Truancy and Non-Attendance in the Chicago Schools
Appendix 1: Extracts from Documents Relating to the Agitation for a System of Free Schools and a Compulsory Attendance Law
Edith Abbott and Sophonisba P. Breckinridge
Extracts from (1) Communication of Governor Duncan to the General Assembly, 1834; (2) Report to the State Senate, 1834: Organization of a State-Wide System of Free Schools; (3) Memorial of the Illinois Education Society to the General Assembly, 1841; (4) Inaugural Address of Governor Ford, 1842; (5) Memorial in Behalf of Common Schools, 1844; (6) Message of Governor Ford to the General Assembly, 1844; (7) Report of the First State Superintendent of Common Schools, 1853; (8) Inaugural Message of Governor Matteson, 1853; (9) Biennial Report of the State Superintendent of Common Schools, 1853; (to) ibid., 1855; (11) Message of Governor Matteson to the Twentieth General Assembly, 1857; (12) Report of the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, 1867-68; (13) ibid., 1869-70; (14) ibid., 1871-72.
(1) Extract from Communication of Governor Duncan to the Ninth General
Assembly, December 3, 1834
As every country is prosperous and respected in proportion to the virtue and intelligence of its inhabitants, the subject of education will doubtless again form an important part of your deliberations. The State possesses a fund devoted to this purpose, amounting to something over one hundred thousand dollars. As this amount, if invested in stocks, is too small to produce an annual income at an proportionate to the wants of the present generation, I would recommend that a system be adopted, by which the amount of this fund may be divided equally among the people, and applied to the purposes of education, which may also provide for the future division, upon the same principle, of such other sums as may hereafter be derived from the United States, on account of the three per cent. set apart from. receipt on sales of the public lands, the school sections, and such other sources as can, with propriety, be provided.
In a State like this, many parts of which are sparsely settled by people encountering those difficulties incident to the improvement of a new country, it would be wrong to think of accumulating a fund out of our present resources, for the exclusive education of future generations; while those, who are in a few years to give character to our society, and to direct the operations of our government, are permitted to grow up without the possibility of obtaining an education -- that greatest of human blessings.
It becomes us to use every exertion in our power to instruct those who are immediately dependent upon us, and leave to those who come after us, the rich revenues to be derived from the lands, canals and other improvements, to form a permanent fund to carry out any plans you may now adopt for the purposes of education.
This view of the case derives force from the fact, that the general government in setting apart this fund and a portion of the public land for education, intended it as an inducement to the early settlement of the country. It would seem unjust therefore, that those who have done so much to fill the national treasury, and advance the interests of the country, should be compelled to witness a fund, intended as a reward for their labors and sacrifices, laid by for the benefit of those who may come after them.
A government like ours, controlled and carried on by the will of the people, should be careful to use all the means in its power, to enlighten the minds of those who are destined to exercise so important a trust. This, and every consideration connected with the virtue, elevation, and happiness of man, and the character and prosperity of our state, and of our common country, calls upon you to establish some permanent system of common schools, by which an education may be placed within the power, nay, if possible, secured to every child in the State.
(2) Organization of a State-Wide System of Free Schools (Extract from Me Journal of the Senate, Ninth General Assembly, February, 1835)
"Knowledge is power," and if knowledge be confined to a few, no matter by what name our government may be called, it would not be a republic, but an aristocracy. If, in our own community, a
(356) certain portion of the people be permitted to remain in ignorance, that portion will be better fitted for the use of the other, than they will be to discharge the duties imposed upon them by their country. It is the true policy of a free government to remove all unnecessary distinctions among its citizens, and to make all equal, not by pulling down those who are above, but by raising those who are below . . . . .
Our government is not adapted to an ignorant community, and its free institutions cannot long be supported by an ignorant people. Would we then preserve and perpetuate the free institutions of our country, one thing is essential, and that is, universal education. He who stops short of that, stops short of universal liberty.
Universal education, then, is the great object to be gained, but how shall this be done? The answer is, by means of schools . . . . . Without the aid of schools, there can be no hope of an intelligent community . . . . .
What kind of schools will be most likely to accomplish our great object? In some portions of our country the schools have been left almost entirely to individual exertion. In those portions, many persons may be found who are unable to read, especially among the poorer class of people. The same may be said of the poor schools, which have been established by law in some of the states. In those states, the legislatures seem to have acted upon a wrong principle. The education of the poor was regarded as an act of charity. "Let the rich educate themselves," they said, "and we will educate the poor." Now, whether this principle be right or wrong, its operation will at least show that it would be impracticable to adopt it here: for where it has prevailed, according to the best information that can be obtained, one third part of the whole people are unable to read, and what is more unfortunate still, that third part is chiefly confined to the poor. This principle would do very well for a monarchy, whose policy was to keep a portion of its subjects in ignorance; but in a government like outs, where the doctrine of equal rights is so much cherished, it seems strangely inconsistent that a principle which degrades the poor man, because he is poor, should so long prevail. This is, in reality, its effect, for the poor man has no chance to rise in the world, unless it be by education. Give him this, and he is, at
(357) once, placed upon a level with the rich--deny him this, and he is degraded.
In other portions a different principle has been adopted. Common education is regarded as a public benefit, and the schools are thrown open to all alike-they are free. The rich man's son, and the poor man's son meet on the same common level. Free schools have been adopted in the New-England states, New-York, and Ohio. What has been their effect ? for the principle, in this case, as in others, can be tested by its effects. In every state where free schools have long prevailed, it is very difficult to find a single person who is unable to read and write. The principle may be further tested by a well authenticated fact. In New-York, the proportion of children in schools, compared with the whole population, is as one to three and nine-tenths; in Massachusetts, as one to four; in Connecticut, as one to between five and six, in Kentucky, Virginia, and Illinois, according to the most accurate estimation, as one to about thirteen.
Where free schools prevail, the state exacts of its people what they may have to give; of the rich man his money-of the poor man his children, educated and qualified to support the great principles of enlightened liberty. Free schools (and it cannot be said of any others) break down the unnatural distinctions in society. They carry out the doctrine of equality, and bring all upon a level, by making all enlightened. They have accomplished what no other schools have ever yet accomplished-universal education. We may, then, safely come to the conclusion, that, whatever may be the system adopted in this state, the schools should be free. They are indeed the only common schools upon which a free government can with safety rely.
This principle being settled, the inquiry then remains, what shall be the details, and how shall a system of common free schools be carried into practical operation in Illinois? . . . .
It has sometimes been said that it is not yet time to establish a system of schools in Illinois. It should be remarked, that if it be time to encourage the organization of a single school in the state, it is time to establish a system like this. This system proposes no compulsory measures; it interferes with no school district already
(358) formed. It merely proposes to encourage education by applying such means as are available, and it prescribes the manner in which it will apply them. Never were the people of Illinois more active and zealous on the subject of education, than they are now. They not only expect but they demand a better system of schools, they have spoken to that effect, both at home and in their late convention; in a voice too that will be understood. So popular indeed is the subject of education now in this state, that it is advocated in every newspaper; its praises are sung on every "stump" and scarce an individual can be found who is opposed to it.
There is another consideration which should not remain unnoticed. If the state should neglect to establish public schools, many individuals would be compelled to organize private ones, for the education of their own children. These would be serious impediments, for when the state should attempt (and this will be done sooner or later,) to establish a general system of schools and seminaries, it could not then, as it can now, rely upon the influence and aid of such individuals. Their sympathies and feelings would be very naturally enlisted in favor of the schools of their own creation, and their children would not attend the public schools, the consequence of which would be to lessen the respectability of the public schools and deprive them of much of their usefulness. Unimportant as this may seem to be, it is a serious evil, and one which the state of New York, with probably the best system of common schools in the country, has not yet overcome. Ought such a system be established in Illinois? This is a question that we shall be called upon to decide and in deciding it, let it be remembered that we pass judgment upon no ordinary subject. This is a measure that will affect the interest of every parent and child in the community; a measure whose influence will extend to millions now unborn, through ages yet to come. Our future liberty or future bondage may depend upon the decision of this, or a similar question. The time may yet come it will come-when we must rally around our common schools, or bow our necks before the throne of arbitrary power . . . . . True to ourselves, to our children and our country, let us cling to our common schools, and lay firmly and deeply the only foundation on which we can safely rely.
Leave is, therefore, asked to introduce the accompanying Resolution and Bill. All of which is respectfully submitted.RESOLUTION
Whereas, the subject of education is of deep and abiding interest to the inhabitants of Illinois-, whereas, the time has arrived, when some efficient means ought to be adopted to effect the establishment of a uniform system of common schools, that will secure to all classes at least a common education, to accomplish which, it will be necessary to establish a seminary in each county in the state, for the qualification of teachers for the common schools within the county; whereas the present resources of the country are altogether insufficient to effect this desirable object, and it is not in the nature of things, that the people of the state of Illinois, however animated their enterprise may be, can, with hope of success, engage in an undertaking of such magnitude, while all their resources are continually drawn from them to the general government, by the sale of the public domain; and, whereas, the payment of the national debt has in a measure released the lien of the general government to the lands within this state, and has left much power in the hands of Congress to dispose of the public domain, for objects of permanent utility and advantage, by appropriating for the advancement of knowledge, a portion of those lands: Therefore, to enable this state to unite a uniform system of common schools and county seminaries, as indicated, and for that purpose to establish a seminary in each county for the qualification of teachers, and instruction in the higher branches of education, not however with such endowments as would exclude the hope of dependence upon individual enterprise and popular co-operation:
Resolved, by the General Assembly of the State of Illinois, That our Senators and Representatives in Congress be requested to use all honorable means to procure the passage of a law by Congress, granting to the state of Illinois a reasonable quantity of land, or a portion of the proceeds of the sales of the public lands within this state, to be appropriated, under the direction of the legislature, towards the support of the several county seminaries, for the qualification of teachers for the common schools.
(3) Memorial of the Illinois Education Society to the General Assembly, 1841
To the Honorable the Legislature of the State of Illinois:GENTLEMEN: The Illinois Education Society, assembled in Springfield, feeling a deep interest in the cause of education, and especially in the improvement of the school laws, by such slight amendments as experience has suggested to be necessary, would respectfully submit to your consideration the following suggestions.
1st. That a reference to the act of 1818, which gave rise to our school funds, shows that Congress designed the general school fund "to be appropriated by the Legislature of the State for the encouragement of learning," in contradistinction to the grant of section numbered sixteen in every township which was "granted to the State for the use of the inhabitants of such township for the use of schools," that the latter was a grant to promote the education of the children of a particular township, whilst the former extended to the children of the whole State, irrespective of their place of residence . . . . . The legitimate conclusion from these considerations is, that the interest upon the school fund should not be distributed to counties, according to population, but according to the number of children in school. The blessings of the fund can only be distributed to the children in school; and it is a singular position to assume, that the children in one county shall be the peculiar objects of legislative favor, because a great many of the children of the county do not attend school, and that the children of another county shall be less favored, because all or nearly all of its children are in school. If the number of children in schools is made the basis of distribution, equal justice will be done to all the children of the State, and the Legislature will be faithful to the high trust committed to their charge.
2d. As your memorialists desire that the legislation upon the subject of our township funds should be the most perfect, and that those funds should be most cautiously guarded, and as many of the people do believe that our township funds, though loaned at 12 per cent. will not (after paying all the losses, charges, and expenses incident to their management) actually pay more than six per cent. to the support of the schools, and that not punctually, (a matter of
(361) great moment to the school teacher,) they would recommend that the trustees of incorporated townships, and the school commissioners, should set forth in the reports, (which they are now by law required to make,) how much of the township fund is hopelessly lost-how much is doubtful-how much is in suit-how much is annually paid out to lawyers, clerks, sheriffs, and all others, in the management of said funds, and what proportion of the interest is paid punctually . . . . .
4th. If a majority of three-fourths of the legal voters of a township should desire to tax themselves, to a limited amount, for school purposes, they should be permitted so to do. What evils could grow out of trusting three-fourths of the people of a township with the liberty of thus acting for themselves, in the education of their children? This action would only affect the township concerned, and your memorialists do not believe that any portion of the people will pay more for education than it is worth, or that the power of improving the schools of a township should be withheld from the people thereof, when they perceive the importance of cultivating the minds of their children, and are willing to tax themselves, that the light of science may shine upon them.5th. The Legislature has wisely determined, that no teacher shall be permitted to receive more than half of his salary from the general school fund. Would it not be wise to give the townships which are, or shall become, incorporated, the power of making a similar provision in relation to their local funds, and of appropriating their surplus, if any, to the purposes of education ? The reason of this suggestion is obvious. If the educational funds entirely relieve parents from contributing towards the education of their children, they lose that interest in the schools which must be kept up if we have good schools . . . . .
6th. Upon the same principle of helping those who are willing to help themselves, your memorialists would suggest that, after the lapse of one year no school should be permitted to draw any portion from the State fund, unless the same should be kept up for the space of three months; and that after two years no school should derive any aid from said fund, unless kept up for the space of three months, and also, unless it should be taught in a house erected upon a school
(362) lot secured to the trustees of townships, as is now provided by law, (see Acts of 18350 with this further principle annexed, that the schools taught in said houses should be open, upon equal terms, to all white applicants of good moral character, irrespective of religious opinions . . . . .
8th. Let a superintendent of common schools be appointed -- a man of talents-and yet a laborious and self-denying man. One who would go into all the dark corners, as well as bright spots, of the State, and labor day in and day out for the improvement of our common schools. Such a man would be of great use, not only in awaking the public to the importance of education, but by collecting facts for the information of your honorable body, and the people. . . . . He would (a matter of no mean moment to the success of common school education) do much towards bringing about a steady and uniform administration of the law . . . . .
