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a first lesson, can these principles be carried out? I will try to exemplify.
Here are two teachers, we will suppose, one of the old school, and the other of the new. The first, standing before her class, book in hand, makes the following announcement — with an inward groan at the drudgery in prospect : “ The class may take the first four remarks,” or, as it is probably stated,“ the coarse print on such a page." These remarks we will assume, are the following: “A noun is a name. There are two kinds of nouns proper and common. A proper noun is the name of a particular object, which distinguishes it from other objects of the same kind. A common noun is a name that can be applied to all objects of the same kind." .
The teacher reads these remarks to the class; then, thinking some explanation necessary, continues, “ Perhaps you may not understand the difference between a proper and a common noun. I will try to make it clear. Suppose I say: "A boy in this room is out of order; do you know whom I mean?" • No." “Why not?”-“Because we are all boys." —“Or, in other words, the name boy' may be applied to each one of you. Now look at the definition, and see whether you would consider boy a proper or a common noun, if it can be applied to each of you." A correct answer being soon obtained, the teacher continues, " Suppose I
say, Smith is out of order,' do you know then whom I mean?” “Yes.”—“Why?"_"Because there is only one Smith in the room." “ Then we may say that his name 'Smith' distinguishes that particular boy, from all the other boys, may we not? What kind of a noun is ‘Smith,' then ?” After a few more illustrations of this sort, comes the inevitable finale: “Study the lesson, now; be able to recite each of these definitions, promptly.” We will pass over the fact, that many and many a teacher, would content herself with the last remark, without any previous explanation.
It may be said that this is a good method of teaching the subject; that the distinction is made clear to the children and illustratrated in such a manner, that the definitions are no longer meaningless to them. It may be so; these definitions are couched in more appropriate language than some that have been quoted. But
let us go back to our principle; “Develop the idea - then give the term.” Is it obeyed in requiring a child to commit to memory the first remark, “A noun is a name?" Does not the term come first, and is the idea developed at all? The weakness of this method is obvious, if we take a firm stand on our great, underlying principles.
Let us now take a glance into the school-room of our second imaginary teacher. What do we see? She is standing before her class, — no book in her hand, — saying, in a cheery tone, totally free from that undertone of weariness so obvious to a quick perception in the voice of the first: “ Tell me the names of some of the objects that you see in the room," — writing them on the board as they are given, — “the names of some of the objects you can see from the window; of some of those in your own homes.” Continuing in this way till she has made out a list of some fifteen or twenty words, she asks, at length: “ What are all these words that I have written ?” — “Names of objects. ” Now, it will be observed, the children have a clear idea of a noun; ask them for the name of an object, and they cannot be mistaken. The first requirement, then, of our principle is acted upon; an idea is developed. What remains ? Give the term. This is done in a minute, and the whole thing is finished. How simple this operation is ! Yet the children are kept interested throughout the lesson; even the dullest are familiar with it, and the knowledge is gained without the exercise of severity on the part of the teacher, or of conscious effort on that of the pupils. In fifteen minutes the idea has become a part of themselves, and they would no more think of calling a noun a conjunction — as I have heard boys fourteen, fifteen, sixteen years of age do, repeatedly — than they would of calling white black. And this applies to the dullest children in the class as well as to the quickest.
At the end of the first lesson let us see how the two classes compare. Those of the first, who have worked hard, either from choice or under compulsion, have learned the words contained in the definitions of a noun, and the two great classes of nouns, with such idea as they may have been able to extract. Two-thirds of the four-fifths of the class who learned the lesson attached no idea whatever to the words, and consequently in a year from the time, unless their memory is refreshed by constant reviews, will have forgotten the whole matter. Has there been any intellectual growth here?
In the second class, every child has added to himself a new idea, which he can clothe in words, because it is a part of himself. Every child, then, has taken one step farther towards that development of mind, which it is, or should be, the aim of all educators to promote. To be sure, they have learned only one thing; but has the other class really learned even that? Let us trace the progress of the two classes for the next six months: this is easily done in the first case, since the first lesson is a type of all the others; for at each, à page or two is assigned, explained, and committed to memory. At the end of the six months, they have, perhaps, gone over some forty or fifty pages. A very few, say one-fifth, and these the choice spirits of the class, have gained a few intelligible ideas; threefifths have gained a collection of words alone, and one-fifth are quite innocent of either words or ideas.
The second teacher, bearing in mind the principle, “not the order of the subject, but the order of nature,” gives her second lesson on the verb, calling on the children for the names of different actions, as “walk,” “run,” “ride," &c., writing them as they are dictated, and then proceeding in the same manner, as with the noun. At the conclusion of this lesson, the children have gained two distinct ideas, clothed in language which they themselves have applied, the ideas, namely, of a noun and a verb. Now combine them, and they have a third, — the idea of a sentence. By a few well-directed questions, the teacher here leads them to perceive and state that the verb tells something of the noun. Through all this, notice how faithfully the principle, “ first synthesis, then analysis,” has been carried out.
The readers will see at what the teacher is aiming. She is aiming to lead her children to an understanding of the relations of words to each other; to see at a glance the bearing and meaning of a sentence, and to feel the force of each word composing it. She is laying the foundation of a thorough
knowledge of the English language, and doing something to diminish the number of mute geniuses in the world.
Her third lesson is on the adjective. She develops this idea by letting the children describe one or more of the objects, the names of which are written on the board, writing the descriptive words as they are given, before the names of the objects described. Having thus developed the idea, the children will readily clothe it in words; the teacher gives the term, and another step towards the great end is accomplished. The subject of the adverb is next taken up; then the article; then the conjunction. Then come the personal pronoun, the preposition, the interjection. Now that the ground-work is laid, the children can assign to any word its place as a part of speech, and with as good an idea of what they are talking about, as the most learned of grammarians. As the several parts of speech have been taken up, the teacher has combined examples of them into sentences, the children pointing out the relation of each word to the others. When the whole nine have been considered, suppose such a sentence as this is given the class to parse: “ The black horse runs swiftly to the stable.” They proceed in their own childish way, having no knowledge of technical terms, as follows: “The is an article, telling that a particular black horse is meant; black is an adjective, and tells what kind of a horse it is; horse is a noun, and tells what is running; runs is a verb, and tells what the horse does; swiftly, is an adverb, telling how the horse runs; to, is a preposition joining runs and stable; the, is an article telling, that a particular stable is meant; and stable is a noun, that tells to what the horse runs." So much work can be accomplished in five months. Next would come the technical terms for these childish expressions, “limits," "agrees with," "qualifies, &c." The subject of case would also be brought in here.
In a month more the children parse readily, accurately, and in good language, any simple sentence. This closes the six months' work. The children have used no books, — have committed to memory no definitions but such as they have themselves dictated. Yet which of the two classes has been the most truly educated ?
Let a simple sentence be given to the first class, and it will be
found that they have no more idea of the relations and nice dependence of its words on one another, than if they had never looked inside of a grammar. They have filled their minds with rubbish, among which can be detected, only here and there, and that with much difficulty, the sparkle of a half smothered idea. These are the children who will cause their teachers such trials of patience and vexation of spirit, when they shall have attained an age, at which they might be reasonably expected to distinguish a noun from a conjunction, or a verb from an adjective. But in the minds of the second class, we find a well-defined, orderly, and methodical array of strong, bright ideas, with not a particle of rubbish to quench or weaken their lustre.
It may be asked “Would you never use a book"? Yes; after six months more, or so, on the different classes into which the parts of speech are divided, with the grammatical accidents, they will be ready for the book, and the thousand and one nice points and fine shades which our language furnisher
I sincerely hope that a reformation of srme sort may be effected in the teaching of this branch of knowledge, before long,— that grammar may be raised to its proper place in the list of school studies, and made as interesting to the child as is his history or geography. It can be done, if every teacher will take hold of the work with a right good will, keeping constantly in view the principles, upon which all our teaching should be grounded: “Develop the idea, before giving the term.” “Synthesis, before analysis, not the order of the subject, but the order of nature.”
A BOSTON TEACHER.
PUBLIC SCHOOLS. .
FROM THE DOCTORS' POINT OF VIEW.
[The following excellent article printed originally in the Middlesex (Woburn) Journal, has been also printed on a separate sheet for general distribution in that neighborhood. We commend the action of the Middlesex physicians as an example for imitation by their brethren in other parts of the country.]