Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Old Virginia System--R. L. Dabney

"This system of our fathers had superiority in its principles, as great as in its practical workings. Of these, I will, in concluding, present two. One was, that the State government left to parents those powers and rights which are theirs by laws of God and nature, and which cannot be usurped by a just, free government: those of directing the rearing of their own children, and choosing its agents and methods. Clusters of parents were left to create schools, to elect teachers, to ordain the instruction and discipline. When the parents had used their prerogatives, then the State came in as a modest ally and assistant, and by providing for the teaching in those schools of such children as their helpless poverty made proper wards of the State's charity, helped on the work of education, and supplied that destitution which private charity did not reach. There was a system conformed to the good old doctrine of our fathers, that 'governments are the servants of the people.' . . . The other [superior principle] was, that our wise fathers, by this simple plan, resolved the otherwise insoluble difficulty about the religion of the schools. The State, which knows no church in preference to another, did not create schools; did not usurp that parental authority, did not elect the teachers; did not ordain their discipline that parental function, did not elect the teachers; did not ordain their discipline or religious character. Parents have the right to do all these things in the light of their own consciences and spiritual liberty, and the parents made the schools. No other solution will ever be found that is as good."

The Beginnings of Public Education in Virginia, p.60,
qtd. R.L. Dabney

Friday, September 18, 2009

Family Integrated Irony

Vision Forum website:

"Sunday-school teachers! you have a high and noble work, press forward in it. In our schools you do not try to bring children to the baptistry for regeneration, you point them away from ceremonies; if I know the teachers of this school aright, I know you are trying to bring your classes to Christ."
(Charles Spurgeon)

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Comparing State Schools--R. L. Dabney

It is an interesting historical fact that as much as Robert Lewis Dabney was against "universal State-schools" he thought it tolerably better to have Georgia's system than his beloved Virginia's system. It is interesting--and instructive--because some people seem to think anything that smacks of state involvement is so necessarily evil that it must be avoided at all costs. This excerpt, from his "Free Schools" article, compares the evils of the Virginia system (1870s) with another state he thought had a better approach:

"Now, if we must have the Yankee system, why cannot our Legislature imitate the wisdom and moderation of Georgia? Let all property-taxes, State and local, for school purposes, be abolished. Let the poll-tax be dedicated to that use, with the proviso, that the parent must at least pay the poll-tax, in order to enter his children. And, if this would not make a sum sufficiently splendid for our enthusiasts, let us imitate Georgia again, and devote the liquor-tax to the schools. The Auditor estimated that the Moffet law, properly applied, would yield $600,000. Is not that, added to the poll-tax and the income of the literary fund, enough to glut the rapacious maw of the School Board? Give them this; and we shall at least have the consolation of knowing, that we are not plundered to support a mischievous system, unless we choose to commit the folly of tippling...

"One other excellent feature of the Georgia law is secured by the very Constitution of the State Art. viii, Sec. 5. "Nothing contained in Sec. 2 of this Art. shall be construed to deprive schools in this State, not common schools, from participation in the educational funds of the State, as to all pupils therein, taught in the elementary branches of an English education.

"The meaning of this provision is, that all schools created and regulated by parents themselves, shall have the same title to a share in the school fund to pay for instruction in the English rudiments with those created by the State, provided the teachers of the former come under a few simple regulations ensuring the useful performance of their duties. The vital advantage of this is, that the State of Georgia restricts and limits that intrusion into and usurpation of parental rights and responsibilities within the narrowest limits permitted by her conquerors, which our system studies to push to the most sweeping and enormous extent. The State of Georgia recognizes the right of parents to say where a school is needed, how it shall be regulated, who shall be its teacher, what shall be its text-books, what its moral or religious regimen. The State of Virginia does all that can be done to wrest these inalienable rights and duties from the parents to whom God and nature have given them, and vest them in three "school trustees." The State of Georgia says to parents: "Exercise your rights of choice, and the Commonwealth will acquiesce and pay the portion of the fund equitably due your families, to the teacher of your choice." The State of Virginia virtually says: "I claim, like pagan Sparta, to be parent of all children, and to usurp the rights of natural parents in dictating by my officials, where, how, and by whom your children shall be educated; and if any parent insist on his rights of doing his own natural duties to his own offspring, he shall be punished therefore, by having his property taken from him to educate other people's children in ways he did not elect." There is the difference.

"The experience of every practical man will teach him how conducive this feature of the Georgia law is to flexibility, convenience and economy. The parents of a neighborhood create a school; they are the best judges where it should be situated, and who had best teach it; for they are actuated by disinterested love for the children, and sound common sense. They furnish the house and appliances. Hence, every dollar the State contributes is applied to the cost of actual instruction. The plan has the flexibility needed for a sparse population; the wishes of parents, desiring higher tuition for their children, co-operate with the wishes of the State desiring primary tuition for all; and public and private interests work together for the mutual benefit of the property-class and the poor."

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Noble Exercises of Teachers--Baxter

Richard Baxter, the famous practical divine of the 17th century, was a Puritan--of sorts. He was actually rather eclectic theologically, but excelled about everyday piety. Here (in truncated form) he summarizes important attitudes and piety of teachers.

I. Determine first rightly of your end...1. That your ultimate end be the pleasing and glorifying of God. 2. And this by promoting the public good, by fitting youth for public service. And, 3. Forming their minds to the love and service of their Maker. 4. And furthering their salvation, and their welfare in the world.

II. Understand the excellency of your calling, and what fair opportunities you have to promote those noble ends ; and also how great a charge you undertake; that so you may be kept from sloth and superficialness, and may be quickened to a diligent discharge of your undertaken trust.

III. Labour to take pleasure in your work, and make it as a recreation, and take heed of a weary or diverted mind. 1. To this end consider often what is said above; think on the excellency of your ends, and of the worth of souls, and of the greatness of your advantages. 2. Take all your scholars as committed to your charge by Jesus Christ; as if he had said to you, Take these whom I have so dearly bought, and train them up for my Church and service. 3. Remember what good one scholar may do, when he cometh to be ripe for the service of the Church or commonwealth! How many souls some of them may be the means to save! Or if they be but fitted for a private life, what blessings may they be to their families and neighbours!

IV. Seeing it is divinity that teacheth them the beginning and the end of all their other studies, let it never be omitted or slightly slubbered over, and thrust into a corner; but give it the precedency, and teach it them with greater care and diligence than any other part of learning: especially teach them the catechism and the Holy Scriptures. If you think that this is no part of your work, few wise men will choose such teachers for their children...Therefore teach them betimes the words of catechisms, and some chapters of the Bible; and teach them the meaning by degrees as they are capable. And make them perceive that you take this for the best of all their learning.

V. Besides the forms of catechism, which you teach them, speak often to them some serious words, about their souls and the life to come, in such a plain, familiar. manner, as tendeth most to the. awakening of their consciences, and making them perceive how greatly what you say concerneth them. A little such familiar serious discourse, in an interlocutory way, may go to their hearts, and never be forgotten; when mere forms alone are lifeless and unprofitable. Abundance of good might be done on children, if parents and schoolmasters did well perform their parts in this.

VI. Take strict account of their spending the Lord's day!—how they hear, and what they remember, and how they spend the rest of the day; for the right spending of that day is of great importance to their souls! And a custom of play and idleness on that day doth usually debauch them, and prepare them for much worse. Though they are from under your eye on the Lord's day, yet if on Monday they be called to account, it will leave an awe upon them in your absence.

VII. Pray with them and for them. If God give not the increase by the dews of heaven, and shine not on your labours, your planting and watering will be all in vain. Therefore prayer is as suitable a means as teaching, to do them good: and they must go together.

VIII. Watch over thom, by one another, when they are behind your backs, at their sports, or converse with each other; for it is abundance of wickedness that children use to learn and practise, which never cometh to their masters' ears, especially in some great and public schools.

IX. Correct them more sharply for sins against God, than for their dulness and failing at their books. Though negligence in their learning is not to be indulged, yet smart correction should teach them especially to take heed of sinning; that they may understand that sin is the greatest evil.

X. Especially curb or cashier the leaders of impiety and rebellion, who corrupt the rest. There are few great schools but have some that are notoriously debauched; that glory in their wickedness; that in filthy talking, and fighting, and cursing, and reviling words, are the infecters of the rest. And usually they are some of the bigger sort that are the greatest fighters, and master the rest, and by domineering over them, and abusing them, force them both to follow them in their sin and to conceal it. The correcting of such, or expelling them if incorrigible, is of great necessity to preserve the rest; for if they are suffered, the rest will be secretly infected and undone, before the master is aware. This causes many that have a care of their children's souls, to be very fearful of sending them to great and public schools, and rather choose private schools that are freer from that danger; it being almost of as great concernment to children, what their companions be as what their master is.

[The Nobler Exercises of His Profession, 1680]