Education 1894-1895, a glimpse into history.

DSC_6585 We discovered this gem squirreled away in our attic, strategically hidden behind some old wooden crates that were nailed against the exposed rafters.  The original structure of our house was built in 1830 and, as far as we can tell, existed as a small rectangular one-story home with a loft or attic space underneath the peaked roof.  Sometime in the early 1900’s, a Mr. Burt D. Phillips, apparently wealthier than this home’s previous owners, added on to the structure.  The footprint of the house was doubled, with a deeper laid stone foundation, and higher ceilings in the house’s front rooms.  A full second story was also added and because of the different ceiling heights on the first floor, one must step up one step to go from the rear rooms of the upstairs to the front rooms.  Mr. Phillips also added a full attic compete with enclosed staircase, and tongue-in-groove hemlock flooring.  The rest of the attic was unfinished when we bought the house, and as a result we have uncovered some “treasures” that have fallen from beneath the rafters, into the walls below.

Nothing we found as we renovated our home room by room was anything with enormous monetary value.  But my husband and I both love history, especially local history, so everything we discovered was exciting.  Try to imagine the world in 1830!  Did your house exist?  Who lived there?  And what do you think they were like. Before cars, computers, and even the Civil War, our house stood here!  People lived in it.  People loved in it.  Families were raised.  And although it may not be evident today, each inhabitant left their mark on it.

We don’t know who hid this book, along with several other school related books, and until now I had no interest in actually reading it.  The 1895 The Report of the Superintendent of Public Instruction,Vol. II isn’t as dry as one might think.  It is a glimpse into the history of New York State public education.  It is a conversation.  The volume begins with a report by each school district’s Superintendent.  The reports differ from district to district, focusing on various items of importance from attendance to the need for a new building.  It seemed that each district was operating in a manner that suited them best.

Superintendent John Kennedy of Batavia wrote, “Our schools have enjoyed a year of prosperity.  The health of the village has been exceptionally good, and no contagious disease has invaded our schools.”  He goes on to discuss student assessments.  “We have started a system of portfolios for keeping a permanent and progressive exhibit of school class-work.  We find this very stimulating, and also very helpful in the way of getting the work understood and appreciated.  We try to avoid slavish uniformity in the work; but by means of the teachers’ meeting, the portfolios, and cross visitations, we are getting what I regard as a healthy homogeneity.”

Canandaigua adopted “mental arithmetic,” and Catskill confronts the need for a new building because of the passage of the Compulsory Education Law.

In Lansingsburgh, Superintendent George F. Sawyer discusses the benefits of their new kindergarten program with this anecdote.

There was a third-year primary class a part of the members of which–perhaps one-third–had been in the kindergarten three years before.  The teacher, knowing nothing of which one of her pupils had been in the kindergarten, conceived the idea of seeing if she could tell from their work.  She observed them carefully for a day, making out a list of those she concluded had come from the kindergarten, and found at night on enquiring that she had not made a mistake as to a single pupil in her room.  One being asked from what she had judged she replied: “From many things, among them the greater rapidity with which these children do their work, their superior powers of attention, their greater ability to do work from dictation, the more orderly and methodical arrangement of their work, and its greater neatness.”

Did anyone else notice that the kids who had kindergarten weren’t necessarily brighter?  They weren’t more creative.  She doesn’t say they received better marks.  Nope, my interpretation of her description is that the kids who were in kindergarten were more inclined to take orders and follow directions.  Plus, she “observed them carefully for a day…”  REALLY, one day!

Isaac E. Young, Superintendent of New Rochelle reports, “At last we have a high school.  Small, it is true, but a high school with a course of study covering three years.  Drawing and vocal music are very successfully taught in our schools under the direction of special teachers.  It is the opinion of class teachers that we now do more and better work in the regular subjects taught than we did before music and drawing were introduced.”

The population of North Tonawanda in 1894 was 10,000 with an estimated 3,000 children.  Scarlatine and measles was prevalent to the extent that attendance at the school was materially decreased.

Norwich’s E.W. Griffith praised the teachers at his schools.  “Realizing that, as the years go by, there is always danger of falling into stereotyped methods of instruction and management, and that failure to advance in thought and cultivation usually means an actual retrogression, they have voluntarily taken up in the regular teachers’ meetings the study of psychology and its application to teaching.  It is confidently believed tha this undertaking will be of definite and permanent value not only to the teachers themselves bu also to all the children who are under their care.”

In Oneonta, Superintendent N.N. Bull wrote about the success of the free text-book program.  “Two years ago the experiment was tried in the direction of free text-books by making them free for some of the lower grades.  A year ago it was extended to all books, together with supplies of stationery, etc., below the academic grades.  The result has been so satisfactory that it is to be continued, and I think may be regarded as permanent.  The added expense has been thus far about $300 a year.  One result is the banishing of the slate.  Not one remains in school.”

And Alexander Falconer of Waterford reported that all the schools are in prosperous condition.  About the library he wrote, “Mrs. Sarah Boughton, our librarian for several years, reports that she has issued more books during the year than ever before in her experience, I believe that the increased desire for reading good literature is owing largely to th faithful efforts of our teachers, who are cultivating in the pupils a taste for reading works written by our best authors.”

