Condensed Volume 6 Book 1 Chapter 7


“We hold that the child’s mind is no mere sac to hold ideas but is rather, if the figure may be allowed, a ‘spiritual organism’ with an appetite for all knowledge. This is its proper diet with which it is prepared to deal and what it is able to digest and assimilate as the body does food-stuffs.
          “Such a doctrine as the Herbartian, that the mind is a receptacle, lays the stress of education, the preparation of food in enticing morsels, duly ordered, upon the teacher. Children taught on this principle are in danger of receiving much teaching but little knowledge; the teacher’s axiom being ‘what a child learns matters less than how he learns it.’”

[Note: this is Charlotte’s sarcasm]
Herbart’s psychology is extraordinarily gratifying and attractive to teachers who are, like other people, eager to magnify their office; and here is a scheme which shows how every child is a new creation as he comes forth from the hands of his teacher. The teacher learns how to do it; he has but to draw together a mass of those ideas which themselves will combine in the mind into which they effect an entrance, and, behold, the thing is done: the teacher has done it; he has selected the ideas, shewn the correlation of each with the other and the work is complete! The ideas establish themselves, the most potent rule and gather force, and if these be good, the man is made.

A valuable introduction to Herbartian Principles,…
by way of example, “A Robinson Crusoe Concentration Scheme,” a series of lessons given to children

First we have nine lessons in literature and language, the subjects being such as ‘Robinson climbs a hill and finds he is on an island.’ Then, ten object lessons of which the first is,—The Sea, the second, A Ship from Foreign Parts, the sixth, A Life-Boat, the seventh, Shell-Fish, the tenth, A Cave. How these ‘objects’ are to be produced one does not see. The third series are drawing lessons, probably as many, a boat, a ship, an oar, an anchor and so on. Then follows a series on manual training, still built upon ‘Robinson’; the first, a model of the sea-shore; then, models of Robinson’s island, of Robinson’s house and Robinson’s pottery. The next course consists of reading, an indefinite number of lessons,—‘passages from The Child’s Robinson Crusoe and from a general Reader on the matters discussed in object lessons. Then follows a series of writing lessons, “simple composition on the subject of the lessons … the children framed the sentences which the teacher wrote on the blackboard and the class copied afterwards.” Here is one composition,—“Robinson spent his first night in a tree. In the morning he was hungry but he saw nothing round him but grass and trees without fruit. On the sea-shore he found some shell-fish which he ate.”

Arithmetic follows with, no doubt, as many lessons, “many mental examples and simple problems dealt with Robinson”; the eighth and last course was in singing and recitation,—‘I am monarch of all I survey,’ etc. “The lessons lasted about forty-five minutes each.

[sarcasm]One easily sees what a wealth of material there is in the further development of the story.” One does indeed! The whole thing must be highly amusing to the teacher, as ingenious amplifications self-produced always are: that the children too were entertained, one does not doubt. The teacher was probably at her best in getting by sheer force much out of little: she was, in fact, acting a part and the children were entertained as at a show, cinema or other; but of one thing we may be sure, an utter distaste, a loathing, on the part of the children ever after, not only for ‘Robinson Crusoe’ but for every one of the subjects lugged in to illustrate his adventures.

The conscientious, ingenious and laborious teachers who produce these ‘concentration series’ are little aware that each such lesson is an act of lèse majesté.* The children who are capable of and eager for a wide range of knowledge and literary expression are reduced to inanities; a lifelong ennui is set up; every approach to knowledge suggests avenues for boredom, and the children’s minds sicken and perish long before their school-days come to an end. I have pursued this subject at some length because we, too, believe in ideas as the
proper and only diet upon which children’s minds grow. We are more in the dark about Mind than about Mars! We can but judge by effects, and these appear to point to the conclusion that mind is a ‘spiritual organism.’

By an analogy with Body we conclude that Mind requires regular and sufficient sustenance; and that this sustenance is afforded by ideas we may gather from the insatiable eagerness with which these are appropriated, and the evident growth and development manifested under such pabulum. That children like feeble and tedious oral lessons, feeble and tedious story books, does not at all prove that these are wholesome food; they like lollipops but cannot live upon them; yet there is a serious attempt in certain schools to supply the intellectual, moral, and religious needs of children by appropriate ‘sweetmeats.’

As I have said elsewhere, the ideas required for the sustenance of children are to be found mainly in books of literary quality; given these the mind does for itself the sorting, arranging, selecting, rejecting, classifying,

A scheme which throws the whole burden of education on the teacher, which exalts the personality of the teacher as the chief agent in education, which affords ingenious, interesting, and more or less creative work to a vast number of highly intelligent and devoted persons, whose passionate hope is to leave the world a
little better than they found it by means of those children whom they have raised to a higher level, must needs make a wide and successful appeal. It appeals equally to Education Committees and school managers. Consider the saving involved in the notion that teachers are compendiums of all knowledge, that they have but, as it were, to turn on the tap and the necessary knowledge flows forth. All responsibility is shifted, and the relief is very great. Not only so but lessons are delightful to watch and to hear; the success of jig-saw puzzles illustrates a tendency in human nature to delight in the ingenious putting together of unlikely things, as, for example, a lifebuoy and Robinson Crusoe. There is a series of small triumphs to be observed any day of the week, and these same triumphs are brought about by dramatic display, —so ingenious, pleasing, fascinating, are the ways in which the teacher chooses to arrive at her point.

