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Percy Arthur Barnett.

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

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rather a thorough acquaintance with the general physi-
cal and political features of the countries of the world,
and the natural conditions obtaining in each section ;
statistical information about details is incidental, but the
power of appreciating the significance of statistics and
of acting upon them is vital. When once the general
geography is mastered, the student, of commercial geo-
graphy may be directed to the special consideration
of definite commercial problems. But above all things
the general training should come before specialised
study ; Geography and Commerce before Commercial
Geography.

Geography, we saw, helped us to a knowledge of the
home of mankind, with its effect on men and their recip-



Geography and History 255

rocal effect on it. We cannot properly dissociate Geo-
graphy from History, nor was it ever done until History is
these later days of excessive sub-division of of political
studies. No one reads the history of Greece societies
and Rome without an atlas, but the inordinate " modern-
isation " of studies has divorced two studies that should
never have been put asunder. History tells us what
men do and have done in organised political societies,
" grouped in governments ". It views things in the aspect
of time ; as they go on ; as processes. Plainly, history
at its highest is a biography, a biography however, ulti-
mately not of individuals, but of communities. And just
as in geography we begin with familiar and striking de-
tails of home surroundings, so in history we introduce
children to the biographies of individuals before we
expect them to take any interest in communities.

There are some misconceptions, it would appear, as to
the effects produced by history study on the The effects
mind. Too much is expected of it. First of of history
all, it is true here as elsewhere that a good study
teacher will do more work with a bad " method " than a
bad teacher armed with brand-new and irrefragable psy-
chological theories. In the next place the study of
history would seem to serve for intellectual very much
more than for moral progress. The study of history
does not necessarily enlarge sympathies, nor prove the
destructive results of unrighteousness, nor inculcate the
duty of individuals to the state, though it may help to
do all these things in the hands of a good teacher who
works on material otherwise well prepared. The "appli-
cation " of history lessons is their weakest point, for the
reason that the lessons may be made at different times
and in different hands to prove such various things. We
may perhaps like people the better because we know



256 Common Sense in Education

more about them ; but history does not show unrighte-
ousness on a grand scale invariably followed by retribu-
tion ; nor that the devotion of the individual to the state
has always been justified by results in common happiness
or prosperity or virtue. Moreover history is much more
concerned in proving differences between nations than
in showing that we are all men-and-brothers. The study
of history does not necessarily make people impartial,
if their sympathies or prejudices are naturally acute.
Macaulay, Freeman, Froude, among ourselves ; Treit-
schke and Mommsen among the Germans ; these are
not models of impartiality.

It is beyond doubt, however, that lessons on personages
and incidents of history can be made to enlarge and
purify the sympathies, to stir wholesome enthusiasm and
patriotism and a sense of civic duty ; but then these
lessons are not really history, and it is positively essential
that we should recognise the fact that most school
"history," being necessarily picturesque and panoramic,
must be merely preparatory for the real study of history
proper, which may be begun in the later stages of
secondary school-life, but as a special science is much
more truly a study for adults. That is, history at school,
in order to be successful as a subject of teaching, must
not attempt too much, must not indeed try to deal with
some important aspects of history unless in a very ten-
tative way and with advanced pupils. The examination
of authorities is a very difficult business if you have them
merely at second-hand.

The main work of scientific history is to weigh
The weigh- evidence, and the just estimation of the value
ing of evi- of evidence is the highest flight of the critical
dence intelligence. The picturesque and panoramic

part of history is useful and necessary in the school in



Geography and History 257

order to give atmosphere and perspective, to cultivate ima-
gination, to enable young people to learn to realise times
and places far removed from their own experience. The
true significance of facts cannot be properly taught till
comparatively late in the course of study, and history in
the school must therefore not attempt too ambitious a task.

It is important to get this clear because in history
perhaps more than in any other school study it has
become the fashion to require both more and less than
should be expected. For instance, constitutional history
is entirely unsuited for school. It is largely a question
of accumulated precedents, and calls for a far more
precise knowledge of detail and judicial capacity than
a young scholar can in reason be supposed to possess.
But " foreign " history is indispensable.

Let us examine the purposes which school history may
be properly called upon to serve, and see if Atmosphere
the ends we have in view help ^ to deter- and per-
mine method of procedure. First of all, we s P ectlve
want to give our pupils atmosphere and perspective.
Intellectual and moral vulgarity arises from narrowness
of vision, from failure to understand other people's point
of view. To the vulgar person everything which can-
not be stated in terms current and familiar is ridiculous,
strange, and uncouth ; the historical atmosphere, then,
must help our pupils to realise, pictorially in the first
instance, other ages and other lands. But then they
want perspective also ; they should be able to look on
mankind down a long vista ; to feel that the state of
things with which they are themselves acquainted has
its beginnings in a very distant past. We must there-
fore get them to realise the succession of events, and of
states of society and of governments.

