make it the occasion to promote those pure and hallowed emotions in
which every immortal mind must find its happiness, if it is to enjoy any
When all is still, the teacher addresses his pupils as follows:
"I have nothing but a simple story to tell you to-night.
It is true, and
the fact interested me very much when I witnessed it, but I do not know
that it will interest you now merely to hear it repeated. It is this:
"Last vacation, I was traveling in a remote and thinly-settled country,
among the mountains, in another state. I was riding with a gentleman on
an almost unfrequented road. Forests were all around us, and the houses
were small and very few.
"At length, as we were passing an humble and solitary dwelling, the
gentleman said to me, 'There is a young woman sick in this house; should
you like to go in and see her?' 'Yes, sir,' said I, 'very much. She can
have very few visitors, I think, in this lonely place, and if you think
she would like to see us, I should like to go.'
"We turned our horses toward the door, and as we were riding up, I
asked what was the matter with the young woman.
"'Consumption,' the gentleman replied; 'and I suppose she will not live
"At that moment we dismounted and entered the house. It was a very
pleasant summer afternoon, and the door was open. We entered, and were
received by an elderly lady, who seemed glad to see us. In one corner of
the room was a bed, on which was lying the patient whom we had come to
visit. She was pale and thin in her countenance, but there was a very
calm and happy expression beaming in her eye. I went up to her bedside,
and asked her how she did.
"I talked with her some time, and found that she was a Christian. She
did not seem to know whether she would get well again or not, and, in
fact, she did not appear to care much about it. She was evidently happy
then, and she believed that she should continue so. She had been
penitent for her sins, and had sought and obtained forgiveness, and
enjoyed, in her loneliness, not only the protection of God, but also his
presence in her heart, diffusing peace and happiness there. When I came
into the house, I said to myself, 'I pity, I am sure, a person who is
confined by sickness in this lonely place, with nothing to interest or
amuse her;' but when I came out, I said to myself, 'I do not pity her at
Never destroy the effect of such a communication as this by attempting
to follow it up with an exhortation, or with general remarks, vainly
attempting to strengthen the impression.
_Never_, do I say? Perhaps there may be some exceptions. But children
are not reached by formal exhortations; their hearts are touched and
affected in other ways. Sometimes you must reprove, sometimes you must
condemn; but indiscriminate and perpetual harangues about the guilt of
impenitence, and earnest entreaties to begin a life of piety, only
harden the hearts they are intended to soften, and consequently confirm
those who hear them in the habits of sin.
In the same way a multitude of other subjects, infinite in number and
variety, may be brought before your pupils at stated seasons for
religious instruction. It is unnecessary to give any more particular
examples, but still it may not be amiss to suggest a few general
principles, which ought to guide those who are addressing the young on
every subject, and especially on the subject of religion.
1. _Make no effort to simplify language when addressing the young._
Children always observe this, and are always displeased with it, unless
they are very young; and it is not necessary. They can understand
ordinary language well enough, if the _subject_ is within their
comprehension, and treated in a manner adapted to their powers. If you
doubt whether children can understand language, tell such a story as
this, with ardor of tone and proper gesticulation, to a child only two
or three years old:
"I saw an enormous dog in the street the other day. He was sauntering
along slowly, until he saw a huge piece of meat lying down on the
ground. He grasped it instantly between his teeth, and ran away with all
speed, until he disappeared around a corner so that I could see him no
In such a description there is a large number of words which such a
child would not understand if they stood alone, but the whole
description would be perfectly intelligible. The reason is, the
_subject_ is simple; the facts are such as a very little child would be
interested in; and the connection of each new word, in almost every
instance, explains its meaning. That is the way by which children learn
all language. They learn the meaning of words, not by definitions, but
by their connection in the sentences in which they hear them; and, by
long practice, they acquire an astonishing facility of doing this. It is
true they sometimes mistake, but not often, and the teacher of children
of almost any age need not be afraid that he shall not be understood.
There is no danger from his using the _language_ of men, if his subject,
and the manner in which he treats it, and the form and structure of his
sentences, are what they ought to be. Of course there may be cases, in
fact there often will be cases, where particular words will require
special explanation, but they will be comparatively few, and instead of
making efforts to avoid them, it will be better to let them come. The
pupils will be interested and profited by the explanation.
Perhaps some may ask what harm it will do to simplify language when
talking to children. "It certainly can do no injury," they may say, "and
it diminishes all possibility of being misunderstood." It does injury in
at least three ways:
(1.) It disgusts the young persons to whom it is addressed, and prevents
their being interested in what is said. I once met two children, twelve
years of age, who had just returned from hearing a very able discourse,
delivered before a number of Sabbath-schools assembled on some public
occasion. "How did you like the discourse?" said I.
"Very well indeed," they replied; "only," said one of them, smiling, "he
talked to us as if we were all little children."
Girls and boys, however young, never consider themselves little
children, for they can always look down upon some younger than
themselves. They are mortified when treated as though they could not
understand what is really within the reach of their faculties. They do
not like to have their powers underrated, and they are right in this
feeling. It is common to all, old and young.
(2.) Children are kept back in learning language if their teacher makes
effort to _come down,_ as it is called, to their comprehension in the
use of words. Notice that I say _in the use of words;_ for, as I shall
show presently, it is absolutely necessary to come down to the
comprehension of children in some other respects. If, however, in the
use of words, those who address children confine themselves to such
words as children already understand, how are they to make progress in
that most important of all studies, the knowledge of language? Many a
mother keeps back her child, in this way, to a degree that is hardly
conceivable, thus doing all in her power to perpetuate in the child an
ignorance of its mother tongue.
Teachers ought to make constant efforts to increase their scholars'
stock of words by using new ones from time to time, taking care to
explain them when the connection does not do it for them; so that,
instead of _coming down_ to the language of childhood, they ought rather
to go as far away from it as they can, without leaving their pupils
(3.) But perhaps the greatest evil of this practice is, it satisfies the
teacher. He thinks he addresses his pupils in the right manner, and
overlooks altogether the real peculiarities in which the power to
interest the young depends. He talks to them in simple language, and
wonders why they are not interested. He certainly is _plain_ enough. He
is vexed with them for not attending to what he says, attributing it to
their dullness or regardlessness of all that is useful or good, instead
of perceiving that the great difficulty is his own want of skill. These
three evils are sufficient to deter the teacher from the practice.
2. Present your subject, not in its _general views_, but in its _minute
details_. This is the great secret of interesting the young. Present it
in its details and in its practical exemplifications; do this with any
subject whatever, and children will always be interested.
To illustrate this, let us suppose two teachers wishing to explain to
their pupils the same subject, and taking the following opposite methods
of doing it. One, at the close of school, addresses his charge as
"The moral character of any action, that is, whether it is right or
wrong, depends upon the _motives_ with which it is performed. Men look
only at the outward conduct, but God looks at the heart. In order, now,
that any action should be pleasing to God, it is necessary it should be
performed from the motive of a desire to please him.
"Now there are a great many other motives of action which prevail among
mankind besides this right one. There is love of praise, love of money,
affection for friends, and many others."
By the time the teacher has proceeded thus far, he finds, as he looks
around the room, that the countenances of his pupils are assuming a
listless and inattentive air. One is restless in his seat, evidently
paying no attention. Another has reclined his head upon his desk, lost
in a reverie, and others are looking round the room at one another, or
at the door, restless and impatient, hoping that the dull lecture will
soon be over.
The other teacher says:
"I have thought of an experiment I might try, which would illustrate to
you a very important subject. Suppose I should call one of the boys, A,
to me, and should say to him, 'I wish you to go to your seat, and
transcribe a piece of poetry as handsomely as you can. If it is written
as well as you can possibly write it, I will give you a quarter of a
dollar. Suppose I say this to him privately, so that none of the rest of
the boys can hear, and he goes to take his seat and begins to work. You
perceive that I have presented to him a motive to exertion."
