Posted by: Democratic Thinker | May 4, 2013

Horace Mann—Clergymen and Schools

American Thought

Horace Mann—American education pioneer—states his views on the sepatation of church and education.

A veteran teacher … declared to his own minister, “If you will not come to my school, I will not go to your church.”


Horace Mann (May 4, 1796—August 2, 1859)


Common School Journal.

Duty of Clergymen to Visit Schools.




IN our last number, we made a few observations respecting the duty of parents to co-operate with teachers, in the education of their children. A veteran teacher, of high standing among his professional brethren, has requested us to consider the subject whose title stands at the head of this article,—the duty of clergymen to visit schools;—and, when making the request, he said, that in his impatience, he had declared to his own minister, “If you will not come to my school, I will not go to your church.”

Without stopping to inquire whether the teacher is more bound to attend church, or the minister to visit schools, or whether the non-performance of duty by either party cancels the obligation of the other, we would respectfully but earnestly appeal to the clergymen of Massachusetts, not to forget, amid the pressure of their strictly parochial duties, the relation in which they stand to the Public Schools. Indeed, we presume that no one, at the present day, would gainsay the remark, that the visitation of the Public Schools is to be enumerated among parochial duties,—that it is part and parcel of the cure of souls. For, if children are allowed to grow up without intellectual cultivation and without the acquisition of knowledge,—if, in addition to that wild exuberance of the appetites and passions, which characterizes barbarian life, their vigorous propensities shall shoot forth untrained and unpruned amid all the hot excitements with which they are plied by the luxuries and the ambitions of our present half-civilization, or one-sided civilization,—if they are suffered, we say, to develop themselves, uncounselled and unrestrained, amid these goading stimulants, each clergyman will soon have heathen in abundance to preach to, in his own parish; and he may go on a daily mission to pagans, without quitting his own society.

There are peculiar relations which the Common Schools bear to each of the learned professions. In all cases, these relations should secure their several interests and regards; but, in no other case are they so intimate, so obligatory, and so highly remunerative, as in that of the clerical.

For centuries, almost all the learning of the world was confined to the ecclesiastical orders. When schools were established, subsequently to the reformation, clergymen were their teachers. But the duty of ministering to the adult portion of the community, and, at the same time, of instructing its youth, being considered too burdensome, the latter function was devolved upon laymen. Hence, lay teachers at first were only substitutes for clerical teachers. In Scotland, at the present day, great numbers,—probably a great majority,—of all the masters are clergymen in orders, waiting for a parish. In the State of New York, indeed, at an early day, clergymen were constitutionally debarred from holding any civil office under the government, and an ineligibility to all school offices was generally held to be within the disfranchisement; but in New England, the tutelary relation which they originally bore to the schools has never been dissolved. It is true, indeed, throughout New England, that the relation between the minister and the school is no longer what it once was; but the nature of their respective functions, as we will proceed to show, establishes between them, to a great extent, a community of interests and objects, which nothing but the prostitution of a legitimate influence to unjust and unholy purposes can ever dissolve.

The first motive we would present to clergymen to induce them to cultivate an acquaintance with the schools is, that it is the best method of ingratiating themselves with the youth of the community.

Once, the clergymen of Massachusetts were settled over territorial parishes,—just as a governor or a proconsul was ruler over a province. All persons, within certain geographical boundaries, belonged to the parochial jurisdiction of the one, as all within the limits of the province came within the civil jurisdiction of the other. Then, the minister spoke of his parish as a man speaks of his farm. Every child born within the parochial limits was supposed to owe a sort of allegiance to the settled clergyman, whoever he might be, or whatever he might be; in the same way as, according to the English law, every one born within the four seas, becomes irredeemably, by that event, a subject of the British crown. The priest said “my people,” and the people said “my priest.”

We need not stop to contemplate the half-Papal authority which sometimes grew out of this relation when skilfully used; but we, though claiming no wisdom or honor on account of our advanced age, are still old enough to have seen and heard a clergyman, at the church door, on the Sabbath, stop, and order a company of full-grown men into the meeting-house, just as a schoolmaster, at the present day, orders a group of loitering boys into the schoolroom.

But the right of parochial expatriation, at first yielded, with reluctance and exercised with many embarrassments and disabilities, soon became common; and, at last, a revolution in public sentiment, which is not likely ever to go backward, swept away every barrier which obstructed egress; and now, a child that is born, or a man who establishes his residence, under the eaves of a church, is no more bound, and feels himself no more bound, to the fellowship or the faith of those who worship in it,—his own fathers though they may be,—than the swallow, that builds her nest in the belfry for one year, feels bound to return to it the next, though she might find elsewhere a sunnier spot and a balmier atmosphere.

