Imágenes de página

model for imitation, is the true way of forming a good character. They mainly trust to the repetition of a number of acts done in conformity to a general principle or truth for the formation of good habits; and they would endeavour to check or counteract all bad tendencies, and the development of all erroneous notions, by a constant and vigilant superintendence. Few schools have yet been administered on these principles, either long enough, or systematically enough, to prove how much can be done in forming youth to good habits. Still, among those who have carefully reflected on early education, there is a large number who believe that religious and moral precepts have in themselves very little weight in early age, and who believe that no mere teaching of doctrines, either religious or moral, is of any efficacy at all compared with the durable impressions made by the constant repetition of certain acts under the superintendence of the teacher.

Many well-meaning persons in this country, who have a firm belief in the necessity of implanting religious truths early in the mind, are apt to overrate the efficacy of this instruction, and to expect results from it which experience does not confirm, and which a calm investigation would never lead us to expect. This is the case with most of the schools for the poor in this country, in which the formal part of religion is almost the only thing taught. It is the case also in many private schools, where religious observances are kept with a strictness that to many parents seems to be the surest guarantee for the formation of a religious character in their children. The compulsory attendance on the ceremonies of religion in our colleges, and in some of our endowed schools, is another instance of this kind. But in all

these cases, it is well known, that neither an active religious belief, nor even a mere acquiescence in the truths of revealed religion, is secured in the majority of pupils by this formal teaching --much less are those habits acquired on which a man's right conduct depends. So much are all men governed by habits, and so little is the mass of mankind capable of reflection, that it is surprising that those who have shown so much zeal for the improvement of their fellow-creatures have not availed themselves of these truths. A large part of those who pass through life creditably and usefully never reflect at all either on moral or religious truth: many very ignorant persons are totally incapable of it; and yet they discharge the ordinary duties of life at least blamelessly, and if no very unfavourable influence turns them from the regular tenor of their course, they may pass through the world with a fair character, and on the whole do much more good than harm to society. Many owe this happiness solely to a calm temperament; but a considerable number to the accident of having been early accustoined to regularity and labour, and having had the good fortune, in after-life, to be brought into contact with those only whose example and general mode of lise were decent and orderly. This is not a very high kind of character, it may be said ; but it is a much better character than will be produced, in the majority of instances, by the mere teaching of any set of rules or doctrines, which are in themselves but feeble restraints on the desires and passions, and the feebler in proportion to the weakness of the understanding. It appears, then, that in the schools for the


the practical influence of mere religious teaching has been exceedingly over-rated-a fact now admitted by many

well-informed men, who are still zealous for the propagation of Christian truth. It appears also that, in the schools for the wealthier classes, a similar erroneous notion is firmly fixed. The influence of the religious instruction, or the bare religious ceremonial, on the conduct of the boys, has been over-rated, and this mistake has contributed to a neglect of proper discipline. Not that this is the only cause why the discipline of all or nearly all our large schools is in its present deplorable state; for the total absence of a general superintending and corrective power (a power which can only be exercised by the State) has had a large share in producing this want of unity and sound principles of government in all our places of education: but adherence to the mere forms of religious instruction and the concomitant neglect of true discipline have perhaps done more. As the origin of our schools is traced to the ancient religious establishments of the country, it seems likely (indeed, we may say, it is certain that the teaching of Christian doctrine and strict exercise in Christian discipline were formerly combined. The discipline gradually fell into disuse; but the teaching of the doctrines continued: and as this too has now become, in many schools, a mere matter of form, not considered near so important as the common lessons of the day, we cannot be surprised that it has altogether lost its efficacy, and that “it is so difficult to make a large school a place of Christian education *." It is clear that this must be a natural consequence, as schools are now constituted.

If the doctrines of religion, as either specially taught at some schools to young boys, or presented to them înerely in the way of formal observances, as is the case

* Letter of "A Wykhamist,” Journal, No. XVIII. p. 291.

in some other schools, could make that impression which it is their professed object to make, there would be no difficulty in governing any number of boys. The magnitude of the truths impressed on them, and the solemn

ions under which they are delivered, would secure obedience to the commands of a parent, and to those of a master who is chosen by the parent as his representative. But this is not the way in which the moral government of the world is carried on, either as regards men or boys. The acts of a large part of mankind des pend in a very small degree on their belief either in moral or religious truths; and this is a fact in the constitution of things which we can neither help, nor safely neglect: it is our business to look to things as they are and as they must be, not to fashion a system of our own, and expect the constitution of things to conforın to it. If men have not been trained to act habitually right, there is not much chance of their acting right when a powerful influence towards acting wrong is present to them. The knowledge of what is right must be first taught by seeing others act right, and by being practised to do the same. The whole of the reasons for acting in this or that way lie not within the


of a child's understanding, hardly within that of a man, certainly not within the compass of the understandings of the majority of men. But as the understanding of a child is gradually formed, the reasons for acting in this or that way begin to show themselves to the mind, even if no very great pains are taken to explain them; and as the understanding grows stronger, the teacher can present by degrees to his pupil the reasons for particular lines of conduct, so far as the reasons can be given to a child. But till some habit is formed of acting in a given

way, no reasons for conduct can be of any use. Hence, with young children, the will of those who are about them must be the sole rule of conduct, and it cannot be otherwise. It is fortunate for children when those who give them their first lessons set a good example; when they compel the children to that line of conduct which experience and reflection have proved to be best for children; when they teach them by actual experience, that they must submit to the physical and moral laws which govern the world, and that these laws cannot be violated with impunity; when they present to them as motives their approbation or disapprobation, which for children up to a certain age must be the sole test of the right or wrong of their actions. This education, if begun at home, would render the school education comparatively easy; but, unfortunately, youths are often sent to school in that state which renders their subsequent education frequently difficult, and sometimes impossible.

Still we may consider what school education should aim at, what it should attempt to do, if it cannot do it altogether; for the attempt itself to remove difficulties often opens to us unexpected means of accomplishing our purpose.

It is the main business of a school education to form a youth for his future social duties as a citizen. To this end the body should be trained, by regulated exercise and wholesome diet, to discharge all the functions which are essential to health and to the development of the intellect; in which two conditions consist the elements of happiness, and without which happiness cannot be. The understanding is to be formed also by exercise, proportioned to its strength, and adapted to make it stronger : it should not be fatigued by more labour than it can bear, nor allowed to

[ocr errors]
« AnteriorContinuar »