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An educational awakening was near at hand. The signs of its approach and advent were to be seen not so much in increased expenditure for school purposes, as in the organization of educational societies and a more general discussion of matters relating to schools and their management. As evidence that this awakening is not a creation of my own imagination, I will cite the marked and even brilliant success of the Western-Reserve Teachers' Seminary, established at Kirtland in 1838. Students flocked to this institution from all parts of northern Ohio, many of them practical teachers, who wished to make teaching their life-work. The Teachers' Institute was also talked about among the leading members of the profession, until what seemed to be a desirable agency was made the subject of experiment in 1845. I need not add that the experiment was a success. The published statistics relating to institutes show the estimate that has been put upon them for the past thirty years. Towns and cities were growing. There were but few that had not already outgrown their school accommodations, and it was evident that these must soon be enlarged and improved. Taxation for these purposes would no longer be delayed. Laws were enacted enabling the people to expend the proceeds of this taxation in a way to secure the greatest good to the greatest number. An act was passed known as the “Akron law,” authorizing the electors of an incorporated town or city, by popular vote, to wipe out the district boundaries then existing, and thus to unite their previously-divided interests. The citizens of a few towns availed themselves of the provisions of this law, erected suitable buildings for the purpose, and began to classify and grade the schools.
At this juncture, and as an outgrowth of this educational sentiment, the Ohio State Teachers' Association was organized and began its work. It soon numbered among its members the leading teachers and most zealous friends of education in the State. Through their influence, teachers' institutes were organized in a large number of counties, and shape and direction given to educational thought and effort. The advantages to be derived from the Akron law were discussed in public meetings held in the principal towns and cities, and these discussions led to its adoption or to the enactment and general adoption of laws conferring similar powers. Large and commodious buildings soon took the place of the inconvenient structures in which well-meant, earnest effort had been wasted or thwarted in former years, and the essential element to success, intelligent supervision, began to be employed. The progress of the schools in towns and cities has been steadily onward since that time. I will not weary your patience by attempting to trace its steps. Suffice it to say that in a little more than a quarter of a century a system of free public instruction has been built up in them, that, though severely and unjustly criticised by some who know little about it, or who through interested motives plot its destruction, is probably quite as complete and effective as any other in the known world. The educational exhibit of the State at the Centennial Exposition attracted attention because it was solid, sub-. stantial, and as complete as it was possible to make it; and it demonstrated that in real merit our graded schools occupy a prominent place in the front rank among the best of their kind.
Thé “Akron Law” had no compulsory features. Its adoption by the inhabitants of a town or city was optional. This characteristic feature was retained in the law of 1853, and in all of its amendments relating to village and city schools. It was not until 1873 that legislators incorporated its most important features in the general school law, and made each municipal corporation a single school district. Graded schools had so generally been established, however, that it is doubtful whether a village having a population of fifteen hundred inhabitants could be found in the State whose school authorities were compelled to make material changes in the status of school affairs by the enactment of this law. On the contrary, under the operation of a general law-a legislative blunder, by the way-special districts comprising territory not included in township, city, or village districts, had sprung up in the more densely populated sections of the State, and schools were sustained in them differing in few essential respects from other graded schools. This law was repealed in 1873, but the creation of similar special districts has occupied no inconsiderable portion of the time of the legislature since that date, and will not stop, in all probability, until a radical change shall be made in the conduct of schools in the rural districts.
