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Articles: Original and Selected.
HOW TO INCREASE THE EFFICIENCY OF OUR ELEMENTARY SCHOOLS.*
The question asked implies on the face of it that our elementary or district schools, as they are called, are not as efficient as they might be or even as they should be. Let us then, in the first place, try to point out where, in our judgment, these schools are defective, and, as we pass along, possibly the remedies will suggest themselves. First, the district school house is far from what it should be, both as to convenience and comfort. Located close to the dusty highway, on some barren, sterile, rocky corner of somebody's farm, the site donated to the school board because it was good for nothing else; not a tree or shrub (we would not presume to add or flower) to beautify or render the place attractive; with no playground but the public road and outbuildings that are a disgrace to decency and civilization. So much for the outside of the district school house. The interior cannot better be described than in Whittier's immortal lines:
"Within the master's desk is seen,
Deep scarred by raps official,
The warping floor, the battered seats,
The jack-knife carved initial.
The charcoal frescoes on the wall,
The door's worn sill betraying
The fact that creeping slow to school
Went storming out to playing."
*A paper read by J. A. Tomkins, Esq., Sec.-Treas. of the School Commissioners of Granby, before the Teachers' Convention at Montreal, October 22nd, 1891.
And I may add the "battered seats" might well be preserved as relics of the inquisition of the nineteenth century, for shambles and stocks were comfortable positions compared with sitting all day on the straight-back, ill-fitting benches of most district schools. As a remedy for this, the department have already done much to improve the condition of things, but let them go further still and provide plans and specifications all complete for school houses to cost from $500 to $1500. A book of designs is all very well, but in rural parts architects are not numerous and school architecture does not often come in the way of the country builder. Let the department insist that these plans shall be carried out according to the financial ability of the district, and that all new buildings shall conform to them both as to building and equipment, and the old ones be made to do so as speedily as possible. Let at least half an acre be laid out in school grounds, planted with trees and kept neat and attractive. Let the health and comfort of the pupil be the first consideration, and though there may be some grumbling on the part of the ratepayers, grumbling is proverbial with them, and while complaining of the department and school board, the crops and the weather will be having a rest.
Next, the teacher. This I am aware is dangerous ground, and, as I look around on these bright and intelligent faces, one would be exacting indeed who would venture to suggest any improvement in this direction. But let us analyze the subject a little. Of what is the average district school teacher composed? Of flesh and bones as we are, it is true; but how is she fitted for her work? A few years at some other district school, then a few months at the village academy, then a second or third class diploma before some local board of examiners, and she takes up the most responsible and God-given task it is possible to perform, that of training the young mind, moulding the character and shaping the destiny of the youth of the land, the future fathers and mothers of our nation, for good and ill. But alas instead of entering upon this work with this high purpose before her, is it not too often the fact that her object in teaching is to find occupation for a few months or years, as the case may be, until her destiny comes along and she shall set up a school of her own. Well, I am at a loss to suggest a remedy for this. We could not wish that all lady teachers should remain in single blessedness for the sake of teaching. If such had been the law, my own home would have been deprived of one of them, but I do think that those entering upon this work should do so from a love of it and should be specially fitted and
trained for it. We would not think of employing in our homes a surgeon who had never walked the hospital wards, then why should we place our children, for the greater part of the tenderest and most susceptible portion of their lives, under the care and supervision of teachers devoid of experience or special training for the work.
These Conventions are a grand step in the right direction, and, were it possible, the committee or department should insist on every qualified teacher not only attending regularly but taking a normal course of training as well.
The remuneration of the teacher. We all know it is too small, far too small, in consideration of the services we ought to receive in return. The district school teachers should receive at least fifteen dollars a month after paying for their board. The department very kindly fix the salaries of the secretarytreasurers, why not fix those of the teachers as well. For when times are hard and competition is great, and teachers are plentiful, school boards are not apt to advance salaries very much. Let the salary be reasonable, if not generous, and then let the standard of the teacher be raised accordingly, thus teaching will become a profession and will not be brought into competition with other kinds of labor; its market will not be glutted from the mistaken notion that it is easier work, less menial, and can be undertaken by almost anybody with very little study, trouble, pains or brains.
