Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 34.djvu/523

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
507
THE STORY OF A SCHOOL.

After some effort toward conformity to prevailing custom, we found ourselves constrained by the guiding principles we had adopted to devise some more genuine representation of our year's work than is possible in "closing exercises" of the regulation pattern. Essays upon the subjects usually chosen had no essential relation to the student's past researches, and, being prepared for the occasion, represented nothing in particular. Besides, they are not uncommonly doctored by the teacher of rhetoric till they are of doubtful originality. We finally dispensed with all special preparation, and discarded all the spectacular features of the ordinary commencement.

One day was given to the public. Every four weeks during the year our pupils had been accustomed to select some subject having close relation to their studies, and to give time and care to the preparation of an essay upon it. These papers were preserved, and from among them each member was required to choose and bring one. On the last day of the term the public came in, and those interested stayed and listened to the reading of these essays. The truthfulness of every step was plain to all concerned, and was thus in accord with the spirit of the school.

Our experiment came to an end. Of the various innovations made upon custom each had justified itself. The effort to make character the end of education had more than fulfilled expectation. During the last year not a single case of misconduct was reported to me, nor was the behavior of one of our students criticised by the citizens. We had a reign of influence. The forces that govern conduct came from a growth within of just and kindly impulses. A watchful supervision had always been maintained, but into this had entered no element of espionage. The peculiar character which the school attained, both on its mental and moral side, was due to the several factors of influence—scientific methods in study, philosophic succession of subjects, and a never-ceasing but an apparently incidental attention to moral training.

Through the strong personal influence of the State Superintendent, Hon. John Monteith, my independent position had been maintained. I had enjoyed entire freedom in the management of the school and in the selection of teachers. During the three years of my stay in Missouri, educational affairs were in a transition state. At the close of the war, the public-school system was organized and protected by constitutional provisions. The best results of Puritan experience for two hundred and fifty years were incorporated in its provisions, and made secure so far as legislative enactments could compass it. More progress was made in the State during the few years of the so-called carpet-bag rule than in all its previous history. A State Board of Regents,