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Individual Instruction









"For some years I have been conscious of the fact that our
modern graded school system that strives to treat all the
pupils in exactly the same way is resulting in worry and the
consequent nervous strain so common in pupils and in teach-
ers. The absence of everything of this kind from pupils and
teachers in the Batavia schools is to me the most noteworthy
result of organized individual instruction as it exists there.
A system that will save for effective use the energy that is
being wasted, and even worse than wasted, will increase
many fold the efficiency of our schools. Such a system seems
to have been evolved by Sup't Kennedy and to have passed
beyond the experimental stage into the realm of demon-
strated fact in the Batavia schools." Chas. F. Wheelock,
Assistant commissioner of secondary education, University
of the State of New York.

"To-day while visiting the recitation of an old-time friend,
Dr. Boughton, now at the Erasmus Hall high school, I noticed
an incident which interested and pleased me, as doubtless
it will you. In the class discussion about Oliver Goldsmith's
school days, Dr. Boughton asked the question 'Are there
really any dull boys ?' One little fellow, not more than
thirteen years old, said :

" 'There are not. This has been proved at Batavia, N. Y.,
where a system of individual instruction has been adopted
which is attracting people from all parts of the world. This
system shows that all children can learn if they only have a

"I was hardly prepared to hear a school boy speak of in-
dividual instruction, but this incident to me is significant.
Dr. Gunnison, * principal of the school, to whom I related
this incident, is deeply interested in your work, and will in a
few weeks send one or two of his teachers to study the sys-
tem. And so the good work goes on." Sup't Albert Leonard,
New Rochelle, N. Y., former president Michigan state normal


In the forty years that I have been getting
acquainted with teachers I have found a large
proportion of those who are more than place-
holders divided into two classes: those who
adopt every new notion that finds advocates,
like no-recess, ambidexterity, vertical penman-
ship, and discard it as soon as other people
begin to discard it; and those whose minds
have been tickled by the epigram that what
is new is not true and what is true is not new, and
who refuse to admit that the unaccustomed
may be worth investigation. The Batavia
system has suffered from both of these classes.
The first have nominally adopted it, without
comprehension of its underlying and funda-
mental features; the others have passed it by
on the other side as an undue featuring of a
familiar principle. It will be well for both




these classes to know what the Batavia system
is not.

(1) It is not individual instruction. There
was never a school that did not give individual
instruction. The Batavia system is a system
of individual instruction, substituting for oc-
casional, haphazard personal teaching, often
after hours when both teacher and pupil are
wearied, or during recess when the teacher is
hurried, or in course of recitation when ^he
pupil is embarrassed and the class is kept wait-
ing, a system whereby such instruction has its
regular time and place with none of these un-
certainties and difficulties.

(2) It is not a way to boost pupils. Its
foundation principle is not to tell but to lead
the pupil to find out for himself. Instead of
robbing the pupil of the joy of achievement by
seeking to find for him a royal road to knowl-
edge it glorifies the achievement and the joy
of it, and inspires a love and a habit of it.

(3) It is not a device for helping backward


pupils. It helps them, but it helps bright
pupils too, and there is no recognition of back-
ward pupils. Every pupil in school is benefited.

(4) It is not a foe to the graded system.
On the contrary, nowhere are the advantages
and the necessity of the class more convincingly
demonstrated than in this book. It sustains
the graded system by supplementing it.

(5) It is not a way to get extra labor from
the teacher. On the contrary, it lightens her
work and relieves her of anxiety.

(6) It is not an excuse to add to expense.
On the contrary it lightens it, producing more
result at less cost.

If all this is true, and there is a great deal
of excellent testimony here to prove it from
men whose word commands respect, then the
Batavia system is worthy of investigation,
and this book with its full index makes that
investigation easy.

