28. And he was angry, and would not go in; therefore came his father out, and intreated him.
29. And he answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment; and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends;
30. But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf.
81. And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine.
32. It was meet that we should make merry and be glad; for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.
How simple the story! Even a child can tell it after very few readings, and one could soon learn the words by heart. Is one then through with it? Or has the study then hardly begun?
Note some of the questions that need to be considered:—
1. What various thoughts probably induced the young man to leave home?
2. What pictures of his former life does he call to mind when starving? Why did he hesitate about returning?
3. What were his thoughts and actions as he approached his father; those also of his father?
4. What indication of the father's character is given in the fact that he saw his son while yet "a great way off"?
5. Which is perhaps the most interesting scene? Which is least pleasing?
6. How would the older son have had the father act?
7. Did the father argue at length with the older son? Was it in place to argue much about such a matter?
8. Describe the character of the elder son. Which of the two is the better?
9. Is the father shown to be at fault in any respect in the training of his sons? If so, how?
10. How do people about us often resemble the elder son?
11. Is this story told as a warning or as a comfort? How?
These are only a few of the many questions that might well be considered. Indeed, whole books could be, and probably have been, written upon this one parable. Yet neither such questions nor their answers are included in the text. It seems strange that almost none of the great thoughts that should be gathered from the story are themselves included with the narrative. But the same is true in regard to other parts of the Bible. The conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4) is, perhaps, the greatest conversation that was ever held. Yet one must discover this fact "between the lines"; there is no such statement included in the account.
Evidently both to the minister and to the layman the Bible contains only the raw materials for thought. It must be supplemented without limit, if one is to comprehend it and to be nourished by it properly.
2. As suggested by the study of other literature
Does this same hold with regard to other literature? For answer, recall to what extent Shakespeare's dramas are "talked over" in class, both in high schools and colleges. But as a type—somewhat extreme, perhaps—take Browning's
MY LAST DUCHESS
That's my last Duchess painted on the wall, Looking as if she were alive. I call That piece a wonder, now: Fra Pandolf's hands Worked busily a day, and there she stands. Will't please you sit and look at her? I said "Fra Pandolf" by design, for never read Stranger like you that pictured countenance, The depth and passion of its earnest glance, But to myself they turned (since none puts by The curtain I have drawn for you, but I) And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst, How such a glance came there; so, not the first Are you to turn and ask thus. Sir, 't was not Her husband's presence only, called that spot Of joy into the Duchess' cheek; perhaps Fra Pandolf chanced to say, "Her mantle laps Over my lady's wrist too much," or "Paint Must never hope to reproduce the faint Half-flush that dies along her throat": such stuff Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough For calling up that spot of joy. She had A heart—how shall I say—too soon made glad, Too easily impressed; she liked whate'er She looked on, and her looks went everywhere. Sir, 't was all one! My favor at her breast, The dropping of the daylight in the West, The bough of cherries some officious fool Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule She rode with round the terrace—all and each Would draw from her alike the approving speech, Or blush, at least. She thanked men,—good! but thanked Somehow—I know not how—as if she ranked My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name With anybody's gift. Who'd stoop to blame This sort of trifling? Even had you skill In speech—(which I have not)—to make your will Quite clear to such an one, and say, "Just this Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss, Or there exceed the mark"—and if she let Herself be lessoned so, nor plainly set Her wits to yours, forsooth, and made excuse, —E'en then would be some stooping; and I choose Never to stoop. Oh sir, she smiled, no doubt, Whene'er I passed her; but who passed without Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands; Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands As if alive. Will't please you rise? We'll meet The company below, then. I repeat, The Count your master's known munificence Is ample warrant that no just pretense Of mine for dowry will be disallowed; Though his fair daughter's self, as I avowed At starting, is my object. Nay, we'll go Together down, sir. Notice Neptune, though, Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity, Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!
How much the word last in the title of this poem suggests! Note how many, and how different, are the topics in the last dozen lines. Yet there is no paragraphing throughout. The page should show things as they exist in the Duke's mind, and he runs from one thought to another as if they were all on the same plane, and closely related.
Was there ever a more vain, heartless, haughty, selfish, bartering gentleman-wretch? Note how single short sentences even surprise one by the extent to which they reveal character. Whole volumes are included between sentences. One can scarcely read the poem through rapidly; for it seems necessary to pause here and there to reflect upon and interject statements.
There is no doubt about the need of extensive supplementing in the case of adult literature. Is that true, however, of literature for children? Is not this, on account of the immaturity of children, necessarily so written as to make such supplementing unnecessary? For a test let us examine Longfellow's The Children's Hour, which is so popular with seven- and eight-year-old boys and girls.
THE CHILDREN'S HOUR
Between the dark and the daylight, When the night is beginning to lower, Comes a pause in the day's occupations, That is known as the Children's Hour.
I hear in the chamber above me The patter of little feet, The sound of a door that is opened, And voices soft and sweet.
From my study I see in the lamplight, Descending the broad hall stair, Grave Alice, and laughing Allegra, And Edith with golden hair.
A whisper, and then a silence: Yet I know by their merry eyes, They are plotting and planning together To take me by surprise.
A sudden rush from the stairway, A sudden raid from the hall! By three doors left unguarded They enter my castle wall!
They climb up into my turret O'er the arms and back of my chair; If I try to escape, they surround me; They seem to be everywhere.
They almost devour me with kisses Their arms about me entwine, Till I think of the Bishop of Bingen In his Mouse-Tower on the Rhine!
Do you think, O blue-eyed banditti, Because you have scaled the wall, Such an old moustache as I am Is not a match for you all!
I have you fast in my fortress, And will not let you depart, But put you down into the dungeon, In the round tower of my heart.
And there will I keep you forever, Yes, for ever and a day, Till the walls shall crumble to ruin, And molder in dust away!
1. How would we plan to dramatize this poem? In answering this question, we must consider how many persons are needed, what arrangement of rooms and doors, etc., will be fitting; are the last three stanzas to be spoken? etc.
2. It seems that here is a family in which an hour is set aside for play. What kind of home must that be?
3. Was this the custom each day? Or did it happen only once?
4. Does the father seem to enjoy it? Or was it rather an unpleasant time for him?
5. Is there any proof that these were especially attractive children? ("Voices soft and sweet.")
6. Which is the best part of the last three stanzas, in which he tells how much he loves them? (Meaning of "for ever and a day.")
7. Do you know any other families that have a time set apart each day for playing together? Why are there not more?
8. Does such an arrangement depend on the parents wholly? Or could the children help much to bring it about? How?
9. Have you heard the story about the Bishop of Bingen in his Mouse- Tower on the Rhine River?
10. Meaning of strange words may be explained in various ways, perhaps some of them scarcely explained at all.
These are some of the questions that could well be considered in this poem. It is true that this selection, like most adult literature, is capable of being enjoyed without much addition. But it is not mere enjoyment that is wanted. We are discussing what study is necessary in order to get the full profit. In the case of Hawthorne's Wonder-Book and Tanglewood Tales, numerous questions and suggestions need likewise to be interjected. One of the best books for five- to eight- year-old children on the life of Christ bears the title Jesus the Carpenter of Nazareth. It is an illustrated volume of five hundred pages, which makes it clear that the original Bible text has been greatly supplemented. Yet it is a pity to read even this book without frequent pausing for additional detail.
Thus literature, including even that for young children, fails to show on the surface all that the reader is expected to see. Much of it states only a very small part of this. A piece of literature resembles a painting in this respect. Corot's well-known painting, "Dance of the Wood Nymphs," presents only a few objects, including a landscape with some trees and some dancing women. Yet people love to sit and look at it, perhaps to examine its detail and enjoy its author's skill, but also to recall countless memories of the past, of beautiful woods and pastures, of happy parties, of joys, hopes, and resolves, and possibly, too, to renew resolves for the future. The very simple scene is thus a source of inspiration, a stimulus to think or study. A poem accomplishes the same thing.
3. As stated by Ruskin
A warning of the amount of hard work that the student of literature must expect is given by Ruskin in the following forcible words: "And be sure, also, if the author is worth anything, that you will not get at his meaning all at once,—nay, that at his whole meaning you will not for a long time arrive in any wise. Not that he does not say what he means, and in strong words, too; but he cannot say it all, and what is more strange, will not, but in a hidden way, and in parables, in order that he may be sure you want it. I cannot quite see the reason of this, nor analyze the cruel reticence in the breasts of wise men which makes them always hide their deeper thought.
"They do not give it you by way of help, but of reward, and will make themselves sure that you deserve it, before they allow you to reach it.
"But it is the same with the physical type of wisdom, gold. There seems, to you and me, no reason why the electric forces of the earth should not carry whatever there is of gold within it at once to the mountain tops, so that kings and people might know that all the gold they could get was there, and without any trouble of digging, or anxiety, or chance, or waste of time, cut it away, and coin as much as they needed. But Nature does not manage it so. She puts it in little fissures in the earth, nobody knows where. You may dig long and find none; you must dig painfully to find any.
"And it is just the same with men's best wisdom. When you come to a good book, you must ask yourself, 'Am I inclined to work as an Australian miner would? Are my pickaxes and shovels in good order, and am I in good trim myself, my sleeves well up to the elbow, and my breath good, and my temper?' And keeping the figure a little longer... the metal you are in search of being the author's mind or meaning, his words are as the rock which you have to crush and smelt in order to get at it. And your pickaxes are your own care, wit, and learning; your smelting furnace is your own thoughtful soul. Do not hope to get at any good author's meaning without those tools, and that fire; often you will need sharpest, finest chiseling and patientest fussing before you can gather one grain of the metal."[Footnote: Sesame and Lilies]
4. As suggested by an examination of text-books
When we turn from literature to the text-books used in schools and colleges, we find the need of supplementing greatly increased. Writers of literature are at liberty to choose any topic they please, and to treat it as fully as they will. But writers of text-books are free in neither of these respects. Their subjects are determined for them; it is the history, for example, of a given period, the grammar of the English language, the geography of the earth. And these must be presented briefly enough to be covered by classes within a prescribed time. For these reasons text-books contain far less detail than literature, and in that sense are much more condensed. They are only the outlines of subjects, as their titles often directly acknowledge. Green's History of England, for instance, which has been extensively used as a college text, barely touches many topics that are treated at great length elsewhere. It is natural, therefore, that in our more advanced schools the word text in connection with such books is used in much the same sense as in connection with the Bible; a text is that which merely introduces topics by giving the bare outline of facts, or very condensed statements; it must be supplemented extensively, if the facts or thoughts are to be appreciated.
How about the texts used in the elementary school? Those used in the highest two grades need, perhaps, somewhat more supplementing than those in the high school. But in the middle grades this need is still greater. In the more prominent studies calling for text-books, such as history, geography, and English language or grammar, nearly the same topics are treated as in the higher grades, and in substantially the same manner. But since the younger children are not expected to take as long lessons,—and perhaps, too, because they cannot carry as large books,—their texts are made briefer. This is mainly accomplished by leaving out much of the detail that is necessary to make the facts clear and interesting. Consequently, supplementing is an especially important factor of study in these grades. In general, the briefer the text, the more "filling in" is needed.
As an illustration, take the following extract from the first page of McMaster's Child's History of the United States, often used with ten-year-old pupils.
Four hundred and fifty years ago the people of western Europe were getting silks, perfumes, shawls, ivory, spices, and jewels from southeastern Asia, then called the Indies. But the Turks were conquering the countries across which these goods were carried, and it seemed so likely that the trade would be stopped, that the merchants began to ask if somebody could not find a new way to the Indies.
The king of Portugal thought he could, and began sending his sailors in search of a way around Africa, which extended southward, nobody knew how far. Year after year his ships sailed down the west coast, the last captain going further south than the one before him, till one of them at last reached the southern end of the continent and entered the Indian Ocean.
Observe a few of the thoughts "between the lines" that need to be considered:—
1. Six things are here mentioned as brought from the East Indies. It seems odd that some of these should receive mention as among the most important imports. Which are they? Could any of them have been more important then than now? Why?
2. What were the routes of travel, by land, to the Indies? (Map.)
3. Where did the Turks live; and what reasons had they for preventing this trade?
4. Why could not the first Portuguese captain sail directly to the southern end of Africa?
Again, take the topic desert in geography. The texts usually define a desert as a sandy waste, often a plain, that receives too little rain to support much vegetable or animal life. Pictures are given showing the character of the plants, and perhaps the appearance of such a region. Beyond that little is usually attempted. In the larger books the danger from sand storms and some other things are included. Such treatment needs to be supplemented by numerous questions, such as the following:—
1. What animals that are common here are seldom found there, or not at all? (Horses, cows, etc., also birds, flies, bugs, etc.)
2. What plants that are common here are not found there? (Trees, flowers, weeds, etc.)
3. Is the weather particularly enjoyable there, or not? Is it desirable to have sunshine all the time?
4. What about noises of various kinds? (Silence so oppressive to some people that it becomes intolerable.)
5. What would be some of the pleasures of a walk in the desert? (Coloring, change of seasons, trees along streams, appearance of any grass.)
6. What about the effect of strong winds on the sand?
7. Imagining that some one has just crossed a desert, what dangers do you think he has encountered, and how may he have escaped from them?
The extent to which the supplementing should be carried
From the preceding discussion it is clear not only that no important topic is ever completely presented, but also that there is scarcely any limit to the extent to which it may be supplemented. Men get new thoughts from the same Bible texts year after year, and even century after century. How far, then, should the supplementing be carried?
The maximum limit cannot be fixed, and there is no need of attempting it. But there is great need of knowing and keeping in mind the minimum limit; for in the pressure to hurry forward there is grave danger that even this limit will not be reached.
What is this minimum limit? Briefly stated, it is this: There should be enough supplementing to render the thought really nourishing, quickening, to the learner. In the case of literature that will involve some supplementing; and in the case of ordinary text-books it will require a good deal more.
Is this standard met when the child understands and can reproduce in substance the definition of desert? Far from it! That definition is as dry and barren as the desert itself; it tends to deaden rather than quicken. The pupil must go far beyond the mere cold understanding and reproduction of a topic. He must see the thing talked about, as though in its presence; he must not only see this vividly, but he must enter into its spirit, or feel it; he must experience or live it. Otherwise the desired effect is wanting. This standard furnishes the reason for such detailed questions as are suggested above. The frequency with which stirring events, grand scenery, and great thoughts are talked about in class with fair understanding, but without the least excitement, is a measure of the failure of the so- called better instruction to come up to this standard. No really good instruction, any more than good story books, will leave one cold toward the theme in hand.
Reasons why authors fail to express their thought more completely
It must be confessed that this standard calls for a large amount of supplementing. There are meanings of words and phrases to be studied, references to be looked up, details to be filled in for the sake of vivid pictures, illustrations to be furnished out of one's own experience, inferences or corollaries to be drawn, questions to be raised and answered, and finally the bearings on life to be traced. It might seem that authors could do their work better, and thereby relieve their readers of work.
