« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
WHAT SHALL THE PUBLIC SCHOOLS TEACH?
A RESOLUTION is reported as having passed both branches of the Massachusetts Legislature of 1886–87, which "requests the State Board of Education to consider the expediency of revising the entire course of studies in the public schools of the State," and to report to the next legislature. A prominent eastern Massachusetts clergy man is reported as having declared that he always refused to sign a petition for an additional study in the public schools, on the ground that too many studies are pursued in them already. On the basis of these texts, and of all beneath the surface of which they are the evident sign, I would offer some remarks in aid of clear and well-grounded thinking on the important question, What are the real essentials of publicschool education ?
Here, adopting and expanding a famous saying of Lord Bacon's, we may say, reading makes a full man; writing makes an exact man; speaking makes a ready man. Also, thinking makes a wise man; feeling makes an active man; doing makes a practical man; and we venture to believe that this second triplet is as important as the first. The contrast between reading and thinking is the root of that between know). edge, or acquaintance with facts, and wisdom, or the power to make good use of knowledge. The contrast between speaking and doing appears in the constant expressions, Will be do as he says? That is what he says, but what will he do about it? Writing, just because it is speech without the speaker, compels to especial exactness, to compensate for the absence of all the side streams of meaning that flow into spoken words from look and tone and gesture. Feeling, moreover, supplies the motive, according to which the end of doing is good or bad. Now, all these elements being a condensed summary of life, we declare the business of the public schools to be to start the young on the
path of reading, writing, speaking, thinking, feeling, and doing well. Moreover, as man is a vitally united body and mind, “doing" is to be understood as including the activity of the hands, or, more exactly, of the mind through the hands, as well as such activity only of the mind as could equally exist in beings without hands. Hence manual training.
Reading, as Bacon meant it, is for the purpose of gaining knowledge. “Read and you will know.” As a school exercise, it also means elocution, or the vocal expression of the sense, distinct enunciation, and correct pronunciation; in a word, gymnastic for the vocal organs. Reading can be employed simultaneously for both purposes. The school reading-books should have a constant threefold supplement: first, such prefatory remarks by the teacher as will put the class in the spirit of the piece to be read; secondly, a popular encyclopedia and other suitable reference books on the teacher's desk, children's books of travels, natural science, geographies, and ample wall maps; and thirdly, directions by the teacher to suitably related books from any accessible library. Reading can thus be made what Hugh Miller and many others since his time have expressed as a favorite thought, viz., the pass-key to every room in the temple of knowledge. It can incidentally initiate pupils in history, geography, biography, poetry, fiction, travels, useful arts, physical and natural science, and morals. It can make them acquainted with the existence, and so far with the character, of all these subjects, that such among them as any pupil discovers a natural taste for he will pursue further, as separate studies, when the time comes. Reading, thus broadly treated, would use. fully clear elementary schools of many subjects, such as geography, history, and formal grammar, not necessary to be taken as separate studies, each with its text-book, and now often merely skimmed over.
Writing, like reading, is here used in a double sense. Bacon meant by writing the written expression of thought, or composi. tion. As a school exercise it also means penmanship. Penmanship is one element in manual training. It is a species of free-hand drawing, and, industrially, an accomplishment of no small value to accountants, copyists, and artist penmen. Composition, associated with reading, cultivates memory, in fixing facts recorded ; also power of expression, in varying the forms used to express a thought; and, with the teacher's corrections, serves in teaching spelling and grammar. Spelling is incidental to reading and writing. Oral spelling cultivates the memory. Written spelling stimulates observation. For a word, analyzed with regard to spelling, is, at last, a number of objects set in a certain order; and, as few words indicate unmistakably to the ear what their letters are, or the order of them, it follows that these particulars are best learned through the eye, and fixed by writing.
Speaking, which makes the ready man, can be better learned than by the old-time “speaking of pieces." An account given of every reading lesson, running into a genuine conversation about the subject of it, not only gives power to speak, but serves to show whether the reading bas been only perfunctory or bas really contributed toward making the future full man that reading is meant to make. Every example explained at the black-board, and every country described from the wall map, also contribute to readiness of speech, as does also correction of fellow-pupils' errors.
