Percy Arthur Barnett.

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

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crimination, tend to destroy the power of attention, for
attention is the power of ignoring or suppressing many
things in favour of a few or one. The persistent cultiva-
tion of what is called " observation " to the exclusion of
reflection may end not only in bird-wittedness but in a
positive weakening of will-power. In the formation of
character this leads to cant, which is the tendency to
imitate by rote ; and we can have canting action as well
as canting speech, neither being of necessity consciously

The second serious hindrance to a proper conception
of the pupil as co-operator in his own educa-

Innate ideas . * r . , . . . .

tion has been the belief in the origin of all
knowledge in innate ideas. This may be held in two
different forms. It may be thought that each new
human being is born with his full complement of innate
characteristics and ideas, or it may be thought that all
the characteristics and ideas of each man are merely the
resultant general effect on him of those who have lived
before him, his ancestors and predecessors in the world.

Either of these views, if held without considerable
reservations, may lead us to doubt all individual re-
sponsibility ; and indeed contemporary legislation seems
sometimes to have been conceived in this spirit. But

The Discipline of Character 39

the psychologist and the educator alike must ignore
them, and for practical purposes assume that though
they may modify our practice and make us careful, they
are not to dictate the character of our efforts in school
and the field of discipline generally. The influence of
heredity is, no doubt, considerable ; but everything tends
to confirm the belief, implicit in all educational effort,
that environment is much more powerful.

We must strike a balance. We must not leave chil-
dren to grow up as savages, by cultivating their senses
alone. We must not even leave them to the education
of their senses together with the mere coercive influence
of social institutions, for this would at best produce a
spiritless uniformity, and at worst might leave criminals
on our hands. We must call other powers
into play, and educate. But what powers ?

J ' sible life in

The powers that really lie readiest to our children must
hand. It is our chief business to use for the be used as
child's own good the life and irrepressible the chief mo-
activity of life that are in him, to give him tive -P wer in


the knowledge that he can develop himself,
and the will to do it even when other persons have
ceased to interest themselves in his " education ". We
have, in fact, to set up the right habits and the tendency
to form right habits, that is, to do good habitually. The
effect of a good habit is that we can depend on it for
suggesting the right act at the right time. It is there-
fore a form of orderliness ; that is, impulses in well-
disciplined people are so well ordered or arranged that
it is easier to do right than wrong.

The first necessity then for the creation of good habits
is orderliness, either in an individual or in a Thefirstneed
class. When this orderliness is produced pur- is orderliness
posely we call it discipline, which is the manipulation of

40 Common Sense in Education

external agencies in such a way as to make the forma-
tion of good habits easy and of bad habits difficult.
Speaking roughly, we sometimes talk about the "dis-
cipline " of circumstances, the " discipline " of events ;
but this is to ascribe to outer nature a self-consciousness
and intention which it is not proved to possess. The
pressure of circumstances may set up good habits, but
the adjustment in such cases, the effort to profit by
them, originates in the person affected ; he is moved
by circumstances to reflect, and thence to discipline

Good habits may grow by use, and bad habits are best
eradicated by lack of exercise. The teacher

Good and J

bad habits must therefore provide opportunity for the one
grow by sort, encouraging them, stimulating them ; he
what they must give no openings for the other sort, and,
if they appear, nip them and starve them.
Habit is, as Professor James says, the great conservative
force of human nature and human society. Instincts by
themselves give little guarantee of personal or social
safety ; for instincts are blind, they are that in us which
makes us act to produce an effect without meaning to
do so, on impulse. They are blind reactions set up by
the needs of our physical framework. They take no
account of consequences. Habit, on the other hand,
though it ultimately tends to become automatic, is set
up in the first instance by intention, by the exercise of
will. If we set up good habits, we prosper ; we " fund
and capitalise our acquisitions and live at ease on the
interest of the fund," in the words of the writer last
quoted. We will to do a good thing in the first in-
stance, and will again and again until the pain and
difficulty of the first effort pass away, and we " live on
the interest of the fund " so amassed.

