Percy Arthur Barnett.

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

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set every pupil "rummaging" about in his stock of ideas
to see what he can find that is pertinent ; we cultivate
the habit of looking for things that may have perhaps
slipped out of consciousness ; and we keep alive the self-
respect that makes the pupil the teacher's willing com-
panion instead of his trailing captive.

12 Common Sense in Education

We should let our pupils in this way build as much as
possible for themselves. There are very few stages of
pupilage, above of course the very lowest, in which some
members of a class will not have a few details at least
which the master has not. If the master tries to get his
pupils to build exclusively from the supply of bricks
carried in his own hod, he is a stupid, because a wasteful
teacher. But when the class has produced all that the
teacher judges can be contributed spontaneously, he will
arrange this in the most profitable order by a few
judicious summarising questions ; placing two facts side
by side and making the class recognise one as cause, the
other as effect ; adding something pertinent here, re-
moving the irrelevant there ; in short, preparing the
ground for the formal step that naturally follows next.

The stage of Preparation has been, in the main, a
process of analysis. It is true that in setting


our house in order we do synthesise ; but the
teacher's most important aim, so far, has been to ascer-
tain what his pupils have in stock ; the setting in order
was merely an introduction to the next step, Presenta-
tion of new matter, rather than the essential part of
the Preparation. That is, the stage of Preparation was
mainly analytical, whereas the stage of Presentation is
to be mainly synthetical.

We may add to a boy's stock of knowledge in three
The attempt wa Y s only. We can make him observe, we
to "elicit" can make him infer, and we can tell him what
everything is W e want him to know. What we cannot do

a great snare j s dic}t frQm him by dexter ous questions

knowledge which he did not possess before we set to
work. The word " elicit " is a kind of Mesopotamia for
sanctity and potency with the over-formal teacher ; and
the procedure which it usually implies is no less wonder-

Instruction as Discipline 13

ful, for whereas it was used by Socrates generally in order
to show his victims that they knew nothing, it is used
in our schools by the imitators of a degenerate Socrates
to show their pupils that they really know everything.
And the worst of the matter is that it may be made
to do one thing or the other, as Socrates' own practice
showed, for instance, in the Meno dialogue ; the essential
and corrupting fact being that the teacher does all the
work and the pupil speaks nay thinks only on invita-
tion and on a line prescribed. He is, in other words,
led by the nose. And this is the origin of endless
aimless chattering.

We may, then, make (i) our boy observe for himself
by showing him what to look for and how to look for it ;
or we may (2) lead him to see causal connexion between
two facts or sets of facts ; or we may (3) tell him. To
tell him is often, not the shortest way only, but also the
best way ; but how much of one or another procedure is
to be used must be determined by the teacher's tact and
perspicacity. The better we succeed in getting our boy
to put forth effort, the better no doubt he will hold
what he attains ; but if we want him to arrive at the
fact that a certain king died of a surfeit of peaches and
new ale, we had better tell him and have done with it.
No questions bearing on the diagnosis of indigestion
and the weaknesses of kings will help either our boy
or us.

The Preparation process will have stirred up expec-
tation, quickened pertinent ideas, put out points of
attraction for other similar ideas. The presentation now
performed by the teacher lays the new ideas within reach
of the old ones in one of the three ways enumerated ;
either by directing observation, or stimulating inference,
or by straightforward telling.

14 Common Sense in Education

If we have been successful in our presentation of new
matter, we have not just filled up a gap in knowledge,
we have not merely finished ofif the old ideas existing
in our pupils' minds by attaching more ideas ; we have
also given the old ideas a new life, transformed and
enlarged them ; not satisfied them, but made them
readier to appropriate and assimilate more of the same
kind of food. The real process, then, is one of compari-
son. The regenerated and enlarged ideas begin to sort
out from the mental debris of experience, from conscious-
ness, other ideas that are like themselves, separating
them from the unlike. They perform a kind of analysis,
succeeded by an act of synthesis. Contrast or Com-
parison marks things out from one another,

Comparison r .

