Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

Nor can the operation of this system upon the condition of the Old World be in any degree doubtful. Silent and gradual, perhaps, but certain and thorough, will be the revolution it will effect. Its progress may not be tracked in blood, nor its arrival at the successive stages of its course be heralded by a noise of battle. Its achievements may not be manifested by proscriptions and confiscations, nor its victories signalized either by the beheading of Kings, or the denial and defiance of the King of Kings. It is, indeed, one of the most cheering hopes, let me rather say, one of the most glorious assurances, which the establishment of the Free School system in Europe has inspired us with, that that advancement of human happiness and human liberty, which seems almost as much a Divine law, as the precession of the equinoxes, or the procession of the seasons, is not doomed to be brought about in time to come, as it so generally has been in time past, by mere violence and bloodshed. It was well said by Baron Cuvier, who distinguished himself almost as highly in France by his efforts in the cause of education, as he did in the world at large by his triumphs in the field of science : “ Give schools before political rights; make citizens comprehend the duties that the state of society imposes on them; teach them what are political rights before you offer them for enjoyment; then all meliorations will be made without causing a shock; then each new idea, thrown upon good ground, will have time to germinate, to grow and to ripen, without convulsing the social body.” And the great comparative anatomist need hardly have quitted his own peculiar province of research to learn and to illustrate this position. He had only to compare the millions of human bones with which the French Revolution strewed and almost covered the earth, with the few thousands which were thinly scattered over the battle-fields of our own land, and the conclusion was inevitable. By rescuing man from the yoke of ignorance and prejudice, as well as from the dominion of arbitrary political power ; by delivering him from the bondage of tyrant passions as well as of tyrant princes; by supplying the check of an enlightened conscience wherever one of legal compulsion is removed, and substituting a sense of moral obligation wherever a political chain is broken, - the Free School system, it cannot be doubted, will ultimately prevent the recurrence of those frightful periods of anarchy and uproar, those reigns of terror, which have so often formed the transition state, the middle passage, between servitude and freedom. And under its enlightening influence, a system of individual selfgovernment will be in operation, and a system of free civil government even in preparation, to receive man under the shelter of their twofold shield, in that moment of temptation and peril in which he first passes in triumph from the power of his oppressor.

Such, we know, was the influence of this system, at the critical period of our own Revolution, when our fathers, under no other influences than those of the free and common schools which the Puritans had founded, and in which the principles of the people for a century and a half had been formed, were seen, as unflushed by triumph as they had been unterrified by defeat, building up the walls of a free constitutional government with one hand, even while they were still obliged to hold the weapons of war against a yet unsubdued and relentless foe in the other! And though it can be hardly hoped that a spectacle of equal sublimity, that an example of equal self-government, will soon again be exhibited to the world, some near approach and close analogy to it may be confidently anticipated in the future political changes of educated, school-taught Europe.

But it is in its relation to the future condition of our own country, that it is most interesting to contemplate the political influences of popular education. Here, where society needs not to be reduced to political chaos again in order that its creation may begin aright; where all the modes of inequality and oppression, which seem to sanction a resort to force and violence when they can be put an end to in no other way, have been banished in advance; where no thrones remain to be overturned, and no revolutions achieved, in order to establish the forms of a free government in their purest and most perfect shape, - here, the legitimate influence of a Free School system in giving substance and security to these forms, by counteracting and controlling those impulses and propensities by which they are so liable to be abused and perverted, and in gradually rendering the government itself freer and freer by transferring more and more of the restraints which the safety of the body politic requires, from powers that are without us to those which are within us, can be more uniformly exerted and more plainly perceived. Here, where there is no ground for apprehension that any course of education will be designedly adopted but such as most of all others may conduce to the maintenance and advancement of the public liberty, the identity of the great interests of Free Schools and Free Governments will be more fully and conspicuously manifested.

