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Percy Arthur Barnett.

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

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education may be constructed round almost any " core,"
science, history, geography, and even " commerce "
but there is general agreement, even amongst teachers
of science, that the humanistic element should pre-
ponderate at all events in the school.

If the future teacher is fortunate and well advised, he
will graduate before he applies himself to the study of
education. But whether he does so or not, he must
recognise that the preparation for his work has two
sides, both of unmistakable importance, the practical
and theoretical.

The practical side is, in my opinion, by far the more
indispensable. For it is by practice in the p ract i ca i pre -
schoolroom, and not by the reading of books paration for
or by discussion in the lecture-room, that a teaching
young teacher " finds his legs," or arrives at the timely con-
viction that he is incompetent. If first-hand experience
is postponed until the whole of the theoretical foundation
shall have been well and truly laid, a double disadvan-
tage is incurred : the tiro may either find that he has
travelled a serious distance on a career for which he is
unfit ; or, if that danger is safely avoided, he will lose the



296 Common Sense in Education

only means of making his reading profitable, observa-
tion and experiment in school, made concurrently with
his studies in theory and giving life to them.

It is essential that the practical work undertaken
should be continuous and intimate. A merely occa-
sional lesson or a perfunctory series of visits of obser-
vation do not allow a young teacher either time or
opportunity for testing his capacity to stand alone or
to deal with a class under the strain and monotony
of daily intercourse. And the single lesson, devised, it
is to be feared, for examination or parade purposes,
tends, like all examinations, to emphasise the collateral
and not the main conditions of the work the plan of
this lesson, without regard to its place in a whole scheme
of instruction ; the " illustrations " and " objects " that can
be paraded before the class ; the black-board summary
which the teacher has determined beforehand is to be
the outcome of his teaching, whatever may be already
in the heads of the wretched victims.

The young teacher should have dealings with his class
long enough and continuous enough to enable him to
make and record observations in detail of individuals.
Such records may be of no great value for the purposes
of generalisation, but they will serve most profitably in
Begin with directing the work and unifying the scattered
the teaching impressions of the observer. Moreover, it is
of young worth while to note here how desirable it is
children \ ^^ a teacher's experience should begin with
young children. In the first place, the organisation of
a school designed for such pupils will be of necessity
simple and therefore easily understood. Moreover, the
relation between the liberal or formative part of the
curriculum and other " subjects " imposed by the circum-
stances of the school will be less complex. Again, the



The Making of the Teacher 297

pupils will be less self-conscious, and in a more ingenu-
ous stage of mental and moral development than if they
were adolescent ; for in adolescence the material for
observation is more reflective, more intricate, and more
fruitful in obstacles. And, most important of all, it is
easiest to see in the young child the intimate connexion
between mind and body and the dependence of mental
and physical states on one another, which so vitally
affect the conditions of teaching and discipline.

It is not less important for training that the student
should see endeavours made by accomplished observation
teachers to carry into effect the injunctions of good
and conclusions of the lecture-room. It is teachers
not necessary here to urge at length the exceeding value
of suggestion by example ; the whole body of our ex-
perience is full of it. The best preparation for the sys-
tematic professional study of teaching is to have been
taught well ; every practical teacher knows how deep
his obligations are to those who in his own case set a
pattern of careful, thorough, and patient work. But the
example set by the trainer should not, as Dr. Findlay 1
shows, be vitiated by the notion "that the lecturer on
Education or other experienced teacher should display
himself as a model of perfection to his students," to be
followed blindly and slavishly ; though " the theoriser
can never be safe unless he follow the inductive method
and builds up his doctrine out of his personal experience
as a teacher ". Nothing else will prove to the student
that to become a good teacher one must teach well, and

1 1 cannot refrain here, although I differ strongly from Dr.
Findlay on one or two points, from expressing my admiration of
and general concurrence with his paper on The Study of Education,
in the Education Department's Special Reports, vol. 2,. Its main
vOntentions and arguments seem to me conclusive.



