תמונות בעמוד
PDF
ePub

a

the course of conduct. The powers of re-collection, comparison, reflection, and volition, are attributes essentially human; or, at least, are possessed by men in common with higher intelligences alone.

The powers of sensation, ideation, and spontaneous remembrance, are possessed also by the lower animals; and are sufficient to explain all the particulars of their conduct.

It is manifest, therefore, that the education of a child may be conducted, in the direction, and to the extent, in which it is possible to educate a horse, a dog, or an elephant, without necessarily trenching upon, or at all arousing, any faculty that is distinctly human in its nature. The child, moreover, possesses an endowment, of a purely sensational or animal kind, in which brutes are deficient : namely, the power (subsidiary to the gift of language) to remember a great number of sounds, and to imitate them with facility; so that, just to the extent of this power, the sensational educability of the human race exceeds that of the lower animals.

It should be remembered, moreover, that the functional activity of the sensorial tract of the encephalon is an absolute necessity of animal existence ; and that, in men and brutes alike, it is provided for by an energetic tendency to spontaneous development under the influence of its appropriate excitants. In what may be termed the natural life, a blind submission to the promptings of sensations, present or remembered, would, in all ordinary cases, supply the wants, or gratify the passions of man. It is only in life modified by human aggregation that these promptings require to be controlled by an exercise of will, guided by a prior exercise of judgment; and therefore, while Divine Providence has endowed the human race with sensational faculties that are called into vigorous action by daily wants, or by physical impressions from without, we may observe that the higher powers of the mind, in a great majority of instances, cannot be matured excepting by assiduous cultivation.

In this respect, however, there is probably a considerable original diversity between individuals; and we are much inclined to think that herein consists the chief cause of gradations of ability among persons who neither greatly surpass an average standard, nor fall greatly short of it. Observation teaches that it is far more easy in some children than in others to carry instruction beyond the sense-perceptions, and to call the intellect into activity ; but it teaches also that the supposed difficulty often arises from an improper selection or application of the means employed, and is simply a failure to open a lock with a wrong key. The apparently dull child not unfrequently receives the necessary stimulus from a trivial circumstance, from a conversation, a book, or a pursuit, and may grow into a gifted man; while a parallel transformation may be accomplished, much later in life, under the influence of some new opportunity for action. It is possible that, in minds of the highest order, the intellectual faculties may possess the character of spontaneity which is commonly limited to the sensorial tract; but, in all ordinary cases, these faculties require to be excited in the pupil by their presence, and their activity, in the teacher.

The sensational and intellectual functions of the human brain are not only distinct, but also, in some degree, antagonistic, through the application of the ordinary law of nutrition to their respective organs. The portions of the encephalon that are most employed will receive the largest supply of blood, and will be the seats of the most vigorous cell-growth, precisely as the same rule will apply to the development of muscle; while on the other hand, a certain duration of disuse, or of restricted use, will occasion atrophic changes, and will be followed by that functional impairment which is a natural result of structural degeneration. It follows that men of the highest intellectual activity are often somewhat inattentive to impressions made upon their senses; and also that great sensational acuteness is often purchased at the cost of some torpor, as regards the operations of the judgment.

Upon testing the educational customs of the present day by even the most elementary principles of psychology, it becomes apparent that a very large number of children receive precisely the kind of training which has been bestowed upon a learned pig. There are scarcely any schoolmasters who have in the least degree studied the operations or the development of the mind (indeed it is only within a very few years that this study has borne any fruit of great practical utility); and those who have not done so cannot realize the existence of a kind of learning which is sensational alone. Indeed, it is more in accordance with ordinary preconceptions to refer brute actions to a process of reasoning, than to consider that any human actions are automatic. The truth is, however, that the first impressions made upon the consciousness of a child have a strong natural tendency to expend themselves through the sensorium; and usually do so, unless directed higher by the manner in which they are produced or maintained. For the purpose of such direction, time is an element of the first importance ; and the idea which would be grasped by the intelligence after a certain period of undisturbed attention, will excite the sensational faculties alone, if that attention be diverted by the premature intrusion of something else that solicits notice. And while, in almost every child, the power of intelligent attention may be aroused by care, and perfected by perseverance, the natural inclination is towards a rapid succession

of thoughts, variously associated, and remembered in their order without being understood. The faculty of comprehension, like all others, is a source of pleasure to the possessor, even in the first feeble attempts to bring it into exercise; and hence, as well as from the impulse given to nutrition, when once a habit of endeavouring to comprehend has been formed, although in very young children, it is not readily relinquished; but, on the contrary, is applied to the most unpromising materials.

In schools, however, under the stern pressure of the popular demand for knowledge, it is an extremely common practice to accumulate new impressions with greater rapidity than they can be received, even by children who have enjoyed the inestimable advantage of early domestic training towards the right employment of their higher faculties. The work laid down can often only be accomplished by means of the promptitude that is a chief characteristic of instinctive action. The child who uses his sensorium to master the sounds of his task, uses an instrument perfected for him by the Great Artificer. The child who uses his intelligence must perfect the instrument for himself, must grope in the dark, must puzzle, must catch at stray gleams of light, before his mind can embrace the whole of any but the simplest question. The former brings out his result, such as it is, immediately; the latter by slow degrees, often first giving utterance to the steps by which he is reaching it. The former is commonly thought quick and clever; the latter slow and stupid : and the educational treatment of each is based upon this assumption, widely as it is often at variance with the facts. The child whose tendency is to sensational activity should be held back; and be made to master the meaning of everything he is allowed to learn. He is usually encouraged to remember sounds, is pushed forward, is crammed with words to the exclusion of knowledge, is taught to consider himself a prodigy of youthful talent. The child who tries to understand his lessons should be encouraged, praised, supplied with food for thought of a kind suited to his capacity, and aided by a helping hand over the chief difficulties in his path. He is usually snubbed as a dunce, punished for his slowness, forced into sensational learning as his only escape from disgrace. The master, in many cases, has little option in the matter. Children are expected to know more than they have time to learn ; parents and examiners must have show and surface, things only to be purchased at the expense of solidity and strength. A discreet teacher may often feel sympathy with the difficulties of a pupil; but the half hour allotted to the class is passing away, the next subject is treading upon the heels of the present one, the child must complete his task like the rest, and so a budding intellect may be sacrificed to the demands of custom.

Among the children of the educated classes the circumstances of domestic life usually afford to the intelligence an amount of stimulus which, if not of the best possible kind, is at least suffi. cient to compensate, in some degree, for the sensational work of school. The easy nursery lessons of the pre-scholastic age, the story-books of childhood, the talk of parents and friends, all furnish food for leisurely reflection, all serve to suggest those strange questions that are one chief evidence of thoughtfulness in the young. Minds thus prepared may often flourish, in spite of subsequent excessive teaching; and by forgetting nine-tenths of what has been learned, may find it possible to understand the rest.

In what are called “ Elementary schools,” however, those aided by the nation for the instruction of the children of the poor, we do not find this accidental provision agninst the paralysing effects of the prescribed routine, For the most part, the children have grown up like wild animals, excepting for the advantage of an occasional beating ; and their nervous centres have received few impressions unconnected with the simplest wants of existence. Coincidently with an entire absence of intellectual cultivation, they usually display a degree of sensational acuteness not often found in the nurseries of the wealthy; and arising from that habitual shifting for themselves in small matters which is forced

upon them by the absence of the tender and refined affection that loves to anticipate the wants of infancy. They go to school for a brief period; and the master strives to cram them with as much knowledge as possible. They learn easily,-but they learn only sounds; and seldom know that it is possible to learn anything more. In many cottages there are children who, as they phrase it, “repeat a piece" at the half-yearly examination. We say, from frequent experiments, that they will learn for this purpose a passage in any foreign language as easily as in English ; or that they will learn an English paragraph backwards way, if told to do so; and that, in neither case, will any curiosity be excited about the meaning of the composition. In ordinary practice, the master explains what they repeat, saying, this means so and so; and the pupils have sufficient sensational acuteness to remember the sounds he utters, and to reproduce them when called upon. They do not usually understand what “meaning" is. An urchin may be able to say correctly that a word pointed out to him is an adverb or a pronoun, may proceed to give a definition of either, and examples of instances of its occurrence, and may produce an impression that he understands all this, when the truth is that he has only learned to make certain noises in a particular order, and when he is unable to say anything intelligible about the matter in language of his own. Or he may re

. peat the multiplication table, and even work by it, saying that seven times eight are fifty-six, without knowing what fifty-six is, or what seven times eight means. He knows all about seven or eight, not from schooling, but from the lessons of life, from having had seven nuts or eight marbles; but of the fifty-six, which is beyond his experience, he knows nothing. The nature of the mental operations of such children is perhaps as little known, to the teacher, to the vicar of the parish, or the kind ladies who take an interest in the school, as the nature of the mental operations of the inhabitants of Saturn. The adults distinctly understand a thing which they feel to be very easy, and do not know that any children can talk about it correctly without attaching an idea to their words. They often think the teaching satisfactory which enables the pupil to explain things in set phrases. They do not realize the possibility that the explanation may be as little understood as the statement which it explains—that it may be like the tortoise in the Hindoo myth, which supports the elephant, but which, requiring support itself, only removes the difficulty by a single step-that it may be a second unknown quantity balancing the first in the equation x = y. Such, however, instead of bare possibilities, are too frequently actual results.

The best recorded illustration of such sensational learning is given by the Rev. Mr. Brookfield, H.M.'s Inspector, in his official report for 1855-6. Mr. Brookfield called upon two children, aged about eleven years, “who did their arithmetic and reading tolerably well, who wrote something pretty legible, intelligible, and sensible about an omnibus and about a steam-boat,” to write down the answers of the Church catechism to two questions. It must be observed that they had been accustomed to repeat the Catechism during half an hour of each day, in day-school and Sunday-school, for four or five years, and the following is what they wrote:

“My duty toads God is to bleed in him to fering and to loaf withold your arts withold my mine withold my sold and with my sernth to whirchp and to give thinks to put my old trast in him to call upon him to onner his old name and his world and to save him truly all the days of my lifes end.

Again

“My dooty tords my Nabers to love him as thyself and to do to all men as I wed thou shall do and to me to love onner and suke my farther and mother to onner and to bay the queen and all that are pet in a forty under her to smit myself to all my gooness teaches sportial pastures and marsters to oughten mysilf lordly and every to all my betters to hut nobody by would nor deed to be trew in jest in all my deelins to beer no malis nor ated in your arts to kep my ands from

« הקודםהמשך »