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TO THE BOARD OF EDUCATION, — My work during the past year has been, as heretofore, of a miscellaneous character. It has consisted, (1) of visits to the towns, to confer with school committees, to address the people and teachers, to inspect the schools, and to arrange for teachers' institutes; (2) of attendance upon conventions of teachers and school officers, to assist in their deliberations; (3) of attendance upon teachers' institutes, to illustrate methods of teaching. In several instances the presence of an agent of the Board has been requested to advise where differences of opinion have arisen between committees and people; such service has been most cheerfully rendered. I have delivered during the past year fewer public addresses than during any previous year since my appointment as agent of the Board ; less time also has been spent in actual teaching in the schools; a larger proportion of the time spent in the schools has been given to inspection. Of the nature of the inspection, something will be said farther on.
In a large number of the smaller districts, and in some large communities, it is true, improved methods of teaching encounter opposition from the prejudices of the people; but in general it may be assumed that the people demand methods in advance of what are practised, as well as results above what the schools afford : the stimulation of the teachers and committees is, therefore, a special need of the present time. The teachers' and committees' associations present the best occasions for doing this needful work. I have been present at many of the associations held during the year, and in most have taken some part. It is interesting to note from year to year the progress in the matter and methods of these meetings. The most hopeful signs of this progress in the teachers' associations are the part taken by the teachers of largest experience, the thoughtful care with which they prepare for the exercises, and especially the interest commonly felt in the discussion of the philosophy of education.
The associations of school committees have existed for but a brief period of time; but they have entered in a most vigorous manner into the discussion of topics of vital interest to the schools. Good types of the meetings of these associations were the last two held by the Association of Southern Worcester, which includes the towns of the Blackstone Valley south of the city of Worcester. Reference is made to the very last in the report on the teachers' institutes, found in the report of the Secretary of the Board.
TEACHERS' INSTITUTES. A full report of the teachers' institutes also will be found in the report of the Secretary. Of these there have been held during the year twenty-one. I assisted in the instruction and conduct of all, and arranged for one-half of them. At no time within my knowledge of the institutes have they been better adapted to effect the teaching of the schools, and at no time have they been more fully appreciated. They have been directed to a few specific ends, the principal of which are the illustration of methods of teaching, and the inculcation of some principles upon which all teaching depends; the several teachers, all directing their lessons to these ends, have given greater unity, and so greater effectiveness, to the institute instruction as a whole. In the modified form of the past few years, the institute work has an indefinite field of usefulness in the future.
INSPECTION. In the inspection of the schools, my special field during the past year was the schools in Bristol County. While this was my special field, calls outside the county have so far engrossed my time that I have been unable to visit all or even a majority of the schools. I have within a recent period, however, visited a portion of them, in each of seventeen out of the nineteen cities and towns in the county: the two that remain are towns that may be classed with those upon which I shall hereafter report.
Late in the winter, a plan of inspection for both Mr. Hubbard
and myself was agreed upon; this we were to apply with such modifications as we deemed wise, each in our respective fields of inspection. The plan embraced the following particulars :
I. School-buildings, including site and grounds : size of rooms; lighting, heating, and ventilation ; furniture; and outbuildings, including location, construction, drainage, and use.
II. Studies, including course of studies (branches); means of teaching, as apparatus, libraries, and reference-books.
III. Results, including reading, silent and oral; alphabet, with elementary sounds ; spelling, oral and written; language; geography; numbers and arithmetic, etc.
IV. Teachers and teaching; methods of teaching; physical training; moral instruction.
The schools which were visited before this plan was adopted embraced a part of those in eight of the cities and towns. Visits to these were made not only for the purpose of inspection, but also for the purpose of teaching in the schools, and addressing the teachers and people.
In Bristol County there are three cities that have all the facilities for making good schools: the population is large and compact, the valuation is high, a large percentage of the teachers have had professional training or considerable experience, and each city has a salaried superintendent who devotes his entire time to the supervision of the schools. With these cities may be classed two towns that rank next in wealth and population : one is badly hampered by the district system; otherwise these two towns have excellent means for having the best schools. Rejecting these cities and towns, the remaining fourteen towns may properly be classed together for a comparison of results. The plan of inspection above referred to was applied in the schools of seven of these towns. The tests in examination were essentially alike, and the entire inspection was made with reference to the same particulars.
SCHOOLHOUSES. Most of the schoolhouses in Bristol County appear to have been built since the time of Horace Mann. In architecture and construction they generally express the severe economy which in early times characterized all our public buildings; now, as then, perhaps, in many instances a necessity. These modern structures are of ample size, of good proportions, and are generally neat and coinmodious buildings. Some display considerable taste, and are a credit alike to the neighborhood and to the advancing spirit of the age.
We still meet, however, in these towns with some stern relics of an ungarnished age, in the houses of a hundred years ago; built where and as they now stand, flush with the road, upon lots too scant to admit, without trespass, of a wood-shed or other out-building.
Location and Surroundings. — New schoolhouses are generally located at or near the centre of the school population; except in some notable instances of change in the population, most visited during the past year appear to be well situated to accommodate the pupils. In some cases the sites of the houses are unfortunate froin their surroundings: they are in bleak, exposed, or in low and damp places. To avoid swampy exhalations, stagnating pools, cold, springy soils, to secure a suitable exposure to sunlight and pure air, a few rods of travel would be an inconsiderable sacrifice. In some districts every thing else seems to have been sacrificed to a central location.
After the house is built, the care of the district or town too often ceases; the grading and surroundings are, in the country towns, left to time and the elements. I recall but few school-sites which present outward attractions to compare with the least-adorned of private dwellings in the same locality. Why should not trees and shrubs surround these nurseries of culture and refinement ? Every thing that adorns, also cultivates and refines.
The Schoolroom. - If we enter the schoolroom we shall find that the same plainness characterizes that, as marks the outside of the building. Most rooms present a tidy appearance, but there is little to captivate the sense or satisfy the taste. Windows are uncurtained, walls unhung with paper, or pictures, or adornments of any kind. Some rooms have all that good taste can demand in the way of finish. In a few are paperhangings or painted walls; house-plants grace the windows; mottoes, and other ornamental devices, other parts of the room.
Most of the schoolhouses have but a single room. Many of them were built when, for some cause, the population was greater, families were larger. The rooms are consequently of ample size; they frequently have space for two or three times the present number of pupils. Yet within the year I have