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The purpose of this work is to present to the pupils in the public schools in the Commonwealth some practical information as to the rights and duties which belong to American citizenship. The study of civics is now receiving increased attention in our schools, particularly since the school laws require that teachers shall have a fair knowledge of civil government, including State and local government. In view of this legislation, a text-book to meet the needs of the schools should treat the local and State government as at least of equal importance with that of the Nation. It has been said that many a youth has grown to manhood with so little appreciation of the Commonwealth in which he lives as to regard it simply as a geographical division. The study of the State government and of the National Government are of equal importance.
The student of civil government should begin with that which is near at hand and of immediate interest, and proceed to that which is distant and of remote concern. He should not begin with that rare and precious afterthought and flower of government, the Constitution of the United States, but with the material forms that are close at hand. In connection with the ordinary lessons in reading, the children should be made acquainted with words suggesting civic ideas, as citizen, soldier, officer, law, justice, country, state, city, and nation. Then, in elementary lessons, the children should gain general notions of local government and organization, the duties and rights of citizens, suffrage and elections, and kindred topics. Then should come a study of the organization of the State,—the legislative, the executive, and the judicial powers; and taxation, corporations, education, etc. Then may come the study of the political, legislative, administrative, and judicial organization of the United States as shown in the Constitution.
Let the teacher endeavor to contribute to the elevation of the pupil's ideal of citizenship, and thus labor for the improvement of the quality of the citizen. The pupils should not only know something about the Government and their own relation to it as subjects and as sovereign-citizens, but, becoming filled with the spirit of good citizenship, should be led to the discipline and practice of the same. A boy, on his return from school at noon on election day, said to his father, “Papa, have you voted ?” “No," said the father. “I did,” responded the boy. To his surprise the father found that under the eye of the teacher an election had been held before the opening of school, and that after school the votes were to be counted, and the result announced. That was practical teaching. Similar devices may be used in illustrating many other points in practical civil government, and the primary ideas of government be developed from the very games of the children.
Much of the education which shapes a child for his duties as a man and a citizen is that which he gains from the influence of his home, and of the community in which he lives. The schools must do much more than enforce needed discipline, cultivate intellectual tastes, and instruct in the means for obtaining a livelihood. Manly and womanly honesty, generosity, virtue, and patriotism must be taught in every schoolroom in the land. Patriotism is the noblest passion that animates man in his character as a citizen. We cannot hope to make radical changes in the lives and impulses of the multitudes that come to our land as a natural refuge from the tyranny of other countries; but the nature of our free institutions may be taught to the children, and thus the youth of the land may be trained and brought upward to intelligent thought and action in regard to patriotic citizenship. The theory upon which the public free school supported by the State rests is that it is absolutely necessary, in our system of popular government, that the voters should have intelligence enough to perform the requisite duty of voting. It is admitted that ability to read and write is essential to the exercise of citizenship in such a Government as ours. But if it is the duty of the State to give sufficient education to the voters to enable them to know for whom and for what they vote, then the State may logically go a step further and instruct them in the fundamental nature of their Government. There can be no knowledge more necessary to the voter than that of the real nature of the government he is called upon to help administer.
Intelligence is necessary somewhere in conducting any government; and a popular government resting upon universal suffrage certainly cannot be successful unless the voters are intelligent. But while people may inherit certain traditional notions of government, we cannot assume that anybody is born with a good working knowledge of the Constitution of the United States. Even if such knowledge were the birthright of the native-born, it cannot be assumed for the foreigner made a citizen, born and reared in conditions totally different from ours, nor for his children inheriting his ideas, nor for the millions of colored citizens in the South. The girls and boys in our public schools need elementary in
struction in the nature of our complex Government, in order that they may gain fundamental conceptions of what our Government really is, and of their own relation thereto. Considering how much is at stake, the State cannot more profitably spend its money than by making young citizens intelligent about their own Government and their own country. Mrs. Browning's words in Mother and Poet ring true to the heart of the mother and teacher, and to the sacredness and grandeur of the Nation as she sings:
“To teach them-It stings there!—I made them indeed
That a country 's a thing men should die for at need.” The social value of education has received recent recognition through the idea that education is a preparation for citizenship. Individual and social welfare, happiness and righteousness, depend more largely than has ever before been acknowledged upon the relations existing between persons and classes in institutional life. This new aim requires that great attention be paid to the formation of character, social habits, altruistic and patriotic motives.
A. E. M. State Normal School, Slippery Rock, Pa.