No question is of such vital importance to the people as that of education. Nothing for which the State pays money yields so large a dividend upon the cost as the revenue expended upon the schools. From the humble scene of the teacher’s labors there are shot into the heart of society the great influences that kindle its ardors for activity, which light civilization on its widening way, and which hold the dearest interest of humanity in its hand. The statistics are the smallest exponents of our schools; there are values that cannot be expressed in dollars and cents.
In the early development of Kentucky there were a great many obstacles in the way of general education. The settlements were sparse, and money, or other means of remunerating teachers were scarce, as the pioneers of new countries are nearly always poor. There were no school-houses erected, nor was there any public school fund, either State or county. All persons of both sexes, who had physical strength enough to labor, were compelled to take their part in the work of securing a support, the labor of the female being as heavy and important as that of the man, and this continued so for years. In the last place both teachers and books were scarce. Taking all these facts together, the wonder is that they had any schools at all. But the pioneers of Kentucky deserve the highest praise for their prompt and energetic efforts in this direction. Just as soon as the settlements would justify, schools were begun at each one, and as population and wealth increased schoolhouses were built and educational facilities extended.
The Present School System (1884)
A few words of the present school system: The reader doubtless will find it of interest to learn where and when common schools originated. It is just possible, however, that there are some whose opinions will not be the more exalted by a knowledge of the birthplace of the common school system, on the same principle that the ancient Hebrews deemed it impossible for anything good to come out of Nazareth. But there is no reason why a good thing should be condemned on account of its place of origin. The question of educating the masses through the medium of the common schools was agitated as early as 1647 in New England. An act was passed that year to enable ” every child, rich and poor alike, to learn to read its own language.” This was followed by another act, ” giving to every town or district having fifty householders the right to have a common school,” and to ” every town or district having 100 families a grammar school, taught by teachers competent to prepare youths for college.” A writer, years afterward, commenting upon the act, states it to be the first instance in Christendom wherein a civil government took measures to confer upon its youth the benefits of an education. There had been parish schools connected with individual churches,, and foundations for universities, but never before embodied in practice a principle so comprehensive in its nature, and so fruitful in good results as that of training a nation of intelligent people by educating all its youth.” When our fathers, nearly a century and a half later, declared in the ordinance of 1787 that “knowledge, with religion and morality, was necessary to the good government of mankind,” they struck the key-note of American liberty. Science and literature began to advance after the adoption of that ordinance in a manner they had never done before, and the interest then awakened is still on the advance.
The governing power of every country upon the face of the globe is an educated power. The Czar of Russia, ignorant of international law, of domestic affairs, of finance; commerce, and the organization of armies and navies, could never hold under the sway of his scepter 70,000,000 of subjects. With what scrupulous care does England foster her great universities for the training of the sons of the nobility for their places in the House of Lords, in the army, navy and church! What then should be the character of citizenship in a country where every man is born a king and sovereign, heir to all the franchises and trusts of the State and Republic? An ignorant people can be governed, but only an intelligent and educated people can govern themselves; and that is the experiment we are trying to solve in these United States.
The first steps taken by Kentucky to extend the fostering aid of State patronage to the interests of general education were taken before the close of the last century. On the 10th of February, 1798, an act was approved by the State Legislature, donating and setting apart of the public lands of the Commonwealth 6,000 acres each, for the benefit and support of Franklin, Salem and Kentucky Academies, and for Lexington and Jefferson Seminaries. Similar acts were approved December 21, 1805, and January 27, 1808, embracing like provisions, and extending them to all the existing counties of the State. Within twenty years from the passage of the act of 1798, the following additional academies and seminaries were endowed with the grant of 6,000 acres each: Shelby, Logan, Ohio, Madison, New Athens, Bethel, Bourbon, Bracken, Bullitt, Fleming, Harrison, Hardin, Harrodsburg, Lancaster, Montgomery, New-port, Newton, Rittenhouse, Stanford, Washington, Winchester, Woodford, Somerset, Transylvania, Greenville, Glasgow, Liberty, Rockcastle, Lebanon, Knox, Boone, Clay, Estill, Henry, Greenup, Grayson, Warren, Breckinridge, Caldwell, Henderson, Union, Adair, Allen, Daviess and Pendleton.
