Copyright
Charles Alexander McMurry.

The method of the recitation online

. (page 5 of 21)
Online LibraryCharles Alexander McMurryThe method of the recitation → online text (page 5 of 21)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


be handed about from person to person, examined
and traced back to their origin. Each man, in order
to have them really, must give birth to them within
his own mind, and they must be born out of the indi
vidual notions that are already there present. " The
general notion is not a new mental product existing
apart from and outside of the concrete notions, but
it is thought out each time, inasmuch as a person
from among the numerous ideas of the same kind
. . . lifts exclusively the essential characteristics
into the centre of consciousness and endeavors to
isolate them from the others which recede or with-
draw." It is not, therefore, the business of the
teacher to retail ready-made general notions. Gen-
eral truths should be tatight after individuals ; that is
the proper sequence.

Yet the world has for ages allowed the other why general

r truths are

order, and probably to-day the great majority of often pre-
teachers present first the rule, then the example. sented first
Almost all text-books were modelled after this plan
until very recent years ; gradually, now, books fol-
lowing the inductive method are being introduced
into the schools. One explanation of this error is



68 METHOD OF RECITATION

that it seems to the instructor much easier to teach
in this way. It requires great energy to collect a
large number of facts, and then so to arrange and
compare them as to lead to an important law or
truth. And especially does it require great energy
to keep this course up. No wonder, then, that it
has not been usually done. If we want children to
comprehend and learn important principles, why not
give them these latter outright ? Or, still better, why
not give them these together with a few examples
then the result is assured. So teachers reason, and
so they act, thus obeying the universal desire to
avoid work. Another reason for this short-sighted-
ness is found in the desire to save time. It is a very
slow process to approach broad truths inductively.
It seems a much shorter, simpler route to learning to
offer rules outright and have them committed to
memory with a few illustrations.

Butiaborand However, this inverted order means a loss rather
ost than a saving of time and labor. For instance, when
children begin mode in grammar by learning that it is
" the manner in which the action, being, or state ex-
pressed by the verb is stated or conceived," time is
lost, because these are mere empty words until the
pupils have been made conscious, through numerous
examples, that there are several ways of conceiving
action, being, and state. Usually, although children
have been comprehending and speaking their mother-
tongue for many years before this definition is



ORDER OF GENERAL AND INDIVIDUAL NOTIONS 69

reached in school, they have reflected so little upon
their own speech that they are ignorant of the exist-
ence of several modes. It would require considerable
time to reach back into their experiences and collect
enough instances in which action, being, and state
have been differently conceived, to convince them
that this definition pertained to their own lives or
had any worth for them. Consequently, when they
learn it first, they get empty words and not a thought.
The same thing is true in geography when defini-
tions of mountain, plateau, etc., are given before par-
ticular mountains, plateaus, etc., have been studied.
The emphasis now laid upon home geography is
partly caused by belief in inductive work. One can-
not always visit a mountain, plateau, etc., but he can
study one or several of these objects in detail before
receiving a definition of the same. No time is saved
by presenting the rule for division of fractions, or the
definition of specific gravity, before numerous con-
crete examples have been carefully examined. In all
cases, whatever labor and time are spent in pretend-
ing to understand what one does not and, from the
nature of the case, cannot understand, are entirely
lost.

But there is more than a loss of labor and time in Also danger
giving the generalization first, for children are there-
by forced to approach a subject from the least attrac-
tive side. They are called upon to master the words
for a thought that is not expected to be understood



7O METHOD OF RECITATION

till later. Just as it is injudicious for men and
women to present their least agreeable side to
strangers, so it is unpedagogical to introduce chil-
dren to topics in a way that least appeals to their
past experiences and interests. When the rule is
placed in front they are necessarily reminded of
their weakness rather than of their strength, and an
unfriendly feeling is engendered toward the subject
in hand. Consequently not only are labor and time
lost, but children are repelled by such instruction.
An apparent But many eminent men have been educated in just
explained. tn ^ s wa y> and it often happens that general truths are
immediately comprehended on presentation. Is it
entirely in vain, therefore, that rules are offered di-
rectly, with the hope of abridging the process of
acquiring knowledge?

