Imatges de pÓgina

cise is "allowed." There is no mistake about this statement; I wish there were. I have not imagined it; who could have done So, short of Milton and Dante, who were versed in the exploration of kindred regions of torment? But as I cannot expect the general public to believe the statement, even if you do,- and as this letter, like my previous one, may accidentally find its way into print,-and as I cannot refer to those who have personally attended the school, since they probably die off too fast to be summoned as witnesses, I will come down to a rather milder statement, and see if you will believe that.

Shall we send her, then, to the famous New York school of Mrs. Destructive? This is recently noticed as follows in the "Household Journal":-" Of this most admirable school, for faithful and wellbred system of education, we have long intended to speak approvingly ; but in the following extract from the circular the truth is more expressively given:-'From September to April the time of rising is a quarter before seven o'clock, and from April to July half an hour earlier; then breakfast; after which, from eight to nine o'clock, study, the school opening at nine o'clock, with reading the Scriptures and prayer. From nine until half past twelve, the recitations succeed one another, with occasional short intervals of rest. From half past twelve to one, recreation and lunch. From one to three o'clock, at which hour the school closes, the studies are exclusively in the French language. . . . From three to four o'clock in the winter, but later in the summer, exercise in the open air. There are also opportunities for exercise several times in the day, at short intervals, which cannot easily be explained. From a quarter past four to five o'clock, study; then dinner, and soon after, tea. From seven to nine, two hours of study; immediately after which all retire for the night, and lights in the sleeping apartments must be extinguished at half past nine.'" You have summed up the total already, Dolorosus; I see it on your lips;-nine-hours


[ocr errors]

a quarter of study, and one solitary hour for exercise, not counting those inexplicable "short intervals which cannot easily be explained!"

You will be pleased to hear that I have had an opportunity of witnessing the brilliant results of Mrs. Destructive's system, in the case of my charming little neighbor, Fanny Carroll. She has lately returned from a stay of one year under that fashionable roof. In most respects, I was assured, the results of the school were all that could be desired; the mother informed me, with delight, that the child now spoke French like an angel from Paris, and handled her silver fork like a seraph from the skies. You may well suppose that I hastened to call upon her; for the gay little creature was always a great pet of mine, and I always quoted her with delight, as a proof that bloom and strength were not monopolized by English girls. In the parlor I found the mother closeted with the family physician. Soon, Fanny, aged sixteen, glided in,-a pale spectre, exquisite in costume, unexceptionable in manners, looking in all respects like an exceedingly used-up belle of five-and-twenty. "What were you just saying that some of my Fanny's symptoms were, Doctor?" asked the languid mother, as if longing for a second taste of some dainty morsel. The courteous physician dropped them into her eager palm, like sugar-plums, one by one:


Vertigo, headache, neuralgic pains, and general debility" The mother sighed once genteelly at me, and then again, quite sincerely, to herself;-but I never yet saw an habitual invalid who did not seem to take a secret satisfaction in finding her child to be a chip of the old block, though block and chip were both wofully decayed. However, nothing is now said of Miss Carroll's returning to school; and the other day I actually saw her dashing through the lane on the family pony, with a tinge of the old brightness in her cheeks. I ventured to inquire of her, soon after, if she had finished her education; and she replied, with a slight tinge of satire, that she studied regularly every day, at

various "short intervals, which could not easily be explained."

Five hours a day the safe limit for study, Dolorosus, and these terrible schools quietly put into their programmes nine, ten, eleven hours; and the deluded parents think they have out-manoeuvred the laws of Nature, and made a better bargain with Time. But these are private, exclusive schools, you may say, for especially favored children. We cannot afford to have most of the rising generation murdered so expensively; and in our public schools, at least, one thinks there may be some relaxation of this tremendous strain. Besides, physiological reformers had the making of our public system. "A man without high health," said Horace Mann, "is as much at war with Nature as a guilty soul is at war with the spirit of God." Look first at our Normal Schools, therefore, and see how finely their theory, also, presents this same lofty view.

"Those who have had much to do with students, especially with the female portion," said a Normal School Report a few years since, "well know the sort of martyr-spirit that extensively prevails,-how ready they often are to sacrifice everything for the sake of a good lesson,-how false are their notions of true economy in mental labor, . . . . . sacrificing their physical natures most unscrupulously to their intellectual. Indeed, so strong had this passion for abuse become [in this institution], that no study of the laws of the physical organization, no warning, no painful experiences of their own or of their associates, were sufficient to overcome their readiness for self-sacrifice." And it appears, that, in consequence of this state of things, circulars were sent to all boarding-houses in the village, laying down stringent rules to prevent the young ladies from exceeding the prescribed amount of study.

Now turn from theory to practice. What was this "prescribed amount of study" which these desperate young females persisted in exceeding in this model school? It began with an hour's study

[blocks in formation]

before daylight (in winter).—a thing most dangerous to eyesight, as multitudes have found to their cost. Then from eight to half past two, from four to half past five, from seven to nine,- with one or two slight recesses. Ten hours and three quarters daily, Dolorosus! as surely as you are a living sinner, and as surely as the Board of Education who framed that programme were sinners likewise. I believe that some Normal Schools have learned more moderation now; but I know also what forlorn wrecks of womanhood have been strewed along their melancholy history, thus far; and at what incalculable cost their successes have been purchased.

But it is premature to contemplate this form of martyrdom for Angelina, who has to run the gantlet of our common schools and high schools first. Let us consider her prospects in these, carrying with us that blessed maxim, five hours' study a day, -"Nature loves the number five," as Emerson judiciously remarks,—for our ægis against the wiles of schoolmasters.

The year 1854 is memorable for a bomb-shell then thrown into the midst of the triumphant school-system of Boston, in the form of a solemn protest by the city physician against the ruinous manner in which the children were overworked. Fact, feeling, and physiology were brought to bear, with much tact and energy, and the one special point of assault was the practice of imposing out-ofschool studies, beyond the habitual six hours of session. A committee of inquiry was appointed. They interrogated the grammar-school teachers. The innocent and unsuspecting teachers were amazed at the suggestion of any excess. Most of them promptly replied, in writing, that "they had never heard of any complaints on this subject from parents or guardians”; that "most of the masters were watchful upon the matter"; that "none of them pressed out-of-school studies"; while "the general opinion appeared to be, that a moderate amount of out-of-school study was both necessary for the prescribed course of study and wholesome in its in

fluence on character and habits." They suggested that "commonly the ill health that might exist arose from other causes than excessive study"; one attributed it to the use of confectionery, another to fashionable parties, another to the practice of "chewing pitch,"-anything, everything, rather than admit that American children of fourteen could possibly be damaged by working only two hours a day more than Walter Scott.

However, the committee thought differently. At any rate, they fancied that they had more immediate control over the school-hours than they could exercise over the propensity of young girls for confectionery, or over the improprieties of small boys who, yet immature for tobacco, touched pitch and were defiled. So by their influence was passed that immortal Section 7 of Chapter V. of the School Regulations,— the Magna Charta of childish liberty, so far as it goes, and the only safeguard which renders it prudent to rear a family within the limits of Boston:

"In assigning lessons to boys to be studied out of school-hours, the instructors shall not assign a longer lesson than a boy of good capacity can acquire by an hour's study; but no out-of-school lessons shall be assigned to girls, nor shall the lessons to be studied in school be so long as to require a scholar of ordinary capacity to study out of school in order to learn them."

It appears that since that epoch this rule has " generally" been observed, "though many of the teachers would prefer a different practice." "The rule is regarded by some as an uncomfortable restriction, which without adequate reason () retards the progress of pupils." "A majority of our teachers would consider the permission to assign lessons for study at home to be a decided advantage and privilege." So say the later reports

of the committee.

Fortunately for Angelina and the junior members of the house of Dolorosus, you are not now directly dependent upon Boston regulations. I mention them on

ly because they represent a contest which is inevitable in every large town in the United States where the public-school system is sufficiently perfected to be dangerous. It is simply the question, whether children can bear more brain-work than men can. Physiology, speaking through my humble voice, (the personification may remind you of the days when men began poems with "Inoculation, heavenly maid!") shrieks loudly for five hours as the utmost limit, and four hours as far more reasonable than six. But even the comparatively moderate "friends of education" still claim the contrary. Bishop, the worthy Superintendent of Schools in Boston, says, (Report, 1855.) "The time daily allotted to studies may very properly be extended to seven hours a day for young persons over fifteen years of age"; and the Secretary of the Massachusetts Board of Education, in his recent volume, seems to think it a great concession to limit the period for younger pupils to six.

[ocr errors]



And we must not forget, that, frame regulations as we may, the tendency will always be to overrun them. In the report of the Boston sub-committee to which I have referred, it was expressly admitted that the restrictions recommended “ would not alone remedy the evil, or do much toward it; there would still be much, and with the ambitious too much, studying out of school." They ascribed the real difficulty to the general arrangements of our schools, and to the strong pressure from various causes urging the pupils to intense application and the masters to encourage it," and said that this "could only be met by some general changes introduced by general legislation." Some few of the masters had previously admitted the same thing: "The pressure from without, the expectations of the committee, the wishes of the parents, the ambition of the pupils, and an exacting public sentiment, do tend to stimulate many to excessive application, both in and out of school."

This admits the same fact, in a different form. If these children have half

[ocr errors]

their vitality taken out of them for life by premature and excessive brain-work, it makes no difference whether it is done in the form of direct taxation or of indirect, — whether they are compelled to it by authority or allured into it by excitement and emulation. If a horse breaks a blood-vessel by running too hard, it is no matter whether he was goaded by whip and spur, or ingeniously coaxed by the Hibernian method of a lock of hay tied six inches before his nose. The method is nothing, it is the pace which kills. Probably the fact is, that for every extra hour directly required by the teacher, another is indirectly extorted in addition by the general stimulus of the school. The best scholars put on the added hour, because they are the best,-and the inferior scholars, because they are not the best. In either case the excess is destructive in its tendency, and the only refuge for individuals is to be found in a combination of fortunate dulness with happy indifference to shame. But is it desirable, my friend, to construct our school-system on such a basis that safety and health shall be monopolized by the stupid and the shameless?

Is this magnificent system of public instruction, the glory of the world, to turn out merely a vast machine for grinding down Young America, just as the system of middle-men, similarly organized, has ground down the Irish peasantry? Look at it! as now arranged, committees are responsible to the public, teachers to committees, pupils to teachers, all pledged to extract a maximum crop from childish brains. Each is responsible to the authority next above him for a certain amount, and must get it out of the victim next below him. Constant improvements in machinery perfect and expedite the work; improved gauges and metres (in the form of examinations) compute the comparative yield to a nicety, and allow no evasion. The child cannot spare an hour, for he must keep up with the other children; the teacher dares not relax, for he must keep up with the other schools; the committees must only stimulate, not

check, for the eyes of the editors are upon them, and the municipal glory is at stake: every one of these, from highest to lowest, has his appointed place in the tread-mill and must keep step with the rest; and only once a year, at the summer vacation, the vast machine stops, and the poor remains of childish brain and body are taken out and handed to anxious parents (like you, Dolorosus): "Here, most worthy tax-payer, is the dilapidated residue of your beloved Angelina; take her to the sea-shore for a few weeks, and make the most of her."

Do not you know that foreigners, coming from the contemplation of races less precociously intellectual, see the danger we are in, if we do not? I was struck by the sudden disappointment of an enthusiastic English teacher, (Mr. Calthrop,) who visited the New York schools the other day and got a little behind the scenes. "If I wanted a stranger to believe that the Millennium was not far off," he said, “I would take him to some of those grand ward-schools in New York, where able heads are trained by the thousand. I spent four or five days in doing little else than going through these truly wonderful schools. I staid more than three hours in one of them, wondering at all I saw, admiring the stately order, the unbroken discipline of the whole arrangements, and the wonderful quickness and intelligence of the scholars. That same evening I went to see a friend, whose daughter, a child of thirteen, was at one of these schools. I examined her, and found that the little girl could hoid her own with many of larger growth. 'Did she go to school to-day?' asked I.

No,' was the answer, she has not been for some time, as she was beginning to get quite a serious curvature of the spine; so now she goes regularly to a gymnastic doctor!""

I am sure that we have all had the same experience. How exciting it was, last year, to be sure, to see Angelina at the grammar-school examination, multiplying mentally 351,426 by 236,145, and announcing the result in two minutes and

thirteen seconds as 82,987,492,770! I remember how you stood trembling as she staggered under the monstrous load, and how your cheek hung out the red flag of parental exultation when she came out safe. But when I looked at her colorless visage, sharp features, and shiny consumptive skin, I groaned inwardly. It seemed as if that crop of figures, like the innumerable florets of the whiteweed, now overspreading your paternal farm, were exhausting the last vitality from a shallow soil. What a pity it is that the Deity gave to these children of ours bodies as well as brains! How it interferes with thorough instruction in the languages and the sciences! You remember the negro-trader in "Uncle Tom," who sighs for a lot of negroes specially constructed for his convenience, with the souls left out? Could not some of our school-committees take measures to secure the companion set, possessing merely the brains, and with the troublesome bodies conveniently omitted?

The truth is, that we Americans, having overcome all other obstacles to the universal education of the people, have thought to overcome even the limitations imposed by the laws of Nature; and so we were going triumphantly on, when the ruined health of our children suddenly brought us to a stand. Now we suddenly discover, that, in the absence of Inquisitions, and other unpleasant OldWorld tortures, our school-houses have taken their place. We have outgrown war, we think; and yet we have not outgrown a form of contest which is undeniably more sanguinary, since one-half the community actually die, under present arrangements, before they are old enough to see a battle-field,—that is, before the age of eighteen. It is an actual fact, that, if you can only keep Angelina alive up to that birthday, even if she be an ignoramus, she will at least have accomplished the feat of surviving half her contemporaries. Can there be no Peace Society to check this terrific carnage? Dolorosus, rather than have a child of mine die, as I have recently heard of a

child's dying, insane from sheer overwork, and raving of algebra, I would have her come no nearer to the splendors of science than the man in the French play, who brings away from school only the general impression that two and two make five for a creditor and three for a debtor.

De Quincey wrote a treatise on “Murder considered as one of the Fine Arts," and it is certainly the fine art which receives most attention in our schools. "So far as the body is concerned," said Horace Mann of these institutions, "they provide for all the natural tendencies to physical ease and inactivity as carefully as though paleness and languor, muscular enervation and debility, were held to be constituent elements in national beauty." With this denial of the body on one side, with this tremendous stimulus of brain on the other, and with a delicate and nervous national organization to begin with, the result is inevitable. Boys hold out better than girls, partly because they are not so docile in school, partly because they are allowed to be more active out of it, and so have more recuperative power. But who has not seen some delicate girl, after five consecutive hours spent over French and Latin and Algebra, come home to swallow an indigestible dinner, and straightway settle down again to spend literally every waking hour out of the twenty-four in study, save those scanty meal-times,-protracting the labor, it may be, far into the night, till the weary eyes close unwillingly over the slate or the lexicon,—then to bed, to be vexed by troubled dreams, instead of being wrapt in the sunny slumber of childhood,-waking unrefreshed, to be reproached by parents and friends with the nervous irritability which this detestable routine has created?

For I aver that parents are more exacting than even teachers. It is outrageous to heap it all upon the pedagogues, as if they were the only apostolical successors of him whom Charles Lamb lauded, "the much calumniated good King Herod." Indeed, teachers have no objec

« AnteriorContinua »