Thoughts on the Importance and Improvement of Common Schools

Republished from the Christian Spectator, Feb 1, 1827

NOTE: In preparing a story on the whether Christians’ votes are aligned with the Bible, I came across this article from just under 200 years ago, when Christians sought not liberty from government, but liberty that government can create for the least among us. While there is a rough scan on the Internet Archive, I thought it would be useful to have a searchable, easy-to-read version published online…so I did.

Common schools are the glory of our land. In connection with our higher seminaries, and especially with religion, they furnish the surest basis and bulwark of our free institutions, and afford the fairest promise of our high exaltation. For, should some unforeseen concurrence of adverse circumstances ever prostrate our liberties, yet sure I am that no tyranny can ever long keep its foot on the neck of a people, where even the beggar’s child is taught to read, and write, and think, and act for himself.

While these schools are of inestimable value in preparing the mass of men to transact business and to become free, useful, and independent citizens, they serve likewise to call forth real genius from the shades of obscurity, and start it in the path to eminence. I believe we hazard nothing in saying, that the country is indebted primarily to our common schools for the extended usefulness of a very large proportion of her ablest and best men in the departments of civil, literary, and professional life. But for these schools, planted at their doors, and accommodated to their resources, they would have continued in obscurity, and we should have seen their present stations filled, or rather occupied, by incumbents possessed indeed of more hereditary wealth, but destitute of the talent and integrity thus called forth to bless the community. Here, by enjoying the means of instruction, and by being brought into comparison with their equals in age, they at once gained a relish for knowledge, and exhibited capacity and disposition to excel, sufficient to gain the encouraging tongue and fostering hand.

I would here take the liberty to suggest to school visitors and others who may have the means of forming a judgment in such cases, that one among the many duties that rest upon them as good citizens, is that of selecting and encouraging youths, of the right stamp, to the acquisition of an education. It is a delicate task, and full of responsibility as regards the individual to be encouraged, his family connexions, and the good of the public. Something more, also, must be regarded in the selection than merely a capacity to learn. The disposition and general adaptedness to be useful, are at least of equal importance. But, for the responsibility assumed and the pains taken in selection and encouragement, if wisely done, you may have the rich reward, for time and eternity, of knowing that you have more than doubled your own usefulness in the person of him whose exertions you thus elevate to a higher sphere.

Our colleges are increasing in number, yet they are still increasingly supplied with pupils. Whence come they? and why? The true answer to these queries, will call us again to the same topic the importance of our primary seminaries. Inspect the annual catalogues of all the colleges in the United States, and it will at once be seen that those States which maintain these primary schools, furnish an immensely greater proportion of the students in the higher seminaries, than those which have them not; and the contrast becomes still more striking when we take into consideration the ratio of population in the different sections compared with the number they respectively educate.

In addition to this fact, look at the character of the students from the two different descriptions of territory. With all due allowance for exceptions in individual cases, it may still be deemed sufficiently invidious by those acquainted with the interior of our colleges, barely to allude to the comparison as regards morality of conduct, attainment in study, and hopeful promise of usefulness. These very honourable facts, so obvious on slight inspection, are to be attributed, in a great measure, to the influence of our free schools in eliciting from the shades of obscurity those gems of mind which are fitted for the highest polish. Annihilate our primary institutions, and we should soon see a sad reverse in those of higher grade. Some of our colleges and academies would stand as empty walls; and others would exhibit a revolting mixture of a little true genius and application with much dulness, idleness, and riot.

Should it be said that education societies and benevolent individuals have called forth from the region of common schools, a host of intelligent, sober, and industrious youths, to fill our colleges; we doubly rejoice while admitting the fact. Why have they not called them forth in equal numbers from the other far more extensive regions? Do such youths exist there? Then to what is it owing in a greater degree than to the want of these schools, that they are not discovered and brought forward? We well know that many wealthy and very benevolent individuals who contribute largely to the national and other education societies, reside in those districts of our country, who would be prompt to patronize directly such as they might find worthy. Or will it be said that such youths do not exist there?

The admission is not more gloomy in itself than it is fatal to its argument. For if common schools are so intimately connected with that state of society which furnishes the youths in question, that where the one is found, the other is to be sought, this single circumstance cannot fail to evince them of still higher consequence than any thing I have yet adduced. It matters little, as regards the present topic, whether they be considered as the cause or the effect of such a state of society; or, as is doubtless the fact, possessing both these characteristics at once; they must be of vital importance, especially in such a community as ours.

