Education

THE Western superintendents discuss the most important questions in American public-school education with great vigor. Scarcely any one, for example, has spoken so strenuously for moral training as Mr. Hopkins, of Indiana. According to him, “ The leading object in the organization of any school system should be the moral culture of the children. . . . Did not the advocates of our free-school system promise the people that if they would take upon their shoulders the additional burden of taxation for its support, the same would be lightened by the diminution of crime? Is there any perceptible decrease of crime in Indiana ? Is there any reasonable probability that there will be? It is becoming a grave question, among those who take comprehensive views of the subject, of education, whether this intellectual culture without moral is not rather an injury than a benefit. Is it not giving teeth to the lion and fangs to the serpent ? That is the true system of training which adapts itself to the entire complex nature of the child. No free government can safely ignore this grave subject, for nations that lose their virtue soon lose their freedom.”

The superintendent of Missouri quotes from the superintendent of Ohio on the same subject. “ Is it reasonable to suppose that the silent example, or ‘ unconscious tuition,’ of men and women teachers of unsullied character is all that is requisite to make the youth of our schools honest, industrious, law-abiding, patriotic, able to discern clearly the exact boundary between right and wrong ? Most certainly not. Our youth must receive direct, positive instruction in moral science, and be trained to make the demands of moral rules govern them in the conduct of their lives. The lips of our teachers must not he sealed, even if they do now and then allude to the existence of other truths than those upon which, by the universal assent of the civilized world, a science of morals can be founded. . . . The child may be taught to respect the rights and feelings of others; to obey its parents and those placed in au thoritv over it; to be kind, truthful, frank, unselfish, chaste, courteous, respectful. As its education advances, it may be instructed in the truth of that morality which concerns the family, society, and the state. It may be taught to love the true and the genuine, to hate all shams and humbugs, to have faith in whatever is right, to be honest in business transactions, to respect those principles of honor upon which all good citizenship rests, and to cherish and practice those virtues which are the glory and beauty of character. Such instruction as this is not sectarian, and every true patriot and philanthropist will rejoice when it shall be required to be given in every school in the land,” The Hon. Newton Bateman, of Illinois, would have children trained to be “gentle and refined in speech and manner, docile in spirit and modest in deportment, truthful, ingenuous, and manly, obedient, respectful, and affectionate toward their parents and teachers, reverential toward God and to Whatsoever things are sacred and holy. These things, it is true, are not so immediately within the control of teachers, but the influence, example, and precept of the school-room should all tend that way.” Finally, from distant and problematical Utah comes the same or even stronger admonition: “ Are we not apt to be narrow in our educational ideas, and to give undue weight to intellectual culture ? It has been truthfully said that the exaltation of talent, as it is called, above virtue and religion is the curse of the age. Education is now chiefly a stimulus to learning, and thus men acquire power without the principles which alone make it good. Talent is worshiped ; but if divorced from rectitude it will prove more of a demon than a god. . . . In teachers’institutes the impor tanee of moral training should receive special attention.”

Apropos of these teachers’ institutes, which are held all over our country, and which our school authorities so steadfastly believe in, what the superintendent of Utah says on the subject will stand for what they all say : “ An institute is a potent auxiliary in the aid of educational interests. It should develop the best methods of organizing, governing, and teaching the school, and elucidate the true order of mental development, It is needed to secure and maintain uniformity in school management and the conduct of school exercises, and is a current calendar by which the teachers throughout the Territory may be posted in relation to educational improvements. In one of the California school reports it is stated, ‘ In some counties the first real impulse to the cause of education dates from the first institutes held in them,’ ” The superintendent of Missouri thus refers to them : “ I shall not be guilty of throwing a false color on the report if I assert that the teachers’ institute is second to no instrumentality used in the State to promote the improvement of the teachers. Even in its lowest estate it is good. It is good as a social power. It is good as an intellectual stimulus. It is good as a cultivator of earnest, liberal thought and discussion.” Or in other and still plainer language, we may say that considered as a teachers’ debating society the institute has its value ; but whether it does the work so fondly hoped for it, i. e., puts much real knowledge or many ideas that are good for anything into the empty heads of the young school-mistresses who attend it for a few days yearly, is another question. Quite as often they are treated to a temperance exhortation or to a third-class elocutionary recitation as to anything really relating to their profession.

