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memorizing the choicest pages of the best authors, which would have had a lasting influence in forming correct literary tastes, as well as in storing the mind with healthful sentiments, to be recalled always with delight.
It seems to us a sad abuse of time to require children to learn such facts as the date of election, term of service, and the state in which each of the Presidents and Vice-Presidents of the United States was born, and the details of every unimportant battle or skirmish in the Colonial, French, and Indian wars. Let them but spend the same amount of time in reading such works as Irving's "Life of Washington," Scott's "Tales of a Grandfather," and Macaulay's "History of England," and they will obtain not only more valuable information, but, what is vastly more important, they will be acquiring a taste for good reading and a love for history which will be of inestimable value to them in after life. Besides, they will learn to use better English from constant use of such models than by studying technical grammar and poring over innumerable examples of true and false syntax.
The child should have only the best set before him, for otherwise he is more liable to copy the imperfect, or to become confused between the true and the false, than to be guided aright.
But to arithmetic we must look for the greatest misappropriation of time. In the country school it consumes about three-fourths of all the time. It is common to find young men who can solve every one of the thousand puzzles in the bulky arithmetics, but cannot write a common letter without making half a dozen
mistakes in grammar and spelling. The pupils in the Grammar Schools must spend years over the long and tedious examples in compound fractions, compound numbers, compound proportion, profit and loss, partnership, alligation, involution, square and cube roots, geometrical progression, permutations, annuities, and what not, though they have not time to read a single play of Shakespeare or a volume of history or other standard literature.
Much valuable time is wasted by reversing the true order of studies, and giving so much attention to exhibitions, examinations, and methods.
The child with a little knowledge and a good memory may make a far better showing than the one who knows a great deal more of the subject. Memory commands a premium; intelligence is at a discount.
All real progress must be unconscious, and the instant the pupil turns his thoughts to what he is doing and how he is doing it, he not only ceases to learn, but has put the greatest bar to his future progress, by emphasizing his self-consciousness and egotism. As Dr. Stanley Hall truly says, such teaching is like the farmer's tearing up his beans from the earth every day, to observe the manner and progress of growth.
The first lesson we would give would be the reverse of all this. We would never for a moment allow any study with any other idea than simply understanding the subject without thought of answering any questions on it. We would try to get the pupil to forget everything, except his lesson, and utterly to lose himself
It is not natural for young children to confine their
attention very closely or very long to one thing. There is so much to learn, so many novel things, that they must give some time to each. One should not attempt to control too early in life this natural tendency to change; but, as soon as children begin to use books, they should be taught the value of giving their undivided attention to the lesson in hand, at short intervals at first, lengthening the time gradually so as not to tire. We would impress upon them the wickedness of playing study, giving a listless, partial attention, and allowing their minds frequently to wander to other subjects. This want of concentration of effort is the greatest possible obstacle to advancement in learning, — a fault most common to pupils, and, strange to say, one to which but few teachers give any attention.
It is necessary for children to read a great deal, to acquire that facility of expression which will enable them to perform the merely mechanical operation of reading without conscious effort. The mind should be entirely free to concentrate itself on the subject-matter. Now, since it is not natural for them to apply themselves closely enough and long enough to accomplish this work, we should aid them by supplying an abun dance of interesting material. It is not, therefore, of so much importance, at this stage of the child's education, that the highest moral truths be presented, as that the matter be of such intense interest as to catch and hold the whole attention of the pupil. The highest moral law he should now know is to learn the command of words, and the most effective use of his faculties. Care should be taken that his English should be simple and forcible, and nothing harmful in ethics should be allowed.
It is a waste of time to try to teach morals, in his reading lesson, to a child who has to spell out his words; and almost as bad to try to teach geography, grammar, arithmetic, and the other subjects. Words are to him. as tools to the mechanic. Until he has learned to use them effectively, he should not be put to serious work, where his attention is distracted from his first duty,the perfecting himself in his trade, the command of words. If a large portion of the time now given to spelling out words, in geography, arithmetic, grammar, and stupid scrap reading-lessons, were devoted at first to reading only, our children would not only become much better scholars in these various branches, but read more literature in the Grammar Schools than the college student now gets before graduating; besides, they would acquire a literary taste and a love for good reading, of inestimable value to them in their future life, which will never be so busy but that they will find the time for a few moments' gratification of it. People are ignorant, not so much because of being overworked, as from want of a love for good reading. Give the children a chance, a glimpse into the great storehouses of knowledge in books, wherein they may commune with the greatest minds at their best.
After the child has learned to read with ease simple stories from all sources, the course should assume more definite form, including the standard works of fiction, history, biography, natural history, etc., all well graded, keeping constantly in mind these three points: interest, moral power, and style; selecting those only which embody these all in the greatest degree.
It is of the greatest importance to develop a love for
history in early life, as no one can be well read without a fair knowledge of the past. In fact, one must know a people in order to understand their literature. Some of the best thoughts of a writer, depending upon allusions to historical persons or events, are entirely lost to the reader not familiar with history. Nor is this the only reason of its value. The tracing of great events unfolds the mind. We suffer and enjoy with the struggling mortals of the past, and, as it were, pass through their very experiences, and are able to reap their rewards while we avoid their mistakes. One who really loves history will find time to read it, but none for cheap novels. Leading epochs should be selected. from the great historians, adding such information as may be necessary for a complete understanding of the extracts. The historical novel and biography are especially well calculated to create a love for history, and the whole course should be so graded that biography, natural history, novels, travels, history, and the various departments of literature should be made mutually helpful and dependent, covering the same periods and illustrating one another.
This work cannot be left to the High School, for we find, on a careful examination of the reports from several of our largest cities, where the schools have attained their greatest perfection, that only one in twenty-five of the whole number of pupils ever reaches that grade.
Besides, only a very limited portion of time is now given to this work in our higher institutions of learning, and there is a prospect of less in the near future. The bread-and-butter theory of education, appealing directly to the needs of the great majority of the people, has