(4) Misuse of School Funds (Extract from the Inaugural Address of Governor Ford to the General Assembly, December 5, 1842)
As it has already been stated, the school fund amounts to $808,104.39 -- Of this, $335,592. 2 1 is derived from the surplus revenue; $415,575.52 from the three per cent. school fund, and $56,917-66 from the sale of seminary lands. It appears also, that there is now due to the State on account of the three per cent. fund, the further sum Of $37,206.39; and $41,909-35 appears to be coming to the State as our distributive share of the proceeds of the sales of the public lands. This latter sum, if received, the General Assembly can rightfully appropriate as the wants of the State may require, but the former is sacred to the purpose of education. It has been our former practice, on account of a deficiency of revenue and too much fear of levying adequate taxes, to borrow this fund as it occurred, to pay the current expenses of government, and promise an interest of six per cent. to be distributed amongst the several counties. Good faith to ourselves, to the United States from which it is derived, and to the rising generation, created the most sacred obligation that this interest should have been punctually paid in good money. On the contrary,
(363) it has been paid, for nearly a year past, in depreciated paper, and there is no provision by existing laws, for paying itotherwise in future. It does seem then that if we find ourselves unable to make payment in cash or its just equivalent, it is little better than robbery to continue the system of borrowing, and a guilt but little less is contracted, if we refuse to make provision for paying interest in good funds, on the sum already borrowed. It is unfortunate that no system of revenue and expenditure has ever existed in this State, - the appropriations have generally exceeded the revenue, and hence the necessity of borrowing the school fund as a means of paying current expenses.
(5) Extracts from a Memorial in Behalf of Common Schools, Passed at the Convention Held at Peoria in October, 1844[The first sections of the report contain recommendations dealing with the possible duties of state and county superintendents of schools, the school fund, etc.]
§ 8. . . . . A majority of the inhabitants of a school district may vote to raise a tax for purchasing, building, or repairing school houses, and to defray the expenses attendant upon the schools.
§ 9. The teachers to keep a faithful schedule of the attendance of all scholars, the correctness of which is to be certified to by the directors, upon which schedule the teacher shall draw his proportion of the public funds, pro rata, according to the number of days in attendance by the scholars.
§ 10. No teacher to be allowed any proportion of the public funds if he has not passed an examination and received a certificate to teach; and no school district shall be allowed any portion of the fund which does not keep up a regular school at least three months in the year.
§ 11. [Method of collecting the school tax.] . . . .
The above embodies the principal changes which the convention thought best to attempt at the present session; and in conformity with the instructions of the conventions, we would ask permission to lay before your honorable bodies some of the reasons why a change of system is desired, and some arguments in favor of the above plan.
Public welfare affected by education.-Education is a measure, not merely affecting individual welfare, but one in which the public -the State-is concerned. Were the consequences of its neglect or attention confined entirely to individuals as they should be uneducated or educated, it might be questionable whether society could rightly interfere in its direction. But it is far otherwise . . . . .Again, in our social organization we have submitted ourselves to be governed upon republican principles. By our votes we elect our rulers, and the vote of one counts equally with that of any other. Howsoever important, then, a good government may be, it is not more so than that we have good voters. The former necessarily depends upon the latter . . . . .
Change of present system necessary.-That our present school laws are insufficient to accomplish the objects of their enactment, requires no argument to prove. Our schools evidently are not what they should be. There is a listless apathy concerning them, more to be deprecated than fiery opposition, reigning almost supreme throughout the State. We need the adoption of some measures that shall arouse us from this death-like stupor, that shall infuse vigor into the frame, and induce to healthy, steady, persevering action. By some means the people must be made to feel that their most vital interests are at hazard, and that no slight efforts will suffice to secure them . . . . .
Illinois is peculiarly situated, and in the minor details of a system, we must depend mainly upon our own experience, and the knowledge of our own condition and necessities. Here we can find little amongst the systems of the old States to profit us. We have township as well as State funds, for the use and preservation of which we are to provide; there are the towns and the villages; the sparse settlements - the scattered ones along the edges of large grovesof the prairies, the comparatively thick ones around small groves, often embracing parts of several townships; -- all these varied circumstances, with numerous others, are to be considered, and there- is little in the old States of like character . . . . .
Taxation for the support of schools.-We come now to consider, finally, the one great requisite of the proposed plan-taxation. Each of the other parts are considered essential, yet they are but machinery
(365) to work this result. We come out frankly and boldly, and acknowledge the whole system-every effort, is intended only as a means of allurement to draw the people into the grasp of this most awful monster--a school tax.
But start not back in alarm. After all, he may not be so terrible as some have perhaps imagined. Used with skill and judgment, no other power can accomplish what he will; no other can work such changes in your common schools, and it is vain that we attempt to dispense with his services. All experience throughout the Union is in favor of his employment. We do not, however, propose coercing any to employ him who prefer to let him alone. All we ask is, to give those permission to use him who are so inclined; and others, when they witness his subordination, and power to work for the cause of education, will doubtless desire themselves to try his services.
School tax necessary and right.-We believe our former position, that education is a public benefit, and indispensable to the welfare of the State, was sustained. It will also be granted, that parents and guardians of numerous children throughout the State, cannot afford them the means of education, and whatever instruction they may receive, must be paid for by others. That the State appropriation is sufficient, no one will contend . . . . . Why, it will not pay incidental expenses, let alone the building and repairing of the school house and the teacher's salary.
To pay for schooling the poor.-And will it be contended that all the balance shall be supplied by those sending to school ? In this event poor parents must keep their children at home, or they must be exempted by law, and payment be forced from others sending to schools. The first, it is the effort of all to avoid, and the latter is most inexpedient and unjust.
We acknowledge there is a private----individual--as well as public benefit derived from education, and all who are able should, therefore, be made to pay for it. But the expense of educating all the poor children; who shall pay for this ? A large portion of the population have just means sufficient to send their own children to school; and because they desire to educate them to the best of their ability, shall they be ground to the dust by being made to pay for the instruc-
(366) -tion of their neighbor's children ? Many, besides needing the services of their children in daily labor, know not how to incur the expense of schooling; shall they be compelled to keep their children at home by being informed if they send, they must not only foot the bill for their own children but the more they send, the more they must pay for others? Manifestly it is inexpedient.
If education be a public good, and there are those who must be educated at the expense of others, the expense should fall where it belongs--upon the public. It is wrong to make a portion of the people, no more able than others, pay for what is acknowledged to be for the good of all. Education is no exception to other public benefits. It inures, to be sure, to individual advantage, and what measure of general utility does not ? Then let the expense for this, as for other public objects, fall where it belongs-upon the property throughout the State. Any other method of compelling support is unequal-most unjust . . . . .
A school tax expedient in Illinois. -- The long continuance of this method for supporting schools in many States; their warm commendations of it, and above all, the excellence of their common schools, where they are wholly or partially supported by a tax; speaks to us in its favor in the strong language of experience. There remains then, nothing for Illinois to do, but to adopt the practice. If a school tax be right and necessary, it would seem the people should be required to raise one, and the legislature should trust to the good sense and honesty of the people to sustain them in enforcing it . . . . .
