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REPORT OF GEO. A. WALTON.
To the Board of Education :
In compliance with your request, I submit an abstract of my work as Agent of the Board to date, together with a statement in brief of my impressions of the schools visited and of their demands.
ABSTRACT OF WORK. During the year I have visited 382 schools, in 67 towns and cities. In nearly all, I have witnessed exercises conducted by the teachers; have myself, as heretofore, given exercises with a view to illustrating right methods of teaching, and in the large majority, have made brief addresses to the children. I have given sixty public addresses to citizens and teachers, chiefly on the rights and duties of children and of parents, and on methods of teaching and school management. These have generally been given in the evening; but occasionally the meetings of teachers have continued through a half-day or an entire day. In addition to the above, I have, in connection with Mr. E. A. Hubbard, Agent for northern Worcester, arranged for, and conducted five Teachers' Institutes,—one in Berkshire County, one in Franklin, two in Hampshire, and one in Worcester, and have made arrangements for one to be held in Hampden.
It is gratifying to note the kindly interest manifested by all immediately concerned with my work, both in connection with the schools and with the Institutes. My ordinary evening audiences have averaged from 80 to 100 persons; those at the Institutes, upwards of 200, while the attendance of actual teachers and school officers upon the day exercises of the Institutes, has reached an average of 120.
SIGNS OF PROGRESS. Education is an acquisition, not an inheritance; it is a great achievement for each succeeding generation to attain to the culture of a former; we need not, then, be surprised if great progress is not evident from year to year. Yet there are signs of advancement; new and better school-houses are built ; repairs are made upon the old; furnishings are better than formerly ; better means are employed for heating; more care is bestowed upon the lighting; and, in most instances, where new houses are building, some attempt is made at ventilation.
Many schools are furnished with some simple apparatus ; blackboards are more ample, and better prepared; there is improvement in text-books, and much time is bestowed upon their examination and selection. Considerable attention is paid, especially in the larger towns, to grading and to courses of study. The demand for better teachers is greater each year; the wages, too, of really good teachers are rapidly advancing.
There is much to commend in the schools in general, and very much in particular instances; in some, the course of study includes drawing and music, with physiology and the elements of botany, while a rational method is pursued in teaching these and all the other branches.
In the town of Peru, I visited a District School of ten or twelve children, so exceptionally well appointed for its grade, as to be worthy of special mention ; the house is small, but ample; it is pleasantly situated upon a hillside overlooking a beautiful meadow; it is plain and inexpensive, but neat and attractive; it is well seated; the windows are curtained ; the wainscoting, walls and ceiling are harmonious in their coloring; plants are on the table; pictures adorn the walls not occupied by maps and blackboards. I visited another in West Springfield, of twenty or thirty pupils, which, in addition to all that is named above, was supplied with leaves, plants and minerals for teaching the elements of botany and mineralogy, with cards and charts for drawing, with charts for numerical operations, etc., etc. When to these, and similar appliances, can be added such tact and experience, such intelligence and culture as presided over these schools, no matter what the expense, if it were many fold the cost of these, it is but a feather's weight in comparison with the blessing it confers upon the children under its influence.
I am sometimes greatly encouraged by witnessing in some of the important particulars enumerated above, the results of my own personal labors; it would be gratifying if they could be more abundantly manifest.
SCHOOL SUPERVISION. The most apparent want of the schools, is proper supervision; the office of school committee is often bestowed—not upfrequently, indeed, forced-upon those who confess their inability to perform its duties; they have neither the time nor the requisite knowledge. The result in many instances is, that school-houses are badly arranged and poorly furnished; the necessary appliances for teaching, as reference-books, globes, etc., are wholly wanting; teachers are frequently changed, as likely for the worse as for the better; text-books are unnecessarily multiplied, and classes correspondingly; no improvement is attempted in the course of study; it is left to the option of the teacher to arrange his own, or work with none; obsolete things are taught; traditional methods are pursued; branches demanded by the times, and even required by statute, are utterly ignored; natural and rational methods of teaching are discountenanced ; and quite often is committed to the hands of the merest novice the interest paramount to all others in the community,—the education of the children.
