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tional value and to their adaptation to the "exigencies of examination,” as Mr. TODHUNTER puts it; but would not twice or thrice the time which our fathers gave them, suffice for us. Do we get from them an appropriate discipline for immature faculties, a discipline which can be had from no other branches of study; or, is the knowledge gained from them of more worth than that which we should gain from others? Is a knowledge of the progressions, alligations, and various solutions in fractions, percentage, etc., etc., of greater practical value or easier to master for instance than the more obvious properties of triangles and circles; or are they more necessary than a knowledge of the inexorable laws which control the relations of supply and demand ? Is the discipline of mind gained from parsing and analysis superior to what could be gained by persistent and thorough drill of our pupils in the expression of their own simple thoughts in precise and elegant language? While every man may have a map or gazetteer at hand just as he has a dictionary, is a knowledge of the names and locations of the towns and the course of rivers of Africa and Asia of greater interest or value than to know the prevailing course of the winds, why a falling barometer indicates a storm, or something of that mysterious agency by which our messages are carried across the land and under the seas till they may almost girdle the earth a thousand times while it tardily moves once upon its axis. We might go on pressing such questions as these for a day, but they are all involved in one. Does not the course of studies in our common schools sadly need readjustment? I may ask, in conclusion, whether there is any subject which might more profitably engage the attention of this Association. With the material which has accumulated for years, all before us, in the light of experience and with the aid of a science of education which has received much attention of late may we not be able to build a fairer structure than that which now cumbers the ground?
EDWARD SHIPPEN, Esq., stated that the committee appointed to visit the prisons and report at this meeting of the Association would be unable to do so. He, therefore, offered the following resolution which was adopted after a spirited discussion :
Resolved, That a committee of three be appointed whose duty it shall be to procure from State Superintendents of Public Schools statistics to show what proportion of convicts in prisons and penitentiaries received full or partial education in High or Normal-in Grammar, Intermediate, and Primary Schools, and what proportion in Universities, Colleges, or other private schools—and to report such other statistics as to the relation between education and crime as the committee may deem of educational utility, and that said committee shall report at the next meeting of this Association.
The paper of Mr. RICKOFF was discussed by H: F. HARRINGTON, Superintendent of Public Instruction, New Bedford, Mass.
REMARKS OF MR. HARRINGTON.
Mr. President, Ladies, and Gentlemen :
I hold the question before us to be among the most important to which attention can be directed, and I quite agree with Mr. Rickoff in most of the conclusions at which he has arrived. I can best express my own views by a cursory review of the conditions of the question, referring to the positions taken by Mr. Rickoff incidentally, as I proceed.
But before I begin, I wish to say a few words of a personal character. I was once in the gospel ministry, being bent on thwarting nature, by striving to make a poor minister of what might have been a passably good schoolmaster. I studied for the ministry, in part, with one of the most noted of the clergy in Eastern Massachusetts; and when I took my first sermon to him for criticism, he said, after reading it over,—“Very well, very well; a good argument enforced by good illustrations. But you have spoiled the whole by your qualifications. Now, I give you this piece of advice. Never qualify. If you have something worth saying, say it as boldly and forcibly as you can. Make your point directly and clearly and there leave it. Never qualify. You will find that there will be enough who disagree with you to make all the qualifications you will think necessary.” I have practiced on this wise precept; and as I shall find occasion to criticise our school work severely and shall not delay to qualify, I wish to protect myself from misconstruction. I would have no one imagine that I do not prize our schools. I have not given the best years of my life to their service, purposing to labor for them to the last, and die in the harness without a belief in glorious fruits from their past, and the expectation of yet greater triumphs in their future. Their defects by no means neutralize their merits.