decomposes them, in order to recompose
them. All analysis in a healthy mind is followed by
synthesis. The formal step called Comparison therefore
" sets up parallels ". The teacher of little children makes
her pupils compare the apple with other common fruits ;
the schoolboy of twelve recalls other sovereigns who
have died from famous indigestion ; the scholar of eigh-
teen who is reading the history of Roman land legislation
compares the Hebrew year of Jubilee with the less regular
efforts of the Roman plebs and others to readjust their

The step next laid down as usual and necessary is
Generaiisa- the formulation of a general fact or law ; this
tion is the stage of Generalisation, which follows

naturally upon the process of Association, or Compari-
son, or setting up of parallels seu quocunque alio nomine
that has already taken place. The pitfall that here
commonly waits for the unwary teacher is the favourite
fallacy of the illogical, generalisation on too few parti-
culars. It happens most frequently in what are called

Instruction as Discipline 15

" science " lessons. The " scientist " shows that a bar of
iron expands under heat or that steam takes up more
space than water ; he then triumphantly requires his
class to infer that all bodies expand under heat. It is
clear that even if the law as stated were true, the one
unanalysed experiment is not, taken alone, sufficient
to establish it. Nevertheless, teachers, and especially
teachers of experimental "science," often seem to be
doing their best in this operation to cultivate our natural
depravity, our tendency to jump to conclusions on in-
sufficient and unchecked evidence, the fount and origin
of as many human woes as indulgence in strong drink ;
for indeed it is a kind of dissipation. If the teacher can
so contrive his experimentation as to show his pupils
how the laws of logic require that conclusions should
be scrutinised and checked, his procedure is.sound and
profitable. If he does not follow this course, his teach-
ing may be thoroughly bad training, and can be expected
to result neither in the strengthening of the reasoning
powers nor in " scientific " discovery.

Obviously, the generalisations made by pupils of dif-
ferent ages will differ. Suppose for instance the Armada
is a subject dealt with in three stages of school-life. The
boy of eight or nine may be made to understand that
a number of quick little sailing ships are handier in a
fight than a number of lumbering galleons. The boy of
twelve or thirteen may be led to recognise as a general
fact that free institutions knit together against invasion
people of all creeds and all classes. The older students
will, with other things, see deeper into the political situa-
tion and the bearing of social and political institutions
on the conflict. We must note, of course, that as we
ascend in the scale, the power of generalisation neces-
sarily becomes greater, and that we do not expect the

1 6 Common Sense in Education

small boy to group his parallels into laws as freely as
the scholar of riper years ; he has fewer facts and is less
capable of seeing reason.

We must be on our guard, too, lest in the endeavour
to secure a generalisation we make no distinction be-
tween the exacter sciences (such as mathematics in a
high degree and grammar in a lower degree) and those
sciences in which generalisations are less easily obtained
because of the lower certainty of the subject-matter, as
history, for instance, and geography, and even the ex-
perimental sciences, each in its proper degree.

In mathematics, which deals with types or abstractions
throughout, generalisations may be irrefutable ; in the
experimental sciences and sciences which can by their
nature determine opinion only without justifying convic-
tion or certitude, we must be content with something less.
Therefore not only will the kind of generalisation made
by our pupils differ at different stages of school-life, but
the generalising process will always be safer and more
legitimate in some subjects than in others. We may
allow generalisations to be made freely in mathematics ;
in the experimental sciences they must be tentative and
hedged round with qualifications ; while in history and
geography it will often be best to be content with an
orderly and clear apprehension of particulars.

The philosophers lay it down next that we should
Application a PP^7 our generalisations, gained as we have
of generaiisa- described, to some common or current matter,
tiontonew \Ve are to make our pupils use their general-
culars isation with a new fact or facts, as a premiss
in deducing new results. If we recur to our Armada
illustration, the small boy might fairly be allowed to
suggest that a big modern battleship may be at the
mercy of handier boats of smaller size given of course

Instruction as Discipline 17

additional conditions, which must be added to make the
reasoning safe. The boy of twelve may make immediate
application of his generalisation to the effect of the free
institutions of his native land in cultivating a sober
national self-reliance. And so forth. This step in its
turn must be taken with very great precaution in order
to secure that the new particular can properly be brought
under the generalisation which is used for its elucidation.
A correct minor premiss is not less important than a
correct major.

Let us see now to what extent there is justification for
the criticisms directed against this formula.

First of all it is a formula, and therefore in the com-
plexity of things must be liable to large dis- objections to
counting. Most good lessons will teach more, the Herbar-
and many good lessons will teach less, than is tians ' l yp e
implied in its strict use. The incidental teaching in a
lesson is often of greater value than the generalisation in
which it accomplishes itself, and " application " may have
to stand over for a fit opportunity.

But this criticism is not more fatal to the general
formula of teaching than it is to other useful formulas.
For instance " Things that are equal to the same thing
are equal to one another " is true only, so to speak, in
vacua; for no one thing can be conceivably equal to
another thing. Still, the formula is very useful ; things
that tend to be equal to the same thing tend also to be
equal to one another ; and by believing this we get very
valuable results.

We come near to the exact use of the Herbartian type
in lessons to little children ; and that is one of the reasons
why the best training for teachers is training that begins
with teaching the very young, for the mental operations
of children are simpler, more primitive, less veiled by


1 8 Common Sense in Education

reserve, than those of older folk. " Object lessons " in
particular lend themselves to the standard treatment,
the several steps being clearer and the side issues fewer
than in most other kinds of lesson.

It is objected next that some lessons scarcely approach
the type ; that the various processes already here enu-
merated cannot be applied in lessons which are, so to
speak, carried forward over a long period such as, for
instance, the study of a Greek play. But remember,
first of all, that it is already admitted that the steps may
be merely implicit. We do not always State our Aim,
Prepare, Present new Matter, and so forth, formally ; we
pick up the thread of our work where we dropped it.
The class knows quite well what is our general aim with-
out being told, and in the same way other steps may be
merely implicit, or temporarily suppressed, or attenuated.
But note, in the second place, that though the whole of
a single hour's lesson may not fall into the standard
mould, yet every item that we teach, every difficulty that
we tackle, actually does. If a good teacher meets a
crabbed passage, how does he proceed ? He first, being
a good teacher, gives his class clearly to understand what
the difficulty is. If he were a bad teacher (and most of
us have met such monsters) he would leave the class
uncertain about the point to which he would have atten-
tion specially directed ; this is the characteristic fault
of bad lecturers, and it is commoner in the secondary
grade and university teaching than in the primary grade.
Having stated his aim, the good teacher prepares the
ground by calling for his pupils' voluntary contributions.
This is where we note the most conspicuous defect of
the primary teacher. He has almost lost the tradition
which required boys and girls to " get up " something by
themselves ; not only therefore will he not invite a volun-

Instruction as Discipline 19

tary contribution, but ah ! how much worse ! he will
only ask a question of which he foresees, or thinks he
foresees, the answer. This is indeed one of the several
Socrates represented to us by Plato and Xenophon, but
it is the worst kind of Socrates.

The fault of MangnalPs Questions was not that they
gave children all sorts of information to learn by heart
which itself might be very useful but that they actually
provided beforehand against the pupil's discursiveness or
expatiation ; stopped his earth ; circumvented him. Yet
Mangnall's Questions had at least the merit of throwing
the work on to the pupil and not the teacher ; for, as
Charles Kingsley and Miss Soulsby say, children once
used to learn a lesson and say it to the teacher, whereas
now-a-days the teacher learns the lesson and says it to
the children.

In tackling our difficult passage, then, we follow the
type in making our call first on the class, and when we
have led our boys by encouragement and a little question-
ing to produce all they can, we proceed to give our version,
" present" new matter. After this, we "compare" other
similar passages, lead to the general rule, and, as soon as
we have the chance, make the class apply the newly
learnt rule to a new instance.