298 Common Sense in Education

that, though other things will help, nothing else will
take the place of earnest effort. Only the sight of good-
ness in action is effectual to teach practical morality, and
the good man, not the good theoriser, is the father of
right action. " Does a man who is in training," asks
Plato in the Crito, "and who is in earnest about it,
regard the praise and blame and opinion of any man, or
of that man alone who is a doctor or trainer ? " To be
listened to with effect, the lecturer must show his com-
petence to do what he assures his pupils can be done.
Unless he does, they will not believe him to be a trainer.

We must now ask what is the relation of theory
Theory and to practice in the cultivation of teaching
Practice capacity.

There are many things which mere thinking will not
do ; for instance, it will not add a cubit to a man's stature
nor an inch to his chest measurement. But we do not
know how effectually we can devise means to a desired
end until we have tried. It is doubtful, perhaps, whether
means can be devised to make a man tall though ille-
gitimate procedure may give him a false appearance of
height but it is certain that proper exercises will increase
the accommodation provided between his ribs for a supply
of air. And we are assured by those who have tried, that
we can reason out means for improving the teaching ca-
pacity of all people who have the capacity by the original
gift of Providence. We cannot, of course, give capacity
to those who have it not, any more than we can construct
a barrel round a bung-hole.

Theorising in education is nothing more than seeking
a reason for success in educating ; if we can find the
reason, we have a valuable hint for further procedure.
And it is quite worth while to remember that good
teaching was not invented in the eighteenth or nine-



The Making of the Teacher 299

teenth century ; so we start with some material by
the gift of the past. If, however, we theorise without
the genuine opportunity of seeing our ideas worked
out in practice, either by our own efforts or in the
work of others, and of varying procedure or seeing it
varied, we inevitably fall into the pedantry of Education as
"methods" and " systems'*. The untrained an empirical
and badly "trained" teachers are equally the science
victims of " methods "; with one difference. The badly
trained teacher probably uses procedure which has at all
events been the subject of some sort of discussion and
public criticism, whereas his untrained brother habitually
adopts procedure which is the result of his own manu-
facture and has probably been amended by no other
man's counsel. The science of education is no more an
exact science with indisputable premisses ascertained
and affirmable, as a religious dogma is affirmed, than is
the science of conduct. It is not Religion, nor Logic,
nor Psychology, nor Ethics, nor Sociology ; but all these
things and some others. The purpose of education,
whatever our formal definition may be, is to influence
people in such a way that they may have the will and
the power to advance when the teacher's stimulus is
removed. The study of education will therefore neces-
sarily comprise all those sciences which concern them-
selves with the history of man, his constitution as a living
and thinking being, and the purpose of his being.

Now it is perfectly clear that we cannot wait until a
student has gone through a voluminous and complete
course of history and philosophy before com- we learn
mitting to him the duty of teaching. This how to teach
would be pedantry indeed. Duties even by teaching
more serious and far-reaching than thos,e of teachers
are imposed by nature on mothers and fathers without,



300 Common Sense in Education

unfortunately, the production of any certificate of com-
petence. Pedantry would make rules and endeavour to
fit the facts of the universe in accordance ; it is our
business, rather, to make the best we can of facts as we
become acquainted with them.

The post-graduate student of education may be re-
quired to proceed systematically through a process of
inquiry into the aim, the administration, and the practice
of education ; and under these heads there is no doubt
that the topics bearing most directly on the conduct
of teaching and of discipline can be most conveniently
treated. But there seem to be certain general considera-
tions by which the less fortunate ordinary practitioner
may in the meantime guide himself. He will do well
ultimately to proceed through the complete course, if
he has the time and the means ; but what shall he do
in the face of his daily difficulties ?