Now, can any substitute or equivalent, on the part of the clergyman, be found for this lost advantage? A child, at the present day, instead of being necessarily born inside of a parish, as all children were of old, is necessarily born outside of it; instead of having civil relations with a religious body in spite of himself, he has no such relations in spite of himself, and must continue to have none, until he himself shall create them by his own voluntary act. How, then, is he to become acquainted with the shepherds of the folds around him, or they with him? An occasional passing by each other in the streets will never establish such an acquaintance. A chance introduction, should that happen, will never do it. Hearing parents speak of the members and pastors of all religious societies except their own, as wolves in sheep’s clothing, is a most untoward way to open an avenue to affection and brotherhood. Even the Sunday school will do it but to a very limited degree. But clergymen have this resource left,—they can become acquainted with children, they can make children acquainted with them, in the schools. A love for the young; a deep sympathy with their pleasures; the enviable power of addressing them, in an intelligible and captivating manner, so as to present before them noble thoughts in childlike words, and fire their young hearts to lofty and generous deeds by simple narrative or illustration,—these are legitimate means of proselyting;—if, indeed, it be not wholly inadmissible to use so odious a word to describe so glorious a work.

Here, then, we say, is a way in which clergymen can more than re-instate themselves in their former prerogatives. They may establish a stronger bond than any which can grow out of local relationship or governmental arrangement. They may make friends and followers, not because of living within certain boundary lines, but because of deep moral affinities; and if the children of any bigoted parents have been taught to believe that beneath the sacerdotal robes of all the priesthood, except those of their own sect, a cloven foot is concealed, or a caudal appendage curled away out of sight, they may find, at these interviews, made rich with wisdom and warmed by genial affections, that those, whom they had been taught to look upon as hideous, are formed in the finest lineaments of humanity.

Such a useful and honorable mode of ingratiating themselves with children is commended to the profession, not only by public but by personal considerations; for it cannot be denied that while the situation of the teacher is growing more permanent and stable, that of a clergyman is becoming less so. Indeed, it has been often remarked of late, that clergymen should be settled—on horseback.

2. When a clergyman visits schools and assists teachers, he is doing, in the most efficient way, a very important part of his own work.

There is a broad and glorious field of duty that lies equally within the jurisdiction of the clergyman and the teacher. The whole domain of morality is possessed by them in common. To say the very least, all the preceptive parts of the gospel belong as appropriately and completely to the schoolroom as to the pulpit. The teacher must attend to certain literary punctilios and peccadilloes, with which the clergyman, merely as a clergyman, has nothing to do; and the clergyman has afield of doctrinal theology, with which the teacher, merely as a teacher, has no concern; but the cultivation of all the social virtues, the suppression and extirpation of all the social vices,—emphatically, the tracing back of conduct to the motives of the heart where it originated, and where all good and all evil have their residence,—this is their common work. Gentleness, kindness, benevolence, truth, probity, filial duty, respect for age, reverence for things sacred, veneration for the character and obedience to the laws of God!—rudeness of manner, coarseness of speech, profaneness, anger, revenge, uncharitableness, an unforgiving spirit, dishonesty, irreverence, forget fulness of the Author of all good!—to lead children into that Paradise and out of this Gehenna, is the joint and holy service, both of teacher and preacher. And the two, unitedly and harmoniously laboring together for this end, can do far more than twice as much as one of them alone.

Then there are the great social reforms of the age,—the cause of temperance, of peace, of emancipation,—in which all clergymen and teachers, from the moral nature of their functions, are bound to feel an interest; and yet how laborious, how nearly impossible, are these reforms among a people who never had their sympathies, their conscience, and their moral sentiments awakened in childhood! If children have been habituated to such spectacles as the fighting of dogs or of game cocks; if they have been allowed to quarrel among themselves; if they have grown up amidst a public sentiment, that the heaviest fist and the strongest arm make the best fellow, and that a man who is a “dead shot” is a “live king” wherever he goes,—ministers may preach till doomsday against the miseries and the atrocities of war, but even to the last, their voices will be drowned by the mustering of troops and the acclamations of triumph; and their church bells will be rung over their own heads, in honor of blood-bought, murder-bought victories.

The reason why the abominations of war are so little deplored, in this boasted age of light, is, because children have been educated for war, brought up to honor it, from the time when their little hands could marshal a file of tin soldiers in the nursery, or rub-a-dub a drum round the door-yard, to the time when they themselves have put on the piebald, harlequin livery of a soldier, to be gazed at by other children, as much less silly than themselves as they are less advanced in years. In this way, before they came to years of discretion, their habits had been fixed by others, who, though they may have arrived at the years, have missed the discretion that belongs to them.

The grand reason why Temperance has made so little advance with the present generation, is, that this generation, almost without exception, were educated to be drunkards;—trained to it by seeing intoxicating liquors mingled with all festivities and all labors, and feeling the suicidal exhilarations of their unnatural stimulus. And so of every thing else; yet children may be saved; but, let it be remembered, no moral reform has ever yet embraced a community of men who had passed middle life; and clergymen may about as well preach to the tenants of the churchyard as to those of the church itself, if some teacher has not gone before them, and, like the voice of one crying in the wilderness, made the crooked paths straight and the rough places smooth.

