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English Journal of Education.
GENERAL PRINCIPLES OF METHOD IN TEACHING.
HE success of a national system of education depends entirely on two things: its capability of procuring the best men for schoolmasters, and its capability of giving these schoolmasters the freest scope for the exercise of their gifts.
First and most essential of all to the success of a school is the schoolmaster. Place an incapable schoolmaster in a school, indoctrinate him in the best systems of teaching, supply him with the finest schoolroom, give him unlimited command of the best apparatus, let him choose his own conditions of influencing his pupils, and yet the school will be a failure. This is a fact which educational reformers are apt to forget. Again and again we see men spend handsome sums on schoolrooms, and yet exceedingly niggardly in the payment of the schoolmaster. Again and again we find men exert themselves to set a school agoing, but once they have got the building up amid festivity and speechifying, they leave the schoolmaster to struggle with poverty and neglect.
At the same time, the very best schoolmaster may have his work considerably impeded, if he does not get free scope for the exercise of his powers. If the schoolmaster is a man of thought and character, he will strongly impress his pupils in the worst circumstances. His whole influence will tend to elevate and dignify them for life. But the influence will not be so great nor so pervasive as it might be, if he is not furnished with a healthy class-room, with ample apparatus, and with freedom from worldly cares and anxieties.
This magazine is devoted to the advancement of both the objects which a national system of education must keep in view. It is untrammelled by any party connections. Its pages are open to any who have really something to say on educational matters; and though this freedom of opinion may occasionally produce somewhat of variableness in its tone, or even of inconsistency, yet we feel assured that it is only by the free expression of the opinions of thoughtful men that the truth will be reached and substantial good done. Schoolmasters are men who can think for themselves. They can derive good from articles from the sentiments of which they may differ. And in this magazine the opinion of any one who is practically engaged in the work of education will find a place, whether it be in harmony with, or in opposition to, the opinions of the editor or contributors, provided only it be expressed with brevity and courtesy.
It is especially the work of this magazine to throw light on the processes by which the schoolmaster can do his work successfully. No reform is so radical as this. And this reform lies within the power of schoolmasters themselves. If we get to understand our work thoroughly, we come to possess a power which is incalculable. We receive the pupils at an age when their minds are exceedingly impressible. Day by day they grow harder and harder, get into more distinct grooves of thought and passion. It is while they are under us that their desires and thoughts take shape, and consequently, if we can lay hold of the youthful mind and exercise a control over it which
science and character can enable us to wield, we do as much for the real welfare of the nation as any class in the community.
To exercise this influence with effect and precision, it is necessary that we should know how to conduct the processes of education in the most successful manner. And, accordingly, for this purpose we have resolved to commence with this new volume of our magazine a series of articles on the best methods of teaching various branches. They will be written by different contributors, and may therefore contain differences of opinions. There is no harm in this. What we can guarantee is of far more consequence, that they will be written by men whose opinions it is worth having, who have thought well on the subjects on which they write, and have had ample practical experi
our exertions, and of the best means of attaining the aim and end. There is nothing into which the schoolmaster is more apt to fall than into routine, and there is nothing more ruinous to the minds of his pupils and to his own. A mechanical, dull schoolmaster is the greatest of curses: a living, intelligent, thoughtful, and upright schoolmaster is the greatest of blessings. We trust these articles will be used by our readers to keep their minds active and thoughtful on the subjects which they discuss.
In this introductory paper we take up a few of the great principles which must regulate the giving of any lessons whatsoever. These principles are well known to every schoolmaster. They, in fact, are stale commonplaces to too many. But commonplaces are often the most important of all truths. But their importance depends entirely upon the vitality with which they are apprehended. A great truth become dead is a commonplace. A commonplace rendered alive is often a great truth. And this we must continually keep in mind when we have to deal with living souls. The fundamental principles according to which we must act are often easily seen. They are so easily seen that we are apt to pass them by as if they were not worth looking at, or we nod to them as old acquaintances, and feel no more
The usefulness of such a series of articles is not to be measured merely by what they may contain. There are at present some very good books on the method of teaching. We may mention, in particular, Tate's "Philosophy of Education," and Currie's "Principles and Practice of CommonSchool Education." These should be in the hands of every teacher. But these books are not final. Psychology is advancing, the science of education is advancing. In Germany and in France, important works on education are now and then appear-interest in them. Yet it may be affirmed that ing. In Germany especially, there is a large amount of thought devoted to educational laws. And we wish in this magazine and in these articles at once to unfold what progress may be made in other countries, and to contribute our quota to the advancement.