Every measure, then, which is fitted to promote the utility of common schools, should command prompt attention and vigorous cooperation. Deeply impressed as I am with this thought, I cannot but confess my regret at not seeing as yet any effectual excitement produced in my own State towards the accomplishment of one of the best and most needful projects for this purpose which has ever been spread before the community. I refer to that very able and elegantly written series of dissertations in behalf of a seminary for the training of instructers, first published in the Connecticut Observer, and since printed in the pamphlet form at Boston, with the name of the author, Mr. Gallaudet. The subject of it was soon warmly recommended to the notice of the legislature of New York by that enlightened statesman, Gov. Clinton; and it is to be hoped it will be ultimately carried into effect on a distinguished scale in that powerful state; and that something of the kind will soon appear in Massachusetts. But it would have given me peculiar pleasure could we have seen some of the wealthy individuals in our own state coming forward with the same promptness and liberality which they so honourably exhibited a few years since in seconding the benevolent views of the same distinguished individual in behalf of a class of persons who are precluded by their Creator from being of equal utility to the public.

In that instance, we set an example which other parts of our Union have been eager to emulate; and I think we may safely say, we should have gained equal honour in a prompt establishment of a seminary for instructers. If, in the one case sympathy operated with peculiar power, in the other, it needs only a more perfect knowledge of facts to awaken at once a deep feeling of both sympathy and self-interest. Of sympathy; for who can endure to see his own children and those of a great community, though blessed by their Maker with the perfect use of all their senses, left to the tardy, inaccurate, and often irksome, processes of instruction, for the want of better teachers, thus enduring much useless toil and real suffering, and wasting some of the brightest years of their existence. An acquaintance with facts, must also awaken us to a sense of self interest. If our children can generally be taught more in the same time, or better taught, in matter or manner, it is as really our interest as it is that they should be taught at all. And that such improvements may be made in the processes of instruction, is sufficiently evident from this fact, if no other, that the present improvements in teaching the deaf mutes are such, though the science is of recent origin, that in a variety of respects the pupils are made to surpass those of the same standing in common schools.

Now it is utterly incredible that there should be any foundation in the nature of the case for such a precedence. We may as well say that hearing and speech are useless faculties in the communication of thought. No; this advance is to be attributed to the careful and scientific training of those who assume the office of teaching the deaf. It is, then, as deep ingratitude to the Creator as it is a dereliction of our own interest, to neglect practicable improvements in the art of teaching the great mass whom he has kindly provided with all the requisite organs.

Such an institution we exceedingly need; and, sooner or later, we must have one. The increasing dearth of competent teachers, imperiously demands the establishment; and the call of necessity will wax louder and louder till it shall make itself heard. When I say the dearth is increasing, I speak not as the fond advocate of a favourite institution, ready to coin reasons where I cannot find them, but by the reluctant compulsion of my own observation, and by the testimony of many in the same post of observation. It has been my “pleasing, painful task” for many years, to be concerned in the examination of schools and instructers; and while I have witnessed with pleasure a regular advance in the schools, I have experienced no small pain in being compelled to approbate teachers in increasing numbers, who were incompetent to the task. It may sound paradoxical, that the schools should grow better while the teachers grow worse. An explanation of my meaning will show that there is no absurdity in the allegation, and may, at the same time, serve to correct some statements which have been hastily made by some ardent friends of improvement.

I can by no means agree with those who consider our schools as in a positively bad condition, or as growing worse, or even as stationary. I have already expressed my views of them as an inestimable blessing; and therefore cannot help regretting the erroneous statements of an opposite cast, on two accounts. They may lead those who have no common schools to a totally false view of the existing facts; and, blessing themselves that they have no such ‘public nuisances,’ they may firmly resolve never to adopt them. I also strongly suspect that these overdrawn statements, meeting the eye of the intelligent and benevolent among us as plainly false, as to the general fact, have served to retard, if not utterly to defeat the main design of their well meaning authors.

