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We want observation, ladies and gentlemen, and conclusions drawn from observation and real experiment, and the work of gathering and recording them is a work all can engage in.
I will not detain you, then, with definitions of education; we have enough of them : or with observations on its utility; you do not need to have it proved to you. I wish to enter into some of the details of what constitutes a good and a bad education, as an illustration of the text I have chosen. In doing it, I shall try to hold fast to sound experience and observation, but shall not promise to pay much regard to existing institutions, or the question, What is immediately practical? I will even run the risk in what I say of sometimes seeming extravagant, not detaining you with those limitations to apparently one-sided statements which I shall trust to your good sense and experience to supply. My criticisms will perhaps savor to you of presumption, and you will be ready to ask, Who is this who thus questions accepted methods? Heaven forbid that I should undertake to teach my fellow-teachers from the height of any fancied superiority! If I shall criticise freely, I draw my lessons, let me assure you, rather from the frequent sense of failure, from an experience of shortcoming, that has constantly put me upon the trial of better methods and more careful preparation, far more than from any feelings which arise from the consciousness of success. It seems to me, that, in the present state of education, this is the natural feeling of all but the most fortunate or the most skilful among teachers who have any adequate sense of the importance of their vocation.
But in respect to the question as to what is practical, I have an abiding faith that what is best is always practical some time or other, if we will only not be too impatient as to setting the date of the coming of that some time or other. You shall call me a theorist if you will, and I shall be quite content to accept the title, though I can lay claim also to many years of experience; for I am satisfied that our highest ideals and our best theories fall far short of those blessed possibilities which Divine Providence has in store for those who hold fast to a high faith in humanity. And in respect to criticism, it cannot be good for us, it seems to me, to meet year py year simply to exchange congratulations on our real or fancied achievements. Let us rather strive faithfully to discover our short-comings, and, though we may be possessed of much that is good, try to make that only the stepping-stone to more that is higher and better. We have a subject which of all others there is the least fear of exhausting.
Will you, then, accepting my disclaimer, accompany me while I begin at the beginning of our task as educators, and make a few comments, favorable or
unfavorable, on prevailing fashions, as I contrast them with that ideal education which cannot but be the mental fruit of a teacher's reflections on his own experience ?
I say, “begin at the beginning;”—and if I had said instead, begin with the most difficult of educational problems, I should have changed my phraseology, but not my meaning. Infant and primary education I reckon the highest and most difficult of educational problems; and the instincts of humanity are placing them more and more, as time advances, in those hands which are best fitted, and the only ones really fitted, to deal with them, – the hands of woman. Nothing less than her delicate tact and her motherly patience can cope with them successfully. And I think that nowhere in modern education is a more decided advance apparent than in our ideas respecting this most important department of teaching. Whimsical and notional some of the evidences of it may be, but they all betray a juster conception of the true nature of the problem. I do not know that it is too much to say that our conceptions as to right methods of early education have of late been almost revolutionized. I am speaking to many who, I am sure, have a feeling recollection of the old-fashioned primary “school-marm,”as she existed in all her terrors a quarter of a century ago; or of that row of little urchins on the front benches of the old district school, idle,
turbulent, neglected, proficients only in mischief, because taught nothing better. Contrast with this a modern primary school, under a teacher who has striven to enter into the spirit of her vocation, and, laying aside old routine, has learned something of those old novelties, those rediscovered truisms, those pieces of simple common sense, old as the days of Father Pestalozzi, old as the days of the first thoughtful mother, “Object Teaching,” and the methods of the “Kindergarten.” The difference between the rows of fearful youngsters, trembling under the awful frown, dreading the awful birch, of the old school-dame, and the joyous life of a modern model primary school, under a sympathetic and skilful teacher, measures all the progress between old and new education. For it is a progress deeper than any mere outward change of method, and that will not be confined to infant and primary teaching. It marks a change of principle, a change in fundamental philosophy, and the outgrowth of a new spirit. Morally it is a change from the spirit of fear to the spirit of love; intellectually it is a change from a false to the dawn of a true psychology. Let me justify these assertions.
If we examine our older English literature, it is strange and somewhat mortifying to observe the picture of the schoolmaster which is universal in it. The raidaywyós was originally a slave, and from the
naida yuyós came almost unchanged the pedagogue as we see him in literature, a slave at once and a tyrant. I cannot stop to multiply quotations. Let me read only, as a specimen, the description drawn by Godwin, not a century ago, when writing on the art of education. “Nothing,” he says, “can be more pitiable than the condition of the instructor, in the present mode of education. He is the worst of slaves. He is consigned to the severest of imprisonments. He is condemned to be perpetually engaged in handling and rehandling the foundations of science. Like the unfortunate wretch, upon whom the lot has fallen in a city reduced to extremities, he is destroyed that others may live. Among all the hardships he is compelled to suffer, he endeavors to console himself with the recollection that his office is useful and patriotic. But even this consolation is a slender one. He is regarded as a tyrant by those under his jurisdiction, and he is a tyrant. He mars their pleasures. He appoints to each his portion of loathed labor. He watches their irregularities and their errors.
He is accustomed to speak to them in tones of dictation and censure. He is the beadle to chastise their follies. He lives alone in the midst of a multitude, His manners, even when he goes
into the world, are spoiled with the precision of pedantry and the insolence of despotism. His usefulness and his patriotism, therefore, have some resemblance to