תמונות בעמוד
PDF
ePub

pueritiæ formatores."* Erasmus thus described the pedagogues of his age, as he knew them to be. The theory of the abstract utility of flogging had been tried upon him by a master with whom he was a favorite, who had conceived just hopes of his promising abilities and disposition, and yet thought proper to flog him; for no other reason than to see how he would bear the humiliation and the bodily pain. The sense of injustice, which is far more intolerable than either, was not taken into the account by this good-natured man!

Objecit commissum,says Erasmus, “de quo nec somniaram unquam, ac cæcidit.+ The experiment was not made upon a vile body, or a vile mind, and its effect was, that it had nearly broken the boy's health and spirits, and given him a loathing for those studies wherein he became so eminent. He relates an atrocity of the same kind (it deserves no milder qualification) of one whom he does not indeed name, but who is believed to be Colet, the Dean of St. Paul's, — a good as well as a munificent man, and, strange as it may seem, said by Erasmus himself to have delighted in children with a natural and Christian feeling; nevertheless, he thought no discipline could be too severe in his school, and whenever he dined there one or two boys were served up to be flogged, for the dessert. On one such occasion, when Erasmus was present, he called up a meek, gentle boy of ten years old, who had lately been earnestly commended to his care by a tender mother, ordered him to be flogged for some pretended fault which the child had never committed, and saw him flogged till the victim was fainting under the scourge. “Not that he has deserved this," said he aside to Erasmus, while this was going on,“ but it is fit to humble him.” These indubitable facts may render credible the commencement of Robert the Devil's career, as related in the romance; and the story of the schoolman, whom the boys put to death with their penknives.

* How many of the most promising geniuses these villains ruin ! — ignorant, and yet puffed up with the belief that they are learned; morose, drunken, savage, — they flog for the very pleasure of flogging; of so ferocious a temper that they take pleasure in another's torture. This kind of men ought to be butchers and hangmen, not educators of youth.

He charged me with committing an offence I never dreamed of, and flogged me for it.

As it was deemed impossible that the course of education could be carried on without free use of the rod, the principle could not be changed in the case of royal pupils; but the practice was whimsically adapted to the use of courts, and princes were provided with whipping-boys (literally so called) as a part of their establishment, in whom they were, for any offence or default of diligence, to be whipt by proxy. Here, however, and in the higher schools, that mitigation of school discipline began which has continually been promoted by the increasing humanity of general manners. Dr. Parr was the last learned schoolmaster who was professedly an amateur of the rod, and in that profession there was more of humor and affectation than of reality; for, with all his habitual affectation and his occasional brutality, Parr was a good-natured, generous, warm-hearted man, there was a coarse husk and a hard shell, like the cocoa-nut, but the core was filled with the milk of human kindness. Charity schools seem to have been the last places in which the old system of barbarity was retained : it kept its place there, because the masters were generally taken from a grade in life to which the humanizing influence of improved society had not descended; and because the children, having no natural protectors at hand, or in a condition to protect them, were at their mercy. Such men, soured by circumstances, with no prospect of bettering their condition, no liking for their employment and no fitness for it, - compelled in desperate drudgery to teach, while they were utterly ignorant of the art of teaching, - seem too often to have taken what Barrow calls “a rascally delight” in inflicting pain upon others. as if to get rid of discontent by indulging anger and malignity; and, by the exercise of tyrannical power, to indemnify themselves for the slavery of their hopeless occupation.

ON LEARNING THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE.

BY M. A. NEWELL.* The child commences the study of language in the cradle. One of his first perceptions is the sound of his mother's voice, and

* Principal of the State Normal School of Maryland.

perhaps his first lesson in Grammar is to translate his mother's words into the vernacular of infancy. At a very early age, he knows whether she is pleased or displeased, whether she is upbraiding or soothing him. Long before he can walk without assistance, he has learned a little language, not so as to speak it, but so as to comprehend all that is said to him, and much that is said about him. At the close of his second year, he knows the names of all the objects in the house that are in common use, and understands the language of the family so far, at least, as it concerns himself; he is subdued by threats, encouraged by approbation, and stimulated by promises. Before he is four years of age, he has passed from the purely recipient into the productive stage. What he knows he can tell; he has a name for every object of his knowledge, an expression for every idea, every feeling and emotion of which he is conscious. From this time until he begins to go to school, every day adds to his stock of words and to his power of combining them. He astonishes his parents by the readiness with which he picks up strange words, and the facility he has in weaving them into sentences. If he could only go on as he commenced, if he could only learn as much of his native tongue in the next six as he did in the first six years of his life, what a foundation would then be laid for extensive and accurate scholarship! Unfortunately he must be sent to school; his parents think it is time his education should commence. In truth, it too often happens that at this very crisis his education is, for all practical purposes, closed, as far as it lies in the teacher's power to close it; or rather suspended, to be resumed when school days are over.

I speak here, of course, of education in only one of its aspects, language; though there are not wanting those who maintain that the routine of school exercises, as most commonly pursued, suspends or retards the practical development of the child's mind on every side. The reader may perhaps remember the keen irony of Bulwer on this subject. Mrs. Caxton has a darling son who is devoted to books and study to the imminent danger of his hcalth. His father or his uncle (I forget which) recommends as a cure, that the boy be " sent to school!The singular advice is taken : the treatment is successful; the cure is complete. But let us inquire into the facts of the case so far only as a knowledge of the English language is concerned.

At six years of age, the child is in possession of a language, limited, it is true, imperfect and incorrect, but still adequate to his wants. At twelve years of age, after having been six years at school, how much more does he know of his native language than when he entered school ? (And here let me remark parenthetically gentle reader, I am not speaking of your school : I know you manage these things better. I refer to Mr. Smith's school; and I do not speak of the head boy in Mr. Smith's school; I speak of the average American boy in the average American school.) At twelve years of age he has been “through the Dictionary,” I presume; but is his stock of words in common use much larger than it used to be ? Or is he more careful in the selection of them? Or has he greater facility in the use of them? Does the boy of twelve actually express his ideas with greater ease, clearness, or force than the child of six ? He has been “ through the Grammar;” but does he speak grammatically ? and, if he does, is it because he has been through the Grammar? As a matter of fact, is his language more correct than it was six years ago ? He has learned to spell, to parse and to write; but can he write ten lines on any subject without gross errors in spelling, syntax or punctuation? There must be something wrong in the method of education that is so barren of results.

Assuming that nature's plan is the better one,- for in six years nature has done much, and in the next six years the teacher does very little towards the acquisition of language, — let us inquire what nature's plan is, and how it differs from the methods of the schools.

Nature begins her lesson by placing the child in circumstances in which the knowledge of language is desirable and necessary. The child sees an object: he has a desire — almost, if not altogether, instinctive-to name it; for the mind never recognizes its knowledge as complete until it is named. The child wants the name, lies in wait for it, or asks for it, - gets it, and keeps it. Who ever had occasion to tell a child twice the name of anything he wanted to know? He has an idea, but he has no mode of expressing it. The idea returns again and again, and the desire for the expression

becomes stronger and stronger. The appropriate expression, after long waiting and watching, is heard, seized upon, treasured up and remembered, not only without difficulty, but without conscious effort. How different from much that is learned at school, — learned with toil to-day, forgotten with ease to-morrow! Or, conversely (for our object-teachers must remember that the child sometimes travels from the word to the thing as well as from the thing to the word), the child hears a new word: he is not likely to ask the meaning of it unless it be about something in which he is deeply interested, but the context gives him some vague idea of what it means. The mind, however, is not satisfied with this half knowledge. The child hears the same word again and again, and every repetition adds to his stock of knowledge, till at last he gains a clear conception of it.

On the other hand, at school, children are required to learn what they have no desire to learn, and can see no necessity to learn. What child ever desired to learn Grammar as commonly taught ? What child ever felt the necessity of learning all the definitions in the Dictionary? And yet these two books, the Grammar and the Dictionary, are the main instruments for teaching language.

Nature teaches language indirectly: the child fancies he is learning something else (and is learning something else, or does not think of learning at all), but all the time he is learning language unconsciously, but not the less really. These indirect processes of nature are very beautiful, and well worth the attention and the imitation of the teacher. The child thinks only of appeasing the natural appetite of hunger, but in so doing he is building up his constitution. He yields to the natural desire for muscular exercise, and thus aids in the development of his bodily organs. Every legitimate gratification of a natural propensity yields, not only the transient pleasure proper to such gratification, but also a permanent result, which is not the less real and valuable because it comes unsolicited.

Teachers are apt to forget this trick of nature. We think that language must be taught directly, dogmatically and scientifically; by definitions, rules, diagrams and formulas. We forget that the language which we use ourselves was learned in no such methodical way; but was picked up unconsciously here and there along the

« הקודםהמשך »