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though every teacher can make the experiment for himself, (and it is one which will require but a short time sufficiently to test,) yet it may be satisfactory to know, that every trial, hitherto made, which has come to the knowledge of the writer,—and those are by no means few in number,-have proved eminently successful. He would also state, that he has tested the plan on the younger members of his own family, with similar success.
The first subject of these last experiments was a boy between four and five years old, who, in the space of three months, without previous knowledge of either letters or words, simply by receiving a lesson for about five minutes a day, the rest of his time spent in amusement, learnt to read all the lessons in Worcester's Primer in a beautiful style, and, what was still better, intelligently. He would, therefore, urge a similar trial on every parent anxious for the improvement of education, and particularly for the removal of that barrier to self-instruction, the pernicious habit above referred to. A minute description of this method of tuition will appear in its proper place. All that is necessary further to observe here is, that the chief difference between the two methods is in the order of the steps. Letters and syllables must be learned in the new as well as in the old method ; but, by a change in the time of teaching them, they are acquired with less than half the difficulty, and without any danger of acquiring bad habits, which are so difficult to eradicate.
The reading course, which we have seen commence so inauspiciously, does not generally improve much in its progress. A great deal of time, it must be acknowledged, and much labor, are expended in the endeavor to remedy what should never have been allowed to be formed, viz., bad habits in reading. But all such efforts are commonly vain. The teacher himself rarely reads well ; and, when the pupil has acquired the stiff mechanical habits which the synthetic course never fails to generate, the remedy is altogether beyond his reach. Had the child read intelligently, from the first; had none of his time been mispent in reading words without connexion, and consequently, to him, without meaning ; it might have been possible,
even for a teacher who did not read well himself, to have trained up a school of good readers. For, whatever may be the opinion of those who have bestowed little attention on this subject, good reading is the natural gift, bad reading, entirely an artificial acquirement. For almost every child speaks naturally and fluently; and, when he knows the words, why should he not read in the same style ? Simply, because, in the course of learning these words, he has acquired bad habits, habits arising entirely from the practice of attending to sound, unconnected with
We all know how completely man is the creature of habits, and how difficult it is to change them, when once formed. How, then, can it be expected of a child, especially when under the charge of a teacher who is ignorant of the cause of the evil, as well as of the means of cure ?
But reading well aloud, though a desirable accomplishment for all, and indispensable for a public teacher, who seeks for extensive usefulness, is not so valuable to the whole community, as the power of reading silently with intelligence; and, if the latter had generally been achieved in our schools, we might, perhaps, have been content to spare the former. Unfortunately, however, this is by no means the case. The great improvements in schoolbooks, of late years, have doubtless been productive of much benefit in this respect; and, where the method of questioning, which has been introduced into nearly all, has been thoroughly and steadily followed, the evils arising from the faulty commencement may, with much labor to both teacher and pupils, have finally been overcome. Truly happy would it have been for the community, had this generally been the case; but, unfortunately, too many teachers have not, or rather fancy they have not, the time necessary for the questioning process : as if it were possible there should not be time for the most important part of education, reading understandingly. Surely no other study can compete with it, as to utility. Surely every thing else should give way to this. But it is to be feared, that this neglect does not arise from want of time, but rather from an indisposition in the teacher properly to task his own mind. For this is a matter that cannot be attended to mechanically, like most of the other operations of the school. It requires equal attention in teacher and pupil. Had answers been given to the questions, probably the want of time would never have been urged as a reason for their neglect. But answers would have completely nullified the process; the object being, to cause the pupil to exert his thinking powers.
There is one mode of using these questions, however, which is little better than their total neglect. The children are allowed the time, nay, even directed, to study out the answers. Where this mode is adopted, we shall never find intelligent reading. The answers are picked out and committed to memory ; and then the reading is performed mechanically, without an effort to combine sense with sound. The sole dependence for the recitation is on the memory. It is evident, that, where this method has been adopted, the children, in after life, will not be readers; or that, at all events, their reading will not extend beyond novels or tales.
Orthography. In the old-fashioned school, a vast deal of time is spent to very little purpose, in the acquisition of spelling; it being commonly found, that the most adroit speller in the class cannot write half a dozen lines without orthographical blunders. What can be the cause of so signal a failure, with such an appearance of proficiency? The subject well deserves examination.
