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roadside of life, in the nursery, at the dinner table, in the playground, from our parents or companions, our story books, our news. papers, our preachers, our favorite authors. What plainer proof can there be of this than the well known fact, that many teachers who are good “ grammarians” (so called) speak bad English, while many persons who know nothing of “grammar” habitually use grammatical language ?
In the natural plan, the child's mind is active, both in the act of seeking and in the act of assimilating its mental food. In the unnatural plan of the schools, the mind is mainly passive or receptive. In the one case it acts, in the other it is acted on. Out of school, certain materials are presented which the child voluntarily operates on, and converts to his own use. In school, the thinking is done by “another head;" the food is gathered, divided and fully prepared in the text-books: all the scholar has to do is to swallow the ready made preparation. (School-books are as plenty as quack medicines, and many of them about as useful.) What wonder that children do not like their books! What wonder that they cannot digest that for which they have not labored, for which they have no appetite, and which they can be compelled to swallow only at the point of the rod! Can such treatment fail to produce mental dyspepsia in its worst forms ?
Left to himself, the child acquires his knowledge in the most rational philosophical way, — by induction. He ascends from particulars to generals, from an acquaintance with individual facts to a knowledge of universal principles. In other words, he proceeds from the concrete to the abstract. Under the guidance of his teacher, or rather of his text-book, the child is expected to acquire his knowledge in the most irrational and unphilosophical way, — by deduction. He is expected to descend from generals to particulars, from general principles to individual facts, from the abstract to the concrete. I say the child is expected to do so; but, in point of fact, I do not believe he ever does it. The knowledge he seems to acquire in this way is either acquired in the other way, or is not real knowledge at all, but only sham knowledge. I believe a healthy, active young mind makes its own generalizations, and does not readily adopt, and apply the generalizations made by another. For example, consider how a child acquires an idea of a chair. He does not get the abstract idea of a chair first, and then try to apply this idea to particular objects; but, by becoming acquainted with a number of chairs singly, and observing their common qualities, he naturally and necessarily, though unconsciously, acquires the abstract notion of a chair. But a Grammar (from which children are popularly supposed to learn language) consists essentially of a series of abstract propositions, to be learned as abstractions, and afterwards to be applied to individual cases. If language is ever learned in this way, it can only be by doing violence to nature, and by a useless sacrifice of time and labor.
Nature gives us, usually, the object or idea first, and then the name; the schools, or rather the school-books, give us the name first, and the object afterwards, or not at all. When the animals passed in review before our first parent, he gave to each an appropriate name. His conceptions of each individual were incomplete and unsatisfactory, until he had tied them together, and labelled them with a name. Had one of our old-fashioned schoolmasters had the supreme direction of affairs, he would have given Adam a list of names and volume of definitions; and, after causing him to commit them to memory, he would have sent him through the garden to find the objects corresponding to the description. He would have made Adam say elephant, spell elephant, read elephant, write elephant, and parse elephant, before allowing him to see the elephant.
The following corollaries will serve, perhaps, to give a practical bearing to what has been said above. They will, at least, be useful to the thoughtful teacher as theses for argument, which he may either affirm or deny:
That the method by which children, before going to school, learn their simple and limited language, may be applied to the learning of their native language in all its extent and complexity.
That language, being an object, may be studied objectively.
That children should be taught to use good language, by correcting all their improper modes of expression, before they can understand the grammatical reason for the correction.
That as children learn to speak by speaking (not by learning the rules of speech), so children may learn to write by writing, without learning the rules of composition.
That, as people become fluent talkers by beginning early and talking much, people may become ready writers by beginning early and writing much.
That, as soon as children are able to speak, they should be taught to speak in definite sentences and pure English; and as soon as they are able to use the pen, they should be taught to write in definite sentences and pure English.
That, as children never talk of that of which they know nothing, they should not be asked to write of what they know nothing.
That, as a means of becoming familiar with language, children should be taught to write down, frequently, their ordinary conversations.
That school recitations may, with great advantage, be conducted in two ways, — orally and in writing.
That the teacher should take advantage of interesting events within the knowledge of his scholars, and require them to relate them orally and in writing.
That as the common words of our language are learned by hearing them often in connected discourse, so the less common words should be learned by reading them often in connected discourse.
That as words learned by the ear are not thoroughly appropriated until they are pronounced by the tongue, so words learned by the eye (reading) are not completely mastered until they are reproduced to the eye by writing.
That as the child learns its early language indirectly, while in pursuit of amusement, or gratifying its curiosity, or thinking only of expressing its feelings, so its early language may be best extended by extending its sphere of general knowledge.
That, therefore, reading for information and amusement should form a prominent part of school exercises, distinct from reading for elocutional purposes; and that all knowledge so obtained should be re-produced in writing or speaking.
That a practical knowledge of the English language, — the ability to speak it, read it, and write it correctly in its simplest forms; and a familiar acquaintance with a few of our best authors, — forms the only sure foundation on which to commence the analytical study of English Grammar.
It needs no argument to convince the reader of the want of really good manners among our people. A ride of half an hour in a horse-car, a visit to almost any one of our large stores, a quiet observation, for ten minutes, of the people passing and re-passing in a crowded street, or five minutes spent in an Intelligence Office, will prove conclusively the truth of the statement.
All classes of people, as classes, from the fashionable youth lounging on the steps of a hotel, rudely staring at the passers-by, and often audibly criticising them, down through all the ranks of society to the ignorant Irishwoman inquiring patronizingly about her“ privileges,” exhibit a truly pitiful want of that courtesy which should characterize an intelligent and refined people.
What can we do? We all acknowledge and deplore the fact, but merely finding fault with the existing state of society will not remedy it. All such criticism is mere cavilling, unless our appreciation of the evil serve to direct aright our effort for the good.
We say and we believe, that “the common schools are the strength of the nation." We know that the great civilizer is Education.
Those of us who are teaching have heard so much about the responsibility that rests upon us, that possibly we are a little inclined not to think it out for ourselves. Possibly, wearied of the talk and sick of the cant about it, we overlook the truth that lies under it. But, whether we will see it or not, the great fact remains the same. Teachers are responsible in a great measure for the health and strength of the nation, and why not for its beauty and its grace? We would try to teach the pupils under our charge to be manly and patriotic, to be industrious and virtuous; and why not to be polite? Surely it can be done. It cannot be harder to teach rough children manners than it is to teach dishonest children integrity. The one appeals to the moral, the other to the æsthetic nature: both of these seem hidden very deeply in some of the inmates of our public schools, yet no one will deny that the germs of both exist in every human soul.
And do we not aim to develop every character to its ultimate perfection? Then why neglect so utterly that great element of beauty?
Some teachers do try to teach it, by pointing out the grace of Nature, the adaptation of all her parts to each other, and of her whole spirit to man; yet is there not as much grace in the adaptation of man to man by that exquisite courtesy which brings all upon a common ground, and — rounding off the rough angles of varying temperaments — unites all the elements of society in a common bond of benevolence ?
Possibly the statement that this part of the education is utterly neglected in schools is too broad. There may be many teachers who do earnestly strive to cultivate good manners in their pupils; but certainly there are very many who do not.
When a teacher, annoyed at some omission of duty, blusters about on his platform in an utterly undignified manner, and finally stamps his foot angrily at his pupils, does he try to inculcate good manners ? When a man calls a boy of fifteen “ an infernal scoundrel,” does he teach him to be courteous ? How can we expect our clerks and errand-boys to be polite, when most of them come from families utterly wanting in any idea of refinement of manners, and from teachers who set them such examples ?
These, though true, may be extreme cases. We hope there are very few who thus outrage even the rules of decency, but we know that there is a lamentable want of real courtesy in many of our schools. The teacher does not seem to think it of the least importance that he should be polite to his pupils. It is, “Do this," and “Do that," “ Open this window," and “Shut that door," — as if the person addressed were a trained dog. What idea of politeness can a scholar get from such treatment ?
More can be taught by example, in the matter of courtesy, than in almost any other way. A simple, graceful manner will operate like magic in a school, and cannot fail to elevate and refine all within its sphere of influence. We all know how we ourselves are touched by intercourse with a real lady or a real gentleman. We feel the electric thrill of true nobility, and the world seeins fairer for even one genuine spirit that greets us with so much grace. And