They must learn to see these things in their right

17



258 Common Sense in Education

proportions and in their proper places in successive
stages of human development, for only thus will our
pupils learn to respect other times and other manners.
A vulgar and ignorant person may be expected to think
little of Julius Caesar because the Roman of eighteen
hundred years ago knew nothing of the steam engine
or aniline dyes or dynamite ; but when he begins to see
the relation of this great man to his own times and to
the subsequent development of western civilisation, the
political perspective of a scholar becomes more correct,
and his views wider and juster. The case here imagined
may seem to be a very much exaggerated illustration
of vulgar ignorance, but it is really only a special case
of the general vulgar ignorance of the unlearned and
unlettered who think this age and its achievements so
incomparably greater than those of long ago. It is
history that teaches us to distinguish between the real
greatness that can be expressed in terms of spiritual
and moral force and the greatness that is mere bulk.
We want our pupil to understand the significance of
the process which history examines ; to discriminate
the stages of evolution ; to enclose in brackets, as a
mathematician does, the quantities that can be treated
collectively. The formal value of history as a mental
gymnastic is its unifying power.

It is a wholesome instinct then that makes us almost
Ancient invariably teach ancient before modern his-
before tory. Few of us have known successful his-

modern tory teaching of young children begin with the

history reign of Queen Victoria. We naturally begin

with the ancient Britons and their woad, or with Arthur
and his Round Table, or with King Alfred and the cakes
which he did not neglect. These are more personal and
therefore more picturesque than the multitude of blurred,



Geography and History 259

confused, and kaleidoscopic events and movements that
make up our more modern records. We naturally work
down in succession, the task covering more and more
details as we descend the centuries ; but though we are
brought down at last, even with young scholars, to our
own times, we shall find remarkable confirmation of the
propriety of the order of precedure, ancient to modern, in
the fact that our children are positively more interested
in the personages of the earlier parts of history than they
are in those of the later. So we need not fear that we
are wasting time when we teach ancient and medieval
history in picturesque fashion at school rather than recent
history of the constitutional variety. We are really pre-
paring a very necessary background for the later learn-
ing high in the school or at the university, or for work
later in life upon minuter details. Perhaps it is not
truly history that we are teaching ; but we are certainly
creating the atmosphere absolutely essential if the sub-
sequent teaching is to be of real value. To begin, then,
with the earlier history is the more natural, because, first,
the order of time is the natural order, and most early
understood ; because, secondly, the details are fewer ;
because, thirdly, they are jnore picturesque ; because,
fourthly, they are, as a consequence of all these con-
siderations, better suited psychologically for the use of
youth. Some people would have us begin to teach this
and kindred subjects with a lesson on The Policeman.
Th~ significance of the policeman may well be taught ;
but surely it is mere pedantry to try to evoke in the
minds of children the abstract ideas on which the ulti-
mate justification of the policeman's presence depends.
For the child, the policeman exists to punish wrong-
doers ; he is not an expression of highly organised social
development.



260 Common Sense in Education

Custom, then, and, it would appear, right reason, have
Ancient his- settled that we should teach ancient history
tory should early in the school career and that we should
not be merely even begin with it. But we ought not to con-
fine this ancient history to the concerns of our
own country. It is, again, atmosphere that we want.
After a young pupil has obtained a general knowledge
of the chief personages and events of English history,
which can certainly be effected by the ninth year, two
or three years can most profitably be devoted to the
elements of world-history, concurrently, if you will, with
English. He will have got much of the background
already in the history which he has learnt as literature.
He should have read the stately narrative of the Bible,
the Odyssey and Iliad, many English ballads, and any
sagas and lays of ancient days that may come in his way.
These things should have been read or heard as stones,
not, of course, as lessons w r ith " meanings and allusions ".

We must begin our teaching of history as social life
History of began before society became highly organised.
Social life w e mus t go far enough back to secure a
conspectus, something which the pupil can comprehend
" in the lump," to use a phrase sanctioned by Principal
Withers. History, as a process, begins in a plexus which
we cannot unravel, and so much the better is it as a
start. It begins as narrative, and narrative, so far as we
can tell, in song, and perhaps with dance, as the use of
metre possibly indicates. It is, in fact, at the outset one
and the same with literature. We should, then, use
great narrative stories or poems, as early as we can ; poems
in prose, as Malory, if we cannot find ballads sufficiently
simple, the Arabian Nights, early Greek stories, and so on.
To quote again the distinguished authority just named,
the point we must consider is not whether such stones



Geography and History 261

are historically true that very matter becomes the sub-
ject of investigation to which the scholar will ultimately
be directed but whether they were once told as true.
This it is which gives them their significance in the
education of mankind, and marks them out as probably
most acceptable to young learners. Our child reads
English history from his seventh to his ninth First enrich
year, inclusively, three times, each time in theimagina-
greater detail, once a year ; for if we wait and tion by a
worry over details, covering little ground at a s eneral

, . . i . course

time, we destroy interest and enjoyment, m
history as in literature, by spoiling the pictures. At the
end of his ninth year, he will have a pretty complete
general knowledge of English history, as a panorama, a
series of interesting events and personages. If we pro-
ceed at once to take the next logical step, and try to get
him to appreciate history as a study of evidence, we make
a futile appeal to powers that hardly exist in a brain so
immature. But we can most profitably proceed with the
business of enriching the imagination and sympathy ;
preoccupying the ground, so to speak, which might other-
wise become hereafter the seed-plot of ignorant provin-
ciality and vulgarity. Think what a rich world this is
for those people to whom it is the visible result of the
teeming activities of a thousand interesting personages
whose bones were dust and whose tools were rust cen-
turies ago ! And how poor to those who know it only
as the little street in which they live and the persons
about them from day to day !

When, then, our pupil is ten, unless we are constrained,
as alas ! so many of us are, by examinations and other
influences so often destructive of the main purposes of
learning, a valuable year might well be spent in getting
general knowledge of the great personages and peoples



262 Common Sense in Education

of the East, using the Bible where it is available ; then in
the eleventh and twelfth years, would come the outlines
of the history of Greece and Rome ; in the thirteenth
and fourteenth the history of modern Europe ; all, of
course, treated very generally. A pupil who began his
fifteenth year with the stock that this course a perfectly
practicable course implies, might then be turned with
the greatest profit, to the beginning of a study of history
as a matter of evidence and origins.

This general knowledge of the panorama of history is
of vital importance to a proper understanding of that
political side of geography which is its crown and com-
pletion. The study of geography remains topography
and physiography still unless we proceed farther in our
study of cause and effect, and investigate its bearings on
the constitution and behaviour of human societies. This
we cannot understand without making an extensive,
even if superficial, survey of the chief facts of history
in general.

Any hard and fast distinction that has yet been made
between ancient and modern history seems to have little
value except as a means of marking off the history of
political societies that still live from those that have
become extinct or, as has happened generally, have been
merged in others. History is one.

A training in the science of history, to be begun not
History and before the pupil has a very solid groundwork
the forma- of undisputed facts to build upon, is, speak-
tion of ing psychologically, the best possible means

opinion of cultivating the judgment. We teach our

pupils at this stage how to use all available means to
form just opinions; for history, so far as its end is
practical, is directed to sifting the materials out of
which opinions are formed. In studies like geometry



Geography and History 263

or physics, there is no room for mere opinion, though
there may be for hypothesis ; hypothesis is pretty sure
in the course of experiment and investigation to be
rejected or to become certainty ; but history must mostly
remain matter of probability, that is, of opinion, to the
end. The investigation of the problems of history, then,
is nearly connected with the daily problems offered to
our judgment; it should help us to "put things together,"
to appreciate character considerately and indulgently ;
to give due importance to the facts that matter and to
put aside the facts that derive their weight from preju-
dice, mere iteration, or untrustworthy authority. And
these considerations should help to impress on us the
conviction that any real study of scientific history must
be not, indeed, entirely neglected, but properly left to a
late stage in the school course, to be more effectually
pursued in the university.

University teachers of history sometimes say that they
prefer to receive pupils who have had no pre-
vious teaching in history at all, since most history as a
university students have to unlearn so much preparation
when they address themselves to the study of for special-
history as a science. This is unreasonable. lsedumver -
For what such sturdy beggars really demand
is that the school should forgo a study which even in
its preliminaries is of the highest civilising and educating
value for all pupils, merely in order to reserve a clear
field, a hortus inclusus, to the specialists who receive a
favoured few for special cultivation at the university.
These critics would deny a like privilege to other
subjects, asking, in effect, that the elements of all other
studies should be properly taught, and the pupils thus
specially prepared then handed over, soul and body, to
themselves.



264 Common Sense in Education

The same sort of claim is made by the boat-racing
experts and most other specialists. But it is the busi-
ness, almost the chief business, of teachers, to keep the
specialists in their place ; and to insist that all specialist
efforts should be regulated by general considerations of
what is good in education for the greater number of those
in our schools, those, in fact, who are not to become
specialists. We cannot too often remind ourselves that
teachers are not all teachers of special subjects, nor
called upon primarily to prepare pupils for the opera-
tions of specialist teachers. It is above all things our
business to implant in our pupils the habit of regarding
knowledge in connexion, and we must therefore make the
basis of our teaching as broad as possible.

History has its varieties of application just as geo-
Speciai g ra P n y ^ as - Each serves, in so far as it is

branches of a school subject, for the general training of
History capacity ; each is meant to give the learner a
general power to interpret facts and to arrange them in
the way most likely to suit his particular purposes from
time to time. As there is a special application to com-
merce of geographical facts, so is there also of historical
facts. The history of discovery, the history of taxation,
the history of trade guilds and trading governments
might be called commercial history, and to the man of
business are of real importance. Other varieties of
history are easy to think of history of the Church, of
the constitution, of military organisation, and the rest
a list almost inexhaustible. But all these special applica-
tions must be subordinate to the general training in
history which the school is required to give : first the
necessary background, and then exercise in the esti-
mation of evidence and in the discovery and weighing of
authorities. We cannot ascertain the truth of records



Geography and History 265

unless we know where to look for the most trustworthy
account and unless we know how to set one account
against another and extract the truth from varying de-
tails. History may thus, in the right hands, become a
training in patience and temper and intellectual truth-
fulness, always providing we can exclude the bias of
partisanship ; and this, after all, may be regarded as
easier in the school than it is in the more mature and
prejudiced society outside it.

But it remains true that during the greater part of the
life at school we can only very cautiously treat history
as a science of discovery. Our chief business is to see
that our pupils get to know and to remember undoubted
facts that matter, the memorable and significant things ;
and we do this most effectually by cultivating their power
of selection, making them read with attention, training
them in the power of noting and succinctly recording
sets of facts bearing on the solution of a particular pro-
blem or illustration of a particular idea, increasing our
call for detail as we proceed higher in the school. This
done, our pupils will have the key to unlock all history
with some profit to themselves ; both materially, in the
actual gain of information and mastery of general truth,
and also in a disciplinary sense, for they will have
acquired a most valuable judicial capacity and, perhaps,
habit of mind.

The use that the time-chart serves in a course such
as is here laid down should be very obvious. The Time-
Every school should have, placed in a con- Chart
venient place and on a large scale, one or more such
charts as those made by Mr. E. J. Ensor, displaying
graphically the synchronism of the most notable events
and landmarks in history. Just as our knowledge of
England as a sectional map is all the truer and more



266 Common Sense in Education

profitable if we relate it to other world -divisions of
varying magnitudes, so we understand the bearing oi
an important event all the better if we know its relation
in time to other events ; and if this can be most easily
and most enduringly rendered graphically, it is folly to
despise or to neglect such a device.

But this may well be supplemented by the Line oi
The Line of Time described by Principal Withers, which
Time is, in brief, a long strip of paper pasted inside

the history note-book, indicating to the right and left
of the central point which we make our era (the date
assigned for the birth of Christ) the position of various
great events in stated positions corresponding to their
proximity or distance. By means of this strip, which he
receives blank and fills up by additions from time to
time made by himself, the pupil is perpetually called
upon to relate new facts in point of time to all facts, and
to recall old facts anew. He thus learns dates in a much
more rational way than by merely committing them tc
memory piecemeal, and they are more profitable because
the additions arise out of the processes and needs of his
own reading.

The map is another absolutely essential device for the
Maps in effectual teaching of history. It is necessary,
History first, as a means of fixing in the memory the
mere names of places which are of significance in history;
a mere mechanical means, perhaps, but one of the most
useful that can be employed. The map is even more
necessary for the understanding of both the rapid suc-
cession of events, as in a campaign, and the slower
working of economic forces, as when we have to account
for such facts as the powerful isolation of England, the
growth of great ports, manufacturing centres, political
centres, centres of population, and the like. The historical



Geography and History 267

atlas should be regarded as an indispensable part of equip-
;ment, no less than the atlas representing the political
divisions of the world as they are. And if the economic
'meaning of a particular situation on the map is once
[understood, its exact position will not be forgotten.

It is hardly necessary to say that everything that gives
reality to the conception which the pupil gains Devices of
from his study of books is a valuable device in illustration
the teaching of history. Models, coins, plans, and the
rest serve as objective attachments to much which might
otherwise fade away for want of definite hold ; and such
models as the pupil constructs with his own hands, or
such other illustrations as he acquires by his own exer-
tions are, of course, far more effectual than anything
which owes its origin to the teacher.

A considerable impulse has been given of late years
in the sphere of primary education to a sys-

. r '1 i 1-1 r Citizenship

tematic study of the duties and rights of
citizenship. It is not unreasonable that a beginning
should be made in the primary grade rather than in
the secondary, though it is at first sight rather sur-
prising. For it is to be remembered that the primary
school age generally terminates, even under favourable


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Online LibraryPercy Arthur BarnettCommon sense in education and teaching; an introduction to practice → online text (page 20 of 25)