Percy Arthur Barnett.

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

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may and does come in many forms and at all times
whenever two or more are gathered together. Precepts,
injunctions, prohibitions, all act by suggestion. If we are
perpetually telling a child that he is " naughty," naughty
he becomes. If Tommy is told not to push peas into his
ears, he is known to feel an importunate desire to do it.

We must not forget that much of the work of the
world, the best and the worst too, is done because
people behave as they know we expect them to behave, i
The wearing of a uniform, material or moral, makes a
wonderful difference in one's demeanour and in one's
conduct at a crisis. It is well to remember this in:
school. The parent or teacher who is known to expect]
honesty and obedience usually gets it, and contrariwise,
ostentatious distrust and perpetual nagging, enjoining,;
and prohibiting, end only in demoralisation.

Fiction again by its power of raising impressive and|
importunate ideas, acts on us by suggestion. We be-j
come the characters about whom we read ; something j
in our nervous organisation adapts itself to the constant,
pictures of our imagination. We find it easy to act|
the parts that are most familiar to our minds. We may-
well be careful, then, what sort of books we leave in|
our pupils' paths.

The Discipline of Character 65

For reference : Prof. James's Principles of Psychology (briefer
Text-Book). Prof. Rein's Outlines of Pedagogics (van Liew's transla-
tion). Prof. Earle Barnes in Education, March 1898, and the same
writer's Studies in Education. Harris in U.S. Reports, 1893. Prof.
MacCunn's The Making of Character. Prof. Laurie's Institutes of
Education. Herbert Spencer's Education. Bain's Education as
a Science. Harris's Psychologic Foundations of Education. Prof.
Lloyd- Morgan's Psychology for Teachers. Com pay re's Intellectual
and Moral Development. Herbart's Science of^KdHcation. Mrs.
Bryant's Moral Education and Educational Ends. Messrs. Sidg-
wick and Buckle in Teaching and Organisation.




What a piece of work is a man ! how noble in reason ! how infinite in
faculty ! in form and moving how express and admirable ! in action
how like an angel ! in apprehension how like a god ! the beauty of the
world! the paragon of animals! And yet, to me, what is this quin-
tessence of dust ? Hamlet.

PHILOSOPHERS, as we know, have long been busy in the
The assump- endeavour to arrive at a proper understanding
tions of of the relation between knowledge and exist-
sciences ence. The profoundest question that can be
offered for solution is the exact meaning of the words I
Am, and I Know. But, like other special sciences, psy-
chology begins, so to speak, lower down in the hierarchy
of systematised knowledge. It takes things for granted
which on the strictest grounds of philosophy have to be
proved. As a natural science, it assumes that matter
exists quite outside of and independent of the mind that
perceives it. The science of physics has its own assump-
tions, and chemistry and physiology theirs in their turn, the i
one accepting the data supplied by others. Psychology -
assumes the existence of thoughts and feelings, and
assumes that by means of these thoughts and feelings,
or states of consciousness, we can know other things.

Now the psychologists show us that, as Professor
James says, mental life exists primarily and at bottom

The Physical Basis of Education 67

for the sake of action that preserves the life of the
organism. It is an endeavour to adjust our Relations of
inner to our outer relations. There is no mental and
mental condition which is not accompanied physical life
or followed by some kind of bodily change obvious or
concealed. If, then, teachers can get some sort of guidance
in the endeavour to infer one from the other, to interpret
bodily signs in their relation to mental activity, and
to forecast in some measure the effects of mental activity
on the body, it is clear that their task can be performed
with a certitude otherwise unattainable. Of course the
least experienced of us is accustomed to make some
such inferences unhesitatingly ; they are part of the
common stock of every-day knowledge. We know well
for instance the physical signs of Anger the convulsed
hand, the flushed face, the corrugated forehead, and so
on ; Fear, too, and the rest, bring with them equally un-
mistakable signs. But the physical changes associated
with most states of the mind are so complicated and so
obscure, that the teacher must needs place himself in the
hands of the physiologist, and do what he can to learn
from physiology what it has to tell him about brain
action. He may at all events by this means be able
to interpret the signs of physical distress or defect so
intelligently as to save himself useless labour and spare
his pupil (or patient) useless pain ; his judgments will
be more accurate and therefore more humane.

