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[From the Inaugural Address of Prof. George H. White, President of the North
Eastern Ohio Teachers' Association.]
It, then, culture comes through practice, the first law of sound education is repetition. Repetitio est mater studiorum. He who fails to realize this may be very learned ; but he cannot train the human mind. The feeblest schools are those which attempt everything, dwell upon nothing, and cover the school and college curriculum in half the usual time. A teacher in such a school once said, “One year suffices us for teaching the forms and syntax of Latin ; the second year, we teach the literature, and the third year, the philosophy of the language." But at the end of three such years, pupils fail utterly to meet any reasonable test, either in the translation, syntax, literature or philosophy of the Latin language, and are inserior in mental training to those who have studied a single year under wise guidance and the usual plan. No mental habits are formed, and no facts or sound principles can be by such methods instilled. The mind is made an omnium gatherum of such facts as chance to find a lodgment in it.
On the other hand, the best schools are those in which repetition is secured; in which a subject is not dismissed as soon as a pupil is able to recite his lesson, though slowly and with difficulty ; a week's time obliterates such knowledge ; in the best schools, short lessons are given, constant reviews held, and the subject finally dismissed only when the essential parts can be recited with readiness and unconscious ease. To secure this, is to release the pupil from bondage to the studies which have been completed, and to leave his puwer free to pursue further studies unhampered.
Who thinks that such repetition is deadening to enthusiasm ? On the contrary, I affirm that no instruction is so inspiring, so delightful, so liberalizing, as that of the experienced teacher, who, with a firm grasp of central truths, makes them the starting point of all his teaching and emphasizes them by daily and hourly repetition. There is no skill like that required to present, in a new light, a truth half understood by the pupil. The talent which can hold the scholar's attention only by filling the hour with new and marvelous things, is of quite an inferior order. Who is the grandest preacher of righteousness? Certainly not he who skips about from subject to subject, with fantastic, original views; but he who can present the elementary Gospel, Sabbath after Sabbath, with such vividness of conception and freshness of illustration, that it sinks more deeply into the hearer's soul. So in teaching. If any teacher so squeeze the juice from the half-mastered truths of the advance lesson, that the class return to it only with disgust, either he has mistaken his calling or the subject is not worth a place in the course. Where, then, shall originality find a place in reviews ? Evidently, in illustration and application of truth already learned. The pupil has not begun to imagine the wide sweep of the principles acquired. They are to be held before him till they have impressed themselves indelibly. And it is the supreme test of wisdom to know when the boiling point is reached.
But, who shall fitly set forth the skill required to accomplish this repetition without stultifying the pupil? It is said that Agassiz gave to each pupil who sought his instructions, a fish, with the simple direction: “Study it and report to me.” At the end of a day, the pupil returns with a few unimportant facts. “Study it another day.” Aiter another day of languid study he comes again, with nothing valuable. “Study it another day." At the end of a week of fruitless study, the pupil begins to apply himself with the energy of desperation, and soon finds that in that fish are hidden treasures of wisdom and knowledge. This is a modern scientific method. But more attractive means must be devised for the young pupil. To-day, the review is recited orally; to-morrow, it is written upon the board ; again, at the opening of the hour, a topic is assigned to each pupil, and, after a little reflection, all recite in turn; now, the pupils question each other, or the teacher, upon the review ; again, the class is divided into two parties, which contend with each other by question and answer ; still again, the teacher presents the review from a new standpoint; occasionally, each pupil is required to state and illustrate the truth which he regards as the most important he has learned during the preceding week; and so in varied forms, all that has been learned is kept constantly passing before the mind. That which is of little worth gradually drops out of sight, and that which is found to have wide application expands to occupy its proper space in the mind's sphere.
Thus, and only thus, the instructor reaches a definite impression, and is remembered in after years by his graduates, as one who taught something so well that they have never been able to escape from its influence, nor ever have desired to do so.
To illustrate, let us suppose that it is the teacher's duty to teach the elements of Greek syntax ; the syntax of the much-abused Greek. It is possible to overwhelm the class with a multitude of details; and this is generally done by the young teacher. But, how many principles of Greek syntax are of prime consequence? Perhaps forty; and these should be stated in the recitation-room a dozen times each, every day in the week, till they are engrained into the mind. At first the pupil sees them but dimly, and states them timidly, with many an error; but, day by day he repeats them, illustrates them, applies them, traces their influence through Greek sentences, till they become clear and assume a permanent place in his thoughts; they stand at the entrance of his mind; they challenge every sentence which passes before them; and they do it with spontaneity, making the least possible draft upon the will-power. Not this alone : in the light of these guiding principles, all the items of the pupil's knowledge in Greek syntax are seen in their true relations; these primary ideas become the magnets around which all the iron filings of daily recitations arrange themselves in orderly lines. This is the knowledge which is power and prepares for the duties of life.
What shall be thought of the method which makes exceptions as prominent as the rules, and the special rules as conspicuous as the general? Which spends time with the young on contractions in multiplication, of casting-out of nines, the theory at the basis of least common multiple, the Vermont rule for partial payments, the transformation of repetends and alligation alternate, while they can perform only with painful difficulty the simplest operations in fractions Rather they should be trained to perform the fundamental operations with ready accuracy.
Again, our proposition, culture by practice, suggests the corollary, that every important truth should be abundantly illustrated by easy examples. There is a place for difficult problems, but nothing is more discouraging to the beginner, who holds with an uncertain grasp the rule just learned, than to find that the second example turns him aside to the solution of a puzzle, which bears no more relation to the rule than a newspaper anagram. He started upon the track, but the very author who posed as his friend, placed an obstruction, and his train of thought is wrecked. Easy examples, far more numerous than any author has dared to imagine, should accompany every leading precept in all studies. Place the target near, in a calm air, till thought goes straight to the mark at every trial. Not till then, remove the mark to a distance and require the young archer to make allowance for the force of gravitation and a strong wind. Some text books, especially in mathematics, bear evidence that this demand is likely to be mire fully met in the future.
Another corollary : It is the positive, not the negative, which counts in the formation of intellectual habits. Advise criticism, direct attention to faulty methods of thought in the pupil, are essential; but pruning is not the teacher's only duty, nor is it his chief duty. Cultivate a vigorous, active growth by incessant practice in right thinking, and this will overwhelm many vicious habits. It is not necessary to make the child's mind a vacuum before pouring in instruction. Make it easier, by mere force of habit, for your pupil to use the right expression than the wrong one.
Lastly, there is danger that we shall attempt too many studies in our schools, and fail to secure substantial training in any line. The pursuit of any study to the extent, merely, of securing a few disconnected facts, may have a certain value, but can not be regarded as a valuable means of culture. The pursuit of wide knowledge so exclusively as to prevent the formation of mental habits, is of course reprehensible. Is it not a fair question whether the limit has not been overstepped in the modern multiplication of studies ?-Ohio Ed. Monthly.
The Relation of the University to the Common School.
BY COL. WILLIAM PRESTON JOHNSTON.
[Read before the International Congress of Educators, held in New Orleans, Feb., 1885.)
The topic of this paper is one of great moment in our educational system. To present the question fully would require more time than your patience or the limitations of the occasion would readily allow, but there are some obvious points which occur to me that may do something toward placing the subject in its true light.
It has been said-and truly--that universities may exist where there are no common schools, and that the light comes from above ; but to have preceded them even, and to have made them possible, is some relation at least. But whether the common schools are the