A Teachers' Seminary, if it were complete, would include in its curriculum of study the entire cycle of human knowledge, so far as it is taught by schools. Our teachers of mathematics and of logic, of law and of medicine, need indeed a knowledge of the branches which they are to teach, and for this knowledge they do not need a Teachers' Seminary. But they need something more than this knowledge. Besides being men of erudition, they need to be teachers, no less than the humbler members of the profession, who have only to teach the alphabet and the multiplication table; and there is in all teaching, high or low, something that is common to them all—an art and a skill which is different from the mere knowledge of the subjects; which is not necessarily learned in learning the subjects; which requires special, superadded gifts, and distinct study and training. There is, according to my observation, as great a lack of this special skill in the higher seminaries of learning, as in the lower seminaries. Were it possible to have a Normal School, not which should undertake to teach the entire encyclopaedia of the sciences, but which, limiting itself to its one main function of developing the art and mystery of communicating knowledge, should turn out College Professors, and even Divinity, Law, and Medical Professors,—men who were really skilful teachers,—it would work a change in those venerable institutions as marked and decisive as that which it is now effecting in the common schools. Of course, no such scheme is possible; certainly, none such is contemplated. But I am very sure I shall not be considered calumnious, when I express the conviction, that there are learned and eminent occupants of Professors' chairs, who might find great benefit in an occasional visit to a good Normal School, or even to the class-room of a teacher trained in a Normal School. I certainly have seen, in the very lowest department of the common school, a style of teaching, which, for a wise and intelligent comprehension of its object, and for its quickening power upon the intellect and conscience, would compare favorably with the very best teaching I have ever seen in a College or University.
I come back, then, to the point from which I set out, namely, that a Normal School, or Teachers' Seminary, differs essentially from every other kind of school. It aims to give the knowledge and skill that are needed alike in all schools. To make the point a little plainer, let me restate, with what clearness I can, some of the elementary truths and facts which lie at the foundation of the whole subject. Though to many of my readers it may be going over a beaten track, it may not be so to all; and we all do well, even in regard to known and admitted truths, to bring them occasionally afresh to the mind.
As it has been already said, a man may know a thing perfectly, and yet not be able to teach it. Of course, a man cannot teach what he does not know. He must first have the knowledge. But the mere possession of knowledge does not make one a teacher, any more than the possession of powder and shot makes him a marksman, or the possession of a rod and line makes him an angler. The most learned men are often unfortunately the very men who have least capacity for communicating what they know. Nor is this incapacity confined to those versed in book knowledge. It is common to every class of men, and to every kind of knowledge. Let me give an example. The fact about to be stated, was communicated to me by a gentleman of eminent commercial standing in Philadelphia, at that time the President of one of its leading banks. The fact occurred in his own personal experience. He was, at the time of its occurrence, largely engaged in the cloth trade. His faculties of mind and body, and particularly his sense of touch, had been so trained in this business, that in going rapidly over an invoice of cloth, as his eye and hand passed in quick succession from piece to piece, in the most miscellaneous assortment, he could tell instantly the value of each, with a degree of precision, and a certainty of knowledge, hardly credible. A single glance of the eye, a single touch, transient as thought, gave the result. His own knowledge of the subject, in short, was perfect, and it was rapidly winning him a fortune. Yet when undertaking to explain to a younger and less experienced member of the craft, whom he wished to befriend, by what process he arrived at his judgment, in other words, to teach what he knew, he found himself utterly at a loss. His thoughts had never run in that direction. "Oh!" said he, "you have only—to look at the cloth, and—and—to run your fingers over it,—thus. You will perceive at once the difference between one piece and another." It seems never to have occurred to him that another man's sensations and perceptions might in the same circumstances be quite different from his, and that in order to communicate his knowledge to one uninitiated, he must pause to analyze it; he must separate, classify, and name those several qualities of the cloth of which his senses took cognizance; he must then ascertain how far his interrogator perceived by his senses the same qualities which he himself did, and thus gradually get on common ground with him.
Let the receiving-teller of a bank be called upon to explain how it is that he knows at a glance a counterfeit bill from a genuine one, and in nine cases out of ten he will succeed no better than the cloth merchant did. Knowing and communicating what we know, doing and explaining what we do, are distinct, separable, and usually very different processes.
Similar illustrations might be drawn from artists, and from men of original genius in almost every profession, who can seldom give any intelligible account of how they achieve their results. The mental habits best suited for achievement are rarely those best suited for teaching. Marlborough, so celebrated for his military combinations, could never give any intelligible account of his plans. He had arrived at his conclusions with unerring certainty, but he was so little accustomed to observing his own mental processes, that he utterly failed in attempting to make them plain to others. He saw the points himself with perfect clearness, but he had no power to make others see them. To all objections to his plans, he could only say, "Silly, silly, that's silly." It was much the same with Cromwell. It is so with most men who are distinguished for action and achievement. Patrick Henry would doubtless have made but a third-rate teacher of elocution, and old Homer but an indifferent lecturer on the art of poetry.
To acquire knowledge ourselves, then, and to put others in possession of what we have acquired, are not only distinct intellectual processes, but they are quite unlike. In the former case, the faculties merely go out towards the objects to be known, as in the case of the cloth merchant passing his eye and finger over the bales of cloth. But in the case of one attempting to teach, several additional processes are needed, besides that of collecting knowledge. He must turn his thoughts inward, so as to arrange and classify properly the contents of his intellectual storehouse. He must then examine his own mind, his intellectual machinery, so as to understand exactly how the knowledge came in upon himself. He must lastly study the minds of his pupils, so as to know through what channels the knowledge may best reach them. The teacher may not always be aware that he does all these things, that is, he may not always have a theory of his own art. But the art itself he must have. He must first get the knowledge of the things to be taught; he must secondly study his knowledge; he must thirdly study himself; he must lastly study his pupil. He is a teacher at all only so far as he does at least these four things.
In a Normal School, as before said, the knowledge of the subject is presupposed. The object of the Normal School is, not so much to make arithmeticians and grammarians, for instance, as to make teachers of arithmetic and grammar. This teaching faculty is a thing by itself, and quite apart from the subject matter to be taught. It underlies every branch of knowledge, and every trade and profession. The theologian, the mathematician, the linguist, the learned professor, no less than the teacher of the primary school, or of the Sabbath-school, all need this supplementary knowledge and skill, in which consists the very essence of teaching. This knowledge of how to teach is not acquired by merely studying the subject to be taught. It is a study by itself. A man may read familiarly the Mechanique Celeste, and yet not know how to teach the multiplication table. He may read Arabic or Sanskrit, and not know how to teach a child the alphabet of his mother tongue. The Sabbath-school teacher may dip deep into biblical lore, he may ransack the commentaries, and may become, as many Sabbath-school teachers are, truly learned in Bible knowledge, and yet be utterly incompetent to teach a class of children. He can no more hit the wandering attention, or make a lodgment of his knowledge in the minds of his youthful auditory, than the mere unskilled possessor of a fowling-piece can hit a bird upon the wing.
The art of teaching is the one indispensable qualification of the teacher. Without this, whatever else he may be, he is no teacher. How may this art be acquired? In the first place, many persons pick it up, just as they pick up a great many other arts and trades,—in a hap-hazard sort of way. They have some natural aptitude for it, and they grope their way along, by guess and by instinct, and through many failures, until they become good teachers, they hardly know how. To rescue the art from this condition of uncertainty and chance, is the object of the Normal School. In such a school, the main object of the pupil is to learn how to make others know what he himself knows. The whole current of his thoughts and studies is turned into this channel. Studying how to teach, with an experimental class to practise on, forms the constant topic of his meditations. It is surprising how rapidly, under such conditions, the faculty of teaching is developed; how fertile the mind becomes in devising practical expedients, when once the attention is roused and fixed upon the precise object to be attained, and the idea of what teaching really is, fairly has possession of the mind. For this purpose every well-ordered Normal School has, in connection with it, as a part of its organization, a Model School, to serve the double purpose of a school of observation and practice.
Thus, after these pupil-teachers are once familiar with the branches to be taught, and after they have become acquainted with the theory of teaching, as a science, it is surprising how soon, with even a little of this practice-teaching, they acquire the art. If the faculty of teaching is in them at all, a very few experimental lessons, under the eye of an experienced teacher, will develop it.
The fact of possessing within one's self this gift, or power of teaching, sometimes breaks upon the possessor himself with all the force of a surprising and most delightful discovery. The good teacher does not indeed stop here. He goes on to improve in his art, as long as he lives. But his greatest single achievement is when he takes the first step,—when he first learns to teach at all. The pupil of a Normal School gains there a start and an impulse, which carry him forward the rest of his life. A very little judicious experimental training redeems hundreds of candidates from utter and hopeless incompetency, and converts for them an awkward and painful drudgery into keen, hopeful and productive labor.
One feature of a Normal School which distinguishes it especially from other schools, is the opportunity given to its matriculants for practising their art under the guidance and criticism of an experienced teacher. This practice-teaching is done in a Model School, maintained for this purpose in connection with the main school. Such is the theory.
But serious difficulties are encountered in carrying the plan into practical effect, and these difficulties are so great as in some instances to have led to the entire abandonment of the plan, while very rarely have the conductors of Normal schools been able to realize results in this matter commensurate with their wishes or with their views of what was desirable and right.
Some of the difficulties are the following: Parents who send their children to the Model School object to have their children taught to any considerable extent by mere pupil-teachers. The teachers of the Model School, having little or no acquaintance with the Normal pupils sent to teach under their supervision, do not feel that entire freedom in criticising the performance which is essential to its success. The irregularities produced by these practice-teachings have a tendency to impair the discipline of the classes in the Model School.
For these and other reasons which I need not dwell upon, I at least have always been obliged to be somewhat chary in regard to the amount of practice-teaching that was done in the institution under my care, and have never felt quite satisfied as to the result. At the beginning of the year 1867, I determined to try the plan of having a considerable portion of the practice-teaching done in the Normal School itself, the Model School still holding its place in the system as furnishing an unrivalled opportunity for observation, and to some extent of practice also. The effect of thus extending the opportunity for practice by including the Normal School in its operations has been most happy. The pupils have attained a degree of freedom in the exercise which is working the most marked and decisive results. They enter into it with more zest than into any other exercise of the class, and derive from it in some instances as much benefit as from all their other exercises put together.
Some detailed account of the method may perhaps be of interest to other laborers in the same field. The method is substantially the same as that followed in the Girls High and Normal School of Philadelphia, from which indeed I borrowed the idea.
Once a week I make up a programme containing the names of those who are to teach during the following week, and the classes and lessons which they are severally to teach. The practice-pupils are thus enabled to prepare themselves fully for the exercise. It is an indispensable condition in all these exercises that the lesson be given without the use of the book. When a pupil enters a room to teach one of these assigned lessons, he is to bring with him only his crayon and pointer, and is expected to assume entire charge of the class, maintaining order, hearing the pupils recite, correcting their mistakes, illustrating the subject, if necessary, by diagrams or experiments, giving supplementary information drawn from other sources than the text-book, and acting in all respects as if he were the regular teacher. The regular teacher meanwhile sits by, observing in silence, and at the close of the day writes out a full and detailed criticism upon the performance in a book kept for this purpose, and gives the pupil an average for it, the maximum being 100. These criticisms, together with the teaching averages, are read next day by the Principal to the pupil in the presence of the class to which he belongs, with additional comments in regard to any principles of teaching that may be involved in the criticisms.
An essential element of success in this scheme, is that the teachers should be thoroughly faithful in the work of criticism, and point out the errors and shortcomings of the young practitioners, not with harshness, but with unsparing truthfulness and wise discrimination. Practice-teaching under such conditions cannot fail to have a powerful effect. The pupils are stimulated by it to put forth the very best efforts of which they are capable, and the talent which they often develop is a surprise equally to themselves and their teachers.
I cannot better give an idea of this practice-teaching, and especially of the criticism which is its vitalizing principle, than by quoting a few of the actual criticisms made during the last year. I feel sure they will interest teachers and perhaps the public.
In making these extracts, I suppress, of course, the names of the parties.
NOTES ON PRACTICE-TEACHING.
Miss —— gave the C class a lesson in Elocution. She was animated and energetic in giving the vocal exercises, but she pitched her voice too high. The same shrill tone characterized the concert reading. Many of the criticisms given by pupils were not loud enough to be heard by the whole class. One of the ladies, in giving a sketch of Shakspeare, said "his principal works was 'Much Ado About Nothing,' 'Merchant of Venice,' etc.;" but the error passed unnoticed by pupils and teacher. Miss —— herself, said "Hamlet thought it wasn't him." She marked the pupils too high, the worst readers in the class receiving 8 and 9. Teaching average 85.
Miss —— gave the D class a lesson in History. She was herself well prepared with the lesson, but she allowed the pupils too long a time to think and guess. A chronology lesson is apt to be dry and uninteresting; and unless the teacher calls upon the pupils in rapid succession, thus keeping them wide awake, the interest will flag, and even good pupils will be inattentive. One of the pupils, after gaping two or three times, indulged in short naps during the recitation; the teacher evidently did not see her. Miss —— marked the pupils judiciously. Teaching average 90.
Miss —— gave the D class a lesson in Arithmetic. She assisted the pupils too much. She did not require them to be accurate enough in answering questions; otherwise she taught well, the subject being rather a difficult one. Miss —— marked the pupils judiciously. Teaching average 85.
Miss —— gave the D class a lesson in Grammar. She began the recitation well, spoke in a loud and decided tone, and was well prepared with the lesson. She failed to keep her class in order; she allowed pupils to speak without being called upon, and all to criticise and ask questions at the same instant—thus she became confused and sought refuge behind her book. Teaching average 80.
Miss —— gave the C class a lesson in the Constitution of the United States. She was too quiet in conducting the recitation. The entire period was spent in repeating the mere words of the book; but once or twice the lady asked for the explanation of clauses, and then the answers given were neither full nor satisfactory, yet the lady ventured no comment of her own. Many practical questions might have been given by the teacher respecting the executive departments, ambassadors, consuls, treaties, and so forth. The lesson contained many subjects of interest sufficient to occupy more than the allotted time. Teachers should call more frequently for definitions, and always take it for granted that their pupils are ignorant of the meaning of even the simplest words. I venture to assert that more than one third of the class left the room without knowing the difference between a reprieve and a pardon. Teaching average 80.
Miss —— gave the D class a lesson in Arithmetic. She was well prepared with the lesson, seemed to understand the subject fully, and readily answered questions proposed by pupils; but she allowed too many pupils to speak at once, and did not pay enough attention to signs. One of the pupils began a sentence with a small letter, and Miss —— took no notice of it. Miss —— marked judiciously. Teaching average 88.
Miss —— gave the C class a lesson in the Constitution. She failed entirely in teaching. She became embarrassed, and soon lost the respect and confidence of the class. Pupils assumed all sorts of positions; and one picked up a ruler and began fanning himself, but was not rebuked by the teacher. The lady, not familiar with the names of the scholars, made several mistakes, (perfectly excusable); but, there being no sympathy between the teacher and the class, the pupils laughed immoderately, and seemed to enjoy the lady's embarrassment. The words of the book were repeated over and over again, without a word of explanation or comment, until the teacher, tired of the monotony, announced that the lesson was finished, and called upon me to fill up the remainder of the time. The lesson was one that needed thorough preparation on the part of the teacher, but Miss —— had merely studied the words and not the subject; when asked a very simple question by one of the pupils, she was completely nonplussed. Teaching average 50.
