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H. G. Wells hit the nail on the head when he said that selecting the right schoolbooks is a teacher's great task. I'm not sure that this would necessarily be the way to do it, though--or if even a whole team of experts with a generous budget could really provide the kind of schoolbooks that children connect with. Children are unpredictable. They might dutifully plod through the volumes of dull texts that qualify as 'schoolbooks' or 'educational,' but they don't allow those books to reach their inner spirits and have access to their minds. A book might be long, short, old, contemporary, easy, difficult, written by a great man, or written by a lesser man, and still be the kind of living book that find its way into the mind of a young reader. An educational expert isn't the best person to choose because, in this case, it's the children themselves who are the experts. Even reading a single page will be enough for the child to make up his mind. Unfortunately, once he decides, he opens or closes his mind. Many impressive and admirable textbooks
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that teachers dearly love are filed in the wastebasket of the schoolchild's mind, and that's why he doesn't absorb any of it, and can't produce results from it. The teacher needs to have an understanding of the difference between twaddle and simple clarity, and between excitement and vital life. Beyond that, he'll just have to test each book or see what kind of results other teachers have had with different books. But one thing he can be sure of is that a book only educates to the extent that it's vital and essential. But I've already discussed this subject in another chapter.
Once the right book has been found, the teacher needs to let the book take the lead, and be content to stay in the background. The book takes precedence over any lecture. The teacher's role is to get the students in the right attitude about the book with a word or two expressing his own interest in what's in the book, or his enjoyment of the author's style. The students only get knowledge when they dig for it themselves. Work paves the way for assimilation, which is the active mental process of converting information into real knowledge. The effort of working through the author's sequence of thought is more valuable to a student than any amount of oral lectures.
Do teachers understand the paralyzing, dulling effect that a deluge of talking has on the mind? Yes, an inspired speaker can waken a response so that his hearers listen with captivated attention, but not many of us can claim to be inspired, and we're sometimes aware of how difficult it is to hold our students' attention. We blame ourselves, but the real fault is isn't with us, it's with the method we're using. It's the diluted oral lesson or lecture used in place of a living, compelling book that's to blame. Oral lessons are sometimes needed to introduce, illustrate,
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amplify or sum up a book. But they should be few and far between. Children will have to walk through life on their own, finding their intellectual nourishment for themselves. We shouldn't start them off getting used to crutches.
For the same reason, so we don't paralyze the mental ability of children, we should be cautious about using supplemental appliances (except for things like microscopes, telescopes, slide projectors that enhance the child's own observations). I once heard a teacher who taught in a town where ships were built say that he demanded and got from the school committee a scale cut-away model of a warship. He said that this model would be useful to his students when they went to work in the shipyard. But, during their school years, I believe that this would stifle their minds because the mind isn't able to conceive for itself when it has an elaborate model as its basis. I recently visited M. Bloch's impressive 'Peace and War' show at Lucerne. There were full models and cut-away diagrams of torpedoes, but I still didn't understand them. I asked the person I had dinner with to explain the principle. He used his eyeglass case to illustrate, and, after a few sentences, I understood what made a torpedo a torpedo. As it turned out, the man had worked in the War Office and been involved with torpedoes. The teacher's ability to illustrate his point with a coffee mug or ruler or whatever he has at hand, and the blackboard, seems to me to be more useful than even the most elaborate models and diagrams that dull the senses and switch off the active mind as soon as they're presented.
Another point I'd like to make is that
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coordinating subjects shouldn't be based on the notion that they need to be planned to prevent ideas from clashing and to assist their formation into clumps of 'apperception masses.' They should be coordinated solely in reference to the natural and inevitable relationships to each other. When reading about the period of history of the Armada, we shouldn't devote math time to calculating how much food was necessary to sustain the Spanish fleet. That would be an arbitrary, forced connection, not a natural, inherent one. But it's natural to read whatever history, travel books, and literature will make the Spanish Armada come to life in the students' minds.