Yet these omissions are not to be ascribed to the evil natures of authors, nor to the superabundance of their thought, alone. Readers would be dissatisfied if all this work were done for them. Any one has observed that small children are disappointed if they are not allowed to perform necessary little tasks that lie within their power. Also, they enjoy those toys most that are not too complete, and that, therefore, leave some work for their own imaginations. This quality of childhood is characteristic of youth and of adults. An author would not be forgiven if he stopped in the midst of his discourse to explain a reference. Eminent writers, like Longfellow, for example, are even blamed for attaching the morals to their productions; and terseness is one of the qualities of literature that is most praised. In other words, older people, like children, love activity. Although they at times hate to work, they do not want authors to presuppose that they are lazy or helpless; and they resent too much assistance. Since, therefore, the many omissions in the presentation of thought are in accordance with our own desires, we would do well to undertake the necessary supplementing without complaint.
THE ABILITY OF CHILDREN TO SUPPLEMENT THOUGHT
There are several facts indicating that children have the ability to undertake this kind of studying.
Reasons for assuming that children have this kind of ability 1. Their vivid imaginations
One of the chief powers necessary is a vivid imagination by which concrete situations can be clearly pictured, and children possess such power to an unusual degree. They see so vividly that they become frightened by the products of their own imaginations. Their dolls are so truly personified that mishaps to them easily cause tears, and their mistreatment by strangers is resented as though personal. Adults hardly equal them in this imaginative quality.
2. Their ability to imitate and think, as shown in conversation
When children are left alone together they do not lack things to do and say. Their minds are active enough to entertain one another as well as adults do, and not seldom better. In fact, if they remain natural, they are often more interesting to adults than other adults are. They reach even profound thoughts with peculiar directness. When I was attempting, one day, to throw a toy boomerang for some children, one of the little girls, observing my want of success, remarked, "I saw a picture of a man throwing one of these things. He stood at the door of his house, and the boomerang went clear around the house. But I suppose that people sometimes make pictures of things that they can't do; don't they?"
3. The success of development instruction
The method of teaching called development instruction is based on the desire and ability of children to contribute ideas. That instruction could not succeed as it has succeeded, if children did not readily conceive thoughts of their own. Not only do they answer questions that teachers put in such teaching, but they also propose many of the questions that should be considered. That method flourishes even in the kindergarten. In the kindergarten circle children often interrupt the leader with germane remarks; and sometimes it is difficult even to suppress such self-expression. One reason the kindergartner tells her stories, rather than reads them, is that she may have her eyes on the children and thus take advantage of their desire to make contributions of thought. The same tendency is shown in the home, when children want to "talk over" what their parents or other persons read to them. They fail to respond in this way only when they are afraid, or when they have attended school long enough to have this tendency partly suppressed.
4. The character of children's literature
Finally, the fact that children's literature, like that for adults, presupposes much supplementing, is strong reason for presupposing that ability on their part. Any moral lessons that belong to fairy tales must be reached by the children's own thought; the same usually applies to fables also. Hawthorne understood the child mind as few persons have. Yet it is astonishing how much ability to supplement seems to have been expected by him. It would be surprising if such experts were mistaken in their estimate of children.
PRACTICAL SUGGESTIONS FOR TEACHING CHILDREN TO SUPPLEMENT THOUGHT
1. Importance of using text-books
Teachers can make use of text-books at least enough to give much practice in supplementing text. Text-books are so uncommon in some schools that one might conclude that they had gone out of fashion among good teachers. Yet there is certainly nothing in modern educational theory that advises the neglect of books. Some teachers may have imagined that development instruction, to which reference has just been made, leans that way. But development instruction is of importance rather in the first presentation of some topics. After a topic has been thus developed, it can well be reviewed and further studied in connection with books. Many teachers are neglecting to use texts both to their own detriment and to the serious disadvantage of their pupils.
2. Kind of text to be preferred
Teachers who have liberty in choosing their text-books should select those that contain abundant detail. That means a thick book, to be sure; and many teachers are afraid of such books on the ground that they mean long lessons. A thick book may be a poor text; but a thin one is almost bound to be. The reason is that books are usually made thin at the expense of detail; and detail is necessary in order to establish the relations between facts, by which the story form can be secured and a subject be made interesting. Without plenty of detail the facts have to be run together, or listed, merely as so many things that are true; they then form only a skeleton, with all the repulsiveness of a skeleton. Such a barren text is barren of suggestions to children for supplementing, because the ideas are too far apart to indicate what ought to fit in between.
The understanding ought to be more common that long lessons are by no means synonymous with hard lessons. The hardest lessons to master are those brief, colorless presentations that fail to stimulate one to see vividly and to think. Many a child who carries a geography text about with him learns most of his geography from his geographical readers, simply because the writer does not squeeze all the juice out of what he has to say in order to save space. A child can often master five pages in such a book more easily than he can one from the ordinary geography, and he will remember it longer.
3. Character of the questions to be put
Whatever the text chosen, the recitation should be so conducted that the emphasis will fall on reflection rather than on mere reproduction. To this end one should avoid putting mainly memory questions, such as, Who was it—? When was it—? Why was it—? What is said about—? Even the usual request, "Close the books," at the beginning of the recitation can often be omitted to advantage. Why should not the text- book in history and geography lie open in class, just as that in literature, if thinking is the principal object?
Questions that require supplementing can be proposed by both teacher and pupils. Now and then some topic can be assigned for review, with the understanding that the class, instead of reproducing the facts, shall occupy the time in "talking them over." The teacher can then listen, or act as critic. It is a harsh commentary on the quality of instruction if a lesson on Italy, or on a presidential administration, or on a story, suggests no interesting conversation to a class.
Occasionally, as one feature of a lesson, a class might propose new points of view for the review of some subject. For example, if the Western states have been studied in geography, some of the various ways in which they are of interest to man might be indicated by questions, thus: What about the Indians in that region? What pleasure might a sportsman expect there? What sections would be of most interest to the sight-seer? How is the United States Government reclaiming the arid lands, and in what sections? What classes of invalids resort to the West, and to what parts? How do the fruits raised there compare with those further east in quality and appearance? How is farming differently conducted there? In what respects, if any, is the West more promising than the East to a young man starting in life?
These are such questions about the West as large classes of individuals must put to themselves in practical life; they are, then, fair questions for the pupil in school to put to himself and to answer. By thus considering the various phases of human interest in a subject, children can get many suggestions for supplementing the text.
4. Different types of reproduction
The habit of reproducing thought in different ways will also throw different lights on the subject-matter, and thus offer many supplementary ideas. For example, dramatizing is valuable in this way. The description, in the first person, of one's experiences in crossing the desert is an illustration. I once visited a Sunday-school class that was studying the life of John Paton, the noted missionary to the New Hebrides Islands. The text stated that one of the cannibal chiefs had been converted, and had asked permission to preach on Sunday to the other savages. This permission was granted; but the text did not reproduce the sermon. Thereupon several members of the class undertook, as a part of the next Sunday's lesson, to deliver such a sermon as they thought the savage might have given. Two of the boys brought hatchets on that Sunday to represent tomahawks, which they used as aids in making gestures, and their five-minute speeches showed a careful study of the whole situation. Likewise the experiences of Columbus might be dramatized, as, when asking for help from the king, or when reasoning with the wise men of Spain, or when conversing with his sailors on his first voyage to America.[Footnote: See the story of Columbus in Stevenson's Children's Classics in Dramatic Form, A Reader for the Fourth Grade.]
Additional suggestions will often be obtained by inquiring, "What part of this lesson, if any, would you like to represent by drawings? Or by paintings? Or by constructive work? Also, How would you do it?"
5. The danger of the three R's and spelling to habits of reflection
Much of what has been said about supplementing ideas finds only slight application to beginning reading, writing, spelling, and number work. The reason is that these subjects, aiming so largely at mastery of symbols, call for memory and skill rather than reflection. For this very reason these subjects are in many ways dangerous to proper habits of study, and the teacher needs to be on her guard against their bad influence. They are so prominent during the first few years of school that children may form their idea of study from them alone, which they may retain and carry over to other branches. To avoid this danger, other subjects, such as literature and nature study, deserve prominent places in the curriculum from the beginning, and special care should be exercised to treat them in such a way that this easy kind of reflection is strongly encouraged.
THE ORGANIZATION OF IDEAS, AS A THIRD FACTOR IN STUDY
A. The different values of facts, and their grouping into "points"
Extent to which teachers treat facts as equal in value
In several branches of knowledge in the primary school it is customary for teachers to attach practically the same importance to different facts. This is the case, for instance, in spelling, where a mistake counts the same, no matter what word be misspelled. It is largely the case in writing. In beginning reading one word is treated as equal in value to any other, since in any review list every one is required. In beginning arithmetic this equality of values is emphasized by insistence upon the complete mastery of every one of the combinations in the four fundamental operations. Throughout arithmetic, moreover, failure to solve any problem is the same as the failure to solve any other, judged in the light of the marking systems in use.
The same tendency is less marked, but still evident, in many other subjects, some of them more advanced. In geography, teachers seldom recognize any inequality of value in the map questions, even though a question on the general directions of the principal mountain systems in North America be followed by a request to locate Iceland. The facts, too, are very often strung along in the text in such a manner that it is next to impossible to distinguish values. Here is an example from a well-known text: "Worcester is a great railroad center, and is noted for the manufacture of engines and machinery. At Cambridge is located Harvard University, the oldest and one of the largest in the country. Pall River, Lowell, and New Bedford are the great centers of cotton manufacture; Lawrence, of both cotton and wool; Lynn, Brockton, and Haverhill make millions of boots and shoes; and at Springfield is a United States arsenal, where firearms are made. Holyoke has large paper mills. Gloucester is a great fishing port. Salem has large tanneries." How does this differ from a spelling list, so far as equality of values is concerned?
In nature study all have witnessed the typical lesson where some object, such as a flowering twig, for example, is placed in the hands of every pupil and each one is requested to tell something that he sees. Anything that is offered is gratefully accepted. While this particular kind of study is fortunately disappearing, the common tendency to regard all facts alike is still clearly shown in the case of the topic, cat, discussed on page 40.
In literature, failures are very often condemned alike, whether they pertain to the meanings of words, of sentences, of references, or of whole chapters.
Until very recently at least, even in universities, it has been common to assign lessons in history textbooks by pages, and to require that they be recited in the order of the text. The teacher, or professor even, in such cases has shown admirable ability to place the burden of the work upon the students by assigning to himself the single onerous task of announcing who shall "begin" and who shall "go on." What recognition is there of varying values of facts in such teaching?
The effect of such teaching on method of study
Not all of such instruction is avoidable or even undesirable; but it is so common that it has a very important effect on method of study.
So long as facts are treated as approximately equal in worth, the learner is bound to picture the field of knowledge as a comparatively level plain composed of a vast aggregation of independent bits. In spelling, writing, and beginning reading it is so many hundreds or thousands of words; in beginning arithmetic it is the various combinations in the four fundamental operations; in geography it is a long list of statements; in history it is an endless lot of facts as they happen to come on the page; in literature it is sentence after sentence.
One can get possession of this field, not by taking the strategic positions,—for under the assumption of equality there are none,—but rather by advancing over it slowly, mastering one bit at a time. Thus the words in beginning reading, writing, and spelling are learned and reproduced in all orders, proving them to be independent little entities. In geography and history, when the facts are not wormed out of the pupil by questions, he sees the page before him by his mind's eye,—a fact frequently revealed by the movement of his eyes while reciting,—and attempts to recall each paragraph or statement in its order. In literature he masters his difficulties sentence by sentence, a method most clearly shown in the case of our greatest classic, the Bible, which is almost universally studied and quoted by verses.
Thus the unit of progress in study is made the single fact; the whole of any subject becomes the sum of its details; and a subject has been supposedly mastered when all these bits have been learned. This might well be called the method of study by driblets. It is probably safe to say that a majority of the young people in the United States, including college students, study largely in this way.
While this method of study is bad in numerous ways, there are three of its faults in particular which need to be considered here.
Respects in which this method of study is wrong 1. Facts, as a rule, vary greatly in value
In the first place, facts vary indefinitely in value. In parts of a few subjects they do have practically the same worth, which is, no doubt, a source of much misconception about proper methods of study. In spelling, for instance, which is probably as important a word as when, and sea as important as flood. In a list of three hundred carefully selected words for spelling for third-year pupils, any one word might properly be regarded as equal to any other in worth. This may be said also in regard to a list for writing. Much the same is true in regard to a possible list of four hundred words for reading in the first year of school. In arithmetic one would scarcely assert that 4X7 was more or less important than 9X8, or 8/2, or 6-3, or 4+2. In other words, the various combinations in the four fundamental operations are, again, all of them essential to every person's knowledge, and therefore stand on the same plane of worth.
To some extent, therefore, the three R's and spelling are exceptions to an important general rule. Yet even in spelling and beginning reading not all words by any means have the same value. Children in the third year of school who are reading Whittier's Barefoot Boy ought to be able to recognize and spell the word robin; perhaps, also, woodchuck and tortoise; but eschewing is not a part of their vocabulary and will not soon be, and probably the less said about that word by the teacher the better.
The moment we turn to other subjects, facts are found to vary almost infinitely in value, just as metals do. Judged by the space they occupy, they may appear to be equally important; but they are not to be judged in this way, any more than men are. According to their nature, thoughts or statements are large and small, or broad and narrow, or far-reaching and insignificant. A general of an army may be of more consequence to the welfare of a nation than a thousand common soldiers; so one idea like that of evolution may be worth a full ten thousand like the fact that "our neighbor's cat kittened yesterday."
2. They are dependent upon one another for their worth
In the second place, facts can by no means be regarded as independent. As before, to be sure, the three R's and spelling afford some exception to this rule. In spelling, writing, and beginning reading it is important that any one of a large number of words be recognized or reproduced at any time, without reference to any others. All of these, together with the combinations in the fundamental operations in arithmetic, are often called for singly, and they must, therefore, be isolated from any possible series into which they might fall, and mastered separately.
Aside from these subjects, facts are generally dependent upon their relations to one another for their value. Taken alone, they are ineffective fragments of knowledge, just as a common soldier or an officer in an army is ineffective in battle without definite relations to a multitude of other men.
If the first sentences on twenty successive pages in a book were brought together, they would tell no story. They would be mere scattered fractions of thoughts, lacking that relation to one another that would give them significance and make them a unit. Twenty closely related sentences might, however, express a very valuable thought.
James Anthony Froude, impressed with this truth and at the same time recalling the prevalent tendency to ignore it, declares: "Detached facts on miscellaneous subjects, as they are taught at a modern school, are like separate letters of endless alphabets. You may load the mechanical memory with them, till it becomes a marvel of retentiveness. Your young prodigy may amaze examiners and delight inspectors. His achievements may be emblazoned in blue books, and furnish matter for flattering reports on the excellence of our educational system. And all this while you have been feeding him with chips of granite. But arrange your letters into words, and each word becomes a thought, a symbol waking in the mind an image of a real thing. Group your words into sentences, and thought is married to thought, and the chips of granite become soft bread, wholesome, nutritious, and invigorating." [Footnote: James Anthony Froude, Handwork before Headwork.]
A very simple illustration is found in the study of the dates for the entrance of our states into the Union. Taken one at a time, the list is dead. But interest is awakened the moment one discovers that for a long period each Northern state was matched by one in the South, so that they entered in pairs.
3. The sum of the details does not equal the whole.
Finally, the whole of a subject is not merely the sum of its little facts. You may study each day's history lesson faithfully, and may retain everything in memory till the book is "finished," and still not know the main things in the book. You may understand and memorize each verse of a chapter in the Bible until you can almost reproduce the chapter in your sleep, and still fail to know what the chapter is about. Probably some readers of this text who have repeated the Lord's Prayer from infancy, would still need to do some studying before they could tell the two or three leading thoughts in that prayer.
An especially good illustration of this fact in my own experience as a teacher has been furnished in connection with the following paragraph, taken from Dr. John Dewey's Ethical Principles underlying Education. "Information is genuine or educative only in so far as it effects definite images and conceptions of material placed in social life. Discipline is genuine and educative only as it represents a reaction of the information into the individual's own powers, so that he can bring them under control for social ends. Culture, if it is to be genuine and educative, and not an external polish or factitious varnish, represents the vital union of information and discipline. It designates the socialization of the individual in his whole outlook upon life and mode of dealing with it." I have had a large number of graduate students who found it very difficult to state the point of this paragraph, although every sentence is reasonably clear and they are in close sequence.
Thus the larger thoughts, instead of being the sum of the details, are an outgrowth from them, an interpretation of them; they are separate and new ideas conceived through insight into the relations that the individual statements bear to one another.
The proper unit of progress in study
From the foregoing we see that some facts are very large, while others are of little importance, and that any one statement, taken separately, lacks significance.
The field of thought, therefore, instead of being pictured as a plain, is to be conceived as a very irregular surface, with elevations of various heights scattered over it. And just as hills and mountains rest upon and are approached by the lower land about them, so the larger thoughts are supported and approached by the details that relate to them.
A general of an army, desiring to get possession of a disputed region, does not plan to take and hold the lower land without the higher points, nor the higher points without the lower land. On the contrary, each vantage point with its approaches constitutes, in his mind, one division of the field, one strategic section, which is to be seized and held. And these divisions or units all taken together constitute the region.
So any portion of knowledge that is to be acquired should be divided into suitable units of attack; one large thought together with its supporting details should constitute one section, another large thought together with its associated details a second, etc.; all of these together composing the whole field. In other words, the student, instead of making progress in knowledge fact by fact, should advance by groups of facts. His smallest unit of progress should be a considerable number of ideas so related to one another that they make a whole; those that are alike in their support of some valuable thought making up a bundle, and the farther-reaching, controlling idea itself constituting the band that ties these bits together and preserves their unity. Such a unit or, "point," as it is most often called, is the basal element in thinking, just as the family is the basal element in society.
The size of such units of advance.
Such units of advance may vary indefinitely in size; but the danger is that they will be too small. A minister who reaches his thirteenthly is not likely to be a means of converting many sinners. A debater who makes fifteen points will hardly find his judges enthusiastic in his favor, no matter how weak his opponents may be. A chapter that contains twenty or thirty paragraphs should not be remembered as having an equal number of points. What is wanted is that the student shall feel the force of the ideas presented, and a great lot of little points strung together cannot produce a forceful impression.
Any thought that is worth much must be supported by numerous facts and will require considerable time or space for presentation. A minister can hardly establish a half dozen valuable ideas in one sermon; he does well if he presents two or three with force; and he is most likely to make a lasting impression if he confines himself to one. Drummond's The Greatest Thing in the World is an example of the possibilities in this direction.
Accordingly the student, in reading a chapter or listening to a lecture, should find the relationships among the smaller portions of the thought that will unify the subject-matter under a very few heads. If several pages or a whole lecture can be reduced to a single point, it should be done. He should always remember that to the extent that the supporting details are numerous they will have a cumulative effect, thereby rendering the central thought strong enough to have a permanent influence.
The meaning of organization of knowledge, and its value.
Such grouping of ideas as has thus far been considered, although of the greatest importance, is only the beginning of the organization of knowledge. For thus far only the minimum unit of advance has been under discussion. Asone proceeds in the study of a subject these smaller units collect in large numbers, and they must themselves be subordinated to still broader central thoughts, according to their nature. This grouping of details, according to their relationships, into points, and of such points under still higher heads, and so on until a whole subject and even the whole field of knowledge is carefully ordered according to the relationships of its parts, is what is meant by organization of knowledge.
Sometimes an entire book is thus organized under a single idea, Fiske's Critical Period of American History being an excellent example. In this volume the conditions at the close of the Revolutionary War are vividly described. It is shown that great debts remained unpaid, that different systems of money caused confusion, and that civil war was seriously threatened in various quarters. These and other dangers convinced sober men that a firm central government was indispensable. But then, it was no easy matter to bring such a government into existence; and it is shown how numerous heroic attempts in this direction barely escaped failure before the constitution was finally adopted. On the whole, it is safe to say that each paragraph or small number of paragraphs, while constituting a unit, is at the same time a necessary part of the chapter to which it belongs; likewise, each chapter, while constituting a unit, is an integral part of the book as a whole; and all these parts are so interrelated and complete that the whole book constitutes a unit.
Observe the advantage of such organization. The period of our history immediately following the Revolution used to be one of the least interesting of topics. Under the title "The Period following the Treaty of Paris," or "The Period from the Close of the Revolutionary War to the Adoption of the Constitution," the textbooks attempted nothing more than an enumeration or history of the chief difficulties and struggles of our youthful nation. In some cases, if I remember correctly, this was designated "The Period of Confusion," and its description left the reader in a thoroughly confused state of mind.
Fiske's book was a revelation. What had seemed very complex and confused became here extremely simple; what had been especially dull became here perhaps the most exciting topic in all our history. And the secret of the advance is found to a large extent in the organization. Thus organization is a means of effectiveness in the presentation of knowledge, as in the use of a library or the conduct of a business.
The basis for the organization of knowledge in general.
All the facts in Mr. Fiske's book are organized about the stirring question expressed in his title, i. e., how our ship of state barely escaped being wrecked. Because this idea is of intense interest to us, and the entire book bears upon it continually, the story is read with bated breath. Drummond's Greatest Thing in the World is another excellent example on a smaller scale of ideas centered about a vital human question. Thus specific problems of various degrees of breadth, that are intimately related to man, can well be taken as the basis for the organization of knowledge in general. Classical literature is organized on this basis, which is called the pedagogical or psychological basis, and it seems desirable that other fields should also be.
Yet there are other kinds of organization in which the relation to man is not so plainly, or not at all, taken as the controlling idea. For example, biology is often organized on the basis of the growing complexity of the organism, the student beginning with the simple, microscopic cell, and advancing to the more and more complex forms. Formerly, after the Linnaean system, plants were classified according to their similarity of structure. Now both plants and animals are often classified on the basis of their manner of adaptation to their environment. Thus within the field of science there is what is called the scientific basis of organization.
There is also the logical basis of organization of thought, according to which some most fundamental idea is taken as the beginning of a system, or the premise, and other ideas are evolved from this first principle. Rousseau attempted to develop his educational doctrine in this way, starting with the assertion that everything was good as it came from the Creator, but that everything degenerated in the hands of man. John Calvin did the same in his system of theology; and he reasoned so succinctly from his few premises that any one granting these was almost compelled to accept his entire doctrine.
Attention is called to these facts here in order to suggest that, while the scientific and the logical bases of organization are in common use, neither of them is adequate as the main basis of organization for a young student who is studying a subject for the first time. The reason is that each of them secures a careful ordering of facts only with reference to the relations that those facts bear to one another, and not with reference to the relation that they bear to man; and in thus ignoring man they show grave faults. They are indifferent to interest on the part of the learner; they offer no standard for judging the relative worths of facts to man; and instead of exerting an influence in the direction of applying knowledge, they exert some influence in the opposite direction by their indifference to man's view-point. It must be admitted that they are of great assistance in securing thoroughness of comprehension by their revelation of the relations existing among facts, and also that they classify facts in a convenient way for finding them later; but they are of greatest use to the advanced student, who is already supplied with motive and with standards for judging worth, and who has proper habits of study already formed; they can well follow but they should not supplant the psychological basis.