The physiologist tells us that with every state of con-
sciousness there is associated a change of some sort in
the brain, and the brain is the centre or register of the
" voluntary" nervous system. The teacher does well,
therefore, to get some idea of the way in which the
nervous system puts us in communication with the outer

68 Common Sense in Education

Let us "note some of the practical uses to which the
Brain exer- teacher can apply this kind of knowledge.
ciseisacon- First of all, taking it in its most general
dition of aspect, the hygiene of the effort to learn :
health ^fay s hould the effort to acquire knowledge

conduce to health? Why, indeed, is it necessary to
health ? The reason is this : that the brain does not
grow except under the conditions of exercise ; the stimu-
lation of the nervous system, so long as it is not beyond
the degree at which recuperation is possible, tends to
make it strong, not to weaken it. When the nerve is
quickened, something is " discharged," a chemical change
or some sort of " combustion " takes place in the nerve-
cells. Under conditions of health, this something is
replaced by some other thing like itself but of better
quality. There is growth, as we say.

The mere savage, however fine a fellow he may be
The best physically, is not so truly healthy as a well-
educated are developed member of a society in a high state
the healthiest o f civilisation ; he lacks balance. He may
have the acutest senses and a very powerfully developed
frame, capable of resisting most forms of physical hard-
ships surpassingly well. But he is still inferior to the
more delicate civilised man in that the civilised man
can resist a larger number of unfavourable influences
and in greater complexity ; he would remain sane and
healthy where the savage would be lost. He is not
so subject to the sudden outbursts of fury which are $
signs that a man's inner life has ceased to be in safe j
relation to the world outside. It is a fact that there is i
more insanity amongst uncivilised peoples than amongst i!
others, and that although the population of civilised
Europe has grown so enormously, insanity has not, h
happily, maintained the same proportion, even though

The Physical Basis of Education 69

there is a tendency to reckon as insanity smaller aberra-
tions from the normal than heretofore. But more than
this ; there is less insanity among the educated classes,
as they are called, than among the uneducated, less in
town districts than in the country, less among persons
who use their brains well than among those who use
them little. And all this is akin to the fact that
the imperfectly educated human being cannot look so
far ahead as the one who has been accustomed to in-
vestigate cause and effect farther, to follow out acts to
their consequences and to provide against contingencies.

Again, if education stopped short with the senses, and
if mankind were not driven by its desires and Education of
inquisitiveness to argue about and infer from the senses
sensations, we should be hardly better than not enou h
acutely sensitive animals. Somebody has said that if we
had had the fine olfactory sense of the dog, the keen
sight of the eagle, and so on, we should not have felt the
call to cultivate our apperceptive powers, to generalise
our knowledge in due order; and we should have re-
mained monkeys instead of being related to the

The physiological bearing of brain action conveys
another warning to the teacher. We have Thewarn
seen that exercise is indispensable to growth, i ng against
and indeed to existence ; we know what is excessive
meant by the maxim that practice makes exer ciseof
perfect. Up to a certain point the repetition functlon
of the functional activities of the nerve makes other
similar activities easier. But this may be overdone.
The discharge of energy may be so persistent that no
time is given for repair, for the replacement of those
materials in the tissues which, combined with oxygen
from the air, are the source of this energy ; or incessant

70 Common Sense in Education

repetition may make the loss of energy automatic and
therefore involuntary. We must not therefore expect
good results from too long and strong a dose of the
same study. Moreover, physiology teaches us that
the store of mental energy available is strictly limited,
and that it can be exhausted not only by excessive
persistence in the same study, but also by excess in a
variety of studies.

Within limits, of course, a change of study, by set-
ting up different combinations, is really a kind of rest.
But the operations of mental combinations, the result
of movement, of sensation, and so forth, all take place
in the same continuous brain cortex. You cannot play
any game, athletic or other, without associating mental
effort with movements ; and the consequent inference
on which the teacher must take action is this that if
pupils are having a great deal of violent exercise we
must not expect from them strictly intellectual work of
the best quality or in great quantity. A long run is a
severe strain, not on the heart alone, but on the brain ;
and there should be a very substantial interval of rest
between such an effort and any kind of severe brain
work ; it is rest that repairs. In schools this form of
error is less likely to cause distress amt>ng the younger
pupils than among the older ones. Young children are
not usually so emulous as their elders ; they certainly
do not look as far ahead and are not therefore so ready
to postpone present comfort for future gain. They more
readily give way to the sleepiness and lassitude by which
nature calls upon them to allow their nerves the rest
that is needed for their recuperation. But in the upper
forms of schools and in the universities the mischief is
very considerable, and there is some risk of its spreading
from men to women. Many a fine fellow has acted on

The Physical Basis of Education 71

the presumption that a candle can be safely burnt at
both ends ; and in not a few of such cases the penalty
has been exacted years after the offences have been
committed. Men have got into their thirties, perhaps
forties, as scholars and athletes, and have then become
confirmed invalids.

But all these considerations having been duly weighed,
it is still true that exercise of all the powers, intellectual
as well as bodily, is necessary for health. It remains
however, for the teacher to note and make sure of the
signs of distress and defect.

The apparatus needed for this purpose can be as
elaborate as the observer may choose to make The obser _
it. But, undoubtedly, the simpler it is, the vationof
better able will the teacher be to take his pupil distress and
unawares and therefore in the best position defect
for giving useful indications of his real condition. At
this point we will deal solely with such observations as
any teacher may make with the least ostentation, not
with the view of discovering general laws of develop-
ment, but of detecting nervous incapacity, temporary or
permanent, in individuals.

It is much to be wished that every school weighed
and measured its pupils three or four times physical
each year, or even at the beginning and end observations
of each term. The loss of weight in relation to size
would at onkjflfcive the teacher a hint that his pupil was
suffering fror^Mefective nutrition in some form or an-
other, and helKmld ask himself whether there was any-
thing in the school work or the boy's work out of school
to account for the unhealthy condition. In a boarding-
school, the school doctor would be consulted ; in the
case of a day-school boy, the parents would be notified
and warned ; and the teacher himself should " go easy "

72 Common Sense in Education

with the case. In any circumstances it is certain that
when disproportion of age, weight, and size is noticed,
a pupil may be suffering either from some constitutional
weakness (which would need special and continuous
treatment) or from insanitary surroundings, from
overwork, or work ill-distributed, from insufficient
sleep, from underfeeding, or from too rapid develop-

One of the most systematic and patient of observers
and one of the most helpful of writers on the study of
children is Dr. Francis Warner, whose book The Study
of Children, contains a short schedule of heads under
which a teacher may usefully group his notes on each
pupil. His classification does not exclude other schemes,
but it is particularly valuable to the young teacher
because facts of connexion have already been ascer-
tained showing how the phenomena, familiar to the
physiologist, can be turned to immediate account in the
class-room and in the management of pupils by the
teacher. And these established physiological facts are
far more important to the young teacher than any infer-
ences he may himself be tempted to make on the grounds
of a limited experience and comparatively untrained
observation. He should certainly first learn to base his
observations on ascertained physiological truths.

It is especially important to remark that the changing
conditions of brain action under stimulus are infallibly
indicated by movements of various parts of the body.
Our scales and our measuring-tape, our more or less
exact views of facial and general bodily symmetry, may
give us a good beginning on which we can enter deliber-
ately, at our pleasure. But above all things we are to
bear in mind that it is by the rapid and exact observa-
tions of movements that we can determine the modes of

The Physical Basis of Education 73

defective mental action under our eyes ; and under the
general term " movements " we are to include all changes
of posture, balance, gestures, and so on. Furthermore
it is to be expected that the inferences will be easier
to make in dealing with childhood than they can be
in dealing with adolescent or adult life, for the obvious
reason that young children are less self-conscious, less
likely to control abnormal movements by spontaneous

And there is another and most valuable reflection
arising from this fact ; and that is, that the The disc i_
discipline of movements, or as we may say, of piine of
dexterities, is of the highest value not merely movements
as indicating but as stimulating corresponding mental
action. While the mind is most plastic, most easily
biassed, as it is in youth, the senses and reactions in
movement should be cultivated so as to work har-
moniously and develop as fully as possible, not for their
own sake merely, nor for the products of their activity,
but because up to a certain point it is demonstrable that
their development is connected with brain development,
and their healthy condition is indispensable to health of
brain, just as inability to perform certain movements
correctly is at all ages a test of specific mental defect.
Those who are familiar with the work of Froebel, will
remember that Froebel lays it down that children should
actually handle the geometrical and other objects which
are placed before them. It is not enough that they
should use their eyes alone. The senses must be co-
ordinated, and co-ordination is effected, an adjustment
is made, in the brain acting as the " clearing-house " or
central receiver and transmitter for the messages brought
by hand and eye. The sensation of touch pure and
simple without what is called the muscular sense, which

74 Common Sense in Education

is really an inference, is of little use to us, so children
must touch and see and handle at the same moment if
the circle of co-ordination is to be completed and their
knowledge is to be made serviceable.

The manual dexterities, as we can see without much

trouble, involve more than the exercise of themselves.

The single movement or single series of movements,

however accurate, does not rise to its proper

The manual .. .

dexterities complexity as a means of intellectual education
and co-ordi- until many senses are involved and until the
nation of adaptation of means to ends is a process involv-
brain and j ng a mu i t i tu d e o f steps . The little chicken
which almost from birth can co-ordinate its
motions so accurately as to snatch up unerringly a morsel
of food at one peck has reached a state of development
relatively much farther on than the child of six months
which with difficulty finds its way to its own mouth ;
for the human being struggles towards the power of co-
ordinating movements at every stage by complicated
intellectual processes, although at later stages of develop-
ment he may provide for contingencies so far off as to
be almost inconceivable. So the systematic teacher of
little children keeps her eye on the simultaneous cultiva-
tion of as many senses as can be compassed in one

We may be sure, then, that in carefully cultivating the
powers of children to do things with their hands we are
also increasing their powers of thinking; it is not a purely
mechanical capacity with which we are enabling them
to endow themselves, but we are stimulating capacity to
grow. Let us look at it again. The healthy child must
be doing something. There are no such things as idle
hands attached to a well-developed young human being,
and the mischief that Satan is said to provide is merely

The Physical Basis of Education 75

misdirection of healthy, that is holy, energy. The
young body, with blood bounding in every artery and
life exuberant in every nerve, cannot keep still. The
endeavour to repress activity of this kind altogether is in
truth a violent upsetting of the whole life-system. But
activity can be most usefully directed, and this is done
by sympathetic co-ordination. By all means, let the
child Do, but let him, as Froebel puts it, Learn by

With this inborn activity a young child possesses also
large powers of imitation. " Make-believe "

_ , i./. Imitation

is a very large part of every little one s life.
Play, said Froebel, is positively the child's highest de-
velopment, and Robert Louis Stevenson was strictly
accurate, and a Froebelian of the deepest dye, in re-
garding it as the real part of the child's life ; it is at all
events the freest exertion of all his powers. It is not,
we must note, the mere mimicry practised by the monkey;
for the human being not only imitates, but is, for the
time, the thing he imitates. This is exactly illustrated
by Professor Bain's statement that whenever a person
shows "spontaneous and unprompted facility" he will
also in the same respect be " imitative or acquisitive ".

It is difficult to believe that there ever existed a pre-
judice against play as a waste of time, a de-
gradation of a human being meant for better
things. No particular school of pedagogy however has
had a monopoly of this view. Repression and silence
have too often been the guiding principles of teachers
who have otherwise laid mankind under very great
obligations. Take for instance, the Constitutions of the
Monastery of Port Royal, a typical case. On every page
of the regulations the reader is struck by the constant in-
junction of silence. And a truly great and good English

76 Common Sense in Education

clergyman at the end of the eighteenth century would
spend hours on his knees, they tell us, because his little
pupils, do what he would, continued to sin by playing.

We cannot doubt that the right view of play was that
which was propounded to teachers and to the world first
of all by Froebel. He taught that in childhood play is
the highest manifestation of human development ; the
child cannot possibly do better than play well. Play is,
in fact, to him what the work of art is to the grown man.
In play, his capabilities find freest and happiest and
consequently highest expression. It is therefore the duty
of teacher and parent to watch and guide the child, with
as little ostentation as possible, at least no less in this
than in other forms of activity.

Every living creature, we may be sure, has its play, its
delighted exercise of the powers which it possesses in
finest condition ; but the child differs from other animals
in being much slower in development, and therefore in
power of co-ordination. He is helpless for a much
longer time, having regard to the vigilance and know-
ledge necessary to save him from harm. It is therefore
the duty of the teacher (or educator) to provide above
all things the freedom, and then the protection and
guidance, which are indispensable for the development
of youth.

People who know little of the real bearing of organised
education as a preparation for life find it easy to make
merry at the expense of Kindergarten methods, and it is
true enough that for various reasons, not always under
the control of the teachers, we too often find the shell
without the kernel, we see the procedure of the Kinder-
garten " system " without the inspiration of its founder,
aimless mechanical drill and chatter, alternating with
romps. But the principle and the main practice too are

The Physical Basis of Education 77

sound because they are based upon demonstrable facts
of human development.

Here of course we are dealing with play and games
only ; but it may be observed in passing that in a reason-
ably organised Kindergarten, progress, as measured by
ordinary standards of attainment, may be apparently
slow ; but afterwards, in the higher classes, the children
who have passed through the Froebelian course, some-
times after an awkward pause, occasionally move most
markedly in advance of those of their comrades who
have had no such advantages.

There is some foundation, however, for the complaints
made against the Kindergarten, to the effect The dangers
that progress is often slower than it need ofKinder-
be. For the formalist teacher iterates and s arten
reiterates the teaching steps, works with unintelligent
rigidity through the prescribed stages, and displays an
undue fondness for such mere machinery, not necessarily
devised by Froebel, as answers in " complete sentences,"
and the like. Any whole "system" should be taken
as a type, not as an iron prescription. Froebel was a
teacher, not an official.

The special dangers of what are understood to be
Kindergarten methods lie, at all events with English
children, in excessive interference and governance. It
is sometimes forgotten that Froebel and his most eager
followers have dealt with racial, social, and political con-
ditions materially different from those with which their
English and American disciples have to reckon. The
little English or American child is not quite the same as
the little German. He does not live in such an atmo-
sphere of regulation, of police. Personal freedom is more
surely bred in his bones ; he is a more restless animal
generally, and is less amenable to uniformed restraint.

78 Common Sense in Education

There is such a thing as a national or racial character,
and the Anglo-Saxon character is not marked by patience
under methodical external coercion, however brought to
bear. The little German quite naturally passes from the
drill and direction of the Kindergarten to the military
organisation of which he is henceforth a part, and he finds
his place the more unhesitatingly and uncomplainingly
in the military machine if he is already well drilled and
bent in a well-defined direction. But the little English
or American boy, passing from his first school, finds
himself not in another sort of well-ordered though more
extensive garden, but rather in a sort of bracing wilder-
ness through which from the very first he is required to
make a good deal of his path for himself. The rigid

Online LibraryPercy Arthur BarnettCommon sense in education and teaching; an introduction to practice → online text (page 6 of 25)