Percy Arthur Barnett.

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

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With younger pupils the process must, of course, be
chiefly oral ; one or more should perform this summary

Instruction as Discipline 25

exercise at various stages and at the end of every lesson.
As they get older, pupils can be more frequently called
upon to make their summary in writing ; but the oral
recapitulation is always exceedingly valuable. The work
is then fresh in the minds of the audience, criticism is
alert, and confidence is strengthened. Moreover, it is no
small gain to cultivate the habit of thinking aloud ; for
most of us cease to think connectedly as soon as we
begin to speak ; we say what we have thought, not what
we are thinking ; we may chatter in the pseudo-Socratic
manner taught in the schools, but we do not converse.

Let us then make our boys and girls stand up and
give their own summary, perhaps after a few minutes for
thinking it over, at the end of every lesson or every
separate part thereof that lends itself to such treatment
history, geography, "science," divinity, mathematics,
even philology. Clearly, as our scholars advance in age,
the desire which we have encouraged in them to ask
questions in class will be assuaged by a larger stock
of information and, above all, by a knowledge of other
quarters from which information is obtainable. The
practice of questioning becomes then chiefly a means by
which the teacher finds out what his pupil knows, not
so much a means of external stimulus. The youth of
eighteen or nineteen may be expected to listen to lectur-
ing which would quite properly send younger folk to

The " Socratic " method has trailed after it another
teaching device of more than doubtful value, The C om-
and that is the insistence on the "complete piete sen-
sentence" in answer to all questions. It was tence"no
discovered that submission to the plague of Temed y
excessive questioning made the children less articulate
and less constructive. It was noticed how incapable

26 Common Sense in Education

they seemed to be not merely of giving a continuous
account of anything, but also of speaking otherwise than
by hints and in jerks, as who should move only in answer
to string-pulling. They are therefore sometimes expected
to acquire copia verborum by being made to throw all their
answers into full categorical form. But this is rather
hindrance than help. If to my question " What have I
in my hand ? " a child answers " You have an apple in
your hand," or " It is an apple," instead of " An apple "
(which is what most sane people would say), he has
merely expressed at length what was always implicit in
the briefer reply. I have made the child evolve no new
ideas, reach out to no new knowledge. I have succeeded
only in putting a skid or brake on his wheel, making his
ratiocination less nimble by cumbering it with machinery.
But if I call on him to fix together several steps of teach-
ing, he makes not one sentence but many, and constructs
a ladder on which he reaches something quite new. To
be sure, there is an appropriate and very useful place for
the "complete sentence" in teaching, and that is in the
"composition" or '< rhetoric" lesson, which calls for the
construction of genuine propositions logically combined
and resulting in new knowledge. Small boys and girls
must, at seven or eight, be taught how to make sentences,
which is properly done when the teacher shows them
on the black-board how they can summarise a lesson in
several sentences all connected. But perpetual insistence
on the use of the complete single sentence in answering,
even in the infant stage, results, if in no other harm, in
the production of unnecessary slowness and " priggish-
ness ". The device is not even " Socratic " ; Socrates
was quite satisfied with one word, if it was the word that
he wanted ; satisfied even with an elliptical answer, which
may be very effective. The quick play of question and

Instruction as Discipline 27

answer is often most valuable just because of its sup-
pression of all but the words necessary to form the
skeleton of the working thoughts. There is no reason,
let us say again, why the practices of every-day life
should be turned topsy-turvy in the school. Questioning
and answering in school will be most profitable accord-
ing as they approach most nearly the form that intelli-
gent conversation takes elsewhere ; and it is certain that
the " complete sentence " is not the invariable form even
of the best-regulated conversation amongst the most
intelligent teachers.

Shakespeare knew the value of the incomplete sentence.
Its very incompleteness is often its very strength.

K. JOHN. He is a very serpent in my way ;

A nd whereso'er this foot of mine doth tread
He lies before me ; dost thou understand me?
Thou art his keeper.

HUBERT. And Til keep him so,

That he shall not offend your majesty.

K. JOHN. Death.

HUBERT. My Lord?

K. JOHN. A grave.

HUBERT. He shall not live.

There are many devices by which we rriay maintain
interest during the process of teaching, though other devices
the main source of interest must always be formaintain-
the judicious use of a rational plan. But all in s intere st
teachers, and especially teachers of young people, find it
necessary, for the maintenance of willing interest, to
" illustrate " what might be, at least at first, or to the
more listless members of a class, arid and dull. How-
ever engaging our subject may be in itself, the constraint

28 Common Sense in Education

of class-teaching is constraint after all, and the teacher
must help his class to submit to constraint cheerfully.
He has therefore to supplement the gifts which he owes
to nature, the clear and pleasant voice, good physique,
and the rest, by learning to interpret the signs of mental
fatigue and unrest ; by cultivating the power of clear
consecutive narrative and ready speech ; by using effectu-
ally graphic and "object" illustrations; by such means
of stimulus as marks and place-taking.

The effects of the personality of the teacher are dealt
with elsewhere, but a word may be said about " illustra-
tions " and other means of artificial stimulus which all
can command.

" Illustrations " in the primary school tend to become
"iiiustra- a kind of fetich. In the desire to obey the
tions" precept "things before words," the teacher

has often fallen into the error of acting as if "things"
could be a substitute for words, as if ideas were naught.
Accordingly, elaborate and complicated pictures are pre-
pared beforehand and paraded rapidly before the eyes of
the class in the hope that all the details over which the
teacher or engraver has spent so much time may some-
how get under the skin of the listless boy that gapes in
the back row. Or an operation which is perfectly simple
in three dimensions is obscured by being represented on
the black-board in two. The right rule in such cases is
surely this that graphic illustration should be used to
help out the mechanical or verbal representation, not to
complicate it. If an operation in needlework is under-
stood when demonstrated with needle and cotton and
working material, a diagram may darken counsel. The
making of a beef-steak pie needs no diagram. But
if we wish to isolate parts of a complicated process,
as for instance in chemical demonstrations, the black-

Instruction as Discipline 29

board, with its sectional drawing of retorts and test tubes
and wires and so on, and its indication of physical process,
may be very useful. It is very doubtful, on the other
hand, whether the graphic representation of a metaphor
illustrating a series of concrete facts, such as that so
ingeniously constructed by Mr. Somervell in Teaching
and Organisation, may not lead to most serious confusion
of metaphor or illustration with explanation, which is one
of the most fruitful causes of error in every branch of
knowledge, and notably in history and theology and philo-
sophy. So too, in botany teaching, the enlarged sketch
gives definiteness and permanence to what under magni-
fying glass or microscope is perceived with difficulty. It
may be generally said that for teaching purposes black-
board illustration is more effective in proportion as it is
rapid, rough, and incidental. When a class sees a sketch
grow rapidly under the teacher's hand, it believes in it ; a
sketch made out of sight beforehand carries little con-
viction. Such drawing is a help to abstraction ; it notes
down the pertinent things and eliminates what does not
matter. It is a kind of shorthand.

Teachers sometimes load themselves with items or
" objects " to show to a class, and think a lesson is good
in proportion to the number of " illustrations " so pro-
duced. And yet it is not the number of things but rather
their pertinence to a clear mental result that makes such
devices useful. Not only must the illustrations used in
teaching be pertinent ; they must also not be over-elaborate
when they are pertinent. The simple black-board draw-
ing of Vergil's plough made before the class, the rough
sand or clay model constructed under similar conditions,
are far superior to many objects which have cost their
makers hours of labour.

The perpetual parading of things before the eyes of

30 Common Sense in Education

learners is the misuse of a very salutary practice. Lemuel
Gulliver saw the like in Laputa.

"Since words are only names for things, it would be
more convenient for all men to carry about them such
things as were necessary to express a particular business
they are to discourse on. . . . Many of the most learned
and wise adhere to the new scheme of expressing them-
selves by things, which has only this inconvenience
attending it, that if a man's business be very great and
of various kinds, he must be obliged in proportion to
carry a greater bundle of things upon his back. ... I
have often beheld two of these sages almost sinking
under the weight of their packs, who, when they met in
the street, would lay down their loads, open their packs,
and hold conversation for an hour together ; then put
up their implements, help each other to resume their
burdens, and take their leave."

