« AnteriorContinuar »
jects to be studied in these Normal Schools, is to limit them to what can be fully, thoroughly and accurately taught by such a corps of teachers as can be employed and reasonably paid.
If now we turn to the other part of our question, as to how these subjects are to be taught, we shall have to consider what is the condition of those of whom the Normal pupils are expected to have charge. Our tables of statistics inform us that a large proportion of the children in attendance upon our common schools are of an age to be able to take only the primary and early steps in the curriculum of school instruction. Taking the census of 1860 and adding to those who are set down there as being between five and ten years of age, the 5,000 who were in attendance the last year under the age of five, and we have a total of more than 130,000 under the age of ten. I need not say in this presence, that the instruction of these must emphatically be elementary. Much of it must be in the very rudiments of knowledge. And if we go still further and include those between teu and fifteen, we embrace comparatively but few, especially in the country districts, who have advanced beyond the simpler branches of school education. It is to supply teachers for pupils of this grade that the Normal School was chiefly intended. But it may be asked, if this is all that a teacher is expected to accomplish, what is the occasion for speculating how she is to teach what must be so simple and easy to acquire? If teaching was simply mechanical, treating all children alike, and putting them through a daily drill like that of a company of raw recruits, if calling words was reading, and working out a sum in fractions or the rule of three was mastering, to any appreciable degree, the science of mathematics, I might be willing to concede that it mattered little how the teacher taught or the pupil learned these lessons. We might admit with Dogberry that "reading and writing comes of nature,” and the old alliteration of the Rs, " reading, riting and rithmetic," might be easily acquired. But the more the Normal pupil studies into this matter, the more she perceives that there is a science in every step of intellectual training, and the more anxious she becomes to discover its laws and how they are applied. And she soon perceives that to do this successfully, she must be morally and intellectually, as well as liberally, trained herself. She must have command of the same powers in her constitution which she expects to reach and control in that of her pupils. She must have disciplined powers of attention. She must not only be able to get knowledge, but must be able to trace the steps and processes by which she gains it, and to make others understand and know how to apply the processes by which they too may acquire the knowledge which they seek. Then again her judgment must be trained, her sympathies awakened, and her faculties generally so far under her control as to be brought into lively and vigorous exercise at will. One of the main difficultios to be encountered in making an accurate scholar is, that he does not know how to study till he has been taught. And one of the earliest lessons which a teacher has to make a pupil understand, is what the process of study is. The Normal School aims to supply this very kind of instruction and training, which the pupil is in turn to apply to the children of her charge. And it is for this purpose that the State is careful to provide for them skilled teachers of experience and tried capacity. They deal with their pupils by laying open to their own comprehension the constitution of their own minds, and the processes by which they gain and use knowledge.
But the time in which this knowledge is to be acquired is limited to some eighteen months of actual study, and it is hardly necessary to repeat that the topics which can be thoroughly and effectively taught within that space of time must necessarily be few. Huving reference to what their pupils are to teach again, these subjects divide themselves into two classes. One of them relates to what, in the process of learning, becomes incorporated as it were into the mind of the learner, so as to render what is acquired, as it were, intuitive, ready for use without any conscious mental effort. Of this character is the knowledge we get of letters in reading or writing. We forget the slow process by which we originally attained to the name and form and sound of these, both singly and in their combinations. So it is with calling words, or reading aggregates of numeral figures, or repeating the tabular results which we learn by rote from the multiplication table. I need not add how much of this learning is purely arbitrary. There is no process of à priori reasoning which could tell me that a certain shaped figure was a letter, or that it represented a certain sound, or that the something called “C” when in connection with a certain other letter, had a sound to which we give the name of K, and with another took the sound of what we call "S.” And yet these arbitrary sounds and combinations have to be carefully and accurately taught to the child at the very outset of his school instruction. Nor is it entirely easy for even a skilled teacher to do this effectually. She has got to exercise tact and judgment and skill to adapt her instruction to the capacity of her pupil. She has not only to gain his attention, but must make what she wishes to impress upon him, intelligible to his mind. Compare for a moment the modern method of analyzing the sounds and relations of letters, by writing them before the pupil's eye on the blackboard and repeating the corresponding sound, and the former mode of having him drawl out, letter by letter, week after week, in the process of what was called "learning his letters," a mere roll-call of hard sounds and arbitrary names.
So far then as this class of subjects is concerned, the teacher should aim mainly at precise accuracy, which is only to be acquired by imitation and repetition, under a rigid observance of definite rules. But when we go beyond these, to subjects involving reason and judgment as well as memory, in the conception and enunciation of thoughts and ideas which relate to them, something more than accuracy of recitation is required. And that raises the inquiry how far it is wise or necessary to make use of text-books. The question is an interesting one, and not without its difficulty. Learning a lesson out of a text-book and reciting it memoriter, as is too often done, does little to enrich or invigorate the mind. A learned recitation scholar is often a learned dunce. And yet the child when set to study, needs something to keep his mind steady, to give to it an orderly direction, to help him fix his attention, and to furnish him a principle of association and ready mnemonics. If the subject of instruction be at all abstract, few children can follow the teacher in an oral statement or a general proposition. Text-books help to supply these necessities of young scholars. Let the pupil learn bis prescribed lessons thoroughly and accurately, and let these be arranged in an orderly sequence, and while he is training his memory, he is preparing to receive what his teacher ought to supply from her own well stored mind. The lesson in that way serves for her text, and is to be illustrated and enlivened by such familiar examples and explanations and inquiries as will open to the mind of the pupil new thoughts, and render what he has been studying intelligible and interesting. And a recitation of this character, instead of being, as it too often has been, a dull, sing-song, meaningless thing, becomes the pleasantest exercise of the day to both teacher and pupil. But to do this implies thought and preparation on the part of the teacher, as much as it does study on that of the pupil. And it is in return a thousand times more inspiriting to both than a round of lessons varied only by the different degrees of dullness with which they are recited, or the different intensity of stupidity with which the pupil undertakes to master the words which he is trying to repeat.
Such are some of the hints, and they are merely hints, which are suggested by an occasion when our attention is called to the aims and purposes with which a band of high-minded, hopeful young women are preparing to enter the ranks of the noble profession of teachers.
But I may be met with something like a hint in reply, that this picture of a teacher's life is anything but attractive, from its want of excitement aud interest. It would certainly be unfair to deal otherwise than frankly with any one of this class, as to what she is to expect when entering upon the duties and rewards of a teacher. And I am free to confess that there is much to justify the complaint of many in the profession, that it is a life of irksome routine, and that they are in danger of losing the proper stimulus to effort, by having to do with children whose minds are so much inferior to their own. This, however, is but a one-sided view of the question. And even if it presented all its bearings, what department of labor or industry, bodily or mental, is there of which the same complaint of monotony and routine might not be equally just. It is true of the duties and cares of the family. It is true of labor upon the farm, in the workshop and the manufactory. And even in what are called the liberal professions of law and medicine, no small share of their duties are mere matters of routine.
Regarded in this light, it really seems to resolve itself into the question, which is preferable, to go through a certain round of operations upon matter, or to do the same thing with mind? The question, in such a presence, can hardly fail to answer itself. And then again as to the danger of belittling one's mind by such a pursuit. That must evidently depend upon the temperament and habits of the teacher himself. If he is of an indolent, unambitious nature, working only when he is obliged, and content in doing the least possible labor for the most he can get, it makes little difference in the end with the growth of his mind whether he cuts out shoe leather by a pattern, or tends a spinning-frame, or hears boys daily recite a certain number of lines or paragraphs. But is, in the intervals of his work as a teacher, he will go outside of this into the world as it lies spread out before him, and take a part in what is being done and thought and said there, he has no occasion or chance to grow stagnant and rusty, or for suffering himself to subside into the type of Ichabod Crane or Dominie Sampson. Roger Sherman and Nathaniel Greene, of Revolutionary memory, were none the less capable to guide the councils or lead the armies of the Republic because they had spent their lives in the duties and details of the shop or the routine of daily industry. They had been trained and educated while doing this to other thoughts by the influences and circumstances by which they were surrounded. Think for a moment, when you begin to distrust the dignity of the employment which you have chosen as compared with that of any of your neighbors, of what that employment consists. Instead of forcing the reluctant earth to yield the flowers that bloom for a day, or the fruits that ripen and decay in a single summer, or spending your cunning skill to fashion of wood or metal the parts of a curious machine, you are helping to perfect an engine of power whose subtle elements no human sagacity has ever yet completely analyzed, and whose capacity no calculus has been adequate to measure. The flower which you are to cultivate, though it be cut down even in its unfolding, will be sure to bear seed in other gardens under a more skillful training. What after all is the most calculated to damp the zeal and cool the ardor with which a teacher enters upon her work, is the slow returns which come of her best directed efforts. She either grows weary in waiting for the seed she has planted to spring up, or she finds it springing up on a stony soil, or being choked by the weeds and thorns that show a ranker growth. But this impa. tience is neither wise nor philosophical. Who that has planted the seedling oak can measure from day to day the growth that it is making ? He waits, and in a few years the sapling has begun to assume the form and proportions of the tree, and in due time it rears itself in beauty and strength, till it stands unharmed by the storms that sweep over it. To measure what she has in fact done, the teacher should contrast the child just entering upon the mystic problem of syllables and words, with the beaming face and cheerful alacrity with which he gathers up as he reads from the printed page the incidents of some tale or narrative, or the eager delight with which he listens to the simple truths of science which she unfolds to his attentive ear. Or if she would comprehend the more signal triumphs of her skill, in striking out as it were the spark of genius which may have laid dormant till some such kindly hand has awakened it to life, let her look at the men and women who are stamping the impress of their own mind upon the passing age, and reflect that the world often owes its richest treasures of intellect to some fortunate hint, some word of encouragement given by an earnest teacher to an ingenuous pupil. Nor need she stop even there. If she would take a full measure of the grandeur of that miracle which she is helping to work out in the broader field of a nation's life, let her contrast for a single moment this noble old Commonwealth of ours; with her free schools, with any of the States where slavery has been keeping the human mind locked up in ignorance and barbarism.
Nor does the position of a teacher suffer in comparison with other avocations in which men engage, in the rewards which it offers to honorable personal ambition. I say nothing of it as an avenue to wealth, but of other encouragements which it offers liberal and generous minds. If we analyze the secret springs and motives for what we call ambition, it will be found that they resolve themselves into the love of power-power it may be to do good, or power to control others; and what field is there which opens so wide a scope for an honorable ambition like this as the life and business of a teacher of the young ? He may not command the wills or direct the policy of the masses by the power of eloquence, the prerogative of office, or the leadership of a party; but he does far more than this, in guiding the thoughts and directing the judgments and developing the powers of those who are so soon to constitute the living energy of a united people. And in this we should ever bear in mind there is nothing in. volving superiority of blood or birth. On the contrary, the chance of success in such a mission is with one who, starting in obscurity, has caught something of that spirit which spurns and soars above the accident of name or birth. Nor
is there anything of sex in this power of the teacher to achieve success. If there is, it is in favor of the more refined sensitiveness and delicacy of organization of woman, which give her a readier access to the sympathies and sensibilities of the child. But whoever is engaged in a work like this, be it man or be it woman, is doing something towards shaping the character and destiny of the nation. The great conservative principle of a free government is education and the free school. I congratulate you, Miss Johnson, and your associates, and you, young ladies, on the distinguished presence of the honored chief magistrate of our Commonwealth, and these tried and true friends of education, and the evidence it gives of their appreciation of your services in the cause. gratulate you that by the experiment this day inaugurated your sex is at last to have one fair field in which to vindicate the confidence which the Board of Education in behalf of the State have, that in the learning and skill and patriotic sentiment of her daughters, the Commonwealth is to share an element of moral power which has never before been fully developed, and that she is in this way to gain new strength and energy to meet the growing demand for influences like hers in the life-struggle through which our country is passing. The free states of Greece did not lose their independence so much from the lack of intelligence and love of liberty in their men, as for the want of the influence, the counsel and the equal companionship of virtuous and high-minded women. The sound of war is indeed hushed, but never has there been such a necessity for wise men and trained and educated teachers as the country feels to-day. Never has the influence of Massachusetts and her schools been more needed in the conflict with ignorance and a vicious political education, in which our country is involved, than they are to-day; and never has woman been called to higher and more responsible duties than those which devolve upon her in the part which she is acting as teacher and educator of the young to whom the ark of our liberties is so soon to be confided.
Take heart then, every one of you, teachers and pupils, while following out the mission in these halls to which they have been dedicated, in the assurance that it is to be your privilege to form a part of that noble army who are battling for free thought and the honor and integrity of a nation of free men.
The Special Committee of the Board of Education, in their report on the Normal School at Framingham for 1867, remark:
It is now as well settled that such a Principal and such a corps of teachers are competent to carry on and sustain such a school, as it is that such a school, under any heads, can be an efficient aid and instrumentality in the business of popular education in the State.
But if this be not an exaggeration, if the value of labor is to be judged of by the measure of its results, upon what principle of fairness and equality can we justify the scale of compensation which prevails in the State in respect to our schools? Why should one of two persons who does an important and indispensable work of precisely the same character for the public, equally well and equally acceptably, be paid in the ratio to each other of three to five, or one to two, because, in the economy of nature, one was born a woman and the other a man? It is not for the visitors of this school to engage in a discussion involving the questions now agitating the public mind in regard to the sexes. But they would be unworthy to claim a share in what are called the manly virtues, if they could see labor expended and talent employed, from term to term, and from year to year, for the best interests of the Commonwealth, without protesting that these ought to be paid by some other scale of compensation than the gex of those who perform this labor and bestow this talent.