William Hawley Smith.

Walks abroad and talks about them online

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using in your school are enabling your pupils to "down"
new words when they come to them, without someone's
telling them what they are ? Just think it over, that's all.

And that is what I got out oithat part of my census

As I pursued my investigations in the higher grades
I took a little different course. I kept tab on the number
of pupils who, as they regularly read in their classes, read
right along, easily, and in such a way that their pronuncia-
tion of the words indicated that they understood what it
was all about that they were reading from their books.
And on this count I will, if you please, report rather my


own impression than state, numerically, the results of my

After watching the point carefully for months, I am
convinced that the average reading book, above the third
reader, is much too hard for the average pupil. The
themes are, many of them, too lofty (I guess that is the
word), and especially the poetry is beyond the range of
vision of the average pupil.

And I must insist that it is the average pupil that we
must keep in mind in all these things. Who are our
schools for ? Sometimes I am led to think that they are
only for the bright pupils, whom we want to fit for college!

I wonder if it is so ?

And in the higher books this difficulty that I have
noted seems to grow worse. Indeed, as I think about it,
I fear the evil (if such it be) is one of pretty long stand-
ing. I have a dim and misty recollection about " Web-
ster's reply to Walpole, " or " Pitt's reply to Hayne, " or
something of that sort, that I was set to wading through
at about eleven years of age. The exercise evidently
made a lasting impression upon me !

But here is the chief point that has impressed me
about all that I have seen or sought to see regarding the
teaching of reading. We spend the great bulk of the
time that we devote to such teaching in the public schools
upon vocal work — to teach the pupil to read aloud; when
the fact is that 7io^ one per cent, of all tve read after zve get
out of school will be oral reading!

But the art of reading well silently, of getting the
thought out of the words upon the page as a bee gathers
the honey out of a flower — how much time and attention
do we devote to that? How well do we teach our child-
ren to read books to themselves? What plans are we
working to that end? Is it worth while to have any


special plans to accomplish such a result? If the great
bulk of the reading we are to do in life must be silent
reading, is it wise to keep that fact in view when teaching
reading in the public schools?

These are things to think about. Not for superinten-
dents alone, but for the rank and file — ior you in especial.

But it is a question, how to get results out of the
reading class that are satisfactory, all along the line.
Children are so different about learning to read, aren't

Why, we had a little girl five years old, at our house
this last summer, who took Carlyle's " Sartor Resartus "
off my library shelf and opened it at random, and read
right down the page as " Tammas " himself might have
done. The little button of a thing; I don't believe she
would have weighed forty pounds, all told, and yet she
read like an antiquary.

She has never been to school. She isn't old enough
to go to school. No one ever taught her to read.

Next year she will be old enough to go to school. I
wonder if she will be sent to the chart class, and have to
say " I have a cat," while she whisks the pointer across
the blackboard where the chalk says " I have a cat! "

I don't want to say a mean thing, or be sarcastic, but
some of the things that I see as I go about make me
want to say something. And the question is, what shall
be done with this little girl when she goes to the reading
class next year?

I grant that her case is exceptional, wonderfully ex-
ceptional, and that the general trend cannot be set aside
for the entirely unique. But yet?

On the other hand, there is my neighbor's boy, who,
at eleven years of age bungles along at a snail's pace in
the second reader. He, too, is exceptional. But both


It was a second-reader class that I saw. The pupils
were required to write ten "commanding sentences" on
their slates. There were some ten or twelve pupils in the
class. They came to the front, slates in hand, the sen-
tences all written, and the exercises proceeded as follows:

Pupil (reading from slate) — " Shut the stove door. Commanding
sentence. Begin with a capital and end with a period ! "

Teacher — "Can you not make a better sentence than that?"

P. — " I don't know."

T. — "Would it not be more polite to say, close the stove door?"

P. — (Going on without further remark) — " Close the stove door.
Commanding sentence. IJegin with a capital and end with a period."
" Shut the outside door. Commanding sentence — Begin — with — a —
capital — and— end — with — a — period." Go to school. Commanding
— sentence — Begin — with — a — capital — and— end — with — a — period "
" Go to town — C — s — B — w — a — c — a — e — w — p." Get the book — C —
s — B — w — a — c — a — e — w — a — p — ." " Get the hat — C — s — etc." '" See
the man. C — s — etc' "See the hen. C — s — etc." See the pig.
CommandingsentenceBeginwithacapitalandendwithaperiod ! "

T. — "That will do. Mary you may go on."

Mary — ''Get the book. Commanding sentence. Begin with a
capital and end with a period," etc. — etc. — etc. — etc. — etc. — etc. — etc.
— etc. — etc. — etc. — etc. — etc.— etc. !

A good many of them, are there not?
That is just what I thought before the fifteen minutes
ended that brought this jargon to a close.

In heaven's name, what excuse can possibly be offered
for the like of this? And I have given it just as it took
place, only I haven't set it all down yet.

The class, having gone through this " exercise," was
dismissed, each pupil handing his slate to the teacher en

The teacher took the slates and hastily ran over each
one, and with a pencil checked some of the errors on
them — that is, if the child had written a "declarative
sentence" instead of a "commanding sentence," she put
a cross after the offending member.