There are people, again, whose minds are mere store-
houses of observations or " facts ". But there is no great
advantage to be secured by photographing on the brain all
that we see or hear ; this may lead to mere dissipation of
attention. We must try to remember the significant and
pertinent things. Like Themistocles when Simonides
offered to teach him the art of remembering, we may
well say that we would rather learn the art of forgetting ;
for like Themistocles, we often forget what we should
remember, and remember what we should forget.

In marking and place-taking, the main point that
Marking and should be borne in mind is that we must be
Place-taking careful to conserve the self-respect of a boy
who is habitually low in a form. We cannot always
give honest effort its due. But, in allotting marks, we
may at least allow an exercise that shows a minimum
number of mistakes to receive full marks ; by this device

Instruction as Discipline 31

relative excellence need not seem almost unattainable to
the ordinary boy who puts his best foot forward, nor the
brilliant " freak " be corrupted by having no rival near his
throne. Place-taking, a very useful practice indeed, has
almost entirely disappeared from the primary schools,
no doubt in the main because of the large classes that
are common and the break in apparent orderliness which
the practice involves. The instinct that retains it in the
lower forms of the secondary school is a sound one. It
stimulates competitive effort with few risks ; it keeps
interest alive ; it cultivates quick-wittedness ; it gives the
boys a sense that they are sharing in the game which
is otherwise enjoyed by the master alone. With such
precautions as those described by Canon Lyttelton in
Teaching and Organisation, it is a fine and safe instru-
ment of class-discipline.

It is a matter for regret that a writer on the practice of
education as it is organised cannot satisfactorily Examina-
dispose of his subject without feeling that his tions
views and recommendations must be qualified by con-
siderations arising from the influence of public examina-
tions. In the course of our day's work we must repeatedly
deplore that what we know to be the truly edifying and
educative procedure cannot be adopted for the simple
reason that the indifferent performance of our pupils in
public examinations is too serious a professional disaster
for us to face.

It cannot be too firmly maintained that no examination
is really satisfactory as a test of the quality of instruc-
tion given which does not provide for the participation
of the teacher, the only person who is conversant with
the needs and the intellectual condition of his pupil.
An ideal examination would combine the internal or
domestic with the external or foreign examiner. There

32 Common Sense in Education

are many ways in which this might be effected. For
instance, in every examination the teacher might pro-
pound (say) a dozen questions from which the external
examiner would be required to choose (say) six, and to
these add six of his own. As it is, we may have
examiners who have never taught at all, who may even
never have been themselves taught in form. In the
universities a reasonable representation of recent teach-
ing is obtained by the inclusion of examiners who have
themselves recently taught, but not taught the candi-
dates under present examination. We suffer, again,
under the almost entire absence of oral examination,
which would in many cases enable a candidate who had
been either ill-treated or unfairly favoured by fortune to
get his deserts. Moreover, our examinations are exces-
sively minute, and, as a consequence, tend to be directed
excessively to incidental and collateral knowledge rather
than to the things that greatly matter ; to exceptions, to
rare and inconsiderable items, to novelties, knotty points,
and so forth.

Of course the skilful examiner is careful to keep the
balance true and to try particularly to find out how far
candidates have mastered the various parts of their
subjects in proper proportion as well as their outlying
matter ; but every one knows that many examiners are
not experts in teaching, much less in education ; and
that the youngest and least experienced of scholars are
often set to examine youths and young children, who are
most seriously injured by making a wrong start.