Thinking concerns either probabilities or certainties. Doubtless it is the thinking concerning probabilities that most conduces to make the wise man, since the vast majority, if not all, of the affairs of life are matters of probability, of higher or lower degree, and seldom, if ever, matters of certainty, however nearly they may sometimes seem to be such. Yet, as a check to a too hasty forming of opinions, a warning against jumping at conclusions, mathematics, dealing only with certainties, comes usefully in as the great educational stimulus to exact thinking. For mathematics demands exactness or nothing, and will tolerate no half-truths. Now, in mathematics we have to distinguish number, or a determinate assemblage of units, and form, or a determinate arrangement of points. Ever since man had to ask “How much?or “How many ?” arithmetic, as the elementary study of number, has been a necessity. Likewise, ever since man began to ask “Wbicb way?" and " How far?" or questions of distance and direction, of form, size, and position, elementary
geometry, as the earliest representative of the study of form, has equally been a necessity. Arithmetic deals with all kinds of quantities, and does so indirectly by means of the arbitrary signs called figures, which are the alphabet of numbers. Geometry deals with one species of quantity, viz., regular forms, and does so directly by means of diagrams, which, as triangles, circles, etc., are the very things treated, or, as projections of solids, are their adequate equivalents. Geometry thus bas something of the relation to arithmetic of a species to a genus, and its method is immediate rather than representative by arbitrary signs. From this latter fact it should, in truth, precede arithmetic, or at least be begun as early and as simply.
Such are a few of what may be called theoretical reasons for the early, if suitable, study of geometry. But practical reasons also abound, showing how useful and necessary geometry, as a foundation study, is to all who bave to observe, choose, arrange, or make regular forms. Of a total population ten years old and over of about 37,000,000, in the United States in 1880, over 17,000,000 were reported in occupations of all kinds. Of these, about 8,000,000 were engaged in agriculture, about 4,000,000 in “professional or personal service,” nearly 2,000,000 in “trade and transportation," and nearly 4,000,000 in "mechanical ” industries. Of these four classes, it is to the last, principally, that some training in geometry would seem to be most obviously important. But various just and fair considerations will greatly increase this number. First, the extent to which mechanical appliances—the farmer's mowing machine, the draughtsman's instruments, the goods and wares of dealers in mechanical products—enter into the three other grand divi. sions of industry shows that a knowledge of geometry could only be useful to those belonging to these divisions. Secondly, the census confessedly omits thousands who pursue the hand trades—the village carpenter, blacksmith, etc. ---separately, and not as employees in “establishments.” Thirdly, many are engaged in different pursuits, some of them mechanical, at different seasons, and yet for census purposes each must be counted under some one title. Fourthly, it is by no means to be supposed that because less than half of the whole population of ten
years old and upward is reckoned under any occupation, the remainder are idle. Among these latter millions are all our mothers and sisters, who make and bake and mend, and who, among their makings, may include a large amount of pretty and useful fancy work, and their own and their children's clothes. A little geometry would never come ainiss in making a star quilt, a hexagonal or octagonal mat, rug, or cushion, and, generally, in getting things even and with both halves alike. From all these considerations we may conclude, without rashness, that to not less than half of the 37,000,000 of industrial age more or less knowledge of geometry, as early and as simply begun as arithmetic commonly is, would be highly beneficial.
Feeling is the mainspring of action. Elementary education in right feeling, and the consequent willing; in the idea and love of health, beauty in life and art, truth, honor, virtue, and piety, can be very largely informal and incidental. That is, it need not be a separate text-book study. Every teacher, or other person known to the pupil, in whom right feeling and good willing are seen to exist, is an object lesson in the points here named ; while, as already shown with respect to other subjects, much can be accomplished in moral instruction in connection with the reading lessons. Nevertheless, without some positive instruction, and on a Christian basis, in the essentials of character, all other training possibly goes only to make a perfected engine of mischief, as the abundant merely head education of too many in our prisons sufficiently shows. But, it may be asked, does not this interfere with private religious beliefs ? Is it, however, a worse violation of conscience to teach that “One is your Master, and all ye are brethren," than to leave uncounteracted the world's caste-loving teaching that the many were made for the convenience of a ruling class ? Are more consciences violated by the Proverbs of Solomon, the Sermon on the Mount, or the shining gems of precept in the apostolical epistles, than by hiding these treasures, or by substituting for them even the best of worldly wisdom, from Franklin back to Confucius ?
But some one will say, What has the state to do with relig. ion? What is the state, and what is religion? The state is an abstraction, a name for the collective power and will of the peo