If it be true, as was asserted, that generalizations
arise in only a single way, that they have their origin
solely in individual notions, then there is only one
possible way of approaching them. The fact that
they are at times fully understood as soon as heard,
is no exception to this rule. In such cases past life
has happened to furnish enough individual experi-
ences, and these are sufficiently present in conscious-
ness to give a meaning to the words that are heard.
The reason that the words are comprehended is that
the truth has already been reached inductively, and
it is now simply being worded. Now and then, too,
where past experience bears apparently little relation



to some general statement, a person shows strange
power to reproduce and mass data that can explain it.
But that is the privilege of only an unusually quick
mind, and is no exception to the psychological law.
Even in such cases, unless the supposed generaliza-
tions are merely reviews or applications of truths
developed in the past, they are still in reality ap-
proached inductively : the words are empty, or carry
only a doubtful meaning, until facts are called to mind
which form a basis for drawing the desired conclu-
sion; light is then shed upon them, or they are given a
content. The statement of the general truth first is,
therefore, merely a challenge to hunt up the data that
prove the truth. With trained adults acquainted with
the subject, and with very bright minds, the challenge
is received joyfully, and activity follows that results
in clear insight.

But that does not happen in ordinary instruction.
Usually the generalizations that the school should
teach are too far in advance of the child's or youth's
knowledge to be understood at a glance ; or even if
his past experience actually contains all of the con-
crete facts required, they are so scattered and so far
removed from consciousness when needed that they
are practically wanting. Then this pleasant chal-
lenge is converted into a disagreeable command; it
is a circumlocution in method that causes loss of time
and destruction of interest.

The conclusion is therefore reached, that the only



72 METHOD OF RECITATION

wise course is to bring together or present concrete
notions in advance of the rules which they would
teach. Accordingly, the statement of the rule for
addition of fractions should follow the solution of
several examples involving addition ; the law for the
metamorphosis of insects should follow the study in
detail of one or more types of insects; likewise the
definition of trade-centre, the underlying truth in the
Golden Touch, and the proverb in regard to unity
should all come after the concrete data. The second
presentation of each of these general truths, as out-
lined in Chapter II, illustrates how this might be
planned.

With this important conclusion established, it is
possible to distinguish the outline of method. There
are three great topics to be kept in mind; namely,
individual notions, general notions, and the applica-
tion of general notions. There are no others, because
these three cover the entire circuit ; there is no part
of instruction that can fall outside of them.

From what has immediately preceded, these three
topics must be treated in the order mentioned; i.e.
first, individual notions must be taught, then progress
should be made from the individuals to the generals,
then these latter should be applied. This necessary
order constitutes the first great law of method.

And since all mistakes in method of teaching can
be made only in one of these three fields, there are
naturally three leading questions in method :



ORDER OF GENERAL AND INDIVIDUAL NOTIONS 7$

1. How should individual notions be acquired?

2. How should progress be made from individual
to general notions ?

3. How should general notions be applied?

If there is a necessary way of acquiring individual
notions, and also of passing from individuals to gen-
erals, then, besides the great law of method already
mentioned, i.e. induction, other laws may be estab-
lished which will prove of great value.

It is our next duty to discuss the first of these
three questions. And as the acquisition of individ-
ual notions requires the consideration of a large num-
ber of topics, the problem will be divided into two
parts or chapters : first, how individual notions should
be prepared for or approached ; second, how they
should be presented.