" In the United States," says De Tocqueville, in his masterly account of American democracy,“ politics are the end and aim of education; in Europe, its principal object is to fit men for private life.The first branch of the antithesis is just and true, or ought to be so, if it is not; but not as colored and qualified by the last. Politics are or ought to be the ultimate end and aim of all popular education in the United States; not party politics, not controversial, electioneering, office-seeking politics; not politics as distinguished from private life, as M. De Tocque. ville would seem to distinguish them, but politics as including in one and the same comprehensive signification, as in the vocabulary of a free country they do, all the relations and obligations of the citizen to the State. There is no such thing in a free country as private life, in the sense in which it seems here to have been used, and in the sense in which it is always understood in Europe. No man liveth to himself, even humanly speaking, in a Republic. Every man has public duties. Every man is a public man. Every man holds offices; those of a juryman, a militia man, an elector. Or rather every man holds one, high, sacred, all-embracing office, whose tenure is nothing less than life, and whose duties are nothing less than the whole duties of life, the office of a free citizen. The triple responsibilities which I have enumerated, those of the polls, the training-field, and the jury-box, by no means exhaust the obliga. tions of every free citizen to his country. I have already exemplified, in another part of my remarks, the power of each individual member of a free community, by yielding to ungoverned passions and indulging in abandoned courses, to de

range the political system, to diminish the general liberty, and to affect and alter the very nature of the government. And it cannot be too strongly enforced, in this connection, that the whole life and conversation, the whole conduct and character, of every free citizen is reflected and, as it were, represented in the administration of public affairs, - every thought, even, of every one of them going to make up that mighty current of Public Opinion, which is nothing less than Law in its first reading.

It is a peculiar and beautiful property of free government, that it invests the humblest and most private virtues with a public importance and dignity; making society, as Mr. Burke has well expressed it, not only “a partnership in all science and in all art,” but “in all virtue and in all perfection,” and superinducing upon all ordinary motives to the practice of virtue something of high official obligation and lofty patriotic sanction. This very quality of patriotism — what a new extension and comprehensive character has liberty imparted to it! No longer are its laurels appropriated to one or two limited lines of public service, but they are planted along the borders of every walk in life, and lowered to the reach of the humblest hand. Not alone under a free government is he a patriot, who marshals armies in the field to a successful onset upon some foreign assailant of the nation's liberties; not alone he, who arrays arguments in the Senate chamber to a triumphant issue against some domestic destroyer of its prosperity and welfare. He, too, the most retired and humble citizen, who never lifted his arm in battle or his voice in council, but who, neglecting none of the few direct political duties which the forms of a free government impose, has devoted himself to the discharge of the thousand indirect ones which the spirit of such a government implies, and its security and advancement imperatively demands, — who has combated his own passions, who has taken council of his own enlightened conscience, who has studied the art and practised the exercise of an intelligent selfgovernment, — he has acted a part, achieved a victory, afforded an example, which have no less patriotism, and even more promise of perpetuity and progress to free government in them, than the most brilliant triumphs of the field or the forum.

Yes; politics in this large and comprehensive signification, which the very nature of free institutions has given them, including all the duties of self-government as well as of civil government, ought to be the end and aim of all education in the United States; and the influences of all education, whatever may be its end and aim, will be and must be political. The present fortunes of the Republic may, indeed, be already beyond the reach of parental discipline and schoolhouse influence. But our regards end not with the hour, - certainly not our responsibilities. And it is a false and fatal notion that the future is beyond our control. It would be nearer the truth to say, that the present is so. How much of all that we are, or do, or enjoy, or suffer, how great a portion of all in us and all about us that goes to mark and determine the existing condition and immediate character of our country, is the result, not of any action of our own, or effort of the moment, but of what our fathers and mothers and teachers have done or left undone in our behalf! And the present is not more the child of the past, than it is the parent of the future. The infant, “mewling and puking in the nurse's arms," or the whining shoolboy, “with his satchel and shining morning face, creeping like snail unwillingly to school,” can, indeed, give neither vote nor verdict to-day. They have neither part nor lot in the Republic of the present instant. But when, unless at this very moment, are they to learn the lessons, imbibe the principles, acquire the habits, by which its future fate is to be not so much influenced as decided; not so much colored or characterized as constituted and made up? In them the future is personified, and posterity put bodily into our hands. And over them our control is neither conjectural nor limited. As the doves of his mother Venus guided the old Æneas to the golden branch, so may the hovering tenderness and winged watchfulness of a faithful mother still conduct her child to a wisdom better than gold. And the rod of the Teacher of Israel was not more potent to summon from beyond the sea whatever might plague and harass the oppressor and promote the deliverance and freedom of his people, than is that of the teacher at the present day to call up from over the ocean of the future a posterity which shall preserve, vindicate, and advance the liberties transmitted to them.

« AnteriorContinuar »