He will generally have to accept his curriculum as it
A shorter * s provided for him ; and he may console him-
course for self by the reflection that whatever he may
the acting think of it in details, it is the general re-
sult of what experience has shown to be the
current need. He may and he ought to have his own
views of the value of the curriculum as a whole, but
he must contrive his best to get the utmost possible
out of the means provided. Tradition very

Tradition . ,

properly gives us the lead, because tradition
is our fathers' wisdom ; and our fathers' wisdom is the
complex result of the experience of many generations.
This tradition affects not only the curriculum, but also
the procedure of teaching, in which his own views and
principles will be more easily applicable. It is worth
while to warn the young teacher not to throw aside a
traditional procedure in favour of a new " method " with-



The Making of the Teacher 301

out very serious reason and without bringing everything
connected with it to the test of experiment. For in-
stance, as is elsewhere shown in this book, it is possible
to give a too universal application to a pseudo-Socratic
" method," or to discard on most insufficient grounds
the splendid exercise in the logic of discovery known as
the construing lesson, merely because the one is new, or
is supposed to be new, and the other is old and associated
with the study of " dead " languages.

After interrogating tradition, his next chief business is
to make the best that he can of his own oppor-

r . . . ji- Class-work

tumties for gaining experience and making
experiments. His own honest and original observations
and investigations are of more value than the records
made by a dozen other people, however acute they may
be.

He must next rationalise and justify what he does,
correct his mistakes, and acquire guidance and Teaching
suggestion, from a study of all the sciences with a reason
that may throw light on his material ; that is, on his
pupils and on the subjects of instruction. It is not to be
supposed that he must be always working out his theories
of pedagogy consciously. Life is not long enough ; nor,
for the rest, would his work then have the spontaneity
and decision which is one of the necessary conditions of
successful education or instruction. I quote Dr. Findlay
again. " If a student," or any young teacher who wishes
to know his tools properly, " is set to teach Algebra, he
must inquire into the nature of Mathematics and into the
mental processes by which the ideas of algebraic symbols
are acquired ; he will prepare each lesson, step by step,
referring every stage of his operations to the theories
which it illustrates. In later years, as a practitioner, he
will have no leisure to think out the formal steps by which



302 Common Sense in Education

he conducts his work ; nor will he need to take this
trouble, for his training will have given him correct
habits. The preparation which occupies the beginner
for hours of anxious thought can be completed by the
experienced teacher in a few moments, just as a skilled
physician can make a rapid diagnosis of a case which
occupies a medical student for days, since the latter is
only acquiring the habit of thought which has become
the familiar property of the physician by long usage/'

It must be remembered that the counsel given in this
book, and especially in this chapter, is addressed to the
student of education who has no means of postponing
the serious business of teaching until he has satisfactorily
traversed the circle of sciences bearing directly on peda-
gogy. He is, in my opinion, bound for practical purposes
to rely first on tradition, and secondly, on a daily empirical
method which can only gradually rationalise itself as he
reads and thinks ; he cannot, with any prospect of im-
mediate satisfactory work, attack problems of aim and
administration in any other way. To try to do other-
wise would be, if the views here presented are correct,
to paralyse action.

But he can get direct help in his work from the special
The three an d systematic study of three subjects : from
special the history of educational theory and practice,

studies f rom logic, and from psychology.

It will be noted that the history of educational theory
The history and practice is not the history of education,
of education which, as has been shown, may be made to
cover nearly the same ground as the history of civilisation.
The school is a little world, and the history of schools
and scholars and teachers in the little worlds that pre-
pared for the great world would be only general history
in another aspect. But it is quite possible to get con-



The Making of the Teacher 303

siderable profit and practical guidance by isolating facts
connected with education, the lives and work of active
teachers and influential philosophers, school practices,
plans of instruction, devices of discipline, and the like
and endeavouring to interpret them in the light of what
seem to be their results. Some facts occur so uniformly
after others, as we have seen elsewhere, that we are
justified in arguing " on inspection " ; in regarding the
first as causes and the second as effects ; and if what we
know of the constitution of the human mind leads us to
expect such process, it is perfectly safe and desirable that
we should act upon our discoveries. The life and work
of great teachers, the accounts of their struggles, their
successes, and their failures, are just as valuable for
guidance in the practice of education as the biographies
of good men are in the practice of virtue.

