Imágenes de páginas


Devoted to the Science, Art, Philosophy and Literature

of Education.

Vol. XXIV.


No. I.

Classification in Elementary School



T is well known that there are no classifications in

nature. To classify is only to group things according to some resemblance, but after one is made, the possibility of other conflicting classifica

tions of the same objects is as great as our power to perceive or think of resemblances between them. Any classification derives its worth and permanence from the need which created it and from the measure in which it fills the need. Just because the value of classifications is purely relative to their purposes, whenever a classification of elementary school studies is proposed it is in order to ask what the purpose was for which it was made. For example, a classification of elementary school studies may show that a course of study contains representatives of all the important types of human learning. It is valuable as showing precisely that fact. Whether it also fills the pedagogical need of the teacher in his relation to his pupils, in his task of developing in them that knowledge and skill and character, is a different question, which could be answered only by considering that side of the teacher's vocation.

The well-known division into content and form studies has, I believe, sprung from this pedagogical need. The following is a form of it. As will soon appear, it is based on the two factors found in any purpose, ends and means.






Nature Study.




Folding and Cutting.



Cooking. It was said that the classification is based on the nature of teleological action as involving ends and means. What in social life we call ends are content studies in the subject-matter of education. It is true ends never present themselves to us as abstract content, but always as something connected with persons. But the content studies are only the records of others' intentions and attainments with the personal or teleological aspect abstracted in the case of the sciences. Even here it is present when we use the facts of science in practical life. And we may safely say that, except perhaps with a few specialists, the orthographer and the grammarian, it is always in terms of the content studies, these five or others, of course in their teleological form, or of similar first-hand observations of our own whose teleological character has never yet been abstracted, that our blind impulses become clearly defined ends.

On the other hand, spelling and grammar, with the same exceptions, never were and never become to us ends, but are always means, just as a knowledge of gestures, or telegraphy, or musical notation is means. They are sciences of the vehicles of communication. In spelling and grammar it is necessary to bear in mind the meaning of the words, but in these sciences we are not interested so much in what the meaning is as in how it is denoted; i. e., in the equivalenting of symbols and mean

ing. Similarly the ability to read, sing or write, viewed apart from the content, is not an end but a habit useful in realizing purposes, hence a means.

The distinction between content and symbol studies on the one hand and modes of expression on the other, is based upon a difference in our social attitudes—receptive and expressive which is carried over into the subject matter of education. If the classification given is sound, theoretically, any mode may be used to express any content or any fact about symbols, although it is true certain modes have become recognized as the ones best fitted to express certain kinds of facts; e. g., writing for the facts of history. But we also frequently express historical facts by paintings, statuary, tapestries, etc.

Thus, interpreted in the light of social life the content studies occupy theoretically a determining position as ends, the symbol studies and the modes of expression being subordinated to them as means, but not less important on that account. This does not mean that the content studies never were also means in social life and never become means. Knowledge of the relative hardness of metals enables one to select a suitable drill, which, however, plays the role of means in drilling a hole. But that is not the point. The point is that, so far as the subject-matter is involved, our impulses become clearly defined ends in terms of the content studies, and not in terms of the symbol studies and modes of expression.

In the public school systems of many of our large cities, the symbol studies and the modes of expression are, on the whole, unconnected with the content studies. They also are taught as ends, the ends being to acquire a knowledge of the verbal signs and a facility in the use of the signs, materials, and tools. That they are partly turned to account in the content studies does not alter the fact that they are also taught as ends. In the following pages it is proposed to consider the chief effects of this arrangement upon the symbol studies and the modes of expression. Four of them will be considered : reading, writing, spelling, and grammar. I shall try to show that the effect of pursuing these as separate branches is to make them primarily studies of forms, the content being miscellaneous and,

[ocr errors]

except in the case of reading, having no other value than to illustrate the forms. The conditions described are intended to refer only to the public school systems of our large cities, and to only some of them, but the number is not small.

Of the symbol studies and modes of expression, reading contains the most content. Not more than twenty years ago it was the custom to use only one reader a year. The same selections were read repeatedly for technique, and the content was gradually lost sight of to a considerable extent. Since then the introduction of supplementary reading in large amounts and the change to reading any selection only once or twice has resulted in keeping content uppermost. Drill in the technique

. of reading still has a place, but it is taught with abundant, interesting, and on the whole valuable, but still somewhat miscellaneous, content.

In writing or penmanship we have an example of the other extreme. There is practically no connected content in it. The efforts of teacher and pupil are directed wholly to getting correct position of the body, correct movement of the hand and arm, and correctly shaped letters. The advocates of penmanship as a separate study would not defend it on the ground that it offers sufficient content. They would advocate emphasis on form, even to the exclusion of connected content, as the best method of teaching writing, although they are not consistent, for they will not take the same position with regard to reading, and only a few will do so to-day with regard to drawing.

In spelling taught as a separate study the customary method has been equally direct, relying simply upon repetition of the letters and sounds until memorization has been obtained. In the three or four lower grades the words are selected either from the reading lessons alone, or from the various content studies and grammar. In the former case, when the spelling lesson immediately follows the reading of the text from which the words are taken, and the order of the context is retained, the spelling lesson is likely to have a coherent context. Spelling is then subordinate to reading. In the latter case, where the words are selected from various studies, it becomes impracticable to keep up the connection with the original text or oral

[ocr errors]


« AnteriorContinuar »