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LEARNING AND GOING TO SCHOOL. It does not seem that we are much nearer obtaining a catholic and comprehensive scheme of Education for the masses than we were fifteen or twenty years ago. But the indirect benefits arising from the agitation of this question have been considerable. The meetings, the debates, the speeches, and the writings of those who have interested themselves in this important matter, have tended very greatly to inform the public mind as to the real nature of education. A generation has scarcely passed away since it was supposed that reading, writing, and arithmetic constituted all that was necessary to fit us for our station, and enable us with respectability and credit to get through the world. With many, indeed, the estimate fell even lower; nothing more was required than to pass a certain portion of our time within the walls of a school, going through a formal routine of duties, without the necessity of understanding more of them than the outward and visible. All the means, too, of the very limited knowledge thus acquired, were supposed to lie outside the mind. Observation, analogy, judgment-all the powers and appliances of our mental and moral constitution were so many useless things under this system-our children were never taught to observe, to compare, to think, to reason ; and they left school encumbered rather than enriched with the formal and stereotyped information they had picked up there, quite ignorant of any other way of using it than that to which they had been accustomed. Twelve times twelve was a dry fact: twelve times thirteen, a mere matter of opinion.
But things are now strangely altered for the better. You have only to cast your eye over the scholastic advertisements in any magazine or journal, to see that the theories of instruction and education are much better understood than formerly, Instead of the old array of arts, sciences, and accomplishments, you have something about the elimination or discipline of the mind. One advertiser acts upon the idea that “a lesson is not given till it is received;" another “combines careful mental culture" with a good English and French education. A third offers “ Intellectual and religious advantages combined with parental care.” In another school " earnest endeavors are made to establish the influence of sacred truth on the heart.” Another
endeavors “to promote the improvement of her pupils, by leading them to think upon, and to understand the subjects they are taught;" whilst a bolder candidate than any, “flatters himself that he possesses more natural methods of mental training and discipline than commonly obtain in our private schools."
Assuming that our school-masters and school-mistresses are able to carry out their theories suceessfully, we have much cause to rejoice at this improved aspect of affairs. It is in fact a return to the sound and rational system taught centuries ago in the Sacred Scriptures—a laying aside of the pedagogue for the parent-of the didactic formalist, for the friend and associate of set teaching, for pleasant talking-of school routine, for parental instruction and discipline. Knowledge is not to be administered like medicine-at stated intervals, or in carefully measured doses, but to flow forth spontaneously and perennially. What was primarily applied to the knowledge of divine things, is equally true of all others-“Thou shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up."
We have been agreeably reminded of this change of affairs in the educational world by two little works which have been just placed in our hands—“ The Observing Eye,"* and “Pleasant Pages, a Journal of Home Education, on the Infant School System.”+ The history of the first of these works is thus given.
“ Most of the following Letters on the Lowest Races of Animals, were originally addressed to a young family, in eonsequence of questions started by an intelligent boy of about eight years of age, whilst rambling one morning amongst wooded grounds, interspersed with streams of water.
“During the correspondence that followed this ramble, the works of Cuvier, Roget, Kirby, and many other writers were consulted, and their modes of expression frequently borrowed.”
This little work, then, is a praiseworthy and successful attempt to connect the worlds of nature and of literature-to school, inform, correct, and educate the faculty of Observation,
* “The Observing Eye, or Letters to Children on the Three Lowest Divisions of Animal Life.” London, Jarrold & Sons.
+ London, Houlston & Co.
by the accumulated experiences of our real, out-of-door naturalists, and eventually to lead through nature up to nature's God. Nor does the benefit end here; for our author truly observes
“ The study of natural history is found to possess a great moral influence over children, supplying them with cheerful motives for active employment and intelligent research ; whilst the constant display of wisdom and power, found in nature, tends to elevate the mind in admiration of the great Creator, and to fill the heart with praise. This refining tendency was practically understood by a schoolmaster residing in the neighbourhood of London, when he promptly remarked, Of all the boys committed to my care, I find those lads the least disposed to stray into vicious habits, who delight in the study of living creatures."
We do not wonder at this. Find your children intelligent and delightful employment, and they have no inducement to "stray into vicious courses. What, for example, is likely to interest them more than such pretty histories as that of the Sponge-histories, it should be remembered, all learned originally by the pleasant use of an “ Observing Eye.” Many such, our readers may find in the delightful little volume before us, but with this one we must take a reluctant leave.
