Percy Arthur Barnett.

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

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it is conceivable that what in one age and place is re-
garded as a " liberal " study may become " technical " in
another, and vice versd. Thus in England the use of
arms was once a necessary part of the equipment of
every liberally educated man, and it is so still in many
countries. Again, new arts may be discovered of such
general bearing on life that they may pass from the
rank of technical to that of liberal studies ; thus already
there are signs that drawing and painting are achieving
this promotion in public opinion and therefore in the
opinion of those who construct curricula.

It is the business of the statesman so to contrive
political conditions that equal opportunities are given to
all, or, at any rate, to as many people as possible. It is
the business of the teacher so to cultivate the aptitudes
of his pupils that they may use fairly and fully all the
opportunities provided.

The statesman's power is limited in two chief ways.
First, by the imperfect economical organisa- ^he limita-
tion of society. The distributing agencies tkmsofthe
are not capable of giving each individual the statesman's
means which he needs for perfect development. power
Wealth tends to concentrate itself in comparatively few
hands. Secondly, there is a strong general disinclination
to disturb existing arrangements. This conservatism
is by no means necessarily or generally selfish, though
it sometimes is certainly open to that reproach. It is
probably a useful safeguard against the violent interrup-
tion of steadiness in social evolution.

In the meantime it is clear that education can do its
very best for a minority only, if even for a minority ;

106 Common Sense in Education

and our working theory of what constitutes a liberal
education must be a compromise between an ideal,
that which would develop every side of human nature
completely and harmoniously, and the practicable, that
which is the best available under the circumstances.
The teacher, as such, must satisfy himself chiefly with
the latter, keeping his eye on the first for guidance when
opportunity offers.

The traditional division of education, as a process,
Traditional was in three stages : the preparatory, the
divisions of liberal, the special. In the preparatory stage
curriculum were taught the instrumental, ancillary, or
conventional subjects, the keys to what were to follow.
Such subjects were Reading, Writing, the elements of
Calculation ; the " three R's," as they were called. In
the liberal stage were comprised the studies which were
regarded as cultivating all the greater (that is, the more
general) aptitudes : mathematics, languages, and the
like; the field of knowledge concerned with man as
man, history and literature and so on. In the special
stage were taught the things directly necessary for the
purpose of gaining a livelihood. Large masses of our
contemporaries have been starved on the first and the
last, a bad combination.

A more fruitful and popular division of studies gives
The popular us two main classes, "human" and "real",
division The humanistic studies are those which culti-
vate human feeling and a sense of human continuity.
Such studies are literature with language as literature,
history, philosophy, and religion. The realistic studies
are those which cultivate the knowledge of outer nature
and enable us to discover its laws. Such studies are
geography and allied subjects, "science" generally so
called, applied mathematics, and the like. Outside these,

The Genesis of Curricula 107

but with some affinities to the first class, are the arts of
refined appreciation and expression : music, drawing,
languages as speech, and the like.

Whatever theoretical division of studies may be
adopted, we certainly ought to do what we Aliberal
can to exclude from a liberal education, or at education is
all events from that part of education which essentially
we consider the liberal part, pressing con- P re P arator y
siderations of livelihood-earning. Thus, to teach lan-
guage as literature and language as (say) commercial
correspondence are two different things. We must make
up our minds that the general side of the liberal training
is the important side, although, as the doctrine of Interest
teaches us, it is quite legitimate and even occasionally
necessary to show the bearing of the more general studies
on the problems of practical life. A liberal education is
in its essence preparatory and always incomplete. It is
meant to mpike the pupil receptive, appreciative, capable
of indefinite growth. It must be placid ; it must not in-
troduce, as definite " bread-studies " do, elements of fear
and unrest, which indeed, would be propter vitam vivendi
perdere causas.