An early law of Kentucky pertaining to the subject of education was, ” that all the lands lying within the bounds of this Common-wealth, on the south side of Cumberland River, and below Obed’s River, now vacant, etc., shall be reserved for the endowment and use of seminaries of learning throughout this Commonwealth.” The County Courts of the several counties were authorized to have surveyed, located and patented, within their respective counties, or within the above reserve, or elsewhere in the State, 6,000 acres each for seminary purposes, and all such lands were exempted from taxation. Noble as were the grants in purpose and plan, but little actual benefit was derived from them-at least not half the benefit that should have been. Under subsequent unwise acts, the lands were allowed to be sold by county authorities, and the proceeds prodigally expended, and in many cases recklessly squandered. The proceeds from the sale of these lands are in some counties wholly lost sight of; in other counties they remain in the hands of trustees appointed, and forgotten or neglected, by an indifferent public; while in other counties these funds are still held by trustees for their original uses. ” But for the want of wise laws and more competent and guarded management,” says Mr. Collins, ” a great plan and its means of success for the establishment and support of a system of public seminaries of a high order in each county was rendered an accomplished failure.”
Many laws have been enacted by the State Legislature providing for a general system of public schools, but most of them were so framed as to amount to little, or were altogether impracticable. In December, 1821, an act was passed which provided that “one-half the net profits of the Bank of the Commonwealth should be distributed in just proportions to the counties of the State for the support of a general system of education under legislative direction; and, that one-half of the net profits of the branch banks at Lexington, Danville and Bowling Green should be donated to Transylvania University, Center College and the Southern College of Kentucky respectively.” The fund thus derived amounted to some $60,000 per annum, until the failure, some years later, of the old Commonwealth’s Bank of Kentucky. A recent writer upon our school system makes this very pertinent observation: ” It is a singular phenomenon of the history of internal economy of our State, for seventy years, that our main attempts at internal improvements and public education, at State expense and under State superintendence, have been embarrassed or defeated almost wholly, by the misdirection and mismanagement of incompetent legislation.”
The origin of our ” permanently invested school fund ” was somewhat as follows: By an act of Congress, approved June 23, 1836, that body
Collins. apportioned about $15,000,000 of surplus money in the treasury to the several older States in the form of a loan, of which the share of Kentucky was $1,433,757. This fund was asked for and received by our State, with the expectation and intention of devoting it to school purposes, although no provision of the law imposed upon the State this obligation; yet, by different acts of the Legislature, the original fund was cut down until only $850,000 was finally set apart as the financial basis of our educational system. This is the history of the origin of Kentucky’s school fund, and for many years the only public school revenue was derived from it, and a portion is still derived from it. By accumulations of unexpended surplus from year to year, and the continual additions of this to the principal, this permanent fund is now about one and a half million dollars. But without going into a discussion of the school system and school laws of Kentucky, it is enough to say, and it is not out of place, either, that her educational system is lament-ably deficient, and not to be compared with those of other States of the Union whose natural resources of wealth are much less than Kentucky’s, and whose native intelligence is certainly no greater. There is no reason why the State of Kentucky should not have as good a system of public education as any State in the Union. No other State of like area is richer in natural wealth; none of like population contains more natural genius. The writer, who has spent considerable time in Illinois, Indiana and Ohio, and had abundant opportunities for observing their educational systems, and the practical workings of the same, has no hesitancy in saying, that the Committee on Education of the Kentucky Legislature might, in the systems of those States, find food for reflection, and find in them ideas and hints valuable to the system of common schools in our own State. As an example, a recent report of the State Board of Education of Ohio shows the following:
The receipts of school moneys for the year $11,243,210 38
Total expenditures for schools for the year 3,531,885 14
Leaving school fund balance $7,711,325 24
The following exhibit of Kentucky’s school fund, as shown by the report of the State Superintendent for 1880-81, is in painful contrast to that of Ohio:
Bond of the Commonwealth held by the Board of Education.. . $1,327,000 00
Stock in the Bank of Kentucky 73,500 00
Total $1,400,500 00 Interest on bond of the’ Commonwealth at 6 per cent. $ 79,620 00
Dividends on Bank of Kentucky stock…. 5,880 00
From all other sources 512,692 50
598,192 50 Total $1,998,692 50
This, by all warm friends of education, must be looked on as a reproach to the great State of Kentucky. With her vast resources of wealth she might as well have a permanent school fund of $10,000,000 as to have the insignificant sum given above. It is not, however, that the people are unfriendly to general education, but owing more to incompetent legislation.
