« PreviousContinue »
in ingenunity than perhaps those of all previous ages. The railroad, commercial and financial “ corners "and combinations are something startling. Industrial associations and strikers' unions are the order of the day. These are the practical expressions of synthesis. Shall we overlook, in the school room, an activity that gives vigor to our age?
The process of reasoning is a favored one among the intellectual group. The severe discipline of mental arithmetic, the stern logic of geometry, have given it a definite and precise culture. False reasonings are abundant enough it is true, but their fallacies do not so often lie in the logic as in the data. This is an additional advocate for the development of the data-giving powers. Abstraction, generalization, classification, the imagination, and others add themselves to the already long list of neglected powers. But I must pass them with this simple mention.
I would not be misunderstood as asserting that the activities of the mind which have now been glanced at are not called forth in the ordinary programme of school studies, and in the ordinary developement of that programme. They are involved as a matter of course, and as I have tried to indicate, so far as my narrow limits would allow. And it is an interesting and most profitable study to enquire what is the precise effect of our ordinary instruction upon the several faculties of the mind. But the point which I hope will stand out clear and sharp, is that these powers do not receive intelligent, direct, specific culture.
BY ALBERT SALISBURY, BRODHEAD.
(Paper read before the State Teachers' Association, July 10, 1872.) One of the first and most refractory problems that presents itself to teachers of pupils past the primary grades: “What can be profitably done in the matter of rhetorical exercises ?” By this, we mean those stated exercises in composition and declamation, which in some schools are rigidly required, in others, stupidly ignored, but in the majority of cases, struggled with, and experimented upon in the most various
Not a long time ago, I asked a member of this association, a teacher of many years' successful experience, what he had ever succeeded in doing with this question. “Nothing satisfactory,” was his emphatic reply. I believe the number to be comparatively small of those who can give a different answer. Certainly this discussion will afford no conclusive one.
The subject assumes a double form: 1st. Are rhetorical exercises at all essential, or, on the whole, even desirable and profitable ? 2d. If so, by what methods can they be made uniformly successful ? I feel safe in asserting that many of us are not yet ready to decisively answer, from our own experience, the first question even. The second is still more difficult. Our experience is the source of these questions, as of most others that perplex the conscientious teacher. But some men are so thick-skinned, or skulled, that they are seldom pricked or disturbed by any of the problems of life. They have, for every question, an answer ready formed, and in their easy conclusions they serenely rest, unconscious of the injurious consequences.
And there are teachers of that ilk. There are those, though few, who think it simply an impertinence to treat as an unsettled question, this of the utility of rhetorical exercises.
As already intimated, there are many teachers who rigidly insist upon performances, by all their pupils, in declamation and composition, at stated intervals, weekly, bi-weekly or monthly. Another class not only do not exact such performances, but argue stoutly against their utility, even at the risk of incurring a suspicion of laziness or incompetency. A larger number smother conscience and quietly slip over the whole matter, while yet another class work and experiment away from year to year, but reach no satisfactory solution of the problem in either of its phases. In this class, so far as actual experience goes, allow me to place myself.
Conscience has never suffered me to wholly neglect rhetorical exercises in my school, but at no stage of my experience, as a teacher, have I been able to give a full affirmative to the question," does it pay?" There is such an inveterate reluctance, on the part of pupils, to comply with even the most moderate requirements in this line; there must so great and continual an exercise of authority in one form or another; often, so great an exercise of tact or will, or both, in managing shortsighted parents; and, I may add, there must be so much pains-taking drudgery on the teacher's part, that the meager results generally secured might well seem an inadequate return for all the expenditure. But what is to be done in the business?
When we devote so much time to the mixed mathematics and those other studies which so many unfurnished people are pleased to call practical, how can we have the face to neglect that which was once held so all-important, the art of expression? No rich and powerful language can be easily or automatically mastered. The acquisition of all that is necessary for the transaction of all the business operations of life is a much easier matter. It may be objected that the mastery of any language is, at best, but the possession of a few; but this is no argument against its desirability-rather the reverse. Wherever the limit be drawn of the culture which the State owes its children, it must include a goodly amount of practical, available instruction in the proper handling of the written language. Only savages are content. with a spoken language alone.