The influence of the State Teachers' Association was soon felt in the halls of legislation, although the sweeping reforms it recommended did not then meet, as they never have met, the approval of the average legislator. Its members were earnest and decided in their advocacy of supervision, by counties or otherwise, and were convinced that progress in the country schools was conditioned upon such supervision, the adoption of the township plan of school organization, and the employment of suitable agencies for the professional training of teachers. Two of these features, supervision and the township plan, foánd able advocates in those who prepared the original draft of the bill, which, after being amended but by no means improved, became a law in 1853; but they were in the minority. The sections relating to county supervision were struck out, no provision whatever was made for normal instruction, and the integrity of the sub-district divisions in townships was preserved. The township, however, was made the unit in the system of organization, and a township board of education, composed of one director from each sub-district, was created. Our country schools have ever since been debarred from possible progress by the crushing weight and cumbersome machinery of this mongrel scheme. The good they bave done, and that is inealeulable, has been done in spite of the many obstacles put in their way. Let their affairs be administered in a common-sense way as the affairs of village and city districts are administered, give them intelligent supervision and enough of it, abolish sub-district boundaries and send the children to the most accessible school-house, increase the number of pupils in each school by decreasing the number of school-houses, get rid of an army of unnecessary school officers by abolishing the office of local director, hold out inducements to the best talent in the country to engage in the business of teaching by providing for professional training and making employment certain and compensation remunerative; do these things give the country schools a fair chance by doing them and they will soon rival our graded schools in excellence.
Generous provision for the maintenance of this system of free public schools has been made, from time to time, by our legislature. The exact character and amount of instruction that shall be provided for our youth has never been defined. The establishment of a suitable number of primary schools is made compulsory, but boards of education are empowered to establish other schools than these, in which academical and even university studies may be pursued. The only restriction imposed is that which limits the percentage of taxation. As this percentage has long been largely determined by boards of education acting for the people, we may justly claim that our schools fairly represent the public sentiment which demanded their establishment. We have a right to hope and trust that this sentiment will not die out, but that it will grow in power and extend in influence, and become a strong wall of defence in times of peril and danger.
I have already. alluded to fact that academies, seminaries, and colleges, were established at an early date in the history of our commonwealth. Although they never have been the recipients of State patronage, have never been aided and encouraged by State funds, they have been granted privileges which entitle them to be classed as a part of our school system. Their growth has been rapid, notwithstanding the almost insurmountable obstacles they have been forced to overcome. Some attempts to found institutions of this class have been signal failures, and a few of the most pretentious are now on the "ragged edge," ready to rise or fall as their friends or popular favor may decree. In creating them, the State unwisely failed to reserve the right of inspection, and was more than generous in endowing them with almost unrestricted powers and franchises, if with nothing else. The result has been that in the conferring of degrees no fixed standard of attainments has been required-each college determining its own-thus making it possible for some institutions to bring reproach upon all, and render all liable to censure for faults and shortcomings not their own. The gap between college and public school has not been bridged over or closed up by an adjusted standard of requirements for matriculation. Moreover, even the most flourishing of these institutions have not an adequate endowment. Notwithstanding their imperfections and embarrassments, they have been and still are potent agencies in our educational scheme. Let us trust that the hopes and expectations of their founders will be realized in answers to prayers for their prosperity. Their interests are identical with those of the public school—let those having charge of both recognize this and fight shoulder to shoulder against their common foes.
