Charles Alexander McMurry.

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hastening altogether too rapidly to reach the exact
wording that the book or teacher prefers ; as though
an exact wording given to the child would neces-
sarily produce an exact thought in his mind. The
truth is that unless the exact notion has been ap-
proached very nearly by one's own power to think
and use words, the definition carefully worded for
him by another accomplishes little or nothing ; it does
not meet a feeling of need, and fails to be apper-
ceived or appreciated. Any statement of a defini-
tion, law, or rule should be the immediate outcome of
the thinking that has gone before, otherwise it is an
imposition upon the child. To be sure, children can
often reproduce the book's statement and talk about
it with glibness, but that proves only their ability
to handle words ; they are often conscious that they


are only playing with phrases and wondering if the
teacher will find them out ; this thing is happening
every day in our schools, and as a rule the attempt
to hide behind words is successful. It is a game of
hide-and-seek between teacher and pupil a mas-
querading with words.

If it is true that accurately worded statements
from the book or instructor do not necessarily elicit
accurate thinking from the pupil, less faith should
be placed in mere verbal accuracy, and the somewhat
cruder statement from the child should be more
willingly accepted. The latter is his own and is
genuine. The exact definition very often does not
appeal to him, and, in that case, instead of being
forced to learn it, he should be scolded if he allows
himself, parrot-like, to repeat it. The boy who said
that "number tells about the how-muchness of
things," had the essence of the definition ; why not
judge him by that and preserve his individuality?
It is one of the most difficult things in the world for
one to be himself in the true sense, and school in-
struction, instead of discouraging the real expres-
sion of self in the use of words, should count that
one of its high functions. Did not the boy have
an accurate idea of a bat, who defined it thus : " He's
a nasty little mouse with injy-rubber wings and shoe-
string tail, and bites like the devil " ? Does the text-
book come closer to the child's thought by describing
it as a " Mammal with a wing membrane extending


from the enormously elongated bones and fingers of
the fore limb to the comparatively short hind limbs"?
The adult's love of accuracy and graceful form of ex-
pression too often misleads him in these matters.

The uselessness of such a memorized definition is Howrepro-
seen from the fact that, when once forgotten, there gotten '
is no way of reproducing it except by turning to the statements,
book. Now the fact is that any rule or general
truth directly taught to a child will probably be for-
gotten a discouraging fact, but certainly true ;
and as text-books are not to be kept at hand
throughout life, how is the definition to be made
available ? The really useful generalization, the one
that brings with it a feeling of strength, is the one
that can be reproduced, after having been forgotten,
through the data out of which it arose ; it should be
so closely associated with these and so directly an
outgrowth from them that they can replace it when
lost; the child himself should draw the generaliza-
tion from the data in the first place, then when it is
forgotten it should be reproduced by his own un-
aided effort:. The first thing, then, in regard to the
acquisition of definitions, principles, etc., is that the
child reach them by his own thinking and state them
as well as possible in his own words.

The ability to do this depends greatly, of course,
upon his intimate acquaintance with the data them-
selves ; the individual notions and their points of
similarity must be well known to him ; in other words,


the first, second, and third steps must have been
properly covered.

When to use But should he never accept the words of another?

statement. He may, and undoubtedly should, at times, but not
until he has done his own thinking on the matter
and feels the crudeness of his own wording. The
mistake consists in offering the book's statement
prematurely, before the need of it is felt. If the
definition for case in grammar, or the rule for the
division of fractions, is taught before the meaning
itself stands out clearly in the mind, there is serious
danger lest it may never be rightly comprehended;
the reason is that the child, having once memorized
the definition or rule, refers to it for guidance and is
unwilling to turn back to speculate about its origin.
It is very difficult, after having gotten the words for
an abstract thought, to go back and get the thought
itself, for the mind is not then in a learning attitude ;
having secured the semblance of knowledge, it is
deceived into thinking that it has the whole thing
and is impatient of delay. The only safe method,
then, is to move slowly toward any definition, taxing
in full the learner's ability to think and express him-
self, until the correct conception is reached. After
that, if there is difficulty merely about a brief and
accurate wording, the form of statement given by
the book or teacher is entirely in place and may be
learned by heart.

Occasionally at the end of the discussion it is pos-


sible to clothe the principle in a classical garb ; for Value of

/ T T proverbs and

example, the proverb, " How much better is it to get poe tic form,
wisdom than gold ! " expresses the ruling idea in the
Golden Touch ; " In unity is strength," the one
suggested by the historical facts presented in Chapter
II. The Germans are far more accustomed to
summing up their conclusions in this form than we,
and the practice certainly adds grace and force to
their speech. The reason for preferring a classical
form of expression for a weighty thought over an
ordinary form, is much the same as that for prefer-
ring a classical poem to a poor one. Hence school
instruction should encourage familiarity with such
proverbs or maxims as are found in Poor Richard's
Almanac, the Bible, and ^Esop's Fables, in poetry,
etc., and should do so by selecting them to express
valuable sentiments that have been taught.

Text-books are often in place in the fourth step. Text-books
Many of them, as the ordinary small geography for summaries.
beginners, brief outlines of United States history,
grammars, etc., are little more than brief summaries
of the main facts belonging to the studies that they
represent. If these facts have been slowly reached,
i.e. to a fair degree inductively, they should be finally
reviewed and accurately summarized. Such text-books
accomplish this in an excellent manner. Among
some teachers it is the custom to require pupils to
enter their generalizations or main outlines of facts in
small blank books, with proper headings ; one book


is kept for each study and, as soon as an important
topic has been finished, it is written in its proper
place. Thus the children practically make their own

when gener- Sometimes, especially with young children, it seems
advisable not to teach the rule at all, relying upon
the concrete facts whatever their nature to sug-
gest it of themselves. This applies to arithmetic and
to literature, as well as to other studies. Froebel
emphasizes it strongly in the kindergarten. Little
people who cannot appreciate the statement of an
abstract rule may remember how a typical example
was worked and solve another in the same way ; or
in literature they may recall a story together with the
feeling it produced, thus receiving some benefit from
it, while a full statement of the moral might prove
too abstract, or, on other accounts, unwholesome. It
requires much delicacy on the part of the teacher,
especially when teaching morals, to distinguish what
is best to be done in this regard.

In teaching the rules and analyses of arithmetic
teachers sometimes demand from children a prema-
ture exactness and fulness of language. It is obvious
that exact verbal statements in description of con-
crete objects are difficult, still more so are rules and
abstractions which are much more difficult to under-
stand and formulate. Children in the fourth or fifth
school-year are often teased and worried over a long,
exact, and tedious analysis of a problem in denomi-


nate numbers or fractions, or in the exact statement
of a rule not yet sufficiently illuminated by examples.
Generally such careful, exhaustive analyses are suited
only to advanced pupils who have already acquired a
clear knowledge of their subjects. In beginning any
important topic in arithmetic, children should first
become familiar with a process by repeated oral and
written problems. If they can work these prob-
lems and give short, intelligent answers as to
the reasons, it is enough. By such simple ques-
tions and answers, the teacher can tell if a child
understands a problem, and more than this is often
mere vexation of spirit. The recitation period is
often wasted and the children vexed and confused by
such long-winded analyses and statement of rules.

Over-exactness in defining the meaning of words in
the reading lesson leads also to a waste of time and a
wearisome routine. Such excess of verbal precision
may give a little clearer insight, but it is often gained
at the expense of interest and enthusiasm for the
subject. It is very depressing.

Summing up : inability to state the generalization
reached is due primarily to vagueness of thought;
such a statement, then, is an essential part of instruc-
tion. The wording for the same should come from
the child himself, being an immediate outgrowth from
the data that he has at hand ; this is especially impor-
tant, since any rule is likely to be forgotten, and unless
it can be recalled without help, the utility of the


knowledge is greatly diminished. The book's state-
ment may be memorized, but not unless it seems to
voice the child's own feeling. If possible, a classical
form of expression should be found for the generali-
zation. If the precaution here advised in approach-
ing the generalization is in place, it is apparent how
ridiculous it is to place the general before chil-
dren, even before the individual facts have been pre-
sented, as is often done.



WHAT worth have these general truths which have When shall
been gained at such expense of labor on the part of tioVatprin-
both teachers and pupils ? We may stop a moment ci P les be


to take account of our work done, and of the task
that still lies before us. In the previous chapters we
have dealt somewhat in detail with the series of steps
necessary to the construction of those general notions
which, properly fitted together, constitute the chief
framework of a study. When the children have
worked their way to a clear grasp of these general
notions, by a self-active, inductive process of thinking,
have they not reached the end sought by instruction ?
If so, the goal set up is a clear view of important
principles. To those who look upon the school as a
place of preparation in contrast with later life as a
field of application, this is the goal of school studies.
But this leaves unsolved the child's most difficult
problem ; namely, the acquisition of skill in the ready
use of principles. It has been said over and over
again by the best teachers and writers on education
that principles and rules are never safely mastered



till they have settled into the usual practice and con-
duct of a child. " For from repeated cautions and
rules, never so often inculcated, you are not to
expect anything either in this or any other case fur-
ther than practice has established them into habits."
(Locke, par. 10," Thoughts on Education.") If children
are to know how to apply important principles in later
life, when shall they acquire the extremely difficult art
of application ? There may be a whole series of abor-
tive efforts in education due to this disposition to call
a halt in the mental movement before the final result
in the form of useful application is reached.
Errors on the The first of these errors was seen above in the
cation? aPP J " verbal mastery of rules and principles without clear
insight. No matter how fluently and trippingly a
child in the schoolroom may run off such formula;,
the whole process of learning may be empty and
farcical. At the other extreme, the most complete
theoretical mastery of principles will not give profi-
ciency in their practical use. One may master the
grammar of the German language and still cut a most
blundering figure in German conversation. Between
the extremes of rote-learning and of clear insight into
principles there may be an entire series of miscar-
riages. But even beyond the step of clear insight
there may be the greatest miscarriage of all in the
failure to turn clearly recognized rules into use.
The end of instruction has not been reached until
skill in the actual application has been developed.


We deceive ourselves again and again by stopping at
halfway stations on the highway of learning. We
are not simply sight-seers, to be satisfied with fine
views, not caring to reach any destined point.

One who has worked his way up to the clear grasp The breadth
of some important principle stands at a high point
and gets a broad survey. A survey of what ? Of the tions -
road he has already travelled, and in part also of that
which he is still to traverse. That is, he has a double
task to perform : first, to look backward and see the
extent to which the principle operates in what he
already knows ; and, second, to look forward and apply
it to the new problems which he is about to meet.
Both these things are difficult. But they are difficul-
ties which lie of necessity in the path of knowledge.
As when travellers ascend some broad mountain
range, till they reach at last the summit of the high-
est ridge, from which they look back over the slopes
behind and forward on their journey through moun-
tains and plains, so the student, as he rises to the
grasp of some large principle, looks back over the
steps already traversed and forward to those which
follow. The discovery of a great principle is no
doubt a long forward step, but it may take all the
rest of one's life to find out the breadth and variety
of its applications. The first grasp of such a princi-
ple, be it never so clear, is only a foretaste of the
richer fruitage it will still bear. When Columbus
first landed on the shores of the Bahamas, he had


indeed solved a great problem, and had gone far
toward establishing his general theory; but there
was a bigger problem to be solved, both as to the
continents of America and as to the extent of the
world whole. Since Darwin first expounded the law
of evolution, it has been applied by scientists in
scores of directions only vaguely contemplated by
Darwin himself. Macaulay, on the basis of the prin-
ciples of common law in England, worked out a ser-
viceable plan for the administration of justice in the
courts of India. How 'the world is astonished from
time to time by new applications of the power of
electricity which operates under certain laws ! Every
new principle discovered becomes an instrument of
investigation, a lever for prying open new secrets.
General notions, the more we grow up to them, be-
come more and more the interpreters of our prob-
lems, the keys which, like the open sesame, unlock
and swing open many long-closed doors. Nature
everywhere locks the door and bars out the in-
truder. But whoever carries a bundle of bright keys
in the form of principles and laws, and is constantly
turning and testing them in use, will rapidly gain
the freedom of the realm. This is, indeed, the goal
toward which instruction should move, and never
lag till the end is reached ; namely, such a working
mastery of general truths as shows itself in ready
instinctive tact in common use. The great fact here
to be kept in mind is, then, that the value of general


truths lies in the freedom and versatility with which
we can turn them into use.

We see now a great defect in much of our knowl- The difficulty
edge, and why it is so halting and unserviceable when heory to &
called into sudden action under the emergencies P ractice -
of life. The old adage teaches that knowledge is

But the power of the school-trained man so often
suffers a partial or complete paralysis in times of
need that this old proverb seems only half true, or
in cases not true at all. Its truth depends upon the
meaning which is read into the word knowledge.
Undigested, unorganized knowledge is not power.
Knowledge which has never been tested in use,
never worked over into habit, is not power. Knowl-
edge, stored away in the half-forgotten recesses of
the mind and even in the time of learning not clearly
understood, is not power.

The old question of the relation between theory
and practice is here at issue. The prevailing ques-
tion in school is, What do you know? But life
insistently demands, What can you do ? and since
school prepares for life it should meet this demand.
In the case of many reputedly well-educated people,
there is a wide breach between their knowledge and
their power to do. It is the duty of the school to
make the ability to do a part of the knowing.

The boy who wishes to be a sailor has acquired
some knowledge of ships and of seafaring life. He


has heard stories and read books of travel and
adventure in foreign lands. In fancy he dreams of
delightful voyages, and is only disenchanted by the
rough usage of real sailor life. But this inuring to
hardship and rough usage is a necessary preparation
for good seamanship.

The errand boy in the bank office forecasts his
easy success as a great banker, but tires under the
long routine and industry of working, his way to a
complete knowledge of the business. The young
student of agriculture has vivid theories of the revo-
lution needed in farming ; but the careful and con-
stant labor required for keeping down expenses and
losses, while securing profits, leads to wisdom and

But failure and miscarriages are not confined to
young people. Older persons constantly blunder in
measuring the distance and difficulty between an
idea and its realization. In consequence life is
strewn with wrecks. The unrealized schemes and
half-executed projects of business men everywhere,
cumber the ground. If the schools, therefore, can
induce any habits which bring thought and action,
knowing and doing, into vital union, they will per-
form a great service to society.

There are certain situations in life where such a
close relation between theory and practice can be
witnessed. The boy brought up by a prudent father
to the hard and varied work of the farm, daily welds


his thought and experience into union. His prac-
tice keeps pace with his knowledge. The young
recruits of Prussia are inured, even in time of peace,
to the hardships of war. The best preparation of a
soldier is to experience the drills, marches, hard-
ships, and manoeuvres of army life. This kind of
training makes the soldier a veteran before he has
seen a battle. Our medical schools, by means of
laboratories, dissections, and clinical operations, come
as near as possible to making expert physicians of
their students before allowing them to practice. In
trade and polytechnic schools, students are brought,
by dealing with the actual materials and processes
of their work, to skill and mastery of the mechanic
arts. In all these cases the school is formed into
the closest possible resemblance to life. In law
schools, by moot courts ; in theological schools, by
drill in preaching ; in normal schools, by practice
departments, there is a close approximation to the
actual difficulties of later professional work.

But does this law of close and inseparable com- Should the
panionship between knowledge and its use prevail

also in common school studies ? It is easy to see that knowledge to


professional schools of all sorts must lay great
stress upon the use of knowledge, because each of
them aims directly at practical efficiency in a single
calling. But the common schools are not designed
to fit children directly for particular callings. The
knowledge they give fits equally for all callings.


Now it will be acknowledged that the general culture
acquired in the common schools is just as essential to
complete living as is the particular knowledge gained
in law, or dentistry, or engineering. But has it the
same close relationship to practice ? Why not ?
Mere knowledge is not what we are after in common
schools any more than in a chemical laboratory, but
rather character as expressed in conduct. Character
is the union of theory with practice ; it is the incor-
poration of knowledge into habit. If character is
being formed in school years, just to that extent
knowledge of some sort is being converted into use,
changed into habit.

But the school is inclined to lose sight of this
measure of its efficiency, to shift the responsibility for
character, and to set up an artificial standard of
excellence. The present prevailing school standard
is an intellectual grasp of knowledge, tested by ex-
aminations ; unfortunately this test does not reach
far enough. Oftentimes it falls far short of the final
test of power to use. When a child in a history or
reading lesson appreciates an example showing the
bad effects of sudden and uncontrolled anger, he has
caught a clear view of an important truth in life ; but
no one will claim that the lesson is really learned till
he is prepared to curb his own anger under provok-
ing circumstances. During the recitation, at recess,
and upon the playground the teacher has better and
more important opportunities for testing the best


ideas in conduct than the written examination can

We all admit that the application of truth must
come sooner or later, but when shall this be ? Is it
safe to postpone the use of knowledge to later years ?
Doubtless we shall have much need for it later on.
But shall we be able to bring it into use in future
years unless we habituate ourselves to its use dur-
ing the period of acquisition? Children are in the
full tide of life. They show many-sided activity.
Conduct is not a future contingency, but a present
fact. They have all sorts of duties and responsibil-
ities. There will never be a time when the child will
have more varied uses for his knowledge than now.
But the habit of separating knowledge from use is in
itself pernicious, and when formed in youth is a pos-
itive obstruction to success in mature life. Is it any
less important that a child should put in practice day
by day the merits and virtues of his early training
than that a plumber, during his apprenticeship, should
learn the technique of his work in iron. Is it any
more necessary that a theological student should
learn to make and deliver sermons at the seminary
than that a boy in school should learn to be self-
reliant and honest in board work ?

Many of the most important lessons of life must
be learned and converted into habit long before pro-
fessional studies are begun. Before the boy decides
to be a merchant or a dentist, he must decide whether


he will be an honest man or a rogue, a law-abiding
citizen or a disturber, narrow and bigoted, or charitable
and liberal. Until these things are settled, and settled
right, it is an impertinence to talk of a profession.
The danger The incomplete and theoretical character of much
school knowledge is brought to light by the perfunc-

tionofknowi- torv an( j half-hearted action of children while en-

gaged in school work. Good study, like good eating,

is marked by relish and appetite. But where zest is
lacking, work is spiritless and without healthy tone.
When the strong life impulses pour themselves
through the school studies the latter then become a
part of the child's deeper character-forming experi-
ence ; that is, an organic part of life, not dead matter
wedged in between the living tissues. Children

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Online LibraryCharles Alexander McMurryThe method of the recitation → online text (page 13 of 21)