Our goal in education is to give children significant interests in as many different subjects as possible--to 'set their feet in a large room.' [Psa 31:8] The tragic evil of our day, as I see it, is intellectual apathy.
If we truly believe that a child is in the world to get all he can of the things that endure, and that his full, happy life and expansion, expression, resourcefulness, ability to serve--in other words, his character--depends on how much he recognizes the relationships that are proper for him and grasps them, then we should be gravely uneasy if a student graduates and has prejudices and only cares about sporting events instead of having essential interests and pursuits. We believe that our best students have principles that are credited as much to their school as their home. Our failure in education seems to be more intellectual than moral.
Students should be educated by Things and by Books. Ten years ago, utilizing Things in education wasn't thought much of, except in games at
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boarding schools. But a great reform has taken place, and, today, the value of Things is widely recognize everywhere. Disciplinary exercises and artistic handicrafts are valued as much in education as geography and Latin. Nature study has been only a recent addition, but it's become accepted enthusiastically. If that Sikh that Cornelia Sorabji quoted in Spectator, 2nd August 1902 visits us again ten years from now, I hope that he wouldn't still say about us, 'The very thoughts of the people are about merchandise. They haven't learned the common language of Nature.' The teaching of Science is getting a lot of attention, so I don't need to stress how important it is in this book. Here and there, children are exposed to works of art, and that will become a more widely used tool of education in the future. I don't need to repeat what everyone already knows. So much general attention is being given to Things, and it seems to be being implemented correctly so far, so I have nothing more to add on the subject.
The educational failure that we still have to deal with regards Books. We recognize that all the knowledge and thought of the world is stored in Books, but we're overwhelmed by the amount of knowledge and number of books. So we think we can take selections here and there from this or that book, using fragments and facts of knowledge and distributing them in booklets to be studied for exams, or oral lessons and lectures.
Sir Philip Magnus [an educationalist] recently spoke about Headwork and Handicrafts in Elementary Schools, and he said some things worth considering. Maybe he puts too much of a priority on workshops in his ideal schools of the future, but he certainly is accurate in singling out the weak point in
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elementary and secondary school work: the problem is that students are 'memorizing scraps of knowledge, fragments of so-called science.' And we agree with him when he emphasizes reading and writing. Through reading and writing, even school lessons will become something 'to delight in.' Of course, learning to write comes from reading. Nobody can write well who doesn't read much. In the April 16, 1903 issue of Education, Sir Philip Magnus says this about schools of the future: 'We'll no longer require students to learn scraps of history, geography and grammar by rote memory. We won't teach them mere fragments of so-called science. Instead, the daily hours set aside for these subjects will be applied to creating mental aptitudes, and used to show students how to get knowledge for themselves . . . In the future, education's main function will be to train the hands, senses and intellectual capabilities so that students will have an advantage in seeking knowledge . . . The extent of the lessons will be broadened. Children will be taught to read in order that they'll want to read. They'll be taught to write in order that they'll want to write. The teacher's goal will be to create in his students a desire for knowledge, and, as a result, a love for reading. And, with proper selection of lessons, teachers will cultivate in their students the enjoyment that reading can bring. The main component of reading lessons will be to show the students how to use books, how books can be consulted to find out what other people have said or done, and how books can be read for the pleasure they provide. Storing facts in the memory has no place in elementary school . . . It isn't enough
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for a child to know the mechanics of writing. He needs to know what to write. He needs to learn to describe what he's seen or heard clearly, and to transfer his sense-impressions to written language, and to express his own thoughts concisely.'
I'd like to add one more thing to Sir Philip Magnus's vision. I'd like to emphasize the habit of reading as something that's important for students to acquire from school. After all, it's only those who have read who do read.
