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seems to have had the instincts of genius -- of school teaching. The field such as he contemplated it, was a new one. He had neither the incitement of the example of others, to make an effort to elevate the business of teaching, nor the instrumentalities at hand by which he could hope to accomplish this. His field of operations, at first, was as circumscribed as a country school district in Wilton or Fitchburg, and afterwards an obscure town in Vermont, without the patronage of a dollar or the advantage of a single name of influence in his favor. Yet never doubting, and looking only to what was wanting to give effect to a scheme of free schools, which had been struck out, as it were, by inspiration by the fathers of New England, he gave an impulse to an enterprise, the fruits of which he may now, at the age of more than threescore years and ten, contemplate with the consciousness of a successful and well directed effort. And what teacher in New England may not take fresh courage in his work from the examples of such men ?
ON TEACHING GEOGRAPHY.
When a class of children begin to consider the different political divisions into which this goodly planet of ours has been cut up by the whims or avarice of men, they should, at the same time, be taught to represent each section as it is studied, and, as they proceed, to compare different sections, as to their relative position on the surface of the earth, size, climate, productions, and so forth.
But, before these subjects can be studied understandingly, that of latitude, longitude, and division by circles must be taken up. This is a subject which stands in sore need of some champion, to throw down the gauntlet in its defence. I believe there is no other
. in geography so little understood by the majority of children, and consequently so much disliked as this. Yet it ought not to be so; it may be made exceedingly interesting, and it may also, if properly taught, afford good and strengthening food for the growing mind of the child, to which growth, good and strengthening food is so essential and yet so frequently denied. I think every
one will admit that his own conception of this subject is to be ascribed only in a very small degree to the efforts of the teachers who endeavored to initiate him into its mysteries; that in fact, unless he were uncommonly fortunate, those efforts were utterly fruitless; that however early, and however fluently he could repeat the definitions of latitude and longitude, he had really no definite comprehension of the subject, until, with increasing years, it gradually dawned upon him. But how many heart-aches, how may “curses not loud but deep," the committing to memory of those definitions caused, simply because they were entirely devoid of the least glimmer of intelligibility !
How frequently we hear teachers say, “I don't wonder my children cannot understand these subjects: I couldn't myself, when I was their age.” What was the reason you could not? Because you were not properly taught.
Now, it is a melancholy fact, that though all teachers admit the faultiness of their own early instruction, yet very few if any vary a shade in their own teaching from the method pursued in imparting that instruction ten, fifteen, or twenty years ago. Why is this? Because, either from lack of inclination, or from the fact of their attention not having been roused to the matter, they give no thought or study to it; and without such thought and study no reformation can be effected.
If teachers are so ready to admit the faultiness of the old methods of instruction, why will they persist, nevertheless, in working by those very methods ? If they are faulty, they can be improved; and it seems to me that every teacher should feel that upon her individually rests the responsibility of effecting the improvement. Of course the means of effecting it are very many. Any method is an improvement which discards utterly the parrotlike, senseless repetition of definitions, and of which the main object is to awaken the minds of the children, and lead them to think out for themselves, guided of course by the teacher, a just and definito comprehension of the subject. Perhaps scarcely any two teachers would devise the same method, although there might be many equally good. One plan might be suggested, something as follows: By using a slate globe, the equator, axis, and poles of the earth
may be easily taught. Only one difficulty will arise, — that of applying the points of the compass, previously learned by lessons in Place, which, by the way, should precede even the simplest lesson in geography, to globes and maps. This is not, however, a subject
, which in itself affords much scope for ingenuity, either on the part of the teacher or learner. It must be thoroughly learned of course, as it is the only key to an understanding of the subject of representation on maps and globes, but probably nearly every teacher would devise a very similar method in teaching it. When it is familiar to the class, — when they can state accurately whether certain points indicated on the globe are east or west, north or south of one another, they are ready for latitude and longitude.
Two or more points being placed on the globe, the class will readily say, " The first," --- A, for instance,"is north of the
— equator, because it is nearer to the North Pole." —"B is farther
“ north of the equator, because it is still nearer to the North Pole.” The idea, observe, is now developed: it only remains to give the term "latitude," which, being done, the children can be easily led to substitute the expression, “ B is in a more northern latitude than A,” for “B is farther north of the equator than A.” From this a definition of latitude may be drawn, if one is desired, which is, it appears to me, quite unessential. Of course, throughout this lesson, the distinction between northern and southern latitude is kept in view, and the class exercised in determining the relative latitude of places both north and south of the equator.
