Percy Arthur Barnett.

Common sense in education and teaching; an introduction to practice online

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LEONATO Neighbours, you are tedious.

DOGBERRY It pleases your worship to say so, but we are the poor
duke's officers ; but truly, for mine own part, if I were as tedious as a
.king, I could find it in my heart to bestow it all on your worship.

(Much Ado About Nothing).


THE basis of this book is a series of lectures,
delivered during the winter session of 1898, on
the practice of education. It would hardly, how-
ever, have been written, it would certainly not
have been published, but for the welcome ex-
tended by both critics and general readers to the
volume edited by me and published in 1897
under the title of Teaching and Organisation,
which was an attempt to cover the whole of the
ordinary field of education in chapters written by
specialists who are also experts, teachers as well
as teachers of special subjects.

When Teaching and Organisation first appeared,
the value of the several chapters was acknow-
ledged generously, but some critics of unquestion-
able authority thought that the book suffered
somewhat, in spite of the Editor's efforts, from
lack of a common point of view, of organic inter-

Common Sense in Education does not presume
to take the place of Teaching and Organisation.

viii Advertisement

It is meant rather to serve as preliminary to it, as
an introduction to the systematic study of educa-
tion, less perplexing because more uniform, being
the record of the experience and observations of
one person, whose business it is to form an opinion
about teaching and teachers in both primary and
secondary grades, and who is concerned particu-
larly to discover what things most profitably
occupy the attention of the teacher at the be-
ginning of his career. With all its obvious im-
perfections, it has at all events been written from
one point of view.

It is not too much to say that every teacher and
every one concerned in education should have
some acquaintance with most of the subjects
broached or discussed in the following pages ;
they are all directly or indirectly related to the
practice and organisation of education as teaching.

An endeavour has been made throughout to
keep discussion as clear as possible from the
formalism that comes of attempts to systematise
a science before it has passed out of the empirical
stage, and if technical language is anywhere used,
it is used because it could not well have been
avoided. I have always had before me the warn-
ing not to complicate simple things by giving
them hard names. A hard name is usually a step
farther in abstraction, and argument on abstrac-
tions is argument in vac^lo, safe only so long as

Advertisement ix

we do not forget that its conclusions are to be
accepted without qualification in vacuo only.

One word I should like to say in support of the
expert against the specialist. In these days of
subdivision of labour and divided interests we are
sadly exposed to bullying at the hands of the
patrons of special "subjects". It is the business
of teachers and of all practical friends of educa-
tion to defend jealously the general and liberal
gymnastic against the attacks of those who, in-
terested in a particular study or impressed by the
immediate practical results of a particular pursuit,
would monopolise with it the greater part of the
school Time Table. A school Time Table, like all
syllabuses, is best when it is simplest, for excessive
prescription and definition of duty are the refuge
of helplessness and pedantry. The more minutely
the subjects of school work are delimited, the less
copiously and effectually will pupils be taught.

I am indebted to many friends and friendly
critics for hints embodied in the pages that follow,
to so many that I dare not print their names. I
cannot, however, evade the duty of thanking my
friend and former pupil Mr. R. Delaney for his
equal kindness and skill in the compilation of my


June 1899

















THE endeavour to lay down rigid rules of procedure in
teaching is a serious error in education. It There can be
would have its analogue in medicine if the no rigid rules
physician prescribed for his patients, without of procedure
seeing them, by sending a printed formula of induction
directions in reply to an inquiry by post. It is precisely
in the diagnoses of different cases and in the varia-
tions of treatment required by different individuals that
medical skill does its most characteristic work ; for while
any one can learn to repeat a general formula, the expert
alone can safely apply it with modifications necessary
in complicated individual circumstances. There is un-
doubtedly a constant type or formula in both education
and medicine, for both minds and bodies have respec-
tively a large commgn foundation ; every mind and every
body is more or less like every other mind and every
other body. Yet for the teacher the important face is
diversity ; the immense significance of which, while it
is brought home over and over again to those who
philosophise truly, is often wholly ignored by both r'ule-
of-thumb men and cut-and-dried theorists, for these, in
their different ways, philosophise badly by trying to fit
every mind to the few types recognised by themselves.
Again, it is true that the materials which we bring


