Page images
[merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small]

Whatever care and thought may have been spent upon the selection of the studies pursued in our schools, it is still an open question whether we have, in every instance, the results of the wisest possible choice, and whether certain advantageous changes are not readily practicable. Without présuming to dogmatize or to bestow censure, it may not be wholly idle to seize a few floating thoughts bearing upon this subject, and to endeavor to reduce them to an intelligible form. At least it may afford an opportunity for the removal of groundless fears and for the correction of false impressions.

The opinion or at least the impression-seems to be an increasing one, that the course of study pursued in our schools, especially in the lower grades, is not, in every respect, the best that can be devised, and that improvements are not only possible but immediately and eminently desirable. It seems difficult, for those who observe and reflect, to shun this conviction. There are what appear to be manifest indications of existing defects-of mistakes in the choice of subjects, or of methods, or both. The per- . manent acquisitions of pupils, in either intellectual power or the knowledge of facts, do not seem to correspond to

the amount of time spent in study. No one pretends to deny that the branches pursued are valuable and impor tant. Nor will any one contend that they are made at all too familiar to the mind of the pupil. The fault is rather of a different kind. We too frequently find the attainments of the pupil, after years of study in some particular branch, below what we have reason to expect. For instance, it is no uncommon thing to find pupils at the age of fifteen and upwards unable to answer very common questions in geography. And yet these same pupils may have had daily recitations on the subject during, perhaps, five out of the ten years of their school attendance. In the intermediate school and in the junior classes of the grammar school, they probably recited with great fluency the lessons from the text-book, drew maps with neatness and facility, and won golden opinions at the quarterly examinations. The apparent fact that so large a portion of their attainments has evaporated, in the space of a couple of years, so as to be of but little practical value, suggests either a wrong mode of pursuing the study, or a premature pursuit of it by the pupil. The question arises-Are the minds of our pupils sufficiently mature for the intelligible pursuit of this study at the age when they are usually required to engage in it? Are not the ideas which they gain of the earth, the matter-of-fact world in which we have our abiding place, to a very great extent inadequate and erroneous? Have they not been learning the names of crooked lines on paper, as likely, in their misconception, to run up hill as down, instead of rivers which carry the water of the moun tain shower and the protracted rain storm through the low est level of the valleys into the ocean? And have they not been mistaking irregular triangles and squares and trapezoids of red, green, blue and yellow, for continents, and small circles of varying size for cities, towns and villages? And may not these misconceptions prove an embarrassment, at a later period, in the acquirement of cor rect conceptions? May it not, in many cases, cost a

much to unlearn what is false as it would to acquire what is true, de novo? If these things receive an affirmative answer, the inference follows that there has been a mistake, and that such portions of the subject as lie behind the comprehension of the pupil should be deferred until his mind becomes more mature. Were the facts which he has once learned, to remain permanently stored in his memory so as to be easily recalled, it might somewhat weaken the force of this inference,, notwithstanding the difficulty he would find in separating them from his own misconceptions. But in numerous instances the recollec tion of three-fourths of the facts themselves will have been lost before they become fixed in the mind by ration al reflection, while numerous misconceptions continue to hover like shadows over the general subject, or to shine like ignes fatui-now here, now there-only to bewilder and mislead. A portion of the facts of geography can be both learned and understood by young pupils. Should not these be carefully selected and arranged for their acquisi tion, and the remainder of the subject be reserved for a period of increased intelligence and ability?

The subject of arithmetic, as at present pursued in our schools, has not now for the first time fallen uuder suspicion. Nor can we wonder,-while the majority of our pupils from the age of six or seven, or even younger, to that of twelve or fifteen, are engaged in its pursuit as constantly as the schools are in session,-that the question arises whether this long period of application to a single branch of study is judiciously employed. No other branch of study, if we except reading and spelling, is allowed to absorb so large an amount of time as this. This can be warranted only upon the assumption of its greater rela tive importance, or of the inherent difficulties in the way of its mastery. But waiving the consideration of its comparative practical value, either as a means of mental discipline or as a preparation for the duties of active life, and granting that its importance is as great as its most zeal


ous advocates claim for it, the question still remains-Is so large an amount of time required for its mastery? We confess, that, when we have seen two pupils of nearly equal capacity-one of whom at the age of ten was barely acquainted with the processes of adding, substracting, multiplying and dividing simple numbers, and the other at the same age equipped with the results of five years previous study-evincing at the age of twelve about equal ability in comprehending the conditions of a problem and about equal facility in its solution, we have found it difficult to divest ourselves of impressions of time not wisely employed. And when we have seen pupils at the age of seven or eight exhibit remarkable power in the rapid combination of numbers, and go through the demonstration of such questions as-Four sixths of fifteen is what part of five eighths of sixty four?—one of the easy questions-with the precision of clock work, and yet, at the age of twelve, sadly puzzled in finding the amount of a note the back of which was burdened by a few indorsements, the question has protruded itself with some pertinacity, whether what on the former occasion seemed so much like the work of a machine, was utterly a delusion after all. If an intelligent pupil can obtain as efficient a mathematical discipline between the ages of ten and thirteen as most of our pupils gain between five and the latter age-and we incline to the belief that this is approximately true-we need no further evidence that much time is spent upon this subject that could with much greater advantage be bestowed upon others.

It is not necessary here to extend our consideration toother branches of study. If the course pursued in our primary and intermediate schools involves the mistakes at which we have hinted, there arise two important questions which demand an answer. First, in what consist the existing defects? and second, how can they be obviated? To the first of these an answer is suggested by what has been said above. It is that the studies pursued are not

adapted to the capacity and development of the pupils when they are required to engage in their pursuit. An attempt is made to bring into premature exercise the power of abstraction, or to employ it upon subjects involving obscurity and error, and to employ the reasoning powers in explaining the "why and wherefore," when nature intended that the mind should be employed chiefly in the acquisition of facts. Pupils are required to reflect and to exercise judgment when it was the design of nature that they should observe and imitate.

And this suggests an answer in regard to the appropri ate remedy. It must consist, chiefly, in teaching children things-not reasons; in leading them to observe and imitate; in directing their attention to the concrete rather than the abstract, and in giving them a knowledge of facts instead of requiring them to master theories. During the period in which it is the design of nature that children shall acquire knowledge mainly through the senses, let the senses be addressed, as far as practicable, by presenting such objects as will give correct impressions, and carefully withholding whatever is likely to mislead the mind or introduce into it erroneous ideas. Even a child, when looking, for instance, upon a landscape, apprehends what is true. A hill is nothing else than a hill, a mountain is a mountain, a river is a river, and a city or village. is just what it appears to be. But what impression does a child usually obtain from a map of these same objects? Does it, in general, even approximate the truth? It was but the other day that an intelligent pupil of sixteen declared that she could not divest herself of the impression that the water flows upward in passing from lake Erie into lake Ontario, although she was aware of the impossibility. The illusion derived from the map, in previous years, could not be effectually dispelled. And we fancy that this is but one misconception of a class whose name is legion. If, when the pupil was acquiring this persistent error, instead of the map, a piece of marble or of gran

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »