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`HE following lessons are transcripts of actual work done in the school-room by the author, who, however, claims nothing for them in the way of originality. They are simply an attempt at setting down for others, whose tastes and training may not have made composition-work in school agreeable and easy, the methods and results of reasonably successful work during some years of experience in public schools of various grades, ranging from Primary to Senior High School classes.
Observing that many teachers fail to adapt the material around them to the uses of composition-work, the author takes pleasure in thus making common property of lessons and plans drawn from various common sources, which have been of service to herself.
An increasing interest in the study of English, and a growing appreciation in the public mind of its importance, make it unnecessary now to argue concerning the value of this part of a child's education, or to try to show that the ability to use its own language with "force and
precision" takes precedence of all other things acquired at school. A man may be a mathematician and not make himself felt as an educated man; but he cannot have a liberal acquaintance with the literature of his own language without affecting society as a cultured mind. The beginnings of this culture lie in the little lessons that teach the child how to understand and to use his mother tongue as it is used in books and in common life.
Nor will it be worth while to try to show that the indifferent success of schools, generally, in the attempt to give a fair knowledge of the common branches, is largely owing to the fact that children are set to learning these from books before they have sufficient acquaintance with their own language to understand the text-book use of it. The vocabulary of the average child of school age is exceedingly small, and there are almost no words outside of the home and playground list that it is safe to count on his understanding. Where there are exceptions to this, they are always to be found among children to whom from an early age books have been read.
Any child will learn the ordinary school branches with less than one-half the expenditure of time and strength-to say nothing of absolute waste in these and other matters-if he has first been taught the use of his own language through much reading and writing. Were the first ten,
perhaps twelve, years of a child's life given to the acquisition of language-power, and consequent general knowledge and intelligence, through writing, and reading books (real books, not scraps), the necessary common branches could be mastered in a comparatively short time, and without that sad drudgery which wastes both pupil and teacher, and to so little purpose.
On the subject of the study of the English language, Professor Huxley has written the following:
"I would assuredly devote a large portion of the time of every English [-speaking] child to the careful study of models of English writing of such varied and wonderful kinds as we possess; and, what is still more important and still more neglected, to the habit of using that language with precision and with force and with art.
I fancy we are almost the only nation in the world who seem to think that composition comes by nature. The French attend to their own language, the Germans study theirs; but the English do not seem to think it worth while."
"If you wish to learn to draw," says Edward Everett Hale, "draw." Facility in writing can be got in no other way than by writing. Daily practice in this, as in any other art, is the only way to insure proficiency in it. Ability, taste, genius, count for little without continual practice in the formative years.
For such matters as belong to the mere mechanics of composition, to Syntax, to Rhetoric, and the like, the teacher is referred to the already numerous text-books on those subjects.
The author gratefully acknowledges indebtedness, for encouragement and advice, to the late lamented Prof. E. R. Sill, and to Mr. J. B. McChesney, her worthy principal and co-worker. The author wishes also to express her appreciation of valuable aid received from Prof. C. B. Bradley, of the University of California.
OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA, February, 1890.