William G. (William Gardiner) Hammond.

Public education online

. (page 2 of 2)
Online LibraryWilliam G. (William Gardiner) HammondPublic education → online text (page 2 of 2)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

questions how each should save himself and his possessions from
violence; how neighbors should live together in peace and security, yet
without giving themselves up to the tender mercy of lords, feudal or
clerical. The descendants of the northern barbarians who had never
known a master, and those of the Roman provincials who had never
lived free from a master, were seeking some common ground on which
they could meet with equal rights. Moreover, Europe was full of young,
strong and ambitious men, who sought a career, but could find it neither
in brutal fights nor in the church. Among these, somehow, the news got
abroad that an obscure teacher of rhetoric, in Italy, had turned up some
volumes of the musty Roman law to find good rhetorical exercises for his
pupils, and had got them so much interested in it, that he had under-
taken to explain the hard words, and let them write down the explana-
tion between the lines. It was not the first attempt to teach law, for the
Lombard law had been glossed and taught for a century at Pavia. But
that had never interested anybody but Lombards, and the thought of
studying a foreign law for its scientific value was as yet to come. The


ancient Eoman law was quite a different thing. The glamour of the
Roman name was still powerful. The Roman empire was the one great
successful state of which their histories told. Charlemagne, and~lhe
emperor of all Christian men, the only potentate that stood on a level with
the Pope, still claimed authority as heirs of that empire. One could read
a text of its law to a bishop or to a feudal lord with some hope of over-
awing his caprice. Even the monk Gratian had collected the Canon law
of the church in imitation of it, and Obertus de Orto and Gerardus Niger,
the authors of the Law of Feuds, had admitted its authority. The Arch-
bishop of Canterbury himself had brought home from Italy a young man
who knew all about the Code and Pandects, to help him in his own law-
suits with the papal legate, the king's brother.

According to the realistic belief of that age there could be but one true
science of law, as of mathematics or astronomy. Every country might
have its customs, differing like its climate, but this was universal truth,
that could be learned in Italy as well as at home, and having been learned
in Italy, could be put to practical uses at home. Hence aspiring young
men from all Europe took the road to Bologna by thousands. Very
possibly they went in greater numbers because no preparatory course in
the Bishop's school was necessary. Nobody asked whether they had
gone through thetriviam or thequadrivium any more than whether they
were orthodox or heretical, rich or poor; to the great scandal and regret
of all experienced educators of the old school. Soon they were there in
such numbers that some kind of school government was necessary. They
elected a rector or president out of their own number, and made a set of
college laws for themselves. They organized themselves into clubs called
nations because each comprised all of a certain nationality. Finally the
Pope was induced to give them the power of self-government by erecting
them into a corporation or university. That was the meaning of the
name which had nothing to do with the number of branches taught. The
fiction that a university is so called because it teaches universal knowl-
edge, or that the name has any connection whatever with the course of
study, is of much later origin. The citizens of Bologna found it a good
thing to feed them, let lodgings to them, etc. Probably they had a good
influence on the price of house rent and vacant lots in Bologna. Conse-
quently Pavia, Florence and other cities, soon had universities of their
own; and popular lecturers, who could draw many students, were
salaried from the public treasury, as a good way of reducing the city

It would take far too long to describe the extension of universities in
Europe to Paris, Montpelier, Oxford, Prague, Heidelberg, etc., or even
the extension of the system to other branches of learning, as medicine,
theology, or the humanities. Salerno became famous for teaching
medicine. Others were popular now with one class of students, now
with another, as different professors came and went. But all were public
schools in the sense that they opened their doors to all comers who
sought to study in them; and that the vast majority of those who came


to them came to prepare themselves in one way or another for active
life,to make their way in the world; and whatever else they learned there,
they learned the art of living in the world on equal terms with their
fellows. The "dark ages," as modern pedantry still reckons them, were
not yet past. The "renaissance" of classic art and literature was yet far
in the future; but in these rude, ill-disciplined bands of professional
students a mob, rather than a well -organized and properly graded insti-
tution of learning, there was evolved for the first time the cardinal
principle of public education an education of the people, by the people,
for the people, if I may so use the words made classical by that great
American who was himself so grand an illustration of its central truth.
For this is, I take it, the central truth of public education as a modern
discovery unknown to the classic world: that the main factor in all true
education is the pupil, and not the teacher: that its courses, its methods,
its results, are shaped not by what the latter wishes to impart, but by
what the pupil wants and needs to learn; and that whatever the school
law or the college regulations may say, the real governance of the school
governance in the good old English and Roman sense of pilotage will
ever be with the learners and not the learned. Hence we see why this
new truth first was seen in the university, the school which comes most
immediately in contact with actual life, where it was easiest for all to
see the direct practical consequence of what they learned. Only by slow
degrees has it gone farther and mastered the intermediate and primary
schools more remote from that influence. It is the university that has
given us our common schools, and not vice versa-, for all public education
depends mainly on the students' sense of need to prepare for something
higher and beyond them. It is the university that has really given us
free schools; for there men first learned to consider education, not as a
privilege to be bestowed on those already favored beyond their fellows,
but as an equal right of all to the means of doing well whatever work in
life they had to do. It is the university that makes it worth while to
sustain them.