The truth is that the construing lesson has been of
incalculable value as mental training ; and it The constru-
still holds its place against every other school ing lesson
exercise, precisely because it so naturally approaches the
standard which was not propounded till the formal steps
were set forth by the Herbartians. If what is called
" science " teaching would only take a leaf from the
classical book and model itself on the ordinarily good
construing lesson, it would do much more to deserve the
supreme place in the curriculum which some enthusiasts

2O Common Sense in Education

claim for it. The whole sum of profitable instruction is
to teach people not a chaos of facts, but how to discover
and apply pertinent considerations in particular problems.
This is exactly what good instruction on the Herbartian
model does for us, and there is no better exercise for it
than the critical study of literature.

"Notes of Lessons" should be frequently drawn up
Notes of by students and occasionally by all young
Lessons teachers, and should be submitted to the
criticism of an experienced person. The less "stuff"
they contain, the better. The traditional division into
Matter and Method is generally unsatisfactory because
the two things are hardly separable, and what appears as
"method" in most Notes of Lessons is usually not method
but procedure, telling not why a particular procedure is
adopted, but the machinery that is going to be used.
Wherever the subject permits, the Herbartian arrange-
ment is far better, the least of its merits being that it
forces the student to concentration. Certain lessons
discursive literature lessons or " construes " will not
easily lend themselves as wholes to this kind of formula-
tion, but it must never be forgotten that the formula is
applicable to the parts, if not the whole, of every piece of
real teaching.

Wherever possible, the notes of a lesson should indicate
the next, or any succeeding step, which the pupils may
be expected to take the more easily because this lesson
has been learnt. It is not to be supposed that any lesson
is entirely complete in itself. The process of Application,
properly used, should make the scholar feel that the
lesson opens up a new field, or new fields, to him. The
best closing formula for a lesson would be " Next time
we shall be able to discuss . . . See what you can make
of it for yourselves." This is what we mean when we

Instruction as Discipline 21

set home-lessons to be heard at school, and it is therefore
of immense importance that home-lessons should break
new ground, in ever so humble a way, and with careful
regard to age, health, and status, and not be merely
" exercises " on work done in school. The mental atti-
tude which we should desire our teaching to produce in
our pupils is expectancy. Everything that deadens this
is bad teaching. If we can get our boys and girls to leave
the class-room wishing to know a little more, be sure the
process of digestion will be healthy. If they are merely
satisfied with their meal, the result may be good or bad ;
if they are surfeited, it must be disastrous.

The young and enthusiastic teacher whose training has
perhaps led him to attach undue importance .
to the machinery of the single lesson will do teach j ng j s
well to remember that the series of lessons, moreimpor-
his plan of teaching a big subject as a whole, tant th ^n the
is of much more consequence than the elabora- smgle lesson
tion of each one of thirty lessons. He must think of
every subject of the curriculum not as a body of facts
to be acquired but as a mental habit or attitude to be
cultivated. By all means let the items be carefully con-
sidered, each in its place ; but it matters less if there
are gaps here and there than if the general syllabus and
general treatment should be pedantic or inadequate. In
these days of brand-new syllabuses and curricula we do
well to watch this point with great solicitude.

We may then fairly doubt whether the " Socratic "
method, as commonly understood and prac- Misuse of the
tised, has done our teaching much real good ; "Socratic"
and it is to be hoped that it will not devastate method
secondary teaching through the enthusiastic misguidance
of imperfectly trained teachers. Questioning, in the
hands of Socrates, to judge at least from Plato, was often

22 Common Sense in Education

an " eristic," a merely controversial device, rather than a
means of teaching. It was indeed, a kind of " sophistry "
in the modern sense, and it could quite truly make the
worse cause appear to be the better one. Socrates'
questions not unfrequently bemused and confused his
victims ; and then, when the master had fairly or unfairly
he did not mind which proved them wrong, or at all
events had intellectually stupefied them, he dropped his
catechising and made long speeches ; that is, he lectured,
lectured if Plato records aright, gloriously. But this
cannot be said to be a good working model for us.
Socrates did not usually teach a class of boys. We
must not discourage our young pupils by a patter of
questions, having confutation as their result ; and little
profit is to be got from mere lecturing. We have to
induce boys and girls to work ; set them to master
things, to bring us the proof and to rejoice in their
own articulateness, not in ours. We must not silence
them either by perpetually talking ourselves or by pre-
scribing the exact form to be taken by their thoughts
made articulate. That is, we must be moderate in our
use of questioning as a discipline in instruction. We must
encourage them to construct for themselves. The exces-
sive use of questioning is a worship of mere machinery.
After all, it should be remembered that in the common
order of nature it is the person needing instruc-

Excessive A . , i , , i

tion who usually asks questions, not the per-

questionmg J * *

reverses the son giving it. Why should the nature of
natural pro- things be topsy-turvy in the schoolroom ? It
cedureand j s not so at home. Why should the ques-
tioner in school be almost always the teacher


instead of the learner? Our business is to
make our scholars feel the lack of information, desire to
ask questions ; to encourage them to find out what they

Instruction as Discipline 23

can for themselves, and to be keen to hear what we have
to add to their stock. They must, in fact, question us ;
or, at all events, stand in the attitude of those who want
to know.

If our pupils get into the habit of waiting for a ques-
tion before they are moved to stir up their existing stock
of applicable ideas, they will respond ultimately to no
other stimulus ; and they will even be unable, or at least
disinclined, to produce an answer unless the question to
which they are accustomed comes in the form which
they expect. "They never move but by the wind of
other men's breath, and have no oars of their own to
steer withal," if we may quote Cowley. That is, the
knowledge is never truly theirs ; it is still the property
of their teacher, who is the holder of the key that fits the
lock ; who rubs the lamp in the prescribed way to make
the genie appear ; who knows that only a penny, and
not a shilling, will fit the slot and disengage the packet
of chocolate. A question, rightly put, contains, as we
know, more than half the answer, and it is not good
teaching to leave so much of the permanent initiative
with the teacher. The too convincing proof of this lies
in the fact that, on the whole, the pupil of the primary
school is generally inarticulate except when just the right
sort of question is put to him. His teacher can always
11 bring out" his knowledge, "elicit" it quite honestly,
when the most genial stranger may fail. The boy's ideas
are only half alive ; they put out tentacles, so to speak,
in one direction only.

He is in the condition of certain of the sages of
Laputa, not indeed by reason of intense speculation, but
because his ideas sleep until some familiar sprite stirs
them from outside with a magic wand. People in his
mental condition, as Lemuel Gulliver describes them,

24 Common Sense in Education

"can neither speak nor attend to the discourses of
others without being roused by some external taction
upon the organs of speech and hearing ; for which reason
those persons who are able to afford it always keep a
flapper in their family . . . and the business of this
officer is ... gently to strike with his bladder the
mouth of him who is to speak and the right ear of him
or them to whom the speaker addresses himself".

With us, it is the teacher who too often has to act as
the flapper.

We tend to forget that all the elaborate rules about
proper questioning are merely ancillary to the first of
all teaching rules, the rule that calls upon us by every
available means to induce pupils to think clearly and con-
secutively for themselves. For this purpose, the elliptical
question, the question answered in one word, the question
that evokes a plain Yes or No, may all be occasionally
used with point and effect. But questioning is not in
itself teaching ; it is a device, an instrument, to be used
with proper parsimony, and serviceable only in order to
stimulate the pupil to independent effort.

We shall not fall into the error of excessive question-
The remedy: ' m S if we remember that our chief business is
call for con- to give the pupil the power and habit of re-
secutive re- constituting his knowledge for himself, not as
capitulation f ragmen ts but as wholes. Let us by all means
ask necessary questions, particularly in the stage in
which we are preparing the ground for new matter ; but
it is far more important that we should call frequently
for a concatenated account of the whole of a point or lesson,
with only such rare prompting as may be necessary to
ensure that the recapitulator leaves no serious gap.

Online LibraryPercy Arthur BarnettCommon sense in education and teaching; an introduction to practice → online text (page 2 of 25)