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The Experiment continued.
The proposal excited some surprise ; and why should it not ? To see a man, after having taught school more or less ten years, -received the highest or nearly the highest wages-spent three years in professional studies—and received the honors of a distinguished professional institution ;-—to see such a inan come and beg the favor of teaching a district school at six dollars a month and his board, surprised them! They were unaccustomed to such things ; and could not understand it.
They had little or no conception of the object I proposed to accomplish. Benevolence and philanthropy, and even patriotism, were names of which they hardly knew the meaning; and they were nearly as great strangers to the feelings which belong. ed to them, as to the name.
They held a meeting, however; and it was not a little to my surprise, I confess, that they agreed to employ me. I was examined according to law, and received a license; and I then prepared to commence my labors.
The school was opened in May. The appearance of a male teacher, in a district school room, in summer, excited the attention, not only of my townsmen, but even of the passing stranger.
Such a thing had been known occasionally, in some very large towns; but never before in a small district, like this.
No persons were more surprised—and I may add mortifiedthan my relatives. They looked at me as a deranged person. Instead of taking my stand by the side of liberally educated men, and holding a station of command or influence, to go and place myself in a district school room, at the head of twenty or twenty five small pupils, and teach them the common elementary branches of an English education-and for the paltry price of six dollars a month, is it not inconceivable that they should have submitted to it? Why did they not put me into a strait jacket, or carry me at once to a mad house?
But the school went on; and the earth continued to revolve, and the sun to shine as usual ; nor was there any thing in the physical condition of the universe, that indicated serious derangement, of any sort. People talked till they were tired, and there the matter rested.
The first thing I did that looked like innovation, was to get some paper curtains, for the windows. In this, I had two objects in view. One was to prevent the pupils from looking out; the other to furnish ornaments to the room. I had already begun to think much of the importance of rendering a school room pleasant and agreeable; and had been much aided in my speculations on the subject, by the · Journal of Education,' edited at that time, by Mr Wm. Russell ; a few numbers of which a
Methods in Defining and Reading.
friend had been kind enough to send me. This work had been published about two years. I had also been greatly indebted to this work, not only for other views which I entertained, and which will be developed in the progress of this and subsequent chapters, but also, in no small degree, for what I possessed of the spirit of philanthropy.
Some little pains were also taken to ornament the walls of the school room. "Maps were hung up, evergreens procured, and early flowers. Had I possessed the pecuniary means of doing it, I would have devised and executed plans for rendering the whole school house, both internally and externally, quite attractive.
In teaching the alphabet to my pupils, I do not remember that I devised or adopted any new plans. In fact, I believe I had no abecedarians in my school. If I had, I feel confident I pursued the same humdrum method which had prevailed time out of mind, except that I taught them in a class, rather than separately; in order to save time. I had, it is true, many new notions on the subject ; but an imaginary want of time always seemed to compel me to resort to the old methods.
In regard to spelling, I was careful to assign my pupils short lessons, and see that they understood their meaning. This last was quite an innovation. Defining words, as a school exercise, had then scarcely been heard of.
It is true we labored under great difficulties, in this matter of defining words, for want of suitable books. Here we came upon a department on which I had seldom, as yet, dared to place the
rude hand of reform. Our school books indeed, such as we had, I knew were sadly deficient; and in the department of defining we had none at all. A few of the older pupils had a very inferior sort of dictionary, containing definitions which in themselves required defining; but which were a little better for us than nothing at all; though the greater part of them were destitute even of this.
Had I possessed the means, I should have sent at once to a book store, and bought a set of some defining spelling book, and presented it to the school. But this I was unable to do; and there is room for doubt whether such a measure,
however benevolent its exterior, is after all judicious.
In reading, we pursued a course altogether new to the pupils. Instead of reading just so many chapters, or articles, or verses, each was required to read a small paragraph over and over, till he both understood it, and could read it with propriety. It was my usual practice, however, to read it first myself, in every in
Method of Teaching Writing.
stance; and sometimes, if the pupil was an unapt scholar, to read it over for him several times.
I did not find this method of reading so irksome to the pupils as I had expected. It is well known how fond children are of novelties; and so novel was our reading, that, for a few days it went off very well. But the pupils at length grew tired of it; and I found it necessary to resort, occasionally, to the old method. They probably found, in this, the appearance of progress. To stand still, as it were, at a single place in the book, for several minutes, seemed less to them like making improvement, than when they were reading off several pages at a single lesson.
But our lessons were, in any event, short. I had got over, in some measure, the notion that the pupil's improvement was in proportion to the space ran over. Sometimes, indeed, a large class read several pages at a time; but not usually. As a substitute for so much matter-of-course reading, I used to explain and illustrate things as we went on; and sometimes even relate stories.
Writing, instead of being pursued at all hours of the day, and under all circumstances, was confined entirely to the last half hour of the forenoon, and of the afternoon. This was allowing to each pupil an hour a day for the study of this art.
This plan, in regard to writing, is excellent. I know of but one objection which can be brought against it. It is that many boys in the winter, will, in this way, lose at least half their writing. Their parents and masters are accustomed to permit and even require them to leave the school at a certain time—frequently an hour before the exercises close.
But to this it may be replied, that in leaving school thus early, some lesson or other must be lost; and most pupils can better lose the writing lesson than any other.
The suggestion, to teach writing at these hours and in this manner, I believe I first learned from Hall's Lectures on School Keeping; an admirable work, which no teacher ought, in my opinion, to neglect.
In grammar and geography little was done; but that little was performed in a rational and intelligible manner. It was not a mere recitation of words. The pupil was brought to feel that there was meaning in language; and that there should be thoughts connected with it. In these branches, too, all our lessons were short.
Arithmetic was studied by a few, but not very thorough on account of a seeming want of time. I had not yet come fully up to the belief–practically—that what is worth doing at all, in a school as well as elsewhere, is worth doing well; and that it
Exercise in Thinking.
is far better that an exercise should be attended to but once a day, or even once a week, than that it should not be understood. I still clung more or less—at times and in certain thingsto the notion that there must be, every day, such a certain number of exercises ; that the pupils must read round,' as it is called, twice in the forenoon, and twice in the afternoon; and that there must be writing, and arithmetic, and grammar, and geography, and every thing else going on, at least once in each half day.
Or rather, as perhaps I ought to say, I had not moral courage enough to innovate, in this respect, upon long established usages. Besides I felt, as I ought to have selt, that all improvement must from the nature of the case be gradual.
There can be but two advantages in going round twice, in each half day, with the reading and spelling exercises of our district schools. The first is, that it prevents ignorant teachers from imposing as long lessons upon pupils as otherwise they would ; the second, that it breaks in upon the disagreeable monotony which might otherwise prevail, and which commonly does prevail in the best schools.
But were every child furnished with pleasant employment, and with suitable seasons for exercise in the open air, the second class exercise might far better be spared. Let there be but one exercise in each class in half a day; and let that be thoroughly attended to. I am here speaking of spelling, reading, and writing. As to arithmetic, grammar and geography, it is enough that they come once a day.
Our religious instruction consisted merely in repeating portions of the “shorter catechism," at the close of the week. An example of daily prayer was indeed set, and the older classes read in the New Testament as a regular exercise ; and I was accustomed to moralize on daily occurrences. This last is probably the most effectual way of religious teaching in our district schools ; as it is, first, most agreeable to the pupils; secondly, least likely to awaken any where sectarian jealousy; thirdly, most effectual in reaching the heart; and lastly, the impressions are the most permanent.
One exercise was introduced into this school, which was altogether of my own invention. It was a sort of silent or thinking exercise. After the school had been opened a short time in the morning, and my oldest or first class had read a Testament lesson, they were required to devote a certain number of minutes, usually from five to ten, to reflection. No scholar might attend to business of any kind whatever, during the time ; but all were required to observe the most perfect silence.
When I announced that the time was expired, they were required to be able to tell me what had been done by their own class the preceding day. In some instances, I found them able to give a pretty faithful narration of all the exercises, and of many observations and illustrations of my own at the time. With a little aid, by way of questions and suggestions, I could usually draw out a pretty full history of their progress. They were also desired to state any errors they might have made, or had observed, not only in themselves, but in me, as their teacher. They were thus led to profit, on every successive day, by the errors of the past.
A WORD ON PHYSICAL EDUCATION.
The “Christian Reflector" has the following excellent remarks on the importance of bodily exercise in the open air, especially to females.
• Every man, nay, every female, ought in some mode, if possible, to take a good amount of exercise in the open air. Some persons are timid about exposing themselves to the air, and some parents are fearful lest their little ones should ever feel the gentle breezes of heaven. Herein is a great, and, as it often proves, a fatal mistake. We expose our health most by exclusion, or rather by inclusion. Why does the student grow pale? Not by any tendency of vigorous study to blanch his fresh cheek, but by his inclusion within close walls, and neglect of physical exercise. The student may be as healthy as any other man, if he will do as other healthy men do.
* The delicate female, now pale as the paper I am writing on, may learn how to bloom again, if she will, iwo or three times a day, just throw aside those too delicate garments which so hinder her action, and robe herself for labor. Where? How? Let not our politest and gentlest readers be too soon alarmed. Let them recover their firmness by turning their eyes off our page a moment, till they reflect a little, and they may not need hartshorn or cologne, to prevent their fainting, when we venture to tell them-in the garden, with a well handled hoe, and shining spade, and strong-teethed rake, mellowing, and shaping, and smoothing the earth their brothers have ploughed for them. We will not now recommend that they stop on their way back to the parlor, to look at Susan's cheeks, as she actively bends over the wash-tub, that they may ascertain how to spread over their own