When I strive to look into the future, I always see a possibility and a probability for education in our beloved State. There is a possibility that the school system, now the pride and glory of our people, may be checked in its growth or utterly destroyed. Its friends may become apathetic or indifferent, and cease to put forth effort to improve or perfect it. They may be content to rest satisfied with it as it is, forgetting that systems, like living beings, begin to decay the moment they cease to grow. Its enemies may become more determined and aggressive than they now are, and wage war against it openly and defiantly. The two great foes to pro
gress, avarice, and ignorance, may succeed in blocking the way to progress by interposing as obstacles a niggardly parsimony and a low standard of excellence. The common school may become an ostentatious, hollowhearted charity for the very poor, despised by them for its worthlessness. Its friends may impair its usefulness, and imperil its existence by wellmeant but unwise attempts to defend what ought not to be defended and by excusing or tolerating abuses that ought to be remedied. All this is possible, but I can not admit that it is probable. The past is a prophecy of the future. We have no right to suppose that when we die progress will cease. Others will take up our work and carry it on. In the future, then, I see strife and contention, it is true, and fluctuations of public sentiment and opinion, but patriotism at last the victor in the final conflict with avarice and ignorance. The State regards its children as its most precious jewels, and with wise liberality provides every available means for their education. I see thoroughly-trained teachers in neat, attractive school-houses, located amid pleasant surroundings in town and country, and thoughtful, earnest men visiting them and their charges to see that such instruction is given as the Great Teacher will approve. I see our academies, colleges, and universities, or such of them as are fit to survive, amply, munificently endowed, by the free-will offerings of the liberal and generous, throwing wide their doors and inviting all who will to come and quench their thirst for knowledge. I see this system of public instruction continuing to grow, teacher and patron both laboring to add to its perfections that it may be handed down to posterity better than they find it. I see sectarian bigotry and the bigotry of irreligion ceasing to sneer at or denounce it, for increasing knowledge has made man tolerant and taught him that there is a neutral ground, with constantlywidening boundaries on which all can meet to work, and hope, and pray as brothers. If we who are acting in the present do our duty, if we stand firm, never faltering when consternation sweeps over the land borne on the wings of panic and crisis, if we have such a faith in God and in man as our forefathers had, if the signs of the times, as an optimist like myself sees them, are not fleeting, misleading illusions, if those who must soon take our places, and to whom we must ere long say “Morituri salutamus" when we meet at our annual gathering, do their duty, the probability of education in Ohio which I have endeavored briefly to portray, will become a reality in the not distant future.
Mr. Ross, of Fremont, said: “When we reflect that the fullest investigation will show that our system of popular instruction has kept pace with our progress in other respects, and not only that, but in reality has led the way to other advancement, and is the measure of our vast material progress and power, the members of this Association, the educators of the State, have special cause for congratulation.
In no one particular is the contrast between the Ohio of to-day and the Ohio of seventy years ago more marked and striking than that presented by the log school-house of that early period and the palatial edifices that to-day are the architectural pride in all our centres of population.” He then reviewed the history of education for the past thirty years, setting forth the defects of the present and indicating wherein reform was needed.
He advocated the abolition of summer schools in the country and the consolidation of the two terms. This would give us better and more per manent teachers. He also favored the consolidation of school districts, as by this means we could have a better gradation. He advocated a university for graduates of our high schools, so that the pupils should not look
upon the completion of the high-school course as the close of school life. He believed in public libraries as supplements of the school system. The habit of reading comes with the opportunity, and it is our duty to furnish the facilities for this culture to all.
He thought that the future had in store for the educational interests of Ohio, consolidation of school terms in the country schools, abolition of sub-districts, county supervision, more flexibility in our graded school course, harmony between the college and the high school, and the establishment of free public libraries in all our towns.
Dr. DE WOLF, of Western Reserve College :-“I believe in the public schools of to-day, and in the graded schools, so long as it shall be an established principle that they are for the children, and not the children for the schools. I believe that there are County Examiners who have not done their duty. I could mention a single county in the State, in which, from the moment the Examiners began to do their duty, progress was
apid and has continued to this day. We need some legislation for the country schools, and if a few needed things were done it would place them on the footing where they ought to be. I believe in our present system of public schools."
THURSDAY, JULY 5TH-MORNING SESSION. The session was opened by prayer by the Rev. F. M. Hall, of Cleveland.
On motion of A. B. Johnson, of Avondale, G. W. Ormsby, of Xenia, and U. T. Curran, of Sandusky, were appointed a committee on resolutions.
R: W. Stevenson, of Columbus, E. E. Spalding, of Gallipolis, H. S. Doggett, of Hillsboro, Miss E. Widner, of Dayton, Miss C. A. Stewart, of Lima, were appointed a committee on next meeting
E. W. Coy, of Cincinnati, presented the following resolutions as coming from the Principals of the High Schools :
WHEREAS, We have reason to believe that, in the last report of the School Commissioner of this State, certain errors of statement have crept in relative to the cost of High Schools as compared with other grades,