The Report continues with sections on the state of Indian Schools, Institutions for Deaf and Dumb, Institution for the Blind, Uniform Examinations for Commissioners’ Certificates, State Certificates, State Scholarships in Cornell University, College Graduates’ Certificates, Teachers’ Institutes, Arbor Day, Council of School Superintendents of the State of New York, and Proceedings of the Forty-Ninth Annual Meeting of New York State Teachers’ Association.  The appendix contains photographs and floor plans of various school buildings.  There are also sections discussing school legislation at the time, such as The Consolidated School Law, The Compulsory Education Law, and various other Laws of 1895.

The picture of educational history that this volume portrays is immense, far too much for one blog post.  I hope to read more of it soon.

I will leave you with a portion of the notes of the meeting of the Council of School Superintendents of the State of New York.  The twelfth annual meeting took place in Buffalo on October 17,18, and 19, 1894.  They were debating the place of the lecture in education.  It’s a lengthy segment, but worth a read.

The topic–Oral Teaching–In what studies and to what extent is it practicable?  was next considered; President Wm. J. Milne of the State Normal College, Albany, speaking first and as follows: Oral teaching is the name applied to many kinds of teaching.  It is the same as lecturing people or telling them things.  I have known people who called oral teaching something like this, telling the pupils the rules and definitions and making them learn them from their lips.  Oral teaching, in the way of lecturing, has little, if any, place in the schools of the country.  A man is never so happy as when listening to the sound of his own voice, I think at the expense of the children and older ones.

The day of lecturing on mathematics is past–if 2/3 of a number is 4, what is the number?  very much of the information we have int he schools is not of much account.  Knowledge is not of much consequence, which we learn in school.  Grammar–plenty of men get along without grammar.  I say this knowledge we value so much in schools is not of much consequence.

If I am right, the lecture has no place at all.  I think that, possibly, in the line of history, it might be valuable.  The teacher who is skilled in history might give such an outline that the pupils might be interested and want to learn history.  The other kind of oral teaching which I referred to, where the teacher says over what she wants pupils to know, has a value–the personality which the teacher can give it.  But there is a loss again to the lectured, of what the knowledge was; he has nothing to go back to but his memory.  Since the purpose is to get power and such information as we get in school, knowledge enables us to step upward.  We must develop this power.  We want them to gain such power that they can handle problems that are useful in life, so that they may step into the higher planes of thought and knowledge.  I say, oral teaching by questioning the pupil, causes him to speak; the steps are the tutor and the methods.

Principal McMurray, Franklin School, Buffalo.–The reasons that President Milne give as condemning the lecture method condemn likewise the text-book method.  Both methods are wrong in principle, because they offer to children the answer to questions before the children have ever asked the questions, before they have felt the need of any such answers.  Consequently, the pupil is furnished little incentive for mental alertness; he simply takes what is given, in a passive way.  The developing kind of oral teaching avoids these mistakes and is, therefore, the desirable one.  It throws the child upon his own resources, and this arouses in him great activity.  The best European schools follow this method; they use text-books probably not more than one-fourth as much as we do.  This fact convinces us of the possibility of an extensive application of the developing, oral instruction: it can be applied in most of the subjects taught and is likely to occupy our attention very much in the future.

Superintendent Godwin, New York.–The use of text-book and the use of lecture, for the purpose of instructing, are valuable.  ou can not do without the oral teaching.  In that you have to be guided by the warning Dr. Milne gave.  The teacher likes to hear his own voice.  The teacher hammers away an hour an gives little information.  YOu can not take your text-book and make it stand in place of the teacher.  When the teacher comes to the educational point he has got to open his mouth and let the pupils open their mouths and eyes and tell what they see.  In reading, tit comes in least of all in real education.  He will read geography and fail to look at the maps, which tell the larger part.  This information, which can only be outlines from books, must be used.  If the teacher makes himself the only source of information, he is a dead failure.  How can you teach arithmetic from the text-book only?  When the children get it all from the teacher, and he makes them sing it out, he is robbing the children of their time.  You can’t develop ideas in the pupils by slinging the text-book at them.  When the pupils get up to the standard where they can judge, they can think for themselves.  My idea is that the teacher is to education; he must keep his mouth closed as long as the children can talk.

President Whitney.–Are we not inclined to underestimate the power to know the capacity of a child?  And are we not inclined to underestimate the value of knowledge?  Has the child not more capacity than we are inclined to give him?  Take the little one in the line of asking questions.  Does he need much power along the line of inquisitiveness?  Is he not n expert in the way of asking questions?  It is very important to furnish materials for filling this mind?

President Milne.–By proper questions and answers they will arrive at the conclusion that is necessary for a proper understanding.  I do not approve of lecturing.

Superintendent Snow, Auburn.–Nine-tenths of the knowledge we get comes through th eyes rather than through the ears.  We like to see things.  We like to look at them.  If we do not comprehend a thing we look at it a second time and get to know it better, to understand it.

I don’t know about you, but I thought that was a pretty deep discussion focused on child-centered learning.  I think we could easily have the same debate today, but we’d have to replace lecture with test prep, and text-book with worksheet.  And we could replace teacher with Pearson.

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2 thoughts on “Education 1894-1895, a glimpse into history.

  1. I don’t just like………..I LOVE this post! I am fascinated with education history as well! What a treasure you have found! And to think, my husband finds it odd that I love to visit antique stores and look for books!! lol

    • Thanks! The book is DENSE… I only just scratched the surface. I would love to explore this more in future posts. This book is a treasure trove, along with some other school books (that I have to re-find). I’d love to locate Volume I of the same year… keep your eye open in those antique stores 🙂

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