A majority vote should decide.-At the last session of the Legislature, something of this character was introduced; but it was proposed to require a vote of two-thirds of the people of a township to levy a school tax. We do most earnestly pray your honorable bodies, to let the decision rest with a majority of the votes cast. Why should there be any fear of abuse under the law? Certainly there is no danger of having too good schools; that too much will be paid to teachers, or that money will be squandered by those who themselves pay it. To require a two-thirds vote looks very much as though one or all of these results were to be feared; and even should the event, in an occasional instance, prove the apprehension to have been well grounded, is it not probable that ten townships or districts would
(367) suffer from lack of means to support their schools, where one would suffer from a super-abundance that had been raised by a tax ? The people generally are not so fond of paying large sums for school purposes, that any great restraint need be cast around them. In other public measures, it is considered safe to trust to a majority to manage; and we can see no great danger in education, or of its too rapid promotion, that it should be singled out to be used with caution . . . . . The more this subject of common school instruction is dwelt upon, the more transcendingly important does it appear. Never can more be done for it, than its due never can it be estimated above its worth; and it is a source of the highest gratification to labor for its furtherance . . . . . The subject is committed to your honorable bodies with the fullest confidence that it will receive at your hands, the attention it merits; and that such measures will be adopted, as in your united wisdom will appear best calculated to promote the object of all objects-the education of the people.
While we rejoice in the republican motto, "Let the people rule," shall we ever forget that intelligence and virtue must be the actuating principles of our government ? What but these constitute the base of the entire fabric of our republican institutions ? . . . . Even now one-seventeenth part of our population over twenty years of age, can neither read nor write . . . . . Let it come home to us, that the district school supplies the means-the only means-of qualifying at least nineteen-twentieths of the children of our State, to exercise the right of suffrage; that this is the means-the only means-by which nineteen-twentieths of the men-yes, and the wives and mothers too --soon to be on the stage of action, are to be prepared for discharging the high and responsible duties of life.
Our object is "not to rear a small number of individuals, who may be regarded as prodigies in an ignorant and admiring age; but to diffuse as widely as possible that degree of cultivation, which may enable the bull, of the people to possess all the intellectual and moral improvement of which their nature is susceptible." It is too true that schooling does not always accomplish this; that men do not become educated according to their attendance upon school. Occasionally we find one who signs a deed with his mark, better educated, better qualified to perform the duties of a man and citizen
(368) than another who passed all the days of his boyhood and youth at the school house, academy or college. But these instances are only exceptions to the general rule. No father, worthy of the name, would desire to try the experiment with his son. The mechanical operations of reading and writing, and instructions in elementary branches of knowledge, will be imparted to him as the ground-work of future usefulness; and to acquire them, the great mass must resort to the district school. For this the district school is prized; for this we should, as far as in our power, compel all to render it support and countenance. We would, if possible, have no school too good for the child of humble origin; none too poor for the child of wealth and affluence. (The Memorial of a Committee of the State School Convention, held at Peoria in October last, upon the subject of Common School Education, December 7, 1844.)
(6) Extract from the First Message of Governor Ford to the General Assembly, 1844
The subject of common school education must necessarily attract your attention. It is one of the utmost importance to the well being of the people- the due provision for which is essential to the perpetuity of enlightened republicanism, and absolutely necessary to a proper and just administration of our democratic institutions. No system on this subject has yet been adopted, which has been satisfactory to the people; or which has been executed with efficiency in all parts of the State. But little statistical or other information of the actual operation of existing laws on this subject, has yet been collected to enable the General Assembly to legislate upon it with an enlightened judgment. Some means ought to be adopted, to collect this information; and I can think of none better than the appointment by your honorable bodies of an agent, at once faithful and competent to the task; whose duty it would be to travel into every country, and if possible every neighborhood; and by .q careful inspection and examination, collect this information for the use of the Legislature; and by lectures and every other means in his power, endeavor to impress upon the people the overwhelming importance of the education of their children. Such an agent ought to be a rare man; endowed with talents, zeal, and discretion of the highest order.
(369) Money expended on such an agency, if ably, faithfully and zealously executed, would be approved by the people, as being more for their benefit, than any other appropriation whatever. And if taxed for it, they would feel that they had been taxed for a purpose of the highest utility.
(7) Extracts from the Report of the First State Superintendent of Common Schools to the General Assembly, 1847The fact of only fifty-seven counties having complied with the request contained in my circular of the third of September, shows a most lamentable apathy and want of interest in the cause of education throughout the State. While some of the counties exhibit a commendable zeal and interest in the cause, others have manifested a most culpable negligence. It was not to be expected that very rapid progress would at first be made toward maintaining a system of common schools, which time and experience alone can perfect.
In our sister States, where common schools have, for years, been the objects of not only the wise and fostering care of legislation, but have elicited in their behalf, the zeal and efforts of the richest and most talented citizens, although they have advanced rapidly, yet according to their own reports and official statements much yet remains to be done. The practical operation of any school law in our own State, is yet to be tried. Notwithstanding our statute book has been encumbered with school laws, no one of them has ever been carried into vigorous and effective operation-, and our people were, at the time the present law was enacted, as inexperienced in all the details necessary for the successful administration of the law, as if the question had been presented to them for the first time . . . . .
It is the want of information on the subject of popular education, that is the cause of the painful apathy which prevails amongst the people; a want of knowledge of the progress our sister States have made, and the mean-, by which they have been enabled to carry their different systems into practical and successful operation . . . . .
Special taxes.-The 84th section of the school law, authorizes the legal voters, in the different school districts, to meet together and tax themselves for school purposes, building and repairing school
(370) houses, &c. In the fifty-seven counties from which I have received returns, only twenty-one have levied this tax.
. . . . In the county of Cook alone, the inhabitants--deeply impressed with the importance of the common school education have raised, by voluntary taxation, under the provision of the law, the large sum of five thousand two hundred and four dollars, which will continue and increase as an annual tax; and what has been the result ? Their schools are in a most flourishing condition. They have erected large and elegant school houses, procured competent and accomplished teachers, and have two thousand and ninety-five children in daily attendance at these nurseries of learning . . . . .
The large property holders are, in general, most strongly opposed to the assessment of taxes for school purposes. They are against it, because they are able to educate their own children without the aid of any public fund, and are unwilling to have their property taxed for the education of the poorer classes that have no property to tax.
(8) Extract from the Inaugural Address of Governor Matteson to the Eighteenth General Assembly, 1853
I desire to invite your particular attention to the vital subject of education. We have a mixed population, emigrating from every sister state, and from almost every clime of the old world, and in order to be most beneficial, our schools should be conducted on a broad and comprehensive basis. Intelligence and virtue are at the foundation of our system of government, and the germs of these are best extended in our common schools. There are many, and perhaps very just complaints against the operation of the present school law, and it may well be doubted whether it is not too voluminous and extensive to be fully understood and comprehended by all those who are intrusted with the direction of common schools. I submit to your consideration whether the desired end would not be better promoted by an entire repeal of all laws regulating common schools, and the adoption of a simple system, plain in its provisions, supported by tax upon property, when the school fund is not sufficient for such purpose, and made free to all alike. I desire to see a system by which every child, whatever its condition or parentage, may have an opportunity to obtain an education equal with the most affluent of
(371) our state-such as will fit them for any grade or condition of life. Our central position, our great commercial connections, our internal wealth, everything about us indicate for us a destiny of which any people might well be proud, but the most sacred duty demands of us that the rising generation be fitted in their intellectual capacity to give proper direction to these great interests. Should such modification of our school law be considered by the general assembly to be premature, I would recommend that a general superintendent of common schools be authorized, with such compensation as would command the best talent of our state, whose duty it should be to visit every school district in the state, having power to cause such organization, and the uniform use of such books as are best adapted to the improvement of the pupils.
