E. C. (Enoch Cobb) Wines.

How shall I govern my school? online

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In prosecuting your labours as an instructor, nu-
merous objects will claim your attention, and you will
have to deal with a great diversity of tempers, and
almost every variety of intellectual endowment. You
will have pupils of various ages, engaged in many
different branches of study, each of which must re-
ceive its due share of attention. Your pupils will have


to be ranged in classes according to their respective
ages, previous attainments, and actual capacities. This
is a work requiring judgment, patience, and much
reflection. The morals and manners of your scholars,
as well as their intellectual training, must be constantly
cared for and attended to. Their various talents must
be directed to their proper objects, and their mental and
moral development watched, marked, encouraged, and
promoted in every conceivable way, and by every suit-
able appliance. You will have to find means to rouse
the sluggishness of one and to correct the waywardness
of another ; to encourage the timid and restrain the
impetuous ; to check vicious propensities and foster
every opening virtue ; to force information upon the
dull, to incite the idle to diligence, to strengthen good
principles where they already exist and implant them
where they are deficient, and to form in all, habits of
order, industry, attention, patience, and obedience. It
cannot surely be denied that these duties, and such as
these, require, for their due performance, solid talents,
copious knowledge, correct judgment, great self-com-
mand, sleepless vigilance, and a deep insight into the
springs of human conduct. These qualities, zealously
and successfully employed in imparting to the young
the principles of conduct and the elements of science,
may well excite the admiration, but can scarcelv call


forth the envy, of the members of any other profes-

The obligations enumerated above, as they are pecu-
liar and appropriate to the profession, though they
mark the laborious nature of the teacher's occupation,
cannot be properly considered grievances, and do not
therefore afford any just ground of complaint. They
are undoubtedly the source of much perplexing anxiety,
exhausting labour, and vexatious embarrassment; but
if they were the only or the principal causes of trouble
to the schoolmaster, he would have great occasion for
rejoicing. His sorest vexations, and the greatest trials
of his patience, spring from a different source, — the
officious interference and dictation of parents and other
relations of the pupils. Far be it from me to blame
the anxiety of a parent in reference to the education
of his children. It is not only excusable in him, but it
is his duty, to look narrowly into their progress, and
if this is not such as to satisfy him, to examine into the
causes of its slowness. When this is done in a be-
coming spirit and manner, the teacher has no reason-
able ground of offence, but, on the contrary, he will
rejoice in the opportunity of explanations, probably
every way desirable for all the parties concerned.

This is not what I blame. My complaint is aimed
against a practice, not more humiliating to the teacher,


than it is prejudicial to the pupil's progress in know-
ledge and virtue. Parents often entertain feelings of
distrust and contempt towards those to whom, never-
theless, they are willing to commit the dearest interests
of their offspring. It were well if these sentiments
were confined to their own breasts. But this is seldom
the case. " They generally communicate them to their
children, and thus provide additional vexations for their
teachers. Instead of impressing on the minds of their
offspring that reverence for the preceptor, which should
give weight to his advice, and efficacy to his instruc-
tions, they teach them to despise his authority, by
allowing an appeal from it to themselves ; they encou-
rage the pupil to sit in judgment on his teacher, and to
make a report of his diligence, his temper, his talents,
and his whole conduct in school." This is as injurious
to the scholar, as it is insulting and mortifying to the
master. Nevertheless, there are multitudes in the con-
stant habit of speaking contemptuously in the presence
of their children, of those whom they have employed
to be their instructors, and of catechizing them in the
manner here indicated. I do not say that all parents
do it, or even the majority ; but it is done by numbers,
and that teacher may esteem himself as singularly
fortunate, who has been, even for the brief space of a
few months, engaged in the business of instruction


without personal experience of the disposition upon
which we are animadverting.

It is surprising how often parents mistake the real
dispositions and talents of their children, and how fre-
quently they are ignorant of their true habits. Every
teacher, who has been for many years in the profes-
sion, could reveal astonishing facts in illustration of
this point. My own memory is burdened with them.
1 have had arrant and inveterate liars placed under my
care, with the assurance on the part of the parent, that,
if there was any vice from which his son was free, it
was that of lying — that he did not in fact believe he
had ever told a lie in his life ! Mistakes of this kind
occur still more frequently among parents with respect
to the intellectual powers of their offspring. These
errors are unfortunate in every respect, but their effects
fall with peculiar weight upon the poor schoolmaster.
They give rise to unreasonable expectations, and when
it is found that the improvement of the child does not
tally with the ill-founded opinions of the father or
mother, parental partiality, the source of the first error,
now commits the second of ascribing the defect, not to
any want of talents in their son or daughter, bu,t to the
negligence, mismanagement, or inability of the teacher.
" The father is too often inclined to proceed with some-
thing of the spirit and impetuosity of the ancient phi-


losopher, who, when he found the pupil illiterate, with-
out further inquiry chastised the preceptor." When-
ever this is the case, you may expect to be over-
whelmed with reproaches, which it is of course im-
possible to prevent by removing the cause, the mental
imbecility of your pupil, and which you will not be
likely to diminish, either in number or pointedness, by
an unvarnished statement of the truth respecting the
child in question.