The standard held up for pupils at Batavia
is high. Far from the Montessori notion that


everything must yield to the impulses of the
child, the pupil is taught from the first the joy
of accomplishing what is given him to do.
There is a modern tendency to rob children
of this joy, to find a royal road to learning. "If
I held all knowledge in my closed fist," the
philosopher said, "I would open my hand and
let it fly away for the joy of gathering it once
more." It is not our knowledge we value in
later years, but the process through which
what we have of knowledge was procured.

Can you look back to the afternoon when
you knew it was your duty to write an essay,
but you wanted to play ball, to get a lesson, to
read a book, all laudable things to do except
that on this occasion it was your duty to do
something else? Do you remember how you
pondered over it before you could conquer
yourself sufficiently to set at work, how hard
it was to get started, but how when once the
spirit of work came upon you it took possession
of your whole being, till you wrote almost with


inspiration, and never rose from the table till
it had been completed and corrected and copied,
and you could say to yourself, "That is the best
of which I am capable"? How many joys in
life have you had equal to that? The joy was
not in the product you forgot the essay long
ago. It was in the process, in the satisfaction
of self-mastery, the victory of effort, the de-
light of accomplishment. Getting this is about
all that is worth while in education.

It is to my mind the strongest feature of the
Batavia system that it preserves and en-
courages and stimulates this joy of accom-
plishment. The child is never told by his
teacher. He is shown how to find out for him-
self, and to enjoy finding out for himself. The
leisure for individual work gives the teacher
opportunity to discover where the boy's think-
ing machine is clogged, to remove the obstacle,
and to set it going again. It is not the answer
to the arithmetic problem the teacher wants:
it is the ability and the perseverance of the boy


to get the answer. In class she can do little
more than assure herself the answers are cor-
rect. In individual work she can make sure
he can solve all such problems, and that he
will joy in being able to do it. Love and work
are the only things in life really worth while.
Love comes to most of us but some miss it.
Nobody need miss work, and if joy in honest
work is planted in his soul his life will not be
barren or unhappy.

That the Bat a via children acquire this joy
is not a theory. The principal argument for
vocational work is that it takes hold of chil-
dren when they have begun to be restless and
want to give up school. The Bat a via children
do not want to give up school. They stay in
the grades, they enter the high school, they
finish the course, boys and girls alike, and they
choose the cultural studies, the hard studies:
In an enrolment of 1750 there are 850 in the
upper seven of the twelve grades, and 375 in
the high school. The proportion of pupils


studying Greek is larger than in any other city
or village of the state.

One explanation is that under this system
school work becomes intensive. There is none
of the dawdling over an open book that not
only is not study but precludes the knowledge
of what study is. From time immemorial the
recitation has been looked upon as a battle of
wits between instructor and pupils to detect
lack of preparation. A library could be made
from familiar anecdotes, like that of the pro-
fessor who said severely, "I have discovered
that because I always begin at the head of the
class and call upon you in turn, you have pre-
pared yourselves only upon the questions that
you reckon will fall to you. I shall put a short
stop to that. Hereafter I shall begin at the
other end of the class."

I am myself a graduate of a good college to
which I owe a great deal, but not forty of the
two thousand recitations I attended were in
themselves instructive. I had a liking for


geometry, and one day I demonstrated a prop-
osition in Euclid by a method different from
that in the book. The tutor asked me to go
over it again, and seemed puzzled. Finally he
remarked, "That demonstration seems cor-
rect; I will assume that it is so. But hereafter
please give in class the demonstration that is
in the book. Then if you will hand in to me
after class any original demonstrations I will
give you extra credit for them." That was
half a century ago, but I fear there would be
little more to learn in many college recitations
today. If a sort of ergograph could be devised
that would measure mechanically whether the
boys had got their lessons the time of the recita-
tion might be saved.

Under the Batavia system the pupil is not
tempted to pretend. It is no humiliation to
say, "I do not know", which always means,
"I want to know and am ready to be shown
how to find out". The time of the class is not
occupied in sparring with a bluffing pupil who


has made no preparation. The relation be-
tween pupil and teacher is of frankness, candor,
effort, helpfulness. The moral effect of this
is shown in manliness and womanliness.

The Batavia system requires not only work
but honest work, fair methods, generous com-
petition, the spirit of the hero and of the gentle-
man. With the individual teaching systemati-
cally provided for, these lessons can be incul-
cated, here a little, there a little.

What are all people most sensitive about?
Any little reflection upon what we call good-
breeding, the knowing what it is proper to do.
Look back in your own life and ask yourself
how many actual precepts of good breeding
were ever given to you in words? Usually
you will find there were very few, but they
came at the right time, and each one gave you
an insight into a score of principles with a
multitude of applications. The school cannot
overcome the influences of an uncultivated
home environment, but it can mightily modify


them. By here a hint and there a suggestion
the teacher who has time to do it and interest
to do it can turn her boys and girls toward an
ideal and an observation and an apprehension
and a consideration for others that will put
upon the school as a whole the impress of good
breeding. Which would you rather have said
of your school, "It took the prize at the county
spelling match", or, "It certainly has a remark-
ably well-mannered lot of boys and girls"?

Nor -should Mr. Kennedy's claim be forgotten
that under this system the teachers have time
and opportunity not only to gain entrance into
social circles but to shine there. Why not?
It is every year an increasing wonder to me that
such fine young women become teachers. It
is no exaggeration to say that a majority of our
choicest girls enter the schoolroom, at least for
a time: it is still the natural employment for
the well educated young woman who does not
want to be idle.

But we 'have been wearing out our teachers.


A woman teacher is at her zenith, so far as
eligibility is concerned, at twenty-eight, which
means that, from twenty to thirty she is over-
worked, nervously exhausted. Her school drags
upon her, she loses her resilience, she is worn
out just when she should be becoming most
useful. Incidentally the school absorbs her, and ,
she has no time or taste for social functions.

Mr. Kennedy says that is not true under
the Batavia system. The teacher's work is
done at three, and she has no worries over the
day or the morrow. She can go home to dress f
to call, to be hostess or guest, to enter into the
spirit of all that is restful and stimulating in a
cultivated community. If that is true, that
alone makes the Batavia system worth looking/

It will be noticed that a good deal is said
here of the happiness of the children as con-
trasted with the suffering, the tragedies of the
usual schoolroom. Are these phrases exag-
gerated? Here is a letter that I happened to


come across today, which I quote only because
it will save my looking up a more recent one.
It was left behind by a boy 14 years old in
Morris, 111., who committed suicide in 1898.

"Friends: I shot myself because the teacher
would not let me alone. I worked six examples
on the board, and I asked her if they were write,
and she said 'You may go to your seat and have
a failure for bothering me,' and after I had went
to my seat she had me name on the board a
big ott (0) after it, and then they laughed at
me. if I can't be marked for what I work I
can go to heaven and the Lord won't cheat me
eather. Dear mother, I love you and Clara
and Eliza, do not weep over me, but tell Pap
If he comes back that I said good-by to him.
this is all I have to say I hope the Lord will
watch over you All Good-by to all my Friends
In love your friend



In the forty years that I have edited the
School Bulletin there has been hardly a month
when such instances have not come to my
notice: two of them in Brooklyn I chronicled in
the June number this year. We forget, now
that we are grown, how real were the sorrows
of our childhood. I was myself expelled from
a Vermont academy by a principal who could
have got along with me easily enough if his
thought had been less upon his dignity and
more upon the boy. I did not lay it up against
him : I had given him considerable provocation ;
but it was no fault of his that I did not go
straight to the devil. Teachers get overwrought,
nervous, touchy, irritable, till a naturally kind
heart shows recognizable malice. My children
have suffered in school to my knowledge. Your
children have suffered, whether you know it or
not. The word is not a bit too strong.

Now there is testimony in this book from a
score of witnesses competent to judge that the
Batavia system eliminates this suffering. If


it does, it ought to be adopted. All these men
and women may be mistaken, but their array
of testimony makes it the duty of school men
to investigate.

A word should be said for some of these wit-
nesses. Superintendent Ladd is competent.
He did not originate the system and has none
of the parental pride of the parent. He has a
legal mind and training; before he became a
teacher he was a practising attorney. He is
known among the teachers of the state as a man
of careful judgment and moderate statement.
He is at the head of one of the committees ap-
pointed by the Regents of the University to
prepare examination questions for all the schools
of the state. So the chapter that he writes
is worth reading and pondering. We may be
sure that what he says weighs sixteen ounces to
the pound. Mind what it tells is not what was
done the first year the system was tried. He
has known it for all the sixteen years it has been
in operation. He is speaking of permanent


Miss Hamilton, Miss Stein, Miss Ferry are
competent witnesses. They have taught under
the Batavia system from the beginning, and
they speak of what they know and of what they
have been called upon to prove in the Univer-
sities of Pennsylvania and of Virginia.

Superintendent W. H. Holmes is competent;
he has recently been called from Westerly, R. I.,
to the charge of the schools of Mount Vernon
in this state. What he says in chapter XXX
is said at much greater length in his published
book, "School organization and the .individual
child" (Worcester, 1912), a masterly treatment
of the subject. You will find like testimony in
Bagley's "School and class management".

Prof. Thiselton Mark, author of the "History
of educational theories" and editor of Charles
Hoole's "A new discovery of the old art of
teaching school", was sent here by the English
government to inspect certain phases of our
school work, and his endorsement is emphatic.
Dr. J. A. Houston, inspector of high schools,


was sent to Batavia by the minister of educa-
tion for the province of Ontario, and declares
unequivocally for what the Batavia plan pro-

Stanley Holmes, Barney Whitney, Emmet
Belknap, E. D. Palmer, J. K. Beck are city
superintendents of Massachusetts, New York,
Michigan, Indiana, who came to see for them-
selves and who were convinced. In face of
such testimony it does not become the young
teacher to declare there is nothing new to be
learned here.

The variety of expression among these wit-
nesses is a proof of their independent investiga-
tion. Even the " three don'ts" that lie at its
foundation are remembered by some of them
as two, the third, not to do any thing upon a
lesson that has not been recited, being over-
looked. In fact it will be found interesting to
compare their various reports through the very
full index, and see how they differ in expression
and in detail but agree upon the fundamental


A word should be said for Mr. Kennedy's
own style. If the reader has time for only
one chapter let him read that upon the laggard,
page 225. If he does not believe it at the first
reading, let him reflect upon it and read it
again, and he will recognize a new and sound
view-point of untold possibilities.


Syracuse, N. Y., Aug. 12, 1914






I Its origin . 9

II Underlying principles 14

III Results in Batavia 19

IV Official report to Albany 36

V Relation to class teaching 39

VI Children retained in school 47

VII Expense reduced 53

VIII Independence developed 58

IX Organization humanized 66

X Necessity of graded schools 70

XI Benefits summarized 76

XII The first individual teacher 78

XIII Experience of another individ-
ual teacher 85

XIV Views of a New York superin-
tendent 87

XV A Philadelphia view 98

XVI Views of a Michigan superin-
tendent Ill



XVII Testimony of a Batavia prin-
cipal 124

XVIII An Indiana view 126

XIX A Wisconsin adoption 129

XX A revelation and a revolution .... 13 1

XXI The present view in Batavia 139

XXII Elimination of the ninth grade ... 151

XXIII Strengthening the graded sys-
tem 162

XXIV With children of foreign paren-
tage 180

XXV Advantages over after-school

assistance 185

XXVI Development of the spirit of

work 200

XXVII Personal aid under favorable

conditions 207

XXVIII As seen in Canada 213

XXIX What to do with the laggard 224

' XXX Class individual instruction 241

XXXI Opinions of teachers 253

XXXII A Minnesota view 258

The blue and the white 262

INDEX , .265

The first day the teacher went to the child's de^V;, but had to ban over, so thereafter
the teacher had a chair in front and the child oamt; vc her With idijE

has been unchanged from the first.

exception the plan


The class teacher at work, with the individual teacher on the right. The empty
desks belong to pupils now reciting in front.


