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AS AN EDUCATOR
JAMES L. HUGHES
INSPECTOR OF SCHOOLS, TORONTO
MISTAKES IN TEACHING, ETC.
NEW YORK AND LONDON
D. APPLETON AND COMPANY
MAIN LIBRARY EM
ELECTROTYPED AND PRINTED
THE following pages are sufficient to establish the claim of Mr. Hughes for Dickens as an educational reformer—the greatest that England has produced. It will be admitted that he has done more than any one else to secure for the child a considerate treatment of his tender age. “It is a crime against a child to rob it of its childhood.” This principle was announced by Dickens, and it has come to be generally recognised and adopted. Gradually it is changing the methods of primary instruction and bringing into vogue a milder form of discipline and a more stimulative teaching-arousing the child's selfactivity instead of repressing it.
The child is born with animal instincts and tendencies, it is true, but he has all the possibilities of human nature. The latter can be developed best by a treatment which takes for granted the child's preference to adopt what is good rather than what is bad in social customs and usages.
The child, it is true, is uneven in his proclivities, having some bad ones and some good ones. The true pedagogy uses the good inclinations as a lever by which to correct bad ones. The teacher recognises what is good in the child's disposition and endeavours to build on it a
self-respect which may at all times be invoked against temptations to bad conduct. Child depravity sometimes exists, but it can generally be traced to injudicious methods of education in the family, the school, or the community. Dickens has laid so much emphasis on defects of method in these three directions that he has made the generation in which he lived and the next succeeding one sensitively conscious of them.
He has even caricatured them with such vehemence of style as to make our ideals so vivid that we see at once any wrong tendency in its very beginning.
Walter Scott, in his schoolmasters, has caricatured pedantry; so has Shakespeare. But Dickens has discovered a variety of types of pedantry and made them all easily recognisable and odious to us. More than this, he has attacked the evil of cramming, the evil of isolation from the family in the boarding school for too young children, and the evil of uninteresting instruction. Whatever is good and reasonable for the child to know should be made interesting to the child, and the teacher is to be considered incompetent who can not find in the life histories of his class threads of daily experience and present interest to which he can attach every point that the regular lesson contains.
Dickens has done a great work in directing the attention of society to its public institutions—especially to its orphan asylums and poorhouses. The chill which the infant gets when it comes in direct contact with the formality of a state institution, or even a religious institution, without the mediation of the family, is portrayed so well that every reader of Dickens feels it by sympathy. So, too, in those families of public men or women or in those of the directors of industry or commerce who crush out ✓
the true family life by bringing home their unrelaxing business manners and trying to regulate the family as they regulate the details of a great business house—the reading world has imbibed a sympathy for the rights of the home. Free childhood and the culture of individuality has become a watchword.
Above all, Dickens has introduced a reform as to the habit of terrorizing children. Corporal punishment has diminished to one fourth of its former amount, and Charles Dickens is the prophet to whom the reform owes its potency. In fact, the habit of finding in the good tendencies of the child the levers with which to move him to the repression of his bad impulses has placed in the hands of the professional teacher the means of governing the child without appeal to force except in the rarest cases.
The tendency to caricature an evil has its dangers, of course, and Dickens, like all the other educational reformers, has often condemned as entirely unworthy of toleration what has really in it some good reason for its existence. It was the abuse that needed correction. Reform instead of revolution should have been recommended, but the reformer often gets so heated in his contest with superficial evil that he attacks what is fundamentally good. He cuts down the tree when it needed only the removal of a twig infested with caterpillars. This defect of the reformer renders necessary a new reformer, and thus arises a pendulum swing of educational method from one extreme to another.
Dickens shares with all reformers some of their weaknesses, but he does not share his most excellent qualities with many of them. He stands apart and alone as one of the most potent influences of social reform in the nine