THE KNOWLEDGE OF MAN
I HAVE already spoken of history as a vital part of education… To us in particular who are living in one of the great epochs of history it is necessary to know something of what has gone before in order to think justly of what is occurring to-day.
And, alas, this indifference to history is not confined to the Dominions; young people at home are equally indifferent, nor have their elders such stores of interest and information as should quicken children with the knowledge that always and everywhere there have been great parts to play and almost always great men to play those parts: that any day it may come to anyone to do some service of historical moment to the country. It is not too much to say that a rational well-considered patriotism depends on a pretty copious reading of history, and with this rational patriotism we desire our young people shall be informed rather than with the jingoism of the emotional patriot.
If there is but little knowledge of history amongst us, no doubt our schools are in fault
If there is but little knowledge of history amongst us, no doubt our schools are in fault. Teachers will plead that there is no time save for a sketchy knowledge
Our knowledge of history should give us something more than impressions and opinions, but, alas, the lack of time is a real difficulty.
Now the method I am advocating has this advantage; it multiplies time. Each school period is quadrupled in time value and we find that we get through a surprising amount of history in a thorough way,
We know that young people are enormously interested in the subject and give concentrated attention if we give them the right books. We are aware that our own discursive talk is usually a waste of time and a strain on the scholars’ attention,
It is our part to see that every child knows and can tell, whether by way of oral narrative or written essay. In this way an unusual amount of ground is covered with such certainty that no revision is required for the examination at the end of the term. A single reading is a condition insisted upon because a naturally desultory habit of mind leads us all to put off the effort of attention as long as a second or third chance of coping with our subject is to be hoped for.
The personality of the teacher is no doubt of much value but perhaps this value is intellectual rather than emotional. The perception of the teacher is keenly interested, that his mind and their minds are working in harmony is a wonderful incentive to young scholars; but the sympathetic teacher who believes that to attend is a strain, who makes allowance for the hundred wandering fancies that beset a child—whom he has at last to pull up with effort, tiring to teacher and pupil—hinders in his good-natured efforts to help.
Children cannot of course themselves read a book which is by no means written down to the ‘child’s level’ so the teacher reads and the children ‘tell’ paragraph by paragraph, passage by passage. The teacher does not talk much and is careful never to interrupt a child who is called upon to ‘tell.’ The first efforts may be stumbling but presently the children get into their ‘stride’ and ‘tell’ a passage at length with surprising fluency. The teacher probably allows other children to correct any faults in the telling when it is over. The teacher’s own really difficult part is to keep up sympathetic interest by look and occasional word, by remarks upon a passage that has been narrated, by occasionally shewing pictures, and so on. But she will bear in mind that the child of six has begun the serious business of his education, that it does not matter much whether he understands this word or that, but that it matters a great deal that he should learn to deal directly with books. Whatever a child or grown-up person can tell, that we may be sure he knows, and what he cannot tell, he does not know.
Now a passage to be memorised requires much conning, much repetition, and meanwhile the learners are ‘thinking’ about other matters, that is, the mind is not at work in the act of memorising. To read a passage with full attention and to tell it afterwards has a curiously different effect. M. Bergson makes the happy distinction between word memory and mind memory, which, once the force of it is realised, should bring about sweeping changes in our methods of education.
Trusting to mind memory we visualise the scene, are convinced by the arguments, take pleasure in the turn of the sentences and frame our own upon them; in fact that particular passage or chapter has been received into us and become a part of us just as literally as was yesterday’s dinner; nay, more so, for yesterday’s dinner is of little account tomorrow; but several months, perhaps years hence, we shall be able to narrate the passage we had, so to say, consumed and grown upon with all the vividness, detail and accuracy of the first telling. All those powers of the mind which we call faculties have been brought into play in dealing with the intellectual matter thus afforded; so we may not ask questions to help the child to reason, paint fancy pictures to help him to imagine, draw out moral lessons to quicken his conscience. These things take place as involuntarily as processes of digestion.
…children learn at any rate to love English history. “I’d a lot sooner have history than my dinner,” said a sturdy boy of seven by no means inclined to neglect his dinner.
In IA [*form 1A, or age 6-7] the history is amplified and illustrated by short biographies of persons connected with the period studied,
Possibly there is no sounder method of inculcating a sane and serviceable patriotism than this of making children familiar with the monuments of the great even if they have not the opportunity to see them. Form II (ages 9 to 12) have a more considerable historical programme which they cover with ease and enjoyment. They use a more difficult book than in IA, an interesting and well-written history of England of which they read some fifty pages or so in a term. [*a term is 12 weeks]
This slight study of the British Museum we find very valuable; whether the children have or have not the opportunity of visiting the Museum itself, they have the hope of doing so, and, besides, their minds are awakened to the treasures of local museums.
It is a great thing to possess a pageant of history in the background of one’s thoughts. We may not be able to recall this or that circumstance, but, ‘the imagination is warmed’; we know that there is a great deal to be said on both sides of every question and are saved from crudities in opinion and rashness in action. The present becomes enriched for us with the wealth of all that has gone before.
Perhaps the gravest defect in school curricula is that they fail to give a comprehensive, intelligent and interesting introduction to history. To leave off or even to begin with the history of our own country is fatal. We cannot live sanely unless we know that other peoples are as we are with a difference, that their history is as ours, with a difference, that they too have been represented by their poets and their artists, that they too have their literature and their national life. We have been asleep and our awaking is rather terrible. The people whom we have not taught, rise upon us in their ignorance and ‘the rabble,’—
“As the world were now but to begin
Antiquity forgot, custom not known,
They cry,— Choose we!’” (Hamlet.)
Heaven help their choice for choosing is indeed with them, and little do they know of those two ratifiers and props of every present word and action, Antiquity and Custom! It is never too late to mend but we may not delay to offer such a liberal and generous diet of History to every child in the country as shall give weight to his decisions, consideration to his actions and stability to his conduct ; that stability, the lack of which has plunged us into many a stormy sea of unrest.
It is to be noted that ‘stability’ is the mark of the educated classes. When we reflect upon the disturbance of the national life by labour unrest and, again, upon the fact that political and social power is passing into the hands of the majority, that is of the labouring classes, we cannot but feel that there is a divine fitness, a providential adaptation in the circumstance that the infinite educability of persons of all classes should be disclosed to us as a nation at a time when an emotional and ignorant labouring class is a peculiar danger. I am not sure that the education implied in the old symbol of the ladder does make for national tranquility. It is right that equal opportunity of being first should be afforded to all but that is no new thing. Our history is punctuated by men who have risen, and the Roman Church has largely founded herself as has the Chinese Empire upon this doctrine of equal opportunity. But let us remember that the men who climb are apt to be uneasy members of society; the desire for knowledge for its own sake, on the other hand, finds satisfaction in knowledge itself.
The young men see visions; the hardships of daily life are ameliorated, and while an alert and informed mind leads to decency and propriety of living it does not lead to the restless desire to subvert society for the sake of the chances offered by a general upheaval. Wordsworth is right:—
“If rightly trained and bred Humanity is humble.”
We live in times critical for everybody but eminently critical for teachers because it rests with them to decide whether personal or general good should be aimed at, whether education shall be merely a means of getting on or a means of general progress towards high thinking and plain living and therefore an instrument of the greatest national good.”