"Yes, sir," say the boys, all looking with interest at the teacher,
wondering how this experiment is going to end.
"Well, what would that motive be?"
"Money." "The quarter of a dollar." "Love of money," or perhaps other
answers, are heard from the various parts of the room.
"Yes, love of money it is called. Now suppose I should call another boy,
one with whom I was particularly acquainted, and who I should know
would make an effort to please me, and should say to him, 'For a
particular reason, I want you to copy this poetry' - giving him the
same - 'I wish you to copy it handsomely, for I wish to send it away, and
have not time to copy it myself. Can you do it for me?'
"Suppose the boy should say he could, and should take it to his seat and
begin, neither of the boys knowing what the other was doing. I should
now have offered to this second boy a motive. Would it be the same with
"What was the other?"
"Love of money."
"What is this?"
The boys hesitate.
"It might be called," continues the teacher, "friendship. It is the
motive of a vast number of the actions which are performed in this
"Do you think of any other common motive of action besides love of money
"Love of honor," says one; "fear," says another.
"Yes," continues the teacher, "both these are common motives. I might,
to exhibit them, call two more boys, one after the other, and say to the
one, 'I will thank you to go and copy this piece of poetry as well as
you can. I want to send it to the school committee as a specimen of
improvement made in this school.'
"To the other I might say, 'You have been a careless boy to-day; you
have not got your lessons well. Now take your seat and copy this poetry.
Do it carefully. Unless you take pains, and do it as well as you
possibly can, I shall punish you severely before you go home.'
"How many motives have I got now? Four, I believe."
"Yes, sir," say the boys.
"Love of money, friendship, love of honor, and fear. We called the first
boy A; let us call the others B, C, and D; no, we shall remember better
to call them by the name of their motives. We will call the first M, for
money; the second, F, for friendship; the third, H, for honor; and the
last, F - we have got an F already; what shall we do? On the whole, it is
of no consequence; we will have two F's, but we will take care not to
"But there are a great many other motives entirely distinct from these.
For example, suppose I should say to a fifth boy, 'Will you copy this
piece of poetry? It belongs to one of the little boys in school: he
wants a copy of it, and I told him I would try to get some one to copy
it for him.' This motive, now, would be benevolence; that is, if the boy
who was asked to copy it was not particularly acquainted with the other,
and did it chiefly to oblige him. We will call this boy B, for
"Now suppose I call a sixth boy, and say to him, 'I have set four or
five boys to work copying this piece of poetry; now I wish you to sit
down, and see if you can not do it better than any of them. After all
are done, I will compare them, and see if yours is not the best.' This
would be trying to excite emulation. We must call this boy, then, E. But
the time I intended to devote to talking with you on this subject for
to-day is expired. Perhaps to-morrow I will take up the subject again."
The reader now will observe that the grand peculiarity of the
instructions given by this last teacher, as distinguished from those of
the first, consists in this, that the parts of the subject are presented
_in detail_, and _in particular exemplification._ In the first case, the
whole subject was dispatched in a single, general, and comprehensive
description; in the latter, it is examined minutely, one point being
brought forward at a time. The discussions are enlivened, too, by
meeting and removing such little difficulties as will naturally come up
in such an investigation. Boys and girls will take an interest in such a
lecture; they will regret to have it come to a conclusion, and will
give their attention when the subject is again brought forward on the
following day. Let us suppose the time for continuing the exercise to
have arrived. The teacher resumes the discussion thus:
"I was talking to you yesterday about the motives of action. How many
had I made?"
Some say "Four," some "Five," some "Six."
"Can you name any of them?"
The boys attempt to recollect them, and they give the names in the order
in which they accidentally occur to the various individuals. Of course
the words Fear, Emulation, Honor, Friendship, and others, come in
confused and irregular sounds from every part of the school-room.
"You do not recollect the order," says the teacher, "and it is of no
consequence, for the order I named was only accidental. Now to go on
with my account: suppose all these boys to sit down and go to writing,
each one acting under the impulse of the motive which had been presented
to him individually. But, in order to make the supposition answer my
purpose, I must add two other cases. I will imagine that one of these
boys is called away a few minutes, and leaves his paper on his desk, and
that another boy, of an ill-natured and morose disposition, happening to
pass by and see his paper, thinks he will sit down and write upon it a
few lines, just to tease and vex the one who was called away. We will
also suppose that I call another boy to me, who I have reason to believe
is a sincere Christian, and say to him, 'Here is a new duty for you to
perform this afternoon. This piece of poetry is to be copied; now do it
carefully and faithfully. You know that this morning you committed
yourself to God's care during the day; now remember that he has been
watching you all the time thus far, and that he will be noticing you all
the time you are doing this; he will be pleased if you do your duty
"The boys thus all go to writing. Now suppose a stranger should come
in, and, seeing them all busy, should say to me,
"'What are all these boys doing?'
"'They are writing.'
"'What are they writing?'
"'They are writing a piece of poetry.'
"'They seem to be very busy; they are very industrious, good boys.'
"'Oh no! it is not by any means certain that they are _good_ boys.'
"'I mean that they are good boys _now_; that they are doing right at
'_That_ is not certain; some of them are doing right and some are doing
very wrong, though they are all writing the same piece of poetry.'
The stranger would perhaps look surprised while I said this, and would
ask an explanation, and I might properly reply as follows:
'Whether the boys are at this moment doing right or wrong depends not
so much upon what they are doing as upon the feelings of the heart with
which they are doing it. I acknowledge that they are all doing the same
thing outwardly; they are all writing the same extract, and they are all
doing it attentively and carefully, but they are thinking of very
'What are they thinking of?'
'Do you see that boy?' I might say, pointing to one of them. 'His name
is M. He is writing for money. He is saying to himself all the time, "I
hope I shall get the quarter of a dollar." He is calculating what he
shall buy with it, and every good or bad letter that he makes, he is
considering the chance whether he shall succeed or fail in obtaining
'What is the next boy to him thinking of?'
'His name is B. He is copying to oblige a little fellow whom he
scarcely knows, and is trying to make his copy handsome, so as to give
him pleasure. He is thinking how gratified his schoolmate will be when
he receives it, and is forming plans to get acquainted with him.
"'Do you see that boy in the back seat? He has maliciously taken another
boy's place just to spoil his work. He knows, too, that he is breaking
the rules of the school in being out of his place, but he stays
notwithstanding, and is delighting himself with thinking how
disappointed and sad his schoolmate will be when he comes in and finds
his work spoiled by having another handwriting in it, when he was
depending on doing it all himself.'
"'I see,' the stranger might say by this time, 'that there is a great
difference among these boys; have you told me about them all?'
"'No,' I might reply, 'there are several others. I will only mention one
more. He sits in the middle of the second desk. He is writing carefully,
simply because he wishes to do his duty and please God. He thinks that
God is present, and loves him, and takes care of him, and he is obedient
and grateful in return. I do not mean that he is all the time thinking
of God, but love to him is his motive of effort.'
"Do you see now, boys, what I mean to teach you by this long
"I presume you do. Perhaps it would be difficult for you to express it
in words; I can express it in general terms thus:
"_Our characters depend, not on what we do, but on the spirit and motive
with which we do it._ What I have been saying throws light upon one
important verse in the Bible, which I should like to have read. James,
have you a Bible in your desk?"
"Will you turn to 1 Samuel, xvi., 7, and then rise and read it? Read it
loud, so that all the school can hear."