That was all !

Then she marked the slates, transferred the marks to
her record book, and returned the slates to the pupils
without a word !


And yet this woman is a member of church and so-
ciety in good and regular standing, virtuous, and ostensi-
bly anxious to earn her money. I really think she was
trying hard to teach school.

But was she teaching school? That is the question.
Is she a teacher at all? Look over the record of her work
and see if you can find any sign of teaching about it, any-
where. (And when you get through looking over her
record, just cast an eye over your own, please).

1 went down and looked at the slates which had just
been returned. The first one was the property of a little
fellow named Eddie something. His name was at the top
of the slate, spelled Eaddie ! Further down he had writ-
ten the sentence, "Go to bed," which showed thus: "Go
to bead." A little further down the list the word "fed"
occurred, which was written "fead."

Now it did seem to me that this teacher ought to
have noticed the squeak there was in this boy's spelling
machine, and then and there applied a bit of grease, right
on that particular "ea," that will make him all the trouble
of a very disagreeably "hot box" one of these days, if it
is not lubricated before long.

He had said " Commanding sentence. Begin with a
capital and end with a period " ten times, in the class (and
dear only knows how many times he had said it before,
and may have to say it again before he can graduate in ■
new clothes), and yet the " ea " for " e," which is evidently
a chronically hard place in his spelling economy, goes
squeaking along, unnoticed, day after day.


And the other slates were only partially better. There
were squeaky places on every one of them, but not a drop
of the oil of teaching-where-teaching-was-needed did I
see poured on a single squeak. It was all dumped out in
one general pool, over the whole class, for fifteen minutes,
as pupil after pupil rattled out, "Commanding-sentence-

I wonder how Gabriel will enter up the record of that
alleged recitation? Anyhow, I am sure he will write
" Fifteen minutes of time killed deader than a door nail,
and not a thing to show for it." He may write something
more, but that is his affair, and not mine. To be a mur-
derer of good time that has been bougJit dind paid for is a
bad enough record for any one to have to face.

And please do not try to turn this thrust of mine
aside by saying it is exceptional, and that not one teacher
in a thousand does such work as this, for such is not the
case. I cannot tell how sorry I am to be compelled to
say this, but the truth ought to be told, and I have told the
truth in what I have written above.

I grant that the case I have noted is a very bad one,
and that there are few as bad; but the visitation of more
than fifty different schools in the last month has satisfied
me that there is very much less teaching done in our
schools than is commonly supposed, and that there are
very few teachers, take them as they go, who have the tact
to teach each one of the pupils under Xhc'w cdiVQ, just zvhere
they especially need teaching.

For instance: I saw a class of about twenty pupils
working in proportion, a few days ago, and when I gave
them a little simple problem, in which it happened to be
necessary, in one operation, to divide by 8, a majority of
the class used long division in doing the work !

And this did not occur in a backwoods town, either,


and it was the principal of tlie school who was hearing
the class !

And the teacher said nothing to all this. When asked
about it, he said that he never noticed how the children
did their work ! Perhaps he is an exception, too. I hope
he is. But there are a good many exceptions that I see,
or else I am unfortunate in happening upon them.

Because, when I went into a high school, last week, I
heard a class in Latin "reciting." That is what the "ex-
ercise " was called.

I sat before the class for ten minutes, and during all
that time there were only two short sentences translated,
and only one of these was well done.

Nearly every member of the class took a hand at the
other sentence, but failed to get anything out of it; and all
this time the teacher (?) sat at his desk. He was a man,
and a regular college graduate. (I insist that I am not
bitter; I only tell the truth, just as I saw it), but did he noth-
ing but call on pupil after pupil to rise, blunder, and
fail, and be marked low for the same; when the fact was
that there was a tricky little place in the sentence, some-
thing that the pupils had never had before, and which
they needed just a little bit of teaching about.

But this they did not get. They got low marks;
and the sentence was left untranslated, with the injunction
to the class to "look it up."

Again, I heard a spelling class, to which twenty-five
hard words had been given (this was in an upper grade in
a grammar room) to learn to spell at a single lesson.
Among the words I remember liquefy, guarantee, kiln,
encrysted, separate, and there were twenty more of just
about "the same degree of hardness."

These words had been written on the board by the
teacher the day before, and were pronounced to the pupils,



And it is this something left over that I am going to
write about, in what follows.

The first thing the mistress of the house put me at,
( for it is she who always presides on these gala occa-
sions ) was the clearing out and regulating of a large
store-room that was crammed full of a promiscuous lot of
ancient lares et poiates that once had had a more honor-
able place among our household goods and gods. I had
never looked into the collection before, and had no idea
that we possessed such a thesaurus of back-number truck,
such a store of antiquities — or, rather, such a heap of

To begin with, I was told to take all this stuff out of
the room, then clean it and dust it, and return it to its
proper place, and " regulate " it as I i)ut it back.

It was not regul9

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Online LibraryWilliam Hawley SmithWalks abroad and talks about them → online text (page 14 of 16)