Maria Sanford gave this lecture in 1869, when she was teaching in the Pennsylvania schools. Transcripts were printed in both a local Chester County newspaper and in the Pennsylvania School Journal.
Sanford lists the ways that public schools can be improved. First, schools must encourage higher student attendance, hire better-trained teachers, and provide clean, beautiful school houses . Second, schools must educate students in ways that develop their character, stressing respect for authority, thoroughness, and proper manners. She speaks at length about why it is important for schools to educate students about the dignity of labor.
How Can We Elevate Our Public Schools
Every true American loves the public school. It is with us an object of personal, national and historic pride. It nourished the infancy of our free institutions, and by it must the strength of their manhood be sustained. There rests, therefore, upon each and all, the rich and the poor, the obscure and the influential, a binding obligation to widen, strengthen, and elevate its influence. It is a trust committed to us for the generations to come; we cannot evade or resign it, and if we neglect it, we imperil all that we hold most sacred. We are in a measure mindful of the charge; we honor the statesman who lifts up his voice for popular education, and we spurn with indignation any attempt to hamper or restrict it. What we lack is a consciousness of individual responsibility. We complain of and mourn over the general indifference, forgetting that faithfulness is contagious, and that had we performed our whole duty, our friends and neighbors would have been roused to earnestness and activity.
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Maria Sanford, who was teaching in Parkersville at the time, gave this address at the August 4, 1868, meeting of the Pennsylvania Teachers’ Association. She got the opportunity to give this, her first major public address, when asked to substitute for another teacher.
Sanford’s main argument is that the human desire for greatness is a God-given incentive to continue to work. The nature of much work is that its significance isn’t immediately apparent, either because a person cannot see how their small part contributes to a greater effort, or because the effect accumulates incrementally over time. This is true of teaching, but it is important to persevere because education is crucial to the maintenance of republican government.
The Greatness of Our Work
The desire to do or be something great is as universal in the human mind as fear or love or hatred.
“The dreams we’ve had of deathless name” may be locked in memory’s most secret cloister, and, like the graves of loved ones, visited only with regretful tears, but they are sacred treasures never lost, save in the shipwreck of all faith and honor, and powerful unto death to fire the soul to high resolves, and nerve the arm to manly effort. These hopes and aspirations are not vain fancies of egotism and folly, but given by the kind Father as incentives to earnestness and enthusiasm in our daily toil; are not false guides but waymarks of a real glory, which even in this world awaits those who neither faint nor falter at the difficulties of the path.
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