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In a word, the weakness on the part of the growing teachers does not lie in ignoring scientific principles nor in the lack of desire and effort to do the best for the child; it lies simply in the lack of the required knowledge and skill properly to apply recognized principles in teaching.
The rapid spread of professional enthusiasm among our teachers is certainly a hopeful indication; but we must guard against falling into the common error of mistaking it for professional strength. To entertain the belief, that enthusiasm coupled with an earnest desire to do the best for the child is all that can be desired in a teacher, is to arrest the growth of our schools at a very early stage of development. That additional elements are needed to place the instruction on a scientific basis I shall now endeavor to show.
In my opinion, the fundamental purposes in elementary teaching are two: First, to develop power—the power to observe, to reason, to do; and, secondly, to aid the child in storing in his mind a fund of useful knowledge. Other factors, however important they may be, are nevertheless merely incidental.
Of the old school of teaching it may be said, that the end and aim is the acquisition of knowledge; it appeals almost exclusively to the memory, and does but little toward the development of power. On the other hand, our most radical reformers are inclined to look lightly on the acquisition of knowledge, and to recognize as important only the development of power. Of course, on sober thought, we cannot fail to realize that both sides must receive due attention. The school that would turn out pupils with a mass of information but without the ability to think, and the school that would send into the world pupils able to reason yet absolutely ignorant of facts, would present equally sorry spectacles. While the broader aim is fully recognized by our progressive teachers, it nevertheless so happens, in the vast majority of instances, that, for lack of sufficient professional knowledge and skill, they fail to carry their theories into practice that in spite of their severe condemnation of the memory system they themselves are slaves to it.
That the mode of teaching in vogue in our progressive as well as in our non-progressive schools is destined to cultivate the memory rather than the power to reason, is proved alone by the fact, that, in the subjects particularly adapted to appeal to the reasoning faculties,—the so-called thought studies,—the pupil is required to obtain his ideas by reading the text-book in advance of the recitation. If it be the teacher's aim to lead the child to think, it is necessary for her to apply the principle, that the child must be told nothing that he is able to find out for himself. To compel the child to study the lesson from the text-book in advance of the recitation, is to violate this principle in toto; because, by this means, he is directly told by the text-book every point that he might be able to reason out for himself. In order properly to apply the principle it is necessary to bring the new matter before the pupil for the first time during the recitation period. It is then, and then only, that the teacher is enabled, by means of skillful questioning, to lead the child to find out for himself whatever it is possible for him to discover. Facts that the child is unable to discover must be told to him by the teacher. Simply to hear children recite lessons that they have committed to memory is a very easy matter, and requires no expert knowledge and skill; but, by means of questions, to lead the child to think, involves both science and art.
Moreover, it is not only in regard to power but also from the standpoint of knowledge that the ordinary use of the text-book renders impossible the application of the principles of scientific teaching. In regard to knowledge, it is recognized by the new school tbat more is required than to lead the child to store in his mind a chaotic mass of cut-and-dried facts. This, indeed, is regarded as the bane of the memory system. The aim of the progressive teachers is, to aid the pupil in building, so to say, a solid and permanent mental structure, consisting of fundamental ideas, based upon concrete facts, which themselves shall ever remain fresh and active, forming a fund of ready knowledge. In short, what they desire to secure is, not dead knowledge, but knowledge which, in itself, is stimulating—which will create a many-sided interest in the affairs of life, and which will lead to activity when the schooldays are over.
To construct a mental fabric of this nature, it is necessary to bring the ideas to the notice of the pupil in a psychological order. It is only when we progress slowly and systematically, from the known to the unknown, and from the concrete to the abstract, that the facts may be properly welded together, and lead to the formation of clear fundamental ideas.
To employ the ordinary text-book method means a failure to apply these principles, for two reasons: First, in the text-book the facts are not arranged in a psychological order, but merely in a logical one. Second, in the text-book the facts are presented in too rapid succession. We frequently find on a single page of a textbook sufficient mental food for many lessons. The average child is able to commit to memory a very large number of facts in a comparatively short time, and thus aid the teacher in covering ground. But facts committed to memory in rapid succession serve no permanent purpose because they are not digested, and consequently do not become an organic part of the individual. They serve to carry the pupil through a recitation or an examination; but, when this temporary end has been realized, they lose their vitality, and are soon lost in oblivion.
In order that the mind of the child may be properly led from the known to the unknown, and from the concrete to the abstract, the teacher herself is obliged to take an active part in the work. Owing to a lack of psychological arrangement and the crowding of facts in the text-book, it is necessary for the teacher to digest the ideas that she wishes her pupils to obtain, and to make such plans for the recitation as will enable her to bring these ideas before the class with sufficient deliberation and in a psychological order of succes. sion. It is only under these circumstances that the recitations will extend beyond the sphere of lesson-hearing and partake of the nature of actual instruction.
In our schools it is rare to find recitations that may be regarded in the light of instruction. In the thought studies, where scientific teaching is particularly required, the mechanical teachers attempt to do little, if anything, beyond hearing the pupils recite their lessons, either in the words of the book or in their own words. The progressive teachers, in addition to hearing the pupils recite what they have studied from the text-book, will take pains to explain obscure matters; to elaborate, and, when possible, to illustrate points by means of pictures, charts, and apparatus of various kinds. But it is clear, that, even in the latter instance, the recitations are based on lessons studied in advance from the text-book, so that they still must be regarded as lesson-hearing, though in a modified form. True instruction will not be obtained until the text-book is substituted by the teacher, as it is only then that the principles of teaching can be properly applied. To suggest the removal of the textbook without recommending anything in its stead, might justly be regarded as destructive criticism; but surely no one can construe my remarks in this light when I offer as a substitute the teacher herself.
Of course, merely to discard the text-book does not in itself suffice to render the instruction scientific; it simply constitutes the first essential step toward placing the teaching on a scientific foundation. Indeed, the early attempts to teach without a text-book are necessarily exceedingly feeble. The music of the hand-organ is immeasurably superior to that produced by one in his first efforts on the piano; yet one who would become a performer is obliged to pass through this infantile stage. To reach any degree of proficiency in scientific teaching is difficult, and involves years of study and practice. If we, as Americans, should feel unequal to the task, it will be better to retain the text-book. But, if we believe that we are able to do what our German colleagues have long since accomplished, then there is nothing to be gained by waiting. There is a constant complaint on the part of our teachers that the profession is not properly appreciated in our country. In my opinion, it will not be until it is made worthy of appreciation. As long as the American standard remains so low that a graduate of a district school, without further preparation, is eligible to become a member of the profession, a license to teach cannot command any special respect. In Germany the word teacher stands for something; in our own country it stands for nothing.
The argument concerning the text-book method applies, of course, to the thought rather than the formal side of education. Where there is no thought content, as in the mechanism of reading, writing, arithmetic, drawing, and music, the text-book question scarcely comes into play. In those studies, which necessarily involve an enormous amount of repetition of identical facts and processes, a fair degree of proficiency may be obtained by the ordinary mechan. ical teacher. A child that reads and adds every day of his school. life cannot help learning to read and add, provided his mental condition be normal. In the formal lines, much can be done to improve the results simply by a skillful application of modern methods and devices, even when the principles of scientific teaching are not strictly observed. And in these lines, some of our teachers are doing admirable work.
It is in the subjects involved in building up the thought content of the mind that the teacher finds the golden opportunity to carry her ideals into practice. It is from the ideas presented in them that the child secures that fund of knowledge which will exert a strong influence in determining his ideals and interests in life. The most prominent among these studies are geography, history, and the natural sciences. While, in the old school, the time devoted to these studies is small as compared with that given to the formal ones, in the growing school the tendency is to bring the thought studies more and more to the foreground. Indeed, in our most progressive schools there is an effort on the part of our teachers to center all the school work around them, and to teach the formal studies, which are simply modes of expression, in large part, incidentally.
The fact that the thought studies are destined to come ever more into prominence, renders doubly urgent the necessity for teaching them in a way that will do most toward the development of the faculties-moral as well as intellectual. It is admitted by perhaps all our educators, that, of the standard subjects in the curriculum, geography and history are the most poorly taught. In my opinion, they will not be taught satisfactorily until the text-book method is abandoned and the principles of teaching are properly applied.
As to the natural sciences, it may be said, that, in some of our schools, the work is conducted on scientific principles. But, taken all in all, there has been, thus far, very little science teaching in our country. Most superintendents have hesitated to introduce this line of work, on the ground that the teachers are not prepared to care for it properly. Those that have held sway longest are perhaps physics and physiology; and these, in all but individual instances, are still taught by the text-book method.
In spite of their bar to scientific teaching, there has been strong opposition to the removal of the text-books, and particularly for two reasons: First, it is claimed, that, if the text-book should be abolished, the child would not acquire the ability to use books; second, that the removal of the text-book would cause the teacher to do the work for the pupil, so that the child's mind would be no longer properly disciplined. Both these objections, in my opinion, are entirely unfounded.
First, the fundamental purpose of education does not lie in teaching the child how to use books; this is simply an important incident, which it is well for the teacher to bear in mind. Again, to study a lesson from the text-book does not teach the child how to use books; it simply leads him to perform a task, either to please his teacher or to avoid punishment. To know how to use books is to understand how to look up sources of information, and this ability cannot be acquired by committing to memory the words of the textbook. By directing the pupils to write compositions, and by frequently calling for debates, in each instance suggesting lists of works to be used for reference, more can be done in a few exercises than can be accomplished by years of lesson study. Further, the ideal does not lie simply in teaching the child how to use books; it lies rather in developing a love for them, and, consequently, the desire to seek them. Under proper instruction, the pupil' will become so much interested in his subject that he will, on his own account, go to books for further information. In my opinion, there is nothing that so much tends to destroy the love for them as the drudgery involved in committing lessons to memory. For many a child the happiest day of his life is the day on which he hands in his books. Last, to abolish the text-book does not by any means imply to discard the use of books; in certain subjects, they will always be required.
Second, when the teacher takes the place of the text-book, the child is by no means relieved of a task; on the contrary, in a recitation conducted on scientific principles the child is obliged to perform intellectual labor more severe in character, though less dull and mechanical, than when he commits the contents of the text