not to waste his time and strength in contending against _such
accidental instances_ of transgression as may chance to fall under his
notice, but to take an enlarged and extended view of the whole ground,
endeavoring to remove _whole classes of faults_ - to elevate and improve
By these means, his labors will not only be more effectual, but far more
pleasant. You can not come into collision with an individual scholar, to
punish him for a mischievous spirit, or even to rebuke him for some
single act by which he has given you trouble, without an uncomfortable
and uneasy feeling, which makes, in ordinary cases, the discipline of a
school the most unpleasant part of a teacher's duty. But you can plan a
campaign against a whole class of faults, and put into operation a
system of measures to correct them, and watch from day to day the
operation of that system with all the spirit and interest of a game. It
is, in fact, a game where your ingenuity and moral power are brought
into the field, in opposition to the evil tendencies of the hearts which
are under your influence. You will notice the success or the failure of
the means you may put into operation with all the interest with which
the experimental philosopher observes the curious processes he guides,
though your interest may be much purer and higher, for he works upon
matter, but you are experimenting upon mind.
Remember, then, as for the first time you take your new station at the
head of your school, that it is not your duty simply to watch with an
eagle eye for those accidental instances of transgression which may
chance to fall under your notice. You are to look over the whole ground.
You are to make yourself acquainted, as soon as possible, with the
classes of character and classes of faults which may prevail in your
dominions, and to form deliberate and well-digested plans for improving
the one and correcting the other.
And this is to be the course pursued not only with great delinquencies,
such as those to which I have already alluded, but to every little
transgression against the rules of order and propriety. You can correct
them far more easily and pleasantly in the mass than in detail.
To illustrate this principle by another case. A teacher, who takes the
course I am condemning, approaches the seat of one of his pupils, and
asks to see one of his books. As the boy opens his desk, the teacher
observes that it is in complete disorder. Books, maps, papers,
play-things, are there in promiscuous confusion, and, from the impulse
of the moment, the displeased teacher pours out upon the poor boy a
torrent of reproach.
"What a looking desk! Why, John, I am really ashamed of you! Look!"
continues he, holding up the lid, so that the boys in the neighborhood
can look in; "see what a mass of disorder and confusion. If ever I see
your desk in such a state again, I shall most certainly punish you."
The boys around laugh, very equivocally, however, for, with the feeling
of amusement, there is mingled the fear that the angry master may take
it into his head to inspect their domains. The boy accidentally exposed
looks sullen, and begins to throw his books into some sort of
arrangement, just enough to shield himself from the charge of absolutely
disobeying the injunction that he has received, and there the matter
Another teacher takes no apparent notice of the confusion which he thus
accidentally witnesses. "I must take up," thinks he to himself, "the
subject of order before the whole school. I have not yet spoken of it."
He thanks the boy for the book he borrowed, and goes away. He makes a
memorandum of the subject, and the boy does not know that the condition
of his desk was noticed; perhaps he does not even know that there was
any thing amiss.
A day or two after, at a time regularly appropriated to such subjects,
he addresses the boys as follows:
"In our efforts to improve the school as much as possible, there is one
subject which we must not forget. I mean the order of the desks."
The boys all begin to open their desk lids.
"You may stop a moment," says the teacher. "I shall give you all an
opportunity to examine your desks presently.
"I do not know what the condition of your desks is. I have not examined
them, and have not, in fact, seen the inside of more than one or two. As
I have not brought up this subject before, I presume that there are a
great many which can be arranged better than they are. Will you all now
look into your desks, and see whether you consider them in good order?
Stop a moment, however. Let me tell you what good order is. All those
things which are alike should be arranged together. Books should be in
one place, papers in another, and thus every thing should be classified.
Again, every thing should be so placed that it can be taken out without
disturbing other things. There is another principle, also, which I will
mention: the various articles should have _constant_ places, that is,
they should not be changed from day to day. By this means you soon
remember where every thing belongs, and you can put away your things
much more easily every night than if you had every night to arrange them
in a new way. Now will you look into your desks, and tell me whether
they are, on these three principles, well arranged?"
The boys of most schools, where this subject had not been regularly
attended to, would nearly all answer in the negative.
"I will allow you, then, some time to-day, fifteen minutes to arrange
your desks, and I hope you will try to keep them in good order
hereafter. A few days hence I shall examine them. If any of you wish for
assistance or advice from me in putting them in order, I shall be happy
to render it."
By such a plan, which will occupy but little more time than the
irritating and useless scolding which I supposed in the other case, how
much more will be accomplished. Such an address would of itself,
probably, be the means of putting in order, and keeping in order, at
least one half of the desks in the room, and following up the plan in
the same manner and in the same spirit with which it was begun would
secure the rest.
I repeat it, therefore, make it a principle in all cases to aim as much
as possible at the correction of those faults which are likely to be
general by _general measures_. You avoid by this means a vast amount of
irritation and impatience, both on your own part and on the part of your
scholars, and you produce twenty times the useful effect.
3. The next principle which occurs to me as deserving the teacher's
attention in the outset of his course is this:
Interest your scholars in doing something themselves to elevate the
moral character of the school, so as to secure a _decided majority who
will, of their own accord, co-operate with you._
Let your pupils understand, not by any formal speech which you make to
that effect, but by the manner in which, from time to time, you
incidentally allude to the subject, that you consider the school, when
you commence it, as _at par_, so to speak - that is, on a level with
other schools, and that your various plans for improving and amending it
are not to be considered in the light of finding fault, and punishing
transgressions, and controlling evil propensities, so as just to keep
things in a tolerable state, but as efforts to improve and carry
forward the institution to a still higher state of excellence. Such is
the tone and manner of some teachers that they never appear to be more
than merely satisfied. When the scholars do right, nothing is said about
it. The teacher seems to consider that a matter of course. It does not
appear to interest or please him at all. Nothing arouses him but when
they do wrong, and that only excites him to anger and frowns. Now in
such a case there can, of course, be no stimulus to effort on the part
of the pupils but the cold and heartless stimulus of fear.
Now it is wrong for the teacher to expect that things will go right in
his school as a matter of course. All that he can expect _as a matter of
course_ is, that things should go on as well as they do ordinarily in
schools - the ordinary amount of idleness, the ordinary amount of
misconduct. This is the most that he can expect to come as a matter of
course. He should feel this, and then all he can gain which will be
better than this will be a source of positive pleasure; a pleasure which
his pupils have procured for him, and which, consequently, they should
share. They should understand that the teacher is engaged in various
plans for improving the school, in which they should be invited to
engage, not from the selfish desire of thereby saving him trouble, but
because it will really be happy employment for them to engage in such an
enterprise, and because, by such efforts, their own moral powers will be
exerted and strengthened in the best possible way.
In another chapter I have explained to what extent, and in what manner,
the assistance of the pupils may be usefully and successfully employed
in carrying forward the general arrangements of the school. The same
_principles_ will apply here, though perhaps a little more careful and
delicate management is necessary in interesting them in subjects which
relate to moral discipline.
One important method of accomplishing this end is to present these
plans before the minds of the scholars as experiments - moral
experiments, whose commencement, progress, and results they may take a
great interest in witnessing. Let us take, for example, the case alluded
to under the last head - the plan of effecting a reform in regard to
keeping desks in order. Suppose the teacher were to say, when the time
had arrived at which he had promised to give them an opportunity to put
the desks in order,
"I think it would be a good plan to keep some account of our efforts for
improving the school in this respect. We might make a record of what we
do to-day, noting the day of the month and the number of desks which may
be found to be disorderly. Then, at the end of any time you may propose,
we will have the desks examined again, and see how many are disorderly
then. We can thus see how much improvement has been made in that time.
Should you like to adopt the plan?"
If the boys should appear not much interested in the proposal, the
teacher might, at his own discretion, waive it. In all probability,
however, they would like it, and would indicate their interest by their
countenances, or perhaps by a response. If so, the teacher might
"You may all examine your desks, then, and decide whether they are in
order or not. I do not know, however, but that we ought to appoint a
committee to examine them; for perhaps all the boys would not be honest,
and report their desks as they really are."
"Yes, sir;" "yes, sir," say the boys.
"Do you mean that you will be honest, or that you would like to have a
There was a confused murmur. Some answer one, and some the other.
"I think," proceeds the teacher, "the boys will be honest, and report
their desks just as they are. At any rate, the number of dishonest boys
in this school can not be so large as materially to affect the result.
I think we had better take your own statements. As soon as the desks are
all examined, those who have found theirs in a condition which does not
satisfy them are requested to rise and be counted."
The teacher then looks around the room, and selecting some intelligent
boy who has influence among his companions, and whose influence he is
particularly desirous of enlisting on the side of good order, says,
"Shall I nominate some one to keep an account of the number?"
"Yes, sir," say the boys.
"Well, I nominate William Jones. How many are in favor of requesting
William Jones to perform this duty?"
"It is a vote. William, I will thank you to write upon a piece of paper
that on the 8th of December the subject of order in the desks was
brought up, and that the boys resolved on making an effort to improve
the school in this respect. Then say that the boys reported all their
desks which they thought were disorderly, and that the number was
thirty-five; and that after a week or two, the desks are to be examined
again, and the disorderly ones counted, that we may see how much we have
improved. After you have written it you may bring it to me, and I will
tell you whether it is right."
"How many desks do you think will be found to be disorderly when we come
to make the examination?"
The boys hesitate.
The teacher names successively several numbers, and asks whether they
think the real number will be greater or less. He notices their votes
upon them, and at last fixes upon one which seems to be about the
general sense of the school. Then the teacher himself mentions the
number which he supposes will be found to be disorderly. His estimate
will ordinarily be larger than that of the scholars, because he knows
better how easily resolutions are broken. This number, too, is recorded,
and then the whole subject is dismissed.
Now, of course, no reader of these remarks will understand me to be
recommending, by this imaginary dialogue, a particular course to be
taken in regard to this subject, far less the particular language to be
used. All I mean is to show by a familiar illustration how the teacher
is to endeavor to enlist the interest and to excite the curiosity of his
pupils in his plans for the improvement of his school, by presenting
them as moral experiments, which they are to assist him in
trying - experiments whose progress they are to watch, and whose results
they are to predict. If the precise steps which I have described should
actually be taken, although it would occupy but a few minutes, and would
cause no thought and no perplexing care, yet it would undoubtedly be the
means of awakening a very general interest in the subject of order
throughout the school. All would be interested in the work of
All would watch, too, with interest the progress and the result of the
experiment; and if, a few days afterward, the teacher should
accidentally, in recess, see a disorderly desk, a good-humored remark
made with a smile to the by-standers, "I suspect my prediction will turn
out the correct one," would have far more effect than the most severe
reproaches, or the tingling of a rap over the knuckles with a ratan.
I know from experience that scholars of every kind can be led by such
measures as these, or rather by such a spirit as this, to take an active
interest, and to exert a most powerful influence in regard to the whole
condition of the institution. I have seen the experiment successful in
boys' schools and in girls' schools, among very little children, and
among the seniors and juniors at college.
In one of the colleges of New England a new and beautiful edifice was
erected. The lecture-rooms were fitted up in handsome style, and the
officers, when the time for the occupation of the building approached,
were anticipating with regret what seemed to be the unavoidable
defacing, and cutting, and marking of the seats and walls. It was,
however, thought that if the subject was properly presented to the
students, they would take an interest in preserving the property from
injury. They were accordingly addressed somewhat as follows:
"It seems, young gentlemen, to be generally the custom in colleges for
the students to ornament the walls and benches of their recitation-rooms
with various inscriptions and caricatures, so that after the premises
have been for a short time in the possession of a class, every thing
within reach, which will take an impression from a penknife or a trace
from a pencil, is covered with names, and dates, and heads, and
inscriptions of every kind. The faculty do not know what you wish in
this respect in regard to the new accommodations which the trustees have
now provided for you, and which you are soon to enter. They have had
them fitted up for you handsomely, and if you wish to have them kept in
good order, we will assist you. If the students think proper to express
by a vote, or in any other way, their wish to keep them in good order,
we will engage to have such incidental injuries as may from time to
time occur immediately repaired. Such injuries will, of course, be done;
for, whatever may be the wish and general opinion of the whole, it is
not to be expected that every individual in so large a community will be
careful. If, however, as a body, you wish to have the building preserved
in its present state, and will, as a body, take the necessary
precautions, we will do our part."
The students responded to this appeal most heartily. They passed a vote
expressing a desire to preserve the premises in order, and for many
years, and, for aught I know, to the present hour, the whole is kept as
a room occupied by gentlemen should be kept. At some other colleges, and
those, too, sustaining the very highest rank among the institutions of
the country, the doors of the public buildings are sometimes _studded
with nails as thick as they can possibly be driven, and then covered
with a thick coat of sand dried into the paint, as a protection from the
knives of the students!!_
The particular methods by which the teacher is to interest his pupils in
his various plans for their improvement can not be fully described here.
In fact, it does not depend so much on the methods he adopts as upon the
view which he himself takes of these plans, and the _tone and manner in
which he speaks of them to his pupils_.
A teacher, for example, perhaps on the first day of his labors in a new
school, calls a class to read. They pretend to form a line, but it
crooks in every direction. One boy is leaning back against a desk;
another comes forward as far as possible, to get near the fire; the rest
lounge in every position and in every attitude. John is holding up his
book high before his face to conceal an apple from which he is
endeavoring to secure an enormous bite. James is, by the same sagacious
device, concealing a whisper which he is addressing to his next
neighbor, and Moses is seeking amusement by crowding and elbowing the
little boy who is unluckily standing next him.
"What a spectacle!" says the master to himself, as he looks at this sad
display. "What shall I do?" The first impulse is to break forth upon
them at once with all the artillery of reproof, and threatening, and
punishment. I have seen, in such a case, a scolding and frowning master
walk up and down before such a class with a stern and angry air,
commanding this one to stand back, and that one to come forward,
ordering one boy to put down his book, and scolding at a second for
having lost his place, and knocking the knees of another with his ruler
because he was out of the line. The boys scowl at their teacher, and,
with ill-natured reluctance, they obey just enough to escape punishment.
Another teacher looks calmly at the scene, and says to himself, "What
shall I do to remove effectually these evils? If I can but interest the
boys in reform, it will be far more easy to effect it than if I attempt
to accomplish it by the mere exercise of my authority."
In the mean time things go on during the reading in their own way. The
teacher simply _observes_. He is in no haste to commence his operations.
He looks for the faults; watches, without seeming to watch, the
movements which he is attempting to control. He studies the materials
with which he is to work, and lets their true character develop itself.
He tries to find something to approve in the exercise as it proceeds,
and endeavors to interest the class by narrating some fact connected
with the reading, or making some explanation which interests the boys.
At the end of the exercise he addresses them, perhaps, as follows:
"I have observed, boys, in some military companies, that the officers
are very strict, requiring implicit and precise obedience. The men are
required to form a precise line." (Here there is a sort of involuntary
movement all along the line, by which it is very sensibly straightened.)
"They make all the men stand erect" (at this word heads go up, and
straggling feet draw in all along the class), "in the true military
posture. They allow nothing to be done in the ranks but to attend to
the exercise" (John hastily crowds his apple into his pocket), "and thus
they regulate every thing in exact and steady discipline, so that all
things go on in a most systematic and scientific manner. This discipline
is so admirable in some countries, especially in Europe, where much
greater attention is paid to military tactics than in our country, that
I have heard it said by travelers that some of the soldiers who mount
guard at public places look as much like statues as they do like living
"Other commanders act differently. They let the men do pretty much as
they please. So you will see such a company lounging into a line when
the drum beats, as if they took little interest in what was going on.
While the captain is giving his commands, one is eating his luncheon,
another is talking with his next neighbor. Part are out of the line;
part lounge on one foot; they hold their guns in every position; and, on
the whole, present a very disorderly and unsoldier-like appearance.
"I have observed, too, that boys very generally prefer to _see_ the
strict companies, but perhaps they would prefer to _belong_ to the lax
"No, sir;" "No, sir," say the boys.
"Suppose you all had your choice either to belong to a company like the
first one I described, where the captain was strict in all his
requirements, or to one like the latter, where you could do pretty much
as you pleased, which should you prefer?"
Unless I am entirely mistaken in my idea of the inclinations of boys, it
would be very difficult to get a single honest expression of preference
for the latter. They would say with one voice,
"I suppose it would be so. You would be put to some inconvenience by the
strict commands of the captain, but then you would be more than paid by
the beauty of regularity and order which you would all witness. There is
nothing so pleasant as regularity, and nobody likes regularity more than
boys do. To show this, I should like to have you now form a line as
exact as you can."
After some unnecessary shoving and pushing, increased by the disorderly
conduct of a few bad boys, a line is formed. Most of the class are
pleased with the experiment, and the teacher takes no notice of the few
exceptions. The time to attend to _them_ will come by-and-by.
"Hands down." The boys obey.
"There; there is a very perfect line."
"Do you stand easily in that position?"
"I believe your position is the military one now, pretty nearly; and
military men study the postures of the human body for the sake of
finding the one most easy; for they wish to preserve as much as possible
of the soldiers' strength for the time of battle. I should like to try
the experiment of your standing thus at the next lesson. It is a very
great improvement upon your common mode. Are you willing to do it?"
"Yes, sir," say the boys.
"You will get tired, I have no doubt; for the military position, though
most convenient and easy in the end, is not to be learned and fixed in
practice without effort. In fact, I do not expect you will succeed the
first day very well. You will probably become restless and uneasy before
the end of the lesson, especially the smaller boys. I must excuse it, I
suppose, if you do, as it will be the first time."
By such methods as these the teacher will certainly secure a majority in
favor of all his plans. But perhaps some experienced teacher, who knows
from his own repeated difficulties with bad boys what sort of spirits
the teacher of district schools has sometimes to deal with, may ask, as
he reads this,
"Do you expect that such a method as this will succeed in keeping your
school in order? Why there are boys in almost every school whom you
would no more coax into obedience and order in this way than you would
persuade the northeast wind to change its course by reasoning."
I know there are. And my readers are requested to bear in mind that my
object is not to show how the whole government of the school may be
secured, but how one important advantage may be gained, which will
assist in accomplishing the object. All I should expect or hope for, by
such measures as these, is _to interest and gain over to our side the
majority_. What is to be done with those who can not be reached by such