CHAPTER VI

HOW INDIVIDUAL NOTIONS SHOULD BE APPROACHED

WE have already discussed the nature of individ-
ual notions in distinguishing them from general no-
tions, and have seen that they are identical with
percepts or concrete notions. A large number of such
notions are acquired during the first years of life by
direct contact with individual things. Children see,
handle, taste, smell, etc., and thus receive their first
impressions. They also perceive individual events
and relationships. The birds in their neighborhood
build their nests and rear their young ; their favorite
trees blossom and bear fruit ; the seeds of certain
flowers are found to be transported in all directions
by the wind and often by animals ; the cold weather
causes the village pond to freeze over, and certain
vessels containing water to burst. The intercourse of
men with one another is likewise noted ; one speaks
angrily with another ; two are observed to be united
by the bond of friendship ; some perform many kind
acts, while others seem to be guided by certain ig-
noble motives, etc. All such things and many more
are perceived, and leave impressions called individual
notions.

74



THE APPROACH TO INDIVIDUAL NOTIONS 75

This process of learning by direct experience con-
tinues throughout life. But if a person is left en-
tirely to himself in acquiring knowledge, he is likely
to make serious mistakes in even the simplest obser-
vations, and to be very superficial. One sees birds Extent of
daily, but it is rarely the case that he can describe



common birds accurately ; favorite shade trees that experience.

line our streets, as the elm and the maple, are scarcely

seen, although we almost touch them every day; few

can tell when they bear flowers and seeds, or whether

they bear them at all, or not. Many persons cannot

even tell the color of the eyes of their friends and

daily companions. Carelessness in the observation

of common events is just as striking : we fail to note

the direction of the wind and the habits of animals ;

few can tell how a cow lies down or how a horse gets

up. This inability to see correctly, or to see at all,

is shown in a practicaj. way in the courtroom by the

failure of eye-witnesses of objects and events to agree

as to what was seen.

It is the mission of the school, so far as it can, to HOW the

school sup-
correct and widen such observation. But there are p i e mems this

many individual objects of study that cannot be ex P enence -
brought before the senses of children, and instruction
must deal with these also as best it can. For exam-
ple, many geographical and historical objects which
are distant in place or time still need to be sharply
grasped by the children. Famous scenes in history,
interesting and picturesque places in geography, need



76 METHOD OF RECITATION

to be presented definitely to the mind. Pictures,
drawings, famous paintings, photographic views of
notable buildings, churches, monuments, etc., are in-
dispensable for giving correct notions of individual
things. The teacher may also use diagrams, and
simple plans and sketches on the blackboard, not
only to explain forts, cities, battles, journeys, cam-
paigns, voyages, etc., but also to make plain particular
processes in the industries, machines, and inventions,
devices for overcoming difficulties, experiments in
natural science, the movements of planets in the
solar system, and many similar particulars. The
children also should use these same graphic means
of expressing their thought, and thus become more
clearly acquainted with the facts.

Even in natural science, which is primarily a study
of things present to the senses, there are many
objects and particulars, at home and abroad, which
can best be shown by skilful devices and graphic
diagram : such as the circulation of the blood, life
processes in plant and animal, chemical and physical
changes and forces, microscopic life and changes as
touched upon in grammar grades, geological strata,
mathematical geography, and many other examples
in science. A large portion of the time given to
elementary branches must be devoted to the study of
these objects of sense, either present or absent

But it is evident that instruction which deals with
these distant objects is subject to even more frequent



THE APPROACH TO INDIVIDUAL NOTIONS //

errors than is the study of objects present to the
senses. The first great source of error, therefore, is
found in the faultiness of this original raw material
of knowledge, the sense-percepts.

The second and perhaps still more troublesome Why the

f f i ii 7 -,.1 i i teacher must

source of error is found in the language with which reg ard words
we try to express or convey knowledge. Language is with . .
indispensable to thought, and yet when carelessly
used it is a prolific source of confusion. For words
are but the arbitrary symbols of knowledge and in
themselves mean nothing. The words that we see
or hear sometimes mean little or nothing to us, some-
times they suggest a wrong notion or one different
from that intended by the speaker or writer. Seldom
does a word mean exactly the same to two different
persons. And yet, since not only the geographical
and historical events, but even the objects studied,
cannot usually be present to the senses, instruction
must depend mainly upon these faulty instruments
to build up new and correct mental images. What
a wide door is here opened for misconception and
error in the use of language !

