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This process of learning by direct experience continues throughout life. But if a person is left entirely to himself in acquiring knowledge, he is likely to make serious mistakes in even the simplest observations, and to be very superficial. One sees birds Extent of daily, but it is rarely the case that he can describe error in such common birds accurately; favorite shade trees that experience. line our streets, as the elm and the maple, are scarcely seen, although we almost touch them every day; few can tell when they bear flowers and seeds, or whether they bear them at all, or not. Many persons cannot even tell the color of the eyes of their friends and daily companions. Carelessness in the observation of common events is just as striking: we fail to note the direction of the wind and the habits of animals; few can tell how a cow lies down or how a horse gets up. This inability to see correctly, or to see at all, is shown in a practical way in the courtroom by the failure of eye-witnesses of objects and events to agree as to what was seen.
It is the mission of the school, so far as it can, to How the correct and widen such observation. But there are plements this many individual objects of study that cannot be experience. brought before the senses of children, and instruction must deal with these also as best it can. For example, many geographical and historical objects which are distant in place or time still need to be sharply grasped by the children. Famous scenes in history, interesting and picturesque places in geography, need
An apparent exception explained.
till later. Just as it is injudicious for men and women to present their least agreeable side to strangers, so it is unpedagogical to introduce children to topics in a way that least appeals to their past experiences and interests. When the rule is placed in front they are necessarily reminded of their weakness rather than of their strength, and an unfriendly feeling is engendered toward the subject in hand. Consequently not only are labor and time lost, but children are repelled by such instruction.
But many eminent men have been educated in just this way, and it often happens that general truths are immediately comprehended on presentation. Is it entirely in vain, therefore, that rules are offered directly, with the hope of abridging the process of acquiring knowledge ?
If it be true, as was asserted, that generalizations arise in only a single way, that they have their origin solely in individual notions, then there is only one possible way of approaching them. The fact that they are at times fully understood as soon as heard, is no exception to this rule. In such cases past life has happened to furnish enough individual experiences, and these are sufficiently present in consciousness to give a meaning to the words that are heard. The reason that the words are comprehended is that the truth has already been reached inductively, and it is now simply being worded. Now and then, too, where past experience bears apparently little relation to some general statement, a person shows strange power to reproduce and mass data that can explain it. But that is the privilege of only an unusually quick mind, and is no exception to the psychological law. Even in such cases, unless the supposed generalizations are merely reviews or applications of truths developed in the past, they are still in reality approached inductively: the words are empty, or carry only a doubtful meaning, until facts are called to mind which form a basis for drawing the desired conclusion; light is then shed upon them, or they are given a content. The statement of the general truth first is, therefore, merely a challenge to hunt up the data that prove the truth. With trained adults acquainted with the subject, and with very bright minds, the challenge is received joyfully, and activity follows that results in clear insight.
But that does not happen in ordinary instruction. Usually the generalizations that the school should teach are too far in advance of the child's or youth's knowledge to be understood at a glance; or even if his past experience actually contains all of the concrete facts required, they are so scattered and so far removed from consciousness when needed that they are practically wanting. Then this pleasant challenge is converted into a disagreeable command; it is a circumlocution in method that causes loss of time and destruction of interest.
The conclusion is therefore reached, that the only
Outline of method.
wise course is to bring together or present concrete notions in advance of the rules which they would teach. Accordingly, the statement of the rule for addition of fractions should follow the solution of several examples involving addition; the law for the metamorphosis of insects should follow the study in detail of one or more types of insects; likewise the definition of trade-centre, the underlying truth in the Golden Touch, and the proverb in regard to unity should all come after the concrete data. The second presentation of each of these general truths, as outlined in Chapter II, illustrates how this might be planned.
With this important conclusion established, it is possible to distinguish the outline of method. There are three great topics to be kept in mind; namely, individual notions, general notions, and the application of general notions. There are no others, because these three cover the entire circuit; there is no part of instruction that can fall outside of them.
From what has immediately preceded, these three topics must be treated in the order mentioned; i.e. first, individual notions must be taught, then progress should be made from the individuals to the generals, then these latter should be applied. This necessary order constitutes the first great law of method.
And since all mistakes in method of teaching can be made only in one of these three fields, there are naturally three leading questions in method :
1. How should individual notions be acquired ?
2. How should progress be made from individual to general notions ?
3. How should general notions be applied ?
If there is a necessary way of acquiring individual notions, and also of passing from individuals to generals, then, besides the great law of method already mentioned, i.e. induction, other laws may be established which will prove of great value.
It is our next duty to discuss the first of these three questions. And as the acquisition of individual notions requires the consideration of a large number of topics, the problem will be divided into two parts or chapters: first, how individual notions should be prepared for or approached; second, how they should be presented.