A Philosophy of Education
Limbs trained to grace and agility, a hand, to dexterity and precision, an eye made to see and an ear to hear, a voice taught to interpret,—we know to-day that all these possibilities of joy in living should be open to every child, and we look forward even too hopefully to the manner of citizen who shall be the outcome of our educational zeal.
A person is not built up from without but from within, that is, he is living, and all external educational appliances and activities which are intended to mould his character are decorative and not vital.
let us consider a few corollaries of the notion that ‘a child is a person,’
and that a person is, primarily, living.
The body lives by air, grows on food, demands rest, flourishes on a diet wisely various. So, of the mind,—(by which I mean the entire spiritual nature, all that which is not body),—it breathes in air, calls for both activity and rest and flourishes on a wisely varied dietary.
We go round the house and round the house, but rarely go into the House of Mind; we offer mental gymnastics, but these do not take the place of food, and of that we serve the most meager rations, no more than that bean a day! Diet for the body is abundantly considered, but no one pauses to say, “I wonder does the mind need food, too, and regular meals, and what is its proper diet?”
I have asked myself this question and have labored for fifty years to find the answer, and am anxious to impart what I think I know, but the answer cannot be given in the form of ‘Do’ this and that, but rather as in invitation to ‘Consider’ this and that; action follows when we have thought duly.
The life of the mind is sustained upon ideas;
for the moment it may be well to consider the ideas that influence life, that is, character and conduct; these, it would seem, pass directly from mind to mind, and are neither helped nor hindered by educational outworks.
Our schools turn out a good many clever young persons, wanting in nothing but initiative, the power of reflection and the sort of moral imagination which enables you to ‘put yourself in his place.’ These qualities flourish upon a proper diet; and this is not afforded by the ordinary school book, or, in sufficient quantity by the ordinary lesson. I should like to emphasize quantity, which is as important for the mind as for the body; both require their ‘square meals.’
many of us are able to vouch for the fine intelligence shewn by children who are fed with the proper mind-stuff; but teachers do not usually take the trouble to find out what this is.
Knowledge is not sensation, nor is it to be derived through sensation; we feed upon the thoughts of other minds; and thought applied to the thought generates thought and we become more thoughtful. No one need invite us to reason, compare, imagine; the mind, like the body, digests its proper food, and it must have the labour of digestion or it ceases to function.
But the children ask for bread and we given them a stone; we give information about objects and events which mind does not attempt to digest but casts out bodily (upon an examination paper?). But let information hang upon a principle, be inspired by an idea, and it is taken with avidity and used in making whatsoever in the spiritual nature stands for tissue in the physical.
Our business is to give him mind-stuff, and both quality and quantity are essential.
a late ingenious attempt to feed normal children with the pap-meat which may (?) be good for the mentally sick: but, “To all wildly popular
things comes suddenly and inexorably death, without hope of resurrection.”
I need not discuss a certain popular form of ‘New Education.’
I have attempted to unfold (in various volumes) a system of educational theory which seems to me able to meet any rational demand, even that severest criterion set up by Plato; it is able to “run the gauntlet of objections, and is ready to disprove them, not by appeals to opinion, but to absolute truth.” Some of it is new, much of it is old.
Let me try to indicate some of the advantages of the theory I am urging:—It fits all ages, even the seven ages of man! It satisfies brilliant children and discovers intelligence in the dull. It secures attention, interest, concentration, without effort on the part of teacher or taught.
Children, I think, all children, so taught express themselves in forcible and fluent English and use a copious vocabulary. An unusual degree of nervous stability is attained; also, intellectual occupation seems to make for chastity in thought and life. Parents become ‘delightful companions.’ Children shew delight in books (other than story books) and manifest a genuine love of knowledge. Teachers are relieved from much of the labour of corrections. Children taught according to this method do exceptionally well at any school. It is unnecessary to stimulate these young scholars by marks, prizes, etc.
it occurred to me that a series of curricula might be devised embodying sound principles and securing that children should be in a position of less dependence on their teacher than they then were; in other words, that their education
should be largely self-education. A sort of correspondence school was set up, the motto of which,—“I am, I can, I ought, I will,”
“Children are born persons,” is the first article of the educational credo in question.
let him read to a child of any age from six to ten as account of an incident, graphically and tersely told, and the child will relate what he has heard point by point, though not word for word, and will add delightful original touches; what is more, he will relate the passage months later because he has visualised the scene and appropriated that bit of knowledge. A rhetorical passage, written in ‘journalese,’ makes no impression on him;
Here on the very surface is the key to that attention, interest, literary style, wide vocabulary, love of books and readiness in speaking, which we all feel should belong to an education that is only begun at school and continued throughout life; these are things that we all desire, and how to obtain
them is some part of the open secret I am laboring to disclose ‘for public use.’
they learn delightfully; they give perfect attention to paragraph or page read to them and are able to relate the matter point by point, in their own words; but they demand classical English and cannot learn to read in this sense upon anything less.
They begin their ‘schooling’ in ‘letters’ at six,
A child does not lose by spending a couple of years in acquiring these because he is meanwhile reading’ the Bible, history, geography, tales, with close attention and a remarkable power of reproduction, or rather, of translation into his own language; he is acquiring a copious vocabulary and the habit of consecutive speech. In a word, he is an educated child from the first, and his power of dealing with books, with several books in the course of a morning’s ‘school,’ increases with his age.
People are naturally divided into those who read and think and those who do not read or think; and the business of schools is to see that all their scholars shall belong to the former class; it is worth while to remember that thinking is inseparable from reading which is concerned with the content of a passage and not merely with the printed matter.
The children I am speaking of are much occupied with things as well as with books, because ‘Education is the Science of Relations,’ is the principle which regulates their curriculum;
So, he learns a good deal of science, because children have no difficulty in understanding principles, though technical details baffle them. He practises various handicrafts that he may know the feel of wood, clay, leather, and the joy of handling tools, that is, that he may establish a due relation with materials. But, always, it is the book, the knowledge, the clay, the bird or blossom, he thinks of, not his own place or his own progress.
in education, as in religion, it is the motive that counts, and the boy who reads his lesson for a ‘good mark’ becomes word-perfect, but does not know. But these principles are obvious and simple enough, and, when we consider that at present education is chaotic for want of a unifying theory, and that there happens to be no other comprehensive theory in the field which is in line with modern thought and fits every occasion, might it not be well to try one which is immediately practicable and always pleasant and has proved itself by producing many capable, serviceable, dutiful men and women of sound judgment and willing mind? In urging a method of self-education for children in lieu of the vicarious education which prevails, I should like to dwell on the enormous relief to teachers, a self-sacrificing and greatly overburdened class; the difference is just that between driving a horse that is light and a horse that is heavy in hand; the former covers the ground of his own gay will and the driver goes merrily. The teacher who allows his scholars the freedom of the city of books is at liberty to be their guide, philosopher and friend; and is no longer the mere instrument of forcible intellectual feeding.