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The practical subject of this book is curriculum considerations, yet I've left that subject until these last few chapters because a curriculum isn't an isolated, independent thing, it's linked to many other things with chains of cause and effect. We had to consider the foundational principles of authority and submission first because they're so fundamental. But, because they are so fundamental, they should be there, yet not be visible--just like the foundation of a house supports a house, but isn't visible. Yet authority and submission need to take into account the respect for the child's individual personality. In order to give children space to develop freely according to their own particular 'bent,' parents and teachers need to adopt an attitude of 'masterly inactivity.'
I discussed the relationship between teachers and students, and then the relationship between education and current philosophy. Education should go along with current thinking, it shouldn't be isolated in a sealed compartment away from modern trends. Some current trends that should help us as we work towards an educational ideal are
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a sense of the brotherhood of man, and a deep awareness of the process of evolution.
As far as the training of children falling under four convenient divisions--physical, mental, moral and religious--that seems to be common knowledge and generally accepted, so I didn't think it was necessary to give any suggestions about that. Instead, I've focused on aspects of training that fall under headings that are likely to be overlooked. Under the phrase 'Education is a life,' I tried to show that intellectual life needs ideas to stay alive. Therefore, school-books should be a place to glean ideas, not mere collections of dry facts. 'Education is the science of relationships' means that normal children have a natural, inborn desire for all knowledge, and they have a right to be exposed to it.
These considerations set the stage for us to begin considering curriculum, and that's what the rest of this book will cover. This is just a summary of what we've already covered. I hope you'll be patient as I repeat what seems to me to be necessary in making my point.
The following suggestions have come about in the administering of the Parents' National Educational Union, so it might be helpful to say again that the first priority for the PNEU during its first ten years was impressing the definition of Education on its members, as expressed in our motto, 'Education is an Atmosphere, a Discipline, a Life.' What we mean by this is that parents and teachers
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should understand how to make the most practical use of a child's circumstances (atmosphere), they should help him develop the kinds of habits that will make his life better (discipline), and they should feed his mind with the food of intellectual life--ideas. We believe that these three are the only tools that are authorized in raising children. It might be easier to play on their sensitivities, emotions, desires and passions, but the result will be disastrous. Since habits, ideas and circumstances are external, it's okay to help each other make the most of them that we can. But it's forbidden to directly meddle with the personality of anyone else. It's wrong to play on a child's vanity, fears, affection, ambition, or anything else that helps make him who he is. Most people are sincere about raising children, but we tend to take control of more than we're entitled to by not recognizing that we're limited to working only with the outward covering of personality.
The Parents' Union devoted ten years to learning how to use the three tools of education (circumstances, habits and ideas). Then, a few years ago, we took a slight departure from that and asked ourselves what end goal we should have in mind as a result of wisely using these tools. What is education? The answer we accept is that Education is the Science of Relations.
We don't mean like Herbart did, that things and thoughts are related to each other and that, therefore, teachers have to be careful to pack the right corresponding things in the right order into the child's mind so that, once these things and thoughts get into the child's mind, each thing or thought finds others of its kind so that they can attach themselves together to form a strong, cliquish 'apperception mass.'
What concerns us personally is that we all
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have relationships with things in the present world, and what's been in the past, what's in the skies above us, and what's around us. A full life and our ability to be useful depends on how many of these relationships we realize and take hold of. Every child is heir to an enormous inheritance. Our concern is, what are the practical things we need to do to help him gain possession of what's already his?
This changes our perspective. It's no longer subjective regarding the child [what do we feel like teaching him?] It's objective [what knowledge does he have a right to?] So we no longer focus on developing the child's faculties, or training his moral nature, or guiding his religious feelings, or grooming him to function in a particular social circle, or for a specific career. Instead, we accept the child as he is--a person with lots of healthy affinities and budding connections. We try to help him solidify as many of these connections as we can.
A newborn comes into the world with a thousand feelers, and he sets right to work eagerly to connect to the world. From everything around him, he gets,
When he's left to himself, he also gains the kind of real knowledge about each thing he comes across, and that knowledge helps to cement a relationship between him and that thing. Then later, we step in to educate him. The number of wide, essential interests he'll have, and how full his life will be, depends on the range of different living relationships we've exposed him to. He'll be a person of duty and
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usefulness if we make him aware of the laws that govern all relationships to the world. When he recognizes that relationships with people and things take effort to maintain, he'll learn the laws of work and the joy of expending effort.
Our role is to remove obstacles, to stimulate interest, and provide guidance to the child as he tries to get in touch with the universe of things and thoughts around him. Our mistake is that we assume the role of showman to the universe and think that there's no connection between the child and his world unless we decide to set one up.
Do we have lots of captivating interests outside of our obligatory work? If we do, then we won't be enslaved by trivial amusements.
Real interests aren't something we take up on the spur of the moment. They emerge from whatever affinities we've found and connected with. And, the way I see it, the goal of education is to help children get as much use out of the world as possible.
When we're influenced by these kinds of considerations, the phrase 'Education is the science of relationships' will help us to form a definite goal in our efforts.
We've all become familiar with the term 'educational unrest,' and we all sense how appropriate the phrase is. There have never been more capable and dedicated teachers and educational staff in schools of all social classes. Money, labor and research are all spent generously on education. Theories are studied, and great pains are taken to find out what's going in education in other places. Yet something's wrong, and it's more than a 'divine discontent' that leads us to work harder. We know that a major change is needed in how we approach the problem, and we're ready as long as the change is something more substantial than
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just an experiment. I think that school principals are the most ready to support a sensible reform. But, since they're more experienced and intellectually trained, they're too wise to jump on the bandwagon of change unless it has a reasonable philosophical foundation, as well as practical, utilitarian results.
Up until now, the Parents' Union has emphasized our home-training views to the public rather than our ideas about school teaching. But that's only because we're not willing to disturb the system that's already in place. But, for the last twelve years, we've successfully worked out a unifying principle and the way to implement it in our training college and school. We exist because we have a definite goal and because our existence is needed to meet that goal. I don't think I need to speak right now about the few principles that should guide us as we raise children [that's in Volumes 1 and 2], but the principle that's supposed to guide us in teaching knowledge (education) might indicate why so much of education is a failure, and show us how to improve.
We can take a phrase that Matthew Arnold wrote about religion and adapt it for education: 'education's goal should be to give knowledge that's touched with emotion.' I already quoted the cute story from Frederika Bremer's book Neighbors, about the two school girls who fought a duel on behalf of their heroes, Charles XII. and Peter the Great. Parents should be glad that girls don't duel these days! School girls don't care about heroes anymore. Now all they care about are their grades. They don't feel like knowledge is 'touched with emotion' except in cases of their own personal curiosity and ambition. Students have the potential to be generous and eager. If they
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graduate from school without any real interests except preparing for their next exam, or the mind-numbing entertainment of pointless games, then it's the fault of the schools. Maybe the public's anxiety about secondary education at home and overseas is due to the fact that graduates coming out of schools that have excellent reputations, have listless minds. They haven't been given 'long drinks of intellectual enlightenment' to quench the thirst they had when they entered school.
H. C. Benson of Eton College wrote in 'The Schoolmaster,' which appeared in the December 1902 issue of Nineteenth Century, 'I truly believe that boarding school teachers have two strong ambitions: to make their students good and to make them healthy. They don't seem to care about making them intellectual. Intellectual life is left to fend for itself. I believe that too many teachers look at the students' work as a duty. In other words, they view it from a moral perspective rather than an intellectual perspective. No one can deny that the academic standard at English boarding schools is kept pretty low. Even more serious, I don't see any signs that it's on its way to getting any higher.'