The teacher can do a great deal to mitigate the effect of
these evils by distinguishing carefully between examina-
tions private and public. We examine our pupils in
private for two purposes : first, to ascertain the effect of
our own work, to check ourselves no less than them;

Instruction as Discipline 33

secondly, to co-ordinate, concentrate, and confirm their
knowledge. To this end oral examination is generally
more effectual than paper work, the true type of exami-
nation being, as Professor Laurie says, intelligent con-
versation. Paper work, however, is most serviceable in
securing greater deliberateness of thought and exactness
of expression ; and it is the more necessary as we
advance in the school course and deal with subjects
that make greater calls on reflection and cover a larger
area of details from which the pupil has to select the
material of his answer or theme. Bearing in mind the
purpose of private examination, we can use it effectually
both to build up mind and character and to correct some
of the inevitable perversion of perspective which results
from unscientific examination by external authorities.
We must be careful so to conduct our inquisition that
the pupil may draw help from as large an area as possible
of the work done with the teacher ; and that it should
also be so contrived as to cover at least a little ground
not traversed in teaching. By these precautions we give
due weight to memory and capacity for arrangement, and
at the same time test the fertilising power of our work.
On such occasions, therefore, we very properly set un-
usual problems in arithmetic, riders in geometry, general
questions in history, and in every way possible encourage
work outside the strictly detailed syllabus.

Public examinations have been devised in order to
establish a uniform and comprehensible stand- public exam-
ard of attainment and so to distribute public inations
prizes and diplomas, and even certificates of fitness for
advancing stages of instruction. " A life that is not
submitted to examination," says Plato in the Apologia, " is
not a life for a man to live." Now these public examina-
tions are conducted by impartial persons ; but however


34 Common Sense in Education

impartial such external authorities may be, they neces-
sarily find it easier to arrive at results by setting traps to
detect ignorance of detail than by laboriously measuring
their candidates' actual attainments and relative mastery
of points of more general and therefore vital significance.
They tend therefore to ask for recondite details, and so
they force upon the candidate an unwarrantably concen-
trated devotion to exceptions and irregularities.

One marked indication of this finicking pursuit of
the unusual is the compendious and crowded character of
examination papers set by English authorities as com-
pared with others. Too much importance is attached to
a knowledge of details and particularly recondite details
worked out by other people, and too little encouragement
is given to general mastery of a subject and closer investi-
gation on original lines. Hence a multitude of small,
unoriginal text books minutely annotated ; hence " cram-
ming" and "crammers " ; hence excessive uniformity of
method ; hence a general subordination of educational
to inquisitional purposes. Against these and the like
influences the over-aided teacher and over-aided pupil
must struggle as best they can.

For reference : A. Sidgwick and G. E. Buckle in Teaching
and Organisation, and other contributors passim. H. Courthope
Bowen's pamphlets The Training of the Constructive Imagination
and The Training of Judgment and Reasoning, and Froebel's Educa-
tion of Man. De Garmo's Herbart. Principal Adams's The Her-
bartian Psychology Applied to Education. Miss Dodd's Herbarium
Principles of Teaching. Herbart's A Text-book of Psychology (trans,
pub. New York). Miss Mulliner's Application of Psychology to
Education (Herbart). Sully's Psychology for Teachers. Dexter and
Garlick's Psychology in the Schoolroom. Prof. James's Principles of
Psychology (briefer Text Book). Prof. Lloyd Morgan's Psychology
for Teachers. Compayre's Intellectual and Moral Development.
Fitch's Lectures (see Questioning, etc.). Butler's Psychologic
Foundations of Education. Laurie's Institutes of Education. Adam-
son's Teacher's Logic. Welton's Logic. Thring's Theory and
Practice of Teaching. Abbott's Home-teaching.




ALTHOUGH custom permits us to divide discipline for
the purposes of discussion into two parts, it is
in truth one and the same for training both Disci P lineis
mental and moral ; without it, we cannot


exercise guidance or evoke effort of any sort.
Discipline, therefore, in the formation of character, extends
its sphere of activity even into the setting forth of a
lesson and into all the details of instruction. In teaching
well or ill we encourage the formation of good habits
or we check them ; we make the formation of bad habits
more difficult or we make them inevitable. And by
habits we must mean habits both moral and intellectual,
for the two are inextricably associated. But we find it
convenient for practical purposes to isolate the process
of evoking or communicating knowledge, because know-
ledge consists largely in the apprehension of facts, and
such apprehension is a part only, though an indispensable
part, of the building up of a sound mind. Knowledge
is a unity ; it is, as an object, the same for all, though
different minds may stand in a more or less perfect
relation to it. Morality or character is a tendency or
will to choose a right course of conduct, and unless
we had a system of casuistry we could not set forth
exactly the outside or objective conditions of all right

36 Common Sense in Education

The key-note of the situation is the necessity of
Theeduca- recognising that for man education is never
tionofa completed. Whatever man is destined to be,
man is never we know perfectly well that he has never
completed rea ched the highest point attainable. All his
achievements are but an earnest of what he can be. To
profane history the perfect man is not known ; the divine
standard has never been reached by mere man in any
form of religion which has set up an ideal. Until, there-
fore, this unattainable ideal is reached, we must press
forward ; it is a law of our being. Other creatures may
be developed and trained to apparent perfection. We
may breed and train our domestic animals until we
would wish them to be no better ; and we have no
evidence that they have any consciousness of complete-
ness or incompleteness. But man cannot escape his
ideal ; he must always be growing. We know what
purpose is attained by the "virtue " of a horse, as Plato
might say, but the chief thing that we know about human
" virtue " is that it changes in detailed application with
every new combination of circumstances.

If this is the case, then the educator must at once widen
and narrow his task. He must communicate

The educator tQ j^ s p U p{] an i m p U ] se which Opens Up end-
must open up t ., ... . t 1_ 1 1 1
a wide ros- possibilities of progress, to be handed on

pect, but from himself to another generation, perhaps ;
not give his he must give him the power of " going on",
pupil too And ft e mus t be careful not to overwhelm

his pupil and discourage him by giving him
successive a ^ successive stages too great a burden for
stages each stage to carry. To secure the first end,

he must make his pupil, as a result of dis-
cipline, as nearly as possible independent of circum-
stances and of external guidance, by calling into life the

The Discipline of Character 37

internal motives that will always drive him forward. He
must leave none of the functions of intelligence and
character dormant. But to secure the second end, he
must graduate the tasks which he sets so that the sense
of power may grow continuously, the pupil freely work-
ing out his own salvation, conquering each time a little
world, though beyond it lies immensity.

Two views have been held as to the potentiality of
teaching. Some people have said that the The pupil's
teacher must let the pupil altogether alone place in his
that "Nature" herself will be sufficient own educa-
te develop him and shield him from harm. tlon
Others have said that the one thing needed to secure
the perfection of men is teaching. It will not be sur-
prising if we find that the truth lies between these
extremes, though truth is at least touched somewhere
by each. The teacher or educator may, indeed, interfere
too much or unwisely, and he may interfere too little.

The teacher's place is in fact determined by his pupil's.
The pupil must be called upon to take a share, the chief
share, in the task. Nothing else will do.

There are two opposite errors that seem to have pre-
vented this fact from being properly seen and The clean
interpreted. First of all there has been the sheet of
belief that, in dealing with a pupil, you have paper
from the first nothing to do but to write on a clean sheet
of paper whatever you wish to be there. The philo-
sophers who held this view regarded all knowledge as
proceeding solely from bodily sensations, and all pro-
cesses of reasoning as being modifications and com-
binations of sensations ; in which case we have nothing
to do but to reason with our pupil from the first, because
sensations are reasons and reasoning is nothing but
appeal to sensations.

38 Common Sense in Education

Here we see there is little room for independence on
the part of the pupil ; the thing most important is what
is contributed by the teacher. And the pupil being
regarded prematurely as capable of assimilating ideas
which we know to be beyond his intellectual digestion,
we have a huge excess of memory work, if any result
at all, in the hope that " knowledge " thus acquired will
be assimilated by some mysterious process of reason.
On the other hand, again, successive appeals to the
senses directly, giving little time for quiet mental dis-

Online LibraryPercy Arthur BarnettCommon sense in education and teaching; an introduction to practice → online text (page 3 of 25)