The Discipline of Character 4!

Discipline then, from the teacher's point of view, is
neither more nor less than the steady en- )j sc i p ii ne j s
deavour to cultivate in his pupils the habit the external
of willing well by providing the right atmo- cultivation
sphere and the right food. Virtue and vice ofhabit
themselves are habits, though they imply also a power
of seizing new circumstances not implied in mechan-
ical habit. Let us see, now, what the teacher can do to
check the beginnings of evil and encourage the begin-
nings of good ; to maintain the good habit and to starve
the evil ; to give a pupil the habit of controlling the acts
that make habit.

He must first of all bear in mind that habits have
physical foundations or at least connexions.

r J Habits are

A thing is done more easily a second time closely de-
because it has been done once. Physiologists pendent on
assure us that the nervous system has under- physical con-
gone a corresponding modification. We must c
not therefore wonder or be discouraged if the effort to
break a bad trick in an individual, or even more, in a
class, seems to be continually baffled. Mere physical
drill, as teachers know, may here be found of great
service, for it accustoms a class not only to perform the
motions immediately prescribed, but also to take up with
alacrity the sudden word of command at other times. A
teacher can indeed do much to make the physical founda-
tions strong. To set up a respect for cleanliness and
brightness, we should surround our pupils with clean and
beautiful things ; what hope would there be of stimu-
lating a lively mental picture of clean and lovely things
in a dirty schoolroom, ill-kept, disorderly? It would be,
strictly speaking, physically impossible. This is one of
the ways a physical way by which the teacher creates
an atmosphere favourable to discipline. He manipulates

42 Common Sense in Education

the circumstances under his control in such a way as
to make it easier to act well than to act ill. We must
therefore do our best to deliver our younger and more
impressionable pupils from capricious or irrational temp-
tation, by surrounding them with good order and a clean

When the habit of self-control has been set up in small
The place of things, then, and not till then, the temptation,
temptation providing it is not too strong, may be per-
mitted in order that the will may be strengthened to
resist by exercise. We must not, of course, throw in-
ordinate temptation in the way of our class. We cure
small habits of deceit and the habit of thinking little of
such things before we leave our class alone when they are
answering examination papers. This is made necessary
by the physical, some would even say the " mechanical,"
foundations of habit. The teacher must next be vigi-
lant to permit no backsliding. If we are

Backsliding. T

endeavouring to set up a good habit, it is clear
that we must keep the road as clear as possible from the
obstructions of a sudden check. If we have given orders
that a certain thing is to be done at a certain time in a
certain way, then, supposing that we have a general end
in view, we find it all the more difficult to compass it if we
allow a lapse. The teacher must see that both his pupils
and himself make a good start. Many of the difficulties
in the way of setting up good habits in an individual
pupil or a class arise from an implicit disbelief in the
possibility of change from the bad habits. It may not,
The proof of ^ or instance, be possible for a person who
the pupil's has no habits of regular industry to know
power to that such habits are possible and ultimately
himself pleasant. It is clearly then the teacher's

business to watch for or to make an opportunity to show

The Discipline of Character 43

the pupil his own power over himself. A sense of the
exercise of power is itself pleasant and carries within
itself a guarantee of repetition. The consciousness of the
power to make, to produce an independent result, is the \
most powerful of all educating influences. The cultiva-
tion of the habit of obedience owes much to this principle.
No day passes in school without providing for some, pro-
bably for most, pupils an opportunity to do something
which in its superficial aspect is difficult or disagreeable.
Every fresh intellectual effort is, in its measure, painful.
The schoolmaster does for his pupil what Professor James
advises every grown man and woman should do for
themselves, he " keeps the faculty of effort alive by a little
(gratuitous) exercise every day ". Habit may otherwise
destroy initiative by making the pupil the slave of con-
vention. Hence the often-seen depravity of children
coming from overstrict homes. No real power of will
has been developed ; every moral effort has been made
for them by some one else. We learn therefore that we '
must not deaden initiative by excessive coercion. A
very strict school-system, displaying an excess of routine
orderliness and repression, may secure a fictitious order-
liness and appearance of good conduct not justified by
subsequent development. Military order in school should
therefore be exceptional, not habitual ; a tonic, not a