Chapter I

Its Origin

In the fall of 1898 a grade room in Batavia
was overflowing. It contained 53 children.
The usual procedure in a case of that kind had
been to take out a portion of the children and
open up a new room.

The room referred to happened to be a large
one. There were seats not occupied, and there
was floor-space for other seats. So the con-
gestion was not a physical one.

The superintendent thought that he saw an
opportunity for a great rescue. He had seen
grades breaking down; and had seen children
and teachers collapsing under the strain of
wholesale teaching. He therefore advised the
board to leave all the children in that room and



to send the new teacher in there to do indi-
vidual work exclusively. He said: "The stand-
ing reproach against the graded school system
ever since it was started has been that it does
not reach the needs of individuals; that in its
scheme of handling masses it often over-rides
the individual and rides him down. Let there
be one room in the world in which that reproach
will not hold. Let there be one room in which
the individual is attended to. I believe that
every child can be saved to health and success;
and I believe that we take off all strain from a
teacher when we take from her those who are
dragging. I believe that the teacher now in
that room can handle all those children and
many more with perfect ease and success, if
she has some one to assume the burden of the

The board felt that the superintendent was
right; and though they had no precedent for
their action, they proceeded to make their own
precedent, and appointed on the spot the first


individual teacher in the history of education.

The instructions given to that teacher were
to go into that room, find the most backward
children, and make them the most forward.
She did that, of course. And for the first time
in the history of education there was a large
room leveled up, a large room in which there
was no child dragging and no child retarded.

The individual teacher did her work at a
table, calling the child to her as she became
ready for him, and detaining him as long as
she deemed it expedient. She had the first
claim on a child and might call on or detain
him even if his class was reciting.

To guard against any injudicious help she
was restricted by three restraining "don'ts".
1st, don't tell the child anything, but see that
he knows it. 2d, don't do anything for the child
but see that he does it. 3d, don't do any in-
dividual work on an unrecited lesson.

The class-teacher went on as usual conduct-
ing classes all day long, the room being divided


into two sections, a preparation section and a
recitation section. No recitation was obstruct-
ed any longer. Lack of preparation meant
lack of participation. The ready ones parti-
cipated; and there was no longer any marking
of time. The children were all happy; and
they were all successful. There were no failures
to be accounted for.

It was thus demonstrated that teaching is a
dual process; and that failures are the result
of trying to carry on education by a single pro-

After establishing the dual process in rooms
that overflowed, then came the question of
establishing it in rooms that were not overflow-
ing. That ' was accomplished by having the
single teacher give every other period to indi-
vidual work. If she had but a single grade the
individual period corresponded with their pre-
paration period. If she had two grades she
arranged for individual periods by having a
two-day program.


In the high school each teacher assigned five
lessons a week, but used every other period for
individual attention. And in addition the high
school had an individual table at which a teach-
er labored all day long.


Chapter II

Underlying Principles

1. Schools become clogged, (a) by slow
minds, (b) by irregular attendance, (c) by dis-
couraged minds.

2. The attempt to force forward an ob-
structed school is detrimental to all concerned,
(a) It overstrains the teacher, (b) It depresses
the teaching, (c) It destroys the condition of
repose and equipoise essential to good teaching,
(d) It is wasteful of time, destructive of interest,
and promotive of discouragement, (e) It tends
to wholesale failure, indicated by the great

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Online LibraryJohn KennedyThe Batavia system of individual instruction → online text (page 1 of 12)