We are now all agreed even those who oppose anything higher,
that the State should secure to all its citizens a common English educa-
tion, the power to read and write, with the other branches taught in our
common schools. But how many go a step further and ask themselves
why ? In what consists the advantage to t/ie State of having all its citi-
zens able to read and write, instead of leaving them in the condition of
the laboring classes in many civilized countries the condition in which
the great mass of our own English forefathers were a very few centuries
ago, dependent on the parish priest and the schoolmaster for all the
reading and writing done in the community ? The English yeoman of
300 years ago, worked and fought as sturdily, ate as much, prayed and
praised God rather more, perhaps on the whole enjoyed this life as
much as his descendants and had at least as firm a faith in a better life
beyond. What have we gained by teaching him to read and write ? or to
anticipate the first answer, by increasing his intelligence V Surely all


this vast expenditure of our school system is not made merely for the
purpose of enabling a nation of men who can but just read and write, to
exchange their ideas on paper rather than by word of mouth; nor even
to enable them to read the newspapers. No man will see the truth of
this position, on its face, better than those it directly concerns. Go to
the farm-house and ask the plain sensible couple you will find there,
reading perhaps the Bible on Sunday, and the newspaper of a winter
evening, but working early and late, day after day, that their boys and
girls may go to school, and one or more of them to the Academy or Col-
legeask them if they would set such a value on their children's school-
ing, if the only use they were ever to make of it was to read the produc-
tions of other men no better educated than themselves, or write down
the same thoughts that prompt their daily speech V They see, they feel,
deeper than the Faculty of a University do, that the chief end and pur-
pose and value of reading is, that it enables us to learn from those who
are wiser and better than we are, but whom we never can hope to meet.
1 do not claim that universities have always been true to the theory of
public education any more than I would assert that they have adhered
to the simple organization of the twelfth century, or that university
men have always written just such books as pious parents would wish
their sons and daughters in the common school to read. It would have
been impossible to keep up so many great institutions for seven cen-
turies on the simple lines upon which the first universities were formed.
The most we can truthfully say is that wherever universities existed
public education was more widely diffused than where they were un-
known, and that they have never at the worst been so inaccessible to
the poor man's son as ancient schools, or so sterile of free thought as the
church schools of the dark ages. No doubt there came very soon a
strong reaction from the crude and simple methods of the primitive
university. Some institutions were founded by kings and bishops on
purpose to harness the new and untamed force and drive it in the reins
of established power, as in the case of Naples. The entire force of pro-
fessional teachers of the day was ready to help in the task. They pro-
foundly distrusted this new-fangled method of letting the young learn
what they felt the need of instead of pursuing the trivium and the
quadrivium. The old teacher almost inevitably becomes a conservative.
He has begun by teaching children to know the straight i and the
round o. Years of practice made him perfect in his art and his pride lies
in the symmetrical joining of the perfect circle until he forgets that the
perfectly rounded o of the school year marks only a cypher. The per-
fectly drilled pupil ends it at the very point where it began; the circle is
perfect, and empty. Too many of our most elaborate and be-lauded
school courses are typified by that beautifully rounded o and the
classes whose interest lies in keeping the great majority of mankind in a
perpetual tutelage, are always ready to help the instructor who can make
the roundest o's with the least in them. The more industrious and con-
scientious he is, the easier they find it to reduce his labor to that of
the mill-horse in his perpetual round.


More frequently perhaps the public university has been reduced to a
mere machine for moulding human clay into uniform bricks, by the
unconscious working of this conservative habit, strengthened by the in-
fluence of wealth. Oxford and Cambridge are noted examples. What
teacher in either has written a book for poor but earnest students since
Vacarius? The early divorce of its legal school from the practical
studies of the Inns of Court may largely account for this; and the
formation of that real university as Fortescue calls it, and as it was
for a time, may almost make us forgive it.

J do not name the great English universities in reproach or in for-
getfulness of the great services they have rendered to an important class
of English society; but only to illustrate the danger there has always
been and still is, wherever education is regarded as a private interest,
the particular prerogative of a rank, of a church, of an order of teachers,
of any body less than the whole community. For the same end I have
selected the term public education as most expressive of the advance
made in modern times and have tried to point out its character as a
public duty and public interest; duty to all that are to be active mem-
bers of the State, interest as preparing the way for that harmonious
play of reciprocal rights and duties among men, that is the characteristic
of modern civil liberty. Thus in a sense far higher than mere pecuniary
support or normal instruction, it is the proper work of the State.

