“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.
FEW things are more remiss in our schools than the curriculum which is supposed to be entirely at the option of the Head: but is it? Most Secondary schools work towards examinations which more or less afford the privilege of entry to the Universities. The standard to be reached is set by these and the Heads of schools hold themselves powerless.
Though Elementary schools no longer work with a view to examination results yet as their best pupils try for scholarships admitting them to secondary schools, they do come indirectly under the same limitations. 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. The Preparatory school boy does, however, reach that standard in Latin, if not in Greek also, and in Mathematics.
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.
But what if in the very nature of things we find a complete curriculum suggested? “The human race has lost its title deeds,” said Voltaire, and mankind has been going about ever since seeking to recover them; education is still at sea and Voltaire’s epigram holds good. We have not found our title deeds and so we yield to the children no inherent claims. Our highest aim is to educate young people for their uses to society, while every faddist is free to teach what he pleases because we have no title deeds to confront him with. 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.
The days have gone by when the education befitting either a gentleman or an artisan was our aim. Now we must deal with a child of man, who has a natural desire to know the history of his race and of his nation, what men thought in the past and are thinking now; the best thoughts of the best minds taking form as literature, and at its highest as poetry, or, as poetry rendered in the plastic forms of art: as a child of God, whose supreme desire and glory it is to know about and to know his almighty Father: as a person of many parts and passions who must know how to use, care for, and discipline himself, body, mind and soul: as a person of many relationships,—to family, city, church, state, neighbouring states, the world at large: as the inhabitant of a world full of beauty and interest, the features of which he must recognise and know how to name, and a world too, and a universe, whose every function of every part is ordered by laws which he must begin to know.
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. Shelley offers us the key to education when he speaks of “understanding that grows bright gazing on many truths.”
Because the relationships a child is born to are very various, the knowledge we offer him must be various too. A lady teaching in Cape Colony writes,—“The papers incorporated in the pamphlet A Liberal Education: Practice (by A. C. Drury) testify to—to me—an almost
incredible standard of proficiency. The mistakes are just the kind of mistakes that children should make and no more of them than just enough to keep them from being priggish. There are none of those howlers of fact or expression that make one view one’s efforts with a feeling of utter despondency.”
The knowledge of children so taught is consecutive, intelligent and complete as far as it goes, in however many directions. For it is a mistake to suppose that the greater the number of subjects ‘the greater the scholar’s labour; the contrary is the case as the variety in itself affords refreshment, and the child who has written thirty or forty sheets during an examination week comes out unfagged. 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.
 All particulars may be had from The Director, Parents’ Union School, Ambleside. The illustrations in the way of children’s answers for the various sections of this chapter have been omitted for want of space, except in the case of a few answers under Composition.