Mary Abigail] [Dodge.

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of the superintendent. The poor teacher flounders in
futile struggle even with his suggestions. A well-
meaning and unobjectionable school superintendent
once cautiously expressed the opinion that the reading
in the schools was the thing most open to hostile criti-
cism. Of course all the working reading- teachers had
not waited for this suggestion which is a perfecdy safe



128 The Porm of Blanks.

one for any superintendent to make. Indeed it is not
a little curious to observe the caution with which super-
intendents report. The most common remark is that
while " there is a great deal of improvement manifest,
there is still much to be desired." The first clause in-
dicates that, the superintendent has done a great deal
and therefore justified his existence ; the second that
there is a great deal still to do and therefore his office
must still be continued. It only occurs to me that the
teachers could say this just as well as the superintendent.
He knows the shortcomings of his class just as well as
the superintendent knows them, and he knows the sig-
nificance of these shortcomings a great deal better
than any outsider knows them. But I happened to be
witness to the effect which these superintending criti-
cisms had on one — male — teacher who never saw any
defect until it was pointed out to him, and then it ap-
peared to him a defect only because it was pointed out
to him. All the morning exercises were most incongru-
ously varied with premonitions of the reform which
was to come upon the afternoon reading. '" The su-
perintendent found fault with your reading." " Get
your other lessons so as to have more time for the
reading ! " ''I am going to attend more to the reading
to get ready for examination." And all the .time the
good man never disclosed the slightest suspicion that
he was appealing to any but scholarly motives or that



The Porm of Blanks. 129

he was governed and incited by any but manly, profes-
sional impulses !

So in the afternoon the class was summoned all to-
gether and not as usual in squads. Unfortunately the
lesson selected was the twenty-third Psalm, "The Lord
is my Shepherd," and the teacher began in loud tones,
ruler in one hand and book in the other, "Read louder,
'The Lord is my Shepherd,' louder ! " and down comes
the ruler on the desk with a bang. "Now read that
over again and open your mouth. 'Though I walk
through the valley of the Shadow of death' " — another
rap with the ruler that makes the very books bounce.
Then with still higher tones he rides more rough-shod
than ever over a line or two by way of example "Surely
goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of
my LIFE ! " — so emphasizing not to say hallooing the
last word and banging a doubly fierce accompaniment
with his baton, that it seemed to be a struggle between
the utterance of the word life and the. crash of the ruler
as to which should make the most noise ; and thus they
went over and over the twenty-third Psalm until every
member in a class of twenty or more had had his rol-
licking tilt into the valley of the shadow of death, and
forever all its sweetness and sanctity had trampled
under foot.



EXAMINATION
UNDER THE MICROSCOPE.



EXAMINATION UNDER THE
MICROSCOPE.

ONE especial form into which the rage for super-
vising seems to have rushed is examination. If
the teachers can only be examined enough and if the
schools can only be examined enough, children will be
well educated. Some of our school superintendents, for
want of something better to do, have even gone into an
elaborate analysis of the various kinds and philosophies
of examination and the subtle metaphysical distinctions
between examination and inspection. "An inspection
is a visitation for the purpose of observation, of over-
sight of superintendence."

"An examination is a thorough scrutiny and investi-
gation, in regard to certain definitely determined mat-
ters for a specific purpose."

That is, an inspection is a visitation for the purpose of
observation. An examination is an investigation for a
specific purpose. Is an examination then made with-
out a visitation. Is not observation a purpose?

(.133)



134 Examination under the Alicroscope,

" The aim of inspection is to discover to a greater or
less extent the tone and spirit of the scliool, the conduct
and application of the pupils, the management and meth-
ods of the teacher, and the fitness and condition of the
premises."

" The object of the examination is to arrive at a just
estimate of merit, or attainments or progress."

Is not an estimate of progress implied in an estimate
of attainments ? What is the merit of a school — which
we are told must be ascertained by examination — ex-
cept its tone and spirit, the conduct of the pupils and
the teacher, — which we are told must be ascertained by
inspection ?

We then have a still more labored division of exam-
inations into three kinds.

"Examinations of classes, to ascertain their progress
and to determine the rank of the pupils composing the
class.

"Examination of pupils, for promotion, for gradua-
tion, and for distinctions or honors.

"Examination of schools and classes, with reference
mainly to the merit and standing of the teachers."

A classification that is worthy of Dogberry's analyt-
ical mind.

" Many, sir, they have committed false report."

" Moreover they have spoken untruths :

Secondarily, they are slanders j



^Examination under the Microscope. 135

Sixth and lastly, they have belied a lady ;

Thirdly, they have verified unjust things ;

And, to conclude, what you lay to their charge."

How can you have an examination of schools except
by an examination of classes? How can you ascertain
the nierit of teachers except by the work they do for pu-
pils? How can you examine classes, or schools, or
pupils without ascertaining, in the very act, the merit of
the teachers ? Having examined the schools, and the
classes, and the pupils, what sort of process is the su-
perintendent driving at, separate from these examina-
tions — to ascertain the merit and standing of the
teacher? By aid of these purely imaginary distinctions
he succeeds in spreading his essay on examinations
over seventeen printed pages of his report — but in
not one of them does he give us the smallest inkling
of what this teacher's examination is. Under that
head he prints only the most useless generalities. He
tells us what the examination should do and what sort
of man the examiner should be, but he does not give a
hint of the way to do it. It is to be a guide and stim-
ulus to the teacher, he says. " The examination should
be so conducted as to discover and appreciate merit, to
encourage sound teaching, — teaching that trains a-nd
educates ; teaching that is solid rather than showy ; teach-
ing that aims at the highest good of the pupils, morally
and physically, as well as intellectually." All as fine



136 Examination under the Microscope.

as a fiddle but how to do it ? How conduct an exami-
nation for instance so as to find out whether the teacher
aims at the highest good of the pupils? Will you
question the teacher or will you question the pupils.
If the latter will you ask them directly if their teacher
aims at their highest good, or will you find out by their
geography and arithmetic examinations ? If the latter
you are landed instantly in the midst of the regular
examinations, and the third classification may be entirely
dismissed. If the former let us have a few affidavits
from pupils certifying the reasons for the belief that
is in them, that their teacher is aiming at their highest
good. Or is it the teachers that are to be questioned ?
Are they to be questioned in school or out? And if a
teacher has once been admitted on examination, what
right has the superintendent to order sub-examinations ?
what right has he to a teacher's time out of school, or
what right has he to take a teacher's time away from
the pupils in school?

When this Report was published, the newspapers
came out with this analysis of the different sort of ex-
aminations as if it really meant something — as if here
was a great and mysterious work which made education
in the nineteenth century something extraordinary. On
the contrary it has no meaning whatever. It is much ado
about nothing. Examination is as simple as a b c.
Examination goes along with instruction every day of



JExamination under the Alicroscope, 137

a scholar's life. The process of teaching is a process
of examination as well. Every good teacher, every
teacher who is fit to be a teacher, knows the rank and
progress of every class and every pupil under her care.
She knows who are fit for promotion and who are fit for
graduation and who deserve honors. She does not
trouble herself with meaningless generalities about
sound teaching or highest good. She is concerned
solely in making her pupils learn and comprehend their
lessons and behave as well as possible each day. No
school examination whatever is of the slightest use
to the pupil or the teacher except the examination of
each class in recitation "every day. This examination
the superintendent may superintend if he choose. He
will be very much in the way. He will divert the
attention of the pupils and probably embarrass the
good teacher and tempt the poor ones to take on airs,
but so long as the "System" ordains a superintendent
I know no law that empowers a teacher to keep him
out of her school-room. Possibly, indeed, he is as
much out of mischief there as anywhere.

The pupil's rank, his fitness for promotion or gradua-
tion are known to the teacher by each day's experience;
are remembered and recorded by each day's marks
which are the formal basis for his next year's standing.
The teacher is the best, the only judge. If she does
not judge wisely and rank justly, she is not fit to be a



138 Examination under the Mic7'oscope.

teacher. She has a radical .unfitness which cannot be
amended by "examination " but by a dismissal and the
selection of another teacher. All examinations super-
added to this daily examination, whether they be
public and oral or private and written, are a needless
drain upon the nervous energy, the vital force of both
teacher and pupil. The one may entertain the parents
and excite the children. The other is an intolerable
burden to both teacher and children. Neither is of
any use to the pupils. The time and vitality consumed
by them should be devoted to fresh study and real
progress.

0ur whole system of reviews and examinations in
school is burdensomely cumbrous and extravagantly
expensive. I may assume that the memory of our own
school-days is fresh in all our minds. We can very well
recall the interest we took in some studies, the lack
of interest we felt in others. I doubt not our experi-
ence is almost universally the same. The first breaking
ground was delightful. We took each lesson each day
with fresh interest. But when the book was finished,
and two or three weeks of review came, it was all a
drag. Neither teacher nor pupils had the stimulus of
novelty. I would abolish the whole system of reviews.
The very fact that they are without interest is a strong
indication that they are without benefit. But, without
a review, how can the pupil pass his examination



Examination under the Microscope. 139

and be promoted ? I would abolish the examination,
too. No one whose attention has not been called to it
can guess the burden which the close and careful in-
vestigation of the hundreds of thousands of annual,
semi-annual, and tri-annual examination papers in the
grammar schools and high schools imposes upon
teachers. It is a wholly dry, uninteresting and exas-
perating work, and it is equivalent to the employment
of a regiment of extra teacher-force. It is no part of
the natural duty of a teacher, and I cannot see that it
is productive of the least good. The pupil's standing
for the next term or the next year is determined by it.
But the teacher knows beforehand perfectly well what
the pupil's standing ought to be ; and if he desires to
formulate that standing, to prevent the possibility of its
being decided, or suspected of being decided, by the
pique or partiality of the teacher, to have something to
show the parent as a reason for his son!s promotion or
degradation, there is the daily record of his daily reci-
tation and behavior, — a standard just as statistical and
fixed, and far more trustworthy.

Multiplication is the very best review of addition.
Division is the very best review of subtraction. Alge-
bra is the proper review of arithmetic ; and rhetoric
and logic are the best reviews of grammar. The cram
of a three-weeks' review preparatory to examination
has no more tendency to fasten facts in the mind than



izjo Examination under the Allci'oscope.

the building-up of a new science on the foundations of
the old. Every day's lesson should be thoroughly
learned, and exactly recorded. That record, at the
end of the term, should decide the pupil's rank for the
next term. If he has studied faithfully, and mastered
fairly, he has derived all the good necessary from the
pursuit. A two or three weeks' cursory ramble over
the old ways, which have lost their novelty, will but
fatigue and bore him to little purpose. If he has been
idle and unfaithful, he will not be likely to recover much
ground in two weeks. Let him feel that it is minute,
daily fidelity that must do his work, and not a lazy,
careless lounging for ten weeks, to be made up by a
spasmodic spring at the end. This is neither scholarly
nor business-like.

If his daily record gives him the requisite percentage
for promotion, he is promoted : if not, he remains where
he is. But the faithful and studious, though necessa-
rily somewhat flagging, not to say jaded, pupils are not
stimulated by the factitious interest of a test examina-
tion to tread over again a path from which their feet
have already beaten out the greenness, and their hands
have plucked the flowers.

