Even before our children clean out their lockers or cubby holes the stress of political and economic discussions about how we run our schools turn everyone’s head away from why they exist in the first place. Today’s standardized tests and competition between schools and states have forgotten the purpose of our public school system.
Nobody will argue the fact the people of New England consider the education of their children very important. Because of this, a large percentage of our tax dollars go to fund the schools of our community.
Charles I. Hutchins was the Supervisor of Schools of York, Maine during the school year ending February 21, 1893. Mr. Hutchins reports that, "As in years past, so in the present, the results have been varied. While some schools have shown a good degree of interest and enthusiasm and have made rapid progress, others have little more than held their own." Reading through Mr. Hutchins report it is obvious that didn't know how to mince his words.
Mr. Hutchins did not like his students to be absent from school. "To my mind this irregular method of attending is the greatest evil with which our school system has to contend. Children on the slightest pretext or without any excuse whatever are allowed to absent themselves from school at their own sweet-will."
He goes on blame the parents for this absenteeism. I wonder how long our present superintendents of schools would last if he took Mr. Hutchins lead? " A trifling snow, or a cold morning, is enough to keep children from school, though the day is generally passed in out-of-doors play, this enduring double the exposure they would have suffered on their way to and from school. Very few parents at the present day, do not own a team, and very few there are who could not, if so disposed, take their children in bad weather, to and from school and also help their less fortunate neighbors in the same way."
Mr. Hutchins completes his condemnation of the parents who do not send their children to school by asking, "Why are parents so blind to the lasting interests of their children and why so unwilling to put forth any exertion to help them to an education?" As a teacher I ask myself this same question every day.
The supervisor of York's schools in 1893, was also a defender of his teachers. He states that, "All of these things and some others go to swell the number of days and half days lost, and then the teacher is blamed because the child fails to make the progress in his studies that ought, under other circumstances, to be made."
Mr. Hutchins goes on to explain that, "Where parents are interested in the welfare of the school, and manifest that interest, the teacher will as a rule, feel a greater interest and work harder for the welfare and advancement of the pupils. Nothing is more discouraging to a conscientious teacher, (and if possible none other should be employed), than the feeling that the parents are indifferent as to the conduct of the school, or about cooperating with the teacher." Of course his admonishment of his teachers is also implied when he states, "It may however, be fair to the parent to assume that his indifference is more apparent than real. In that case a word to the wise is sufficient."
Mr. Hutchins also understood the importance of taking care of school property. He reports to the town that, "With regard to free text books I have to say that every scholar is well supplied." But, he goes on to make clear to the parents of the scholars of York that, "The wear and tear of these books calls for constant replenishing, so that the matter of free text books is no light tax upon the people. It behooves every parent or guardian, therefore, to use his or her best endeavors to impress upon the children under their charge, the necessity for care in the handling and use of school books" I have to wonder if he demanded that all of the books be covered?
The Town of York in 1893 had fourteen schoolhouses, some of which were described by Mr. Hutchins as "badly out of repair when their care was assumed, by the town." He goes on to state that, "The maintenance and repair will call for a large outlay, and citizens will be wise to look into the matter and see that proper means are provided."
In his report the Supervisor of Schools goes on to describe how each school did during the school year. At the Center School, "The spring term opened under the charge of Miss Mary F. Caswell of York. Miss Caswell is a graduate of the Gorham Normal School and a thorough teacher having had considerable experience in that business."
At the Primary School, "The three terms of this school have been taught by Miss Theodosia L. Barrell, who has undoubtedly been as successful as circumstances would allow. This school registers more scholars than any other in town and the majority of them are very young and consequently restless and noisy." Mr. Hutchins goes on to explain that, "Miss Barrell is gifted with an inexhaustible supply of patience, a virtue called for in a teacher of this school to an extraordinary degree."
Mr. Hutchins reports that at the Raynes Neck School, Miss Annie E. Grace, a young lady who had no previous experience in teaching, taught the spring term. He states that, "She evidently worked hard for the benefit of the school and was, perhaps, as successful as could have been expected of so young a teacher." Even in the late 1800's it was common knowledge that experience was an important factor in the education of our children. In today’s world of social media maybe we should remember this fact.
The Supervisor of Schools of York in the year 1893 spoke of all the schools in York. In the Brixham School he stated that, "Recitations were prompt and full and showed that the reasoning powers, as well as the memory, had been cultivated and brought into play." Miss Kate Moulton of York Corner School was described as being, "one of our most experienced and ablest teachers. Much work was done in both terms and commendable progress made. The examinations showed that the work had been thorough." In the Scituate School, Miss Gertrude A. Junkins had good success because, "Her manner in the schoolroom united firmness with gentleness and her methods of imparting instruction cannot fail to interest and benefit the school." But, Mr. Hutchins goes on to explain that, "It is much to be regretted that Miss Junkins' health does not admit of her teaching continuously."
Even before our children clean out their lockers or cubby holes the stress of political and economic discussions about how we run our schools turn everyone’s head away from why they exist in the first place. The more one reads about the history of our schools the more one understands that the present doesn’t differ much from the past. I just pray our future produces more men like Mr. Hutchins who defends the most important part of our or any society instead of more standardized tests.
Jim Fabiano, a teacher and writer who lives in York, Maine.
You can E-mail Jim at email@example.com