About a year ago, Mr. Thomas K. Beecher, in a newspaper article on " commencements and exhibitions” gave publicity to his views on this: subject. It will surprise nobody to learn that those views are somewhat peculiar. After contending, at some length, that the aim of ex-. hibitions should be, not to amuse the auditory but to exhibit the real product of the school's work; he takes up squarely against requiring what we term rhetorical exercises of pupils in general. He cites Milton as saying that" essay-writing is the supreme act of the thoroughly educated man,” and that “it is highly injudicious and injurious to require it at the hands of beginners." We had a right to expect, perhaps, that Mr. Beecher would be able to discriminate between the Addisonian essay and the “ essay ” of our rhetorical exercises. But he innocently goes on to say that a small proportion of mankind are to become orators or writers. Now as 400 make a reasonable audience, let the 400th pupil, who manifests exceptional ability in this direction,
be trained in declamation and oratory; then, let the corresponding proportion of pupils be taught composition and rhetoric; and let all others cease to be worried into these uncongenial exercises. This " for substance” is Mr. Beecher,s doctrine.
The theory is fallacious, so far as it concerns our public schools: not so much, perhaps, in the remarkable ratio which it assumes between speakers and hearers, writers and readers, as in ignoring the basal fact that all men should be to some extent speakers and writers. He is all the time thinking of one thing and talking of another-no uncommon occurrence. It certainly is not necessary to argue before this association the benefits of training and practice in composition. As English grammar is now taught, even in the better class of schools, we seldom, very seldom, see any such practical results as the study is popularly supposed to be capable of producing. It is no impossible nor uncommon thing that one be an acute and critical grammarian in the recitation room, while very slovenly in his practical handling of language. In the study of written language, if no other, theory and practice should be daily hammered together. It is simply indispensable that the pupil be in some way, drilled in the practical application of the principles of language, whether those principles have ever been formulated for him or not.
In the matter of declamation, the case does not seem to me so clear. It is, to be sure, a profitable exercise to any pupil to commit to memory passages from our best literature. Aside from the discipline of the memory involved, the mere possession of a copious stock of standard quotations is no undesirable thing, while the reflex and unconscious influence upon thought, feeling and style, cannot but be most happy, so far as it goes. All this, without yet taking into account that elocutionary training which is in itself an essential part of any respectable education. But just here is the great difficulty and the one objectionthat in the majority of cases the pupil is wholly uptrained and unguided, and left to any extravagance or absurdity of delivery that fancy may suggest or stupidity allow. Better no training than a vicious training—but better no declamation than lawless declamation. The reason for this general neglect of training in declamation is, that that teachers in the mass feel themselves incompetent to give the needed instruction, having never received it themselves; and so the evil is perpetuated.
As we now pass to the consideration of the methods calculated to insure success, my remarks, from the nature of the case, take a still more unsatisfactory and inconclusive form than in what has already been pretended.
One man may not succeed with those methods which bring another. What will apply to one school will not apply to another, and so on. One chief difficulty is, however, common to the great majority of schools
. No systematic attention is given to composition during the earlier years of the child's school life; but, by and by, when vanity has gotten a good foothold, and just at that age when the pupil disdains to
fail that he may thereby win,” he is called upon for what Mr. Beecher terms essays. Now he expects and is expected to bring into play-invention, a faculty yet
undeveloped, while he must also struggle with what ought to have been already mastered—form or expression. The load is too great; enthusiasm fails; self-confidence melts
thority must be unmasked, and the situation is not pleasant. And yet, under all those unpropitious circumstances, I am forced to the conclusion that rhetorical exercises (if they can be secured without too much friction), are of great advantage. This opinion is the result of my own personal experience as a pupil rather than as a teacher. And now,
no duubt, I am expected to give some hints as to how the friction alluded to can be avoided; but here, most of all, I feel my incompetency, although once or twice I have been nearly betrayed into crying eureků over the results of some new experiment. Perhaps, however, I may be pardoned for saying that with pupils of varying advancement in other studies and with little or no proper preparation in this, my limited experience has been the most satisfactory when I have pursued something like the following method, viz.: Provide for each division (ten or or more) of the school, a list of topics concerning which information may be obtained in historical or general reading: From the list, allow each pupil to ma his own selection. tunity for as full preparation as may be desired. Then require from each one a concise account of his subject, written in his own language, special attention being paid to form. On some days the topics may all be made historical; on others, descriptive; on others, biographical, etc. But in this matter, as in teaching spelling, there must be variety of methods, and no one can long be excusively followed. The teacher, at least, must exercise invention, whether the pupil be able to or not.
But let me now endeavor to point out what theory, at least, presents to me as “the better way.” The student is able to grapple with the important and practical operations of the Higher Arithmetic, only after years of application to the rudiments and to all the successive steps intervening. This is true of all study. Composition can be no exception. No Minerva steps forth full-armed for the student in any department. Reason, then, dictates that training in composition should begin as soon as the pupil is able to write at all. The blackboard and slate are to the live teacher the only essential instruments, though to the teacher who is entering upoa this as a new line of work, some proper manual, as a private guide, will be of great assistance.
At the risk of being charged with smiling on the book-agents, I will venture to recommend “Hadley's Lessons in Language," a little work lately published, as one of the best aids to the the teacher, that has come under my notice. Sentences, Exercises in Punctuation, Descriptions of Objects, Lessons on Pictures, Compositions on simple subjects, and lessons on the Grouping of Words, make up the general divisions of the work, which consists of copious and progressive exercises under the several heads named.
Too much may easily be said in this direction,--but I cannot insist more strongly than I wish upon the prime necessity of beginning at the bottom with this branch of study, and of thoroughly working up from the bottom through all grades and depariments to the highest. Let there be regular classes in every grade, taught in the closest manner possible, and the difficulty and problem of rhetorical exercises will wholly disappear. There will be no rhetorical exercises, as such, and no need of any. I am aware that this theory cannot be applied closely to that very important part of our educational machinery—the mixed schools. In them the teacher must, per force, work away, doing simply the best he can-as he must do in any other part of the school-work. The failure of any experiment or endeavor in this matter can work little or no harm; even a partial success may effect much good. Finally, but one general prescription can be given—and it will apply anywhere else equally well: there must be in the teacher's heart-honesty and a love for solid work; and in his head-brains.
" POOR JOE.”-A TEMPERANCE STORY.
The rubicund face of the boss glowed with evident satisfaction, and clapping his hand on Perkins's knee, he exclaimed, “Well done, Parson! by Jove, you hit the nail on the head this time! Why, I thought you were one of the 'teetotallers, you know, and I am glad I was mistaken. Why, man, that's just what we maintain—temperance—no excess, you know, but each man according to his strength. A fellow may take a drop of liquor every day, and not get drunk more than a couple of times a year. But then, you know, if temperance is a virtue, its a personal affair, and the state has no power to oblige a man to be virtu
We want no legislation on that subject. If a man is sottish, why, let him go-to destruction! That's his business, and not ours.'
“I have spoken of temperance as the right thing,” continued Perkins, not seeming to heed the interruption, “and if we were sure of always preserving the 'golden mean,' the “just enough for health and comfort, I could see no objection to the use of all pure liquors. But here's where the evil comes in. Mr. Pen, you as a teacher of youth, must have paid some attention to ethics, statistics, and to history, especially the history of our time as recorded in newspapers and magazines of all kinds. Out of a hundred persons, take them as they come, how many do you suppose receive a really good education—a thorough moral, mental and physical training ?
“If we do not except the scum of our population, I believe the estimate is from 24 to 3 per cent. who recieve a thorough training:
“That leaves about 97 to be disposed of. How many of the hundred are brought up well, but without a high standard of moral excellence
- that is, what we generally call a good education in the philosophical sense of the word ?
“ About 20 per cent. The rest are brought up in partial or total ignorance of laws divine, moral and natural, and they know but one effective restraint—the arm of justice.”
" That means, out of a hundred men and women, we have three who are human beings in the highest and noblest sense of the word, capable of filling their position in society, and as members of families, with honor to themselves and with benefit to others; who can govern themselves, and are therefore fit to govern others. Then we have twenty who recognize the principal laws of God and man, but many of whom, from the imperfection of their early training, and consequent laxity of morals, are not under the control of a strong sense of duty. These will easily yield to temptation; they are prone to ignore those laws that conflict with their selfishness, and though often lead back to duty by