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among themselves in trying to create the impression that in the schools under their charge a vast amount of work is accomplished, and that the range of instruction is very wide. We can easily see that only a part- perhaps a small part of the work set down is accomplished, but does not the very fact of this eagerness to make on paper an extensive course of study show a fundamental pedagogic error? If a right theory of education prevailed, a man who announced one of these elaborate courses of study would stand condemned at the outset.
Secondly. The results of these courses of study, as shown by pupils in the upper grades, are evidence a posteriori that the courses are overcrowded. In any proper system of education the desire for knowledge should grow as the pupil advances along the course. Study and acquirement should be more and more a delight year by year. Curiosity should still move the mind and fresh fields should be entered with increased delight. A course of diet and physical training which killed the appetite and created a distaste for all exertion would hardly be considered successful. A keen relish for food and an inclination to activity are recognized in physical training as essential points, and no success is ever expected without them. But in mental training courses which bring confirmed mental dyspepsia and loss of appetite are highly commended. Work in the upper grades is mainly done from force of habit, from a sense of duty, from a desire to please or because a teacher's strong personality can still inspire a weary pupil.
On this second ground largely, we base the charge that courses of study are overcrowded. We find here results such as we should naturally expect from overcrowding, and we find in our printed courses of study confirmatory evidence. If the results were good we should be compelled to admit that our a priori reasoning was at fault. But the results are not good. There is no such intellectual quickening in our higher education as we have a right to expect under à proper system. The attendance at our colleges and universities increases scarcely faster than our population. We present in this respect a marked contrast to what is going on elsewhere and to what should be accomplished here. It is a common complaint among teachers that pupils have little interest n their work. And this in many cases cannot be thought to be the fault of the teacher. The technical skill in teaching, displayed in many class-rooms, is marvelous. All kinds of devices are employed and the fullest resources of the instructor are in constant occupation. But this very skill of the teacher makes it possible to overcrowd the courses still more, and teachers who can get the classes to do the work are the special delight of the ambitious superintendents and principals. With the dull methods of the past, teachers cannot get the children over the ground fast enough. If the pupil has sometimes to look for his mental pabulum, select and prepare it himself, and it may be at times go hungry, his digestive apparatus is not likely to get out of order and he may grow up into a healthy, if not an overfed man. But in these days the teacher must gather together and prepare the brain food for his pupils, so that it comes to them all ready for absorption. There must be no time wasted and the process of feeding must go on without interruption. The result is, in most cases, mental dyspepsia and a disinclination for intellectual effort. There is little appetite for investigation. The child is dull and hard to rouse to enthusiasm, without curiosity and indisposed to exert himself. If to rise from the table when one is still hungry is good for the physical man, to stop our intellectual feeding when the child is still eager for more can hardly be a mistake. It is not the food, but its assimilation which tends to growth; it is not the amount of exercise, but its judicious performance that makes bone and muscle, and the period of rest has its function not less important than that of exertion. It should be the province of education to add to the capacities of the individual as well as to increase his acquirements.
For some time it has been the popular thing to cry out against our educational methods, and those who have been loudest in their denunciations have at the same time been the most strenuous in insisting that the courses of study should be still further crowded. One advocates the introduction of science teaching into all the grades, another cries out for practical branches and would have phonography, typewriting and telegraphy taught in every school. In fact it would be difficult to suggest any subject which is not at times urged for admission to our primary schools. To every thinking mind it is plain that there must always be a selection, and that there must be inevitably omitted much which would in individual cases seem profitable. It is simply a question of choices. There was once a time when a bright mind could in the compass of human life get comfortably through the range of the world's intellectual activity, but that was not the age of steam or of free public schools. The very conditions which make the present school advantages possible make the extension of knowledge practically infinite. The brightest mind can now scarcely hope to follow all that is doing even in a narrow special line of work. There are few things which it is absolutely indispensable to know, although the knowledge may be interesting and at times convenient. Specialization in children's work is undesirable. safely be left for maturer years and individual aptitudes. What we need to do is to promote rational and symmetrical growth and at the
same time to furnish such knowledge as is most convenient and useful. To train the mind for further effort, and to teach it how to use the materials at hand, is the true office of the teacher. The day when his special function was to give information is past, though that may still be an important part of his work. In these times there are a thousand avenues through which knowledge comes to the child, and it is absurd for a teacher to think his work is the same as when those avenues did not exist.
Conceiving, then, the office of the school to be the development of mental power, teaching the child to make use of materials at hand and supplying it with such knowledge as it is inconvenient and unpleasant to be without, what changes are to be suggested in our present courses of study?