1. The columns of the spelling-book are committed to memory; and, when the student can spell the whole orally, he takes it for granted that he is a proficient in orthography. But this by no means follows ; for the number of words in the largest spelling-book does not exceed seven thousand, whereas there are upwards of eighty thousand words in the English language.
2. The words in the spelling-book are selected and arranged, chiefly with a view to teach the elements of reading; and it does not contain half the anomalies of orthography. Indeed, the greatest number of these anomalies occur in the words in most common use, few of which are to be found in any spelling-book.
3. It is found, by experience, that spelling well orally, and writing orthographically, are really different acquirements; and that a child, very expert in the former, may be very
deficient in the latter. Nothing can show, more strikingly, the folly of the oral method of teaching spelling, than this fact, the truth of which is now generally acknowledged. Of the generation now on the stage of life, whose education has been confined to the district school, although, at least, one third of their time was spent in drilling from the spelling-book, not one in ten can write a letter of even a few lines without blundering in orthography.
But the spelling-book is not merely used for teaching orthography. The general opinion is, that reading can be acquired by no other means. No one seems, for a moment, to doubt the truth of the proverb, “We must spell, before we can read.”. This, however, is a point well deserving serious examination. For it is here, that nearly all the bad habits that prevent intelligent reading have their origin. Let us, then, candidly inquire, whether it be really necessary - to spell, before we can read ;" whether, in fact, spelling, that is, naming the letters, be of any assistance, whatever.
Commencing with the elementary syllables, then, ab, eb, ib, &c., let us carefully note the sounds of their constituent letters, and, joining them, observe whether they have any resemblance to the sounds of the syllables : thus a, b, will be found to make aibee ; e, b, to make eebee ; i, b, eyebee ; o, b, obee ; and u, b, youbee. Now, what resemblance is there between the sounds aibee and ab; eebee and eb, &c. ? Evidently none.
The same discrepancy will be found to exist, on comparing the sounds of words with those of their constituents. For instance : before a child is allowed to read the word bat, he is directed to say bee-ai-tee ; before cat, see-ai-tee ; mat, emm-ai-tee ; rat, ar-ai-tee ; sat, ess-aitee ; and, before he is allowed to pronounce which, he is required to say doubleyou-aitch-eye-see-aitch! But, lest it should be supposed that an unfair selection of words has been made, in order to place the subject in a ludicrous point of view, let us examine a line, with which we are all familiar,-the initiatory sentence in Webster's old spelling-book,
“ No man may put off the law of God.” The manner in which we were taught to read this,and this manner still prevails in most of the schools, —was as follows:
En-no, no, emm-ai-en, man, emm-ai-wy, may, pee-youtee, put, o-double-eff, off, tee-aitch-ee, the, ell-ai-doubleyou, law, o-eff, of, gee-o-dee, God.
What can be more absurd than this ? Can we wonder, that the progress of a child should be slow, when we place such unnecessary impediments as these, in his way?*
The fallacy on this subject lies within a nut-shell. It arises wholly from confounding the names with the powers of the letters. If these were similar, there might be some excuse for a course of this kind ; though even then it would be highly objectionable, on account of the sense being destroyed by the recurrence of barren sounds between every word; but, when the names of the letters and their powers are so different, a perseverance in this
system of tuition is wholly inexcusable. * Since
above was written, I have cut the following anecdote out of a southern newspaper :
“ The Woods of Lancashire are a distinguished family for character, wealth, and talent ; the eldest son, John Wood, has been returned member of Parliament for Preston several times, and proved himself a steady supporter of civil and religious liberty. A laughable circumstance took place upon a trial in Lancashire, where the head of the family, Mr. Wood, senior, was examined as a witness. Upon giving his name, Ottiwell Wood, the judge, addressing the reverend person, said, “Pray, Mr. Wood, how do you spell your name?' The old gentleman replied,
O double T
double OD;' Upon which the astonished lawgiver laid down his pen, saying, it was the most extraordinary name he had ever met with in his life, and, after two or three attempts, declared he was unable to record it. The court was convulsed with laughter."