(9) Extract from the Biennial Report of the State Superintendent of Common Schools to the Eighteenth General Assembly, 1853The sum raised by ad valorem tax, for the support of schools in forty-six counties is reported to be $51,101.14 . . . . . In twenty counties out of seventy-four, no such tax was levied, and the commissioners of eight counties, in consequence of the default of township treasurers, were able to consider nothing relative thereto.
In connection with this subject I take occasion to remark, that in many parts of the state, the question of providing by taxation for a system of Free Schools, is beginning to be agitated . . . . . While many weighty reasons are urged in support of such a policy, there will be found those who regard it as a scheme of state dictation, wholly at war with the rights of individuals, and oppressive in exacting contributions from such as are unable or unwilling, from various motives, to participate in its advantages. . . . .
Under the law as it now stands, a majority of the legal voters of districts, at any meeting properly convened, have it in their power, by a majority of voters, to levy a tax for the support of schools, thus enabling them, if they see proper, to avail themselves of all the advantages of free schools. I am not aware that in a single instance this has been done, nor can any motive be assigned for the action of the people in this respect, unless it grow out of a preference for the system which now prevails . . . . .
The entire number of common schools in operation in the state in the course of the past year is estimated at seven thousand and thirty-one. Of the schools reported, two thousand three hundred and ninety-seven were taught by male teachers, and the balance by females. The number of female teachers employed seem to be steadily increasing, and there can be but little doubt that in districts where pupils are mostly new beginners they are better adapted to guide the youthful mind than instructors of the rougher and sterner sex . . . . .
The census of 1850 shows the number of white children in the state to be 496,595. In the 72 counties from which reports are furnished, the number for the past year is stated, on the authority of township treasurers, to be 361,954. Of this number 139,255 are represented as having been in attendance at the common schools.
(10) Extracts from the Biennial Report of the State Superintendent of Public Instruction to the Nineteenth General Assembly, 1895I propose, in the next place, to show that it is both the duty and the interest of the state to provide for the education of her children.
In the preamble to our state constitution we acknowledge ourselves to be " grateful to Almighty God for the civil and religious liberty which we have been permitted to enjoy, and looking to Him for a blessing on our endeavors to secure and transmit the same unimpaired to succeeding generations, and, in order to form a more perfect government, establish justice, insure domestic tranquillity, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and posterity," &c.
Were the inquiry now to be urged, how are these blessings best secured ? I am persuaded that the unanimous answer would be, by diffusing among the people knowledge and virtue. To secure the great ends of the constitution, it is important that the children in our state be trained so as to fully comprehend the principles of our constitution and the true basis of civil and religious liberty . . . . . And to make it sure, it must not be left to chance, nor to private enterprise: it must be absolutely secured, by timely and judicious legislation. But parsimonious men will talk of economy, and of
(373) the necessity of retrenchment. It is cheaper to sustain schools than poor houses, and courts, and prisons; and as certainly as education is neglected, ignorance and vice, and pauperism and prisons, must draw heavily upon our treasury. The only prevention of these evils is in intellectual and moral expansion. We hesitate not, for the common defence, to invest money for the building of forts, for the manufacture of arms, the training of soldiers, for military academics, and the general discipline and munitions of war. How much more important is it to educate the citizen, and to instruct the children of the citizen in the arts of peace and the principles of justice, that they may preserve the one and administer the other . . . . . To make education general, you must make tuition free, still, however, sustaining the schools, in some measure, out of the property of the country, by taxation . . . . .
I cannot too strongly urge the importance of making education free, alike to the rich and the poor. The system which provides for the education only of the poor is necessarily unsuccessful. It has ever been, and ever will be, regarded as a part of the pauper system; and in a country like ours few will consent to appear on the pauper list.
The only way to bring in the children of the poor is to bring them in on the same footing, and on terms of equality with those of the rich. Make the school-room just as free and as much common property as our public highways, or the air we breathe. Let the poorest child feel that he has just as much right to be there as has the child of the millionaire, and that the only distinction known is that of merit, and then you will reach the poor, while no injury win be done to the rich. This is, in fact, the only plan which is properly in keeping with our republican institutions. It is predicated on the maxim, that "all men are born free and equal "; which equality is preserved until destroyed by the varying degrees of personal merit. It commends itself to our common sense of justice, and must, ultimately, command the respect of all classes of the people . . . . .
Upon the whole, I am fully persuaded that the free schools, as a general thing, are better than even the most select private ones. There are more people interested in them, and there is a public spirit at work in their support. Even small children seem to realize that
(374) through the schools they are brought into connection with the commonwealth, they appreciate their high position, and they are proud to honor the institution which has elevated them. The system has met with general approval in every state where it has been tried. . . . . At this time, every free state, except one, and I regret to say that one is Illinois, has adopted it. Several states have even incorporated in their constitutions provision for the support of schools. The slave states are waking up on the subject, and are adopting efficient systems of common school education. The general government has fully recognized the principle, by liberal donations of lands in all the townships of the new states, for free education. In short, the free school system may now be said to have the national sanction, and is looked to with admiration from the Old World, many states of which have even adopted it. Surely, surely, our state will no longer neglect it!
The plan which I propose is, first of all, to simplify our school law, so that it may be understood by all. The prominent feature of the system which I have thought proper to recommend, recognizing the first principle, that education should be supported by a tax on property, gives to every child of the state a right to be educated, and to all an equal right. This principle of equality of right is made prominent. Its development necessarily requires that the proceeds of the school fund be so distributed as to afford equal facilities to all. If the distribution should be based entirely on population, it would give to the less populous counties and districts a comparatively small amount of money, while at the same time there is but little difference between the expense of a large and a small school of the same grade. In the country, or less populous districts, the property would have to bear much heavier taxation for the support of the schools, while in large cities and thickly settled districts, the assessment would be far less; or, if the taxation were uniform, the schools then would be more than supported. Either the first principle would have to be abandoned, or the property in some districts would have to contribute from fifty to one hundred per cent more than in others. If the principle be correct, that the property of the state should educate the children of the state, on account of the security and additional value which education gives to property, and the permanency
(375) and security which it insures to our civil, social, and religious institutions, there is no reason why the burthen should not be equal . . . . .
TOTALS FOR COUNTIES FOR 1854
(79 counties reported; 2 1 counties not reported)
Amount of school sales
Quantity of unsold school land (acres) 48,313
No. schools taught 4,211
No. schools taught by males 2,491
No. schools taught by females 1,555
No. schools employing males and females at same time. 115
No. schools employing males and females at different periods 1,644
Highest number of children taught 135,521
Average number who have attended school 80,681
No. white children under 21 years of age 401,460
No. white children between the ages of 5 and 21 200,178
Average no. months in year in which school has been taught 6
No. schools in which the average number of children taught is
under thirty 2,175
Average number of scholars in each school 30
Average monthly compensation of male teachers $25.00
Average monthly compensation of female teachers $12.00
(11) Extracts from the Biennial Report of the State Superintendent
of Public Instruction, 1867-68
The larger portion of the aggregate number of colored people in the State are dispersed through the different counties and school districts, in small groups of one, two, or three families, not enough to maintain separate schools for themselves, even with the help of the pittance paid for school taxes by such of them as are property holders. This whole dispersed class of our colored population are without the means of a common school education for their children; the law does not contemplate their co-attendance with white children, and they are without recourse of any kind. I think it safe to say that at least one-half of the six thousand colored children, between the ages of six and twenty-one, are in this helpless condition in respect to schools . . . . .