What of the children themselves? They, too, are amused and entertained, they enjoy the puzzle-element and greatly enjoy the teacher who lays herself out to attract them. There is no flaw in the practical working of the method while it is being carried out. Later, it gives rise to dismay and anxiety among thoughtful people.

He might have been taught in school to utilise his powers, to come into the enjoyment of the fine mind that is in him; but in schools, —
          “There is too much learning and too little work. The teacher ready to use the powers that his training and experience have given him works too hard while the boy’s share in the struggle is too light. It is possible to make education too easy for children and to rob learning of the mental discipline which often wearies but in the end produces concentration and the capacity to work alone. . . . . He is rarely left to himself with the book in his hands, forced to concentrate all his mind on the dull words before him with no one at hand to explain or make the memory work easier by little tricks of repetition and association. …. The boy who reaches the seventh standard with every promise and enters the service of a railway company is first required to sit down by himself and master the symbols of the telegraphic code. This he finds extremely irksome for the only work he has ever done alone before is the learning of racy poetry which is the very mildest form of mental discipline.” “‘Silent reading’ is occasionally allowed in odd half-hours …. it might well be a regular subject for reading aloud is but a poor gift compared with the practice of reading in private.”[1]
          What does his curriculum do for the boy ? Let us again hear Mr. Paterson :—
“What is the educational ideal set before the average boy whose school-days are to end at fourteen ? What type is it that the authorities seek to produce ? A glance at the syllabus
will reassure the ordinary cynic who still labours under the quaint delusion that French and Algebra and violin-playing are taught in every London Elementary School at the expense of the ratepayer….. The syllabus was designed to leave a boy at fourteen with a thoroughly sound and practical knowledge of reading, writing and arithmetic and with such grounding in English, geography and history, as may enable him to read a newspaper or give a vote with some idea of what he is doing…. But these are all subsidiary to teaching the three ‘R’s’ which between them occupy more than half the twenty-four hours of teaching in the week….. It is certain that the present object in view is dispiriting to master and boy alike for a knowledge of reading, writing and arithmetic is no education and no training but merely the elementary condition of further knowledge. In many schools the boy is labouring on with these mere rudiments for two or more years after all reasonable requirements have been satisfied. The intelligent visitor looking at the note-books of an average class will be amazed at the high standard of the neatness and accuracy but he will find the excellence of a very visible order. The handwriting is admirable, sixteen boys out of thirty can write compositions without a flaw in grammar or spelling. Yet it will occur to him that the powers of voluntary thought and reason, of spontaneous enquiry and imagination, have not been stirred. This very perfection of form makes him suspicious as to the fundamental principles of our State curriculum. In Public Schools boys are not trained to be lawyers, or parsons, or doctors, but to be men. If they have learned to work systematically and think independently they are then fit to be trained for such life and profession as taste or necessity may dictate. But at our Elementary Schools we seem to aim at producing a nation of clerks for it is only to a clerk that this perfection of writing and spelling is a necessary training.”
          The very faults of his qualities nullify the work of the teacher. His failing is that he does too much. Once more we quote our authority:—        “With the average boy there is a marked waste of mental capital between the ages of ten and thirteen and the aggregate of this loss to the country is heavy indeed. Ten years at school conquer many of the drawbacks of home and discover a quick, receptive mind in the normal child…..Many opportunities have been lost in these years of school but after fourteen there is a more disastrous relapse. The brain is not taxed again and
shrivels into a mere centre of limited formulæ acting automatically in response to appetite or sensation. The boy’s general education fails utterly. Asia is but a name that it is difficult to spell though at school he spoke of its rivers and ports….. It is probable that the vocabulary of a working man at forty is actually smaller than it was at fourteen so shrunk is the power of the mind to feed upon the growing experience of life….. Of the majority of boys it is true to say that only half their ability is ever used in the work they find to do on leaving school, the other half curls up and sleeps for ever.”
          Here we have a depressing prospect of grievous waste in the future.

Now as Mr. Paterson happily remarks the Universities do not undertake to prepare barristers, parsons, stockbrokers, bankers, or even soldiers and sailors, with a specialised knowledge proper for each profession. Their implicit contention is, given a well-educated man with cultivated imagination, trained judgment, wide interests, and he is prepared to master the intricacies of any profession; while he knows at the same time how to make use of himself, of the powers with which nature and education have endowed him for his own happiness; the delightful employment of his leisure; for the increased happiness of his neighbours and the well-being of the community; that is, such a man is able, not only to earn his living, but to live.
          The Universities fulfil this claim; the various professions
abound with men who, in newspaper phrase, are ‘ornaments to their professions,’ and who gave up leisure and means to serve their fellow-citizens as magistrates, churchwardens, members of committees, special constables when needed, until lately, members of Parliament, holding service as an honour, and as proud as was ‘Godfrey Bertram,’ that unhappy laird in Guy Mannering, to write ‘J.P.’ after their names. The enormous amount of voluntary service rendered in such ways throughout the Empire as well as that of insufficiently, or duly, paid service justifies the Universities in their reading of their peculiar function. But not only so, generous disinterested work can never be paid for, and our great statesmen, churchmen, soldiers and civil servants, as well as the members of County, Municipal, and Urban District Councils, have done their devoir over and above the bond.
          To secure this same splendidly devoted voluntary service from all classes is the task set before us as a nation, a task the more easy because we have all seen it fulfilled in the War when every man was a potential hero.