James read as follows:
"MAN LOOKETH ON THE OUTWARD APPEARANCE, BUT GOD LOOKETH ON THE HEART."
This is the way to reach the intellect and the heart of the young. Go
_into detail._ Explain truth and duty, not in an abstract form, but
exhibit it _in actual and living examples._
(3.) Be very cautious how you bring in the awful sanctions of religion
to assist you directly in the discipline of your school. You will derive
a most powerful indirect assistance from the influence of religion in
the little community which you govern, but this will be through the
prevalence of its spirit in the hearts of your pupils, and not from any
assistance which you can usually derive from it in managing particular
cases of transgression. Many teachers make great mistakes in this
respect. A bad boy, who has done something openly and directly
subversive of the good order of the school, or the rights of his
companions, is called before the master, who thinks that the most
powerful weapon to wield against him is the Bible. So, while the
trembling culprit stands before him, he administers to him a reproof,
which consists of an almost ludicrous mixture of scolding, entreaty,
religious instruction, and threatening of punishment. But such an
occasion as this is no time to touch a bad boy's heart. He is steeled at
such a moment against any thing but mortification and the desire to get
out of the hands of the master, and he has an impression that the
teacher appeals to religious principles only to assist him to sustain
his own authority. Of course, religious truth, at such a time, can make
no good impression. There may be exceptions to this rule. There
doubtless are. I have found some; and every successful teacher who reads
this will probably call to mind some which have occurred in the course
of his own experience. I am only speaking of what ought to be the
general rule, which is to reserve religious truths for moments of a
different character altogether. Bring the principles of the Bible
forward when the mind is calm, when the emotions are quieted, and all
within is at rest; and in exhibiting them, be actuated, not by a desire
to make your duties of government easier, but to promote the real and
permanent happiness of your charge.
(4.) Do not be eager to draw from your pupils an expression of their
personal interest in religious truth. Lay before them, and enforce, by
all the means in your power, the principles of Christian duty, but do
not converse with them for the purpose of gratifying your curiosity in
regard to their piety, or your spiritual pride by counting up the
numbers of those who have been led to piety by your influence. Beginning
to act from Christian principle is the beginning of a new life, and it
may be an interesting subject of inquiry to you to ascertain how many of
your pupils have experienced the change; but, in many cases, it would
merely gratify curiosity to know. There is no question, too, that, in
very many instances, the faint glimmering of religious interest, which
would have kindled into a bright flame, is extinguished at once, and
perhaps forever, by the rough inquiries of a religious friend. Besides,
if you make inquiries, and form a definite opinion of your pupils, they
will know that this is your practice, and many a one will repose in the
belief that you consider him or her a Christian, and you will thus
increase the number, already unfortunately too large, of those who
maintain the form and pretenses of piety without its power; whose hearts
are filled with self-sufficiency and spiritual pride, and perhaps zeal
for the truths and external duties of religion, while the real spirit of
piety has no place there. They trust to some imaginary change, long
since passed by, and which has proved to be spurious by its failing of
its fruits. The best way - in fact, the only way - to guard against this
danger, especially with the young, is to show, by your manner of
speaking and acting on this subject at all times, that you regard a
truly religious life as the only evidence of piety, and that,
consequently, however much interest your pupils may apparently take in
religious instruction, they can not know, and you can not know, whether
Christian principle reigns within them in any other way than by
following them through life, and observing how, and with what spirit,
the various duties which devolve upon them are performed.
There are very many fallacious indications of piety, so fallacious and
so plausible that there are very few, even among intelligent Christians,
who are not often greatly deceived. "By their fruits ye shall know
them," said the Savior; a direction sufficiently plain, one would think,
and pointing to a test sufficiently easy to be applied. But it is slow
and tedious work to wait for fruits, and we accordingly seek a criterion
which will help us quicker to a result. You see your pupil serious and
thoughtful. It is well; but it is not proof of piety. You see him deeply