DISTRICT SYSTEM. Many of these evils are greatly aggravated by the operation of the district system, under which a considerable number of the schools in the western section of the State are still laboring. If under this system commodious school-houses, well lighted, and furnished with proper means of heating and ventilation, could be secured ; if such buildings could be suitably located, and properly inclosed and surrounded ; if under this system the needed out-buildings could be properly arranged and kept from that almost uniform defilement which renders them a moral pest to a school and a lasting shame and disgrace to a civilized community; if under this system the school-room could be supplied with abundance of well arranged and properly prepared slate or plaster tables,-with crayons, indexes, and erasers, instead of the meagre, ill arranged, poorly prepared and crumbling patches of dingy wall, and bits of gray and greasy boards misnamed blackboards, with finty chalk, not even a stick for an index, and bits of papers for erasers, found in so many school-rooms; if under this system the schools could be spared the constant influx of untrained, inexperienced, uncultured, and immature persons, always ready, for one reason or another, to try " keeping school”; if under this system the evils liable to exists under any system could be avoided, it might well be perpetuated; but with little or nothing of consideration in its favor, with a troop of evils attendant upon it, with many peculiarly incident to its existence, it would seem that it should be abolished at once, and forever, by legislative enactment.
EXAMINATION OF TEACHERS. Even with the abolition of this system, some additional means for improving the schools seem quite necessary. The character of the school buildings is likely to continue to improve in the future, as it has done in the past, under the town system ; so of the appurtenances of the school-room. But for a good school the chief requisite is good teaching. This can result only from better preparation on the part of teachers, and greater discrimination in their examination and selection ; something similar to the plan adopted in most other States (referred to by Mr. Phipps in his report of last year), would conduce to this end. From an extended acquaintance with the opinions of school committees in this part of the State, I am sure they would be glad to be relieved, in part at least, of the responsibility of making the examination, and certifying to the literary and other qualifications of candidates for teaching. Some plan should be devised for avoiding the local influences which at present, to a great extent, bias the approval of teachers, and for giving to candidates for the office, motives to become better qualified for its responsible duties.
SCHOOL SUPERINTENDENTS. But the most evident means for elevating the schools, is to employ one person, familiar with the science of teaching, to superintend the schools; and commit their interests to his hands with pretty full powers, subject to conditions imposed and enforced by a school committee composed of the best citizens of the community. From an observation of the work of superintendents in small towns as well as in large towns and cities, it is my firm conviction that the more fully the supervision of the schools is intrusted to one person having the proper qualifications, the greater is the efficiency of the schools. An inspection of the schools of Springfield, of Adams, of Pittsfield, of Holyoke, of Northampton, of Blandford (under Mrs. Robinson), or of other towns, as Greenfield, Longmeadow, Warwick, Middlefield, Williamstown, which, though not nominally under superintendents, have been greatly influenced by some one mind,-an inspection of these and others similarly fortunate, would convince the most incredulous of the superiority of individual supervision.
TEACHERS' INSTITUTES. Nothing short of the full course of a Normal or Training School should be deemed a sufficient prerequisite for teaching; but since such a requirement is evidently impracticable, it seems desirable that every facility should be given to teachers to attend Teachers' Institutes and other associations held within convenient distance, for their improvement. I am led to make this suggestion from knowing that teachers are sometimes required to make up the time lost to the school while attending upon such gatherings.
As at present conducted, and held as they are for but two days, the Institutes are quite generally thought to affect the schools favorably. I am fully persuaded of the utility and practicability of holding Institutes for longer periods, say for four or five weeks, with a more effective plan of organization and teaching, as suggested in a former report.
GEO. A. WALTON,
Agent for Western Counties.
WESTFIELD, December 17,"1875.