“Let us watch the history of the Sponge's life, beginning with its infant state. Suppose you were standing on a rock in a warm situation, such as by the Pacific Ocean, or the Mediterranean Sea, and that this rock on which you stood, jutted a little way into the sea, it is very likely that in such a situation you might see what many an observing person has seen, a pile of sponge fastened under the waters on the rock; and as you watched it, your eye might every now and then catch sight of a little jelly-like looking thing falling from off the side of an old sponge, somewhat of the shape of a pear, but exceedingly small. This little thing is called a Gemmule, from the latin word Gemma, a bud. You would see there was no shell to cover this gemmule, no skin to cover it, but that it looked exactly like a clear drop of the white of an egg, without head, eyes, ears, stomach, feet, or fins. Instead however of falling to the bottom of the sea like a dead thing, you would see that this little jelly fellow, feeling life in itself, kept itself afloat in the waters, and that it immediately began to lift up and down with amazing quickness a number of fine threads or spikes, that cover more than half of its body, and which are called cilia; these cilia the gemmule whirls about most rapidly, making quite a hubbub in the water; and then pushing with the roundest part of its body foremost, off it swims; and as it moves along, it keeps up a perpetual bustle in the water, never ceasing to vibrate its cilia, for by them it is ever drawing food into its body.
“ As it swims, it looks as if it did not know what it wanted, nor where it was going. But God, its wise Creator, knows, for it is He who draws the little sponge gemmule far away from the old sponge, that it may live in another place, and so spread the good of its existence over the sides and bottom of the sea. If two of these live gemmules happen to meet and to strike each other, they instantly stop their moving little arms. The next moment they turn themselves round and round, and then off they go to work again. After wandering about for three days, they seem tired of roaming, and the first rock, shell, or piece of wood they meet with, they prepare to settle down upon, and to make it their fixed home. They begin by fastening the narrow end of their bodies to the hard substance they have found, and all this time, their tendrils or cilia go on making the same stir around them; but in a few hours after they have fixed themselves tight, their cilia grow quiet, they lay down flat on the rock, and never move all their lives long, but rest quietly sucking in the sea water.
“ Very soon after the gemmule has become quiet, a great number of dark spots are seen loose in its little clear body. These dark spots are the fibres of the sponge beginning to grow in the live jelly, and the fibres are made of flint, lime, and horn; which three substances the cilia had drawn into the body of the gemmule out of the sea water.
“ These little spots of sponge soon join together like net-work, and make a sort of frame-work or skeleton for the live jelly to rest upon. Our bones make a frame-work or skeleton for our flesh and muscles to rest upon, and as our bones grow, our flesh increases ; so, as the sponge’s frame-work grows in the gemmule, its live jelly grows too, and the jelly fills all the tubes and holes of the sponge, and even covers quite over the outside of the sponge.
“When the jelly is much grown, and the sponge much grown, a great many fine spikes are sometimes seen to shoot out of the sides of the sponge tubes: it is supposed these fine spikes are made to grow in the inside of the tubes, to prevent the weight of the growing sponge from pressing too heavily upon the live animal jelly. All round that part of the sponge which is fastened on the rock, you may see a clear rim of jelly spread out; and when two sponges grow so close that these rims touch one another, they immediately grow together, and make one lump.
“Some men have tried to take hold of the living jelly of the sponge, in order to see what it is like, but they are always disappointed, for as soon as it is taken off the sponge, it turns to a kind of thick oil or glue, and soon dries up.
“ As the sponge grows on the rocks, it throws up many round heads with large holes on the top. The sides of a sponge you can see are full of little holes or pores, it is by these little holes that the sponge draws the sea water into its substance, and after letting the water run through the whole mass of its body, the living creature seems to vomit out what it does not want, through the large holes at the top, and often sends the water out with such force, that it has been seen to rise up in the air like a little fountain. A small piece of live sponge placed in a basin was seen, by the help of a microscope, to throw out this water for five hours together; after which, as if it were tired, it stopped to rest for a time.”
We give a hearty welcome to Mr. Newcombe's “Pleasant Pages.” The idea is a happy one.
“ The book, if regularly read by the parent to his child, at their morning meal, would render him his Daily Instructor. It would, every morning, supply the child with a new idea, and set his mind in motion for the day, promoting its exercise and growth. May it thus become a familiar and welcome guest looked for and required by children, as much as they require their daily bread !--and may the Author be allowed, for many years, the privilege of assisting parents in their most sacred function the training of their offspring!"