The question of compulsory attendance has been widely discussed in all parts of the country during the past two years. While there may be doubts as to whether that would be the best remedy for us, all things considered, those doubts do not, in my estimation, attach to the question of legal competency, but only to that of expediency. Every State school system must of necessity rest down at some points upon the idea of compulsion-of the supreme authority of a commonwealth to do what is deemed needful for the well-being of the body politic. The primary maxim upon which every free school law is grounded and defended, and which has become a part of the settled convictions of the American people-that a State has a just moral claim upon so much of the property of the people as may be required to educate its children and fit them for usefulness as good citizens-involves the idea of compulsion in the last resort. The State two mill tax, which is the legitimate fruitage of that maxim, is collected from all alike, whether willing or unwilling. Those who refuse to pay the tax are compelled to pay it; - there is compulsory school-tax paying all over the State. And the power that justly demands and enforces, in virtue of its benevolent care and sovereignty, the payment of a tax for the noble purpose of educating and uplifting the people, may surely provide that the end sought shall not fail of attainment through the indifference or perverseness of others. The hand that forcibly takes the tax-money from the pocket of an unwilling non-resident, to support a school in a distant district in which he has no personal interest, is at least as rough and arbitrary as would be the hand that forcibly leads the children to the doors of the schoolroom. If the former act is right, though the very essence of compulsion, how can the latter be wrong? Indeed, all general laws, both state and national, involve and imply the right of compulsion, in the last resort, and could not be otherwise executed. So far, therefore, as the question of the constitutional right and competency of a State to pass a school law that shall be compulsory in regard to attendance, is concerned, it seems to me. there can be no doubt. If the fundamental principle is conceded, the rest is a logical sequence-if a State may enact a general free school law, it may see that its supreme purpose is not defeated. And what is that purpose but the education of all the children between the prescribed ages? and how can this be
(377) if they do not attend? Regarded from this stand-point, may not the more rational question be: Has the State a right to stop short of compulsory attendance ? to leave it optional with the very persons to be benefited, whether, after all, the whole system shall be a success or a failure ? Hence, the question of compulsory attendance is not one of jurisdiction or competency on the part of the State, but of expediency only. It may be that a general compulsory law would not work well in a country and people like ours. It will certainly be a grander success if we can make the schools so good, so attractive and pleasant, that all will seek them and be drawn to them by a higher and nobler compulsion-the love of knowledge, of improvement, of culture, of country and of God. But in whatever aspect it is considered, and whatsoever remedy may be the best, absenteeism is an evil of alarming magnitude, and must continue to receive the earnest attention of the friends of public education, until attendance upon the public schools shall be universal, and the system shall secure the maximum amount of good of which it is capable.
(12) Extracts from the Biennial Report of the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, 1869-70
Absenteeism in 1869. -- Attention has been called to this evil in former reports. The continuance and magnitude of it, demand, however, a continued consideration. It is confessedly the great drawback upon our free school system; the problem of its extinction remains, in some important respects, the most perplexing, as well as the most weighty we have to deal with.
Extent of the evil.-. . . . One out of every five or six not enrolled at all, not in school so much as one day; but hundreds, yes, thousands, who were enrolled, but who were not present more than ten days, twenty days, a month-and so upward-but falling short, in all degrees, of the maximum, the six and a half months the schools were open. Absence, truancy, and tardiness, are to be reckoned all three together to get at the real amount of failure. The complete statistics show that while about nineteen out of every hundred due there, have not appeared at school at all, of those who did appear, not more than about sixty-five out of the hundred have been in regular daily attendance during the average time the schools were open. Of children
(378) due at school, therefore-that is to say, of all in the State between the ages of six and twenty-one--not more than forty to forty-five per cent. have been in regular daily attendance during the school time provided for them by the State . . . . .
Its cause.-But, having school privileges, many of those who need them most, hold school opportunities at light value, and make but slightest use of them. Then, many parents lack energy and enterprise sufficient even to keep their children at school. Some, who are abundantly able to do so, fail to provide their children with clothing suitable to appear at school in. Others have lost control of their children; not a few boys and girls within our State are not in school simply because they won't go, and the parents have lost authority to make them go. Very large numbers are kept at home for their services at labor; in shops and factories, upon the farm and in the house . . . . .
The cure.-It is doubtful whether any thorough preventive of this evil will be found short of State compulsion. Upon the competency of the State to enact laws which would make a certain amount of attendance at school compulsory, and upon the expediency of so doing, remark was made in my last report. The position then assumed, and which is still believed to be irrefutable, was, that it is competent for a State to provide, by appropriate enactments, that all persons of suitable age, and of proper mental and physical ability, shall attend the public schools for a certain specified period, unless otherwise educated. The States of Missouri, Nevada, Arkansas, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and I think two or three others, have already prepared the way for the ultimate arrest by legislative interposition, of the evils of voluntary absenteeism, and truancy, by incorporating the necessary provisions into their respective State Constitutions. In those of Arkansas and South Carolina, the enactment of such laws is peremptorily required, while in the organic laws of the other States named, the provisions on the subject, are only permissive . . . . .
The theory is that a State may of right do whatever is essential, or which it believes to be essential to its own preservation, welfare and perpetuity; that the safety and continuance of a republican government requires the education of the whole body of the people;
(379) and hence that a State may rightfully do whatever may be found really necessary to secure that end. This is the rock upon which the whole American doctrine of free public education by State law, rests down, firmly and immovably. And upon the self-same foundation, in virtue of the same high moral and political necessity, and of strictest logical sequence, abides the right of providing for compulsory attendance, in the last resort . . . . . To provide, at great expense, by the supreme authority of the State, for the free education of all the youth of the State, and at the same time leave all at liberty to reject what is thus provided, is to allow a self-destructive principle to lurk in the very citadel of the whole system.
But until we reach the point where such a law can be passed and sustained, and, indeed, as a means either of reaching it, or of doing what would be better -- of making such a law unnecessary-the only available remedy against this evil will be the formation of a right public opinion touching this whole matter of schools, and of regular, punctual school-attendance . . . . .
Let every voice and every agency, that promises good, be enlisted, and employed in speaking and in acting upon this great subject, till it is everywhere considered the basest of crimes, to be a parent, and then deliberately or thoughtlessly to deprive the child of the blessed boon of obtaining all the free knowledge he can acquire; or, to be a citizen, and connive at or allow a child to live in this intelligent age, without being, if no other way offers, compelled to learn so much of truth as shall raise him above the danger and the suspicion of barbarism . . . . .The free school system in Illinois . . . . . First of all should be mentioned the great fact that the free school system of Illinois has at last been firmly entrenched in the organic law of the State. Prior to the adoption of the new constitution, the whole system, with its myriad ramifications, its vast accumulations of funds and property, and its untold blessings to the people of the present and the future, had no other foundation than a simple act of the Legislature . . . . .