I even venture to go farther, and question whether a
pupil's advance from class to class shall depend so
entirely upon his standing in the lower class. Ambi-
tion is a great spur \ but, first and last, there are many



Examination under the Microscope. 141

dull, stupid, plodding children, who are conscientious
and industrious, but who never seem actually to master
anything. They hang on to a study and clutch a few
rags of fact here and there ; but they are constitutionally
disabled from comprehending it. There are others not
stupid but one-sided. They may be unconquerably dull
at figures but instinctively clever in history. I knew
a girl who w^ent through her botany with but one
answer to every question, to the great amusement of
her classmates. It was sheer stupidity that could give
only the one plaintive, pathetic, hesitating response of
" cellular tissue." But it was a clear case of genius,
when a little Cambridge boy, the other day, closed his
list of the exports of Massachusetts with "many
learned men from Harvard College." If such chil-
dren must stay in the fourth class until they have an
intelligent and consistent acquaintance with fourth-class
studies, they may mull on in the fourth, class forever or
be disheartened and disgusted and leave school. But
they will imbibe, pick up, and otherwise possess them-
selves of, a great deal of stray information regarding
those studies j and they would do the same regarding
the studies of the third class, and the second class, and
the first class, if they could be permitted to enter those
classes. Now as their parents must pay their full
share of the taxes which support the higher classes and
the high schools, is it quite fair that these children



143 JBxaminatio7i under the Mla'oscope.

should be deprived of all the advantages of those
schools because they cannot utilize some of them ? If
a boy cannot do the very best should he not be en-
couraged to do the next best? If he cannot get as
much out of arithmetic as his neighbor is that a rea-
son why he should not be allowed to get anything out
of algebra or chemistry ? Let the system of marking be
the same as it now is. Let any proper percentage
be required for rank-admission to a class. But let there
be such a thing as admission without rank. If, upon
consultation, parents prefer that their children should
not remain in the lower class but should go into the
advanced class without rank, let them go, to seize and
assimilate what knowledge they can, to get all the
floating benefits that come from class association, and
to find perhaps by and by, the very stimulus they
need to start them in some new and bright career, or,
at the very least, to gather from novelty and variety all
the information that can be available to them. Ambi-
tion will not be dispensed with ; for those alone are
honorary members who have won their spurs j but neither
will slowness and dullness be doomed perpetually to
the outer darkness of the monotonous lowest class.
The bright pupils will not be kept back ; for the tasks
will be set to their measure and not to that of the
weaker brethren. They will have all the credit of
proficiency, all tlie aids to ability, and all the stimulus



Examination U7tder the Microscope. 143

of competition; while the more slow, perhaps more
stupid^ but perhaps also more gifted, more peculiar,
and more original minds will be able to get out of the
school-training everything in it which is adapted to
their nature and capacities.

If written examinations are drudgery to the teacher,
uselessness to the pupil, and a waste to the community,
public examinations are still worse. They are not
only useless but demoralizing. They introduce a false
standard of scholarship, a false motive of action. Writ-
ten examinations are tolerably accurate tests. There
may be here and there some unfair failure through mere
nervousness ; but ordinarily the good scholar and the
poor scholar show themselves with a degree of exact-
ness on their examination-papers. The only objection
is that they show themselves with even greater exact-
ness on their daily record, and, therefore, the other one
is unnecessary. But a public oral examination is no
criterion whatever of scholarship. It is not scholarship
but self-possession and confidence that carry the day.
If these are combined with scholarship, well ; if not,
the faithful but timid pupil has the bitter regret of un-
deserved failure. This however is but a slight and
comparatively unimportant objection, since this is an
inequality of fortune that inheres in nature rather than
in circumstance, and must last through life with more
or less modification. It is not only in school but in



144 Examhtation U7ider the Microscope.

the world that self-possession gives advantage ; and it
may be not ill that the child should early recognize this
fact, if so be he may try to overcome timidity and secure
self-possession. What is radically wrong is that " ex-
amination " is too often made to bear heavily upon
methods of study. The whip and spur applied are not
fidelity, the necessity of learning a lesson because it is
right and scholarly to do so, because a lesson half
learned is a shabby and slovenly performance, a disgrace
and a detriment, but "examination is coming." The
pupils are urged to do what will make them appear best
at examination. And this is the worst kind of unschol-
arly motive because the results are themselves unschol-
arly. Prizes are sometimes given in schools and sums
of money in colleges. These are often objected to as
unworthy motives. And it is certainly no more scholarly
or noble to learn a lesson accurately for money than it
is to learn it successfully for show. But the money is
offered for exactness and acquisition. The boy who is
studying for a prize does real studying. He is learning
to apply himself, to deny himself, to conquer his books,
and after he has done this, and in and by the doing, he
acquires the training which study is intended to give.
But studying for show is but a cheap superficial thing.
That which shows best is not necessarily that which
implies thoroughness, assiduity, and perseverance. A
flimsy and faithless pupil can be trained for exhibition.



Examination luider the Aficroscope. 145

An indifferent teacher may be a brilliant manipulator
and showman.

The public examination is often but a public exhibi-
tion. It is not to ascertain but to display proficiency.
To the community, to the actual existence of the school,
it may be important. Our school-system is expensive.
Tax-payers must be kept good natured. There is per-
haps no surer method of attaining the desired end than
to dress the cljildren in their best clothes, and send
them to the blackboard to draw, and make them sing
and read and spell, before an admiring audience.
Their bloom and youth and cleverness are all-conquer-
ing ; and their schools are seated more firmly than ever
in our affections. We see the charm of what is done.
We see little of what it cost or of what is left undone.
But it will not do to give up this slight actual contact
between the schools and the community. No. But is
there not a more excellent way? Suppose we have
the public exhibition just the same. The children come
just the same in gala dress. Arrange whatever festive
exercises you choose ; but instead of hap-hazard recita-
tions in geography and arithmetic, let the exhibition
gather around, and centre in, the public reading of the
actual record of the best scholars. The dullards should
not be mortified by their dulness in black and white ;
but let there be a roll of honor in each study on which
shall be inscribed the names of those who have at-
13



146 Exa?nination under tJie Aficroscope.

tained a certain percentage, together with the percen-
tage attained. This may include behavior, lateness,
attendance, as well as study • so that those who cannot
be great may have a chance to be good. Thus, without
destroying the modesty of a child by making him stand
and speak alone before a public audience, you can yet
gratify and stimulate an honorable ambition, and do it
v;ithout any uncertainty or injustice. His prominence
and praise do not depend upon his momentary mood,
his timidity, or his nervousness in public : they depend
upon his daily, solitary faithfulness to duty. That which
they tend to establish is a habit of right living; and
what they tend to promote are exactness and thorough-
ness. There may be a presentation of floweis, or med-
als, or money ; but the point is, that what is rewarded
and feted is not sham and shoddy, sound and fury,
signifying nothing, but solid value. This would put a
stop at once and forever to all " preparing for examina-
tions." It would give to the teachers the duty, .and that
alone, which belongs to them, — of performing each day
that day's duties. If some exercises of drawing, read-
ing, reciting, or singing, were desired they would be
furnished : but they would be furnished simply as
amusement and exhibition by those best drilled in such
arts : they would not be palmed off as an indication of
the general proficiency of the school. A large part of
the strain and drain, both upon teachers and pupils,



Examination under the Microscope. 147

would be removed. We should not, as now, have the
heaviest burden imposed upon them when they were
least able to bear it ; but the close of the term would
bring what it ought to bring, — rest. When a study had
been once faithfully studied, it would be dropped and
that would be the end of it. The wearied mind would
not be forced through a mere mechanical and most
tiresome drill of review ; but after a sufficient season
of repose it would take up a fresh and higher science ;
and listlessness would give way to energy.

Much is said about overwork in schools. We see
that teacher and pupil are nervous, easily broken down.
Both are frequently leaving school in search of health.
The children have not the care-free faces, the plump-
ness, the bloom, which should characterize childhood ;
nor have the teachers the fixity and firmness of strength,
the robust hardihood, which should characterize men
and women. The reasons are not far to seek. It is
not the learning or the training of schools : it is nothing
that belongs to the legitimate work of teaching. It is
the multiplication of tasks, that tire without training: it
is the piling-up of a ponderous machinery, that does no
work but its own " demnition grind," and is paid for
out of the purse of the parent, and the blood of the child j


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Online LibraryMary Abigail] [DodgeOur common school system → online text (page 7 of 18)