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METHODS OF THE SCHOOLS OF QUINCY, MASS.
BY GEORGE A. WALTON.
The methods of teaching employed for the past few years in the schools of Quincy have attracted general attention, and secured for the schools of that town a wide-spread and an enviable reputation. It thus becomes a matter of public interest, to learn whether this refutation has a substantial basis in character; what are the peculiar points in which the superiority of the methods consist, and what means have been used to secure the good results. As the work of improving the schools of Quincy was perhaps as much the result of experiment as of philosophy, reversing the order of these inquiries, I shall first state some of the means employed for this improvement.
PROCESSES OF ORGANIZATION. One of the means of improvement consisted in bringing the schools of the whole town under a general organization. Schools in the more densely-populated villages were at first grouped together, and later brought under one roof; three schools located in the sparsely populated portions of the town were abolished, and the children, in some instances, were conveyed, at public expense, to the larger schools. The number of the schools, as also the expenses, was thus reduced. By these changes more perfect grading was secured,
. and all the grades, from the primary through the grammar, were eventually brought under a superior teacher, who acted as principal, and a corps of assistants, who looked to him for general direction. Nor was this more perfect grading allowed on the one hand to burden and force the slow, nor on the other to retard the progress of the pupils of superior ability ; for all the lower grades a system of promotions was adopted, which kept the individual pupils moving forward to higher and higher classes, as fast as it was evident they would be more profited to go onward than to remain. Special promotions based upon fitness took the place to some extent of general promotions based upon necessity. A revision of the course of studies was made which considerably abridged, and in many particulars revolutionized, the work attempted in the lower grades. The formalities of parsing were dismissed; the details of geography wholly disappeared, and portions of the arithmetic. The spelling and the copy-book were banished. Thus great prominence was given to the practical uses of language, reading, writing, and arithmetic. History and geography were placed later in the course. The course in the elementary, including the grammar schools, was thus materially abridged in its range, though it was broadened in some of its applications.
The methods of teaching and study were essentially modified. The method, sometimes called the written, by which the pupil commits to memory and recites the texts of books, was wholly abandoned, and in its place was substituted the object and oral method, by which the teacher presents objects and subjects of thought to the mind of the pupil, so as to occasion in him ideas and thoughts before the written names or words are presented. Books were by no means discarded, — they were multiplied largely in some departments of instruction ; the pupils were taught to make a different use of books. In general, a topical method took the place of the question-andanswer method in recitations. The reading book was no longer read till, like a much-worn garment, its pieces became threadbare ; for one many were substituted, and one after another read till not the individual pieces, but the vocabulary of words, whatever their relations, came to be perfectly familiar. Geography and history were taught together from diagrams drawn by the pupils, and by the use of the molding-board, upon which outlines and reliefs were represented. Routine, possible even in a topical method, was avoided.
The oral method of spelling gave place to the written; the embodying of words in sentences was adopted as the general method for learning to spell.
Penmanship was introduced into the work of the first year of school, the pupils copying words and sentences from the board, and writing from dictation; at the same time they were systematically taught the forms of the letters. The pupils were taught to read by the use of the blackboard. The teaching of the alphabet, for the purpose of learning to read, was kept entirely in the background.
The primary arithmetic was taught after the Grube method, all the elementary processes being illustrated with one pair of numbers, instead of a series of numbers being employed to illustrate a single process.
The change in methods gave rise to increased appliances for teaching, to charts, to globes and maps, to various pictorial illustrations, to blocks, to measures and weights, to numerous interesting devices of the teachers' contributing, and especially to reference-books, and books for supplementary reading. Instead of being limited to a single
reading-book of a grade, each of the primary classes was furnished with four or five of the same grade, taken from as many different series of school readers ; the reading extended even beyond this, to the Nursery, the Wide Awake, and other juvenile periodicals. Books of travel and adventure were furnished at public expense to the classes of all the higher grades.
An intelligent and earnest board of school committee-men had for years been struggling with the problems involved in the improvement of the schools; sometimes their struggles had been inspired by hope, often by chagrin, and sometimes by desperation. At last abandoning all hope of meeting in person the demands made upon them, they urged upon the town the necessity of having one competent person to superintend the schools. The recommendation of the committee was adopted, and a person experienced in teaching and adapted to the work of organizing was appointed superintendent. One feature of the situation was that, after a long service, having so signally failed to bring about the desired changes in the schools, the school committee were prepared to surrender the field of operations without reserve; the system of supervision by school committees was admitted to be inadequate to the demands. A superintendent was invited to take full control of the educational affairs of the town, with the assurance that he was to be unmolested, and simply held responsible for results. He had a reasonable assurance, too, that the committee under whom he was to labor had the nature of a commission; its members were likely to be somewhat permanent. It was under the superintendent of schools that most of the work of organization was begun and carried on. Whether the changes were improvements or otherwise, the credit is due to the superintendent under wise committee-men, — he acting as their agent, they pledged to afford him the most abundant and cordial support; adopting or rejecting his plans, and making suggestions of their own for his consideration, they became his counsellors and support in defending and advancing the new lines of operation. To continue the simile,—they were the ministry, he the general to conduct the campaign.
