and its management to be confided to the Regents of the
University, under such regulations as the Legislature might
prescribe the Regents to appoint three trustees for each
district, who should be authorized to locate sites for school
houses, to erect such houses wherever necessary, employ
teachers, apply the district funds, and levy taxes on the
inhabitants for such further sums as might be required for
the support of the schools, and the education of indigent
children." The recommendation was not adopted, and all
efforts to establish a public school system was unavailing
until 1812; when, in compliance with the recommendation
of Governor Tompkins, a system was adopted which con-
tinued with little change until 1840. This plan had in it the
elements of success and efficiency, although as compared
with our present organization, it seems a weak and penny-
wise system.

It is not a little strange that at the time of the inaugura-
tion of this public school system it was not put under the
charge of the Board of Regents, to whom, up to this time,
all educational work had been entrusted, and especially in
view of the fact that they had repeatedly urged upon the
Legislation the adoption of such a system, and at least,
one of the governors had recommended that it be placed
under the control and management of the Board. This
would seem to have been a very natural and proper thing
to do, and we can only account for their neglecting to do
so on the supposition that they regarded these newly created
schools as a sort of pauper or charity schools, and so re-



APPENDIX 233

quiring different treatment, and different supervision. We
have grounds for this suspicion from some things that ap-
pear in the history of this movement.

Be that as it may, whatever may have been the motive,
Gideon Hawley was appointed to inaugurate the new move-
ment, under the title of Superintendent of Public Schools.
As an illustration of the meagreness of this provision, the
amount distributed to each district was about twenty dol-
lars, and the annual salary of the superintendent was three
hundred dollars. But although the compensation was so in-
significant, the man proved himself competent for the work
of organizing and putting upon a firm basis the common
school system of the State.

One would think that such a man, with so meagre a
salary, coupled with such serious responsibilities, might have
been safe in his office of superintendent, as against the cu-
pidity of the politicians. But such was not the case. This
man, who with marked ability, and untiring assiduity had
organized and put into successful operation the school sys-
tem of the State which stood more than a quarter of a cen-
tury without material change, was forced to yield his posi-
tion to a political hanger-on. To the credit of some of the
leading men in the Legislature be it said, that they were so
indignant that an able, worthy man, who was discharging
his duties with commendable faithfulness and marked suc-
cess should be compelled to give place to one who knew
nothing of the work or duties of the position, and whose
only recommendation was his political alliance with the
party commanding the most votes, and that a purely edu-
actional office, requiring professional knowledge and skill,
and carrying with it great responsibilities, should be made
the football of political parties, that they moved to abolish
the office, as a distinct department, and merge it with that
of secretary of state. This motion was carried and the
office of State Superintendent of Public Schools was not



234 APPENDIX

restored to its original dignity and importance, as a separate
bureau, until 1854, a period of 34 years.

The first superintendent to occupy the office after its
reinstatement as a separate and independent bureau, was
Victor M. Rice. With the history of this office from this
time, we are all familiar. We recognize among his suc-
cessors in office men of unflinching integrity and marked
executive ability; men who, if time and opportunity had
been given them, would have made their mark on the educa-
tional work of the State, but the office has been a change-
able one, subject to the fluctuations of party politics.

NO PERMANCY IN OFFICE

No superintendent could have the assurance of his posi-
tion for more than three years. Although some of the men
have done very much for the cause of education in the State,
all must admit that their time of service was quite too
short in which to lay out and perfect any important educa-
tional plans and improvements, requiring years of growth
to bring them to maturity. In some cases much has been
accomplished, far more than could have been anticipated
under the circumstances, but it cannot be denied that both
the inducements and opportunities would have been greater
if these men could have had reasonable assurance of per-
manency in their positions. That this position ought to be
removed from the arena of politics and from all that ma-
chinery that results in rotation, and put upon an educational
and permanent basis, no one questions.

DIVIDED AUTHORITY

Another unfortunate feature of our school supervision
which we are sure every one recognizes, is its dual charac-
ter, the higher departments being under the Board o'f Re-
gents, and the lower under the superintendent. So far as
the academic departments in the Union Free Schools are



APPENDIX 235

concerned, the supervision is divided between the two super-
visory heads.

The tendency of this divided supervision has been to
foster more or less of jealousy and animosity between the
schools so separated in their supervision, and, at times, be-
tween the Superintendent and the Board. This condition
of things is very naturally a serious impediment to the
highest success in school work. From time to time proposi-
tions have been made to consolidate all supervisory powers
in one head, sometimes by subordinating the superintendent
to the Board of Regents, sometimes by subordinating the
Board to the Superintendent, and again by abolishing the
Board of Regents altogether. Both departments have been
jealous of an independent existence, and, in every instance,
each has been able to wield influence sufficient to maintain
it. And yet the feeling has continued to gain strength in
every quarter that something ought to be done, to break
down this middle wall of partition in our educational work.

THE TIME FOR UNIFICATION HAS COME

We believe the time has come when this may be accom-
plished. Both departments of supervision realize the im-
portance of this consolidation and are ready to accept it,
provided it may be accomplished in such a way as to be mu-
tually honorable to both. This cannot be done by abolishing
either department, and there is no necessity for such a
measure. In every well arranged system of supervision
all the elements contained in each department are required.
In other words we want both a Board of Education and a
Superintendent, but we want them so combined as to consti-
tute one head. Since both departments regard such a com-
bination as desirable and are ready to accept it, the way
seems open 'for its accomplishment, if our Legislature can
be made to see the importance of such a movement. Twelve
years ago a plan was submitted to the Legislature which at
that time met with the approbation of the Board of Regents,



236 APPENDIX

the Academy, Normal School, and College men, and the
educational men generally throughout the State, so far as
an expression could be gained from them. This bill would,
without doubt, have passed the Legislature at that time
but for the opposition of the incoming Superintendent and
his political friends. A different state of things now exists,
and the time seems an opportune one for the accomplish-
ment of this much to be desired end.

A UNIFICATION PLAN

The following were the main features of that bill : It pro-
vided for the erection of a State Board of Education, to
consist of ten members, seven to be selected from the pres-
ent Board of Regents by the Governor, and three from out-
side this Board by the joint ballot of the Assembly and
Senate. Of the ten men thus elected, the time of office of
two was to terminate at the end of one year, two at the
end of two years, two at the end of three years, two at the
end of four years, and two at the end of five years; and
after this rotation, the term of office would be five years,
two going out and two being elected each year by the joint
ballot of the Legislature. By this plan it is possible to
completely change the Board in five years if desired. The
Governor, Lieutenant Governor and Secretary of State were
to be added as ex officio members.

This Board was to appoint the State Superintendent, to
hold office for three years, as also his deputies, on the
nomination of the superintendent. The Board is to have all
the powers and duties that now devolve on the State Super-
intendent and the Board of Regents. Such a Board seems to
us to combine all the elements requisite for a good super-
visory unit in a harmonious and acceptable form.



APPENDIX 237

LIFE AND CHARACTER OF DR. SHELDON

By CHARLES R. SKINNER, A.M., LL.D., State Superintendent of
Public Instruction, New York.*

When a fellow-laborer in the educational field lays down his
burden, it seems fitting that those who live after him, and who have
been inspired by his character, should pay a tribute to his memory.
My theme is the life and character of Edward Austin Sheldon. One
year ago he met with us at Milwaukee. To-night the waves of Lake
Ontario sing a requiem to his memory in the city in which he did
his greatest work.

For more than half a century he gave himself, body, soul, and
spirit, to the work of education. Courageous, sincere, enthusiastic,
patient, persevering, he overcame difficulties, removed obstacles, won
victories, where others with judgment less cool, with zeal less in-
tense, would have been disheartened and driven from the field. New
York mourns him by the highest right. It was New York State
which gave him his great opportunity, but his aims and efforts were
so universal, the grasp of his hope so broad, that no local limita-
tions could bind him. We of New York rejoice that these fifty
years of service were given to education in our own State, and that
we are the inheritors of the fruits of his labors.

No man can live a noble life for three score years and ten, and
work in the educational fields as Dr. Sheldon worked for fifty
years, without leaving his impress upon the world, and exerting a
powerful influence upon his State and country. His life was not
revealed to him in a vision. His way was not pointed out to him
by the finger of fortune ; his problem was hidden in the quarries, the
solution of which must be drilled by trial and disappointment, and
blasted by unremitting effort. He found the law uncongenial, busi-
ness ventures unprofitable, and the ministry a field too narrow
for his ambitions. He found not his work in these professions.
Around him were multitudes of the poor, whose condition arrested
his attention and touched his heart. To help them he organized a
school, and on a salary of $300 per year began his first teaching. He
had found his work and he determined to know it. Horace Mann,
Henry Barnard and Edward Sheldon all attempted other pursuits,
amid constant disappointments, before becoming what they were



Memorial address delivered before the National Educational Associa-
tion of the United States, at Washington, D. C., July 7, 1898.



238 APPENDIX

intended to be educators. Education and its wonderful possibili-
ties became the inspiration 6f their lives.

Loving friends have told us the charming story of his useful
life. They have told us of his Puritan birth, of his home and its
congenial surroundings, of his early struggles, his college longings
and experiences how he came to Oswego to meet his first dis-
couragement in business ; how he became interested in the free-
school movement which he was compelled to abandon; how he
organized the schools of Syracuse and gave them an impetus they
still feel ; how he was called back to Oswego by the free-school
party; how he laid his plans for advanced instruction in the prin-
ciples and methods of teaching, and established it forever as a
mighty force in education; how, believing in patriotic citizenship, he
offered his services to his country to preserve the Union which he
loved; how his plan developed into a school for the training of
primary teachers ; how the Legislature came to his aid in 1862,
through the sympathy of the State Superintendent; how, in 1867, the
Oswego Normal was accepted as a part of the great normal school
of the State; how for thirty years he worked "like a Hercules," as
Carlyle says, as its principal ; how he resisted tempting offers to
honorable fields elsewhere, preferring to finish his work here; how
he was called into other States to assist in organizing method schools
upon his plan ; how men and women were attracted from every
county and State and country to come within the charmed circl<
of his influence, and how they became instruments in extending that
influence and in organizing similar schools in other States and
countries; how inspired by his growing success, institutions were
founded to uplift the colored people of the South; how echoes of
his influence came from the Republic of South America, the Sand-
wich Islands, and from far-away Japan; how he wrote the books
which helped others and extended his power for good; how at the
great Columbian Exposition he was an honored figure in educa-
tional deliberations, and received a medal of honor for his be-
loved institution "for excellence of equipment, method and wise
usefulness"; and how, finally, discouragement gave place to hope,
and defeat was crowned with glorious victory. Surely the "end
crowned the work," and patient, self-sacrificing service had its
reward.

Do we ask if such a life, with such a character woven into it,
had an influence on our educational theories and methods? It was



APPENDIX 239

more than influence it was inspiration. Always holding high ideals
himself, he inspired other with lofty purpose and noble ambition.
He transmitted to others hope, and faith, and resolution, and many
men and women of to-day confess that whatever of success they
have attained in teaching children they owe to his inspiration and
influence.

Dr. Sheldon was distinguished for his purity of character, for
his zeal as an educator, for his persistent, progressive spirit, even
to the last day of his life. His good judgment, his simplicity, his
earnestness, his devotion to principle, were the bulwarks of his life.
What he believed to be right he fearlessly defended in the face of
opposition which would have crushed a man with less faith. He was
conspicuous throughout New York State and throughout America,
not alone for his scholarship, but for his thorough grasp of sound
educational principles and correct methods of teaching, for his
power to penetrate an educational proposition and fix the value, for
his ability to detect a fault or recognize a virtue in educational
method. He did not claim to be a profound student of technical
branches of learning, but his education was strong because it was
broad, generous, and humane. What he knew he knew thoroughly,
and he made splendid use of his knowledge and training.

He was the first great advocate in the country of the proposi-
tion that children should be taught according to certain fixed natural
laws which always have governed and always will govern the de-
velopment of children and determine their possibilities. Believing
in the doctrines of Pestalozzi and Froebel, he was their most dis-
tinguished representative in this country, and the first to point out
the necessity of observing in the training of children certain un-
changeable laws of nature which could not be violated without
spoiling life. He believed that every child represented nature as
much as a tree or flower, and should be studied and taught by na-
tural methods.

He said of his work many years ago : "In this plan of studies
the object is not so much to impart information as to educate the
senses and awaken a spirit of inquiry. To this end the pupils must
be encouraged to do most of their talking and acting." In 1873 he
said, in an address to the students at the Geneseo Normal School :
"I may judge your work by a standard which you do not
recognize. I cannot determine the education of a child by its ability
to answer questions in a given way. These answers may be learned



240 APPENDIX

from books. Rather let me ask a question to which they have not
learned an answer from the text-books, and let them give an answer
in their own language, from their own thought."

Was this the new education? Whether new or old, it worked
a revolution in educational methods in the proper treatment of the
children. When the world became convinced that object-teaching
was related to the happiness of the children, when it was certain
that it could not be laughed down nor stamped out, this school and
Dr. Sheldon's efforts became centers of observation. They were
the Mecca to all teachers who had been led to believe there was a
simpler, better way to teach children. Through his work and his
influence in first attracting attention to this new principle in the
education of children, Dr. Sheldon helped to lay broad and deep
the foundations of a system which will never again be questioned
or attacked, but which to-day recognizes the power and scope and
the possibilities of the kindergarten as a living, vital force in edu-
cation, and places it within reach of millions of our children. It is
no longer an experiment, but a settled fact, and we now know what
it means to lead children early to think and do for themselves.

