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23. SCHOOL LEGISLATION, 1861.
Early in the session of 1861, Hon. John Conness introduced a bill in the House, which was passed, providing for the sale of the sixteenth and thirty-sixth sections of school lands, and that the proceeds should be paid into the State School Fund. Thus, after many years of impracticable legislation, in which each successive Legislature tinkered on a township land bill, a plain and practicable law was passed, under the provisions of which, in less than a year, nearly 200,000 acres were sold, and the proceeds applied to the State School Fund.
DIVISION OF THE SCHOOL MONEYS.
During this session Mr. Montgomery introduced a bill providing
That every school numbering thirty pupils, established by the parents or guardians of such pupils, should have the right on application to be enrolled as a public school; that the common school branches should be taught five hours a day, with religious instructions and catechism as an extra, at the will of the parents; that the parents or guardians should elect the trustees of such school, with full powers to control; and that the State Fund should be apportioned according to the number of children attending school.
This bill was accompanied by a petition extensively signed; and, at one time, there was some danger of its passage. Hon. John Conness defended secular public schools, and the following extracts from his speech are worthy of a place in school history:
A quarter of a century ago I landed from the deck of an emigrant ship, upon the shores of America. I was deposited there as a single grain of sand upon the sea shore by a wave of the ocean. Soon after my arrival I found my way to a free school, where I soon learned that my anticipations and fears were not realized. I found there, in lieu of intercourse with strangers, the greatest friendship that I have ever yet experienced at the hands of mankind. I was received into an institution established by the intelligence, the wisdom, the patriotism, and at the expense of a great and free people. I soon learned to appreciate the advantages that were placed before me. During the short period of seven months, being the interim between my arrival and my being placed, from the necessities that surrounded me, as an apprentice to a mechanic's trade, I enjoyed the opportunities for the acquirement of information and knowledge that was furnished by that common free school. Day by day, for I never missed a single day, nor fractional part of a day in my attendance, I experienced at the hands of the teachers appointed over me by the people, the most marked consideration and kindness. The very fact that I was a stranger seemed but to invite the attention and even the caresses of the noble man who stood at the head of that school. More than once and I shall remember it to the last hour of my existence. I was desired to remain after the other children were dismissed from the school, to be spoken to, to be encouraged, to be led onward in the paths of education by my teacher. More than once he has placed his hand kindly upon my head, and familiarly, because not in the presence of other children, addressed me, saying, "John, you must make effort in this and in that particular direction—you are wanting in these particular parts—if you will only bring yourself up in these, you will occupy a foremost position in this school.' He marked my attempts at progress, and to me as well as to others he always reached out the encouraging hand of kindness, and spoke the word that led to emulation and ambition in the acquirement of knowledge. For me to have found an institution like that was a great acquisition and a great wonder. I could scarcely understand it then, although I believe I fully appreciated it, as I do to-day. Up to the period of my advent into that school I had not been favored with great or any considerable advantages in the way of education. I had never attended other than the village schoolhouse, where the commonest branches of education were taught, perhaps in the commonest way; and for the two years preceding my arrival I had been deprived of even these poor advantages by circumstances that I will not undertake to detail here. And to have found not only the means so abundant placed before me, but agents so kind and at the same time so able in administering the benefits and advantages of that institution, sustained and supported at the public expense, commanded then, as I repeat will always command, my profoundest admiration and regard. To that school, and to the beneficent people who established it, am I indebted, in great part, to say the least, for all that I am, be it little or much, to-day. Hence, sir, when the question of public schools--of free schools—in which the children of all may be educated without price, without distinction of class, of wealth, or of politics or religious opinions, is involved, it is no wonder that I should feel a deep interest in that question. Next to the unity and the continued and happy prosperity of this glorious country that we live in and are all common citizens of--next to its continued and prosperous existence, I owe all allegiance, all love, all admiration, and all effort, to the public schools of our country.
I am aware that those who advocate this measure profess that they have no purpose in view but the perfection, completeness and extension of educational conditions and advantages; but I would recommend those persons to begin in another way. I object to the manner in which they propose to begin to carry out such an end. Some of them say that the schools of California, or those of a portion of the State, are dens of infamy, are pestiferous in their character, are but sowing the seeds of immorality and death where they exist. But, as a remedy for these great abuses, for this great curse in our land, if it exists, do they propose to renew their efforts to obtain the passage of such laws or enforce such restrictions as will bring about a better condition of things ? I think not. What, then, do they propose ? If I understand them, and I think I do, they propose to withdraw a portion of the children of the State from what are now known as the common schools of the State. The proposition or purpose in view is better stated to me outside of this hall by citizens of distinction, who are interested in passing this act which we are now discussing, than by the gentlemen who have discussed it here. Their proposition to me is plainly stated-s0 plainly that he who runs may read and understand it. They say, first, that the schools are now unfit for the reception of their children, or the children of their people. They say they are common contributors to the funds that are consumed in the support of the schools, and that as the schools are unfit for their children, therefore they have a right to withdraw their children from those schools. That part of the proposition I admit, but I deny that it follows as a necessity, in common honesty and fairness, that they should also be entitled to receive a pro rata proportion of the common school moneys
of the State, to be used under their direction for the support of such schools as they may establish. They say that this right exists in nature. Who, they ask, is so well entitled to the care, custody and training of a child as its natural parent? They invoké the social faculties of mankind to aid them in this argument, because they draw a contrast between the system they propose and the one that now exists, by showing you that on the one hand the government of the State claims the control and jurisdiction of the children of the State, for the purpose of public education, while on the other hand they assert that no such relation should be permitted or authorized while the parent lives who gave existence to his offspring, and whose greatest care is for his advancement and happiness.
