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difficulty of changing: “Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots ? Then may ye also do good that are accustomed to do evil.”
Solomon also, knowing the strength of habit, has said, “ Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it.” The word “train” means here something more than merely giving good instructions. It means making the child reduce those instructions to practice; in other words, forming a habit of going in the right way. This doubtless refers to the moral nature of the child, but it is equally true of his intellectual or physical nature.
Now can we not use this “ habit” in teaching our scholars? Will it not do as much for them in learning the use of language as in any thing else? I believe it will. I would, then, have writing become a daily habit with them, and then Grammar will begin to do what it professes to do teach the scholars to use the English language correctly. It may be said that scholars get their speaking habits at home. I grant that this is to a great extent true ; but we could at least secure one thing, the habit of writing the language easily and correctly. The spoken language of any people, even of educated persons, is very different from their written language, and ought to be. The words and sentences used in conversation would not read well unless it was designed to represent a conversation ; and, on the other hand, if a person should attempt to speak as he would write, he would appear stiff and pedantic. I venture the assertion, that a majority of our scholars use language more appropriately and more grammatically in their daily conversations than they do when required to put their thoughts in writing.
But I may be asked, “How would you proceed with scholars ? Please be definite.” I will try to be definite, but can only give an outline. I must not be tedious.
In the first place, as soon as scholars are able to write, I would have them begin to form sentences. Require them to tell, on paper, what they know about some familiar object you may name. Then vary the exercise by giving them words to weave into sentences, and point out to them such mistakes as they can comprehend. You will have plenty of errors to correct, but keep them writing. They will soon learn certain principles of the language ; for instance, that a plural noun must have a plural verb, and this may finally be called a rule, viz., that a verb must agree with its subject in number.
When they are old enough to take the Grammar and have learned the difference between a right and a wrong use of words, the rule, as it is called, may be given to them.
But what is a rule ? Nothing but the statement of a fact, and no man has a right to make a rule which states anything more than an existing fact in the language. When the fact has become familiar to the scholars, they may be required to state it in the most concise language. So be sure you do not require them to state facts which they have never learned.
What would you think of a teacher who required scholars to learn all the rules of arithmetic, from addition to cube root, before they begin to perform examples. I have known teachers guilty of the wicked practice of requiring a little child to commit to memory a long rule— division, for instance,— before giving it any insight into the process of dividing, and then when the little perplexed thing asked for information, tell him to follow the rule.
How long would it probably take that teacher, totally ignorant of the process, to learn to extract the cube root, with no knowledge except what he could get from the condensed statement of the rule ? I imagine we should have a somewhat protracted exercise. But if the process is first shown by an example, then the statements of the rule become intelligible. The same is true in Grammar. First learn to do the thing, and then it will be easy to tell what has been done, and what is always true under the same circumstances. “ If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine,” is as true intellectually as morally.
Again I say, keep the scholars writing, and when they have learned to avoid one error, point out another. Habit will do its work, and the right use of language will become a part of their nature. The main object is, of course, not to teach rhetoric, but Grammar, although the former will be greatly improved.
When they have made sufficient attainments, some choice selections may be made from a careful writer for them to study. A good exercise is found in giving scholars the ideas in a paragraph to write out, when the original may be given for them to examine, by which they may correct their own exercises. Much will of course depend upon the age and attainments of the scholars; and here the good judgment, the common sense of the teacher comes largely into play.
A good way to cultivate definiteness of expression is, to require them to tell, in writing, precisely how to perform division. I have often offered extra credits for a rule so full and definite that, supposing me totally ignorant of the process, I could not possibly go wrong, by following their rule, and have seldom found one that could do it. Any teacher who will try this will be able to judge how much meaning there is in a rule to a child that has had no practice.
Now, I hope I shall not be misunderstood in regard to my views of teaching Grammar. I do not by any means discard analyzing and parsing when the scholars have reached attainments and maturity of mind sufficient to comprehend the subtle relations of words. I consider them highly benefical and necessary to a perfect knowledge of the language. My objection is that they are forced upon scholars too soon, long before they are prepared to take them, to the exclusion of more practical and profitable exercises. I hold that Grammar, as it is generally taught, supposes attainments and powers of mind which a great majority of our scholars do not possess, and therefore the time spent upon it is about the same as wasted. Analyzing and parsing are to them an art which has no practical use in their employment of language. I do not believe that taking sentences to pieces, many of which are of doubtful correctness, will ever teach children a practical use of language. You might as well expect to train up a child in the practice of gentleness, truthfulness and politeness, nay, all the virtues that adorn a gentleman, by teaching him to dissect other people's characters, point out their faults and comment upon their improprieties, without ever requiring him to practice the virtues of a well-bred man. He might become a critic and a backbiter, but not a gentleman.
Now, if it be true that our teaching of Grammar is practically a failure, who is responsible for it ?
How Milton SPENT THE DAY.–At his meals he never took much wine or fermented liquor. Although not fastidious in his food, yet his taste seems to have been delicate and refined, like his other senses, and he had a preference for such viands as were of an agreeable flavor. In his early years he used to sit up late at his studies, but in his later years he retired every night at nine o'clock, and lay till four in the summer and five in the winter. If not then disposed to rise he had some one to sit at his bedside and read to him. When he rose he had a chapter of the Hebrew Bible read for him, and then, after breakfast, studied till twelve. He then dined, took some exercise for an hour, generally in a chair in which he used to swing himself, and afterwards played on the organ or bass viol, and either sung himself or requested his wife to sing, who, he said, had a good voice, but no ear.
He then resumed his studies until six, from which hour until eight he conversed with all who came to visit him. He finally took a light supper, smoked a pipe of tobacco, and drank a glass of water; and afterwards he retired to rest. Like other poets, Milton found the stillness, warmth and recumbency of a bed favorable to composition; and his wife said, before rising of a morning, he often dictated to her twenty or thirty verses. A favorite position of his when dictating his verses, we are told, was that of sitting with one of his legs over the arm of his chair. His wife related that he used to compose chiefly in the winter.- Exchange.
HINTS IN CONDUCTING RECITATIONS, NO. 2.---READING.
READING, like spelling, is an exercise that should be varied occasionally, in order to keep up an interest in the class. It matters but little how well adapted the reading books are to the capacities of the scholars, nor how interesting the lessons are, they will soon become an old story, and fail to produce the desired results if a monotonous course is followed in conducting the exercises.
In this communication I do not propose to present the various modes that can be pursued in reading, but simply one or two that I have practiced with a good degree of success, and which I think have advantages over any other that I am acquainted with. I divide my school off into as few classes as possible, but have no scholar in a class too far advanced for him. I assign each a short lesson, and require it to be studied thoroughly. I have those in the primer, first and second readers study their lessons by first pronouncing every word in a sentence or verse, then read it over very slowly and carefully once or twice. So on through the lesson.
When the time has arrived for the class to read, I call it out, one scholar at a time, and have them stand, and as far apart as possible. I then require them, after giving page, number and title of lesson, &c., to pronounce the words in a sentence or verse in the same manner as was taken in studying it, but together. It is then read by the first in the class, so on through the lesson and through the class. If any scholar comes to a word that he seems to be unable to pronounce, I require him to spell it out, pronouncing each syllable, and ascertain what it is if possible. I do not think a scholar should be told what a word is until the teacher is sure that he cannot find out without assistance. The best way to assist a scholar is to urge and have the scholar assist himself.
When the class is done reading, and any remarks made that may be necessary, I have them return to their seats in the same manner they came out. Again they are to read over the lesson just gone through, then to give their attention to whatever else they may be called upon to.
I do not like the way common with many teachers, in telling a class to study their lesson over half a dozen times or more. It has a tendency to do more harm than good. They merely go through it with a sort of a buzz ; spending about as much time as they would if told to study it over once or twice.
I do not spend as much time nor give as much attention to my classes in the higher readers. I have them come out in the same manner as the other classes, but sit during the exercise. If the lesson is one well adapted for elocutionary practice, I have the first in the class read the first verse, and if read correctly the next takes the next verse; but if not, I require him to read it again. If he fails this time, I think it as well to have it read by some one else, and if the mistakes made by the first reader are corrected by the second the first can try it again. Lessons of a descriptive character, or in common reading, I have read by some one of the class. The greater portion of Friday afternoon is devoted to rhetorical exercises, which consists, principally, of reading. I give each scholar in all the classes permission to select any appropriate piece from any book, paper or magazine, and read it before the school, while the others listen, and, at the close, correct any mistake the reader may have made.
During the last term not a scholar has failed to be prepared for this exercise, while all seem to be very much interested in it.