Of course the want of trained teachers is the crying want of the West as it is of the rest of the country, and as it must be until male and female principals from our colleges and assistants from the high schools can be furnished in numbers sufficient to supply the majority of the schools. It is thought by many that severe systems of examinations will lighten the difficulty, but let us listen to the energetic protest of the superintendent of California upon this solution of the problem. “California,” he says, “ is justly held up as a bright example in first inaugurating the system of state examinations.” Yet he admits that “ it is not possible to insure even a modicum of literary culture on this system of examining teachers. Examinations are frequently dishonest. Not only the candidate resorts to dishonest means; the county superintendents themselves have been known to give candidates a few days’ preliminary examinations on the questions upon which they are required to pass. Indeed, the evil became so notorious, so crying, that the state board of examinations saw itself compelled to send the examination questions securely sealed, and to insist that county superintendents do not open them until the regular meeting of the county board, and then in the presence of at least one member of the board ! ” This sounds disgraceful, but the truth is that where a State requires many thousands of teachers, and must take those who offer or none, all the examinations in the world will never put into the heads of those teachers what is not there. Inevitably, hundreds who cannot really “ pass ” will get certificates from the sheer necessity of the case. The only conclusion, then, is that the State must supply training agencies for its teachers, and there is no agency that can meet the case but the township high school system. In the immense majority of eases the teachers of a district are and must be from the inhabitants of that district. The fact that they teach at all shows that their means are limited, and therefore their training must be brought home to them. They cannot afford to go to it.

Finally, the Hon. Newton Bateman, of Illinois, in the ablest report that we have reviewed, excepting those of St. Louis and New York city, discourses in a manner after our own heart upon the great subjects of what the common schools should do for the masses of their pupils, and what should he their course of study to this end. Respecting the latter he thus delivers himself: “ Look at the facts as they have existed in this State from the beginning of the free-school system and for years before. What have been the studies prescribed by law ? Spelling, reading, writing, arithmetic, grammar, geography, and United States history. Who first marked out this course of study, or what considerations led to its original adoption and subsequent tenacious retention, does not appear. But if the author of this commonschool curriculum is still living, a contemplation of its results will hardly induce him to come forth and claim the honor of his achievement. . . . If it were distinctly proposed to devise a scheme whereby the schools might be rendered the least profitable, that which compels the youth of the State to spend the whole period of their school-going life upon the famous seven branches of the old Illinois law, to the practical exclusion of everything else, must be regarded as a reasonably successful solution of the problem. ... It is not to be denied that the confidence of our people in that great American institution, the public school, is in some danger of being disturbed, nor is this state of things peculiar to Illinois, but is substantially common to all the States and to the whole country. Doubts, questionings, murmurs of discontent, mingled with voices of direct opposition or appeals for reconstruction ami improvement, are coming up from every quarter of the Union.” And in illustration of his position Mr. Bateman gives extracts from an extensive correspondence with parents of different classes and occupations, in which are described the miserable failures of the public schooling as regards individual children of the individual Writers.

Mr. Bateman finds the causes of these failures not alone, like so many others, in the incompetence of the teachers, but also in the inadequate public-school curriculum and in the text-books in which this course of study is pursued. He endeavors to impress upon the citizens of Illinois the great fundamental truth: first, that the childish mind can take in the elements of every kind of knowledge; and second, that it can not take in more than the elements of anything. The belief in the converse of these two propositions is the great rock upon which public - school education in America has hitherto split in every successive generation. “The public schools must attempt only the elements of knowledge” has been the cry. Very good; but what are the “elements of knowledge”? To this question the New England pedagogue replied, and the whole country has listened to his voice and followed upon his footsteps, that “the elements of knowledge are contained in imperfect reading and writing, and in arithmetic, geography, and grammar carried to the farthest and most complicated forms.” But Mr. Bateman, in common with all the enlightened educators of Europe, demands that the public schools give the elements, and the elements only, of all the above studies, and along with them the rudiments of drawing and vocal music, and of the physical and natural sciences, together with sufficient knowledge of physiology and hygiene to “ enable the learners to take proper care of their bodies and brains, and enough of American history and of information about their own neighborhood to make them good citizens, local as well as national.” Thorough and exhaustive grounding in the elements was the very foundation-stone of Pestalozzi’s teaching, but it was in all the elements that could educate “ the head, the heart, or the hand.”

Nearly all the Western superintendents agree with these views of Mr. Bateman, and in ten years the course of study he advocates will probably be adopted by law throughout the Western States as it already partially is in his own. He continues the discussion by asking, “ How is the necessary time to he gained for the elements of natural science ? ” And he answers, “ By discarding all superfluous matter from the text-book and thereby saving wasted time, and also by adopting improved methods of teaching. . . . With proper instruction every child of good health and fair natural abilities can and should, in four years or less, of six school mouths each, beginning in utter ignorance of the alphabet, acquire such a practical knowledge of reading and spelling in his native English, that he may thereafter lay aside and dispense with both of those studies, so far as formal lessons and recitations are concerned, and devote his time to other things. . . . Much precious time is also wasted upon arithmetic. The average common-school text-book in that, science contains double the amount of matter necessary or advisable, and hence half of the time spent thereon could be much more profitably devoted to other studies. . . . It is not by any means necessary that a text-hook should be perfect, nor that it should contain everything belonging to the subject of which it treats. There are innumerable things appertaining to arithmetic, reading, grammar, natural philosophy, hygiene, etc., of much intrinsic interest and value, which nevertheless are wholly out of place in a book of rudimentary principles, and yet most text-books are burdened with these extraneous matters.”

— The series of yearly lectures called “The Teachers’ School of Science” originated from a donation made by Mr. John Cummings, at present second vice-president of the Boston Society of Natural History, to the council of that society in 1871. The gift, amounting at first to $500 per annum, and subsequently much enlarged to meet the requirements of the lessons, was to be applied directly to the instruction of teachers in natural history. For the administration of this fund a committee was formed, of which Mr. John Cummings, Professor W. H. Niles, and Alpheus Hyatt were members, with full power to attend to all business which might arise.

This committee decided that no lecturing, in the ordinary sense of the word, should be permitted, hut that in all cases lessons should be given, illustrated by specimens, which specimens should remain, if desired, in possession of the student or teacher after the close of the lesson.

Before publicly stating their intentions, the committee consulted with the leading teachers of the public schools, and submitted their plan to them.

This course was adopted in order to avoid the too common failure of similar efforts, a want of discrimination or due regard to suitability in the means of instruction employed. They also most distinctly stated that there was no desire on their part to bring about any sudden revolution in the present school system ; but that all their efforts would be directed towards the instruction of the teachers themselves, with the ultimate object of influencing the pupils of the common schools through their voluntary labors.

This idea was responded to with such enthusiasm that after the committee’s eirc"lar was issued, over seven hundred applications were received, compelling a petition to the Institute of Technology for the use of its large hall, then just completed. This was most courteously granted, and the audience assembled there, numbering six hundred at the first meeting.

This enormous influx was largely due to the energy with which several of the masters of the public schools of Boston had seconded the movement, especially Mr. Page, master of the Dwight school, and the personal encouragement of Mr, Philbrick, then superintendent of the public schools of Boston. The first experiment was made by Professor Niles, whose system of teaching had been adopted by the committee, with no preliminary formalities except a slight sketch of the intentions of the committee, and a few remarks upon the value of natural history in the schools, not only as an aid in disciplining the mind, but as a means of assisting in the comprehensive study of other subjects. He then proceeded immediately to show by a practical lessen how much could be taught of the fundamental principles of physical geography without maps or charts, other than could be readily made on the blackboard ; and without spec-' imens, other than samples of earth, stone, or water, and the natural features of any country landscape.

In the last three of his six lessons Professor Niles taught the physical geography of Massachusetts in a masterly manner, and showed conclusively how this might uot only be made the basis of a general knowledge of physical geography, but also be used to throw a strong light upon, and greatly facilitate, the future studies of the pupils in political geography and history.

These lessons were enthusiastically received, and exercised a wide-spread influence, besides causing an entire revolution in the modes of teaching geography in at least one of our public schools.

The first year was devoted to short experimental courses, and therefore physical geography was followed by' lessons on mineralogy, by W. C. Greenough, master of the State Normal School, Providence, Rhode Island, on zoölogy, by Alpheus Hyatt, and on botany, by Dr. W. G. Farlow.

It was essential to the plan that specimens should be used and distributed in all of these courses, and therefore the number of students was limited to those who could be comfortably seated in the lecture-room of the Boston Society of Natural History, and properly supplied with materials. The average attendance was, in consequence of these limitations, reduced to about fiftyfive, but these were principally picked or representative teachers ; persons who either as masters or sub-masters took an active interest in natural science on account of their official positions, or those who wished to qualify themselves to teach or were actually teaching the subjects treated of in the lessons.

The instruments used in these courses were of the simplest character : in mineralogy, for instance, a small paper tray containing the scale of hardness, another to hold the half-dozen specimens illustrating that lesson, a pen-knife, a hammer, a file, and a small horse-shoe magnet. The materials were laid in numbered compartments before the lesson began, and each person was requested to follow the instructor as he described any special part or characteristic, or made any particular experiment. Frequent questions were also asked of the audience and permitted in return.

The great fire of November, 1872, and other causes, interrupted the lessons for two successive winters, but they were resumed in the autumn of 1874. After the preliminary work of the first year, the teachers were prepared to reap the greatest possible advantage from special courses. The second year, therefore, was opened with a series of some thirty lectures on mineralogy by Mr. L. S. Burbank, principal of the Warren Academy, Woburn, Massachusetts; and these are now, in the third year of the existence of the school, being followed by a short course in lithology, also by Mr. Burbank.

Statistics of the second year’s work showed an increase in the average attendance to eighty-four; that the specimens distributed had been in as many as fifty instances kept together, and were being actively used in the instruction of pupils. It was ascertained during the present year, through written questions addressed to the teachers, that fully seventy-five per cent, of those who applied for tickets to the lithological course had also been through the mineralogical course, and fully thirty per cent. had attended the preliminary courses of the first year.

Mr. Burbank has undertaken some excursions, in which the rocks were examined in the field, and observations made as to their mode of occurrence and characteristics in mass which could not be shown in the lecture room.

The courses are not simply practical; on the contrary, there is as much of the higher style of teaching as is compatible with the main object of the lessons, and frequently the entire hour has been devoted to the discussion of theoretical considerations and hypotheses of the origin, mode of occurrence, and classification of substances.

Besides the assistance of Mr. Page and Mr. Philbrick, the committee has received important aid from the facilities given them by Professor Asa Gray and Professor S. F. Baird, for the collection of botanical and zoölogical specimens, without which their work would have been rendered much more difficult.

The reasons for the unexpected success of these experiments are many, but a few of the most prominent will be sufficient for the limits of this brief review. Personal contact with the things described creates an eager desire to know something about them on the part of the audience, and the consciousness of this stimulates the lecturer to put forth his utmost strength. This attention is held throughout with unflagging interest by the necessity of continually searching for the characteristics treated of by the lecturer, and of occasionally answering the questions asked by him.

The acquirement of a collection which could be immediately used in the schoolroom was, however, found to be of the greatest importance. Teachers were prepared to admit the necessity of the study of natural history, but neither proper textbooks nor materials were obtainable, and they could not therefore see clearly the wayin which another study could be introduced into their schools without seriously overloading the minds of their pupils.

Although we cannot claim to have solved the practical side of this question, we have endeavored, as far as the time would permit, to show that the difficulties were not unconquerable, and that natural history not only could be made useful in disciplining the powers of observation and minds of the pupils, but that it was really the proper ground-work for the intelligent comprehension of a large proportion of other subjects.