2 Common Sense in Education

to operate upon minds and bodies respectively are,
within their respective limits, the same. The object of
knowledge is a unity ; it is ultimately the same for all,
the composition of food or medicine is pretty constant.
But a physician administers a potion and a subcutaneous
injection in vastly different ways.

The teacher's special work calls upon him to take more

serious note of diversities than resemblances.

True philo- The philosopher in his study, the psychologist

sophy brings , A 1 . / i j ,1

home to the or ^ e lg lclan > may lay down the general laws

teacher of the growth of mind or the conditions of

chiefly the valid inferences, but the teacher has to keep

diversities j^ w j ts a j ert to m odify hj s treatment from

of both pupils , . , . . , . . . . J ^, -r^ i

and subjects time tO time SO "*at !t ma ^ SUlt * om > DlCK,

and Harry at different times, in different
places, and with different subject-matter. In comparison
with a practised wit and sympathy, mere theorising is

The differences between Tom, Dick, and Harry as\
Diversities persons have to be gpi^gedH'
between many a long year, as Pnncipal /\o^ms
pupils ou t in his witty little book on Herbartianism,

the pupil as a subject for consideration was syste-
matically neglected. The sole preoccupation of the
teacher was the subject-matter of instruction ; as much
of this was to be got under the pupil's skin as the skin
would hold, and we need not be surprised if it was by
physical applications to his skin that the process was
expedited. For, at the outset, the error arose from an
analogy of purely physical and exceedingly material
origin. The implied assumption was that there was
somewhere a capacity a room or space which had only
to be filled, into which stuff could be forced. Locke's
comparison of the child's mind to a sheet of white paper

Instruction as Discipline 3

on which anything could be written was merely another
form of this pestilent heresy.

From this we have been rescued, at all events theoretically,
by more modern conceptions of perfection R eS pect for
or one may say, rather, by giving up the out- childhood as
worn Pagan notion of a moderation or har- having its
mony in some fixed and settled l state, and own P erfec -
by recognising in its place, not inferior kinds
of virtue or perfection in various stages, but virtue or
perfection itself in a process.

The greater respect for childhood, for what we choose
to call immaturity, which is the mark of the more
modern rational treatment of children, is not to be set
down solely to the influence of the doctrine of evolution.
It is quite true that the more modern development and
scientific application of this great generalisation, which
teaches us that all things are in the condition of be-
coming something else that they are not now, gives to
imperfect states of development a value of their own
which was not before suspected, and warns us not to
hurry them. But long before the world adopted the
theory of evolution as a fashionable explanation of every-
thing, Froebel had laid it down that " imperfect" child-
hood had really a perfection of its own ; and that the
child-stage of development had its own laws, and re-
quired a special treatment which was not the same as
that properly applied to older persons.

We have come next to recognise not only that chil- *
dren generally must be treated as persons in process
of development rather than as persons developed, but
also that children differ among themselves, mentally and
physically, and in antecedents and habitual environment.
Progress is either slower or quicker, and more or less
effectual, among different pupils.

4 Common Sense in Education

There is first, the allowance to be made for differences
Diversities of of a g e - We do not teach, say, the history of
(a) age and the Armada in the same way to pupils of ten
(j) status years, fifteen years, and nineteen years of
age ; to the first it is more properly a panorama ; to
the second it begins to have political meaning and more
definite personal interest ; to the third it is a study of
evidences and intrigues, part of a great European sys-
tem of politics. There are next to be considered the
differences of status and antecedents, social and intellec-
tual. The pupil who comes from more refined home
surroundings may safely be left to fill up gaps in know-
ledge which for the less-favoured child the teacher must
himself fill up. The teacher of the true secondary
school can usually count on his pupils' freer access to
books; he can refer them, in their degree, to " author-
ities"; he can, with less scruple, make them do "home
lessons " ; they need far less predigestion and spoon-
feeding. The misuse of the maxim nihil per saltum is
bad enough in the primary school. It is worse in the
secondary. We ought to leave blanks purposely, so
that the pupil may himself supply the omissions. We
can take more for granted in the secondary than in
the primary grade, for the secondary pupil has usually
a larger vocabulary and all that this implies.

On the other hand, the primary teacher can generally
expect in his pupils a certain shrewd knowledge of the
present needs of daily life which more delicately sheltered
children will lack. Buying and selling, for instance, are
much closer to the experience of the poor child ; therefore
problems connected with the provision-shop abound
quite properly in the arithmetical puzzles propounded to
little children in the primary schools ; but they are not
so suitable elsewhere. Again, we risk less in teaching a

Instruction as Discipline 5

spoken language analytically in the secondary school
than in the primary. The pupil of the secondary grade
more generally lives amid surroundings in which the
vernacular speech is conversation ; and if it is a foreign
tongue that is in question, he has more chance of hearing
it used as a living method of communication at a later
stage. But if the primary scholar gets more than a very
moderate supply of analytical grammar and paradigms^
we may be sure he will always remain in that "state into
which it has pleased a stupid pedagogy to call him.

Differences in subject-matter are equally important.
For though pupils differ infinitely one from

. . . Diversities in

another, and though nature has been as lavish su bj ec t-
of opportunity to some as she has been cur- matter, and
mudgeonly to others, yet skilful teaching can influence on
perform marvels when learners are willing. practl<
But the subject-matter used in teaching is very stubborn.
Subjects differ, first of all, in regard to the qualities of
mind which they severally call into play and the aim to
which we address ourselves by using them. The lesson
in grammar is not easily made a lesson in literature. In
teaching grammar we wish to cultivate mainly the
power of logical analysis, the discrimination of words and
phrases according to their various functions in relation to
one another, without regard to the effect which they are
meant to produce on the feelings. In literature, the
emotional or impressive effect is just everything ; it is
taste, liking, admiration, that we wish to quicken and
regulate. Even Reading we may teach, and indeed, we
ought to teach, for different purposes, and therefore in
different ways, at different times. To-day it may be
designed to cultivate mainly distinctness of speech,
to-morrow right emphasis, at another time the elements
of oratory, We ought not, for similar reasons, to teach

6 Common Sense in Education

a modern spoken language as we teach " classics," nor
English as we teach either Latin or French. In English
we start with a large basis of speech already acquired ;
we need not, then, teach declensions, conjugations, and
such other analytical devices, seeing that our pupils
know them. Our chief object in teaching English as
a language is to make it copious and effective in our
pupils' mouths. The lists of words become less un-
reasonable in a living foreign tongue because under the
best circumstances our pupils will lack a large supply
of phrases ; though even here we should follow the hint
which is given us by the natural method of learning the
mother speech. But in the teaching of Latin and Greek,
the word and not the phrase may be pardonably made
the unit.

It is the business of the good teacher, then, to vary his
procedure according as his perspicacity and sympathy
enlighten him about his pupils' condition and needs.
Pupil differs from pupil, and the same boy will be a dif-
ferent person at various times ; form differs from form,
and the same form may have its corporate moods and
fancies. The varying " stuff" of knowledge cannot in
all cases be treated with the same details of procedure,
but must vary according to the instruments which it
uses, the qualities it quickens, the teacher's aims.

There are no " methods " which we can apply rigidly
to stated cases. The only infallible prescription is that
the teacher should be infallible ; for so we come back
to the greatest of all teaching rules : to become good
teachers we must teach well. The best we can do is
to take the pupil by the hand and to feel the way with
him, not merely for him.