3. We proceed to consider the relation which a clergyman bears to the intellect of the congregation he addresses. This is peculiar. It is far more intimate than that which exists between speaker and hearer, or writer and reader, in any other department. The scientific or philosophical writer knows that he writes only for a few, and that, let him write ever so well, but few will read his productions. The chemist in writing on chemistry, or the zoologist in describing any of the genera or species of animals, addresses a most learned class, and if he can be understood by them, his end is answered. The lawyer, in arguing causes before a court, knows he is addressing men who are among the most intelligent in the land; and, even in advocating a cause before a jury, he speaks to a picked class; for jurors are selected from the mass of the people, with some reference to their character and knowledge of affairs. The physician does not profess to explain the principles on which he proceeds, or describe the nature of the remedies he uses, and his prescriptions will operate with as much efficacy on the ignorant as on the learned,—perhaps with a little more. But the devoted, conscientious clergyman is as much interested in the humblest, obscurest, most ignorant and most debased member of his society, or of his community, as with the most polished, cultivated, and exemplary;—nay, more, for it is his especial duty to seek and to save the lost. How crippled and hamstrung, then, is he, when he meets ignorance, when he encounters an incapacity to fasten attention, or an inability to perceive the connection between premises and conclusions. If he prepares any thing worthy the attention of intelligent hearers, worthy of the subject or of himself, he is as unintelligible to the uncultivated portion of his audience, as though he spoke to them in an unknown tongue. That degree of intelligence that can comprehend the meaning of all common words; that discipline of mind that can fix attention, and keep it fixed, even amid disturbing causes; that logical training of the faculties, which can grasp a whole discourse or address, as a single syllogism, and can see and feel the beauty of a well-deduced conclusion;—all these are but preparatives, and should be conditions precedent to the clergyman’s appropriate work. He ought not to be obliged, through the ignorance of his auditors, to abandon the sublimest themes of time and eternity, and to confine himself to mere nursery talk or Sunday school rudiments. This work is in its nature preliminary, and should have been done beforehand. The development of the faculties; the power of riveting attention; the ability to examine every link between the two ends of a logical chain, and to test its soundness; to unravel sophistries, or, at least, to follow the hand that unravels them,—are the appropriate work of the schoolroom. What class, in the whole community, then, so interested in the education of children as the ministerial? Does it not seem as though every clergyman must look upon every teacher as, in a most important sense, the preparer of his materials,—as one who is already prescribing a boundary, either ample or restricted, to the success of his own labors?

An anecdote is somewhere related,—we think it is of the army of Bonaparte in the Egyptian campaign,—that on one occasion, they found their enemy intrenched behind a mud fort. As usual, in attacking a fortified line, they began to play upon it with their artillery. But it was soon seen that this cannonading was futile, for every shot that reached its destination plumped into the mud, and was lost. Had the fortification been of wood, it would soon have been shivered beneath the iron hail of a park of artillery; had it been of granite, it would have been battered and pulverized; had it been of iron even, its cohesion would have been destroyed by the weight and force of the metal discharged against it. But it was mud, and therefore proof against the enemy’s heaviest shot or shells, which, as they struck, slumped into its bowels with a sound that made the idea of danger ridiculous; for these ponderous implements of death, as they went in, became as harmless as the bubble that came out to tell their fate. Such are the odds against a clergyman, though clad in divinest panoply and armed with weapons of celestial temper, when he attacks a human soul intrenched behind ignorance. The everlasting obligations of right and duty, the fearful retributions of conscience, the persuasive appeals or threatenings of the gospel, the eternal relations which things present bear to things which are to come,—in fine, the whole armament of love and of terror with which the ambassador of Christ is to fulfil his sublime mission upon earth;—all sink into ignorance, like the volleys of a park of artillery into an embankment of mud!

Such are some of the considerations by which we would appeal to the learned clergy of Massachusetts to appropriate no inconsiderable part of their time, of their talents, and of that ability to interest the young which is, or should be, the result and fruit of all their attainments and advantages, to promote the welfare of the Common Schools. Let them strip off their canonicals, whether of dress, of manner, or of feeling, enter the schoolroom without ceremony, address the scholars familiarly, affectionately, sympathizingly, in the spirit of Him who took little children in his arms, and blessed them; and they will win a hundred times more hearts to a love of goodness and truth, than by distant and formal appeals made from the pulpit. We could name many clergymen, in different parts of the Commonwealth, who, on being first settled in a town, made it their business, as it was their pleasure, to become acquainted with the children in the schools; and who, after the lapse of a dozen or more years, when those children had become men and women, neighbors and fellow-citizens, found themselves surrounded by a society, by whom they were honored and beloved; and by whom, had worldly misfortunes befallen them, or had the tongue of malice or falsehood assailed them, they would have been bounteously succored and triumphantly vindicated.

What we have said carries no implication with it, that the clergy have not rendered most essential and invaluable services to the cause. An earnest appeal for further aid is by no means incompatible with a grateful acknowledgment of past services.

Horace Mann, The Common School Journal (August 15, 1846).

Related posts: