Page images
PDF
EPUB

ture of the human mind. One is mild, gentle, affectionate, a word checks, a look alarms,-or the most cautious reproof brings a tear,-another is cold, stern, headstrong, insensible to the severest rebukes, and even in punishment restraining his tears with a heroism which we cannot but admire, though it makes our task the harder. Here is a child who is always excited, and bright, and happy. He runs, he jumps, he laughs, he plays. His limbs, tongue, mind, thoughts are incessantly in motion. There is his brother, quiet, sedate, cool, clear-headed, and still: as deeply interested in his plays, and as successful in his studies as the other, but making a totally different exhibition of conduct and character. There again is a third, healthy and strong in body, but inert, consused and torpid in mind. These differences are endless,—and far beyond the reach of any attempt to account for them by the influence of any outward causes.

2. Then, secondly, besides the native constitutional differences of different minds, endlessly diversified, the influences of early life, produce other extensive dissimilarities. These influences of early education, and the circumstances of early life, though not sufficient to explain all the differences in the mental characteristics of children, which we perceive, occasion, nevertheless, very extensive modifications of character. It is not so much the difference in the ideas and plans of education, which different parents follow, as in the circumstances in which the children are placed, in respect to the neighborhood, the playmates, the family, in which their early life is spent. These indirect, or rather incidental influences, have far greater agency in shaping the character of childhood than all the positive instruction they receive. That little, fair-haired girl, for instance, who comes timidly in, on the first day of the school, her dress arranged with the most scrupulous neatness, her hair nicely adjusted in smooth curls over her little temples, is her mother's only child. She comes in with an air of precision and propriety, seems to shrink from observation, sits erect in her seat, looks timidly at her new companions, and forms her figures upon the slate, and her strokes in the writing book, with the utmost deliberation, precision and care. She is an only child.

Then, here comes another, dancing along, with her work bag whirling over her finger, and her tresses and bonnet ribbons flying behind. Her countenance is full of gaiety, and her motions and air all indicate perfect self complacency and ease. She walks boldly in, out of breath, advances to you with an air of confidence, and looking you full in the face, asks you where she shall sit ? She, too, though so different from the former, is an only child. The mother of the one lives in seclusion. She is a widow, and in her loneliness and bereavement takes a melancholy pleasure in the most unremitting attention to the training of her child. So she watches every motion, forms artificially every habit, and checks and restrains her daughter continually. The other mother is a woman of the world, enjoying wealth and all the pleasures of social intercourse. Her maternal fondness is as great as the other's, but it takes the form of indulgence, not attention. The result of this one difference, in the circumstances of the two mothers, is a totally different cast of character in the two children. In the one, you have a trained, only child; in the other, an indulged, only child: two classes of children, very large and very strongly marked all the world over.

There may be two troublesome boys,--the most troublesome in the school, yet having characters opposite to each other in a great many important respects, and the opposition may be traced altogether to the different kinds of mismanagement they have labored under at home. One is cunning and treacherous. He will tell you falsehoods with perfect assurance, and composure. He does mischief by stealth, is sullen when detected, and goes away with a vindictive look when punished or reproved. You can make no friendly acquaintance with him, he is morose, looks away when you speak to him, and always escapes from your presence as soon as he can. If

you

meet him at the door, or before the fire at the recess, and say a pleasant word to him, which brings a momentary smile over his features, it withers away again in an instant, with a peculiar expression, as if he supposed your playfulness was only treacherous irony, to be followed up by a blow.

The other boy is rude, noisy, open, honest, always doing wrong, and apparently unconcerned about exposure. He meets you cordially, and advances towards an acquaintance. When you call, he runs to you; he accosts you familiarly, looks you in the face. He is ready and bold with his excuses, defends himself against reproof, and perhaps offers

;

physical resistance to punishment. How totally different these two characters are. And such a difference may have resulted wholly from the different species of mismanagement to which they have been respectively subjected at home. The father of the former is stern and cruel. His intercourse with his boy has been, not that of interest and affection, but irritation and censoriousness,--capricious coinmands, angry rebukes, and vindictive punishments. The other father has simply neglected his boy. He has left him to run wild. So that one is the victim of tyranny, the other of neglect. In spirit, one is a slave,--the other an anarchist; the former designing, treacherous, dark, sullen; the latter, reckless, open, violent and bold.

Now if such great differences as these result merely from the different forms wbich fondness or misgovernment assumes, how vast the diversities which must arise from more widely dissimilar causes. The boy who has lived in the street, familiar with all the rude, and noisy, and vicious companions which herd there, compared with the one who has grown up upon a secluded larm, surrounded by restraints, and kept from evil influences. The favorite child, caressed, aided, protected and tlattered, compared with the dejected and discouraged one, who has been tyrannized over by older 1. hers, and overlooked and neglected by parents. The pricocious boy, who has been pressed forward in his juvenile studies by parents vain of his childish learning, and who has dipped a little into every thing, so that all novelty and interest is gone, sitting, side by side, with a strong minded but uninstructed girl, whose time at home has been filled up with domestic avocations, and who comes to school, eager to learn. There is, thus, a vast variety in the material which the teacher finds subjected to his hands when he commences his work.

The question then arises, how far, and in what way, is the teacher to take this variety into the account in managing his school.

Now these diversities will, in a great many respects, affect the teacher's operations, both in his general plans, and his action upon individual scholars. I shall notice some particulars illustrative of this.

1. The first, perhaps, in importance is, the difference in intellectual powers of the pupils. Perhaps one of the greatest obstacles which now operate in all the schools of our land, to the progress of children in knowledge, is the feeling of discouragement, arising from the intellectual work assigned them, being so often a little beyond their intellectual powers. The whole amount of what is expected is not too great,--but the steps by which they are to attain it are too long. They are like men going over rough rocks, too large to step easily froin one to the other, discouraged and exhausted by a succession of leaps, jerks, disappointments, and falls. We explain once, distinctly, to a child, the process in long division,-and then, perhaps, a second time, without losing our good nature; but then, when he forgets again and again, and we have to repeat our explanation of the order in which he divides, multiplies, subtracts, and brings down, four, five, or six times, our voice gradually assumes the tone of impatience and dissatisfaction, and his love of knowledge is chilled and destroyed, by finding displeasure and reproof, when he had exerted his utmost to please. Whereas it is as unreasonable to expect him to become familiar with such a process, after so slight means of acquaintance, as it would be to require his teacher to be able to calculate an eclipse, after hearing the method two or three times explained by an astronomer.

But lain wandering. I am not to speak now of the general powers of children, considered in respect to the intellectual efforts expected of them, but of the diversities in these powers, in different subjects. There are the more intelligent, and the less intelligent, and there is, perhaps, no part of the teacher's duty which requires more careful attention than the course he pursues in respect to these two classes among his scholars, so as to avoid the danger of fostering self conceit and vanity in the one, and sinking the other into hopeless discouragement and despondency.

We all know very well, in theory, that it is the degree of effort which a pupil makes, and not the degree of his success, that determines his merit or demerit, -but practically, in our teaching we reverse it, and looks of dissatisfaction, reproofs, and punishments are too often the daily portion of the poor children whose faculties, obtuse at first, have become confused by bad education. One of the most mysterious phenomena of human nature is that feeling of irritation and dislike which springs up in our minds towards those who cannot understand or remember what we are saying to them: A large portion of the displeasure which we manifest towards our scholars every day, in school, is awakened by mere sluggishness or imbecility of mind, which deserves no displeasure at all. Perhaps at the very time that it is suflering under our reproofs, it has been making the most vigorous effort of which it was capable, to accomplish the task which exceeded its powers.

The truth is, that we do not realize how vast the diversity is in the intellectual powers of children. We see and understand this diversity in the case of minds which have developed themselves upon the theatre of life, but, in looking upon childhood we underrate it altogether. The teacher should, therefore, turn special attention to this subject. If your number of pupils be small, make it one of your first objects to gauge, as it were, the intellects of them all. If it is large, discover as soon as possible, and become acquainted with those who rise above or fall below the general average. Make special provision for these. The former must be kept from idleness by being assigned to a greater number of classes until their powers are fully employed; and the latter must have their burdens diminished until they are able to bear them without mental perplexity or fatigue. Dispel entirely from your mind, the feeling that your pupils must be carried along all together, and brought out to equal attainments at last. So hopeless a task as that is not assigned you. You have only to afford each one such facilities and opportunities as he is capable of improving, and leading him forward as fast as he is capable of going. And whatever you do in respect to those who can go fast, be sure to treat with the most constant kindness and attention those who must move slow. Never ridicule them, never be impatient, protect them in every way from disgrace, and make the steps of their progress so short and definite, that they can easily follow. If this lecture should induce the teachers who hear it, when they return to their schools, to look up the perplexed, the discouraged, and desponding, and make some effort to smooth their path, and lighten the difficulties which now, perhaps, rest upon them, it would be a useful lesson indeed.

There is great diversity among pupils in their susceptibility in respect to the various modes of discipline which may be

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »