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I do not forget that the discussion of the practical business of teaching is, on this occasion, committed to other hands. You will, however, I trust, allow me to suggest here one or two principles which seem to me common to all teaching, and which are in their nature calculated to produce the results to which I have referred.
1. Let a pupil understand everything that it is designed to teach him. If he cannot understand a thing this
year, it was not designed by his Creator that he should learn it this year. But let it not be forgotten, that precisely here is seen the power of a skilful teacher. It is his business to make a pupil, if possible, understand. Very few things are incapable of being understood, if they be reduced to their ultimate elements. Hence the reason why the power of accurate and natural analysis is so invaluable to a teacher. By simplification and patience, it is astonishing to observe how easily abstruse subjects may be brought within the grasp of even the faculties of children. Let a teacher, then, first understand a subject himself. Let him know that he understands it. Let him reduce it to its natural divisions and its simplest elements. And then, let him see that his pupils understand it. This is the first step.
2. I would recommend the frequent repetition of whatever has been acquired. For want of this, an almost incalculable amount of invaluable time is annually wasted. Who of us has not forgotten far more than he at present knows? What is understood to-day, may with pleasure be reviewed to-morrow. If it be frequently reviewed, it will be associated with all our other
knowledge, and be thoroughly engraven on the memory. If it be laid aside for a month or two, it will be almost as difficult to recover it as to acquire a new truth ; and it is, moreover, destitute of the interest derived only from novelty. If this be the case with us generally, I need not say how peculiarly the remark applies to the young.
But lastly, and above all, let me insist upon the importance of universal practice of everything that is learned. No matter whether it be a rule in arithmetic, or a rule in grammar, a principle in rhetoric, or a theorem in the mathematics; as soon as it is learned and understood, let it be practised. Let exercise be so devised as to make the pupil familiar with its application. Let him construct exercises himself. Let him not leave them until he feels that he understands both the law and its application, and is able to make use of it freely and without assistance. The mind never will derive power in any other way. Nor will it, in any other way, attain to the dignity of certain, and practical, and available science.
So far as we have gone, then, we have endeavoured to show that the business of a teacher is so to communi. cate knowledge as most constantly and vigorously to exercise the original faculties of the mind. In this manner he will both convey the greatest amount of instruction, and create the largest amount of mental power.
I intended to confirm these remarks by a reference to the modes of teaching some of the most important branches of science. But I fear that I should exhaust your patience, and also that I might anticipate what will be much better illustrated by those who will come
I shall therefore conclude by applying these considerations to the elucidation of some subjects of general importance.
1. If these remarks be true, they show us in what manner text-books ought to be constructed. They should contain a clear exhibition of the subject, its limits, and relations. They should be arranged after the most perfect method, so that the pupil may easily survey the subject in all its ramifications; and should be furnished with examples and questions to illustrate every principle which they contain. It should be the design of the author to make such a book as could neither be studied unless the pupil understood it, nor taught unless the instructor understood it. Such books, in every department, are, if I mistake not, very greatly needed.
If this be true, what are we to think of many of those school books which are beginning to be very much in vogue amongst us? There first appears, perhaps, an abridgment of a scientific text-book. Then, lest neither instructor nor pupil should be able to understand it without assistance, a copious analysis of each page or chapter or section is added in a second and improved edition. Then, lest, after all, the instructor should not know what questions should be asked, a copious list of these is added to a third and still more improved edition. The design of this sort of work seems to be to reduce all mental exercise to a mere act of memory, and then to render the necessity even for the use of this faculty as small as may be possible. Carry the principle but a little farther, and an automaton would answer every purpose exactly as well as an instructor. Let us put away all these miserable helps, as fast as possible, I
pray you. Let us never forget that the business of an instructor begins where the office of a book ends. It is the action of mind upon mind, exciting, awakening, showing by example the power of reasoning, and the scope of generalization, and rendering it impossible that the pupil should not think; this is the noble and the ennobling duty of an instructor.
2. These remarks will enable us to correct an error which of late has done very much evil to the science of education. Some years since, I know not when, it was supposed, or we have said it was supposed, that the whole business of education was to store the mind with facts. Dugald Stewart, I believe, somewhere remarks that the business of education, on the contrary, is to cultivate the original faculties. Hence the conclusion was drawn that it mattered not what you taught, the great business was to strengthen the faculties. Now this conclusion has afforded to the teacher a most convenient refuge against the pressure of almost every manner of attack. If you taught a boy rhetoric, and he could not write English, it was sufficient to say that the grand object was not to teach the structure of sentences, but to strengthen the faculties. If you taught him the mathematics, and he did not understand the Rule of Three, and could not tell you how to measure the height of his village steeple, it was all no matter—the object was to strengthen his faculties. If, after six or seven years of study of the languages, he had no more taste for the classics than for Sanscrit, and sold his books to the highest bidder, resolved never again to look into them, it was all no matter,-he had been studying to strengthen his faculties, while by this very process his faculties have been enfeebled almost to annihilation.
Now, if I mistake not, all this reasoning is false, even to absurdity. Granting that the improvement of the faculties is the most important business of instruction, it does not follow that it is the only business. What! will a man tell me that it is of no consequence whether or not I know the laws of the universe under which I am constituted ? Will he insult me, by pretending to teach them to me in such a manner that I shall, in the end, know nothing about them ? Are such the results to which the science of education leads? Will a man pretend to illuminate me by thrusting himself, year after year, exactly in my sunshine? No; if a mau profess to teach me the laws of my Creator, let him make the thing plain, let him teach me to remember it, and accustom me to apply it. Otherwise, let him stand out of the way, and allow me to do it for myself.
But this doctrine is yet more false; for even if it be true that it matters not what is taught, it by no means follows that it is no matter how it is taught. The doctrine in question, however, supposes that the faculties are to be somehow strengthened by “going over,” as it is called, a book or a science, without any regard to the manner in which it is done. The faculties are strengthened by the use of the faculties; but this doctrine has been quoted to shield a mode of teaching, in which they were not used at all; and hence has arisen a great amount of teaching, which has had very little effect, either in communicating knowledge, or giving efficiency to mind.
Let us, then, come to the truth of the question. It is important what I study: for it is important whether or not I know the laws of my being, and it is important that I so study them that they shall be of use to me.