The fact I take to be simply this. While our schools generally are by no means retrograde, the march of improvement in higher seminaries, and in everything pertaining to mind, is very rapid. Of course our schools, and especially the teachers, hold relatively a lower grade. And this is fact enough, if duly regarded, to rouse us to the requisite improvement. The branches now taught in our common schools, or rather attempted to be learnt by the pupils, are nearly double to what they were some years ago. And these branches are constantly increasing; and it is very desirable that they should increase, to the full extent of possible requisition. While this is the fact, it is easy to see that the ratio of competent teachers may and indeed must be on the decrease till some special measures are taken for their qualification. What was competency ten years ago, is no longer so. A new branch is introduced since the teacher received his instruction, and which of course he cannot be expected to teach. And provided he has attended to all the requisite branches, yet, as they are much more numerous than formerly, he will not be likely to understand them so thoroughly without additional opportunities for preparation. Unless, then, we provide these opportunities, we have nothing before us but the certain prospect either of our schools becoming stationary and lagging far behind the general improvements of the age, or of an increasing proportion of incompetent teachers whom we are compelled to license because we can procure no better.

Now, shall this progress, in a department of such vital importance, be arrested for the want of means for qualifying teachers? Shall agriculture, manufactures, and every art of human life, be borne forward in even rank with its compeers in the march of improvement; and shall this, the most important of all, be left limping behind? Shall we advance the means of improvement in all our higher seminaries, thus enabling our favoured sons whom we send to college to spend their four or seven years to the best possible advantage, and shall we take no thought for increasing the advantages of the few puny years of instruction we allow to their brothers and sisters whom we retain to toil at home? And shall we nobly endow our schools for the deaf, till they are able to command for teachers the very first rate scholars who graduate at our colleges, and shall we still leave those whom God has blessed with the requisite senses for easy improvement destitute of the means? Shall we ungratefully leave our gifted child to the temptation of cursing God for the gift of an ear to hear and a tongue to speak, when he shall find, had he been born deaf, that the delights of science would have been farther expanded to his view? While I complain not, but rejoice, at what is done for the ” unfortunates, ” I scruple not to say that the same effort and expenditure, judiciously directed to the thorough qualification of common school teachers, would have accomplished ten fold, (perhaps omniscience would say a thousand fold,) greater benefit in the aggregate, both for this world and the next. To make one teacher a little better, is to make a great many pupils better. To make the whole mass of teachers a great deal better, as must surely and speedily be the effect of a good institution for the purpose, whether they all personally attend it, or are only qualified by the instructions of such as have attended it, will speedily be seen to outrun, in its happy results, all possible computation.

Shall, then, such an institution, and such consequent benefits, be suffered to exist only in imagination, serving by its suggestion, only to mock and aggravate our necessities? I hope the honour of my native state, and the welfare of the rising generation, and patriotism, and philanthropy, and piety, will speedily induce our legislature, or individuals who possess the means, to answer, no.

In the mean time, whether such a seminary is to be brought into existence or not, I will suggest one mode of doing good which may be worthy of consideration, though I do not recollect of its ever being tried, or even mentioned. I do it with the hope that it may possibly meet the eye of some one whom Providence may have raised up with qualifications and a disposition adapted to the delicate nature of the service. The proposition is this; for the right individual, whenever found, to devote his life, missionary like, to the business of visiting schools. To such an one let me say come forth and make the experiment. Let your object be at once to teach the pupils a little directly, and to teach the instructers, by precept illustrated on the spot by examples in the mode of instruction. Teach them to learn children how to articulate well, to read in a natural tone of voice, to understand what they read, to take an interest in their studies, etc., etc.

In the mean time, learn what you can yourself by such intercourse, as to means and modes of instruction, the best books to be used, etc.; and ultimately be prepared to give public lectures on schoolkeeping, or to write a useful treatise. As there is no seminary to call teachers together for instruction, go to them. In this way, who can tell but you may do as much good as Howard, though with less fame. Fear not the want of pecuniary support. If found useful, like our domestic evangelists, “verily thou shalt be fed.” Whether a week or a fortnight would be requisite for such a visitation of the schools in a town of common size, experience would decide. Make then, the experiment, if God has fitted you for it; for should you not be pleased with the employment, or should it not appear useful, it can be relinquished at any moment without detriment. Perhaps it will hereafter be found of as great political benefit, to have our schools thus visited, as our prisons. While one is only to remedy, the other is to prevent, crime. School discipline is at least as important as “prison discipline.”

Some further remarks I have to offer in reference to common schools, but lest they should render this article longer than may suit your convenience, they must be deferred to another Number.


Palestine & Israel

With the 2023 war being the largest war between Israel and Palestine in decades, we created this graph to show the deaths and injuries tracked by the United Nations.