We are here with common objects, and the only question that is presented in connection with this bill now before us is plainly this: Shall we continue, by and through the agency of the State to support and carry out a system of public education in the State, or shall we not? For one, I am in favor of the affirmative of this proposition; I am in favor of renewing effort; of bringing up the standard of education, and the moral condition of our schools, until they shall not only be fit for the reception of the children of our people, but shall also by their superior excellence attract to our State parents and children from other lands. Adopt the proposition that is made in this bill; let every private school that may be established by the parents of children or by their religious teachers, or for profit by teachers, have a pro rata share of the school money, and what will be the result? In a very short time the State of California will be engaged in the interesting business of collecting moneys from various sources for the purpose of education, and disbursing and distributing those moneys amongst private parties, to be by them applied in such a way as they see fit for the purposes of education. Inaugurate this system, drive home this wedge that is now pointed at your common school system, and you will have schools exclusively under the control and direction of sects and parties, as well as by persons engaged as educators for profit.
I have heard nothing to convince me that this bill should pass, and that our system of education should be changed. I have heard no argument within this chamber, because I do not recognize as argument on that point all that is said about the condition of the schools as they now exist. Our public school system in the United States of America is one of the proudest evidences of the greatness of our people, as it furnishes the basis and substratum of our institutions. Let religionists, of whatever class or kind, teach their doctrines and dogmas. They have their organizations for that especial purpose, and they contribute their means, and judiciously and carefully apply them to these ends. It is our business, by law and constitutional sanction, to preserve each in its own particular career, without interference from its neighboring organization. It is that preservation and defense against assault upon any, by either, that has marked our land and made it what it proudly is—the asylum of freedom in the world. No greater means of its continuance, no surer or more certain mode for its preservation can be found, I assert, than in the preservation of our common school system. While we denominate our schools public and common schools, let that not, as is the case now in the interior of our State, be a misnomer any longer. Let them be free, and furnish the means of education to the poor of the land. Your future members of the legislature, congressmen, governors, and presidents, are to be found among these classes, for nature has baptized the child of poverty with the blessing of energy. All the history of our country and of every free country conclusively proves this proposition, for the great men of every free land have sprung from the common people. Education is particularly for them; it is due to them from our hands and the hands of the great body of the people. I would gladly vote for a law that would compel the attendance of all children of a certain age at some school, for a certain length of time each year; but let us first furnish the means before we undertake to apply such a restriction.
I have heard it intimated more than once that this question was to be made a political question; that the position that men would take here would be carefully written down and noted, and that their political status hereafter would be determined by the position they took. I have regretted this exceedingly; but if there were any reason why I should speak at all upon this subject, so as to be incapable of being misunderstood, the latter would furnish the strongest one. Whenever any portion of the people of this State, or my fellow-citizens, see fit to object to me, because of the opinions I entertain, or the efforts I make in the line and direction of duty, let them object, and let them act. I ask no favors. Whenever any portion of the people cannot find in my acts something to approve, let them condemn; it may be that I can do as well without them as they can without me. I have no high admiration for that class popularly denominated politicians--those whose opinions hang loosely about them; those changelings, who simply seek office that they may get bread. Our country has been cursed; its lamentable throes to-day are the legitimate and logical sequence of the action of these detestable creatures. My doctrine and instincts alike demand that upon any and all occasions I should speak out, and let what I say be tried upon its merits. I have no fear though, that this question will be made a political one. I do not think that there are within the limits of this State a sufficient number of men vain and foolish enough to undertake to erect as a standard of political action any form of supposed religious opinions. I do not believe there are any considerable number of men who will make it a condition of their suffrages hereafter, that the vote to be cast here shall be cast in a particular direction. I trust in God, sir, that we will be spared such a condition of things. But if it should come, and there must be a war of opinions, all I have to say is, that I am prepared to bear my part in it. I would not, to-day, for the concentration of all the offices in the country into one, and my enjoyment of that one, sacrifice the opinions that I have, or the action that my conscience demands of me in connection with this subject.
24. ELEVENTH ANNUAL REPORT, 1861.
In this report Mr. Moulder argued the necessity of more money to make the schools effective; asked for an appropriation of $5000 for a State Normal School, and published the report of the Committee on Normal Schools, appointed by the State Institute, of May, 1861; reported that the State Institute had been largely attended; that the transfer of the power of examining teachers from Trustees to State and County Boards of Examination was driving the quacks out of the occupation; touched upon the subject of schoolhouses; stated that the law authorizing the adoption of a State series of text-books had been suddenly repealed near the close of the session of the Legislature of 1861, and asked for the passage of another; asked the Legislature to make some provision for school libraries; stated that within eight months after the passage of the act of April 22, 1861, 165,463 acres of township.lands had been, or were about to be sold; and closed by referring to his previous reports relating to a State Military Institute.
25. SCHOOL LEGISLATION, 1862.
The Legislature of this session passed an act establishing a State Normal School in the city of San Francisco, and made an appropriation for that purpose of $3000. The State Normal