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LECTURE ON THE ADVANTAGES AND DEFECTS OF
THE MONITORIAL SYSTEM, WITH SOME SUGGESTIONS, SHOWING IN WHAT PARTICULARS IT MAY BE SAFELY ADOPTED INTO OUR SCHOOLS.
BY HENRY K. OLIVER,
OF SALEM, MASS.
[ Delivered before the American Institute of Instruction,
“ Δοη πε στω και την γην καθησω.
'Give me a place whereon I may stand, and I will raise the world,' said the mighty prince of ancient mathematicians, as the great truths of mechanical science flashed across his mind. In later days, and from a land where learning once held imperial sway, though now, over her widely extended plains ignorance and barbarism are brooding in deepest intellectual midnight, there has been heard a voice, bearing to us, my friends, who are actively engaged in the great business of education, and to all who feel a proper interest in its promotion, sounds of the deepest import. “Give me a handful of pupils to-day, and I will give you as many teachers to-morrow as you want. This was a saying very frequently used by the celebrated Dr. Bell, the well-known founder of the Madras, or Monitorial System of Instruction. The verification of an assertion like this would evince in him who should so make it good the possession of even greater power than Archimedes
would have displayed had he found a place whence he might have shaken the world from her deep and strongly laid foundations. For he who should with such rapidity create the means whereby to accomplish so noble an end, would possess himself of a host of intellectual levers (if I may be allowed the use of such an expression), which should exert an influence to move the world which not all the strivings of folly and of prejudice would be able to withstand. The cry that the schoolmaster is abroad' would have been uttered long before it fell from the lips of Brougham, and the wide plains which the siroc blast of ignorance had scorched and withered into a wilderness and a desert place would have blossomed like the rose, and been strewed with the rich and life-giving fruits of the tree of heaven-born science. But unfortunately for so fair a speculation, and “a consummation so devoutly to be wished,' we fear that the inefficiency of the means and the feebleness of the levers will render many of the efforts to mov the world of ignorance almost, if not entirely, futile.
It has fallen to my lot, my respected friends, to address you upon the advantages and defects of the monitorial system of instruction, and to endeavour to show how far it may be safely adopted into our schools.
I shall take up the subject in the order here laid down, and shall give you the results of my own observation and study, referring you neither to individuals nor to books, for corroboration of any assertions which may be made. I am induced to take this course, because I have thought, that when a subject like the present is pro posed, in the particular manner which the phraseology of ours seems to indicate, it is as frequently expected that the writer should advance his own opinions, as tha he should collate and publish those of other people. There is this advantage attendant upon
the former course of procedure, that the opinions advanced will be received as the opinions of a single individual, and so far only entitled to consideration ; while, if the latter be pursued, the magic of great names and of high-sounding authorities may be apt to exert a controlling influence, and sometimes even an illimitable sway over many minds, and to compel them to yield that assent, and perhaps that entire submission, which they would never concede to individual assertion.
The latter course may restrain, and even effectually check, our own freedom of opinion, while the former leaves it to act unbound and unembarrassed. Permit me to importune your candid hearing and judgment, and allow me to express my regrets that the subject has not fallen to the disposal of abler and more experienced hands.
The advantages which the monitorial system of instruction possesses over the ordinary method are the following:
1. It provides, by the same means, and within the same amount of time, for the tuition of a ar
eater number of pupils.
2. In consequence of such a provision, there results a very considerable economy of time.
3. In a school where this system is adopted, every individual is kept in constant employment.
4. A fourth advantage, and one resulting from the preceding, is, that by this method the disrelish and irksomeness on the part of scholars to school employments are lessened in no inconsiderable measure.
5. The monitorial system of instruction removes from the teacher much of the wearisome tediousness conse
quent upon long-continued efforts in teaching the ordinary and more mechanical branches of learning, and enables him to introduce his pupils, or at least some portion of them, to more advanced and important studies than he would be able to do if his attention and services were constantly required for the instruction of each individual pupil.
These five points, it is believed, are the principal ones upon which the advocates for the system of mutual instruction found their claims for the preference. Some of them are of the greatest importance, and are fairly entitled to the highest consideration.
We shall proceed to speak of each of them more particularly.
1. The monitorial systein, by the same means, and within the same amount of time, provides for the tuition of a far greater number of pupils than are taught by the ordinary method.
It has been found that by the use of monitors, or assistant teachers in miniature, one principal instructor may conduct the studies of two hundred and fifty or three hundred boys, thus performing the duties of at least five teachers. In many places, particularly in crowded cities and in extensive inanufacturing districts, such an advantage is of incalculable importance. The amount of time usually allotted to children in such situations for obtaining some acquaintance with the simpler elements of knowledge is extremely limited, and this small portion ought to be most constantly occupied and sedulously improved. In such cases, the system under consideration, as it affords the means of obtaining the greater amount of instruction in the smaller portion of time, though that instruction is, from the nature of the
case, quite superficial, possesses unquestionable claims for the preference. This application of the system, and this alone, it is believed, was that contemplated by the originator or originators of it. At any rate, it is certainly the case that it was originally applied to the children of the lower classes in crowded cities for the laudable purpose of affording them what they had never before been blessed with, some small portion of instruc. tion; which instruction, from the peculiar exigency of the case, was necessarily imparted with a prudent economy both of time and of money. Where but little instruction, therefore, can be communicated, and that little, sparing as it is, must be given in an extremely limited portion of time, we know of no better method of procedure than that of adopting the system under consideration,
2. The method of mutual instruction insures no inconsiderable economy of time.
In a school of one hundred and fifty members, taught by the customary method, the actual amount of time during which each scholar is entitled to the personal attention of his teacher, is precisely two minutes and two-fifths. Were there two instructors, he would be entitled to the double of this portion. Now let us suppose the school to be conducted on the monitorial system, and that there is employed one instructor, who has under him two divisions of monitors, each consisting of twenty persons. We will suppose the instructor to be constantly occupied with these two divisions in alternate order, and that the division not under immediate instruction is employed in the tuition of subdivisions of pupils. The twenty individuals around the teacher will receive, in the course of the customary six hours of daily