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CHAPTER VI

HOW INDIVIDUAL NOTIONS SHOULD BE APPROACHED

We have already discussed the nature of individual notions in distinguishing them from general no

tions, and have seen that they are identical with Abundance percepts or concrete notions. A large number of such of early sense experience.

notions are acquired during the first years of life by direct contact with individual things. Children see, handle, taste, smell, etc., and thus receive their first impressions. They also perceive individual events and relationships. The birds in their neighborhood build their nests and rear their young; their favorite trees blossom and bear fruit; the seeds of certain flowers are found to be transported in all directions by the wind and often by animals; the cold weather causes the village pond to freeze over, and certain vessels containing water to burst. The intercourse of men with one another is likewise noted; one speaks angrily with another; two are observed to be united by the bond of friendship; some perform many kind acts, while others seem to be guided by certain ignoble motives, etc. All such things and many more are perceived, and leave impressions called individual notions.

error in such sense

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 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

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to be presented definitely to the mind. Pictures, drawings, famous paintings, photographic views of notable buildings, churches, monuments, etc., are indispensable for giving correct notions of individual things. The teacher may also use diagrams, and simple plans and sketches on the blackboard, not only to explain forts, cities, battles, journeys, campaigns, voyages, etc., but also to make plain particular processes in the industries, machines, and inventions, devices for overcoming difficulties, experiments in natural science, the movements of planets in the solar system, and many similar particulars. The children also should use these same graphic means of expressing their thought, and thus become more clearly acquainted with the facts.

Even in natural science, which is primarily a study of things present to the senses, there are many objects and particulars, at home and abroad, which can best be shown by skilful devices and graphic diagram: such as the circulation of the blood, life processes in plant and animal, chemical and physical changes and forces, microscopic life and changes as touched upon in grammar grades, geological strata, mathematical geography, and many other examples in science. A large portion of the time given to elementary branches must be devoted to the study of these objects of sense, either present or absent.

But it is evident that instruction which deals with these distant objects is subject to even more frequent

Defects in this instruction.

senses.

teacher must

errors than is the study of objects present to the

The first great source of error, therefore, is found in the faultiness of this original raw material of knowledge, the sense-percepts.

The second and perhaps still more troublesome Why the source of error is found in the language with which

regard words we try to express or convey knowledge. Language is with

suspicion. indispensable to thought, and yet when carelessly used it is a prolific source of confusion. For words are but the arbitrary symbols of knowledge and in themselves mean nothing. The words that we see or hear sometimes mean little or nothing to us, sometimes they suggest a wrong notion or one different from that intended by the speaker or writer. Seldom does a word mean exactly the same to two different persons. And yet, since not only the geographical and historical events, but even the objects studied, cannot usually be present to the senses, instruction must depend mainly upon these faulty instruments to build up new and correct mental images. What a wide door is here opened for misconception and error in the use of language!

Now instead of sharply noticing the sources of error in the use of words and of pressing back of them to the original objects and facts themselves, teachers have often made the surprising mistake of thinking that bare words have a peculiar power for directly conveying knowledge, that a mere word is the equivalent of an idea, and that verbal descriptions

Rousseau's

of objects and events can build up in children's minds vivid and correct mental pictures. This view of teaching made instruction an apparently simple and easy matter. Any one could teach who could govern a school, who possessed the necessary knowledge, and who had a good command of language.

But the modern understanding declares teaching to be by no means so easy or mechanical; there are several important conditions to be fulfilled before facts communicated by words can result in real knowledge, and it is the observance of these that makes teaching

a difficult process. Proof from One of these conditions that is essential is sugexperience. gested by a story that Rousseau relates in his “Emile.”

He had accepted an invitation to spend a few days at the country home of a woman of rank who was much interested in the education of her children, and he happened one morning to be present in a history recitation conducted by a private tutor with the eldest boy. The topic under discussion was the well-known story of Alexander and his physician, Philip. It was related how the former was warned by friends that Philip was untrue to him and was awaiting an opportunity to give him poison; and that, nevertheless, when in need of medicine, Alexander took the proffered goblet and drank its contents without hesitation. At dinner the child was called upon to relate the narrative, and did so amidst much applause. There then followed some discus .

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