The formal recognition in the fundamental law of the claims of free popular education was due to the dignity of the State itself. Illinois could not longer have afforded to remain the only free American State which deemed the subject of public education unworthy
(380) a place in her Constitution . . . . . If any thing is settled by the conduct of nations, the teachings of experience, the logic of events, and the siftings and deductions of human thought, in this latter half of the nineteenth century, this is settled.
(13) The Educational Rights of Children (Extract from the Biennial Report of the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, 1871-72)
... I now approach the consideration of another question of great practical moment, one that is regarded by many as "the most important school question of modern times," namely: How shall the evil of voluntary absenteeism be arrested, and all the youth of the State, not otherwise educated, be brought into the public schools ? In other words, how shall the children of the State be protected against the wrongs and evils of illiteracy, and secured in their educational rights ? . . .
The subject thus introduced is now prominently before the American people . . . . . It is usually considered under the form of "compulsory school attendance "-sometimes under the better form of "obligatory education," and other equivalent or similar designations. The essential idea is the same, whatever the phraseology in which the proposition is couched; that idea is expressed in the question: What shall be done to get the school children into the schools, and to arrest the alarming increase of truancy and voluntary absenteeism? But while the verbal formula may be of little consequence, yet, aside from the ill-repute into which the other forms of statement have fallen, and the unthinking hostility which they seem to have needlessly invited, they do not, it seems to me, express the cardinal idea involved, in the fittest and most appropriate manner. They seem, in some degree, to misplace the emphasis, laying it rather upon the children than upon parents and guardians, where I think it more properly belongs. Believing, as I do, that the greater fault lies against parents and guardians, for neglecting or refusing to send their children and wards to school, and not against the latter, for refusing to attend, and hence that the real gravamen consists in depriving children and youth of their educational rights, at a period when they can neither appreciate the loss incurred, nor obtain redress
(381) for the wrong inflicted-holding this to be the juster view of the subject, when law-making power is invoked in behalf of these victims of neglect and wrong, I would have the statute entitled, not an act to compel the attendance of children at school, but an act to secure to children their right to a good common school education . . . . .
Grounds of the rights to education.-Are there, then, such rights, or is the claim a mere sentiment, a bare assumption ?-a pertinent inquiry, for the affirmation that there are, is the major premise of the argument, and essential to its strength, rights and privileges that do not exist, cannot be infringed, abridged or denied. The right to the rudiments of knowledge, is a common, natural right of humanity; and, in this State, it is also a constitutional and legal right . . . .
But I have said that, in this State, at least these rights are also guaranteed by the constitution, and established by law. The first section of the eighth article of the organic law of Illinois declares that: "The General Assembly shall provide a thorough and efficient system of free schools, whereby all the children of this State may receive a good common school education"; and this injunction of the constitution is obeyed in the forty-eighth section of the school law, which declares that boards of directors, "shall establish and keep in operation, for at least five months in each year, and longer if practicable, a sufficient number of free schools for the proper accommodation of all children in the district over the age of six and under twenty-one years, and shall secure to all such children the right and opportunity to an equal education in such free schools."
In conformity with these provisions, there is now in this State a free school system, well established, thoroughly organized, and in successful operation.
But the grave question recurs: If those who have the custody and guardianship of children, refuse or neglect to avail themselves of these munificent provisions-if they do not, or will not send them to the public schools, or otherwise cause them to be educated, what shall be done-? I answer, let such parent-, and guardians be required by Idly to discharge that duty . . . . .
Parents and guardians should be enjoined, by appropriate legislation, to secure for their children and wards a good common school education --
I. Because it is Competent for the General Assembly to pass such laws.
II. Because it is Necessary and Expedient.
If these two propositions can be established, the doctrine of legislative interposition to arrest the evils of non-attendance and truancy, and to secure to all the youth of the State the rights and benefits of education, will also be established . . . . .
The idea of free schools, established and supported by the State, was born of the political sagacity, far-reaching wisdom and sanctified common sense of the New England Fathers, who builded their moral, social and political institutions upon foundations as enduring as the rocks of their own sea-girt colonies . . . . .
Multitudes who ardently, and even vehemently, defend and support free schools, and favor the imposition of every tax necessary to their maintenance in the most liberal and efficient manner, are unaccountably disturbed at the idea of any legal provisions to secure attendance. The attitude and opinions of these good men may be thus epitomized:
"Proclaim the gospel of universal education by free public schools," they say: "it is the only gospel of political safety. Ballots for all, without knowledge for all, is the precipitous road to anarchy or despotism. Establish your school systems, with all their intricate and nicely adjusted machinery, and their tens of thousands of school officers and fiduciary agents . . . . . Tax, with a free hand, that nothing be wanting, for the people must be educated. If any refuse to pay, bring down upon them the strong arm, and make them pay; enforce the law, seize and sell their goods and property, and extort the tax, for the youth of this nation must be educated. Do all these things without hesitation or fear; replenish and fill your school treasuries, and keep them full, in city, town and country. Spare no pains, omit no duty, exercise every power conferred by law, for the very life of the Republic depends upon the education of all the people. But, let there be no compulsion in the; matter of attendance! Any legislation on that subject would be un-American, anti-republican, arbitrary, despotic, odious. Every parent must be left at perfect liberty to avail himself of these princely provisions, or not, and to educate his child, or leave it in ignorance, as he may elect; - and where
(383) there is no parental control, the right of the child to go to school or stay away, must on no account be infringed or abridged. These are matters with which the government, even though that government be but the embodiment and utterance of the popular will, has no business to meddle. Reserved and sacred precincts are these, into which no impertinent school law may presume to intrude. The very idea of pressure in this direction is offensive, and repugnant to the spirit of our institutions."
" Moreover, " say they, " such legislation will do no good; it will not reach the evil-the spirits of absenteeism and truancy cannot be so exorcised. It will merely offend, and alienate, without materially adding to the muster-rolls of the schools. And besides, it is vain to ; they will be an irritation pass laws in advance of public sentiment, and offence, while practically remaining a dead letter. And again, if parents may be compelled to educate their children as the State prescribes, in things secular and temporal, they may also in things religious and spiritual, and thus the inviolable realm of conscience may be invaded. Only make the schools themselves what they should be, and the maximum attendance will be attained without legislation. In every view, therefore, the attempt to reach the question of attendance in this way, is impolitic and unnecessary, and would prove inoperative and mischievous ... . . . .
Popular misapprehensions of the subject. -- It is not proposed to drag children to school, vi et armis, as some seem to imagine . . . . . The proposed legal incentives to attendance, unfortunately called compulsion, belong to the simplest and most familiar category of legislative provisions . . . . . To illustrate, I quote the material sections of a bill, on this subject, introduced into our legislature last winter.
"Section I. Be it enacted by the People of the State of Illinois, represented in the General Assembly. That every person having under his control a child between the ages of eight and fourteen years, shall annually, during the continuance of his control, send such child to some public school in the school district in which he resides, at least twelve weeks, if the public school of such district so long continues, six weeks of which time shall be consecutive; and for every neglect of such duty the party offending shall forfeit to the use of such school district a sum not exceeding twenty dollars.