Beyond this, the influence which he exerted through all these
years has led our educators into other avenues of thought, and the
principles which he advocated have developed well-organized plans
of investigation. As a result, whatever is practical or valuable
in child-study and nature-study, as we find them, comes through his
teaching.

If this influence was felt in the proper education of children
from a child's standpoint, so it has been exerted for more than a
generation over those who taught the children. In all his teachings
he believed that in the development of the true teacher there must
be, not only broad scholarship and professional training, but behind
and back of all this must be the true spirit of the teacher. He
taught his teachers to be independent and self-reliant to work out
questions for themselves and not depend upon text-books. In this
way his teachers learned to teach independence and self-reliance
to their pupils.

We have in the common schools of New York State a better
knowledge of real educational methods, a better knowledge of cor-
rect educational principles, more teaching with heart and soul in it,
and less form. If this claim is well founded, we owe much of the
excellence of our schools, the spirit of our teachers, improved



APPENDIX 241

methods of instruction, to the influence of Dr. Sheldon, exerted
upon the men and women whom he taught in this school and whom
he led to higher ideals.

Dr. Sheldon's influence will live and be powerful for years,
when even his name may be forgotten. Teachers whom he taught
will have visions of what he never saw, and will teach other teach-
ers to whose sight even better things will come a progressive and
stimulating vision whose beauty and usefulness shall never end.
Dr. Sheldon's quiet, peaceful, loving, spirit, his patience, his courage,
his consecration to his work as an educator, will live in the history
of his pupils and their devotion to duty. He was emphatically a
teacher of those who taught teachers and made others realize the
value and dignity of a true teacher's life. Behind his profession,
behind his work, stood the man. His sterling manhood shone out
in all he did through his whole professional life.

As an author of educational works he breathed his sympa-
thetic spirit into his books, and the influence of his thought and
personality went wherever his works were read; and who can tell
the power of a written word, conceived in the hope of helping
others? Through the printed page he multiplied his influence over
teachers and pupils, and perpetuated his power. His advanced
though, his clear statement, his mastery of the subject, and his
conscientious purpose made him as successful in touching the lives
of his readers as in personal contact with those he taught.

In the educational associations of the State and country he was
always welcome, and took a deep interest, not only in promoting
their objects, but in the discussions which they furnished. Even if
his associates differed with him, they admired his rugged sincerity,
his earnestness of purpose, and the courteous bravery of his gentle
speech. He was everybody's friend ; he had no enemies in the
educational field, and was never provoked in debate beyond the
bounds of kindly firmness. This influence which he exerted in these
associations was always in the direction of higher standards. His
last educational visit was at Milwaukee, where his face, like a
loving benediction, smiled upon those who gathered in the National
Educational Association, a most familiar figure; and my last look
upon my friend was as he mingled happily with the vast concourse
of educators which gathered there.

We speak of great centers of light and heat, and their influences
upon what they touch upon nature, upon man, and field, and



242 APPENDIX

flower. The light of his life penetrated the atmosphere of many a
life which touched his own, and this light will shine on for years
and ages, and be transmitted to bless generations which he will
never see. We who are left should rejoice that our friend did not
outlive his work. He died with his armor on, and entered into the
presence of the God he loved and worshiped with soul still stirred
with affection for the institution which he builded and to which
he had given so bountifully of mind and hand and heart. Surely
he must have entered upon that higher life with blessed memories
of work here which has given him so much happiness. His last
days were occupied with plans and hopes for future usefulness to
the institution with which he had long been identified. If a personal
allusion may be pardoned here, let me say that these hopes formed
the subject of my last conference with Dr. Sheldon. He discussed
plans for raising the standard of admission and establishing a
higher course of study with all the zeal of a man who still had
faith in the future, and his good heart was full of hope in antici-
pation of still grander achievements and greater usefulness in his
profession. The fifty years which lay behind him were an inspira-
tion, rather than a memory. His face was always toward the rising
sun.

He loved his work, and put into it all the strength of his calm
mind, tender heart and trained understanding. His enthusiasm for
his profession was so infectious that no one whose privilege it was
to counsel with him could fail to be strengthened and helped. His
greatest charm was his simplicity. Modest in the estimate of his
own abilities, he was upheld and sustained at all times by the sin-
cerity and integrity of his own aims and principles.

It was a touching tribute to his memory published on the day
of his death :

"The life he loved is nobler than anything that could be said of
him. If we could correctly measure the man, we must measure the
things he loved. He loved his home, he loved the children, he loved
his country, he loved nature, and he loved his God.


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