Another thing to which you must make up your
mind to submit, if you become a teacher, is an unjust
depreciation of your merit by the public generally, and
a most unreasonable degradation from your proper rank
in society. Most men are agreed that the office of a
teacher is one of great utility, and they will even allow
that to exercise it properly requires power and attain-
ments of a high order ; but it will not be asserted that
it is held in proportional esteem. The fact is far other-
wise. The title of schoolmaster, which ought to be an
honour to any man, and which I believe in God will
one day become so, now rests like an incubus on those
who wear it. Parents do not hesitate to entrust the
intellectual and moral education of their offspring to
men whom they will not admit into their drawing-
rooms, except perhaps occasionally by sufferance, and
as an act of special condescension. The consequence


of this general and extraordinary exclusion of teachers
from the best circles of society, as impolitic as it is
unjust, has been to inundate the profession with quacks,
pretenders, ignoramuses, and adventurers of every
grade. Whatever disadvantages or drawbacks may be
connected with the other professions, this one source of
consolation at least is common to them all, that their
members, if there is nothing in their characters to pre-
vent it, are considered as on a footing of equality with
the best of their fellow-citizens. But the teacher, as
such, is not held to be entitled to respect. On the con-
trary, to be a schoolmaster is to be despised, ridiculed,
sneered at, and either entirely shut out of respectable
society, or barely tolerated there, as something little
short of a positive nuisance. It has been said, with
equal truth and beauty, that the general idea of a
schoolmaster seems to be that of an humble drudge in
the garden of knowledge ; who digs the soil, and trains
the plants, indeed ; but who cannot taste the beauty, or
understand the value of the flowers and fruits. Not-
withstanding this low estimate in which the instructors
of our children, as a class, are held, they are expected
to possess qualities and qualifications such as rarely
fall to the lot of humanity.

" In enumerating what were in his judgment the
requisite qualifications of an instructor of youth,


Quinctilian has drawn such a literary and moral cha-
racter, as would, indeed, do honour to any profession ;
but which human frailty forbids us to hope will fre-
quently be found : yet the idea of the ancient rhetori-
cian, however exalted, seems by no means equal to the
popular expectation of the present day. If we consult
the sentiments and conduct of the less intelligent and
less liberal part of the community, it will appear that
the master of a school is required to possess, like the
hero of a romance, not only talents and virtues above
the ordinary endowments of humanity, but such con-
trarieties of excellence as seem incompatible with each
other. He is required to possess spirit enough to govern
the most refractory of his pupils, and meanness enough
to submit to the perpetual interference of their friends ;
such delicacy of taste as may enable him to instruct
his scholars in the elegancies of letters, and robust
strength enough to bear without fatigue the most inces-
sant exertions ; skill adequate to the performance of
his task, and patience to be instructed how to perform
it. He is required to have judgment enough to deter-
mine the most proper studies for his pupils, and com-
plaisance at all times to submit his own opinion to the
opinions of those who have employed him ; moral prin-
ciple sufficient to ensure on all occasions the faithful


discharge of his duties, and forbearance to hear those
principles continually suspected, and his diligence and
fidelity called in question. It is expected that he will
feel the conscious dignity which science confers upon
its possessor, and yet descend without reluctance to
teach infants their alphabet ; that he shall be daily
exposed to the severest trials of temper, but neither
require nor be allowed any indulgence for its occasional
excesses ; and that he be able to secure all the good
effects of discipline, without the use of the only means
that ever yet procured them."*

To these annoyances, and such as these, every teacher
of youth, whether in academies or common schools, is
constantly exposed. None may indulge the hope that
the trials which come to all will not fall to his lot. You
must expect them, and be prepared to meet them ; or
you had better give up at once and forever all idea of a
pursuit in which you will be doomed to continual disap-
pointment, mortification, embarrassment, and disgust.