Obedience alone may be slavish and kill initiative ;
we must provide opportunity for free choice. Provision of
Obedience is best cultivated by leaving at opportunity
most times a large measure of discretion to for free
pupils, by not subjecting them perpetually to choice
the word of command. Teachers do not always think
enough of the necessity of providing variety of oppor-
tunity for the exercise of good habits and for the detec-

44 Common Sense in Education

tion of defects. Most people understand that defects of
one or another sort will display themselves in especial
force at some particular stage of development Under
ordinary circumstances, for instance, we may expect our
pupils to display defects of feeling most unreservedly in
early youth, when the feelings are usually most acute
and the will is less effective for purposes of concealment,
Selfishness- the * wo f ac ts together explaining the obvious
its subtle selfishness of youth. The forms which selfish-
forms and ness takes in persons of older standing are
school cure more Qr less subtle modifications the vulgar
noisiness of the underbred person, disagreeable tricks of
behaviour, the careless use of the property of the com-
munity that includes oneself or of external corporations,
and so on. The teacher, then, must watch the early
signs vigilantly, while at the same time providing room
for the exercise of self-restraint. Small children in their
sphere must not strike or pinch one another, and should
" behave mannerly at table " ; adolescents in their sphere
The care of must have the care of common interests and
common corporate property imposed on them as a part
interests o f their discipline, a tradition in which our
English public schools are particularly fortunate. It
may well be believed that our own countrymen show, on
the whole, a genuine talent for self-government because
it has become a general practice in our schools to hand
over some of the common concerns of the whole body to
the responsible and intelligent care of pupils themselves.
The government which in the Kindergarten should
entrust the care of the common sponge to one little
child, the government which in the middle school throws
orderly duties on monitors, the rule which in public
schools devolves certain details of discipline on prefects
each of these proceeds by the same route. We do not

The Discipline of Character 45

recognise the need for the ostentatious control of clubs
and games in dealing with big boys and girls, though
teachers are bound to assure themselves that things are
working smoothly and that the growing society has the
full advantage, as far as possible, of the experience of
antiquity. For instance, we may not directly interfere
with the conduct of a school club, but we are bound to
provide all means for its business-like conduct. Little
ones we encourage to play without malice ; and we
should give big boys and girls who have formal meetings
access to a " Chairman's Handbook," so teaching them
the rules of the game, and placing their little provincial
concerns in proper relation to the bigger affairs in which
as members of an adult community they will have to take
a responsible share. It is part of the teacher's chief busi-
ness to get his pupils to recognise that laws exist not for
the increase of restraint but for the increase of freedom.
We forbid both ourselves and others to do or leave
undone certain things solely in order that there may be
more general freedom in the result to be divided up
amongst all individuals. This is the kind of service
which tends to perfect freedom.

But not only must we consider the stage of develop-
ment which our pupils have reached ; we must also
consider the varying circumstances in which they may
be placed. It will not do for us to enjoin the duty of
orderliness and neatness of person and to
permit disorderliness of thought. Correct- and ci-
ness and precision of thought should be main- S i n ; the
tained as carefully as propriety of person ; effort against
just as, in the sphere of instruction, we can the s rain
make our teaching of composition or rhetoric effectual
only if we exact intelligent and intelligible speech at all
times. The order of development may be thus expressed

46 Common Sense in Education

by the individual : I try; I do ; I become. The first
step is the effort to do or to make something. The total
result is a permanent modification of character, which
is good or bad according to the purpose which effort had
in view. Effort implies difficulty, difficulty is disagree-
able. Therefore, discipline teaches the pupil to overcome
something against the grain for the sake of what lies
beyond it, the achievement of something. The reward
is not only that the effort meets with immediate success,
but also that the next step, and all subsequent steps in
succession, are easier. Physiologically speaking, nerve-
structure is modified and a more constant "state" is set
up. The pupil " becomes" something different from v/hat
he was before; the change has that general character which
we call "qualitative" ; it is a change or growth of character.

We must recognise, teachers as we are, that at best we
The school are only "journeymen," day-jobbers, assistants,
environment and that the true and sufficient teacher ought
is artificial to ^ e ^ p aren k Th e school is ah artificial
institution, and to the schoolmaster and schoolmistress
their special work is assigned because the excessive
differentiation of occupation on the one hand and the
increase of conventional claims on the other take parents
from what would appear to be their first duty, the
education and supervision of their children.

If the chief means available for the production of a
Home the good character is the setting up of good habits,
best nursery it is easy to see that the more permanent
environment must present the more constant
opportunity for exercise. In the next place, father and
mother should have a more minute knowledge of the
tendencies of the children that are theirs, the children
whose personality, bodily and spiritual, springs from
their own, than any teacher should be expected to

The Discipline of Character 47

acquire in the necessary reserve of corporate school-life.
Again, the amiable or social instincts arise most spon-
taneously in the home by the sympathetic interaction
of kindness rendered from the first dependence of the
child on its mother. And finally, the little home society
has its aboriginal legislators, by whose benevolent will
the common happiness is visibly determined, whose
pleasure forms the first common standard of reference
in cases of doubt. This is the first form of conscience
the sense of pleasing or displeasing a parent. " The
narrow limitation of the family circle and the restriction
of sympathy to its few members are the most natural
preliminary conditions for the development of sympa-
thetic interest and good -will/' says Professor Rein. The
good home, then, and the good mother in particular,^
are under ordinary circumstances indispensable for the
production of the good character. We may not, of course,
say that good men and good women have not come from
surroundings which have been, to all appearance, entirely
evil, just as beautiful flowers may grow upon refuse heaps ;
but there has been something special and extraordinary,
something unaccountable, in their constitution or history,
which has vanquished the diabolic influence. The business
of the teacher is not primarily with such as these ; he deals
with the ordinary case, not genius, moral or intellectual.

But society is so constituted, and father and mother
have so many things to do, legitimate or un- The parents
necessary, outside the home, that they must depute their
needs hand over their duties, as for many duties to
generations they have already done, to the teachers
teacher, who undertakes to specialise himself for this
work. He does not always try to train himself, we
know only too well ; he often thinks that as nature has
(unfortunately) prescribed no test of fitness before people

48 Common Sense in Education

undertake the duties of parentage, so also art need not

prescribe any rules for the admission of unfit people to

exercise the privileges of teaching. Alas ! the possession

of many children is no proof of fitness to possess them,

nor does the wielding of the rod give a real right to

handle it. If it did, the position of the teacher who

makes his first experiments unwatched and uncorrected

is that of the good woman who was rebuked for feeding

her year-old babe on salt herring. " I ought to know,"

i she said, "how to bring up children. I've buried ten!'

But the school is a half-way house between

The school , i .

a half-way ^ e home, on the one hand, incompletely

house be- provided with the time and apparatus neces-

tween home sary, and, on the other hand, the world, where

and the ^e penalty of unfitness or unpreparedness is

world . . M . _. 1 11

exacted so pitilessly. Or shall we say that
the school is rightly a kind of " purgatory," in its true
and legitimate sense for the pupil, even if too often it
is a " purgatory " in its secondary or derived sense for
the ill-prepared or dispirited teacher?

The school provides precisely that large field for the
exercise of virtue and for training, physical, moral, and
mental, which the smaller family circle may lack, though
the wisely ordered family circle may be as good as the best
school nay, better except perhaps for the cultivation of
the first aptitudes for conducting public affairs publicly.

