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Popular Education For the use of Parents and Teachers, and for Young Persons of Both SexesPopular Education For the use of Parents and Teachers, and for Young Persons of Both Sexes by Ira Mayhew
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Started the book with a lot of skepticism as it starts with statements like Christian Morals should be taught in the school and that the students should be made to read Bible. But as I read the book I was able to appreciate much of the contents of the book. Although it has been written more than 150 years ago, many of the suggestions that is specified in the book is relevant even today, at least in India.

Some of the contents that put me off were “But these countries, occupied formerly by straggling hordes of miserable savages, who could scarcely defend themselves against the wild beasts that shared the wood with them, and the inclemencies of the weather, and the consequences of want and fatigue; and who to each other were often more dangerous than wild beast, unceasingly warring among themselves and destroying each other with every species of savage, and even cannibal cruelty – countries so occupied formerly, are now become the abodes of myriads of peaceful, civilised, and friendly men, where the desert and impenetrable forest are changed into cultivated fields, rich gardens, and magnificent cities”. Reeks of white man’s burden. What scares is the last sentence which speaks of converting “forests into cultivated fields, rich gardens, and magnificent cities”. The results of this is for everybody to see. No green cover and global warming.

In another part he suggests that the blind should not be allowed to reproduce so that over a period of time there are not blind in the world. He suggests that the blind should voluntarily agree to the suggestion. “And can you doubt whether or not this great proportion of blind to the whole community might not be considerably diminished, if men and women understood the organic laws of their nature? understood that, very often, blindness is the punishment following an infringement of the natural laws of God; and if they could be made to act upon the holy Christian principles, that we would deny ourselves any individual gratification, any selfish desire, that may result in evil to the whole community?”

Later these rantings stop and he makes more sensible statements. Speaking about voluntary and involuntary muscles he says “Here then, we have another beautiful illustration of the wisdom and beneficence of the Creator in so ordering that those muscles which are essential to the continuation of life shall perform their functions without the control or attention of the individual.”

Speaking about how children should be allowed to be active he says “These remarks sufficiently explain why small children, after sitting a while in school, become restless. Proper regard for this organic law requires that the smaller children in school be allowed a recess as often, at least, as once and hour; and that all be allowed and encouraged frequently to change their position. I fully concur in the opinion expressed by Dr. Caldwell, who says, “It would be infinitely wiser and better to employ suitable persons to superintend the exercises and amusements of children under seven years of age, in the fields, orchards, and meadows, and point out to them the richer beauties of nature, than to have them immured in crowded school-rooms, in a state of inaction, porting over torn books and primers, conning words of whose meaning they are ignoring, and breathing foul air.””

At one place he speaks about slavery in a very mild manner as “Moreover, across the very center of our territory a line is drawn, on one side of which all labour is voluntary, while on the opposite side a system of involuntary servitude prevails.” This sounds like a sentence translated from plain English by somebody studying for GRE or CAT.

Some the basic requirements of successful democracy is specified in the following paragraphs:
The American Republic, above all others, demands from every citizen unceasing vigilance and exertion, since we have deliberately dispensed with every guard against danger or ruin except the intelligence and virtue of the people themselves. It is founded on the basis that people have wisdom enough to frame their own system of government, and public spirit enough to preserve it; that they can not be cheated out of their liberties, and they will not submit to have them taken from them by force. We have silently assumed the fundamental truth that, as it never can be the interest of the majority of the people to prostrate their own political equality and happiness, so the never can be seduced by flattery or corruption, by intrigues of faction or the arts of ambition, to adopt any measures which shall subvert them. If this confidence in ourselves is justified – and who among the Americans does not feel a pride in endeavouring to maintain it? Let us never forget that it can be justified only by watchfulness and zeal in proportion to our confidence. Let us never forget that we must prove ourselves wiser, better and purer than any other nation ever has yet been, if we are to count upon success. Every other republic has fallen by discords and treachery of its own citizens. It has been said by one of our own departed statesmen, himself a devout admirer of popular government, that power is perpetually stealing from the many to the few.
The institutions of a republic are endangered by the ignorance of the masses on the one hand, and by intelligent, but unprincipled and vicious aspirants to office and places of emolument on the other. Where these two classes coexist to any considerable extent, the safety of the republic is jeoparded; for they have a strong sympathy with each other, and it is the constant policy of the latter to increase the number of the former. They arouse their passions and stimulate their appetites, and then lead them in a way they know not. A barrel of whisky, or even of hard cider, with a “hurrah!” will control ten to one more of this class of voters than will the soundest arguments of enlightened and honorable statesmen. And yet one of these votes thus procured, when deposited in the ballot box counts the same as the vote of a Washington or a Franklin!
There is one remedy, and but one, for this alarming state of things, which prevails to a less or greater extent in almost every community. That remedy is simple. It consists in the establishment of schools for the education of the whole people. These schools, however, should be of a more perfect character than the majority of those which have hitherto existed. In them the principles of science. Cases of conscience should alternate with lessons in the rudiments. The rule requiring us to do to others as we would that they should do unto us, should be made as familiar as the multiplication table, and our youth should become familiar with the practical application of one as of the other.
Cannot be better said. Education is the key to successful democracy. Today’s India is a very apt example of how true these words are. More than half the Indians are illiterate and they are exploited election after election by the unscrupulous politicians to come back to power and grow richer and more powerful.

