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= Vol. XXII. D. B. HAGAR, J. KNEELAND, G. B. PUTNAM, Editors. No. 1.
REFORM IN GRAMMAR SCHOOLS. — MANUALS OF IN
STRUCTION. — INSPECTION. - EXAMINATIONS. — 2.
This paper is in continuation of one having the same title, that appeared in tho November number of the Teacher. And that the connection may be preserved between the two, without putting the reader to the trouble of recurring to the former one, I will briefly recapitulate its leading points.
It began with a reference to the fact, that among the most stirring and interesting of the educational topics of the day, are those having relation to reforms in Grammar School instruction. The instrumentalities that have been suggested to inaugurate and perpetuate the needed reforms, were then spoken of, especially that of the adoption of detailed manuals or programmes of study, and these were declared to be of exceeding value, provided they be favored with right conditions for their effectual operation.
The nature of these conditions was then considered ; and, in that connection, the position was taken, that so irregular and arbitrary is the character of the inspection of our schools in general, — it being in the hands of school committees, whose material is constantly changing, and is too frequently selected without regard to fitness, for the responsible duties that are involved, — that it interposes a serious impediment to the faithful and successful use of such programmes. For, it was argued, our schools closely reflect in the character of their work the character of their inspection. Unless, therefore, the spirit and demands of the inspection be in accordance with the spirit and demands of the programme, the latter will surely be disregarded and fall into desuetude.
Attention was then directed to the examinations for admission to our High Schools, as being one of the most influential channels through which the character of the supervision of our schools operates upon the schools themselves. And it was asked: “How can the questions annually proposed as tests for candidates for the High Schools, be so selected and worded as to prove a source of healthful inspiration and guidance to our Grammar Schools ? "
I shall attempt a reply to this question in the remainder of this paper.
Enough has already been said in various quarters concerning the principle on which the sets of questions for admission to High Schools are usually constructed, and the pernicious influence that they correspondingly exert over the Grammar Schools. The whole matter may be set forth in a single sentence. They are constructed exclusively in relation to the contents of the text-books; and the result is, that the instruction in the upper classes in the Grammar Schools, which is toned, shaped and limited by what these sets of questions have been and are expected to be, becomes text-book, technical and memoriter accordingly; excluding very often all the juice and richness of education.
In instituting a new order of things in this regard, there are certain points which it is important to hold in view.
The first is, care should be taken that the sets of questions shall recognize and emphasize what are to be considered the true methods and fruits of Grammar School instruction. Instead of being confined to what is contained in the text-books, and consequently inciting the Grammar School teachers to slavish adherence to the text-books, they should be so made as plainly to demand a broader and ampler range of study and acquirement. And instead of containing some questions, as is usually the case, that refer to petty and useless exceptions or details in the various studies, thus enforcing the necessity of drilling upon the whole of the text-books so as to be prepared for whatever may be asked, — an awful alternative! — it should be understood in advance, that a great deal of the text-book matter will not be brought into the range of the examinations; and what is to be excepted should be explicitly set forth.
In the second place, the sets of questions should be so framed as to demand that the scholars in the Grammar Schools shall be taught to think in connection with their daily lessons. The degree to which, under the pressure of the present character of examinations for admission to High Schools, the scholars of many schools are absolved from any earnest, energetic exercise of mind, any sterling, vital thinking,- mere memoriter work satisfying all demand, — is truly deplorable. The time now devoted to the useless details of certain studies, if bestowed upon exercises that would throw the scholars upon their own mental powers and energies, — exercises for instance that would subject them to draw comparisons between the facts stated in the text-books, to make deductions from given premises, to supply defects of statement, rhetorical or otherwise, and to make original applications of rules and facts, would rouse to a remarkable readiness, spirit and power of action, minds that now, when the attempt is made occasionally to get them out of the ruts of mere text-book knowledge, seem to be plunged, paralyzed, into chaos.
Once more, the questions should be so shaped as to indicate what the school authorities hold to be the legitimate purpose and scope of each branch of the Grammar School studies.
Thus the questions in “ grammar" should prove as good as a treatise to demonstrate what is felt to be its advantages as a study, and consequently what scope should be given to it in preparation. But this vital topic will be more in place in connection with a specific discussion of the several customary classes of examination questions; and passing on to that discussion, I now proceed to consider in the first place,
THE LIST OF GRAMMAR QUESTIONS.— Grammar has hitherto been taught as though it were an end instead of being, as it is in the main, only a means to something else. Our text-books on the subject have defined English grammar to be “the art of speaking and writing the English language correctly.” This definition has