Early Schools and Schoolhouses
That the people took an interest in education early is evidenced in the fact that as early as 1775 we have an account of a school in the wilderness of Kentucky, seventeen years before it became a State. This school was taught at Harrod’s Station by a Catholic lady, Mrs. Coomes, and is no doubt the first school of any kind ever taught in Kentucky. Transylvania University (of Lexington), the first institution of learning of a higher grade established west of the Allegheny Mountains, was chartered by the General Assembly of Virginia in 1780. As we have already stated, schools were established in the various settlements almost as soon as the settlements were made, and were sometimes even taught in the stations and block-houses when it was not safe to venture beyond their protecting walls. This spirit of education has never flagged among the mass of the people, and it has been to their great disadvantage, particularly to the poorer classes, who are not able to send their children off to the seminaries, academies and colleges, that the system of public schools has not been improved to the extent it has deserved, and should be in every State of the Union. The great prejudice against the common schools is fast dying out in the Southern States, and it is an excellent sign of the ” good time coming ” that it is so. The wealthiest counties of Kentucky are becoming their best friends, and tax payers are voting levies upon themselves to build schoolhouses, improve the quality, and extend the term of the schools. Tasteful and comfortable houses are being built by scores every year, and a home supply of teachers is being supplied from the best young men and women of the State. Impecunious tramps and shiftless natives are no longer palmed off as teachers. The system has ceased to be an infirmary for the lame and halt and feeble. Incompetents ” to be provided for” no more are pensioned upon the bounty of the school fund. We accept these improvements as an omen of the awakening to the importance of education through the medium of a perfected system of public schools.
Schools of the County
The following sketch of the schools of the county is by Judge G. A. Champlin, County School Commissioner. The first School Commissioner of Christian County was Enoch A. Brown, father of our present Sheriff, a man of naturally fine intellectual endowments and well educated for that early period. He was appointed about 1845, and served until the sixth of October, 1856, having laid off forty districts. No. 1 was established about 1815, and was located west of Crofton, the boundary beginning at Thomas M. Long’s. No. 2 included what is now Kelly’s Station, and the surrounding country. The Hopkinsville District was numbered 37. All of these forty districts, except some five or six, were located in the northern portion of the county. The common school fund was small, only 5 cents on the $100 of taxable property being levied and collected up to the year 1870. It was insufficient to employ competent teachers, and the result was that schools were not regularly taught. In many of the districts but little interest was manifested by the people. In the southern portion of the county the people relied almost entirely upon private schools, and did not attempt to avail themselves of the benefit of the fund. Prior to the passage of the law giving additional aid to common schools of 15 cents on the $100 only about one-half of the county had been districted.
Under the school law the money set aside to each county and not drawn and used by reason of schools not being taught, went to the credit of the surplus fund, and was converted into bonds or loaned out for the benefit of the respective counties that had failed to have schools. From the examination of the reports of the Superintendent of Public Instruction it appears that the amount to the credit of Christian County is $15,224.36, which pays annually from the interest thereon 15 cents per capita; only three counties derive from this source a larger per capita. Most of the other counties having used the fund and taken greater interest in common schools, derive but a small sum from this source. From the fact that the funds were not used in part it resulted that this county has since 1870 had a larger fund for the benefit of her schools than the other counties except three, as already stated.
In October, 1856, John P. Ritter was elected Common School Commissioner. He was a young man of promise, very well educated, and manifested considerable interest in education. He could do little, how-ever, on account of the indifference of the people as to common schools. About the commencement of the war, James Moore, a very estimable gentleman who had the confidence of everybody, became County School Commissioner. He kept his books with great accuracy, but was unable to visit the different schools on account of his extreme age. He made a good Commissioner, and did what he could to encourage education. Mr. Moore died in the summer or fall of 1870.
In October, 1870, G. A. Champlin, the present incumbent, became School Commissioner. The census of the previous year showed only 2,100 children of the requisite pupil age. The Commissioner proceeded to district the balance of the county and have houses built. In two years the census showed 5,000 children, and has been increasing in numbers every year since, until 6,000 was shown by the last census, with a present number of eighty-four districts. In the meantime the schoolhouses, which were with two or three, exceptions log, and not good at that, have been rebuilt and greatly improved. Schools are taught in every district, except one to three, for a few of the years. The people have gradually taken more and more interest in common schools, and the teachers employed are better qualified than formerly.
In 1881 the people of Hopkinsville established the Hopkinsville graded schools, which have done much to aid and encourage education in the county. The teachers of the common schools throughout the county have gained much valuable information from the improved methods of teaching used. by the Principal and teachers of these schools, and they have given a new impetus to the common schools of the county.