In the study of the history of educational practice we
must include the reading of the great architectonic works
of the famous educational thinkers. And here I venture
to repeat words originally used in a somewhat different
context.

In every branch of study, and in every stage, the same
principle holds good. If we are studying a we should
science, it is the great book, not the text read the
book, that is most important in education. great wnters
In biology, it is from books like the Origin of Species
that the student derives the most real help and the truest
inspiration ; in mathematics, Newton's Principia and the
like are the great stimulators ; in history, the student is
rightly sent to Thucydides, or Mommsen, or Gibbon, or
Freeman ; in education, nothing can take the place of
the study of such writers as Plato, or Locke, or Rous-
seau, or Froebel, or Herbart. The profit of such reading
lies not merely in the subject-matter; that may be



304 Common Sense in Education

disputable it must be disputable. The theorising may
be philosophically unsound, the practical maxims may
lead us to absurdities, just as in pure literature we may
heartily dissent from the morals of a great essayist, poet,
or dramatist. But the method of working by beginning
at the beginning, the marshalling of great arguments,
the pregnant reflections, these, if our intellectual life is
lived amongst them, are the things from which we draw
the stuff for our best work, are the atmosphere, are the
cultivators of perception, are the natural enemies of
intellectual commonplace, vulgarity, pedantry, obscur-
antism.

What a revolution, for instance, is implied in Froebel's
great discovery, that, to use his own words, " Play is the
highest point of human development in the stage of
childhood ". It is the fount and origin of much (not all)
of what we admire and prescribe in the best teaching
of young children. But what a dull and mechanical
maxim this may become it has been well denounced in
the " Instructions to Inspectors of Elementary Schools,"
and in a special circular on Varied Occupations, if it is
supposed to mean the use of a particular kind of toy,
and romps, and songs. The fact is, it cannot be pro-
perly understood without reading its context in the
book in which it is arrived at, propounded, and illus-
trated, in its own quaint, sentimental, and semi-poetic
setting. And then see the "high seriousness and deep
meaning " which Froebel claims for play set forth in an
English way by our own great writer, Robert Louis
Stevenson, in his Virginibus Puerisque, where he sup-
plies us with a common measure for the little child's
game of make-believe and for Shakespeare's King Lear.

We must therefore take our strong stand on the great
books ; on literature, as the most general of studies ; on



The Making of the Teacher 305

the great masterpieces in all studies, as indispensable
to the profitable use of the text book. In the study of
education, particularly, the school-management book or
the book on psychology is a positive danger unless a
classic is read also as an antidote to pedantry ; and all
the better if it is not read for examination. If narrower
studies are to be fruitful, the atmosphere must be broad
and wholesome ; their roots in the ground, their branches
and leaves in the sun and air. The best of text books,
from its very nature, must present summaries and con-
clusions rather than show by what unrestricted processes,
independent of the pedantries of established opinions
and psychologies, the great thinkers attack perennial
problems afresh. Every really great book on teaching
is, in its time and place, an instrument of disintegration,
an object of ridicule to those who do not read it or read
it without sympathy, but a breeze of fine air to those
who like their lungs to be filled. The perpetual plague
of education is the tendency to become dry and formal,
the rule-of-thumb man being the greatest formalist of
all ; and the practical teacher is observing only a proper
precaution in refreshing himself frequently at head-
waters. 1

The "historical" method does not preclude the
" scientific " method ; it is indeed an essential part of
the scientific process. History is a note-book for the
student of any science. It records the experiences, the
experiments, the achievements, the errors, of other
generations. If we neglect the history of a progres-
sive science, we are constantly liable to waste time by

1 1 ought here to acknowledge the courtesy of the editor and
proprietors of the Educational Review in placing at my entire dis-
posal my article on " Atmosphere and Perspective " that appeared
in the January, 1899, number.

20



306 Common Sense in Education

covering ground already mastered and even to fall into
ancient and confessed errors. The medical man who
knows what mistakes his predecessors have made, why
they made them, and how those errors were detected and
amended, is assuredly a safer practitioner than the man
who has worked out the whole of his detailed knowledge
solely on the modern text books of medicine and allied
sciences.

So long as Logic does not occupy a foremost place
in the ordinary liberal curriculum, where it
would be a most profitable substitute for the
" accidence" and "analysis" of the current Grammar,
it will be the business of the young teacher to devote
very early and very earnest attention to the laws of
deduction and the logic of discovery as a part of his
professional equipment. How constantly teachers sin
against the simplest laws of logic in the ordering of
their instruction is not to be believed except by those
whose business it is to take note. Pupils are persistently
invited to draw conclusions and make inferences which a
comparatively short drilling in the formal laws of logic
would show the teacher to be ridiculous. They are
thus demoralised by those very persons and devices
which we require to brace and strengthen their powers.
Moreover, a method of exposition which is logically
exact is also the economical method ; not because it is
the shortest, but because it leaves nothing to unlearn.
A teacher who does not know the fatal logical effects
of question-begging, of imperfect definition, of illicit
conversion of propositions, of all the fallacies of improper
mediate or immediate inference, is pretty certainly a
slipshod reasoner. Unless his fairy god-mother brought
him logic as a christening gift, he is a dangerous in-
structor of youth.



The Making of the Teacher 307

The study that would seem to be next in importance
for the practical teacher is psychology, and

L i L- u Psychology

particularly the physio-psychology which is
represented by such writers, among others, as Professor
James and Professor Lloyd Morgan. It is safest to begin
with generalisations and practical devices put at our dis-
posal by books so frankly physiological as those of Dr.
Warner. No teacher is too young (or too old) to begin,
to endeavour to interpret mental processes by physical
signs. This is the A B C of the teacher's business ;
and although for complete knowledge we ought to have
a complete training in animal physiology, and perhaps
biology, mechanics, chemistry, and the rest, yet we are
bound (for life is short and art is long) to take a sub-
stantial part of our work as done for us in other people's
laboratories. The schoolroom gives us ample oppor-
tunity for making observations and even crucial experi-
ments without any sort of injury to our subjects. One
caution only is to be remembered : an observation or
experiment is almost always invalidated if the subject
is aware of our operations.

The assumption of an older school of theorists, that
psychology gives us a map of mind with which in our
hands we could safely traverse the whole field of educa-
tion, would be valid on two conditions : that we had as
many psychologies as there are minds to deal with, and
that we had a map of each. Psychology can certainly
give us many most useful rules, both positive and
negative ; but its value is chiefly in its cultivation of a
methodically observant attitude. We learn by its aid to
translate process into procedure, but, above all things,
not to be content with procedure alone.

The personality of the teacher is a very lat'ge part of
his success or his failure. A man or woman may have



308 Common Sense in Education

all the wisdom of all the schools, yet lack of personal
The teacher acceptability will go far to make the best in-
himseif tellectual and even moral gifts unproductive.

The first necessity is a high standard of life. Good
work, or (should we say?) work relatively good, can be
done by people of mean views and poor ideals. But the
best work is done only by men and women of large
heart and habitual singleness of purpose. It is these
only who are most secure and steadfast. They are not
turned aside by the petty worries and sordid cares of the
daily turmoil of school from the great aims which dignify
their office and grace all that they do. The great school-
masters and school-mistresses live in the minds of their
pupils as exemplars of the great saving virtues : honesty,
justice, courtesy, courage. Our bearing before the pupils
amongst whom so much of our life is spent reflects our
inner life in a hundred ways not suspected either by us


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Online LibraryPercy Arthur BarnettCommon sense in education and teaching; an introduction to practice → online text (page 23 of 25)