This officer pushed forward the work already begun by the committee; he saw only the training of the children, and laid plans wholly in their interest: whatever stood in the way of that was to be removed. He began with a scrutinizing inspection of the course of studies, the modes of teaching, the grading, and so on. The first in importance of the requisites of a good school, he knew to be competent teachers,—these were indispensable; those of this class in the town were retained, others were eliminated from the corps ; search from far and near was made for those already experienced, or possessed of the qualities to make good teachers. A remarkable power was possessed by the superintendent for aiding the ambitious, for encouraging the worthy timid, for stimulating and rousing the sluggish, and discovering the inefficient and indifferent. Responsible for results, he early had in hand the force upon which the results so largely depend. To aid in giving unity to the instruction, and to bring into the schools a body of well-trained workers, meetings of the teachers were frequently held; the superintendent went from school to school, giving instruction in the classes; and for the young and inexperienced persons wishing to become teachers, whether in the town or elsewhere, a training class was formed. Young ladies entering this class were instructed by the superintendent in methods of teaching and school-management, taken to the schools to observe the teaching there, and, to a greater or less extent, themselves allowed to assist in the work of instruction. Thus was kept in reserve a force from which could be drawn recruits for a service subject to sudden and frequent depletions.
While this direction was constantly given to the work of teaching; while methods the most radical were advised, the largest liberty in discussing these, and in adopting others if they were more in accord with the views and temper of the teacher, was allowed. This brought to the work of the schools a body of independent and interested coworkers. Liberated from all traditional methods, each out of his
. own experience invented some means adapted to his peculiar situation. And each, of course, contributed something which was adapted to improve the teaching of all. With such a corps of workers, under such a stimulus, modes of cperation the most varied and original
, were evolved; these the superintendent was quick to improve upon, to apply or suppress, according to their adaptation to advance or retard the ends the schools were intended to promote. Everything was experimental, but each experiment was measured by its conformity to certain
PRINCIPLES OF TEACHING.
In the study of the theory of teaching and in the practice of the art, some fundamental principles were more or less distinctly recognized. So far as the acquisition of knowledge is concerned, only the essentials of a practical education were to be attempted; under the process of differentiation which had everywhere been going on for many years, a large number of branches were being taught and new ones were being introduced into the schools. Some had been pursued to such an extent that their pursuit involved the exercise of powers the pupils did not yet possess; studies the elements of which might easily be taught to young pupils, they were pursuing as sciences. Of course the result was that a mass of meaningless words were being committed to memory; minute and formal examinations, drill, and repetition had taken the place of teaching, and detailed programs had become a necessity.
The principle observed was, that the pupil in early life exercises some of his powers more naturally than others; that his mind most readily responds to impressions made through the powers of observation, and that memory and imagination can be more easily trained at this period than can the reasoning faculties ; accordingly the former powers were the first appealed to, and the ones kept especially active and under training in the lower schools.
For the purpose of this training the pupils were led to observe the structure of plants and animals ; to note the habits of these, their uses, and so on; and having made the observations, they were allowed to express them orally, and in the form of written composition. Objects in common use were made the subjects for study, and the thoughts suggested an occasion for language-teaching. To train the imagination, pictures were introduced into all the schools; thoughts of these were expressed in oral and written language by. the pupils. The narration of real or fictitious events by the teacher or by the pupils was used to call into exercise, and thus train, this important power of imagination.
A study of the method pursued shows that the principle was recognized, that a knowledge of facts must precede a knowledge of causes ; that elementary notions must be taught before the science of which they are the occasion can be taught. Hence, language was to be mastered by practice in its use, while grammar was to be deferred till the pupil reached the high school. Numbers were to be learned by exercises in their various operations; that is, by practice in their combinations, while arithmetic as a science was to be studied, if ever,
; at a later period.
In everything taught, the pupil was to use the sign only when he knew well the thing signified, and always to have clear ideas before attempting to give definitions.
In all the training an appeal was made to the motives found in the natural desires; the desire for exercise and rest was met by providing that all the time of the pupil should be occupied ; an exercise in reading was followed by one in drawing, or singing; physical by mental exercise, and always one kind of work alternated with another;