For practical purposes we may lay it down that we
teach either in order to extend our pupils' knowledge

Instruction as Discipline 7

or to cultivate his dexterity in execution. In an ulti-
mate analysis the same process is followed in both
cases, but we can here afford to consider instruction
solely from the point of view suggested by the common
phrase " imparting knowledge".

In the midst of all diversity the true type of teaching
is constant. The diversity arises inside the yet there is
universal scheme which all good teachers a standard
follow; the differences are in details which type of
are modified to suit individual cases, but in teachm s
details only. The main process alters only in so far as
its various stages are more explicit or less explicit. The
formulation of this type is one of the great services
rendered to rational education by the followers of
Herbart, but all good teaching has, of course, approxi-
mated to it at all times ; bad teaching, so far (being a
procedure) as it was bad, has always fallen away from
it. All of us, in our occasional triumphs, have duly
(l) prepared the way properly, (2) presented our new
matter acceptably, and (3) called upon the class to make
its original contribution and draw its independent con-
clusion. But the possession of a standard by which we can
measure our performances is of great service to us ; it is at
least a reminder of what is expected of us. This useful
standard is put at our disposal in the five common " stages"
or " steps " in instruction which, with insignificant varia-
tions, all the writers of this school approve. If any of us
have passed under the hands of inefficient teachers, it will
be easy for us to locate their faults, if not our own.

It is essential to remember as a preliminary, that
knowledge is not a " kingdom " cut up into " provinces " ;
it is not a vessel composed of water-tight compartments ;
if, when the human mind deals with it, it is like light
decomposed in a prism, we must remember that one

8 Common Sense in Education

colour fades by insensible gradations into all the rest.
The minutest of our subdivisions, even those defined by
examining bodies, are inseparable from the rest ; just as
the human mind itself in all its operations is the same
mind. For the convenience of thought and business,
more or less legitimate, we have split up the area of
knowledge into little fields ; but every branch or item
of knowledge may illustrate, help out, complete, any
other branch or item.

Let us examine the formal " stages," and see whether
The formal we can generally apply a knowledge of them
stages in the to practice, and with what cautions,
imparting of We naturally begin by letting our form

knowledge | knQW what QUr ajm ^ The mQre shortly

and clearly this is done, the better. Some "trained"
Statement of teachers in giving a set lesson think it neces-
Aim sary to beat about the bush, to get the class

to guess what they are driving at, by a process recalling
the " animal, vegetable, or mineral " game of our youth.
In fact, the pupils begin by putting themselves into a
thoroughly false attitude. They enter on a kind of
guessing competition, striving to find out what is in the
teacher's mind, what he wants them to say. This is bad
teaching. Once upon a time, for instance, a master was
about to give a lesson on marble to some small boys, and
began, for some occult reason, by asking his class to tell
him the names of various stones. He thus "elicited"
hearthstone, blue-stone, granite, kerb-stone, sandstone
everything but marble. At last he tried another tack.
"Do you ever," he asked, " go for walks on Sunday in the
churchyard ? " " Yes, sir/' said a little boy. " And what
do you see there?" "The tombstones." "Well, don't
those remind you of another kind of stone? Think,
boys, think ! " " Please, sir, brimstone''

Instruction as Discipline 9

Now this teacher should have told his boys without
any preface that he was going to give them a lesson
on marble ; there was not the least reason for beginning
his work by getting them to guess what was in his mind.
This is one form of the misuse of what is called the
" Socratic" method to be discussed more fully later on.
Socrates appears to have used the trick of leading his
victims by means of questions to some conclusion quite
different from that which they expected ; which anybody,
philosopher, or barrister, or pedagogue, can do if he is
allowed to have his own way in the arrangement and
form of his questions. There was no judge present to
moderate the questions put by Socrates, nor is there in
the case of the catechising teacher, who may therefore
make his pupils say what he wishes them to say and
may think that he has thus scored a point. No doubt
he has, but it is not a point of much importance ; he has
not necessarily taught anything at all.

The truth is that nothing can be gained by concealing
from our class the immediate object of our instruction.
In the case of very young children, to be sure, we may
be forgiven if, as a whet to appetite, we start with a little
brief mystery before we produce (say) the apple which is
to be the subject of the lesson ; but we must not tire out
their slender powers by setting them to guess-work before
we come to real instruction. Later on in school-life,
mystery is even more out of place. In dealing with a
class averaging twelve or thirteen years of age we cannot,
fortunately, conceal the equator under a duster and
triumphantly elicit the sacred name before we tell our
boys that that mysterious line is to be the subject of
our lesson. We more properly begin by finding what
various members of the class already know about it.
Later on in a pupil's life, the "statement of aim" to use

io Common Sense in Education

the technical name for this preliminary to all teaching
is generally implicit ; it lies, in fact, in the time-table.
We go on from where we left off say, the hundred and
fiftieth line of the first book of Paradise Lost ; unless,
of course we are opening up a subject of investigation
which stands out as something distinct say, for instance,
the laws of Miltonic versification.

The point to be remembered then is this : that we
must go to work without circuitousness or unnecessary
circumstance. The apple need not suggest a series of
questions recalling Man's First Disobedience and the.
Garden of Eden generally, nor even " what we sometimes
have in puddings " ; the equator need not be approached
by a dissertation on the cocoanuts that grow in tropical
countries ; and no teacher, I imagine, need begin a series
of lessons on Milton's verse-writing with remarks about
the caesura in Latin pentameters.

Ultimately, of course, these pairs of ideas or topics are
severally connected with each other, and their juxtaposi-
tion may be of great educational value ; in the meantime,
however, the forcible association of each pair by means
of questions fired off at this stage by the teacher, would
be work done mainly by himself, not mainly by the class;
and that is bad teaching. The class should see before it
an object of attainment ; it should not be led by the nose.
It is not however necessary, nor even often desirable, in
teaching little children or boys and girls, to parade the
name of the particular logical subdivision of science or
knowledge with which we are going to deal. We need
not write upon the black-board the words " Geography/'
" History," or "Botany " before setting out ; to do so is
to emphasise the logical differences between "subjects,"
whereas our chief business, in accordance with sound
psychology, is to cultivate a sense of the continuity of

Instruction as Discipline 1 1

knowledge. But our immediate theme the basin of the
Thames, the Corn Laws, or the Germination of a Bean
cannot be made too clear.

We come now to the first so-called formal step in the
process of teaching, the step technically known p rep aration
as Preparation. In stating our aim, we effected awakens
a rough kind of synthesis ; we pulled our expectancy
pupils' ideas together, so to speak ; concen- and a PP etite
trated their attention on one thing. The Preparation
stage is analytical ; and we shall find that in good
teaching synthesis and analysis alternate regularly. We
must first find out what the class already knows of the
subject in hand ; and we should begin boldly by asking
Who can tell me anything about this apple . . . the equator
. . . Milton s versification ? The pedantical or mis-
trained teacher shrinks from such an " omnibus" question.
He prefers to put a little question to Tom, another to
Dick, another to Harry, with the intention, no doubt, of
building up an edifice after his own plan. This was,
as he understands it, the method of Socrates, and it has
the results sometimes attributed to the work of that great
philosopher : it stimulates a very, very small minority,
if any of the class happen to see what he is driving at,
but it completely silences the greater number, who either
regard him and his teaching with indifference or would
like to offer him hemlock.

Our first duty, then, is to get all we can, in a form as
full as possible, from any one willing to speak. We thus

Online LibraryPercy Arthur BarnettCommon sense in education and teaching; an introduction to practice → online text (page 1 of 25)