Turning now to our subject, I remark that the present course of study in the best class of elementary schools is in several material points the outgrowth of radical reforms. Twenty-five years ago or more, the prevalent methods of teaching were vicious in the extreme. It was a systematic process of what is technically called “grind.” The teacher had nothing to do but to keep order, assign lessons, and hear recitations. His own mind contributed little or nothing towards the mental equipment of his scholars. "The text-book was everything. Accurate memorizing of its contents was the summit of laudable attainment. There was according to the true sense, no teaching whatever. The schoolmaster simply sat in judgment on memoriter text-book study. There were no explanations, no suggestions, no illustrations--nothing to stimulate curiosity and quicken thought.
From this beggarly drudgery it resulted that words, which, at the best, are only symbols of thought, came to be regarded as positive intellectual entities; as being at once both the thought and its expression. They were supposed to convey to a mind which had never heard of them before, the ideas they were invented to express. Thus the scholars were taught a mass of words-words-words, without meaning and without life.
A second notable vice of old-time teaching was the prosecution of such studies as were then approved without the slightest inquiry into their abstract or relative values. Arithmetic occupied from a third to a half of the entire school time and that by no means according to the best methods. A good part of the remaining time was devoted to parsing, that absurd provision for instruction how to read and write the English language correctly; and scholars learned to parse readily all through Milton and COWPER, who could not construct the simplest sentence without ridiculous blundering Spelling, too, was lifted into prominence as a positive intellectual exercise; and the youth who could spell without mistake all the “jaw-breakers ” of the spelling-book, was a miracle of high scholastic attainment, no matter how ignorant and stolid he might be as to everything else. And what a prodigous misuse and waste of time, these ill-devised pursuits involved !
A third prominent vice of the teaching of a quarter of a century ago in elementary schools, was the utter divorce of the school work from the realities of practical life. The children were taught nothing about nature, nothing about art, nothing about those applications of scientific truths to practical life which make up the forces and machinery of civilization and progress. There was no cultivation of the observing faculties on the one hand-no instruction in the reason of things on the other. I need not enlarge on the leanness of the training that was characterized by such a defect.
At length the true friends of the schools, of humanity, of society, opened their eyes and grew uneasy at the prospect; and when they demanded reforms in these discreditable particulars, the response of heartfelt accord which came back to them from every quarter, proved how well founded were their allegations. They demanded that the teachers should no longer be mere machines but responsible guides; putting life and interest into text-book work by their suggestions and illustrations; pouring out their own stores of information for the benefit of their scholars; holding dry formal lesson-learning to be only the skeleton of knowledge which they themselves were to round out into full and attractive proportions. They demanded that the true values of the studies pursued should be determined; and those which were found to be useless discarded, and those in excess reduced to a proper measure. They demanded that a new range of instruction should be introduced ; that the observing faculties should be cultivated through appropriate channels, at least so far as that some little insight should be given to the arcana of nature, of science, and of art; enough to prevent the reason of common things, in the ten thousand instances in which nature, science, and art are forever appealing to the senses, from remaining a perfectly-sealed book. They demanded, moreover, as a final result of the new order of things thus shadowed forth, that words should no longer be taught divorced from all significance; but should be made pictures of thought and instinct with informing life.
These proper demands were gradually acceded to, and a new order of things superseded the old. But everything has not gone smoothly and satisfactorily along under this substituted regime. A loud outcry is heard on every hand, that these reform movements are all in the wrong. Better
return, it is said, to the old routine. There are so many studies now, so many ologies and osophies, that the scholars are harrassed beyond measure. They are hurried day by day from one thing to another, so that they learn nothing thoroughly and get no discipline of mind.
There is a basis of truth to these complaints ; truth serious enough to deserve prompt and interested attention. But defects in carrying out a radical reform were to have been anticipated. Who has been so foolishly sanguine as to suppose it would be otherwise ? What reformation was ever put in force which did not fail in some point or other, to realize its ideals, and satisfy its friends ?
But it is easier to detect faults than it is to divine their sources and apply a remedy. The popular outcry that there are too many studies, and the current protest against the introduction of subjects relating to science and art do not by any means solve the problem. I will try to do it in a summary way.