The student's double task in the organization of ideas.
An author's organization of subject-matter is frequently poor. But whether it be poor or good, some hard work on the part of the student is necessary before the proper grouping of ideas can take place in his own mind. The danger is that there will be practically no arrangement of his thoughts, as is well illustrated in the following letter from an eight-year-old boy.
DEAR UNCLE CHARLIE:
Will you please buy some of my 24 package of my Bluine, if you will please buy one package it will help me a lot. One Saturday we played ball against the east side and beat twelve to 1. I will get a baseball suit if I can sell 24 packages of Bluine. We had quite a blizzard here to-day. For one package it costs ten cents. When we played ball against the east side we only had 6 boys and they had twelve. We have a base ball team, and I am Captain, so you see I need a suit. Gretchen and Mother are playing backgammon with one dice. I catch sometimes when our real catcher is not there. When he is there I play first Base. Your loving nephew, JAMES.
There is one prominent idea in this letter, touching the sale of Bluine, with reasons; and parts of two others, concerning the weather and the occupation of mother and sister. The first is the most fully treated; but, as might be expected from an eight-year-old child, no one idea is supported by sufficient detail to round it out and make it strong.
In avoiding such defects two things are necessary: First, the student must decide what points he desires to make. They should be so definitely conceived that they can be easily distinguished from one another and can even be counted. Then, in the second place, all the details that bear upon a central idea should be collected and presented together in sequence under the point concerned. By this massing of all supporting statements under their proper heads, overlapping or duplicating is avoided, and clearness is gained. Also, force is secured by the cumulative effect of intimately related facts, just as it is secured by the concerted attack by the divisions of an army.
Even the better students often stop with finding the main thoughts alone. And the temptation to do no more is strong, since teachers seldom require a forceful presentation of ideas in recitation; they are thankful to get a halting statement of the principal facts. But the student should remember that he is studying for his own good, not merely to keep teachers contented; and he should not deceive himself by his own fluency of speech. He should form the habit of often asking himself, "What is my point?" also, "What facts have I offered for its support, and have I massed them all as I should?" He must thus form the habit of arranging his ideas into points if he wishes to be pointed.
Precautions against inaccuracy in the grouping of facts into points.
The dangers of inaccuracy in this kind of study are numerous. First the individual statements must be carefully interpreted. A certain very intelligent ten-year-old girl studying arithmetic read the problem, "What is the interest on $500 at six per cent for one year?" Then, probably under the influence of some preceding problem, she found four per cent of the principal, and added the amount to the principal for her answer, thus showing two mistakes in reading. Perhaps half of the mistakes that children make in the solution of problems is due to such careless reading. A certain fifth-year class in history read a very short paragraph about the three ships that were secured for Columbus's first voyage, the paragraph ending with the statement, "On board the three [ships] were exactly ninety men." When they were asked later how many men accompanied Columbus the common answer was, "Two hundred and seventy, since there were ninety men on each ship."
These mistakes are typical of those that are common, even among adults, as in the reading of examination questions, for instance. I have more than once asked graduate students in a university to state the one principal thought obtained from the extended study of an article on education, and have received a paper with a threefold answer, (a), (b), (c). Such responses are due to extreme carelessness in reading the questions asked, as well as to a desire to be obliging and allow an instructor some freedom of choice. Thus the meaning of the individual statements that constitute the material out of which larger truths are derived, must be carefully watched if the final interpretation of an author's thought is to be accurate.
The tendency toward error is greater still when it comes to finding the central thought for a portion of text. This was once amusingly illustrated by a class composed only of the principals and high-school teachers in a county institute, some seventy-five persons in all. The text under discussion was the first chapter of Professor James's well- known book, Talks to Teachers. The title of the chapter is "Psychology and the Teaching Art"; and Professor James, fearing that teachers might be expecting too much from his field, sets to work to discourage the idea that psychology can be a panacea for all of a teacher's ills. The larger portion of the twelve pages is devoted to this object, although the explicit statement is made, on the third page, that "psychology ought certainly to give the teacher radical help." But so little space is given to this declaration that, in spite of its definiteness and positive character, the class as a whole reached the conclusion that he was advising teachers not to study psychology at all. In other words, they had failed to balance up one part of the chapter against the other; and their failure left them in the ridiculous position of assuming that an author of a book for teachers was dissuading teachers from reading his book.
A third and perhaps the most common source of error is found in the particular wording given to the central thought. In order to be perfectly definite and accurate any thought should be expressed in the form of a full statement. It ordinarily takes at least a whole sentence to express a whole thought. But it is very common for students even, who have formed the habit of thinking by points, to allow brief headings, consisting of single words or short phrases, to represent entire thoughts. Although such headings, on account of their brevity, may be useful, they are merely names for the thought, not statements of the thought itself; and it means the loosest kind of thinking to stop with them. A mere title, as a lecture "About Russia," for instance, designates only the outside limits to which a person confines himself—provided he sticks to his theme. It often tells no more about the substance of the thought within those limits than a man's name tells about his character. It is usually easy to tell "what a page is about"; but it usually requires keen thinking to word its principal idea sharply in a full sentence. Many students are inaccurate in the interpretation of authors and in their own thinking, not so much because they lack mental ability as because they lack the energy to continue their thinking to this point of wording the central idea accurately in a full sentence.
THE ABILITY OF CHILDREN TO GROUP FACTS INTO POINTS.
The grouping of facts into points requires ability to perceive that some statements are more valuable than others, without reference to the space that they happen to occupy on the printed page; it presupposes, also, the power to rearrange a stranger's ideas. It is, therefore, an aggressive kind of work, in which even adults often fail to distinguish themselves. Can children be expected to assume such responsibility?
Proofs of such ability. 1. As shown by children ten years old and younger.
Proof that any ten-year-old child has already assumed it in a simple way for some years is contained in the following facts:—
1. Long before the school age is reached a child has had much practice in picking out the logical subjects of sentences, inasmuch as he has learned to comprehend statements made to him. Distinguishing the subject of a sentence is the same kind of work as distinguishing the subject of a paragraph or chapter, only it is simpler.
2. Any six-year-old child has, likewise, had much practice in detecting the subject of short conversations, especially of those of interest to him. If he happens to overhear a conversation between his parent and teacher touching a possible punishment for himself, he can be trusted to sum it up and get the gist of it all, even though some of the words do not reach him. That is exactly the kind of thinking required in getting the point of a lecture.
3. In relating fairy tales and other stories, during the first years at school, children easily fall into the habit of relating a part, or a point, at a time. And, if the memory or the courage fails, the teacher gives help by asking, "What will you tell about first? And then? And then?" thus setting them right, and keeping them so, by having them divide the story into its principal sections.
4. In composition, in the lower and middle grades, the paragraphing of thought, first as presented on the printed page, then as called for in oral recitation and in conversation, and finally in the child's written form, is a prominent subject of instruction. No one maintains that such work is unnatural, or too difficult, for such young children.
5. Development instruction, which has already been mentioned as peculiarly successful with young children, would be impossible if children were unable to appreciate the character of a principal thought, as the topic or point for discussion, and of other thoughts as subordinate to it.
2. As shown in the use of different texts and of reference books.
The use of several texts in one subject, as history, by one child, and the use of reference books,—both of which are common above the fifth year of school,—presuppose the ability to study by topics, and to bring together from various sources the facts that support a principal truth.
