Knickerbockers' History of New York

Education and Child-Life,
page 15 of 17

William Smith, the historian of New York, writing during the year 1756 of his fellow townswomen, and of education in general in New York, gives what was doubtless a true picture of the inelegance of education in New York:—

“There is nothing they [New York women] so generally neglect as Reading, and indeed all the Arts for the improvement of the Mind, in which I confess we have set them the Example. Our Schools are in the Lowest Order, the Instructors want Instruction, and through a long, shameful neglect of the Arts and Sciences our Common Speech is very corrupt, and the Evidences of a Bad Taste both as to thought and Language are visible in all our Proceedings publick and private.”

One obstacle to the establishment and success of schools and education was the hybridization of language. New Yorkers spoke neither perfect Dutch nor good English. It was difficult in some townships to gather an English-speaking jury; hence, naturally, neither tongue could be taught save in the early and simpler stages of education. It was difficult for those little Dutchmen who heard Holland-Dutch spoken constantly at home to abandon it entirely and speak English in the schools. The Flatbush master (himself a Dutchman, but bound to teach English) invented an ingenious plan to crowd out the use of Dutch in school. He carried a little metal token which he gave each day to the first scholar whom he heard use a Dutch word. That scholar could promptly turn the token over to any other scholar whom he likewise detected in using Dutch, and he in turn could do the same. Thus the token passed from hand to hand through the day; but the unlucky wight who chanced to have possession of it when the school day was over was soundly whipped.

In default of “spilling,” as one master wrote in his receipts, and in which he was somewhat shaky himself, he and all other colonial teachers took a firm stand on “cyphering.” “The Bible and figgers is all I want my boys to know,” said one old farmer. When the school session opened and closed, as we have seen in Flatbush, with prayer and praise, with catechism every day, and special catechising twice a week, even “figgers” did not have much of a chance.


:: Previous Page :: Next Page ::

Books & articles appearing here are modified adaptations
from a private collection of vintage books & magazines.
Reproduction of these pages is prohibited without written permission. © Laurel O'Donnell, 1996-2006.