Professor [Michael Ernest?] Sadler, who may have a broader outlook, says almost the same thing. He says that our secondary schools have some good qualities, but they're behind intellectually, even as compared to schools in some European countries. Mr. Benson undoubtedly speaks from personal experience, but might it be true that such an intellectual group of teachers would deliberately neglect academic excellence in their schools? Or perhaps the problem is that exams force them to rely on the false intellect
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of cramming? Cramming deadens the intellect, and that's why some of us consider teaching certification a backwards trend. Hundreds of mediocre young women work to cram for a set of exams, often a long set, so they can get their certificate. Head teachers are already feeling the decline of this system and have started actively seeking assistants who are different than the usual candidates. This causes the young woman to be too conscientious and try too hard, and the stress of years of moral effort to prepare for one exam after another often leaves them without any clear understanding of the material studied. There are some brilliant exceptions, but most young women who have gone through this process don't have much initiative, don't catch on to things very quickly, don't adapt easily, and can't think on their feet. They seem to lack spirit. I call their effort 'moral effort' because the preparing for exams and enduring a steady grind for a prolonged period of time doesn't require intellectual effort, it's mostly moral. Young men don't seem to have this problem--they're often less strenuous and less absorbed, and, therefore, more receptive to the ideas they come across while studying.
The idea that gives life to the teaching in the Parents' Union is the idea that 'Education is the Science of Relationships.' That phrase means that children come into the world with a 'natural appetite,' to use Coleridge's mental image, and with a natural attraction to knowledge of all kinds and in all forms. They have a natural interest in the heroic past and in the age of myths. They want to know about everything that moves and lives, and strange places and strange people. They want to handle materials and make things. They have a desire to run and ride and row and do whatever gravity
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will allow them to do. That's why we think it's wrong to select certain subjects and exclude others when a child is young. For instance, it's not right to decide that a child shouldn't learn Latin, or doesn't need science. Instead, we strive to make sure that he'll establish enjoyable, intimate relationships with as many appropriate interests as possible. He won't just get a slight, incomplete smattering of this or that subject, either--we'll let him plunge right into vital knowledge, and introduce him to a great field of knowledge before him that will take more than his lifetime to explore. Having this concept in mind, we try to get that 'touch of emotion' that indicates that living knowledge is being taken in. We probably only feel when we enter our proper vital relationships.
We gain courage to challenge such a wide program just by applying a few working ideas or principles. One concept we challenge is the notion that there's such a thing as a 'child mind.' We don't believe that children are a different species than us. Yes, their ignorance is unlimited, but, on the other hand, their intelligence can run circles around our slower wits. In practical use, we discover that knowing this fact has great power. Teachers no longer talk down to children, and they don't strain to explain every word they use, or poke and pry to make sure that children understand every detail. When I was about twelve years old, I browsed quite a bit through William Cowper's poems and, for some reason, took an interest in Mrs. Montague's Feather Hangings. It was only the other day that the ball that would fit that socket came to me--it arrived in the form of an article in The Quarterly called 'The Queen of the Bluestockings.' And, right there in that article, I recognized Mrs. Montague and her feather hangings! The pleasure of seeing her again after all those years was wonderful. Knowledge is at its most enriching when it
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leaves behind a dormant appetite for more of the same kind of knowledge. Arthur Evans's discovery of the palace of Knossos in Crete can only be appreciated by those who remember how Ulysses told Penelope about Crete's ninety cities, and Knossos, and King Minos. It isn't what we've already learned that makes knowledge so fascinating, but what we're still waiting to know. Knowledge shouldn't be predigested or watered down. It should be offered to students with some substance and vitality still in it. We've discovered that children can cover a large and varied amount of knowledge intelligently, and enjoy it, in the same amount of time that it usually takes to cover the 3 R's, object lessons, and other overly-diluted material where there's more teaching being offered than knowledge.
I think the difference between knowledge and information is fundamental. Information is the record of facts, experiences, appearances, etc. that's compiled in books or in the verbal memory of an individual. But knowledge implies that there's been a pleasurable voluntary activity of the mind acting on the material presented to it. Great minds like Darwin and Plato are able to deal with appearances and experiences first-hand. But more ordinary minds only get a little of their knowledge this directly. For the most part, ordinary minds are set into action by the energizing knowledge of other people, which stimulates and provides a point of departure at the same time. Information acquired during a course of formal education is only by chance, and only of practical value in certain circumstances. But knowledge, on the other hand, is the result of the active working of the mind on material presented to it--and this kind of knowledge is power. It implies that the intellectual mind has grown in many different directions, and provides an ever new point of departure.