3. As shown by the rapid improvement they can make in such study.
Finally, the progress that children can make, when direct instruction in this matter is given to them, is good proof of their ability in this direction. For example, in a geography class composed of ten- year-old children, I once assigned for a lesson the following section from the text-book:—
POLITICAL DIVISIONS.—You will remember that Spain was the nation that helped Columbus make his discovery of America. The Spaniards afterward settled in the southern part of the continent, and introduced the Spanish language there. That is still the chief language spoken in Mexico, in the southern part of North America. Mexico became independent of Spain many years ago.
Other nations also sent explorers and made settlements. Among these were the English, who settled chiefly along the Atlantic coast, and finally came to own the greater part of the continent north of Mexico.
In time the English, who lived in the central portion of eastern North America, waged war against England, and chose George Washington as their leader. On the 4th of July, 1776, they declared their independence of England, and finally won it completely. This part became known as the United States; but the region to the north, which England was able to keep, and which she still possesses, is called Canada. Find each of these countries on the map (Fig. 123). Point toward Canada and Mexico.
Besides these three large nations, several smaller ones occupy Central America, which lies south of Mexico.
After the children had had time to study it somewhat carefully, I requested them to tell briefly what the section was about. The first three replies were as follows, in the following order, and these were not improved on later, without suggestion: "It tells about discovery." "It tells about the language in Mexico." "It tells about what are nations." This was their first attempt at such work, and it met with meager success. The heading in the text seemed to give them no aid whatever, which was sufficient proof of its unfitness for children.
Yet within one month, with some attention given to this matter every day, I found half of the class of twenty to be reasonably safe in picking out the central thought in a page of their text.
From all these facts it seems that children are reasonably capable of receiving instruction in regard to the grouping of facts into points. It is evident, also, that they need such instruction badly, if they are to study properly the lessons that are assigned to them.
PRACTICAL SUGGESTIONS FOR TEACHING CHILDREN TO GROUP RELATED FACTS INTO POINTS
1. The teacher's example.
In the first place, the example of the teacher can be of great influence. Any good teacher should do more than ask questions and explain difficult topics. She should now and then talk to her children. Particularly general exercises she should give expression to other ideas than those immediately involved in instruction. If at such times her ideas are carefully grouped about one or more central thoughts, her pupils are likely to feel the roundness and the consequent clearness and force of her points, and to be ambitious to imitate her style. Many an adult, no doubt, can recall both the pleasure he experienced in early youth when listening to some speaker who possessed this merit, and early attempts that he made to imitate such a style.
2. Use of written outlines in development instruction.
In development instruction, in the lower and middle grades in particular, brief headings representing the main facts reached might be placed on the blackboard, or written down by each pupil as the facts are established. Such writing is of great assistance in keeping the outline in mind. Frequently, even in the lower grades, review outlines might be required without such visual help.
3. In connection with the use of text. (a) Finding of the principal thought in paragraphs.
A terse statement of the principal thought in each paragraph of some story or other well-organized text is a valuable exercise in determining the relation that the different sentences in a paragraph bear to one another, and the gist of the whole.
(b) Finding where a point begins and ends.
Pupils might point to the place on the page where the treatment of a certain point begins; also where it ends. Thus they would receive exercise in distinguishing not only the principal thought, but also the turns in the thought, and therefore the most suitable stopping places for reflection.
(c) The making of marks, to indicate relative values.
The most valuable statements might well be marked in the text, some system of marks—as, for instance, one, two, or three short vertical lines in the margin—being agreed upon to indicate different degrees of worth. It is very common for adults, particularly very careful students, thus to mark books that they read. Unless one does so, it is difficult to find again, or review quickly, the main ideas. Yet one of the especially important things to teach young people in the handling of a book is some way of reviewing quickly the most valuable parts. Many persons who would gladly review the few most interesting portions of a book have no way of doing so except by reading the volume through again. That takes so much time that they omit the review altogether.
In case the books belong to the school or library, all such marks may be objectionable. Certainly the aimless marking of any book is to be condemned. But thoughtful marking, with the view of showing relative values, is likely to increase the amount of reflection on the part of the one who makes the marks. It is likely, also, to increase the amount of reflection on the part of the later reader, for he, seeing the marks, is inclined to weigh the thought long enough to decide whether he agrees or disagrees with the previous reader.
If, however, the objections to such markings are insuperable, children can at least be encouraged to own some of the books that they use. They ought to be developing a pride in a library of their own, anyway. "If a book is worth reading, it is worth buying," says Ruskin. "No book is worth anything which is not worth much; nor is it serviceable until it has been read and reread, and loved and loved again, and marked, so that you can refer to the passages you want in it, as a soldier can seize the weapon he needs in an armory, or a housewife bring the spice she needs from her store." [Footnote: Ruskin's Sesame and Lilies.]
It might be added, also, that all the writing thus suggested could be kept on note paper or in note books, if forbidden to appear in printed books.
It should be borne in mind, however, that one important object in using books in school is to teach their proper use outside of school. To this end, books should be used in school in substantially the same way in which they are expected to be used outside. There is often a lack of correspondence between these two methods in various ways.
Wherever the markings indicating relative values happen to be placed, they can well be compared in class and the disagreements discussed. This would throw a class into the heart of the subject-matter of a text on their own initiative. If it resulted in spending a whole recitation in a discussion of relative values, as it frequently would, it should be remembered that that is the most valuable kind of study.
(d) The selection of marginal headings.
If the books used contain no marginal headings, the pupils might propose some. And if marginal headings are found in some, proposals for their improvement would be in place, since such headings are rarely good. For example, the heading "Political Divisions," quoted above, would be much more definite and significant if changed to "The Countries in North America," and children could soon learn to make such improvements. Headings of chapters, likewise, often need rewording in a simpler, more definite and restrictive way.
(e) The collecting of supports for leading thoughts.
Choosing some one of the principal thoughts, the children should have practice in finding the data that support it, and in presenting such data in good sequence and in an otherwise forceful manner.
(f) Stating the leading thoughts in close sequence.
As one way of summarizing review lessons the children might enumerate the leading thoughts in close sequence, giving a careful wording for each in a full statement.
4. As a preparation for the taking of notes.
Pupils in the higher grades having to consult reference books frequently, and to take notes also from discussions and lectures, should receive careful instruction in note-taking. As preparation for such work, the teacher might read to the class, while the latter listen with the object of telling how many and what are the main points. Sometimes they might call "halt" as they realize that a turn is being made and another point is beginning. They should be reminded that the relationships of ideas, which are indicated by punctuation and paragraphing on the printed page, are revealed by a reader's or speaker's manner, as when he makes short pauses between sentences, or emphasizes an idea by voice or gesture, or allows his voice to fall at the end of some minor thought, or turns around, stops to get a drink, walks across the floor, or waits for applause at the close of one of his principal flights. Teacher and pupils might all take notes together, sometimes on principal points, sometimes only on the supporting data for one such point. Then the results might be compared, and the small amount of writing necessary might be discussed.
B. The neglect of relatively unimportant facts or statements
We have seen that the organization of ideas requires the recognition of some thoughts as central, and the grouping of various details about them. While it places peculiar emphasis on these controlling facts, it also recognizes details as an essential part of knowledge.
Neglect as well as emphasis involved in relative values.
A question now arises about the relative values among these details. While they are an essential part of knowledge, do they themselves vary indefinitely in worth? And while many deserve much attention, are there many others that may be slighted and even ignored?
The first part of this chapter has really dealt with the emphasis that is necessary for some ideas. But emphasis at one point suggests neglect at another point, for the two terms are correlative. Some persons would even assert that neglect is as important an element in proper study as emphasis, and that the two terms should be in equally good repute. This part of the chapter deals with the neglect that is due in proper study. It is, perhaps, a more difficult topic to treat than the preceding. Certainly many teachers are afraid to advise young people to neglect parts of their lessons, lest such suggestion might seem a direct recommendation to be careless.
Why neglect is scarcely allowable in some subjects.
We have seen that, to a certain extent, the facts in the three R's and spelling have practically the same worth. All of the combinations of simple numbers must be mastered; likewise all the words in a well- selected list in spelling, etc. Since differences in value are wanting here, there is no occasion for slighting any part. Any neglect in such cases signifies an oversight or a mistake.
Why neglect is necessary in most subjects.
But, as before, these subjects to some extent form an exception to the general rule. In most studies neglect of some parts is positively necessary.
It has been already shown that no exact number of facts needs to be brought together in order to make up any particular topic or study. Besides those directly expressed in print, there are others immediately suggested; and the number of possible ideas bearing on a given matter is legion. Neglect, therefore, becomes not only necessary, but even prominent, as a factor in study. One might ask, "Are not all the statements in a valuable book that one happens to be reading worthy of careful consideration?" Not necessarily, by any means. The production of thought parallels the production of grain. An acre of ground, that yields thirty bushels or eighteen hundred pounds of wheat, may easily grow two whole tons of straw and chaff. These latter are absolutely necessary to the formation of the wheat kernel; yet the consumer usually has little use for them; he gets past them to the grain with the least possible delay, often throwing these other materials away.
Likewise, many things that are necessary in the production of thought are of little use to the consumer. For example, there are often introductory remarks that have lost their original significance; there are asides and pleasantries; there are careful transitions from one thought to another, to avoid abruptness; there are usually more or less irrelevant remarks due to the fact that even authors' minds wander now and then; and there are often some things that seemed important to the author which in no possible way can be of value to the reader.
For these reasons, some things are to be omitted, if possible, without being read, because they are worthless. Many details are unworthy of a second thought. Many other statements should be cast aside after having been carefully enough examined to make sure that they will not be further needed. Not only should some statements and paragraphs be slighted, but whole chapters as well. Similar practice is familiar to all in connection with conversations and discussions; and books are of the same nature as these, having the same faults, though perhaps to a less degree. What the student wants to carry away is valuable thought, with the details that vitally concern it; and the space occupied by such thought and its supporting details, as in the case of the wheat, is small as compared with the space occupied by the chaff that accompanies them. "Some books are to be tasted," says Bacon, "others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested; that is, some books are to be read only in part; others to be read, but not curiously [attentively]; and some few to be read wholly and with diligence and attention." [Footnote: Bacon's Essays, Of Studies.] If he had added that very many books should not be read at all, he would have covered the field.
As a rule, therefore, it is a serious error for a student to distribute his time and energy somewhat equally over a lesson or a chapter or a book. There are times when he should advance rapidly and even skip, as well as other times when he should ponder carefully and review much.
How safety and skill in neglect may be developed. 1. By proceeding from principal thoughts to details.
How can one become safe and skillful in this phase of study? The student must, of course, read or listen to statements largely in the order of the author's presentation; but two opposite courses of procedure are possible, and much depends upon the choice that is made between them.
On the one hand, one can proceed sentence by sentence, examining each statement carefully, looking up new words and references, supplementing, tracing the bearings on one's own life, and doing whatever else is necessary to assimilate each thought. The single sentences can be put together so as to reveal the thoughts of paragraphs; and the central ideas of paragraphs and chapters can likewise be brought together, so as to reveal the main thoughts of the work as a whole. Thus the general movement may be from the details to the larger features, and the controlling ideas may be the last to be reached.
The Bible is very commonly studied in this manner, the verses of a chapter and the chapters of a book being taken one by one in the order given and thoroughly mastered, and the outline of the whole being the last thing considered. Geography and history are also frequently studied in the same way.
On the other hand, while the reader is still obliged to follow the author's order, he may at the start be mainly on the outlook for the general trend of the thought, for the principal issues that are raised, with the principal answers that are offered; and, if the work is at all difficult, he may for the time pass over many obscure little matters, such as new words, strange references, and meaningless statements, in the sole quest for these larger elements. Then, having determined these tentatively, he can set to work to examine the details on which they depend, making the investigation as thorough as he wishes. Thus the general movement may be from the principal to the minor thoughts, and the details may be carefully considered last of all. In accordance with this plan we hear it recommended that the book of Job be read "at a sitting," or, in case one's spirit of devotion lacks that degree of endurance, at two or three sittings. Likewise, Gray's Elegy might be read through without pause, even several times, before any part is studied in detail; so, also, the drama of William Tell; one act, and perhaps the whole of the drama, of Julius Caesar; any one of Browning's shorter poems; and ordinary lessons or chapters in history and geography.
While these two courses may finally bring about the same result, the latter is much the more economical plan, for the following reason: The individual statements vary greatly in value, as we have seen, some requiring only slight attention, while others must be closely scrutinized. What determines their value is their relation to the leading ideas. The latter are the sole standards of worth, the sole guides, in discriminating among them. If, then, the student has not found out what the leading ideas are, what basis of selection has he? How, then, is he to know what are the important details and what are the unimportant? What can he do, then, more than merely to distribute his energies somewhat equally and blindly over the various statements offered, until the principal thoughts come to light? Only after that will he be in a position to measure relative values and thus to deal with the details intelligently. The first plan, therefore, involves a great waste of time. For the same reason that it is economical to go sight-seeing with a guide, or at least to examine a guidebook before setting out, it is economical to determine the gist of the thought, the spirit and substance of the whole, before giving careful attention to the minor parts.
2. By keeping the standard of values ever in mind.
The student must not only find the central idea as early as possible, but he must hold it with a firm grip. Both of these things require much tenacity of purpose. In following the order of an author's presentation, considerable detail may have to be traversed before the main thought begins to dawn in the student's mind, and temptations to forget about the main issue and to become absorbed in these details are ever present. It is on this account that teachers attending teachers' gatherings frequently fail to reach those topics for discussion that have been advertised; they even fail when printed reports are the avowed subject for conference. After having arrived at their destination with much sacrifice, they seem often to forget exactly what they came for, or to be diverted from it with surprising ease. However, they are not inferior to other adults in this respect.
Again, after having settled upon the main idea tentatively, one must hold it with determination and use it. Children often fail to hold a question in mind long enough to give a relevant answer. I once asked a fifth-year class in history, "Who discovered America?" when almost immediately came the response, "Vespucci sailed along the coast of South America and named the whole country!" Or they hold it in mind a moment, and then confuse it with other things, or let it go entirely. I asked the class, "What is the color of the Indians?" and received an answer telling about their color and their clothing. At another time I inquired, "How long has it been since America was discovered?" One boy replied, "Two hundred and fifty years," remembering, I suppose, that that number had recently been used in class. But the example in subtraction was solved on the blackboard before the class, and the correct answer, 413, was obtained. Once more I said, "Four hundred and thirteen years since what?" All were silent for a moment, having quite forgotten the original question. Then came the reply, "Since—since—Columbus sailed the deep."
Such carelessness among children sometimes arouses the ire of teachers; but adults are little better. When a body of them meets for the discussion of a certain question, the probability is that, if the first speaker speaks directly to the point, the second will digress somewhat, the third will touch the subject only slightly, and the fourth will talk about a different matter. Many a discussion that has started off well leads to much excitement without any one's knowing definitely what the subject of dispute is. It is rarely the case that every page of a paper that is read before teachers bears plainly upon the subject announced.
Only in parliamentary discussions, where there is always a definite "question before the house," is it customary for participants to remember the topic and stick to it. This happens then only because it is understood that any one may be "called to order" at any time, and for the sake of self-protection each person makes a special effort not to forget.