The course of study. This is a vexed question and one that gives rise to a good deal of complaining in our streets. As I am not dealing with the higher schools I shall pass over the Model and Academic course, the Elementary course being moreover, to my mind, the most important of the three, because too often it is the only one to which the large majority of the children of the land, especially the farmers' sons, have access, the colleges and the higher schools being frequented mostly by the favored few. This is why the elementary school should be made as efficient as possible, the best teachers to be obtained employed, and the course of study made as comprehensive and profitable as may be. It should contain everything in a general way that is necessary to conduct the ordinary affairs of life. Business principles and the science of agriculture, some knowledge of physiology and hygiene should be taught, while history, philosophy and science, should not be entirely discarded. The day for teaching simply the three R's in our country schools has passed away, and while we would not expect pupils to be rooted and grounded in all these subjects, still there should be
simple and easy text books that would impart at least the rudiments of these branches.
School inspection. Doubtless the School Inspector performs his duties as well as it lies in his power to do, and as far as I have known them, personally I have found them faithful, earnest men, who were anxious to promote the welfare of the teacher and progress of the school. As I have already said, they doubtless do their duty well so far as it is given them to do, but the circumstances and conditions of things are against them. If school inspection is necessary, let it be done by some one who has, to a certain extent, a constant supervision of the schools, say the teacher of the local Academy, the clergy of the vicinity, or some one who would be in a better position to judge of the progress or otherwise of the school, or let the inspector's visits. be more frequent, till he becomes thoroughly acquainted with both teachers and scholars, and the parents too.
Lastly, I reach the Department of Public Instruction, or rather the Protestant Committee of that department. I notice, though, in passing, that I have omitted to mention an important body connected with our elementary schools, the board of School Commissioners. Well, being rather intimately associated with certain boards, perhaps the less said of them in the way of criticism the better for me. However, school boards are not perfect, but being more directly under the control of the department than any other part of the educational ship, they being the rudder, while the department is the helm which governs their movements and shapes their course, consequently the department is responsible to a certain extent for their acts, and, so far as my experience goes, I have found them at all times ready to carry out the suggestions and second the efforts of the department in all things. The department I think have made great improvement in this work in every direction, and the Protestant committee, under the able and efficient direction of their late secretary, have accomplished a grand work in rendering the school system of the province in many respects second to none; but let them not weary in well doing; let them not be content to rest on the laurels earned in the past. There is still work to do, Mr. Chairman. While I advocate better buildings, better teachers, higher salaries, I also plead for larger grants, especially to our common schools. Help those who help themselves is a good motto. A few years ago, in making up the secretary's report, we had to make a solemn declaration that the amount raised by taxes for school purposes was equal to the government grant. I propose that we reverse the order, and
that, with the cheque for the grant, we receive a certificate from the department that the amount is equal to at least one-tenth of the amount levied by assessment.
Before I close, permit me one word to the teachers, the elementary teachers present here to-day. Your work, if not a labor of love, is indeed a wearisome task. The dull round of your time-table, day after day, has not much in it that is poetical or beautiful.
"For it seems such an endless round,
The blackboard and the sums,
And the stupid geography.
But if your heart lies in your work, if a love of childhood prompts you to your task, then, as you think of the grand possibilities which lie before you, as you look upon the dull, uninteresting faces, perhaps, of the little ones around you, and think how, under your instruction and guidance, they may develope into the grand men and women of the future, then you will find yours is no irksome task. Strive ever to instil true principles and a high sense of honor into their hearts and minds, and then
"When the lessons and tasks are all ended
And death says the school is dismissed,"
You can lay aside the ruler, book and pen,
Feeling your life-work has not been spent for nought,
"Without haste! Without rest!
Bind this motto to your breast,
Through storm and sunshine guard it well,
Bear it with you like a spell.
Haste not, rest not! calmly wait,
Meekly bear the storms of fate,
Duty be your polar guide,
Do the right, whate'er betide,
Haste not! rest not, conflict past,
God shall crown your work at last."
Editorial Notes and Comments,
-An old schoolmaster used to compare the school year to a circle with two bits taken out of it, the midsummer holidays and the recess at Christmas, but though he was willing enough to joke over his simile at the recurrence of every gap, he was never known to speak of his year as a "weary round." In extending our congratulations to our readers at this season of the year, in presence of the teacher's duties for the half-year already accomplished, we trust we address those who have come to look upon the task of teaching as anything but a weary round. The Christmas recess, as a refreshing halting place, comes as a special