In the first place, the teachers, in changing from their old constraints to the freedom of their true functions, have gone altogether too far. From talking too little they are now sinning by talking too much. Many of them keep up an almost incessant flow of remark, now explanatory, now suggestive; and instead of only removing such obstacles as their scholars cannot surmount unaided, they seem to strive to give them pathways level and smooth as a railroad track. They answer all their questions, anticipate and remove all their difficulties; so that the youth under their charge come at last to lean wholly upon them, and are indisposed to the least severe mental exertion.
Moreover, this stream of talk from the teacher breaks up the scholar's time of study with its petty distractions, dislocates his effort after a thorough mastery of his work, and frets and fatigues his mind, without strengthening or filling it. Here we have the most prolific fountain-head of existing evils.
A second defect in the methods of elementary work at the present day, (it has gradually crept in, side by side with the reforms which have been instituted) is a too frequent alternation of the studies. Tasking mental effort is eminently a deliberative process; and the moment a sense of necessary hurry is felt, the faculties become unhinged and work is imperfectly performed. There may be too many studies, as is alleged, and the vicious alternation may be, to an extent, inevitable. I shall come to that point by and by. Still if, just as they now have place, if they were differently arranged so that only a reasonable number would be pressing on the attention at once, I am satisfied that an incalculable sense of relief would be felt.
Another serious defect, tending to bring discredit on a range of instruction of incalculable importance has arisen from this mistake. The topics relating to science and art, (which have everywhere been classified as “Oral Lessons,” for the express purpose of avoiding the error of overcrowding the curriculum with too many studies), have been provided for in such a philosophical way as to force the teachers to make positive studies of them. The scholars have been plied with scientific principles and technicalities beyond their years and beyond their opportunities.
Another source of evil is the gradual enlargement of the ground covered by some of the fundamental studies, such as arithmetic and geography, until their increased proportions overbear everything else, and create a prejudice against studies, which would otherwise find ample room and opportunity. But this topic has been so fully treated by Mr. RICKOFF that I forbear to enlarge upon it.
At this point let me ask, who are conspicuous in making this outcry against the schools ? There are several classes of the opponents of the new
First come some of the parents and friends of the scholars, with the complaint that there are too many studies to which I have already referred. Again, there are the prejudiced conservatives who are wedded to old methods because they reluct from anything new, and there. fore are intolerant of attempts at reform. In the third place there are lazy old teachers and indifferent young ones, who hate the exertion which the new methods require. Fourth, there are the rigidly-philosophical minds which insist that oral teaching, especially in science, can bear no exact and determinate fruit and is, therefore, worthless. Only the first and last of these classes merit any attention.
I wish to say a few words about the oral lessons of our grammar schools. These are intended to give the scholars, most of whom will never receive any education beyond that obtained in the grammar schools, some conception of the great truths of nature, of science, and of art, which have so much to do with the commonest facts of daily life; something about the structure and uses of the vegetable world ; about animals, their habits and benefit to man; about the mechanical powers and their applications to human advantage; about the steam-engine, the telegraph, and so forward. It has been arranged in the better school systems that this instruction shall be given orally, at stated intervals, to avoid the multiplication of studies; and I have already adverted to the unfortunate mistake which has been made in many quarters, of elaborating a programme for these lessons so scientific and technical as to demand positive lesson-learning for its accomplishment with any degree of effectiveness. This it is which has created the charges which prevail as to ridiculous teaching of ologies and osophies. Had there been no exaggerated pretence of scientific instruction-had abstract philosophical principles and formidable technicalities been avoided, and only common and familiar applications of science been cared for, admirable results would have been secured and vexatious misconstructions prevented.
“But,” say the scientists, "inexact scientific knowledge is worse than nothing; and all knowledge obtained orally is confused and inexact.”
This ground is both true and untrue. I frankly admit that any one who expects accurate knowledge to be obtained through oral instruction, so as to be fairly made the subject of critical examination by the ordinary tests, will find himself wofully mistaken. To illustrate this I will read some results of written examinations held in the London public schools. They are authentic, and I have been sorry to hear it asserted that they can easily be matched in many a public school in America, The spelling corresponds with the knowledge:-