In the first place, the present prominence of arithmetic in our schools can be justified on no ground, either theoretical or practical. No foreign educational system gives it anything like a similar prominence. It is no unusual thing to find it occupying a third of the pupil's time for eight or ten years. There is no practical justification for this. No adequate results are shown. No broker or banker would take into his employ a boy from our public schools trusting simply to his school knowledge. No teacher would trust to the accuracy of his pupils even in the simplest operations. He may drill his class for a whole term on plastering walls and computing interest, but he would be unwilling to make a contract or give a receipt in full without going over the result himself. Nor can this outlay of time be justified on philosophical grounds. The child who has thoroughly learned the four fundamental rules and fractions can be taught all the mysteries of interest in a half hour, and the commercial applications present no more difficulty than the purchase of ten oranges at three cents apiece. Let the child be taught to use numbers, including fractions, accurately and rapidly, and when the time comes for him to apply this knowledge in the way of business, he will learn it in a week. Business men set a light estimate on this knowledge when a boy asks for a place. Good penmanship, quick and accurate use of figures and a clear way of thinking are all they seek. The writer has twice had occasion during the last thirty years to make use out of school of his school practice in partial payments, and in neither case would it have been to his inconvenience or loss if he had never heard of interest. He would simply have saved two hours time and been unable to accommodate two farmers who asked him to compute the interest on a note. When one thinks of the common cry for practical studies, the present mania for business arithmetic in schools seem incredible. It is simply a proof of the utter senselessness that governs the popular voice in choosing so-called practical studies. What can be more utterly unpractical than forcing a girl, who has no thought of business, through stocks, commission, profit and loss, etc., etc.? It is scarcely more practical for boys. All the special knowledge might be learned in an hour when it is needed, and with our present systems it is generally forgotten so soon that it has to be learned anew. There is no more need for a special treatment of stocks in school than there is for special treatment of cotton or lumber or oil. The thing constantly to be borne in mind is that it is not the function of our primary public schools to specialize or to prepare children for trades or callings, but simply to train them for citizenship, for manhood and womanhood.
For several years there has been growing a healthier tone of feeling regarding grammar. In comparatively few schools is the pupil introduced to technical grammar and kept plodding the weary round for half a dozen years as was formerly the case not unfrequently. In many cases the study is deferred till it can be taken up profitably and much time is saved thereby. Still more time might be gained if it were taken up in such a way as to be a help to the learning of other languages and if the terminology of the grammarians were uniform, designating always the same thing by the same word not only in English grammar, but in the ancient and modern languages as well. This work is just now occupying the attention of the Grammatical Society in England and a practical outcome may be expected the present
The notion of a former generation that the office of grammar is to teach one to speak and write correctly is coming to be a thing of the past. That so palpable an aburdity could have held its place so long in schools might form a strong argument for those who believe in the final persistence of evil. Its refutation could be found in every school and often in the very utterances of the men who maintained it. With its disappearance has come a more sensible idea of grammatical study, though even now more time is spent on the subject in many schools than is profitable.
Geography is a subject singularly suited to young children, intrinsically interesting, and furnishing a vast store of convenient and often useful knowledge. It is little adapted to train the reasoning faculties and does not appeal largely to the judgment. It therefore may properly be taken up when the memory is eagerly working and strong impressions are easily made. The general voice of teachers proclaims that geography is not well taught. One of its main functions, the training of the imagination, is either wholly forgotten or made of little account. To this fact is due the general lack of interest in the study
and also the general opinion that it is dull. Too often the examination papers on geography emphasize and re-enforce all the worst errors in its teaching
Of reading, rightly understood, it is scarcely possible to make too much. Elocutionary reading has no right to a place in our public schools. But every child should be taught to take up rapidly by his eye the thoughts of the printed page and make them his own. No knowledge can be more serviceable than the ability to do this. There is a phase of elocutionary training often connected with reading which cannot be made too prominent, though it is difficult to see why it should be confined to the reading class, that is, articulation and voice culture. It is a melancholy commentary on our boasted practical education that in thousands of schools where years are spent teaching children to do what they will never be called on to do, worse than no attention is paid to voice culture and articulation. There is no day in the life of any child when he may not profit by a well-trained and skillfully-managed voice and give pleasure by clear, distinct, unaffected articulation. But nowhere is proper attention paid to this subject, in fact it would be a satisfaction to know that anywhere a teacher was preferred because of her beauty of speech. In a general way we all echo Lear's remark that the “soft, gentle and low” voice is an excellent thing, but we take little pains to get it.
Writing occupies too little rather than too much time in our schools, but oftentimes the hour devoted to formal penmanship is depended upon to teach the art of writing, and the other written work in school goes far to counteract all the good derived from the special writing lesson. All the writing done in school or out should be subjected to criticism and in this way a habit of good writing would surely grow.
A few years ago little instruction was given in our public schools outside of the five subjects just enumerated. The course of study could hardly be said to be overcrowded notwithstanding the great stress then laid on grammar and arithmetic. The latter study was then a better aid to discipline than now, because it made stronger demands on the child's thinking powers and called for more analysis and reasoning. But gradually a change has taken place. Drawing finds a place in most courses. History has been introduced. Civil government is often taught. Science in the form of elementary physics, chemistry, geology and botany, has crept in. Natural history instruction is often given either formally or informally; and current events are discussed. Physiology, the effects of alcohol and narcotics, are in many States subjects required by law. And by elaborate examinations it is sought to make instruction in all these subjects thorough and often technical.