Miss —— gave the D class a lesson in Map Drawing. She became somewhat confused in her work, and so did not distinctly enough give the points of criticism. I think she was not familiar enough with the map drawn to notice, with sufficient readiness, the great points of error in the work. Several of the pupils were allowed, in one or two cases, to speak at the same time. She marked well, using a good scale of markings. Teaching average 85.
Miss —— gave the D class a lesson in Arithmetic. She was either very careless or had not prepared the proper lesson, as she gave pupils problems to solve that were not in the lesson; in consequence of which some good pupils failed, as they had not prepared an advance lesson. She was too quiet, and spoke in so low a tone that many of the pupils did not hear her. The pupils were more animated than the teacher. Miss —— marked some pupils too high, others too low, and in one instance did not mark at all. Teaching average 65.
Miss —— gave the D class a lesson in History. She was thoroughly prepared with the lesson, and did not confine herself to the mere words of the text-book. She asked many good general questions connected with the subject, thus compelling pupils to think; and whenever the class failed to give the desired information, the lady very promptly gave it herself; she thus won the confidence of her pupils. Miss —— lacked animation and did not speak loud enough; otherwise she did well. Teaching average 92.
Miss —— gave the D class a lesson in Grammar. She has improved since teaching for me before, but she still lacks energy and decision. She gave the pupil who was reciting all her attention, thus allowing an opportunity to some (who took advantage of it) to assume lounging positions, in which to await lazily for their turn to recite. Some remained wide awake, and embarrassed Miss ——, by speaking at any time, even interrupting her in the middle of a sentence, to ask questions. Teaching average 87.
Miss —— gave the C class a lesson in Grammar. She taught well. She spoke in that decided tone which conveys a conviction of truth to pupils, and by so doing gained their confidence. She used the blackboards to advantage, and thoroughly inspected and criticised all writings that she had required to be put upon the boards. The facts she taught were correct, except one, which was, that "is ashamed" was a verb in the passive voice; in this she was corrected by a number of the class. Teaching average 93.
Miss —— gave the C class a lesson in Elocution. She failed in teaching. The pupils read badly, and many errors were made, but there were no criticisms. The lady spoke in a very low tone, and seemed to be afraid of the class. She did not read a single line for the pupils. Reading cannot be taught properly by arbitrary rules, the voice of the living teacher is indispensable. Teaching average 65.
Miss —— gave the D class a lesson in Elocution. She cannot become a successful teacher until she studies the pronunciation of words. Not only did she permit mistakes made by the pupils to pass unnoticed, but she mis-pronounced many words herself, hos-pit-a-ble, for hos-pi-ta-ble, in-tense for in-tense, etc.; the errors consisted chiefly in changing the accented syllable. In the word machination, however, though the accent was correctly marked, she taught the class to call it "mash-in-a-tion." There can be no possible excuse for such carelessness, or rather ignorance, since the lady had three days for the preparation of the lesson. The dictionary should be kept in constant use by pupils and teacher. Teaching average 65.
Miss —— gave the C class a lesson in the Constitution. She did well. The lesson was a long one, and somewhat difficult, but the lady evinced thorough preparation. She ought to have disturbed the repose of the drones in the class, by calling upon them more frequently. Explanations given by the teacher should be repeated by the pupils: first, to ascertain whether or not they have been properly understood, and secondly, to make a deeper impression upon the minds of the scholars. Indeed, the whole business of teaching might be summed up in two words, namely, simplify and repeat. Teaching average 95.
Miss —— gave the D class a lesson in Map Drawing. She was quite well prepared for the lesson, but did not always speak quite distinctly enough; she required all those pupils, who had criticisms to make, to stand, and then designated one to give them—a very good plan. Miss —— must be more careful in regard to the grammatical construction of her own sentences. Teaching average 90.
Miss —— gave the C class a lesson in Mental Arithmetic. She became somewhat confused, and so made several mistakes in her work. She attempted to solve several examples, but each time made some error, either of statement or solution. She was not careful enough in her markings, omitting to mark one of the pupils for absence, and two for recitation. Teaching average 88.
Miss —— gave the D class a lesson in Map-Drawing. She should have kept one of the divisions at the board drawing while the other were reciting. It was the first day of map description, she should therefore have given them an example of the work desired; instead of this she scolded them for not knowing her method. Teachers should be careful never to ask for anything but what the pupil would reasonably be expected to know. If you insist that they shall give anything not found in the lesson, or not before given by the teacher, they will become angry and careless, as shown in the class to-day. She did not criticise the map drawn. Teaching average, 82.
Miss —— gave the C class a lesson in Constitution. She did well. She used the blackboards to advantage, and very carefully examined and criticised the work placed there by the pupils. She should speak in a louder and more decided tone. Teaching average 93.
Miss —— gave the C class a lesson in Elocution. She gave a very short vocal exercise and omitted the concert reading. During the recitation she read remarkably well; her voice was clear and full, her emphasis and inflections were correct, and her whole manner free from embarrassment. The entrance of three or four visitors did not in the least disconcert her; for her calmness and dignity, she deserves much commendation. Teaching average 95.
Miss —— gave the D class a lesson in Geography. She taught well. She did not call upon enough members of the class for recitation. A subject that can be divided into portions small enough to enable the teacher to call upon each member of the class at each recitation, should be so divided. She made it still worse by calling upon several members to recite twice. With a little more energy on her part she could have had more work performed in the forty minutes. Teaching average 90.
Miss —— gave the D class a lesson in Arithmetic. She taught very well. The subject, Repetends, was a difficult one, which required careful preparation on the part of the teacher and close attention during the recitation. Miss ——, conscious of this, made herself perfectly familiar with the lesson before appearing in class, and when pupils failed to explain examples from a want of knowledge, she was ready and able to give the necessary information. She marked judiciously. Teaching average 90.
Miss —— gave the C class a lesson in Ancient History. She was sprightly and animated. She spoke in a clear, decided tone; but she pursued no regular plan in conducting the recitation. Events in Egyptian and Assyrian history were indiscriminately mixed, the pupils became confused, and the lady herself was somewhat bewildered. Teaching average 88.
Miss —— gave the D class a lesson in Grammar. She did not speak loud enough for the class to understand her. There was much disorder in the class, but no notice was taken of it by the teacher. Some carried on a conversation among themselves, others asked questions without permission, often at the most inappropriate times. Many errors passed unnoticed, and the lady gave corrections herself which she should have required of the pupils. Several times, in attempting to correct, she made the errors worse; for instance she parsed verbs that were transitive and in the passive voice as being intransitive and active. She must endeavor to gain more confidence in herself. Teaching average 75.
Miss —— gave the A class a lesson in Geometry. She taught the class decidedly well. She deserves all the more credit, as it was a difficult lesson of her own class. She allowed but one error of work—that I noticed—to pass uncorrected. Her method of calling upon the class for criticisms was very good. She should strive to speak a little more distinctly. Teaching average, 96.
Miss —— gave the B class a lesson in Physiology. She evinced perfect familiarity with the subject of the lesson. She did not confine herself to the text-book, but asked many good, general questions. One of the pupils did not understand a portion of the lesson which was to be explained by a diagram. Miss —— endeavored to make the matter clear by an explanation, which was very good, still the pupil did not see it clearly. I think the teacher would have succeeded in clearing the difficulty if she had used the pointer instead of designating certain points by letters. She spoke a little too low. Teaching average, 96.
Miss —— gave the D class a lesson in Geography. She deserves great credit for the distinctness with which she speaks, for her care in the preparation of the lesson for the day, and for the promptness with which she stops all irregularities in the class. Her marks for the day were a little too high; she did not make distinction enough between the good and the poor scholars. Teaching average, 96.
Miss —— gave the A class a lesson in Elocution. She succeeded admirably. The vocal exercises and concert reading were well given. The lady threw herself entirely into the work, and this was the real secret of her success. Her grade of marking was too high; otherwise, she did very well. Teaching average, 97.
Miss —— gave the A class a lesson in English Literature. She did not spend enough time upon the lesson for the day, and consumed too much of the period in reviewing old lessons. She was not careful in examining the blackboards. Lbs. was permitted to stand as the abbreviation for pounds sterling, and whimsicalities was spelled with two l's. The lady made no deduction for errors; all the pupils with but one exception received 10. She deserves commendation for speaking in a loud, clear tone. Teaching average, 88.
Miss —— gave the C class a lesson in Constitution. She did nothing more than hear the recitations. She did not venture to give any explanations or to ask them of the class, but spent the whole period in repeating again and again the words of the text-book. It is probable that no pupil knew anything more of the subject on going from the room than when she entered. Teachers should possess and impart to their pupils some information independent of the book. Teaching average, 55.
Miss —— taught the A class Geometry. She did not question enough or criticise enough, but almost always called upon the class for criticisms. She added no remarks or criticisms herself; thus many important omissions and errors were unnoticed. She succeeded well in calling upon almost every member of the class. Teaching average, 75.
Miss —— gave the B class a lesson in Physiology. She was not sufficiently animated and self-possessed. The substance of the lesson was recited before the expiration of the period, which left the lady at a loss to know what she should do with the remainder of the time. It might have been profitably employed asking questions of importance connected with the lesson; but instead of doing so, Miss —— turned to me for assistance. She was asked her opinion of a disputed point, which, although of slight importance, merited some attention; but she passed it by, notwithstanding her attention was called to it several times. Teaching average, 76.
Miss —— gave the A class a lesson in Elocution. She displayed the tact and skill of an experienced teacher. She assumed full authority over the pupils (though they were her classmates), and her whole manner was such that a visitor entering the room would have supposed she was the permanent teacher. One secret of her success was that she had given the reading lesson much home practice and preparation. Teaching average, 100.
Miss —— taught the A class in Literature. She taught well. Though rather quiet, she succeeded in awakening the interest of her pupils, and the entire recitation was very animated. The class is a good one, and the pupils deserve as much commendation as the teacher. Teaching average, 96.
Miss —— gave the D class a lesson in Geography. She came before the class well prepared for her duties. She did not use the book, though it was written in the catechetical style—the one most difficult to teach without some such reference. She by her questions brought out a number of points not given in the text-book. Teaching average, 97.
Miss —— gave the B class a lesson in Rhetoric. She showed a thorough preparation of the lesson and taught well. She should have worked a little faster. Pupils were allowed too much time to think. Teaching average, 98.
Miss —— gave the D class a lesson in History. She taught with much dignity and self-possession. She did not teach simply by having the lesson recited as the author had given it, but asked for the definition of words, and gave information not found in the text-book. But one error was allowed to pass, which was that of calling Queen Victoria the grand-daughter of William of Orange. Teaching average, 98.
Miss —— gave the B class a lesson in Physiology. She conducted the recitation in a very dignified and lady-like manner. The lesson was a difficult one, but the teacher seemed to understand the subject thoroughly. There was a reference to the retina of the eye in the lesson; the pupils not having studied that subject, did not know what the retina was, and called upon the teacher for explanation; she attempted to describe it, but failed to make them understand because she did not thoroughly understand it herself. With this exception, she taught very well. Teaching average, 96.
Miss —— gave the B class a lesson in Elocution. She is a good teacher, and reads well. She maintained her dignity and composure during the entire recitation, though several visitors were present. Nothing tends to embarrass a teacher so much as the entrance of strangers; the lady's calmness and self-possession then are worthy of much commendation. Teaching average 100.
Miss —— gave the C class a lesson in Mental Arithmetic. She read the questions distinctly, and had them correctly solved; but for the plan of recitation, she helped the pupils too much. The method was that called "Chance Assignment;" in this method, as the pupils have time to think of the problems, the work should be purely that of the memory, in regard to the example itself. Teaching average 95.
Miss —— gave the A class a lesson in Literature. She evinced thorough preparation, and displayed considerable tact in conducting the recitation. Every pupil was called on and compelled to recite or confess ignorance. Teaching average 98.
Miss —— gave the C class a lesson in Elocution. She selected a very difficult reading-lesson, and not only read it well herself, but insisted upon the pupils reading it well too. The lady has a good clear voice, but it lacks power; nothing will develop this quality but constant daily practice. Teaching average 97.
Miss —— taught the C class in Ancient History. She did not succeed. Her embarrassment was caused in a great measure by not knowing the names of the pupils. Teachers should obtain lists of the names, if they are not familiar with them. The lesson being one in mythology, could have been made very interesting with a slight effort on the part of the teacher. Many errors in pronunciation made by both teacher and pupils, were allowed to pass. Teaching average 72.
Miss —— gave the A class a lesson in Elocution. She taught well, but would have succeeded better if she had given the lesson a little more home practice. When delivering a passage requiring considerable force, she heightened the pitch of her voice, and thus gave an unpleasant shrillness, where the pure orotund tone was needed. Teaching average 95.
Miss —— gave the B class a lesson in Elocution. She is a very sprightly, animated teacher, and reads well. She paid special attention to the correct orthoepy of words, and insisted upon pupils' making use of their dictionaries whenever a word occurred with which they were not familiar. Teaching average 100.
Miss —— gave the D class a lesson in History. She is one of the best teachers in her class. She is sprightly, animated, and critical. The lesson was well taught; a map having been neatly drawn on the board, the teacher required the most important places referred to in the lesson, to be pointed out upon it. Teaching average 100.
Miss —— gave the A class a lesson in Chemistry. She has improved very much in teaching. She understood the subject which she taught, and had given the lesson careful preparation. She requested one of the pupils to look for the orthoepy of a word which occurred in the lesson. The lady turned over the leaves of the dictionary in a very careless manner, then took her seat, saying she could not find the word, although she must have been conscious all the while that she was not searching for it in the proper place. Miss ——, instead of sending the lady to look for the word again, as she should have done, pronounced it herself. The teacher should require prompt obedience on the part of pupils. Teaching average 95.
Miss —— gave the C class a lesson in Elocution. She is a very energetic teacher, and manifests a deep interest in her pupils—hence, her success. A visitor would have inferred from her manner, that she was the permanent teacher, not a mere substitute for a passing hour. Teaching average, 100.
ATTENTION AS A MENTAL FACULTY, AND AS A MEANS OF MENTAL CULTURE.
The illustrations which first led to a satisfactory elucidation of the subject, were drawn from the eye. There are many facts in the history of vision, which show that we may experience sensations and perceptions and other intellectual operations, and may at the time be conscious of the same, without giving them any attention, or, at least, without giving them such a degree of attention as to have the slightest recollection of them afterwards.
When, for instance, we read a printed book, the eye glances so rapidly from sentence to sentence, that we can hardly persuade ourselves that we actually see successively every letter. We certainly have no recollection of having gone through such an innumerable train of conscious acts as the theory necessarily implies. That such, however, is the case, is proved by the fact, that if by accident any letter is omitted, or transposed, or put upside down, the eye at once detects the mistake. The fact is familiar to all. It can be accounted for only on the supposition that, even in the rapid and cursory perusal of a book, the eye actually passes from letter to letter, and gives to each a distinct notice. It not only notices each letter, but the position of each in reference to the other letters in the line, and even those nice diacritical points by which one letter is distinguished from another, as c from e, u from n, b from d, p from q. This notice, however, is so slight, the transition is so rapid, that we have no recollection of it afterwards, and we can hardly persuade ourselves that such has been the sober and yet most wonderful fact.
Take another instance. If, on the occasion of an evening assemblage, by a sudden movement of the gas-pipe, any one should instantly extinguish all the lights in the room and leave the building for a time in total darkness, and if, by an equally sudden movement, he should then restore the light to its previous condition, every one present would notice the change and have a distinct recollection of it afterwards. Yet, every time we close our eyes in winking, that is, several times in every minute of our waking hours, we experience precisely this change from full and perfect vision to total darkness. But no one ever notices or remembers the fact of his winking, unless he stops to make it the subject of special attention.
Sight however is not the only means of illustrating this point. We are drawn to a similar conclusion by observing the workings of the mind itself, in the act of volition. Whenever we make any single volition an object of special attention, we are conscious of that volition, and we have a distinct recollection of it afterwards. Yet probably not one out of ten thousand, possibly not one out of a million, of our simple volitions, is ever known to us after the moment of its occurrence. In voluntary muscular action, every distinct movement requires a distinct volition. And how innumerable are the movements necessary to the accomplishment of any one of the ordinary purposes of life! We sit down for example to write a letter to a friend. The nimble pen dances from point to point over the darkening page, and when we reach the bottom, we have not the least recollection of having willed any one of those countless muscular movements which have been necessary to what, but for its every-day occurrence, would be accounted the greatest feat of legerdemain ever performed by man!
Take for example the act of reading aloud. Every letter requires for its utterance at least one distinct muscular contraction. Some letters require several. Now it has been found on trial that we are able to pronounce more than a thousand letters in a minute. That is, during every minute that we are reading aloud, we perform between one and two thousand distinct muscular movements, and by necessity a like number of antecedent acts of the will, to say nothing of those other acts, not less numerous in the case of a speaker, connected with the general movement of the body in earnest gesticulation. Yet after the hour's performance, what does the speaker or the reader remember of all these countless volitions? Nothing but the one general purpose to please, instruct, or persuade an audience.
The conclusion, toward which these illustrations point, is objected to by some writers, on the ground of the incredible rapidity which it attributes to our intellectual operations. Is it possible, it is asked, that we can crowd into such a space of time so many acts of the will, and that we are, at the moment when each happens, conscious of its presence? Is it not more probable that these rapid muscular actions are resolvable, in some way, into the law of habit? May they not become in some sense mechanical and automatic, so as to require no intervention of the will? Take for example, the case of a person learning to play upon a musical instrument. The first step is to move the fingers from key to key with a slow motion, looking at the notes, and exerting an express act of volition at every note. By degrees, however, the motions somehow cling to each other, and to the impressions of the notes, in the way of associations, the acts of volition all the while growing less and less express, until at last they become quite evanescent and imperceptible. An expert will play from notes or from memory, and with a rapidity of motion that is perfectly bewildering, while at the same time he himself is carrying on quite a different train of thoughts in his mind, or even perhaps holding a conversation with another. Hence, it is concluded, by the writers referred to, that in these cases there is really no intervention of that idea or state of the mind called will.
The authorities for this hypothesis are among the highest that can be named in the history of intellectual science. Let us see how far the hypothesis explains the facts of the case. The most rapid performer, it is obvious, can at any time retard his execution, until his movements become so slow that each one may be made, as originally it was made, the subject of special attention, and may be distinctly remembered afterwards. Now, according to the hypothesis proposed, we will our actions, and are conscious both of the act, and the antecedent volition, so long as their rapidity is confined to a certain rate; but, as soon as the rapidity exceeds that rate, the operation is taken out of our hands, and is carried on by some unknown power, of which we know no more than we do of the circulation of the blood, or of the systole and diastole of the heart! Such a supposition is about as reasonable as it would be to say that a projectile passes through the intermediate space, when it is thrown with such a moderate degree of velocity that we can see it, in its progress; but, when it is thrown with such velocity as to become invisible, it ceases to pass through the intermediate space, and reaches the goal only because projectiles have the habit of doing so!
The hypothesis then breaks down, and we are forced back to our original supposition, namely, that those actions which are voluntary originally, never cease to be so; that when, as in the cases supposed, we retain no recollection of particular volitions, it is because of some law of our nature by which we are capable of recollecting only those acts upon which the attention has been fixed with a certain degree of intensity and for some perceptible space of time; that the volition, in other words, is too feeble and too rapid to leave any impression on the memory. To argue that there has been no volition, because we do not recollect it, is as absurd as it would be to say that there has been no muscular act, because in many cases we have as little recollection of the muscular act, as we have of the antecedent volition.
Besides, there are many other mental acts, as rapid as those which have been adduced,—so rapid that not the least recollection of them remains,—where, yet, this mechanical or automatic hypothesis affords not the least explanation. Thus the expert accountant in a Bank adds up a long column of figures with the same rapidity and ease with which ordinary persons would read a passage from a familiar author, and he brings out in the end the exact sum, which he can do in no other way than by taking note in passing of the precise character and value of each figure. Yet, at the end of such a process, the accountant has no more recollection of those rapidly succeeding acts of the mind, than has the musical performer of those countless volitions put forth in the course of a piece of brilliant musical instrumentation.
As to the objection, that the theory attributes an almost inconceivable rapidity to some of our mental operations, it may be answered, in the first place, that there is no reason, surely, why mind should not be capable of as rapid action as its handmaid, matter; and, in the second place, that our ideas of time are relative, quite as much as our ideas of space; and if the microscope has revealed a world of wonders too minute in point of space to be observed by the naked eye, in whose existence we yet believe with undoubting confidence, we may without greater difficulty believe in the existence of mental acts crowded into so narrow a point of time, so rapid and transitory in their occurrence, as to leave no impression upon the memory.
The facts which have been adduced, then, teach clearly two things: first, that by far the greatest part of what we do and experience and are necessarily conscious of at the time of their occurrence, immediately fade from the recollection, as shadows pass over a landscape; and secondly, that in order to the recollection of any act or object, it is necessary that the mind be fixed upon it for some perceptible space of time and with some sensible degree of attention. It is this indissoluble connection of the attention with memory, this absolute dependence of the latter upon the former, which gives the subject such far-reaching import in considering the means of intellectual culture.
How it is that we are able to exclude all subjects but one from the thoughts, is not very easy of explanation. It is obvious that we cannot do it by direct volition. The very fact of our willing not to attend to a particular object, fixes our attention upon it. That we have, however, some power and agency in fixing our attention on one object and in withdrawing it from another, is a fact within the knowledge and experience of every one, whether we can explain the mode by which it is done or not. We have the power of what the chemists call "elective affinity;" we make our choice of some one of the various objects claiming the attention, and fix it upon that; and it seems to be a law of our nature, that when we thus direct the attention to one object, all others, of themselves, and by some natural necessity, retire from the thoughts. This is as near an approach, probably, as we shall ever make, towards an exact verbal expression of a fact, for an intimate knowledge of which, after all, every man must refer to his own consciousness.
This power of singling out and fastening upon some one object to the exclusion of all others,—in other words, this power of attention—exists in almost infinite degrees in different individuals. The degree in which it exists is the measure of a man's intellectual stature. No man can be truly great who does not possess it to a high degree. To command our attention is to command ourselves, to be truly master of our own powers and resources.
The subject, then, becomes one of first importance in every kind of either mental or moral improvement. Its vital connection with the faculty of memory has been already suggested. Perhaps, however, this branch of the subject should be set forth with a little more distinctness. There are many vague, dreamy notions afloat on the subject of memory, standing comparisons and metaphors, intended to illustrate its uses and magnify its importance, but not declaring with any degree of precision what it is. It is called, for instance, the "storehouse of our ideas." The metaphor conveys undoubtedly a certain amount of truth in regard to the subject. At the same time, there are some important particulars, in which the comparison, for it is nothing more, conveys a wrong impression. Experience teaches us, for instance, that recollections, unlike other articles of store, are from the time of their deposit undergoing a continual process of decay, and if they do not fade entirely from the mind, it is because we occasionally bring them anew under the review of the mind, and thus restore them to their original freshness and vigor.
Dismissing, therefore, the metaphor, I shall, I presume, express with sufficient accuracy the established doctrine on this subject by the following statements: that of the great multitude of mental operations which we experience, by far the larger part perish at the moment of their birth; that others, to which for any reason we give, at the time of their occurrence, some sufficient degree of attention, afterwards recur to us, or are in some way present to our thoughts; that this recurrence of former ideas to our thoughts is sometimes spontaneous, without any voluntary action on our part, and sometimes the consequence of a direct effort of the will; and lastly, that the capacity which we have of being thus revisited by former thoughts is called memory, while the thoughts themselves, which thus return, are called memories, or more commonly recollections.
How it is that by an act of volition we can summon again into the mind an idea which has formerly been present, and which is now absent, we have the same difficulty in explaining which we had in explaining how, by an act of volition, we can banish a thought which is now present, or by the power of attention can detain some one thought to the exclusion of all others. To think what particular thing it is that we wish to remember, is in fact to have remembered it already. It is an obstruse and difficult inquiry, into which it is not necessary now to enter. A more important inquiry, and one connected directly with our present theme, relates to the different kinds of memory, and their connection severally with the faculty of attention.
Quickness of memory is that quality which is most easily developed, especially in young persons. It is also its most showy quality, and the temptation to give it an inordinate development is strong. The habit of getting things by rote, is easily acquired by practice. It is astonishing what masses of Scripture texts young children will get by heart, when under some special stimulus of reward or display. I have often refused to publish marvellous feats of this kind, not because I thought the accounts incredible, (unfortunately, they were too true,) but because I thought they were a species of mental excess, and they should no more be encouraged than bodily excesses. A little girl in my own Sunday-School once actually committed to memory the whole of the Westminster Assembly's Shorter Catechism in three days! Six months afterwards she hardly knew a word of it. It had been a regular mental debauch. A few more such atrocities would have made her an idiot. College records tell us of what are called "crammed men," that is, men who literally stuff themselves with knowledge in order to pass a particular examination, or to gain a particular honor, and who afterwards forget their knowledge, as fast as they have acquired it. There is a well authenticated instance of a student who actually learned the six books of Euclid by heart, though he could not tell the difference between an angle and a triangle. The memory of such men is quickened like that of the parrot. They learn purely by rote. Real mental attention, the true digester of knowledge, is never roused. The knowledge which they gorge, is never truly assimilated and made their own.
A quality of memory vastly more important than quickness, is tenacity. To hold on to what we get, is the secret of mental, no less than of pecuniary accumulations. The mind, too, like other misers, clings most tenaciously to that which has cost it most labor. Come lightly, go lightly, the world over. Knowledge which comes into the mind without toil and effort, without protracted and laborious attention, is apt to go as easily as it came.
But, by far the most important quality of memory, for the practical purposes of life, is readiness. Like quickness and tenacity, it is to be greatly improved, if not acquired by practice. It is in the cultivation of this quality, that the power of a good teacher shines forth most conspicuously. Quickness and tenacity may be cultivated by solitary study. But readiness requires for its development a live teacher, and the stir of the school-room and the class. Here it is that the art of questioning shows its wonderful resources. Repeated and continued interrogatories, judiciously worded, have a sort of talismanic power. They oblige the scholar to bring out his knowledge from its hidden recesses, to turn it over and over, and inside out, and upside down, to look at it and to handle it, so that not only it becomes forever and indestructibly his own, but he can ever afterwards use it at will with the same readiness that he uses his hands or his eyes. This is what a skilful teacher may do for his scholars, by a knowledge and practice of the art of questioning. Unfortunately, teachers in general find it much easier passively to hear a lesson, than to muster as much intellectual energy as is necessary to ask a question.
It was a remark of Bacon's, that, if we wish to commit anything to memory, we will accomplish more in ten readings, if at each perusal we make the attempt to repeat it from memory, referring to the book only when the memory fails, than we would by a hundred readings made in the ordinary way, and without any intervening trials. The explanation of this fact is, that each effort to recollect the passage secures to the subsequent perusal a more intense degree of attention; and it seems to be a law of our nature, not only that there is no memory without attention, which I have labored at some length to establish, but that the degree of memory is in a great measure proportioned to the degree of the attention.
You will see at once the bearing of this fact upon that species of intellectual dissipation, called "general reading," in which the mental voluptuary reads merely for momentary excitement, in the gratification of an idle curiosity, and which is as enervating and debilitating to the intellectual faculties, as other kinds of dissipation are to the bodily functions. One book, well read and thoroughly digested, nay, one single train of thought, carefully elaborated and attentively considered, is worth more than any conceivable amount of that indolent, dreamy sort of reading in which many persons indulge. There is in fact no more unsafe criterion of knowledge than the number of books a man has read. A young man once told me he had read the entire list of publications of the American Sunday-School Union. He was about as wise as the man at the hotel, who began at the top of the bill of fare with the intention of eating straight through to the bottom! Depend upon it, this mental gorging is debilitating and debauching alike to the moral and the intellectual constitution. There is too much reading even of good books. No one should ever read a book, without subsequent meditation or conversation about it, and an attempt to make the thoughts his own, by a vigorous process of mental assimilation. Any continuous intellectual occupation, which does not leave us wiser and stronger, most assuredly will leave us weaker, just as filling the body with food which it does not digest, only makes it feeble and sickly. We are the worse for reading any book, if we are not the better for it.
There is an obvious distinction on this subject, of some practical importance, first suggested, so far as I am aware, by the Scotch metaphysician, Dr. Reid, between attention as directed to external objects, and the same faculty directed to what passes within us. When we attend to what is without us, to what we hear, or see, or smell, or taste, or touch, the process is called observation. When, on the other hand, dismissing for the time all notice of the external world, we turn our thoughts inward, and consider only what is passing in the inner chambers of the mind,—when, for instance, we analyze our motives, or notice the workings of passion, or scan the mysterious and subtle agency of the will, the process is called reflection. This latter species of attention is one much more difficult of development than the former. It is developed ordinarily much later in life,—seldom, I believe, developed to any considerable extent before the age of manhood,—developed by some professions and pursuits much more than by others,—and in a very large class of mankind, probably the majority, never developed at all.
This species of attention, which is thus directed inwards, subjective attention some would call it,—in other words, the reflective powers,—are, I doubt not, capable of being cultivated much earlier in life than the age which I have indicated as the normal period of their development. I am constrained, however, in opposition to many high authorities in education, to doubt the wisdom of a precocious cultivation of this part of our intellectual system. In all our plans of education, we should closely follow nature, who seems to have reserved the judgment and the reflective powers for the latest, as they certainly are the most perfect, of her endowments. We, who are teachers, have chiefly to do with those whose powers are as yet immature, and whose attention is to be cultivated primarily in its direction to external objects. Our business, in other words, is to train our pupils first of all to habits of observation.
In doing this, it is of some practical importance to bear in mind the well-known difference, in respect to memory, between the objects of different senses. Whether it be attributed to the different degrees of perfection with which the qualities of bodies are perceived, or to some difference in the qualities themselves, or whatever may be the cause, the fact is established beyond a question, that the knowledge which comes to us through the medium of the eye is of all kinds of knowledge the most easily and the most perfectly remembered. We remember, indeed, the temperature of one day as distinguished from that of another; we remember the sound of a voice; we can conceive, in its absence, the odor or the taste of a particular object; but none of these ideas come to us with that definiteness and perfection which mark our recollections of what we have seen. It requires, for instance, but ordinary powers of attention and perception, for a person who has one good look at a house, to recall distinctly to his mind the ideas of its height, shape, color, material, the number of stories, the pitch of the roof, the kind of shutters to the windows, the position of the door, the fashion of panels, the bell-handle, the plate, even the little canary-bird with its cage in the windows above, and the roses, geraniums, and what else may be fairer still, in the window below. These are all objects of sight. In their absence, he can bring to mind and describe them, with almost the same accuracy that he could if they were actually present. Now, it is impossible to obtain a like precision and fulness in our conceptions of a quality which we have learned through any other sense. We form in the one case a mental image or picture of the object, which in the other case is impossible. We can by no possibility form a mental or any other image of the song of canary, of the perfume of a rose, or of any other quality, except those which address us through the eye. Our conceptions of taste, smell, touch, and even of hearing, in the absence of the objects of sense, have a certain dimness, vagueness, mistiness, uncertainty about them. The conceptions of visible objects, on the contrary, are definite, precise, and most easily recalled. Hence the knowledge derived through the sight, is, of all kinds of knowledge, the most accurate, the most easily acquired, and the most lasting.
The practical application of these views to the science of teaching, is too obvious to require more than a passing notice. Every thing which the young are to make the subject of their attention, for the purpose of remembering it, should be represented as far as possible to the eye. If the object itself, on account of its bulk, or its expensiveness, or for any other reason, cannot be exhibited for inspection, let there be some visible delineation of it by brush or pencil. If the thing to be remembered be something abstract or unreal, having neither form nor substance, perhaps it may have, or the teacher may make for it, some concrete, visible symbol, as has been done with the formulas of logic and the abstractions of arithmetic and algebra. These visible symbols on the slate and the blackboard give to those sciences all the advantages in this respect which were supposed to be peculiar to some of the branches of physical science. A boy who has forgotten every mere verbal rule both of arithmetic and algebra, will remember the formula, x^2 + 2xy + y^2, just as perfectly and on the same principle, as he will remember the face of the man who taught it to him. It is something which he has seen. Why has geometry in all ages been found to be of such peculiar value as a means of intellectual training? Because of the visible delineation of its doctrines by diagrams addressed to the eye. How much more readily and certainly chemical science can now be acquired, since the adoption of the present mode of symbolizing its doctrines by combinations of letters and figures. Arguments, conjectures, theories, respecting qualities addressed alike to every sense, respecting functions indeed not cognizable by any sense, are now presented on the board in visible symbolic formulas, which have the same advantage over the former mode of presenting the subject, that the sight of a chess-board during the progress of a game has over a mere verbal description of the movements.
The truth of this doctrine is strikingly illustrated in the present mode of teaching geography, as compared with that once in use, when a child, instead of looking at the map of a country, with its boundaries and other physical characters painted to the eye, had to grope through a trackless wilderness of description. The study will be still more improved, when children shall be universally required to make as well as to look at maps,—when, to the definiteness of knowledge coming through the sight, there shall be added that inerasible impression upon the memory, which comes from fixedness and continuity of attention. It is impossible for a child to draw a map, without looking intently, and with continued attention, upon every part of that which is to be delineated. The two conditions to perfect recollection are combined, and the knowledge, which is the result, is the very last to fade from the memory.
Every teacher of small children knows how much more certainly they learn to spell by seeing than by hearing. You may repeat to a child five times over the sounds which make up a word, and he will not recollect it with half the certainty that he would on seeing it once. The same principle which leads to this result, and which indicates the propriety, not only of looking at maps but of making them, in order to the more perfect knowledge of geography, will suggest to the thoughtful teacher the expediency of children's not only looking at words, but of writing them, in order to become perfect spellers.
Mental arithmetic has its fascinations. It has, too, I am ready to admit, solid advantages. Its advantages, however, I apprehend are not precisely those which are sometimes attributed to it. There can be no doubt, I think, that it helps to cultivate the reflective powers; that it requires, and by requiring gives, the ability to confine the attention to continued mental processes. But for making expert practical accountants, which is generally quoted as its distinguishing benefit, I confess I am partial to the slate and pencil, and to that venerable parallelogram, the old-fashioned Multiplication Table, in the shape it came down to us from Pythagoras.
The reader will not, of course, understand me as wishing to discard Mental arithmetic. All that I mean to suggest is the inquiry, whether its advantages are not looked for in the wrong direction, whether they are not sometimes over-estimated, and whether this mode of teaching arithmetic, especially when pursued as a hobby, is not sometimes pushed too far, and made the means of curious display, rather than of solid and lasting benefit. In teaching mental arithmetic, too, for I would certainly teach it to some extent, I would suggest the expediency of teaching children, in performing these mental operations, to think in figures, in other words, to form conceptions of the arithmetical figures and signs, which are visible objects, rather than of quantities and relations, which are mere abstractions. Multiplication is a mere metaphysical entity. The sign of multiplication is a simple, visible symbol, addressed to the eye, and capable of being conceived by the mind with unmistakable clearness and precision. A child counting its fingers in the first steps of learning to add and to take away, is a pretty sight, doubtless. But it is painful to see a person grown to man's estate, and in other respects well educated, as I have very often seen, still dependent upon the same infantile contrivance,—still counting fingers when required to add long columns of figures. Count the fingers, if necessary, in order to get the child under way. But the sooner the leading-string can be dropped, and the child can be made to picture in his mind the pure figures and signs, their combinations and results, without reference to fingers, or apples, or cakes, or tops, the better for his arithmetic, and the better for his mental cultivation.
The subject has a painful interest for the Sabbath-School Teacher. The teacher of the infant school, indeed, has some opportunity for employing this principle of pictorial representation, in teaching the little ones of his charge. The infant school-room usually has conveniences for maps and picture cards and diagrams, and even blackboards; and most infant school teachers wisely avail themselves of the opportunity afforded. But go into the main school-room—what can the teacher do? Twenty, thirty, forty classes huddled together into one room, compact as sheep in a pen, how can the individual teacher, if disposed, use adequate visible illustrations for the instruction of his class? Where shall he place his blackboard? where shall he hang up his maps? where shall he suspend his models? where shall he exhibit his specimens? The utmost that can be done in most of our schools, as at present provided for, is to have a few maps on the distant walls of the room which the superintendent may refer to, whenever he chooses, and which all the children may see who can! The time must come, however, when the teaching of religious truth will be considered of as much importance as the teaching of arithmetic or of chemistry, and the Sabbath-School will have the same facilities for imparting instruction as the week-day school. But that time has not yet come. In the meanwhile, let the teacher carefully avail himself of whatever subsidiary aids are within his reach. No teacher should ever present himself before his class without a Bible Atlas and a Bible Dictionary in his hand. Many of those things with which his class ought to be made acquainted, are here not only described, but delineated, with equal accuracy and beauty. Thanks to the booksellers and the religious publication societies, the scenes of sacred history, and indeed religious topics generally, have been illustrated in cheap pictorial cards, both large and small, and with admirable fidelity and skill. These form a part of the indispensable furniture of the Sunday-School teacher. They are to him as necessary as are experiments, or a cabinet of specimens, to the lecturer on the physical sciences. The Sabbath-School teacher should be continually on the look-out for publications of this kind, not only for instructing and furnishing his own mind with definite ideas, but for exhibition to his class. A wise teacher will not only have something to say to his class, but also something to show. The ideas which the child gets from looking at really instructive pictures and maps, never leave him. How much also our intelligent apprehension of the scriptures is increased, by a knowledge of topography, and by associating each event in the sacred narration with the place in which it occurred?
It may be proper to say, too, in this connection, that it is with a view to the principle now under consideration, that in preparing books and papers for the young, authors and publishers feel justified in giving so much labor and space to pictorial illustration. When, indeed, such illustrations are merely for display, they deserve the contempt which they often receive. But when these pictorial illustrations have a definite meaning and design, when they teach something, when they connect in the child's mind sound religious truth with distinct and easily remembered visible forms, they are a really valuable aid in the inculcation of doctrine.
The power of attention, like all the mental powers, is by nature greater in some than in others. Still, there is no power more susceptible of improvement. The importance of its cultivation cannot well be over-stated. It affects not one study only, but all studies; not one mode of study only, but every mode of study, by text-book or by lecture; lessons to be recited by memory, or those by question and answer; not even study only, but conduct and manners, the regulation of the heart and the formation of the character. The precise measure of a child's success, in every thing that pertains to his character and standing as a scholar, will in nine cases out of ten be his power and habit of attention. There are indeed lamentable cases of wilful and intentional disorder. Yet every teacher knows that by far the greater portion of the things which interrupt and disturb a school arise from thoughtlessness and inattention. There are also equally undoubted cases of ignorance that is no crime. Yet the great majority of those who fail in their studies, fail simply because they do not attend. To attend, however, means something more than merely to be bodily present, more even than to have the ears open and the eyes fixed in the direction of the speaker, when a thing is said, or done. An old lady used to sit in the same aisle with me in church, and unfortunately lived opposite me in the street, who was neither deaf nor blind, and who was never absent from church, and yet she sent over invariably on Sunday evenings to know what it was the minister said about that meeting on Wednesday night, or that meeting on Friday night,—she did not rightly understand!
But it is not necessary to go to church, to find those who "having eyes see not, and having ears hear not, neither do they understand," who look without seeing, and hear without comprehending. Publish a notice in your school, making some change of hours or lessons, or giving any specific direction. No matter how simple, or how plainly expressed, the notice may be, or how particularly attention may be called beforehand to the announcement about to be made, where is the happy teacher who has been able on such an occasion to make himself understood by all? Teachers and preachers and speakers of every name have generally very little idea how much they are misunderstood. Let me give some instances.
In my own Sunday-School, I had neglected one morning to bring with me the teacher's class-books. After opening the school, I rang the bell as a signal for attention. There was a general hush throughout the room. All eyes were turned to the desk. I said: "Your class-books unfortunately have been left behind this morning. They have been sent for, however, and they will soon be here. As soon as they come, I will bring them round to the several classes. In the meantime, you may go on with your regular lessons." The bell was then tapped again, and the routine of the school resumed. In about a minute, a girl came up to the desk, with, "Sir, teacher says, will you please to send her class-book; it was not brought round, as usual, this morning, before school opened!" Here was a class of ten girls, averaging twelve years of age, and not one of them, nor their teacher, had heard or understood the notice which I thought I had made so plain!
Here is another instance. At the examination for admission to the Philadelphia High School, as a means of testing among other things how far this very faculty of hearing and of attention has been cultivated, the candidates are required to copy a passage from dictation. These exercises are always preserved for reference, and in order to show the fairness of the examination. On one occasion, when I was Principal of the School, I took the pains to copy out a few of the exercises, in order to show the singular freaks into which an uncultivated ear may be led. One or two specimens will serve to illustrate the point. The first clause with its variations, was as follows:—
Every breach of veracity indicates some latent vice. " bridge " rascality " " latest vice. " breech " feracity " " latinet vice. " preach " eracity " " late device. " branch " vivacity " " great advice. " " " veracity " " late advice. " " " " " " ladovice. " " " " " " ladened vice. Every branch of veracity in the next some latent vice. Every reach of their ascidity indicates some advice.
In another part of the passage occurred the following:
Petty operations. Petty alterations. Petty observations. Patriarchal occupations. Petty oblations.
Now of what use is it to a boy who mistakes "petty" for "patriarchal," "latent vice" for "great advice," "breach of veracity" for "reach of their ascidity," who is so untrained that he really cannot hear what is said, or see what is done,—of what use is it to such a boy, merely because he has gone through a prescribed routine of books and classes, or perchance because he has attained a certain amount of years and of pounds avoirdupois, to be pushed forward into a higher department to attend lectures on chemistry, or anatomy, or morals, or history, or literature? It is preposterous. It is an insult to the Professor, and an injury to the boy.
This, then, is the burden of my song. We cannot take too much pains in early life in rousing this power of attention. Depend upon it, no matter how much learning, so called, is crammed into a youth, his intellectual development has not begun until this power is roused. He may have a vague, dreamy sort of knowledge; he may do sums by rule, and he may parse by rote, and do many other wondrous things; but his powers are not invigorated, he does not grow, until he begins really to see and hear, and feel terra firma under his feet.
The principle which I am illustrating applies with special force to that part of a child's education which consists in learning the meaning of words. I have serious doubts whether children ordinarily learn much of the real meaning of words by committing definitions to memory. What is a definition? It is only expressing the meaning of one word by the use of another word as nearly as possible synonymous. Now, in the case of a child, it is at least an even chance that that other word is just as unknown as the one it is intended to explain. It is like, in algebra, solving an equation with two unknown quantities, by giving the value of one unknown quantity in terms of the other. A child, for instance, is told that "potent" means "efficacious," that "power" means "ability," that "potion" means a "physical draught," that "potential" means "existing in possibility, not in act." These are definitions taken at random from a book in common use in our public schools. The definitions possibly are good enough for the purpose for which they were designed. I am not quarrelling with the definitions. But, surely, it is not by these that a child is to learn the meaning of the words. Whether he is told that "power" means "ability," or "ability" means "power," that "potent" means "efficacious," or "efficacious" means "potent," in neither case, nine times out of ten, is any addition made to his stock of knowledge. It is not until much later in life,—until in fact our knowledge of words is already very much extended, that we profit much by learning formal definitions. But in childhood, we must learn the meaning and power of words, just as the mechanic becomes acquainted with his tools, by observing their use. A boy, for instance, reads this sentence. "The drug was very efficacious." If the word is quite new to him, and there is nothing in the clause preceding or following to indicate its meaning, it is not at all unlikely that he may suppose it to mean "poisonous." If, however, from the context, he finds that a person who had been sick, was made suddenly well, and this statement followed by the remark, that "the drug was very efficacious," he will probably get the idea that the word means "healing," or "curative." He reads again, in another place, that a certain mode of teaching penmanship was found to be very "efficacious." Here is a new use of the word, quite different from the other, and he is obliged to exclude from his idea of its meaning every thing like "healing." So he goes on, every fresh example cutting off some extraneous idea which the previous examples had led him to attach to the word, and every step onward coming nearer to the general idea, though he may never express it in words, of something which accomplished its object, whatever that object may be. It is, I believe, chiefly by observing in this way the manner in which words are used, that children do and must learn their meaning. It is, in other words, by quickening and cultivating the habit of attention to the meaning,—by training a child, when he is reading, to imagine, not that he is reading the words, but that he is reading the sense, by accustoming him to look through the word, to the sense, just as he would look at objects out of doors through the window, and to consider the words, as he would consider the glass, merely as a medium, through which, and unmindful of it, he looks at something beyond,—which something is the meaning.
Let me not be misunderstood in regard to this matter of definitions. I believe it to be of the utmost importance that children should be constantly required to give definitions or explanations of the words whose meaning they have acquired. All I mean to call in question is, whether that meaning to any considerable extent is acquired by committing to memory formal definitions prepared by others. When they have once learned the meaning of a word, which is to be done mainly, if not only, by observing its use, then by all means let them be required to express that meaning by other words which they know. Such an exercise cannot be too much insisted on. It is one of the best means of securing that attention to the signification of words, which is so much wanted. It requires the child, moreover, to bring his knowledge continually to the test. It cultivates at once accuracy of thought, and accuracy of language, which is the vehicle of thought. Train a child, therefore, to the habit of attention, first to the meaning of words as gathered from observation of their use, and secondly to the expression of that meaning in language appropriate and intelligible to others.