Consider the personal or private habits which the
The school school helps to train. Unselfishness is fostered
can confirm a t home by persistent checking of unpleasant
tome train- tric k s> bad habits in care of the person and at
table, the abandonment of things to be done
Virtues and by others which should be done by oneself.
vices It is taught on a large scale at school by en-

forcing respect for the common convenience, comfort, and

The Discipline of Character 49

property. Habits of personal cleanliness and propriety
become at school more inevitable because the loss of
public respect is more impressive than the reproof of
those with whom we are more familiar. An evil temper
and disobedience meet at the school a more automatic
punishment than they can at home, for the immediate
obedience exacted from a large body is easily recognised
as lying at the root of the law and order which are
necessary for its existence. At home we often choose
the easier path of passing over disobedience, just because
it is easier, but at school it is not easier, and so we more
consistently repress it. Shyness, often really a want of
trustfulness, which is cured at home by encouragement
to fear nothing and to suspect nobody of a desire to hurt
or belittle one, must be finally routed at a wisely
administered school by the tact of the master or mistress
who teaches the ill-bred shy boy or nervous girl to do
something well enough to deserve legitimate praise and
public respect. Cruelty shows itself at home in the
natural weakness of children's constructive imagination
and sympathies acted on by the love of power which
seems common, in greater or less degree, to every
healthy-minded person. At home we check it by
directly cultivating the sympathies and teaching the
child to imagine itself in the place of others, giving it
opportunities for the practice of helpfulness. At school
we have to cope with it most commonly in the form of
bullying of younger by older boys and in the spiteful-
ness which is understood to occupy a corresponding
position amongst girls. For this there is nothing but a
gentle vigilance and Arnold's plan of making the older
the responsible guides and friends of the younger, thus
providing a benevolent sphere for the exercise of power
and influence. Even fagging may be made beneficent


50 Common Sense in Education

by a cheerful recognition of a natural institution con-
ditionally on the older boys recognising their responsi-
bility for the comfort and progress of the younger. And
it is worth while to point out here that one of the condi-
tions of the successful exercise of discipline by boys or
girls themselves is that they should be of varying ages.
A monitorial or prsefectorial system is rarely successful
in a school if rulers and ruled are of nearly the same

A somewhat serious mistake to be carefully avoided
The sense of ' ls t ^ ie endeavour to appeal to a very young
justice as a child's sense of justice to the neglect of his
motive with sympathies. The elemental social feelings
young people are there to Qur fand, but justice is a very
complex and highly intellectual conception not to be
looked for in a little child. It is far safer to rely upon
the cultivation of the sympathetic imagination. The
great practical moral injunction is not to distribute
justice to every one, in which case few of us would
escape whipping, but to do to others as we should like
them to do to us. This is the way to cure the little
habits of selfishness and greed which make youth unlovely
and develop into grosser forms, cruelty, discourtesy,
uncharity, in the course of adolescence. When however
the boy or girl has been taught to reflect, and has learnt
to overcome the natural disinclination to give to every-
one his due, our task is an easier one, for we may then
make open appeal to a growing sense of fairness. Justice
is, in a sense, a compendium of virtue, at all events in
one stage of human development ; but it is, just because
of that, a comparatively late stage, and the teacher must
act accordingly.

The school is, as we see, particularly well adapted to
be the nursery of what may be called the public virtues ;

The Discipline of Character 51

and it is equally the seed-plot of public vices. For the
sowing of some of the private virtues it is The school
very stony ground indeed. As our school may be a
system is constituted, if a boy does not learn seed-plot of
to be chivalrous and to respect weakness at pu ^ c vices '

and for some

home, he is not likely to learn the lesson else- forms of
where. Sisters and mothers are not common virtue pro-
in the monastic community of a public school, vides no

Online LibraryPercy Arthur BarnettCommon sense in education and teaching; an introduction to practice → online text (page 4 of 25)