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“The system of instruction introduced into these schools, and the rules by which they have been governed, are in strict accordance with those prescribed by enlightened experience in the larger cities and towns throughout the United States, where public education has obtained the greatest eclat.
The schools are designed to be of three grades; those now in operation, are the primary and intermediate. The system is not yet wholly organized, a high school being requisite for its completion.
Children are admitted at five years of age. They are placed in the primary department, whatever may be their age, until they have some knowledge of reading, writing on slates, and mental arithmetic. In the intermediate department are taught Reading, Writing, Geography, English Grammar, History of the United States, the writing of the English Language, Vocal Music; and to the boys, Declamation. A few verses of the Sacred Scriptures are read without note or comment, on the opening of the schools in the morning, succeeded by a form of prayer prescribed by the Board of Directors.
The teachers are required to inculcate upon their pupils, on all proper occasions, the principles of morality and virtue.
The boys are taught by three male and five female teachers; the girls by nine female teachers; a teacher of vocal music visits each school three times a week. A Superintendent has the general oversight of all the schools, dividing his whole time and services among them as he may think their welfare requires.
Vocal music, as a branch of education, was introduced into the schools at an early period of their establishment, and it is confidently asserted, with the happiest effects, both as to the morals and intellects of the pupils.
Its introduction was not regarded as either experimental or doubtful. For more than a quarter of a century, music has been taught in Public Schools in several countries of Europe, and for a few years in some States of the Union, with the most encouraging success.
The influence of music on nations is no less obvious than on individuals, and is so well understood, that a very accurate observer and deep master of the human heart has declared, with equal truth and sincerity, "give me the composition of the popular songs of a nation, and I care not who makes its laws;" and although its hallowed influence over Public Schools in Europe, and some sections of our own country, is so well known and attested, yet it is believed it was never before introduced into, or regarded by the managers of, any Public Schools here, as an useful branch of elementary instruction.
Nothing tends more surely than music, to soften the feelings, to purify the manners, to develope the organs, tune the youthful heart io gladness, and excite a fond desire and pleasing relish for school.
The songs selected are pastoral and patriotic, and besides exciting a lively interest in their country, her institutions and scenery, the culture of music admirably trains the mind of the scholars for other studies; and so far from interfering with them, is acknowledged by persons long engaged in witnessing its effects, and every way qualified to speak, to facilitate the acquisition of knowledge in other branches.
In the commencement of this, as is usual with all similar enterprizes, there was some inconvenience experienced from the dearth of
suitable teachers. This, however, ceased to astonish, when it was considered how seriously this dearth is experienced in sections of the country where public education has long and intensely engaged the attention of the people.
It was regarded as indispensable, that those to whom was to be confided the moral and intellectual development of the youth of this Municipality, should themselves possess “superior intellectual endowments and morals, and manners both pure and refined."
The teachers selected have generally been punctual in their attendance, assiduous in their efforts, evinced a considerable zeal and taken a deep interest in their vocation.
Most of the teachers employed are females: a course adopted after mature deliberation; because experience had fully proved elsewhere, that they were infinitely better adapted to instruct young scholars, by their quicker perceptions; their instinctive fondness for, and tact in communicating knowledge; greater patience and more gentleness than the males, and for its greater economy.
At a very early period of the establishment of these schools, the teachers were required to assemble together semi-monthly, in the presence of a committee of the Board of Directors, for mutual conversation, discussion and improvement, and the result has been eminently serviceable to the cause. Besides rendering the instruction in all the schools uniform, it excited a more lively interest in, and closer attention to the profession.
Connected with and auxiliary to the Public Schools, a suitable library of about 300 volumes has been procured, through the liberality of some of our ever active and benevolent fellow-citizens.
These schools being public-open for the admission of all resident white children between the ages of five and sixteen—it was delightful to perceive those of the more humble as well as those of the more favored citizens, seated side by side with each other and sharing all their advantages, and contending intellectually for superiority, the only distinction recognized among them. It teaches the one as well as informs the other, that adventitious wealth confers no superiority over the less fortunate competitor, when engaged in an intellectual contest.
Many of the children in the school are of rare intellects, and give promise of much brilliancy; though without the advantages here bestowed, their excellence could never have been developed through the private means of their parents or guardians.
The Council cannot refrain from expressing its great satisfaction upon the prosperous condition of its Public Schools, and upon the evident manifestation of their increasing popularity ; and that much praise is due to the enlightened Board of Directors for their judicious measures and zealous efforts to render them so.
The Board of Directors is divided into three committees, consisting of four members each, called visiting committees, and it is made the duty of some member of this committee to visit their respective schools at least once a week, and oftener if practicable; to take care that all the regulations for their organization are faithfully complied
with; to examine the classes, and to see that the teachers perform their duties.
The office of a school visiting committee appears very humble, but it is nevertheless a very important one, for on the discharge of its onerous duties, depends, in a great measure, the prosperity of the schools.
Scarcely a year has elapsed since they were first opened in the face of strong opposition and bitter prejudice, and yet their effects are already apparent, from the number attending, the great anxiety to get children in them, their regularity and good behavior and their general disposition to conform to rules and regulations.
These results are moreover gratifying, as they conclusively prove how practicable it is to bring the young and rising generation of our Municipality under an enlightened system of elementary instruction, and in a superlative degree redeem our public schools from the injurious reputation which has so generally (and with perhaps too much truth) rested upon them.” First Annual Report, pp. 7–12.
From the conclusion of the second Annual Report, we quote the following striking and very sensible reflections upon the influence of Public Schools on the value of property in cities, and on social order and progress :
“ The beneficial influence of our public schools on the value of property within this municipality is already apparent. Numerous families have, within the last year, located themselves here, solely with a view to educate their children in them. The great saving in the expense of education enables them to pay a higher rent, and thus property-holders, who so largely contribute to their support, are indirectly benefitted by them to an extent perhaps equal to their contributions. This consideration, although secondary to the more important one of the general diffusion of knowledge, is nevertheless well worthy of notice, as indicating that the success of our system of public schools, is identified with the pecuniary prosperity of the municipality.
Republican institutions are founded on the principle that the people are qualified to govern themselves. It is, then, the duty of self-preservation on the part of the government, to provide means that all the people be taught and trained in a knowledge of the duties incumbent on them as citizens; and it might be very easily shown that many would not be, without the institution of public schools.
They should be as free to all as the air of Heaven, for they are not less essential to the health and life of the body politic, than is the latter to the support of animal life.
A public school system, as is well known, has been in operation in some of the States of our Union, almost from their origin as Colonies. From time to time the system has been extended, and several of the States which did not at first appear to notice the necessary connection of free schools and a free government, have adopted vigorous measures for giving an elementary education to every individual within their borders.
The opinion is becoming general that every individual is entitled to such an education as will enable him to participate in the pleasures
of thought and knowledge and will fit him to be a useful member of society.
It is not more the duty than the interest of Government to protect and foster this right; what, then, can be thought of a government which makes no provision for the education of her sons? If she is unable to sustain a system of public instruction, she must contain within her borders a large class unqualified to discharge the duties of citizens and incapable of self government.
It seems to be the opinion of some few, that it is not best for the whole of a community to be educated. They think that knowledge creates discontent and insubordination among those who are in humble life, and that they are best fitted for their stations when left in ignorance—but such objectors ought to know that there are no privileged classes among American citizens, and that most of the men of our country who have risen to eminence and wealth, have emerged from humble life, and that it was the quickening power of education which raised them from obscurity. But, without appealing to such instances, it may be asserted with the fullest confidence that every individual is made a more worthy and useful member of the community to which he belongs, by enjoying the advantages of an education—such an education as every public school should be able to give.
By education the intellect and moral powers are strengthened, and every man and woman acquires by it more capability and energy for discharging any of the various duties of life.
The educated mechanic, for instance, is more capable of combining into new forms whatever is already known, and of devising new methods of operation.
The educated, as a class, are more contented and cheerful-more fond of the rational enjoyment of domestic life, and less in scenes of excitement.
All the decencies of life are more highly prized by them.
On the other hand, it is the grossly ignorant whom we have cause to regard as dangerous to our community.
If the rights of person or property are ever invaded, it will be when hordes of ignorant men are spread over the land, ready and willing to do the will of the demagogue.
In assuming this important trust, (confided to her by the Legislature,) the Council was aware of, and fully appreciated, the responsibility involved, and of course was wary of adopting any untried experiment-of hazarding its success by any premature or inconsiderate measure. It entertained the opinion that the community regarded the enterprise with distrust, if not entirely opposed to it-fears chiefly engendered by the entire failure of a similar enterprise, after consuming large sums of public money in the attempt. Under the wise and salutary measures adopted, these fears have not only been removed, and opposition ceased-but the system of instruction so gradually grown, and ripened, and become so firmly rooted and imbedded in the hearts and affections of the people, as to dissipate any doubt of its stability and usefulness.”
We shall make a few extracts from the beautiful and impressive address delivered by Judge McCaleb, at the request
of the Board of Directors of these flourishing institutions, on the 22d February, 1843. The following, from the introductory portion of it, is in a highly encouraging and congratulatory strain :
“If there be anything in the progress of intellectual improvement in our country, tending above all other considerations to exalt the hopes and call forth the gratitude of the patriot and philanthropisi, we cannot, as Louisianians-as AMERICANS, contemplate with indifference the interesting scene which is passing before us. It cannot be denied, but by those whose hearts are insensible to the lofty and generous emotions which an occasion like this is ever calculaied to inspire, that a new era has commenced in Louisiana-that a most important revolution is about to be effected in her moral, intellectual and social condition.
The consequences of that revolution, if all experience can be regarded as a satisfactory guide in the formation of an opinion, are speedily to be seen and felt in every department of public employment, and in all the relations of private life; and it is truly gratifying to know that those who are more immediately engaged in effecting it, so far from permitting a doubt to mingle in the assurance they entertain of the final accomplishment of all its objects, are stimulated to a steady and unconquerable perseverance in the cause they have espoused by the consciousness that it is the cause of religion, virtue and humanity. Many obstacles will doubtless intervene to impede their progress and postpone for a time the realization of their fond dreams and ardent expectations. As in the political so in the moral world, no important revolution was ever effected without the exercise of courage, zeal and energy on the part of its champions; and the benevolent gentlemen to whose meritorious exertions in the cause of education in the Second Municipality of New Orleans, we have this day the most cogent reasons for expressing our warmest gratitude, expect not to escape the difficulties and trials which have ever beset the paths of their predecessors in undertakings of a like Jaudable character. They know that the clouds of prejudice must be dispelled; that inertness and indifference must be animated to a sense of moral responsibility; that the throne of pride “high and lifted up," sustained by vulgar arrogance on the one hand, and by supercilious ignorance on the other, must be demolished, and the whole cohort of petty jealousies which surround it, dispersed and exterminated.
Much undoubtedly remains to be done, but enough has already been accomplished, to convince the most sceptical, that the system of public instruction adopted by the Second Municipality of New-Orleans, is really the only system which can adequately meet the wishes of those who advocate a wide and general dissemination of knowledge. It is a system, too, which the short experience of one year has convinced us, contains within itself the elements of success. It is now no longer regarded in the light of an experiment ; and truly that it should ever have been so regarded, seems strange and unaccountable indeed to those of us, who have so often witnessed the blessings it has long and bountifully diffused over the northern section of our