“We, believing that the normal child has powers of mind which fit him to deal with all knowledge proper to him, give him a full and generous curriculum, taking care only that all knowledge offered to him is vital, that is, that facts are not presented without their informing ideas. Out of this conception comes our principle that:—
“Education is the Science of Relations”; that is, a child has natural relations with a vast number of things and thoughts: so we train him upon physical exercises, nature lore, handicrafts, science and art, and upon many living books, for we know that our business is not to teach him all about anything, but to help him to make valid as many as may be of—
“Those first-born affinities
That fit our new existence to existing things.”
In devising a syllabus for a normal child, of whatever social class, three points must be considered:—
(a) He requires much knowledge, for the mind needs sufficient food as much as does the body.
(b) The knowledge should be various, for sameness in mental diet does not create appetite (i.e., curiosity).
(c) Knowledge should be communicated in well-chosen language, because his attention responds naturally to what is conveyed in literary form.
As knowledge is not assimilated until it is reproduced, children should “tell back” after a single reading or hearing: or should write on some part of what they have read.
A single reading is insisted on, because children have naturally great power of attention; but this force is dissipated by the re-reading of passages, and also, by questioning, summarising, and the like. Acting upon these and some other points in the behaviour of mind, we find that the educability of children is enormously greater than has hitherto been supposed, and is but little dependent on such circumstances as heredity and environment.
Nor is the accuracy of this statement limited to clever children or to children of the educated classes: thousands of children in elementary schools respond freely to this method, which is based on the behaviour of mind.
There is, however, much less liberty in Secondary than in Primary schools with regard to the subjects taught and the time devoted to each. The result is startling. A boy of eight in an Elementary school may shew more intelligence and wider knowledge than a boy of fourteen in a Preparatory school, that is, if he have been taught on the principles I have in view, while the other boy has been instructed with a view to a given standard of scholarship.
If we succeed in establishing a similar standard which every boy and girl of a given age should reach in a
liberal range of subjects, a fair chance will be afforded to the average boy and girl while brilliant or especially industrious young people will go ahead.
We labour under the mistake of supposing that there is no natural law or inherent principle according to which a child’s course of studies should be regulated; so we teach him those things which, according to Locke, it is becoming for a ‘gentleman’ to know on the one hand, and, on the other, the arts of reading, writing and summing, that he may not grow up an illiterate citizen. In both cases the education we offer is too utilitarian,—an indirect training for the professions or for a craftsman’s calling with efforts in the latter case to make a boy’s education bear directly on his future work.
Education, no doubt, falls under the economic law of supply and demand; but the demand should come from the children rather than from teachers and parents; how are their demands to become articulate? We must give consideration to this question because the answer depends on a survey of the composite whole we sum up as “human nature,” a whole whose possibilities are infinite and various, not only in a budding genius, the child of a distinguished family, but in every child of the streets.
A small English boy of nine living in Japan, remarked, “Isn’t it fun, Mother, learning all these things?
Everything seems to fit into something else.” The boy had not found out the whole secret; everything fitted into something within himself.
It is a wide programme founded on the educational rights of man; wide, but we may not say it is impossible nor may we pick and choose and educate him in this direction but not in that. We may not even make choice between science and the ‘humanities.’ Our part it seems to me is to give a child a vital hold upon as many as possible of those wide relationships proper to him.
Not the number of subjects but the hours of work bring fatigue to the scholar; and bearing this in mind we have short hours and no evening preparation.