In teaching longitude, it would be necessary to draw a circle on the globe, representing the meridian of Greenwich, and state to the children that if we imagine ourselves facing the North Pole, all that part of the globe at the right of the meridian is east, and that at the left, west. Exercise the class in placing points to the right or left of the line, giving in each case the direction of the points from the meridian, and their relative distance east or west of it. After some practice in this, the term “ longitude" may be given, and the expression “A is in a more eastern longitude than B," substituted for “ A is farther east of the meridian than B."
As soon as these fundamental ideas are firmly fixed, the class may be led to discover a difficulty. Though they can state the
relative latitude or longitude of two or more places, yet they cannot determine the absolute latitude or longitude of each of those places taken separately. Their minds being now awakened by finding themselves in difficulty, they will be eager for the explanation. Here comes in the subject of parallels and meridians as measures of latitude and longitude, preceded by an explanation of the use of the term “degree.” The point requiring special attention in this explanation is the varying length of a degree. I mention this particularly, because I remember with what vexation and disquietude of spirit I used to wonder how in the world there could be as many degrees in a circle an inch in diameter as in one a yard in diameter.
A very few words from the teacher will make this point clear, and
very few more will convey to the children the information that we fix the latitude of a place by observing the number of degrees between the point and the equator. Now, how may this number be ascertained ? Drawing two circles on the globe to represent the equator and the meridian of Greenwich, the teacher divides the meridian into spaces of five degrees each, numbering the marked points 5, 10, 15, &c., and explaining to the class that the first point stands for a place 5° north of the equator, the next a place 100 north of the equator, and so on.
Next, she exercises the class in determining the latitude of different places located exactly on one of the marked points. When this idea is firmly established, she locates a place between two of the marked points, and leaves the class to find out for themselves how its latitude may be ascertained. Very soon some one will devise the expedient of sub-dividing the given space into five spaces, each representing one degree. It is surprising how readily children will devise ways and means to extricate themselves from any such dilemma, if they are only thoroughly interested in the work, and alive to the want of what they seek. As yet, however, they are only able to fix the latitude of a place situated exactly on the meridian. When they can do this readily, the teacher places a point a little distance to the right or left of the meridian, and again leaves the class to ascertain its latitude. Feeling that they are thrown on their own resources, one of them will at length, if the teacher is patient, devise the expedient of drawing a line round the globe, parallel to the equator, and passing through the marked point opposite the place whose latitude is to be ascertained. Afterwards, as the subject becomes easier, the class may be exercised in determining the latitude of places so situated as not to lie directly in a line with any one of the marked points, and in a very short time they will do this with respect to any place however situated.
After a few additional lessons on longitude, conducted on the same plan, they will be able to determine accurately both the latitude and longitude of any place on the globe, and this with such ease, and even pleasure, as would cause the eyes of the poor little martyrs to the book-definition system to open wide with wonder.
The whole subject could be taught in a dozen lessons, and afterwards there would be no necessity for that senseless drill, which, notwithstanding it is such a weariness of the flesh to both teacher and pupil, is so frequently, universally almost, practised in our schools.
Many a time have I entered a school-room, a half, three quarters, a whole hour, after school, nay, even more than that, and seen two or three unhappy little urchins, so unfortunate as not to be blessed by Providence with retentive memories, holding Warren's Primary Geography in their poor little tired hands, and buzzing away in a vain endeavor to make their poor little tired brains hold the hated words just long enough to enable them to rattle off the lesson to the teacher, and thus escape their thraldom. It seems to me most unjustifiable that teachers who are either too indolent or too thoughtless to do the work of teaching the children committed to their care, should be guilty of actual cruelty in compelling them to do what is for some almost impossible, - commit to memory strings of words to which they attach no meaning whatever. If a child is inattentive or indolent, I see no objection to his being made to feel that if he does not choose to do his work at the time assigned for that work, he will do it at any time most convenient for his teacher. There is no cruelty in that, simply justice. But not more than one child out of ten will be found, who, if properly taught, will be inattentive or indolent.