Now instead of sharply noticing the sources of
error in the use of words and of pressing back of
them to the original objects and facts themselves,
teachers have often made the surprising mistake of
thinking that bare words have a peculiar power for
directly conveying knowledge, that a mere word is
the equivalent of an idea, and that verbal descriptions



78 METHOD OF RECITATION

of objects and events can build up in children's
minds vivid and correct mental pictures. This view
of teaching made instruction an apparently simple
and easy matter. Any one could teach who could
govern a school, who possessed the necessary knowl-
edge, and who had a good command of language.

But the modern understanding declares teaching to
be by no means so easy or mechanical; there are sev-
eral important conditions to be fulfilled before facts
communicated by words can result in real knowledge,
and it is the observance of these that makes teaching
a difficult process.

One of these conditions that is essential is sug-
gested by a story that Rousseau relates in his " Emile."
He had accepted an invitation to spend a few days
at the country home of a woman of rank who was
much interested in the education of her children,
and he happened one morning to be present in a
history recitation conducted by a private tutor with
the eldest boy. The topic under discussion was the
well-known story of Alexander and his physician,
Philip. It was related how the former was warned
by friends that Philip was untrue to him and was
awaiting an opportunity to give him poison ; and
that, nevertheless, when in need of medicine, Alex-
ander took the proffered goblet and drank its con-
tents without hesitation. At dinner the child was
called upon to relate the narrative, and did so amidst
much applause. There then followed some discus'



THE APPROACH TO INDIVIDUAL NOTIONS 79

sion of its merits. The majority of the guests
present agreed that Alexander was very rash, while
some, among whom were the tutor and the boy,
greatly admired his bravery. This was enough to
convince Rousseau that none of them had a proper
appreciation of the real greatness of Alexander's
act. It was to him first of all a profession of faith
in mankind. Alexander believed in human virtue;
he had faith in his friends, even to the extent of
putting his life in their hands.

But the great educator was particularly interested
in the interpretation which the boy might put upon
the story ; accordingly, at the first opportunity after
dinner, the two took a stroll together through the
park. Rousseau had already come to suspect, from
several signs, that the boy had no correct compre-
hension of the story which he had related so beauti-
fully. He therefore questioned him at his ease
and found that he, more even than his instructor or
any of the guests, was an admirer of the courage
that Alexander had displayed. " But," proceeds
Rousseau, "do you know wherein he saw this cour-
age ? Solely in the act of swallowing a bitter-tast-
ing potion without hesitation and without showing
the least repugnance. The poor child who, less
than two weeks before, had been required to take
some medicine and had found it extremely difficult,
had still the after-taste of medicine in his mouth.
To him death and poisoning meant only disagreeable



8O METHOD OF RECITATION

sensations, and he could conceive of no poison more
disagreeable than his own drug. However, I must
confess that the courage of this hero had made a
deep impression upon his young mind, and he had
firmly resolved to be brave like Alexander the next
time it might be necessary for him to swallow such
a draught."

Here we have a simple narrative interpreted in
four different ways, and it is easy to determine the
cause. The taking of medicine being an important
incident in the anecdote, and the boy's experiences
along this line being recent and vivid, he made out
its meaning through their help. The tutor, also,
saw bravery in Alexander's act, but of a different,
more soldier-like quality.