One of the indubitable marks of progressive civilisa-
tion is the gradual extension of the concep- Thepro-
tion of immaturity. Inferior animals mature longation of
rapidly ; man takes longer to reach his full y uth
growth. Yet youth, as shown elsewhere, was in former
generations, even amongst cultivated English people,
conceived as a short and regrettable stage, which should
be compulsorily closed as early as possible. Children of
well-to-do and well-bred parents were stuffed with all the
learning they could hold, and girls were women of the
world at fourteen. Even now, in our own age and
country, mere children of some ranks have to take upon

lo8 Common Sense in Education

themselves the responsibilities of adult life, toiling, earn-
ing daily bread, even marrying. But .enlightened people
defer the working age till adolescence is passed ; and
the heroes and heroines of modern fiction are older than
those of a generation ago. Those of us that can afford
it keep our boys and girls at school until they are nine-
teen, twenty, twenty-one ; and the heroines of the
novelists of to-day are usually nearer twenty-six years
of age than sixteen.

A "liberal " education, then, will usually cover adoles-
cent life at least until the end of the nineteenth year ;
whatever we do within a more contracted period must
be a make-shift. To this the teacher must, for this
generation at all events, reconcile himself.

We come then to this : that the test of the claim of
Three modi- a " subject " to a place in the school course
fications of is its relation to a liberal education and the
the ideal cur- time available for its use. We must, in
consequence, recognise here and now, three
common modifications of an ideal curriculum : we must
have one for pupils who leave school from eleven to
fourteen years of age, one for those who leave from
fourteen to sixteen, and a third for those who leave
between sixteen and nineteen. The first class leaves
school for the work of life in shackles ; it can receive but
an apology for education ; the bulk of its acquisitions
must be the mere instrumental or ancillary subjects :
reading, writing, and some calculation all liable to pass
away from disuse. The second class can secure at least
the working elements of a liberal education. The third
can certainly get all that its stage of development needs.

A school education completed at twelve or thirteen
cannot be regarded as a satisfactory " liberal " education.
At its best it must be inadequate. It must depend largely

The Genesis of Curricula 109

on the training of the sensations and feelings, and very
little on the training of the powers of reflection, which are
then very weak. The teaching must be mainly instruc-
tion in the instrumental subjects, and as these lack
inherent interest, the learning must be often against the
grain. Again, the senses may be adequately cultivated,
but if pupils' homes are not good, there is inevitable
perversion of emotions ; and the children are not long
enough at school, ex hypothesi, to gain the necessary
steadiness there. Moreover, the exclusive or ill-propor-
tioned training of the senses and powers of observation
is apt to produce dulness and to make mental processes
mechanical. When attention is directed mainly to things
which stir little interest spelling, mechanical reading,
the routine processes of arithmetic, formal grammar
the effort is made more unpleasant than it would be if
these exercises were deferred or insinuated or spread out
almost imperceptibly in a longer course. Little room
is left for the discursive powers, for initiative, for self-
help ; and this is all the worse when conditions and, it
must be added, prejudice, prevent the use of " home-
lessons ".

And yet the developments of modern life and inevitable
political progress make it more and more necessary that
a larger number of persons should have this liberal train-
ing, inasmuch as political and social conditions place
legislative power on an increasingly democratic basis,
whether we like it or not ; influential leaders of opinion
and even administrators emerge from ranks which have
rarely heretofore supplied them.

It is most important that the active imaginations and
emotions of children condemned to an imperfectly liberal
education should be used to their utmost extent in order
to stir up admiration for the right things, for beautiful

no Common Sense in Education

things in nature, for greatness and goodness in historical
or fictitious character. In the primary grade


for liberal we must needs also appeal more directly and
education in more often to the utilitarian sense than we
the primary should in another grade. It is a settled prin-
ciple in education that we should use the
pupils' ideal as an allurement to effort. Children of the
lower social rank naturally look upon wage-earning as the
most desirable of all conditions ; they know and under-
stand before their time the pressure of the struggle for
life. We are forced to take advantage of this know-
ledge, and get them to feel that mastery of the school
subjects is translatable into more shillings per week as

Note, now, the richer opportunity of the secondary
teacher. He need not nay, he must not

The advan- . J '

tages of the weary his class with formal studies. He need
secondary trouble himself less about spelling, for his pupils
teacher's are likelier to learn that art in the natural and
syllabus easiest way, by reading. In arithmetic, accu-
racy and rapidity of work are of less consequence than
such a mastery of principles as enables the class to proceed
quickly to algebra and geometry. Analytical or formal
grammar may be set aside for more genuine study of
language as literature, both for its own sake, and as an
instrument of progress in other directions.

Again, the secondary teacher can more surely develop
his pupils' humaner side, planting their sympathies and
knowledge both deeper in the past and with a wider
hold over the present by means of history and language,
ancient as well as modern, foreign as well as native. In
dealing with nature or scientific studies, he can more
effectually stimulate and satisfy the desire to know
because he has more time for experiment and illus-

The Genesis of Curricula 1 1 1

tration, and, again, can cover a more varied ground and
cover it more logically. He can count, too, with some-
what less doubt, though not always with certainty, on
more humanising home influences. To live in cramped
and often sordid surroundings is itself an obstacle to
reasonable human development. Those who live hard
lives grow callous. It is easy to be virtuous, as Becky
Sharp says, on two thousand a year.

And finally, the secondary teacher can usually count
on his pupils' possessing a greater range of ideas than
the children in the "elementary" grade. They travel
more ; see more people, more books and newspapers.
Their minds therefore present more points of attraction,
so to speak, for other ideas, are easier to move to reflec-
tion and acquisition.

If we look a little more closely into the nature of the
machinery by which a subject is admitted The teacher's
into a curriculum, we may more exactly power of
ascertain the teacher's power of determina- choice is
tion. Such questions are mostly decided for limited
him by others : by the state ; by the influence of in-
dividual parents ; by bodies constituted for the purpose
of organising and conducting examinations. The state
is practically supreme in the primary sphere, i n the prim-
a fact which need surprise no one who ex- ary sphere,
amines the historical and economic circum- b y thestate
stances which have called for the state's interference. It
prescribes both curriculum and tests, though there is
much evidence of gradual relaxation. In the secondary
sphere the state imposes no direct general Inthe
test, and therefore prescribes no authoritative secondary
set of subjects ; but it exercises very powerful sphere, by
influence on curricula indirectly. The Science the state
and Art Department, the Civil Service Commission, the

H2 Common Sense in Education

Charity Commission, each in its sphere works to this end,
but on no common principle. The consequent diversity
may be salutary ; there may be very good reasons for
objecting to such a uniformity as is produced (say) in
Germany by state examinations, determined, as they
are by military and dynastic considerations.

Individual parents demand this teaching and that,
moved partly by fashion, and partly by utili-

By parents . J J . inT u

tanan ends of their own. They may wish,
for instance, their sons to enter a particular kind of

Corporate examining agencies, of which the univer-
By sities are the greatest, do a good deal to

examining maintain a tradition of liberal education. But
corporations they are perpetually diverted by the claims
of utilitarianism, and they tend to impose not alone
uniformity of aim, but uniformity of method, too, by the
necessarily uniform standard and manner of examination
which it is their boast to maintain. A system of ex-
amination of course produces a system of teaching, or,
it may be, of " cramming " which will secure the best
results, and the tricks that prosper will soon become
known generally.

A teacher's power of determining both aim and method
will always be less than it should be, so long as he is not
as a matter of course associated in examinations with
the "external" examiner. In England (as in China)
there is a monstrous fear lest the teacher should take
part in the examining of his pupil, and the consequence
is not merely that justice is in peril, but also that method,
the teacher's peculiar province, is largely determined for
him by some one else, and his proper influence in the
eyes of his pupils as their highest guide is gravely
weakened. Many a fine teacher has failed to exercise

The Genesis of Curricula 113

his due influence over his pupils because he has not
worked them for examination, and examining bodies
are sometimes disastrously out of touch with those whom
they examine.

(For references, see list at end of next chapter.)



Will you play upon this pipe ? Hamlet.

IT is clear that under ordinary circumstances the teacher
The teacher must content himself with making the most
must com- profitable combinations of subjects which the
promise prescribed curriculum permits, teaching these
as wisely as he can. As a citizen he can and must do
his best to influence public opinion to listen less to
specialists in "subjects" and more to experts in educa-
tion not mere experts in pedagogy, but to those who
understand the sociology of pedagogy yet he cannot
expect, nor should he, that " the public " will ever place
itself unreservedly in professional hands, for reasons
already sufficiently explained.

With his possible curriculum in front of him, the
The prin- practical teacher, having made up his mind
cipies of what effect he wishes to produce, is guided
economy chiefly by two considerations : the principle
and fitness Q f econom y or parsimony, and the principle
of fitness. He asks himself first, how little will suffice,
not how much he can include. Not, indeed, that he
excludes this or that branch from treatment in school,
but that he contrives his teaching to be inclusive of much
that unskilful teachers, organisers, and administrators
regard so unintelligently as separate " provinces " in the
kingdom of knowledge, such as " ancient " and " modern "

The Manipulation of Curricula 115

history, " political " and " physical " geography, arithmetic
and algebra, " drawing " and " shading," and so forth, in
a score more formal distinctions, which, of course, can
be multiplied by every one of the ever-growing swarm of
specialists. He will teach History, Geography, Mathe-
matics, Drawing, as wholes ; and all together as one.
His unintelligent brother will teach them in snippets
and arbitrary divisions devised by the official hiero-
phants of the sciences or the organising bureaucracy,
but quite unknown to the nature of things. His pupils
will be kept in a perpetual childhood, floundering about
in search of a woefully misunderstood accuracy, exactness,
thoroughness, and what not ; never seeing the forest for
the trees. True economy consists not in leaving out
" subjects," so called, but in leaving out irrelevant matter.
To the young pupil an infinity of dates is irrelevant
matter ; so is a gazetteer-knowledge of geography; so are
the exceptions in French, Latin, Greek, and German
grammar ; so is a knowledge of tare and tret and stocks
and shares. " If in doubt, leave out." It is easier to kill
immature intelligence by too much than by too little ;
satiety is worse than incompleteness. " Interest," says the
wise Dr. Rein, " depends not on quantity but quality."

After economy comes the principle of fitness, which
demands consideration of the age, antecedents, and en-
vironment of pupils. It would be impossible to outline
here the multitude of schemes which by permutation and
combination would be best for all sets of pupils ; we can
only sketch faintly the sort of development which an
average ordinary course permits.

Up to seven years of age books are of less consequence
than other means of encouraging intellectual A skeleton
activity. At this period there is a close and course
even definable connexion between the bodily growth

n6 Common Sense in Education

and intellectual development. Such procedure as the
sensibly organised kindergarten encourages is needed to
stimulate and co-ordinate the powers of making and of
learning by efforts originating from within the child him-
self. The mechanical memory is very strong at this
period, and so long as it is exercised without too pro-
longed a strain, it is not easy to overload it. But its
achievements soon pass away, because they are not the
objects of reflection.

From seven to nine the power of rational acquisition
is growing. The child tries to understand. He is still
full of undisciplined fancy, and is sensitive chiefly to
physical pleasure and pain. Accuracy and a sense of
duty are at this stage best taught not in the class-room
but in the playground. Excessive detail in this stage
is mere loss; excessive " observation " prolongs the
purely empirical stage of intellectual effort. Reading
aloud ; the use of simple tools ; geography on a big
scale, with some general knowledge of the atlas, of shape
rather than names ; how to tell the parts of speech, as
Dr. Abbott prescribes ; how to tell the parts of a sentence,
according to Mr. Somerveirs procedure ; concrete arith-
metic and a little practical geometry ; the elements of
speech in one foreign language these must be the bulk
of the work done.

From nine to twelve, lessons may be gradually
lengthened, though it should be always remembered
that it is safer to occupy too little time in study than
too much. This is the age of object lessons, but not yet
of experimental science, for the simple reason that the
pupil's reasoning would be not imperfect only, but even
erroneous ; he cannot yet conceive the conditions of
legitimate inference.

From twelve to fourteen we throw a boy more on his

The Manipulation of Curricula 117

own resources. He may have home work as well as
work in class. He may begin to read a foreign book at
school, but as a book to be read, not studied. He learns
how to keep a note-book. His drawing becomes more
exact maps and models. He still has object lessons
in natural history, but he may be introduced to the
beginnings of experimental science, not by merely
watching a teacher, but by doing things himself. He
reads much by himself, miscellaneously, among good

From fourteen to sixteen is the stage during which
English grammar is to be entirely dropped, and Rhetoric
substituted. With French, the boy now reads also
Latin or German, or even both. Natural history passes
into a preponderating experimental science. It becomes
more necessary now to give real preparation work to
be done at home, not merely repetition of school work,
but something to find out either by physical experiment
or by the use of books of reference, gazetteers and

From sixteen to eighteen it is important to increase
the amount of work done by the boy himself, the master
guiding and correcting. The taking of notes and making
of abstracts of books should be taught as a definite part
of education. It is not desirable yet to drop all the
" real " studies or all the " humanistic " by premature
specialisation, but the bulk of the one or the other may
be lessened in view of the now clearly discovered bent
of the pupil's mind. Just at the end of this period an
admirable effect is produced on general studies by a
little training in formal logic. The knowledge of the
simple conditions of valid proof will provide a boy with
a principle of intellectual steadiness for all time.

The necessity for concentration or connectedness in

n8 Common Sense in Education

studies should be pretty obvious. Things that are
Connected- not related to one another in our minds by
ness some rational association are likely enough to

pass away and be lost to memory, and finally fade away
so entirely as to be irrecoverable. If what we learn is
merely a string of accidents, then what we retain is at
best rote-work. If, for instance, we learn lists of the
manufactures that flourish in a country and lists of its
chief physical characteristics, without associating the two
as effect and cause, the ideas lie in our consciousness
side by side only by accident, and our knowledge lacks
life ; it is not only incoherent, but also incapable of
seizing other items of knowledge and relating them in
their turn to ideas already appropriated or yet to come
within reach. Thus if we possess the two sets of ideas
already mentioned in causal relation, we find it easy to
apprehend the facts of historical development connected
with them. Towns grow up and a country has a history
because of, amongst other things, the industries and
occupations which arise from its geography. We ought
therefore to do what we can to co-ordinate studies. We
can best make new ideas clear by connecting them with
the older ones. Again, most people are open to lively
impressions on some special side ; they are attracted
by some branch of knowledge or practice more than
by others. The educator, then, ought to find this out
in each case ; or at all events so to link the facts
of the curriculum to one another that there may be
a hook to catch every pupil somewhere. For instance,
history and historical grammar ; geology, geography,
and thence history ; these and an indefinite number of
combinations may be made, starting from some one of
them. f

Thirdly, unity and consistency of thought and of intel-

The Manipulation of Curricula 119

lectual life is a mark of mental health. Unified know-
ledge is science. The more points of rational connexion
there are between our ideas, the more knowledge are we
said to have, the better we understand the world. If we
understood any one thing in all its relations, we should
be omniscient.

Flower in the crannied wall,

I pluck you out of the crannies ;

Hold you here, root and all, in my hand,

Little flower but if I could understand

What you are, root and all, and all in all,

I should know what God and man is.

It is a sign of health to want to connect the new and the
old, and the teacher is to blame if he does not get a
pupil to feel the value of learning a particular " subject ".
The teacher ought certainly, in dealing with pupils of a
reflecting age, to make them see the purpose of one study
by means of a comprehension of its relations either to
others or to immediate application.

We must, fourthly, concentrate and connect so as to

Online LibraryPercy Arthur BarnettCommon sense in education and teaching; an introduction to practice → online text (page 9 of 25)