I desire to see the responsibility of the State for public education
fully recognized, because I believe that in that way can the best interests
of such education be secured for the future, not for the next genera-
tion, not for the next century, but for the many centuries through which
as we may reasonably hope will extend the life of the State. Nothing is
better settled by experience than that our institutions for high-
er education must be permanent and enduring to do good work.
The best organization for the common school is simple and inexpensive;
it may even be the mere succession of "summer school" and "winter
school" in which so many millions of Americans have learned all they
know of book-learning, renewing its youth and ending its brief existence
with each recurring season. The High School demands more machinery,
teachers of more experience and longer consecutive terms, books, appa-
ratus arid other aids that cannot be renewed every year. Still the High
School may change completely with every set of youth that pass through
its course of three or four years and change for the better. Much of the
best work that has been done in our High Schools and Academies, has
been done by young men and women to whom the teacher's desk was
only a temporary station for a year or two, between the close of their
own instruction and the entrance upon active life. And so I believe it
will always be. Talk as we may about elevating and separating the
teachers' profession, I do not believe that we shall ever see our common
schools and High Schools all in the hands of life-long pro-
fessional teachers. Nor do I desire to see it, either for the sake of the
scholars or for that of the teachers themselves, to whom a year or


two of such experience is simply invaluable. But when we reach
the College, and still more the University, we find ourselves under
very different conditions. These cannot be created in a day or a year.
It is riot merely because the libraries, and cabinets, and laboratories, cost
very large sums of money ; it is not even because they must gather from
all parts of the country men learned and skillful, who have already spent
years in mastering their respective subjects, and who must be asked to
life-long positions if they are to be had at all; it is all this, but it is
something more than this that gives a great university that character,
that life of its own, which makes it an honor and a profit to be educated
there, and to carry away its diploma. A rich man may lavish his
millions upon a new-born college because, perhaps, its sponsers in bap-
tism have given his name to it; Uutit will be generations before its gradu-
ates go out from it with the feeling of love and gratitude and profound
respect with which middle-aged and grey-haired men all over this broad
land look back to the red brick walls and scanty appliances of some little
ill-provided New England college, whose hard-working, poorly-paid pro-
fessors, teach in the same rooms where he and they sat together as class-
mates many years ago, and whose noblest and best endowment is the
long roll of honored names that fill the many issues of the triennial cata-
logue. It is the old and hallowed associations of the name that make
them love to call Bowdoin or Dartmouth or Williams or Amherst by that
sweetest of all names, Alma Mater; and it is this reverence and affection
for the cherishing and cherished mother of our souls that forms one of the
best, if not the very best part, of a college education! How many
Americans there are who would feel that a great moral bulwark were
taken from their lives if Yale, or Harvard, or Princeton should close its
doors to-day!

But Oxford and Cambridge have shown us that there is no charm in
endowments to ensure good work for all time, or prevent the repetition
of a similar treason to public education in New England or any part of the
United States. If the oldest and proudest, the most venerated of Ameri-
can schools, become mere training schools for rich men's sons, whither
young men go to display what they are or have already, and not modest-
ly fit themselves to be something hereafter ; if their greatest fame is to be
found in the comic songs of a perambulatory quartette, or the "phenome-
nal kicker" of a foot-ball, or the pluck and bottom of a "varsity" crew-
then upon the names that educated Americans have loved the most must
be written "Upharsin!" and American public education must be found,
for all time to come, in the "plebeian universities," the "one-horse col-
leges" producing a score of graduates where the others have a hundred,
but every one of the score a man. But will you trust such sacred interests
as the education of each rising generation to the fickle will of the
populace? Are you not afraid that some coming Board of Regents,
some future Legislature, may be untrue to their great trust, may
"lower the standard," or "demoralize the tone," may admit free-thinking,
or may banish the classics? Yes, I can foresee all these dangers, and I


should deprecate them. But I can see also that what may be lost or
lowered in one year may be restored and re-elevated in another that
there will not be that utter incapacity of renovation which seems to be
the characteristic of close corporations. And more than this, I can see
that institutions thus open to the influences of the time will have but one
danger to encounter, and not two. They may possibly feel the effect of
a changed standard of education and nothing can secure a school
against this, but they will not be in danger of being deserted entirely
by those for whom they were intended, as has happened to so many
endowed schools of the old world. It will do no good to keep up the
standard if there is no one to apply it to! The great merits of State pro-
vision for the education of its citizens is that it can never fall into the
clutches of private interests, or be made subservient to the prejudices of
a past age. With every new generation the power that controls it must
be renewed. There may be those who regard it as a benefit to our older
colleges that they are anchored fast to the creeds or the political princi-
ples of the 16th, the 17th, or the 18th century. I do not wish to discuss
the question whether these were better or worse than those of the 19th.
My position is that in either case this anchoring is a mistake. All edu-
cational institutions are only means for bringing the new generation to a
point where they may be of most service to their own contempararies,
To serve that end, they must go forward with the great stream of history.
The boat locked to the shore may be in a better or worse place than that
to which the stream would carry it. In either case it cannot serve the
purpose of him who would, him who must, by the law of his being
advance with the stream.

Manufactured by


Syracu, N. Y.

Stockton, Calif.



Online LibraryWilliam G. (William Gardiner) HammondPublic education → online text (page 2 of 2)