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The Philosophy of Amusements.
a community appear to us to demand. We wish them to be as well adapted to promote the happiness of their ininates by their size and internal structure, as by their location and outward arrangements. We are grieved to find 30 pupils shut up for six hours of the day, to a room 12 or 14 feet square, and only 7 or 8 high. We believe these narrow dimensions cramp and endanger the soul as well as the body. We wish, as we have already more than intimated, to have the school room and those who superintend and direct it, viewed not as adjuncts to, but as substitutes for, the home, the domestic circle, and the parent. Whatever tends most obviously and inevitably to develop right character at home, should be made to contribute its influence as much as possible at the school room. We would have the school a home, and not a prison ; the origin of pleasant and not of fearful associations; a reward, and not a penance. We have no objection to barns, in their places, both for cities and villages; but, we repeat it, let us not make barns of our churches or our school houses. We would have them more nearly related to large and commodious parlors, than to barn floors, or jail rooms, or dungeons.
Let us not be misunderstood. We would say nothing on this subject which would lead to the belief that we regard the world as a mere play ground, and the employments of life, or even the business of the schools, as mere amusements. Very far from it. Life and its employments, time and all things which should be done in time, whether considered in their relations to eternity or not, are serious matters. It is for this very reason that we urge the consideration of the subject before us. It is scarcely necessary to repeat, what has been well said so frequently before, that man is an animal as well as a moral being, and that to render him truly a moral being, his animal and his intellectual nature must be cultivated and adorned and perfected. The public health-favored as this is by a due attention to exercise, cleanliness, ventilation, a proper selection of food and drink, and suitable employments and amusements, has a most important bearing on the social and moral well being of every community. If, let me make the ballads of a nation, and I care not who makes its laws,' was a wise saying—and who will doubt it? with how much more of truth might it be said, let me form the health, the taste, and the habits, and control and direct the amusements and the conversations and the employments of a community, and I care not who are its legislators. Man will, for many centuries to come, seek a large portion of his happiness in physical gratification ; nay, such an indulgence will and always should be sought to a certain extent, as a means of adPhilosophy of Conversation.
vancing our highest and best interests. The danger arises from indulgence for the sake of the indulgence itself, and from excess. Provide pleasant walks, roads, avenues, squares, commons, gardens, fountains, baths, &c., and you have done something towards directing the public mind to gratifications more elevating than some of those to which human nature is so prone, and towards which it sometimes seems to fly rather than to walk. Provide pleasant schools and school houses, with play grounds, and gardens, and fields, and lyceums, and cabinets, and collections in natural history, and you have done something more still. Adorn the whole with shade trees, and fruit trees, and fountains, and a thousand things which we have not time to name, and you make, at every step, some progress in the great work of human elevation. But would you do all in your power, in this respect, one thing more is necessary, which is to direct the current of juvenile thought and feeling, not merely by precept but by example, upwards towards the things which are better, rather than downwards to the things which are perishable. If parents and teachers, and even persons of distinction and influence, continue to converse as many now do, on things of no moment, or worse than none, and to take little interest in self-elevation or public improvement, it can scarcely be expected that the mere arrangement of external things will produce much effect. Talking of eating and drinking and other forms of self-indulgence, or of self-aggrandizement, and the current of juvenile thought will be impelled that way. But talk of improvement, as if your hearts were full on that subject, and your families catch the spirit, and rise as inevitably as in other circumstances they fall, or as the stone falls, impelled by the laws of attraction and gravitation.
But we must close our remarks, though we feel that we have. barely entered upon a field which is almost boundless, and upon a subject which seems to us almost inexhaustible. If, however, these hints and suggestions, for they cannot deserve a better name, shall lead to something of more importance, every thing is accomplished, for the present, which your Committee dared to hope. In behalf of the Committee.
Wm. A. Alcott, Chairman.
Want of Confidence in Chil Iren.
MODES OF ADDRESSING CHILDREN.
In addressing ourselves to children, both in speaking and writing, we are exceedingly apt to fall into error. We will endeavor to illustrate our meaning by a few examples.
1. We sometimes express a want of confidence in them. We say to them, Now I wish to have you attend to what I am going to tell you;' or, · You must attend ;' or, “I am going to tell you a story, but if you do not attend to it, I shall not tell you any more.'
Now children understand the meaning of such expressions. They perceive we are wanting in confidence in thein ; and that we take them to be predisposed to be inattentive ; and, by a law in our natures which leads us in such circumstances to respect ourselves less, and to become gradually what we are taken to be, they are less likely to give their attention than they were before we said any thing. If we have any thing to say to children, the simple and truly philosopic way, (and true philosophy is always simple) is to say it, without preface, preamble or apology. Or if a word or two is necessary, the more brief the better; as Look here, Charles ; or, I am going to tell you something; or, Now I will tell you a story. All that it wanted, at most, is to inform them what we are going to do. If the matter and manner of our discourse will not secure their interest, without endeavoring to fix their attention by solemn charges before we begin, we may be assured we shall not gain it at all. Or if gained by dint of mere authority, it will be only half gained; the heart will not be in it. And what pareni, standing, for the time, in the place of the Deity to the child, can endure, more than he, a divided heart?
2. We err in calling those whom we address, little children. Mr Jacob Abbot first reminded us of this fact. He said no child was apt to regard himself as little ; and hence when he was ad. dressed as such, the discourse did not produce the whole effect intended. And subsequent observation and experiments have fully confirmed the truth of his remarks. We have experimented on many young children ; and have uniformly found that though they were ready to admit they had once been little, they thought they were not so now. They had now, they thought, become quite large.
The mistake would be one of no great consequence, if it did not leave the child to regard our discourse as adapted to those who are younger than himself, rather than bim. Little boys, we say, perhaps, should hear more and say less ; now what is
this but a license to a child who thinks he is now quite large, to say more? Is it said that children are not such acute reasoners as this would seem to imply? Try it and see. Rather try the contrary course, and see how much, in due time, you will gain by it. We repeat it, no child ever realizes that he is now litule, any more than old men think themselves already old-a circumstance, as observation and reflection will teach all aged persons, sooner or later, is exceedingly seldom.- We also wish to add that the evil of calling a child little, is just about in proportion to the natural propriety of calling him so. The younger the child, the more desirable it is to avoid it; and the older he is, the less harm it will do. Jobn, the beloved apostle, calls those to whom he writes, little children; but they were at least, old enough to bear it.
3. Another error in addressing children, is that we take them to know too much. We speak now, however, of the knowledge of certain words. We are apt to suppose they understand de. finitions far better than they usually do ; and hence they often misunderstand us, and wholly misapprehend our meaning.
For example, a parent will say to his child, Well, John, I have been reading to day about the gymnotus or torpedo. What is a gymnotus? the son will perhaps say. Oh, says the father, it is an animal that when touched with the hand, or even with a stick, will make the arm feel numb. Thus he proceeds to describe some of the peculiarities of the animal as well as he can to the child ; and to do it, for the most part, in great simplicity, and with great care. And yet for want of a proper definition of the word animal—that single word—the child's impression may be more or less wrong. He may suppose it is an amphibious quadruped, never dreaming that it is a fish or an eel. Do you ask how this can happen?
The meaning which children attach to words, without great pains are taken with them, is often exceedingly vague and inadequate. Take the word tree. Now how many children are there who know whether a corn stalk, a wheat stalk, a grape vine, a cabbage, or a stalk of asparagus or clover or timothy, is or is not a tree? Take the word fruit. How many know whether a squash, a pumpkin, an ear of corn, a chestnut, an ear of wheat, a grape, a mustard seed, a turnip, an onion or a potato, is or is not a fruit?
So of a thousand other words, and especially the word animal. Half the adults of our community do not know the exact definition of this word. We have been asked, again and again, by adult persons, if a fish was an animal; and within the present year, a lady of forty, who had formerly been a teacher, asked 350
Error in Conversation.
in our hearing, if a lobster was animal food. In view of these facts, is it to be wondered at, that children fall into mistakes?
The difficulty had its origin in the errors of those who ought to have been their teachers. They do not make it a leading point to correct early mistakes, especially inadequate ideas of words. A child is early accustomed to a primer, perhaps, which has in it pictures of some of the more common domestic animals. These objects, there represented, he afterwards sees in the fields and elsewhere, and in both cases, hears them called animals. As he grows older, and reads of the lion, the tiger, &c., he hears them called animals, too. All the while, howerer, he seldom if ever hears a fish, or a bird, or a man, called an animal, at least, in any connection wbich is intelligible to him. He may, indeed, read something of the kind in a book, at ten, twelve or fifteen years of age; but books are all Latin, or what is no better, to him; and he still gets no distinct or adequate ideas of the meaning of the word animal. And thus the error clings to him till he comes into active life ; nay, sometimes even as long as he lives.
This may suffice for examples of the error of which we are now speaking. The way to correct it is to prevent it. But to prevent it, the work must be commenced in the family and carried out in the school. It is a grand point in the work of instruction. It were a far more tolerable evil for a child who was well instructed in regard to definitions to be without instruction in every thing else, than to be well versed in every thing else we mean apparently so, for it could not be real and yet be unpractised in the great work of defining.
Another error still, in talking to children, or in writing for them, consists in taking them to know too little. We are prone to extremes, and not less so in the education of children, whether by writing, conversation, or direct effort, than in other matters.
You will ask, perhaps, how it can be true that we both take children to know too much and too little. The thing is perfectly easy ; but whether easy or not, is certainly common.
It is most common in conversation with them, and frequently leads to a pronunciation which is highly injudicious. Thus the child, having become familiar with an associate who is a little older than himself, is at length to be told that he is his brother. But if so, why not use the plain word? Why contract it, by exchanging the softer sound of the th, for the sound, twice repeated, of the ugly mute b, and at the same time suppress the go? Why not, we repeat it, just say brother ? Or, if the child is not yet old enough, or if his vocal organs are not yet suffi