In addition to the white schools, the county is divided into forty-one school districts, under the educational system inaugurated for the benefit of the colored people. The State appropriation to the county for colored schools was $2,234.36. The State Superintendent’s report shows the number of colored children between six and sixteen years to be 4,542, and that the colored people have sixteen log schoolhouses, valued at $585, and seven frame buildings, valued at $1,485. It is a fact highly creditable to the colored people that they are taking an interest, that is yearly in-creasing, in the cause of education.
An extract from the report of Rev. H. A. M. Henderson, while State Superintendent of Public Instruction, is worthy of a place in these pages. He says: ” The State plants its right to educate upon the foundation that intelligent citizenship is the bulwark of free institutions. It educates for its own protection. Each free elector holds in the ward of his ballot the measure of the State’s interest. ‘An uneducated ballot is the winding sheet of liberty.’ The principle of sovereignty in a republican government resides in the individual citizen. The expression of the popular will by a majority at the polls, in a fairly conducted election, is but the aggregate expression of American sovereignty. The people, by their votes, determine who shall represent their sovereign will. How to wield this power for good, is the supreme question for the State. An ignorant people, manipulated by corrupt leaders, becomes the worst of all tyrants. The idea that the majority can do no wrong is only equaled by that monstrous political dogma of imperialism: ‘ The king can do no wrong.’ Nothing is so wrong as a deluded, demagogue-directed majority. It holds power, and when it determines to run riot over the peace and prosperity of society, a political wolf howls hungry for prey along our highways, and a ravening leopard keeps ward and watch at the crossings of the streets in our towns and cities. No maxim ever embodied a more pernicious error than the trite proverb, ‘ The voice of the people is the voice of God.’ This would be true if the people were God-like. This can only be true when intelligence determines public questions, and patriot-ism executes its verdicts. See what corrupt ignorance, introduced to power, did for the States of the South! Consider what negro supremacy entailed upon South Carolina! Color and latitude work no changes in the capacities of venal ignorance for harm, when entrusted with the reins of power. The greatest crime of the century was the sudden enfranchisement of 4,000,000 of unlettered Africans. Those who perpetrated this outrage upon our republican institutions, did it in the face of all the social science they had propagated. The North had emphasized the doctrine that virtue and intelligence are essential to the perpetuity of the Republic; and yet, in an ill-advised hour of heated passion, rendered hot by the fires of civil war, they made a horde of ignorant slaves the peers of their intelligent masters, and thus provided the conditions that prostrated the South, and subjected its people to the most destroying despot-ism that ever ground into the dust a free citizenship. The only indemnity for this stupendous wrong, is their education at the national expense. To require the people they impoverished by this act of folly to bear the burden of their education would be a continued piece of injustice which no political casuistry can justify, no species of sophistry disguise, and no maudlin philanthropy dignify with a decent apology.
“But Kentucky has 40,000 white voters who cannot read. Add to these 55,000 enfranchised negroes, and we have 95,000-one-third of our entire electoral population-ignorant of the very means by which to acquaint themselves with the merits of questions submitted for their decision at the polls. Let this mighty census of ignorance increase until it becomes the dominant majority-and grow it would, if left to itself, without State encouragement for its own improvement-and seat itself in power, and we have no reason to expect that Kentucky would escape the same or like disasters that have overtaken and overwhelmed every people that ever dared the fearful experiment.”
The subject of compulsory education is one that is attracting much attention of late years, and already the Legislatures of many States have passed laws compelling parents and guardians, even against their will, to send their children to school. There is no doubt but a great good would be wrought if the wisdom of the General Assembly could devise some means to strengthen and supplement the powers of Boards of Education, and enable them to prevent truancy, even if only in cases where parents desire their children to attend school regularly, but where parental authority is too weak to secure that end. The instances are not few in which parents would welcome aid in this matter, knowing that truancy is often the first step in a path leading through the dark mazes of idleness, vagabondage and crime. Youthful idlers upon the streets of towns and cities should be gathered up by somebody and compelled to do something. If they learn nothing else, there will be at least this salutary lesson, that society is stronger than they, and without injuring them will use its strength to protect itself. While reform schools are being established for those who have started in the way to their own ruin, and have donned the uniform of the enemies of civil society, it would be heavenly wisdom to provide some way to rescue those who are yet lingering around the camp.
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