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Perhaps the most important task for a teacher is to be able to tell the difference between their students gaining information, and knowledge. Since knowledge is power, the student who has gotten knowledge will be able to demonstrate power in dealing with it. He'll be able to remodel, condense, illustrate or narrate it vividly and with freedom in his wording. But the child who has only gained information will only be able to parrot the stereotypical phrases in his textbook, or mangle his teacher's lectures in his notes.
It's easier for us to deal directly with knowledge this way because we don't feel the pressure to develop 'faculties' first. For our practical purposes, the so-called 'faculties' can be collectively defined as 'the mind.' And we've found that the normal mind already has everything it needs to handle knowledge in the same way that the digestive process already has everything it needs to handle food. What we need to be concerned about is providing the kind of knowledge that will open up as large a share of the world the child lives in as possible for his use and enjoyment. There are certain gymnastic exercises for the body, and, for the mind, there are also certain disciplinary subjects that we can make use of. When the body digests food, it works invisibly and without our conscious awareness. In the same way, judgment, imagination and all the other mental abilities deal with the mental food of knowledge. It incorporates it and makes it part of the mind, which isn't the same as memorizing. Another analogy is that the digestive process is motivated by appetite. In the same way, children come into the world with a few inborn desires that motivate them to get what they need. These appetites are ambition, praise, wealth, the desire to excel, companionship, and curiosity--the craving for knowledge.
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It seems to me that any education that appeals to the desire for wealth (grades, prizes, scholarships), or the desire to excel (being top in the class), or any other desire other than the craving for knowledge will upset the natural balance of character. Even more fatal, wrongly motivated educational efforts will kill any desire and love for the knowledge that's supposed to enrich and delight us for our entire lives. Dr. Johnson says, 'The desire to know is natural to mankind. Every human being whose mind hasn't been destroyed will be willing to sacrifice everything he has to get knowledge.' Could it be that a hunger for good grades is really the sign of a debased, ruined mind? A pure, healthy mind will eagerly take in knowledge. Our students have found their lessons so interesting that they don't need any other motivation to learn.
Related to the principle that Education is the Science of Relationships, is that no education is worth its name if it doesn't make children feel at home in the world of books. Education should connect children mind to mind with thinkers who have dealt with knowledge. We reject things like abridged synopses and condensed compilations. Instead, we provide children with books that, whether they're long or short, are definitely living. The teacher's main job is to help children deal with their books. Lectures and oral lessons are just a small part of the teacher's job, and are only used to summarize, expand or illustrate the book [--never in place of it!]
It's a tendency to put too much faith in lectures and oral lessons. Carlyle said, 'To have material poured into you as if you were a bucket isn't exhilarating to anyone.' And it's not very exhilarating to have every difficult concept
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explained to the point of tediousness, or to be coaxed to explain with annoying questions. Dr. Johnson said, 'I refuse to be put to the question. Don't you think, sir, that this questioning is a rude way for a gentleman to behave? I refused to be baited with what? and why? What is this? What is that? Why is a cow's tail long? Why is a fox's tail bushy?' Children think the same thing, although they don't say so. Oral lessons are occasionally useful, and when they're used correctly, it's the child who will be curious enough to ask questions. It isn't as healthy or totally honest as has been supposed for a teacher to pose as the source of all knowledge who gives such nice lessons. Such lessons might seem interesting at the moment, but they deprive the child of having to exert any mental effort, and the result is the same as when an older person reads a magazine. But, on the other hand, when children work through a substantial book, even if takes two or three years to master, they stay interested to the end. They develop an intelligent curiosity about cause and effect. In fact, what they're doing is educating themselves.