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proposition without reference to the words of the question to complete it. “And here also the greatest care is taken that the answer shall always be grammatically correct, have the right termination of all articles, adjectives and nouns, and the right grammatical transpositions according to the idioms and structure of the language. This secures from the beginning, precision in the expression of ideas; and if, as many philosophers suppose, the intellect could never carry forward its processes of argument or investigation to any great extent, without using language as its instrument, then these children, in their primary lessons, are not only led to exercise the intellect, but the instrument is put into their hands by which its operations are facilitated.
When the hour had expired, I do not believe there was a child in the room who knew or thought that his play-time had come. No observing person can be at a loss to understand how such a teacher can arrest and retain the attention of his scholars. It must have happened to almost every one, at some time in his life, to be present as a member of a large assembly, when some speaker, in the midst of great uproar and confusion, has arisen to address it. If, in the very commencement of his exordium, he makes what is called a happy hit, which is answered by a response of laughter or applause from those who are near enough to hear it, the attention of the next circle will be aroused. If, then, the speaker makes another felicitous sally of wit or imagination, this circle, too, becomes the willing subject of his power; until, by a succession of flashes whether of genius or of wit, he soon brings the whole audience under his command, and eways it as the sun and moon sway the tide. This is the result of talent, of attainment, and of the successful study both of men and of things; and whoever has a sufficiency of these requisites will be able to command the attention of children, just as a powerful orator commands the attention of men. But the one, no more than the other, is the unbought gift of nature. They are the rewards of application and toil superadded to talent.
Now it is obvious that in the single exercise above described, there were the elements of reading, spelling, writing, grammar and drawing, interspersed with anecdotes and not a little general information: and yet there was no excessive variety, nor were any incongruous subjects forcibly brought together. There was nothing to violate the rule of one thing at a time.'” pp. 117-18-19.
One great point is gained by this mode of teaching young children. The instructor, without making any extraordinary effort to do so, secures and sustains their attention,-hitherto considered one of the most difficult of arts. The subjects of the lesson are such as are calculated to interest and amuse the mind of the little learner. His curiosity is both roused and gratified. What he knows, is elicited by gentle methods; and what he does not know, is imparted, just in proportion to his capacity to receive light. There is some mental exertion required, but nothing excessive. We are aware that there are persons who imagine that all mental
effort is irksome, and that every child will get rid of it if he possibly can. But this is not so. A certain amount of exertion is not only natural, but pleasing to the mind. A propensity to think about something, is inseparable from the very endowment of intellect. The art of the skilful teacher, then, consists in giving to the thoughts a proper direction, in requiring only such an amount of labour to be performed as is proportioned to the learner's capacity to perform it, and in not tasking the faculties till effort produces fatigue and disgust. Nothing valuable in knowledge is ever acquired without labor, but it is healthful and reasonable, not grinding, oppressive and enfeebling labor, that accomplishes great things. Neither the powers of mind nor of body should be overtasked. The radical error in our system of training the minds of children in this country, is, that all kinds of learning are presented in our schools in too repulsive an aspect. The child's lesson is a task, instead of being a pleasing and healthful exercise. His position in school is that of a slave, instead of that of a free being, and his teacher is looked upon rather as an overseer with a lash in his hand, than as a friend who excites his hopes and leads him forward with words of encouragement. We are tired of hearing of improvements in education which we do not see. If any improvement is to be made in our schools, let us commence with reforms that are practical, and consistent with the nature of the human faculties. Let us not be dazzled with splendid projects, while there is any thing radically faulty at the foundation of our systems of education. This idea of learning being a task, is a great mistake, to which our systems of teaching now-a-days, and our teachers themselves, contribute not a little. What is the duty of the teacher ? To impart the light of some kind of truth to the mind, and light, intellectual or moral, is as agreeable to the mind of a child as the light of day is to the eye. Why is it, then, that that which should be the source of pleasure produces only pain and disgust? Why does the child turn from his teacher with feelings of aversion and repugnance, as from an enemy? Why look upon the school-house as a prison-house, and upon his books as weights and chains upon the free action of his intellect,-a source of never-ceasing torment? There must be a great fault some where, and it is here :- the teacher does not understand what his duty is, or he does not know how to perform it. He either attempts to do too much for his pupil, or he does not do enough. He either imparts too much light and thus dazzles his mental vision, producing pain and misery, or too little to ena le him to see clearly, leaving him to grope about without a guide to direct his steps, either of which results is equally to be deprecated. The skilful teacher adapts his instructions to the intellectual ability and state of progress of his pupil, and, in doing this, while he developes, invigorates and enlarges his intellectual powers, imparts that pleasure and high gratification which always result from the discovery of truth, whether derived from books or men, or from the exercise of his own faculties engaged in the investigation of it. Such teachers are always regarded by their pupils as friends and benefactors. They look up to them with love, as the dispensers of blessings, instead of regarding them with terror. It may be laid down as an indisputable truth, that no teacher, who is'unpopular with his own pupils, is a good instructor. If he is unable to command their respect, love and gratitude by the benefits he confers upon them as moral and thinking beings, he is unworthy and unfit to teach them.
Six or seven pages of Mr. Mann's Report are devoted to a discussion of the Prussian method of teaching children to read without the aid of the alphabet,—as great a novelty in education, and nearly as miraculous an achievement of art, at least so, at first view, it would seem to be, -as teaching the deaf and dumb to speak by the utterance of articulate sounds. The mystery, however, is soon explained by those who are in the secret. The names of the letters are not taught in the Prussian schools, as a step preparatory to reading, but only their power or sound when employed in combination with other letters so as to form words. An illustration is given in the extract above quoted, which is sufficiently explanatory of the process, the only one employed in the Prussian schools for nearly a quarter of a century in teaching to read. Mr. Mann is a convert to its excellence, and his argument in favor of it is curious and ingenious, and for the most part satisfactory. The objections to the old method, are: 1. That children are intellectual beings, and that letters mean nothing. The intellect of the child, who is put to learning his letters, is occupied for months in learning sounds that convey no sort of idea to the mind-an unnecessary waste of time expended upon a revolting task, when it might be more advantageously and agreeably spent in learning the names of things. If the old definition, that "a letter is the mark of a sound, or an articulation of sound," (i. e., of one fixed and invariable sound,) were correct, there might be a good reason for first teaching children the names of the letters, for in doing this, they would have surmounted some of the greatest difficulties in the acquisition of a language. But the fact is otherwise. The sounds of the letters are by no means fixed. They vary with the varying pronunciation of the words in which they are found, and in the vast majority of cases, are different in combination from what they are when pronounced by themselves as in the alphabet. We do not know an instance where a consonant has the same sound in combination that it has when standing by itself. The sound of the vowels, too, varies constantly. There are six of them, and these six have as many as thirtythree different sounds. The letter a alone has seven different sounds, and there are three thousand words in the English language, which begin with the letter a, where it has not the full, open sound of the vowel as in the alphabet. 2. A second objection to the method of teaching the names instead of the powers of letters, as a step preparatory to reading, is, that the pupil has immediately to unlearn what he has already acquired with much difficulty, inasmuch as the consonants never, and the vowels seldom, have the same sound in combination with other letters that they have in the alphabet. ] The first lessons taught to children upon entering school, are therefore not only useless, but positively pernicious. The child may well consider, that the pleasures derived from knowledge are greatly exaggerated by teachers, when, in the second stage of his progress, he has to abandon all, or nearly all, that he acquired in the first, as utterly worthless, and has to commence the business of education entirely de novo. Would it not be a saving of time and labour to commence boldly with what is now the second part of learning, and leave the alphabet to be taught and studied by the admirers of Cadmus, or Hermes, or whoever else of the numerous claimants is entitled to the honor of having given the names to letters? The subject is well worthy the attention of those who regard our present modes of teaching defective, without having discovered exactly where the errors lie; for here there is a palpable mistake in the very first attempt to communicate knowledge. Here, then, if any where, the reform should commence. If it be objected, that
the names of the letters must be learned some time or other, and that they may be very properly learned before more difficult tasks are attempted, the answer is, that, according to the Prussian method, it is not necessary to correct reading or to any of the purposes of education, that the names of letters, but only their powers, should be learned at any time. · It must be obvious to every one who will attentively consider this rather curious subject, that the letters are of no sort of use to the pupil or to the man of learning, except so far as they are used to form words, which may be employed for purposes of information or intercourse, and that it is vastly more important to learn the powers of letters, which are always used in combination, than their names, which, with the exception of a very few of the vowel sounds, are never employed to form a spoken language. If it be objected, that the Prussian method is an innovation, and that all innovations are to be regarded with distrust, it may be replied, that, although once such, it has long since passed into a custom, in a country where a very superior system of education prevails ; that arguments borrowed from prescription are entitled to but little respect, and that innovations attended with decided advantages, are not to be utterly despised, but are rather to be hailed as improvements. It may still further be urged, that it will be difficult, not to say impracticable, to introduce this method of teaching into our schools, because we have no instructors among us who are sufficiently acquainted with the art itself to be able to teach it. But this difficulty has been overcome in the Prussian schools, and is, therefore, not so formidable as it would seem to be. Any individual who will make the attempt with the alphabet, if he will put out of view the definitions which are usually given of vowels, consonants, mutes, semi-vowels and double consonants, and will give to each letter the sound only which it has in combination, will, after two or three trials, find that the thing is very easily accomplished, and that it is only reviewing, step by step, what nature or habit had already taught the pupil as soon as he began to articulate his mother tongue.
There is one difficulty attending this matter, which is more embarrassing. We allude to a large class of words in the English language, in which there are expletive or silent letters-letters which have no power in combination, and which seem to be quite useless in the formation of words.