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DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BUREAU OF EDUCATION,
Washington, D. C., October 27, 1870.
SIR: Less than eight months have elapsed since I entered upon the duties of this office. I found that the entire working force of this Bureau at that time consisted of two clerks, at a salary of $1,200 each, and that the rooms assigned to its use were so crowded with books, pamphlets, and desks as to be wholly unfit for successful clerical work.
The aid you were able to afford me, by the detail of an additional clerk, was of great service. The efficiency of the office was further increased by the favorable action of Congress in passing the law of July 12, 1870, allowing three clerks, one at $1,800, one at $1,600, and one at $1,400, and a messenger at $840, and also making an appropriation of $3,000 for additional work in compiling statistics and preparing reports. Since September the work has been greatly facilitated by the transfer of the office to the more ample quarters supplied by your order. The office had already experienced various vicissitudes of fortune. First established as an independent Department, it was afterward reduced to an office in the Interior Department, where now the law styles it a Bureau. The salary of the Commissioner, originally $4,000, had been diminished to $3,000. The compensation of the clerical force had suffered a corresponding reduction. In addition to the difficulties and limitations in the office itself, I was at once made conscious of most serious obstacles, arising not only from a general misapprehension with regard to the character and objects, but from a failure to see any necessity for the existence, of the Bureau.
The idea of national attention to education, as well as to agriculture, had been urged in vain by Washington and his compeers, and repeated from time to time by many of our most patriotic statesmen, until finally the special action of a convention of school superintendents, in a wellconsidered memorial to Congress, led to the enactment of a law, approved March 2, 1867, establishing a Department of Education "for the purpose of collecting such statistics and facts as shall show the condition and progress of education in the several States and Territories, and of diffusing such information respecting the organization and management of school systems and methods of teaching as shall aid the people of the United States in the establishment and maintenance of efficient school systems, and otherwise promote the cause of education throughout the country."
The purpose of the Department was thus clearly stated and its work
fully defined in the law establishing it, but the publication of its reports and documents has been on a scale so limited as not to give to the country at large any general knowledge of the amount or utility of the labor performed. The number and variety of applications made to this office for reports, documents, statistics, and educational information of every kind, coming from every section of our country, and from foreign countries, would, I think, convince the most skeptical that there was urgent demand for some such center of information, at least.
The small edition of the only report which had been published by the Department was soon exhausted. No copies remained when I assumed these duties. Much information, including school statistics and discussions of associated topics, at home and abroad, had been collected. A very large share of these collections, of immediate and special value to teachers, had waited at least two years for publication. Previously made familiar, by experience and observation, with the direction of educational inquiries in the country, I have been specially impressed with the national responsibility in regard to them, in my endeavors to answer the correspondence addressed to this office. The extent and variety of answers required compelled the most economical methods, and made it necessary that I should consult the most apparent educational demands, and endeavor to meet them, as far as lay in the capacity of the office.
The inquiries respecting the establishment of and improvements in State, city, university, and technical systems of education, and with regard to various methods of instruction and discipline, sometimes involving the discussion of theories, and the classification and comparison of facts, scattered through all the various countries, and running back to the earliest observations respecting the training and culture of the young, altogether so entirely beyond the clerical ability of the office to answer, soon revealed to me how little those understood the nature or extent of the public demand for the office who unwisely sought to limit or to destroy it. Every mail brought a demand for printed documents, which could only be answered by the information that they were not in existence. Again and again educators and agents of foreign countries applied for statements of the statistics of education in America, which had never been made out, and for the preparation of which the data had never been collected, the nearest approach being the reports on the subject published by foreign governments, prepared by gentlemen who had visited this country, and who had been largely indebted to my predecessor for the materials used.
In our country the attention turned to illiteracy by the facts brought out in connection with the late war, and the means adopted for the restoration of peace, especially the adoption of the fifteenth amendment to the Constitution of the United States, defining the right to vote and making that right so nearly universal, revealed the anxiety awakened in the patriotic minds of our people that intelligence and virtue should
be at least equally extended and assured. Many sought these various facts as exhibited in the different sections of the country; the ques tions cannot be easily characterized: The number of those who can, and of those who cannot, read and write; the ratio of the illiterate to the total population; methods and instrumentalities for awakening an inter est in education, and establishing schools in various portions of the South; the bearing of knowledge or ignorance on the well-being of communities and the productiveness of industries.
In the midst of these questions coming up from numerous quarters, the House of Representatives in May passed a resolution inquiring respecting the progress and condition of education in the South. There was still considerable question in Congress as to how far the capacity of the office should be increased, the work becoming enormous for the force at command, while the uncertainty in this respect prevented the laying of any extended plans of operations for the future. Seeking always to attend promptly, as far as possible, to the correspondence, I was compelled to forego all other work for the time to answer the abovenamed House resolution, entertaining the hope that the publication of the material collected by my predecessor, and of the special report of the facts in the South, would enable me, in a measure, to answer the correspondence with printed matter, and so allow my attention to be turned to the advancement of some general plan of office work. But Congress adjourned without ordering the publication of either of the several reports. Correspondence was, consequently, the only means left to the office by which to meet the demands upon it for information. Your order, however, for the publication of a circular of information in August gave great relief in this respect. Three thousand copies have been distributed, and the number printed will not supply the demand. Indeed, there has been no form of printed information on educational subjects at my command, neither speeches in Congress, addresses by our educators at their conventions, reports of State and city superintendents, or of universities, colleges, or special schools, but what has been laid under contribution and sent to inquirers in various sections of the country. A very large amount of the journals and other writings of Hon. Horace Mann were presented for gratuitous distribution by Mrs. Mann.*
I took the liberty of suggesting to different State, county, and city
* I take the liberty to give the following extract from a letter recently received from Mrs. Mann, throwing light on the pioneer labors of her distinguished husband and suggestive of encouragement to those now similarly engaged:
"The preparation of the abstracts was an enormous work that took three solid months in the year of long days of labor. The manuscripts from which they were collated stood a pile of three feet in height from the floor, and their writers were often so illiterate that the words ran into each other all across the page and were spelled wrong individually besides; but we learned by degrees to decipher them, and sometimes found that very badly spelled reports were written by very original and intelligent school committee-men who had never subdued our rebellious spelling."