This chart should not be misconstrued to justify Hamas’ terrorist attack in October, 2023. It gives context to a decades-long conflict that is presented by many countries as being one-sided, with “civilization” on one side and “savagery” on the other.

As of the posting of this article, the death toll from the current conflict is still rapidly changing. Leading up to the conflict, (going back to 2008, when the UN data cited began) for every one Israeli killed by Palestinians, Israel has killed more than 20 Palestinians.

Of the 6,407 Palestinians killed in this time period, the majority of them have been civilians:

Both Hamas and the government of Israel have committed war crimes that cannot be justified or accepted in modern society, but before you hang up one country’s flag and not the other’s on your front porch, remember that there are millions of people on both sides of the border walls that did not choose this war…and while Israelis have freedom of movement, most Palestinians do not, and cannot escape the atrocities of war.

How did we get here?

While the Israeli people have existed almost as long as written history exists, the state of Israel is a modern creation.

The Balfour Declaration was a public statement issued by the British government in 1917 during the First World War announcing its support for the establishment of a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine.1 2 3

This was strange, because Palestine was not part of the British empire at the time, but the Ottoman one. But like many modern geopolitical strategies, this one is rooted in Imperial thinking with a complete lack of care or consideration.

By the end of World War II, the Ottoman Empire was gone and the Brits handed off their desire to create a country (where one already existed) to the newly formed United Nations as one of its first acts.

And in November of 1947, UN General Assembly Resolution 181 created the modern state of Israel in Palestine. Zionists (a term for those intent on creating and securing a “Jewish Homeland) saw this as “a land without people for a people without a land,” despite the fact that nearly 2 million people lived there at the time.4

Then came the Nakba (“catastrophe” in Arabic), a deliberate and systematic act to wipe the Arabic Palestinians from the land, in which more than 15,000 Palestinians were killed5 and some 750,000 to one million were permanently displaced.678

This was the first Arab-Israeli War, but it wouldn’t be the last.

The second came in 1956, also known as the Suez Crisis, the third, also called the Six-Day War in 1967, and the fourth, also known as the Yom Kippur War in 1973.9

Each time, Israel and its allies were victorious. In addition to these wars, there have been numerous military conflicts, with Israel almost always coming out on top.

Entire books have been written on this subject, you can learn more about the wars and conflicts: here.

Over time, the amount of land controlled by Palestine has shrunk, with increasing encroachment from illegal Israeli Settlements:

In addition to the nearly 700,000 Jewish settlers in these expanding settlements,10 the Separation wall (built by the Israeli government) has been erected inside of the previously defined borders:

Prior to the 2023 war, some 5.3 million Palestinians lived in Gaza and the West Bank, 52% of them children under 18.

With their country under the control of the Israeli government, their state-issued IDs prevent most Palestinians from being able to freely travel between Gaza and the West Bank or to leave Palestine at all.

Leading up to the war, 65% of Gazans were living below the poverty line of just $4.40 USD per day,11 12 and 96% of the water from their sole aquifer is unfit for human consumption.13

Once Israel declared war, they have begun blocking all supplies, water, and electricity to Gaza. Even prior to the war, Gaza had less than 16% of items needed to construct vital water infrastructure to give its people clean drinking water.14

For years, Gaza has failed to meet even half of its demand for electricity. And with the majority of it coming from Israel — who have now cut off electricity — Gaza will struggle to meet its most basic needs for food and healthcare.15

Even before the war, life had been so dire for Palestinians, that 2.3 million of the 5.3 million people in Palestine were in refugee camps in the country. 16 17

And now, there is nowhere safe for Palestinians. In the first days of the war, Israel has bombed a UN refugee camp in Gaza, and repeatedly bombed the crossing into Egypt.

Even if Palestinians are able to flee their home country, they will find themselves in yet another over-crowded, under-resourced refugee camp in a neighboring country — as of July 2023, there were already 568,730 refugees in Syria,18 489,292 in Lebanon,19 and 2.3 million in Jordan.20

The collective punishment of cutting off water, power, and food to civilians is a war crime. The bombing of refugee camps and border crossings preventing safe-harbor for civilians are war crimes.

Yes, Hamas engages in terrorism, but so does the government of Israel. If we value equality of human life, regardless of which side of a border someone is born on, we must shine a light on the huge power imbalance, and numerous civilians targeted by both entities.

For more information on this subject: