More Great Thoughts: Samuel Read Hall

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(Host) Long before John Dewey, there was Samuel Read Hall. As VPR’s occasional exploration of the Great Thoughts of Vermont continues, commentator Edith Hunter introduces us to this innovative Vermont educator.

(Hunter) “When teaching geography, the mode generally pursued is to present a child with a map of the world; to teach him its general divisions and how to distinguish them on the map…This may have been approved by most institutions, but I am willing to confess it has appeared to me the very opposite of the course that nature would direct. … Why should he learn the names of continents, islands, oceans, seas and lakes, rivers and mountains many thousands of miles distant before he is taught the geography of his own town, county, state and country?”

This is not John Dewey, educator, writing in the twentieth century, but Samuel Read Hall, educator, writing in the early nineteenth century. In the same tone he had suggestions for teaching history: “The teacher’s first duty… is to make himself familiar with all the details of the history of the city, town, or village in which he teaches, and to take particular notice of every spot or object which is linked with an historical association. …. [Then] to carry the young learners to as many as possible of these places. … The health of the pupils is benefitted by the fresh open air …. [and] everything wears the aspect of reality, and of nature, and of life.” In other words, he urged taking field trips to local historic locations.

Who was this educator with such advanced ideas for his time? Born on October 27th, 1795, in Croydon, New Hampshire, Samuel Read Hall was educated largely at home, though he spent some time attending the district schools of New Hampshire and Maine where his father served as pastor.

In 1815, Samuel became a teacher himself. At the same time, instead of attending college, he read theology with local ministers. While living in Cornish and teaching intermittently, he was able to attend Kimball Union Academy for three years.

Already recognized as an effective teacher, in 1823 he went as a home missionary to serve a church in Concord, Vermont. In his agreement with the church, he stipulated that while serving as pastor, he would establish a school for teachers. Thus was founded in 1823 the first teacher training school, in the United States, eighteen years before his contemporary, Horace Mann, started the normal school in Lexington, Massachusetts.

In 1829 Hall wrote his Lectures on School-Keeping. There were five editions of this influential book, with a centennial reprint by the Dartmouth Press in 1929.

Samuel Read Hall’s innovative ideas on how to make education real and practical are still relevant today.

This is Edith Hunter on the Center Road.

Writer and historian Edith Hunter lives in Weathersfield Center. She spoke from our studio in Norwich.

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