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Parent Category: Kansas State History Articles
Category: Kansas Education
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Mr. Chairman, And Ladies And Gentlemen: During my school days I frequently heard, and occasionally took part in, animated debates as to the relative influence and usefulness of the pen or the sword, the lawyer, the doctor, or the minister. I do not remember that the labor of the teacher was ever discussed in these eager, if somewhat callow, controversies. Yet, if any thoughtful, intelligent man were asked to pass judgment upon the comparative value of human activities, I am sure he would make answer that the public educator leads all the rest. 

I do not say this, teachers of Kansas, because I am in your presence. Nor do I say it in any spirit of flattery. I am speaking of the duties, responsibilities and opportunities of your profession, rather than of the individuals who are engaged in teaching. For, I regret to say, I have known teachers who were no better qualified to guide, instruct and inspire the boys and girls in their charge than a painted Indian is fitted to illustrate the virtues and graces of true Christian life and character. But the incompetency or unworthiness of individual teachers does not detract in the least degree from the statement I make, that there is no occupation so important in the economy of the State, no profession so far-reaching and universal in its influence on society, as that of the public educator.

Some one has said that there is nothing on this earth so pure and plastic as a human soul and mind fresh from the hands of its Creator. Guileless, questioning, impressionable, its bright young eyes looking fearlessly into the unfathomable future, the child comes to the teacher to be armed and trained for the hard, stern duties of this busy, care-burdened, practical world. How shall it be developed to true manhood and womanhood? How shall the ideals of its fresh, unconscious childhood be conformed to the real in humanity without making the child either a pert, superficial prig, a carping, sneering, skeptical pedant, or a visionary, incapable theorist? These are the questions to which the teacher must make reply.

I do not assume that I can aid you in solving these problems. I wish only to present to you, as clearly and as earnestly as possible, the grave responsibilities you have assumed. The wisest and greatest men in all ages and countries have exalted the profession of the teacher. “Public education,” said Napoleon, “should be the first object of government.” Burke declared that “education is the chief defense of nations.” Edward Everett affirmed that “education is a better safeguard of liberty than a standing army.” Horace Mann said that “school-houses are the republican line of fortifications.” Emerson defined education as “the arming of the man.” These declarations are self-evident truths. No intelligent persons will dispute them. And you, teachers of Kansas, realizing the importance of your responsibilities, as I have no doubt you do, ought to realize also the necessity of fitting yourselves for the work you have undertaken.

In the charming stories of that great master of English fiction, Charles Dickens, there are sketches of schools, scholars and teachers that every public educator might read with profit. I am confident we have no Yorkshire schools and schoolmasters in Kansas—schools in which every young affection, every kindly sympathy, every hopeful aspiration, was flogged and starved to death. I hope, too, that we have no schools like that in which poor little Paul Dombey was crammed to an untimely grave—schools in which the studies “went round like a mighty wheel, and the young gentlemen were stretched upon it.” But I fear that mechanical schoolmasters of the Bradley Headstone class, and schools like that of David Copperfield, with its unwholesome smells, its dirty floors and its ink-stained walls, are not wholly unknown in this country. Let us hope they are very few, and growing fewer as the years go on. Kansas people take just pride in saying that the best building in every town, village or neighborhood in the State is the school-house, and it is pleasant to believe that the young life within them all is as sweet, as happy and as healthful as the flowers, the birds, and the air of our prairies. In the “Old Curiosity Shop” there is a picture, homely but delightful, of a school whose influences would run like a golden thread through the life of every child brought within their scope. You remember it, I am sure—the picture of the simple-hearted, kindly old teacher, whose thoughts went wandering across the fields to the bedside of the scholar he loved; the patient, faithful old master whose rollicking boys were one and all the children of his heart and hopes; the shrewd and sympathetic old man who, when the forbidden shouts and laughter of his pupils on the playground jarred upon his mournful thoughts, said: “It’s natural, thank Heaven, and I’m very glad they didn’t mind me.”

The way to the heart of a child is not difficult to find, and the teacher who is at once friend, confidant, sympathizer and instructor, has found it, and thus lightened not only his own burdens but those of his pupils. The true teacher, the successful educator, the really great master, is one who stimulates the ambition of his scholars, and, with ready tact and helpful sympathy, awakens and develops all that is best and brightest in their natures. It was his kindness and sympathy, no less than his great learning, that gave Arnold of Rugby his world-wide fame. It was his enthusiastic love for his work no less than his wisdom that gave Horace Mann his high rank as an educator.

But I am detaining you too long. I gladly discharge the pleasant duty assigned me, and cordially welcome you to the Capital. That sturdy old Scotch statesman, Fletcher of Saltoun, writing to the Earl of Montrose, two hundred years ago, said: “I knew a very wise man that believed that, if a man were permitted to make all the ballads, he need not care who should make the laws of a nation.” I welcome you, teachers of Kansas, as men and women who could say, with far more truth: “In educating the boys and girls of the State, we inspire its sentiment, control its business, direct its enterprise, and make its laws.” No one could aspire to a nobler, greater work than yours, and in assembling here you make manifest the fact that you realize the vast importance of your duties. I trust your meeting will be pleasant and instructive, and that you will one and all return to your homes inspired with renewed ardor for your work, and with larger, broader, more exalted views of its great dignity and greater responsibilities. To those here assembled, and to all the faithful, earnest teachers of Kansas, I address Shakespeare’s language:

“I praise the Lord for you; and so may my parishioners; for their sons are well tutored by you, and their daughters profit very greatly under you. You are good members of the Commonwealth.”

Address before the State Teachers’ Association, held at Topeka, December 28th, 1885

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