almost all the progress which we are likely to
The one great principle which ought to guide
We believe also that the reading of these articles may be of great use to schoolmasters above and beyond the truths which may be stated in them. We have found it in our experience to be profit-nature. able to have some work on education beside us, which we may take up and read for a few minutes before engaging in the actual work of teaching. Such a dip into a thoroughly good book prepares the mind for its work, gives it a tone for it, and awakens it to a full sense of responsibility. The Stoics of the ancient world tried to overcome evil by thinking, by meditating on the great laws of man's being. The Treatises of Seneca, and the Thoughts of Marcus Aurelius, are close meditations on the duties of life. And no doubt such meditation must have strengthened their minds and fitted them for many a trial and many a conquest over passion. We must take a leaf out of their book. We must continually, perpetually, think of the work we have to do, of the children we have to deal with, of the aim and end of all
The first natural law which we notice is, that we must first instruct in the concrete before dealing with the abstract. The senses are our first instruments of knowledge, and this fact establishes an order which we cannot reverse with impunity. In reality, we cannot reverse the order at all. There is no knowledge possible in any other order.
But we may make the attempt. The means of conveying direct knowledge is through the senses. We must bring the child in contact with the object, if the knowledge is to be real. But it so happens that we use words also to convey know ledge, that is, in the first instance to direct the child to the means of procuring real knowledge. But every teacher is under strong temptation of giving words instead of producing the first hand knowledge. The teacher explains a word, the child commits the explanation to memory, and the teacher is satisfied. The child has learned to know the word, but he may know nothing of the thing. A child is told that "Geography is the science which describes the surface of the earth." But what real knowledge is there here to the child, if he has not become practically acquainted with one science, or if he has got no adequate notion of his own country, much less of the whole earth? What is the use of telling him that England is 420 miles long, if he has not actually walked a mile, so as to have some conception of its length, or that the population of Great Britain was near 28,000,000 at a certain date, if he has as yet formed no conception of many a hundred people are? We have taken instances from geography, but we might have taken them as well from history, arithmetic, or almost any of the subjects commonly taught. In fact, the law must become deeply impressed on the mind of every teacher, if he is to be successful at all. He must feel its tremendous importance. And he must recognise the fact, also, that he has himself passed, to a considerable extent, out of the preliminary stage, that he has got for himself a vast stock of first hand intuitions on which to base his subsequent knowledge, and that he is now accumulating knowledge and ideas on the basis of this early knowledge; that therefore he is at a different stage from that at which his pupils are, and that he is consequently liable to forget the stage of his pupils, and to act towards them as if they were at his own. This is specially the case in regard to instruction in We are continually liable to break through this morals and religion. For we may express the important law, for two reasons: first, because we principle when we say that facts must come are strongly tempted to it by our own state of before principles. We extend the principle, how-mind; and, secondly, because an unfortunate ever, when we add that the principles are to come habit of using text-books for every subject has out of the facts, that there is to be a natural genesis become very prevalent. of the abstract out of the concrete. When the mind is long familiar with the concrete, when it has come to be able to realise the concrete, even in the absence of the object, it will of itself naturally come to have abstract ideas. When it has become familiar with a long series of appearances or occurrences, it will naturally formulise its know
ledge, reduce it to abstract propositions, and retain it by means of these propositions. In some respects this is an absolutely necessary operation. The power of abstraction will never come if there is not a sufficient stock of concrete observations. But when once the child has begun to form abstract propositions, we may block up his mental activity by giving him, ready made, what he should make for himself. Thus, in every case the child should make his definitions, not get them. He should not be informed what a thing is, but be made to discover it with his eyes and hands. He should not have objects classified for him, but he should be led to discern the order for himself. He should not have the parts of speech defined for him, but he should be led to observe the different functions of words in a sentence, and to define words according to the functions which he thus sees them perform. He should not have to commit to memory laws of syntax, but he should be led to observe the construction of sentences and discover the laws for himself. And so with many of the principal propositions which we have in geography. In history, on the other hand, the discovery of laws is work only for the maturest minds. The young mind would be puzzled and bewildered by the vast array of facts which it would have to know, if it were to inquire into any portion of history scientifically. The pupil is, therefore, in history to have mainly a succession of pictures, of true living pictures, with a fair portraiture of the passions and motives which animated the leading characters. He is especially to be introduced into the lives of the great and good men who have helped to make the human race nobler and wiser. And these pictures are to have their effect naturally, and not through the tagging on of morals to them. They will act as a more powerful stimulus to good, if they are left to their own natural influence, than if they are accompanied with wearisome moral discourses, or even valuable abstract propositions which do not sink into the soul of the child.
We are tempted to it by our own state of mind. We have mastered the subject which we intend to teach. We have mapped it out in our minds. We present it to ourselves arranged and classified. And, therefore, the natural order for us now is to state our proposition, and then to illustrate it or prove it. This order too is more congenial to any
pupil, we are to think of the pupil's mind, ascertain what he knows already, and out of his sphere of knowledge select some portion to which we may attach the new information, An acquaintance with the psychological laws, which Beneke has
tendency to indolence or impatience we may have. It seems a slow business to give instance after instance to children when we might attain our aim if we were at once to give our generalisation. Yet we are wrong in imagining any such thing. We do not attain our aim. It is not the implant-brought out, throws a flood of light on this propoing of generalisations in the mind of the child which is our aim. It is awakening and rousing into full activity the intellectual life of the child. We wish to make him capable of generalising for himself.
Again, text-books are almost invariably framed on the plan of giving the proposition first, and then the illustrations or proofs of it. This is no doubt the clearest method of exhibiting results. And this generation seems to have become enslaved to text-books. They are the plagues of children often. Young people are often set to read dreary propositions in small print, when they should be revelling in the "Pilgrim's Progress" and "Robinson Crusoe." We are at the present day taxing young minds, of children, boys and blooming maidens, with far too diversified intellectual exertion, conducted almost solely through books. This is good neither for soul nor body. Schoolmasters are often absurdly blamed for this. It is no fault of theirs. Many of them have protested. Many of them are protesting. But, as long as the public does not take sufficient interest in the right methods of education, this text-book system will go on and flourish. The consequence of it often is, that the schoolmaster has to teach many subjects in the way least calculated to evoke intellectual life. Perhaps it might be broadly asserted that, at the commencement of every study whatsoever, it were better to dispense with text-books. The teacher should have his own plan, and should be ready to modify that plan in accordance with the circumstances of the case. But he should not be constrained by any printed book, much less should the children. Then, and then only, will he have a fair chance of doing full justice to the intellectual powers of his pupils.
Another law which we may lay down as a settled one in method is, that we should always proceed from the known to the unknown, not from the unknown to the known. In reality this law is much the same as the last, for what is first known is the concrete, what is unknown is the abstract, and we have seen that the abstract should not be presented before the concrete. But the law admits of a wider application, if we turn our attention from subjects in themselves to the state of the pupil's mind Then we may state the law thus that in imparting any information to a
sition. For every previous piece of knowledge is seen to be an actual power itself, to be capable of endless combinations, and to derive strength, and give strength from its combinations. If there is a portion of knowledge in the child's mind to which we can attach the new knowledge, and we neglect this, then we have neglected a means of awakening interest in the lesson, and of deepening the impression which our teaching might make.
Another law sometimes laid down is that we are to proceed from the parts to the whole. this is a questionable law; in fact its title to a law may well be denied. The truth contained in it may be expressed thus There are in nature natural wholes. These must be taken as our materials at starting. And we are gradually to ascend from these natural wholes to larger and more comprehensive wholes, and we are to descend from them into their parts. Nature presents us with two infinities, the infinitely great, and the infinitely small. We cannot reach either the one or the other. But our minds naturally form units for themselves. These natural units admit of addition. We can also divide them. But both processes are the result of culture; and to make this culture as easy, and as successful as possible, we must start from the natural unit. Thus, in discussing the method of teaching a child to read, we ask ourselves, What is the natural unit? Is it the letter or the word? The answer must be the word. The child conceives the word as one undivided whole, as one sound. In teaching him to read, therefore, we must start from the word, and we must lead him by frequent exercise of the ear to notice if he can discover component elements in the word, if he can discover the multiplicity in the natural unity. So again in grammar, what is the natural unity? Is it the word or is it the sentence? We at once see that from this point of view the sentence is the natural unit. Our object is to get at the laws by which thought is expressed. We must, therefore, commence with the sentence, and out of the observation of the functions which each word performs in giving the sense, we are to divide words into classes. On the other hand, in geography, we start with the knowledge of the natural units around us. We know a house first; we add house to house, and we get a village; we add village to village, and land to land, and we get a county; and we add