" 2. The penalty provided for in section one shall not be imposed in cases where it appears, upon the inquiry of the directors of any school district, or upon trial of any prosecution, that the party so neglecting was not able, by reason of poverty, to send such child to school, or to furnish him or her with the necessary clothing and books, or that such child has been kept in any other school for said period of time, or has already acquired the branches of learning taught in the public schools, or that his or her bodily or mental condition has been such as to prevent his or her attendance at school, or application to study for the period required."
. . . It serves well the purpose of indicating the general character of the legal pressure which it is proposed to bring to bear upon parents and guardians to induce them to educate their children, and of dispelling the ridiculous fancies entertained by the ignorant, and fostered, by some who ought to know better, respecting the provisions and appliances of a compulsory school law. Laws in relation to school attendance, popularly called compulsory, are now in force in the States of Michigan, New Hampshire and Connecticut, and in none of them is the compulsion, the force, anything different from, or more alarming than, that prescribed in the bill from which I have quoted . . . . .
It is said that such laws cannot be enforced, that public sentiment is against them . . . . .
But, it is said, when public opinion is thus prepared for compulsory laws, there will be no need of them, since, by the very conditions supposed, the pressure of public sentiment will then of itself be sufficient to suppress absenteeism. Then, what need of legislation on any subject, that has the general approval? . . . . There can be no reasonable doubt that the effect of laws to secure attendance at school would be substantially the same as the effect of tax laws and of other general laws--securing obedience from a like proportion of those who would not otherwise act . . . . .
Finally, the expediency and present necessity of legislative interposition to shield the children of the State from the dangers and the wrong of ignorance, may be urged with unanswerable force from the statistics of absenteeism, truancy and illiteracy in this country. It is an incontrovertible fact that the voluntary plan is but partially
(385) successful. The proof is as overwhelming, as it is alarming. The evidence is comprehensive and cumulative. It pours in from every State and territory, and from all the chief cities of the republic. The reports of State and city superintendents, and of the National Commissioner of Education, are burdened with the sad details. The number of absentees and truants in our chief commercial metropolis was reported, eight years ago, as a mighty army, 100,000 strong, and subsequent reports show little comparative improvement. Uncounted thousands of vagrant, lawless children prowl the streets, and roam through the purlieus of all our great cities, becoming precocious in wickedness, and going down with frightful precipitation to the nethermost abysses of vice, pollution and shame. Taking all the States from which reports are at hand, and the number who are even enrolled, in any given year, averages less than half the total school-going population, while the average daily attendance is less than one-fifth of that population.
But the fact that has most to do with the present inquiry is, that a comparison of the statistics of the last decade shows but slight improvement in the ratio of attendants to non-attendants, taking all the States, territories and cities into the account; while in many the change has even been for the worse-disproving the view that the evil is steadily abating, and that with better teachers, better methods and better schools, it will continue to decrease till the minimum is practically reached, without the intervention of law. For in no preceding ten years of our common school history has progress in the science and methods of teaching, and in whatsoever makes school inviting and effective, been so marked and rapid . . . . .
It is supposed by some that legislative interposition to oblige parents to secure to their children the rudiments of a good common school education, is inhibited by the provisions of the State constitution, being, especially, contrary to the right,.,; and immunities granted in the Bill of Rights, and this view is supposed to be favored, if not established, by the decision rendered in the case entitled, "The People of the State of Illinois, ex. rel. Michael O'Connell, vs. Robert Turner, Superintendent of the Reform School of the City of Chicago." LV Ills., 280.
The gist of the very clear and forcible opinion of the court in that case, is as follows:
"The bill of rights declares that 'all men are by nature free and independent, and have certain inherent and inalienable rights among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.' This language is not restrictive;- it is broad and comprehensive, and declares a grand truth, that 'all men,' all people everywhere, have the inherent and inalienable right to liberty. Shall we say to the children of the State, you shall not enjoy this right -- a right independent of all human laws and regulations? It is declared in the constitution; is higher than constitution and law, and should be held forever sacred.
"Even criminals can not be convicted and imprisoned without the process of law-without a regular trial, according to the course of the common law. Why should minors be imprisoned for misfortune? Destitution of proper parental care, ignorance, idleness and vice, are misfortunes, not crimes. In all criminal prosecutions against minors, for grave and heinous offenses, they have the right to demand the nature and cause of the accusation, and a speedy public trial by an impartial jury. All this must precede the final commitment to prison. Why should children, only guilty of misfortune, be deprived of liberty without 'due process of law'?
"It can not be said that in this case there is no imprisonment. This boy is deprived of a father's care; bereft of home influences; has no freedom of action; made subject to the will of others, and thus feels that he is a slave. Nothing could more contribute to paralyze the youthful energies, crush all noble aspirations, and unfit him for the duties of manhood. Other means of a milder character; other influences of a more kindly nature; other laws less in restraint of liberty, would better accomplish the reformation of the depraved, and infringe less upon inalienable rights ... . . . .
But at what point, or in what way, does that doctrine as stated in the opinion, or any of its legitimate consequences, touch or affect the proposition that the legislative department may and should interpose to secure to every child the blessings of education ? We do not propose the imprisonment of children "between the ages of six and sixteen years," or of any other ages, for any period of time,
(387) great or small. We do not allege that ignorance is a crime on the part of the child, (except when caused by its own willful, incorrigible viciousness and truancy), but a misfortune, as held by the court, deserving pity and sympathy-not a prison. We put it the other way, holding that education is a natural and inalienable right of every child-" a right independent of all human laws and regulations; higher than constitution and law; and that it should be held forever sacred"; and hence, that willfully, obstinately and needlessly to deprive a child of that right is a crime on the part of the parent, of which the legislative department may properly take notice . . . . .
Recapitulation.-- I think it has been shown that the legislative department may properly intervene to prevent those who have the control of children, from compelling or permitting such children to grow up in ignorance; that such intervention is not an abuse of powers conferred, not an unwarrantable assumption of powers not granted, that it is no improper invasion of personal liberty, nor of the authority and rights of parents, since it merely enforces the performance of parental duty, which can not be regarded as an infraction of rights; that it is not inconsistent with rational freedom of conscience; that it puts the right of the child to be educated, above the right of the parent to keep it in ignorance; that it protects the many, who do educate their children, against the counteracting influence of the few, who will not; that it shields the innocent from cruel wrong, since starving the mind is worse than abusing the body; that it is grounded upon the belief that to bring up children in ignorance, willfully and without cause, is a crime, and should be treated as such; that such conduct on the part of those having the control of children, being a fruitful source of criminality, should be under the ban of legal condemnation, and the restraint of legal punishment; that the allegations as to the incompatibility of such laws with the nature and spirit of our political system, are unfounded, as also are the apprehensions concerning the assumed harshness and severity of their enforcement; . . . . that the exclusively voluntary policy has been, and is, but partially successful, while the accelerated influx of foreigners renders the adoption of new measures of education, without delay, a grave political necessity, that the proposed legislative intervention is but an affirmance of the irrefutable truth, that
(388) if it is right to tax all for the education of all, then it is equally right to see that all are educated; that it is in the line of a general human right, and of a fundamental right of children, and is compulsory only as that right must be protected against any and all infringements; that it is required, to fully utilize the vast resources already devoted to public education, and to prevent enormous and increasing waste of money, property and effort.