The majority of the guests considered Alexander
very rash, because they called to mind, in interpreting
the deed, past experiences that were only superficially
related to it, while Rousseau, being a man who had
learned to appreciate the beautiful and noble, had
apperceiving feelings which led him to class this
among the noblest acts of man. This is proof that
the mere recital of words gives no guarantee of a
correct interpretation. Further than that, we see
that it is the past that conditions the present; it is
our P ast ideas ' feelin g s > habits, etc., that interpret
the new experiences which are offered us. This
fact is seen in the varying impressions that the
members of an audience carry away from a lecture



THE APPROACH TO INDIVIDUAL NOTIONS 8 1

which all have had an equal opportunity to hear.
It is seldom that a simple announcement to the sev-
eral hundred students in a normal school is under-
stood in the same way by all present. In such cases
the difference in interpretation cannot be due to a
difference in what is heard, for all hear exactly the
same words ; it must be due, therefore, to differences
in those that listen; according to the thoughts that
are uppermost in their minds they get meaning from
the words that are uttered. It is clear, then, that
we "proceed from the known to the unknown" in
learning, or that we "get out of a thing what we
put into it." This is probably the most important
of all the principles of teaching, and is commonly
called the principle of apperception.

There are two considerations which must be con-
tinually kept in mind if this great law shall be suc-
cessfully applied by the teacher :

First, any new knowledge offered to a child must First condi-
be met by old ideas closely related to it if it is to be



well comprehended and appreciated. A child who of principle

of appercep-

has been blind from birth, and whose sole means tion.
of discovering the presence and quality of objects is
through the sense of touch, cannot comprehend how
an ordinary person can know that there is a horse
down the street ; it is necessary for the blind child
to go and place his hands upon the animal to de-
termine where and what it is. Also, having no ap-
preciation of color, he is unable to distinguish what



82 METHOD OF RECITATION

things have that characteristic, or to see anything
inappropriate in the question, What is the color of
the days of the week ? One child to whom this
query was put, very naturally replied that they
were probably blue, for he had heard people speak
of " blue Monday " ; another likened red to the
sound of a trumpet. Thus the absence of a cer-
tain class of experiences prevents the possibility of
interpreting ideas belonging to that class.

The majority of men would learn almost as little
from a lecture on calculus as the blind boy from one
on color. But as things begin to come within our
range of knowledge and interests, they begin to
carry meaning. The wild Indian on the western
plains would appreciate the sight .of a man climb-
ing a telegraph pole in modern fashion, for he does
enough climbing himself to realize that it is no easy
task to go up a smooth pole. Still, there is such a
wide chasm between his daily thoughts and most
modern inventions, that he would be unlikely to
have much regard for a steam-engine. The school-
boy who reads about the threefold division of so-
ciety in European countries is confronted by much
the same difficulty; his environment being usually
his sole source of help, he attempts to divide his
own little community into three strata, according
to the description. In this country the attempt
necessarily meets with failure, and consequently the
thought has little force. Thus, in applying the law



THE APPROACH TO INDIVIDUAL NOTIONS 83

that new knowledge can be acquired solely through
the old, it must be remembered that the relationship
between the new and the old must be very close, if
the former is to be well comprehended and ap-
preciated.

The second consideration is just as important as A second
the first in influencing the method of teaching ; it is
that any one must be fully conscious of this close con-
nection between the known and that which is yet to
be learned. If this consciousness is lacking, the
two are practically disconnected, no matter how
close their real kinship may be. We often meet
old friends and regard them as strangers, and this
happened so regularly in the schoolroom that it
would be difficult to accomplish it more cer-
tainly.

For instance, children are not expected to dis-
tinguish the grammatical subject and predicate of sen-
tences before the eleventh year of age. But they
have been speaking English nine or ten years, and
understanding it fully as long. Of course, then, they
know "what they are speaking about" when they
utter their thoughts, and they know well, too, what
they say about their topics of conversation. They
understand their mothers and their friends just as
well as themselves. Any child, then, has had daily .
practice for ten years in distinguishing "subject"
and "predicate," and has become quite an adept
at it before he is required to study such matter in



84 METHOD OF RECITATION

school. What teachers need to do is to remind him
of this abundant experience and show him that, while
he knows a great deal about this topic, there are
many things yet to learn ; he is then ready for work.
But, alas! What is usually done? Without refer-


1 2 3 5 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21

Online LibraryCharles Alexander McMurryThe method of the recitation → online text (page 5 of 21)