But when you have performed all your duties with
conscientious zeal and unquestionable success, what
pecuniary recompense may you look for ? Alas ! when
will parents be willing to pay half as liberally for the

* Barrow.


culture of the mind and heart of their children, as they
are for their bodily adornments and external advan-
tages, for the furniture of their houses, the splendour
of their equipages, and those very amusements, which
demoralize while they gratify, and are therefore not
only useless but hurtful ? They dole out the miserable
pittance which is all they are willing to pay for the
education of their sons and daughters, as if it were
their heart's blood. I do not say that this is always
the case ; there are happily many honourable excep-
tions, and they are every year becoming more nume-
rous ; still with respect to the multitude I have stated
the simple truth, as every man of observation, and espe-
cially every teacher, well knows. The price paid for
instruction bears no proportion, I do not say to the
intrinsic value and certain advantages of instruction,
but to the ratio of prices in other things, and for other
and inferior kinds of labour.* Multitudes of school-
masters lack a decent subsistence ; few, in whatever

*"The school-returns of Massachusetts and New York, for
the year 1834, show the following results : in the former of those
States the average sum paid for instruction in each school-district
was a hundred and fourteen dollars ; in the latter, for the same
year, it amounted to only seventy-two dollars." — Hints on Popu-
lar Education.


class of institutions employed, can hope for any thing
beyond that ; fewer still can look forward to a remote
independence ; and none can flatter themselves, except
through the influence of the grossest delusion, with the
expectation of affluence.

But are there no bright points to relieve the darkness
•of the picture we have sketched 1 Yes, there are ; but
I can only direct your attention to them, and leave you
to dwell upon them at your leisure. In the first place,
teaching is a profession which opens a broad field of
usefulness. There is no calling in which a man, pos-
sessing the requisite qualifications, and actuated by the
right spirit, can render himself more truly a blessing
to his species, than in this. Again : in whatever esti-
mation the profession is generally held, it is really
honourable as well as useful. It is honourable in itself,
it is honourable on account of the results which it pro-
duces, it has been made honourable by the talents of
some of the ablest men and brightest geniuses the
world ever saw. It would be easy here to present an
array of great names of men, who have been, at one
period or another of their lives, engaged as school-
masters. The list would be graced by such names as
Isocrates and Quinctilian among the ancients, Milton,
Johnson, and Parr, among the moderns, and by those


of many of the ablest statesmen, dead and living, of
our own country. As a third redeeming consideration,
it may be mentioned that the profession of teaching is
gradually, not to say rapidly, rising in public estima-
tion. The generality of men, and especially men of
intelligence, respect it more than formerly, and to those
engaged in it they yield a greater measure of confi-
dence and sympathy.



Begin your school by forming a regular plan of
government ; settle in your own mind the principles by
which you will be guided in your little administration ;
propose to yourself certain definite results, and aim
steadily at their attainment.

An adherence to the spirit of this principle is neces-
sary to success in every pursuit of life. Without it,
the merchant, the agriculturist, the manufacturer, the
statesman, the philanthropist, and the Christian, must
each fail of securing all those results which a regard
to it would at least aid him in attaining.

To the successful management of a school, this prin-
ciple is of indispensable necessity. A hap-hazard kind
of government, a government whose very principles
are the sport of caprice and circumstance, and whose
measures are dictated by momentary impulse, is in
fact no government at all. It is worse than none ; for
its inevitable failure to secure any of the ends of good
government, its utter inability to enforce while it claims

authority, must necessarily result in various bad effects


on the moral character of the pupils, as well as mate-
rially interfere with the improvement of their minds.
It will produce a habit of insubordination, self-will,
resistance to all authority, and contempt for those who
exercise it, the baleful consequences of which may
spread themselves out over the whole of existence. It
may issue, there is no security that it will not, in taint-
ing the entire character, in drying up the sources of
virtue, and casting a blight over all the useful powers
of the man.

These brief considerations will be sufficient to show
you the importance of this direction. You cannot
govern well, and therefore not usefully, except in con-
formity to a settled plan, in acccordance with certain
fixed principles. Arid this plan ought not to be the
hasty concoction of an hour, a day, or even a week.
It should be long and deeply pondered. The lights of
experience should be consulted, as far as they are
within your reach, whether in books or in the con-
versation of older teachers. Your own ideas upon the
subject should be matured, digested, and arranged. You
should say to yourself, — " I am about to assume a fear-
ful responsibility, such a responsibility as is entrusted
to no other men, except those engaged in the same pro-
fession with myself. The training of immortal beings,
so that thev may fulfil their high destiny aright, is


committed to my hands. Under my guidance, their
powers are to be developed, their minds furnished with
knowledge, their principles matured, and their habits
formed. I must lay my plans both of instruction and
.government with reference to these great ends ; and
then adhere to them with undeviating firmness and
consistency, except so far as larger knowledge and
experience shall convince me that they are defective,
and need amendment." If you are actuated by this
spirit, you will meditate long and deeply ; you will form
your plan of government, with caution and delibera-
tion ; you will not change it, or even introduce impor-
tant modifications, lightly ; and success can hardly fail
to crown your labours. On the other hand, indecision,
inconstancy, levity, a vacillating spirit, in governing
your school, will inevitably destroy your pupils' respect
for you, and materially abridge your usefulness.