superintendents the desirableness of the adoption, by every one, of the plan, already working so well in many places, of making each office of supervision a center for the collection and preservation of works and reports on education and school apparatus, proposing to them and to foreign educators to aid in establishing a system of exchange by which the usefulness of all these aids to education would be greatly extended. In the furtherance of this plan, special aid has been extended by numerous superintendents and teachers, and I have received and sent out thousands of books and pamphlets to inquirers and educators in this and foreign countries. The work is hardly begun, and yet it already gives promise of large and most useful results. Our own country is greatly deficient in these collections of educational aids. There should, at least, be a specimen of text-books and other school works, of apparatus, of plans of school architecture, &c., at the national capital and at the capital of each State, and, in connection with the system of edu cation, in each of the large cities. Indeed, the more widely we can multiply and extend this plan, the better.
Nothing in the way of gathering apparatus had been attempted by this office; there had been no opportunity. The Bureau had, however, the advantage of the most complete collection of educational reports, statistics, and authorities, both American and foreign, existing in the country. It included the private educational library of the late Commissioner, Hon. Henry Barnard, LL. D., the product of a lifetime of assiduous labor. It is particularly rich in reports and catalogues, and is a great repository of educational information, and should unquestionably, in due time, be purchased by the Government for the permanent use of this office.
Since our occupation of larger quarters I have undertaken the beginning of a collection of apparatus and text-books, which I hope will be extended until it includes every improvement made in this direction either among our own people or in foreign lands.
In the midst of the confused pressure of these numerous demands, which could not be systematically met by my inadequate clerical force, which allowed me to merely acknowledge the receipt of correspondence, but compelled me to defer a full answer, I sought to push those inquiries and accumulate the materials necessary for a national report on education in the United States.
In the act of Congress establishing a Department of Education, which now regulates the conduct of this Bureau, the Commissioner is required "to present annually to Congress a report embodying the results of his investigations and labors, together with a statement of such facts and recommendations as will, in his judgment, subserve the purpose for which this Department is established."
• How difficult and perplexing this undertaking I will not attempt to describe. Much had been done by my predecessor to facilitate it; yet no general report had been published. The vast field stretched out
from ocean to ocean, from gulf to lake, penetrated by no general system, but presenting the greatest variety and diversity of facts. Early, however, on entering upon my duties, a plan was sketched and work directed accordingly. My object has been to exclude no fact which conveyed an educational lesson or suggestion to the American people. I would, if possible, by every statement and allusion, aid in correcting the too prevalent erroneous ideas in regard to education. Why should it be limited to what is done in the school-room or to the curriculum of the college, or of the professional and industrial schools? Why should not every parent feel that the education of man here begins with the cradle, and every citizen carry about with him the conviction that it ends only with the grave, and shape American education so as to comprehend those limits in every life, and enable it to reach the highest possible attainments? In this ideal every educational force, whether affecting body or mind, in childhood or age, of the individual or communities, would have its appropriate place. Educators must lift this conception up before the people; the public mind must grow into an apprehension of it. The great educational instrumentalities must come to adjust themselves to their appropriate places in it. Then they will find no room for conflict, no occasion for disparagement. What is so generally termed education, that work limited to elementary, secondary, and superior instruction, will present a harmony excelled only by that of the spheres; each study, the languages, ancient and modern, and the sciences and arts and industries, will have its place, and all these will be supplemented by the work of the home, the press, the pulpit, the forum, the work shop, the making, the administration, and adjudication of laws, presenting a structure of society penetrated by principles illustrating correctly the relation of the human and the divine; a structure, which wherever it touches human life restrains all its tendencies to vice, crime, and degradation, and inspires it to efforts of intelligence and virtue.
A report on American education, based on this idea, though only what should have been begun at the organization of the nation, and grown with its growth and by its annual issues inspired the improvement of every human condition in the land, having been so long neglected, when first suggested to many educators, naturally would not be understood, and would be compelled to wait somewhat for universal coöperation. Accordingly, some time elapsed before the inquiries of the Bureau began to receive from every quarter the answers desired. The last two months, however, have brought together far more material than the working force of the office could handle satisfactorily. A somewhat careful count and estimate of the different persons who have contributed material by correspondence or sending pamphlets, places the number above four thousand. Not attempting to be historical, it has some data extending over a period of several years, and in a few cases reaching back to the origin of the State or city systems, affording considerable aid for a comparison of the past with the present.