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constantly used) to such exercises as would accomplish the desirable object I had pointed out to them. Again and again was I requested to publish something of this kind.
I had never entertained any idea of doing so; nor did I at first see any necessity for it; but it was urged, strongly, that with respect to our mode of teaching letters, facilitating writing, arithmetic, and other matters, our inventions supplied all that was requisite after hearing the lectures; while on this point alone the public were left to their own recollections entirely. I bowed to these arguments, and found from the approbation with which the announcement of my intention was received, that I had only done, or rather promised to do, that duty which was really required of me, and which in these pages I cheerfully proceed to fulfil.
The principle of examination into the words and sentences of lessons, is, as I have already stated, old and well known: I wish it had been as well practised; but there is a beauty and an extent to which it may be carried, of which few persons have an adequate idea until an example is given to them, and then a union of pleasure and instruction is presented to their contemplation far surpassing any thing arising from inferior mental exercises, and rendering (so far as reading is concerned) not only the school-room, but the domestic circle, a scene of endless and ever varying amusement.
I shall very soon mention the source whence I derived this “new light” upon the subject of examinations in reading; and I defer it only that I may here introduce a kindred topic, which, though discussed by philosophers, has been hitherto little regarded in our schools.
For a very long period I have felt perfectly convinced that tasks in grammar are not only unnecessary, but useless, and indeed mischievous. They are unnecessary, because the object in view may be attained without them; they are useless, (generally at least) because that object is not attained by means of them; and they are mischievous, because from their dulness and unintelligibility they fatigue the spirit and disgust the mind of the learner, who is consequently led to regard the acquisition of knowledge as a disagreeable, instead of what it truly is, a delightful employment. Occupied, however, as I am with a variety of public and private business, I could never make the experiment in a way calculated to convince the public; but happily I last year discovered that my views were not merely theoretical : I found they had been entertained by persons interested in public education; and not merely entertained, but brought completely and triumphantly into practice on a large and most satisfactory scale. And where, it may be asked, did I meet with this gratifying proof of the truth of my convictions ? I answer, with gladness, in the same place in which I received those improved views respecting examinations in reading, which I am about to develop in this publication, namely, in the SessioNAL SCHOOL OF EDINBURGH.
In the course of a delightful tour in the Highlands, some months ago, a worthy friend of mine, a zealous patroness of education, presented me with a copy of that very excellent work, “ An Account of the Edinburgh Sessional School, &c. &c. &c. By John Wood, Esq.;" at the same time stating that she had the advantage of being acquainted with the author. I read it with well-rewarded diligence, particularly that chapter in which the EXPLANATORY
METHOD of reading, so much adopted in that school, is particularly described. From that chapter I make the following extract, as the best introduction to the succeeding facts:
“ Its object” (the object of the Explanatory Method) says the writer, “is threefold :-First, to render more easy and pleasing the acquisition of the mechanical art of reading ;-Secondly, To turn to advantage the particular instruction contained in every individual passage which is read; and, above all,—Thirdly, To give the pupil, by means of a minute analysis of each passage, a general command of his own language. It is of great importance to the proper understanding of the method, that all these objects should be kept distinctly in view. With regard to the first, no one who has not witnessed the scheme in operation, can well imagine the animation and energy which it inspires. It is the constant remark of almost every stranger who visits the Sessional School, that its pupils have not at all the ordinary appearance of schoolboys, doomed to an unwilling task, but rather the happy faces of children at their sports. This distinction is chiefly to be attributed to that part of the system of which we are here treating; by which, in place of harassing the pupil with a mere mechanical routine of sounds and technicalities, his attention is excited, his curiosity is gratified, and his fancy is amused. In the second place, when proper books are put into the hands of the scholars, every article which they read may be made the means, not only of forming in their youthful minds the invaluable habit of attention, but also of communicating to them, along with facility in the art of reading, much information, which is both adapted to their present age, and may be of use to them for the rest of their lives. How different is the result, where the mechanical art is made the exclusive object of the master's and the pupil's attention! How many fine passages have been read in the most pompous manner, without rousing a single sentiment in the mind of the performer! How many, in which they have ieft behind them only the most erroneous and absurd impressions and associations ! Of such associations, if we remember right, Miss Hamilton, in one of her works upon education, affords some striking examples from her personal experience. To these we may add another, furnished by a gentleman of our acquaintance, which, strong as it is, will, we believe, be recognised by most of our readers, as too true a picture of what, from a similar cause, has not unfrequently occurred to themselves. He had been accustomed, like most schoolboys, to read, and probably to repeat, without the slightest attention to the sense, Gray's Elegy, not uncommonly known in school by the name of. The curfew tolls. What either 'curfew' or “tolls' meant, he, according to custom, knew nothing. He always thought, however, of toll-bars, and wondered what sort of tolls were curfew tolls; but he durst not, of course, put any idle question on such a subject to the master. The original impression, as might be expected, remained, and to the present hour continues to haunt him, whenever this well-known poem comes into his mind. But, in the last place, they little know the full value of the explanatory method, who think it unnecessary, in any case, to carry it beyond what is absolutely essential to enable the pupil to understand the meaning of the individual passage before him at the time. As well, indeed, might it be maintained that, in parsing, the only object in view should be the elucidation of the particular sentence parsed; or that, in reading Cæsar's Commentaries, in a grammar-school, the pupil's sole attention should be directed to the manner in which the Gallic war was conducted. A very little reflection, however, should be sufficient to show how erroneous such a practice would be in either case. The passages gone over at school must, of course, be
very few and limited, and the direct information communicated through them extremely scanty. The skill of the instructor must therefore be exhibited, not merely in enabling the pupil to understand these few passages, but in making every lesson bear upon the proper object of his labour, the giving a general