At another place the author again observes “A sound system of government requires the people to read and inform themselves upon political subjects; else they are prey of every quack, every impostor, and every agitator who may practice his trade in the country. If they do not read; if they do not learn; if they do not digest by discussion and reflection what they have read and learned; if they do not qualify themselves to form opinions for themselves, other men will form opinions for them, not according to the truth and the interests of the people, but according to their own individual and selfish interest which may, and most probably will, be contrary to that of the people at large”.

President Caldwell, of the University of North Carolina, in a series of letters on popular education, addressed to the people of that state a few years ago, proposes a plan for the improvement of common education. The first and greatest existing evil which he specifies is the want of qualified teachers. Any one who “knows how to read and write and cipher”, it is said, is regarded as fit to be a schoolmaster.
“Is a man”, remarks President Caldwell, “constitutionally and habitually indolent, a burden upon all from whom he can extract a support? Then there is one way of shaking him off; let us make him a schoolmaster! To teach a school is, in the opinion of many, little else than sitting still and doing nother. Has any man wasted all his property, or ended in debt by indiscretion and misconduct? The business of school-keeping stands wide open for his reception; and here he sinks to the bottom, for want of capacity to support himself. Has any one ruined himself, and done all he could to corrupt others by dissipation, drinking, seduction, and a course of irregularities? Nay, has he returned from a prison, after an ignominious atonement for some violation of the laws? He is destitute of character, and can not be trusted; but presently he opens a school, and the children are seen flocking to it; for, if he is willing to act in the capacity – we shall all admit that he can read, write and cipher to the square root – he will make an excellent schoolmaster. In short, it is no matter what the man is, or what his manners or principles; if he has escaped with his life from the penal code, we have the satisfaction to think that he can still have credit as a schoolmaster”. Indians should be able to relate to the above words. Our education system is plagued by all the problems stated above.

Another observation on democracy is “Still, if asked the broad question whether man is capable of self-government, I must answer it conditionally. If by man, in the inquiry, is meant the Fejee Islanders; or the convicts at Botany Bay; or the people of Mexico and of some of the South American Republics, so called; or those as a class, in our country, who can neither read nor write; or thise who can read and write, and who possess talents and an education by force of which they get treasury, or post-office, or bank appointments, and then abscond with all the money they can steal, I answer unhesitatingly that man, or rather such men, are not fit for self-government.”
How true

Speaking of how a school should be built the author says that these should be large edifices with enough room for children to play and be surrounded by nature so that the children can enjoy and learn at the same time.

The author repeatedly stresses on the need of good teachers for a school to be really successful.

Another pertinent observation “We have said, as is the teacher so will be the school. We might add, as are the wages, so ordinarily is the teacher. Let it be understood that in any township, county, or state, a high order of teachers is called for, and that an adequate remuneration will be given, and demand will be supplied. Well-qualified teachers will be called in from abroad until competent ones can be trained up at home. Here, as in other departments of labor, as is the demand, so will be the supply.” This explains the lack of good teachers in the Indian public schools.

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