It is not of essential importance what your particular
system of managing is. There may be a dozen plans,
all of which, in the hands of skilful teachers, would be
equally efficient. It is only necessary that it should be
founded in a correct knowledge of human nature, that
it should be adapted to the circumstances of your
school, and that, it should be adhered to with constancy
and prosecuted with vigour. While, therefore, it is
true that some general plan of government is indis-


pensable to the order of every school and to the im-
provement of the pupils of every school, it is also true
that different teachers will fall upon different principles
of organization, according as their habits of thought,
feeling, and action vary. It is not possible, it is not
even desirable, that all should adopt the same system.
Some are incapable of applying successfully one set
of principles, in whose hands a different organization
would be entirely successful. No system will ever be
efficient from the force of its inherent qualities ; the
best must depend for its ultimate and complete success
on the zeal, ability, and faithfulness of the teacher.



In forming your plan of government, avoid the mul-
tiplication of trifling rules ; seize upon principles as
comprehensive as possible for your administrative laws;
and be careful to draw a broad line of distinction be-
tween your rules and those eternal principles of mo-
rality which have their foundation in the revealed will
of God, and are therefore obligatory upon all rational
creatures, every where, and at all times.

A course of procedure, opposed to the principles here
laid down, will subject you to manifold vexations and
perplexities. If you undertake to frame a code of laws,
wherein every particular duty shall be enjoined, and
each individual offence forbidden, you will swell your
catalogue of injunctions and prohibitions to a number
that no child can retain in his memory ; and unless the
act forbidden be one of manifest impropriety, the young
transgressor will be liable to be punished for an un-
avoidable forgetful ness, rather than for any real obli-
quity. In framing such a code, you will also necessa-
rily omit many things that would be obviously em-


braced within the comprehensive grasp of some general
principle, and you will consequently be obliged occa-
sionally to overlook offences that the delinquents knew
to be such, because they were not in the bond — not
enumerated in the list of specifications. Besides this,
such a detailed enumeration of obligations and trans-
gressions will leave you less latitude for varying your
treatment of particular offences, according to the vary-
ing dispositions of your pupils, and the different cir-
cumstances under which they were committed.

The influence of broad general rules will moreover
be good, as far as it goes, on the intellectual develop-
ment and character of your pupils. Its tendency will
be to accustom them to take wide views, to familiarize
them with the principle of classification, and to habituate
them to the process of generalization. This is an inci-
dental advantage worthy of consideration in estimating
the value of the principle now under discussion.

On the general question as to the comparative merits
of the two systems, I can speak with the authority of
experience. I have tried both plans myself, and have
seen them tried by others ; and the result is a firm con-
viction that the fewer rules a teacher can get along
with, so that they cover the whole ground necessary to
be embraced in such a code, the better it will be in
every respect, both for himself and his scholars. Six


rules are better than six hundred. One of the greatest
evils incident to civil government is the excessive mul-
tiplication of penal statutes. This is one prolific source
of litigation. It makes a resort to legal knowledge
often indispensable, and renders legal processes tedious
and expensive. The enactments of the British Parlia-
ment unrepealed, and therefore still in force, fill several
hundred quarto volumes. This is loudly complained
of by some British writers.

Mr. Jacob Abbott, well known by his numerous prac-
tical publications, who conducted for several years with
eminent success the Mount Vernon Female Boarding-
School, in Boston, says that he had but one rule in that
establishment. There is perhaps a little affectation in
this declaration, as it is evident from his account of the
school, that there were in effect several rules, which,
however, in order to have but one nominally, he calls
arrangements. A single rule for all the operations of
a school is, moreover, an excess of generalization. No
principle can be found broad enough to embrace legiti-
mately a range of particulars so multifarious and so
numerous. Nevertheless, the principle is a sound one,
and practically important, that the rules of a school
should be as few and as comprehensive as may be con-
sistent with vigorous government and true philosophy.*

* " I feel very strongly impressed with a conviction that the


There is no necessity for incorporating in a code of
school laws those general, universally recognized, eter-

evils which have resulted to community, in consequence of a
perversion of moral sentiment and feeling, occasioned by particu-
lar laws, have sometimes been greater than those which would
have accrued, had the crimes, which those laws were intended to
prevent, been suffered to pass unnoticed and unrestrained. I
think it might satisfactorily be shown, many laws have rather
increased than discountenanced crime. These observations, if
just, suggest a consideration of practical importance, in respect
to the mode of government which should be adopted in schools,
and indeed in families, which is, that there should be as few posi-
tive enactments, or rules and regulations, as may consist with the
regulation of the school, in outward conduct.

" When laws abound, a school may be governed, but it is next
to impossible that the moral sentiment should not be hurt by them.

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Online LibraryE. C. (Enoch Cobb) WinesHow shall I govern my school? → online text (page 2 of 17)