instead of going on from where the War left off, we have to be on the watch against retrograde movements, physical, moral, intellectual. The downward grade is always at hand and we know how easy it is. We cannot afford another great war for the education of our people but we must in some way supply the ‘University’ element

But we must keep to the academic ideal: all preparation for specialised industries should be taboo.

if we will only remember the lesson, the war has shown us how futile is an education which affords no moral or intellectual uplift, no motive higher than the learner’s peculiar advantage and that of the State.

Given absolute attention, and we can do much with four hundred hours a year (1,600 hours in our four years’ course) but only if we go to work with a certainty that the young students crave knowledge of what we call the ‘humanities,’ that they read with absolute attention and that, having read, they know. They will welcome the preparation for public speaking, an effort for which everyone must qualify in these days, which the act of narration offers.
          The alternative is some such concentration scheme as that indicated in Robinson Crusoe,—a year’s work on soap, its manufacture, ingredients, the Soap Trade, Soap Transport, the Uses of Soap, how to make out a Soap invoice, the Sorts of Soap, and so on ad infinitum. Each process in the iron, cotton, nail, pin, engine, button, —each process in our thousand and one manufactures —will offer its own ingenious Concentration Scheme. The advocates of utilitarian education will be delighted, the young students will be kept busy and will to some extent use their wits all the time. With what result?

But we are slow to learn because we have set up a little tin god of efficiency in that niche within our private pantheon which should be occupied by personality. We trouble ourselves about the uses of the young person to society. As for his own use, what he should be in and for himself, why, what matter? Because, say we, if we fit him to earn his living we fit him also to be of service to the world and what better can we do for him personally? We forget that it is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God shall man live,—whether it be spoken in the way of some truth of religion, poem, picture, scientific discovery, or literary expression; by these things men live and in all such is the life of the spirit. The spiritual life requires the food of ideas for its daily bread.

I will close this part of my subject by quoting certain of Mr. Fisher’s words of wisdom:—
           “Now let me say something about the content of education, about the things which should be actually taught in the schools,
and I am only going to talk in the very broadest possible way. In my afternoon’s reading I came upon another very apposite remark in the letters of John Stuart Mill. Let me read it to you:—
                   ‘What the poor, as well as the rich, require is not to be taught other people’s opinions, but to be induced and enabled to think for themselves. It is not physical science that will do this, even if they could learn it much more thoroughly than they are able to do.’
          “ The young people of this country are not to be regenerated by economic doctrine or economic history or physical science; they can only be elevated by ideas which act upon the imagination and act upon the character and influence the soul, and it is the function of all good teachers to bring those ideas before them.
          “I have sometimes heard it said that you should not teach patriotism in the school. I dissent from that doctrine. I think that patriotism should be taught in the schools. I will tell you what I mean by patriotism. By patriotism I do not mean Jingoism, but what I mean by patriotism is an intelligent appreciation of all things noble in the romances, in the literature and in the history of one’s own country. Young people should be taught to admire what is great while they are at school. And remember that for the poor of this country the school is a far more important factor than it is for the rich people of this country. . . .
          “I say that I want patriotism in the larger sense of the term taught in the schools. Of course there is a great deal to criticise in any country, and I should be the last person to suggest that the critical faculty should not be exercised and trained at school. But before we teach children to criticise the institutions of their country, before we teach them to be critical of what is bad, let us teach them to recognize and admire what is good. After all life is very short; we all of us have only one life to live, and during that life let us get into ourselves as much love, as much admiration, as much elevating pleasure as we can, and if we view education merely as discipline in critical bitterness, then we shall lose all the sweets of life and we shall make ourselves unnecessarily miserable. There is quite enough sorrow and hardship in this world as it is without introducing it prematurely to young people.” . . . . .

In these days of high wages it may well happen that parents will be willing to let their children remain at school until the end of their seventeenth year, in which case they will be able to go on with the ‘secondary education’ which they have begun at the age of six and we shall see a new thing in the world. Every man and woman will have received a liberal education; life will no longer discount the ideas and aims of the schoolroom, and, if according to the Platonic saying, “Knowledge is virtue,” knowledge informed by religion, we shall see even in our own day how righteousness exalteth a nation.

*lèse majesté = French. To do wrong to majesty, offence against the dignity of a monarch; criminal in ancient Rome

[1] Across the Bridges, by A. Paterson.

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