Regarding curriculum, I'd like to emphasize what I said in an earlier chapter. Perhaps the main part of a child's education should be concerned with the great human relationships--history, literature, art, ancient and modern languages, travel. All of these are the records or expressions of people. Science is, too, when it's the history of discoveries or an account of someone's observations that can be read in books. But, for the most part, science is under the category of Education by Things. Science is actually too broad a subject to deal with here. But what's more important than all of these is Religion, which includes our relationships of love, loyalty, love and service to God. Maybe next in importance is the intimate, individual relationship with ourselves that's implied when we talk about things like self-knowledge and self-control. We owe children these kinds of knowledge because it seems to be the case that the limit of human intelligence directly corresponds to how limited a person's interests are. In other words, a normal person with deficient, narrow intelligence is that way because he was never exposed to the interests that were proper for him. A curriculum that provides what children have a right to can be divided into six to eight groups: religion, perhaps philosophy, history, languages, math, science, art, physical exercise, and handicrafts.
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In teaching Religion, the Bible is without question what we need to rely on because it's the great storehouse of spiritual truth and moral impressions. In fact, a child could receive a pretty generous education from reading nothing but the Bible because the Bible contains such great literature within itself.
At one time, the 'National Schools' educated their students on the Bible, which is one of the three great collections of ancient classical literature. Ever since miscellaneous 'Readers' have replaced the Bible, there's been some decline in both character and intelligence in our nation. It's not possible or even desirable to revert back to what they used to do, but we should make sure that children get as much intellectual, moral and religious nourishment from their books as they did when their lessons were constructed entirely from the story of Joseph in Genesis to the letters of St. Paul.
In history, students aged twelve to fourteen should have a pretty thorough knowledge of British history, contemporary French history, and Greek and Roman history. They should get their Greek and Roman history from biographies. Perhaps nothing else besides the Bible is as educational as Plutarch's Lives. The wasteful mistake that's made so often in teaching English history is in having children from about nine to fourteen read through several short abridgments beginning with Little Arthur's History of England [by Maria Callcott]. But their intelligence at those ages is sufficient to steadily work through a single more substantial book.
By age twelve, children should have a good understanding of English grammar, and they should have read some literature. They should have some ability to speak and understand French, and they should
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be able to read an easy French book. They should have similar abilities with German, but with considerably less progress. In Latin, they should at least be reading 'Fables,' if not 'Caesar' and possibly 'Virgil.'
I don't need to discuss mathematics. It already receives enough attention, and is quickly becoming a subject that's taught with living methods.
As far as practical instruction in subjects like Science, Drawing, Manual and Physical Training, etc., I can't do any more than repeat our convictions again. The PNEU believes that children in all social classes have a right to be educated in all of these four subjects. For students under twelve, the same general curriculum should be fine for all of the children. I don't have anything to add to the way these subjects are taught, which is pretty widely accepted by everyone.
In Science, or, actually, nature study, we place a high priority on recognition. We believe that the ability to recognize and know the name of a plant or rock or constellation requires some classifying, and includes a good bit of knowledge. To know a plant by the way it grows, where it lives, when and how it flowers and bears seeds, or to know a bird by the way it flies, its song, and when it arrives and leaves, to know when you might find a robin or a thrush, takes a lot of focused observation and the kind of knowledge that helps understand science. Students keep a dated record of what they see in their nature notebooks. They're allowed to manage these notebooks however they want; the books aren't graded or corrected. They take pride and pleasure in these notebooks and freely illustrate them with dry-brush work paintings of twigs, flowers, insects, etc. The knowledge
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it takes to make these nature records isn't taught from formal school lessons. One afternoon a week, the students in our 'Practicing School' [taught by the student teachers at Charlotte Mason's teacher's college] go for a 'nature walk' with their teacher. They notice things by themselves, and the teacher tells them the name or gives other information only if they ask for it. It's surprising how much knowledge about different things a child can gain by the time he's nine or ten years old. The teachers are careful not to turn these nature walks into an opportunity to give science lessons, because they want the children's attention to be focused on their own observations. They're allowed to notice things with very little direction from the teacher. By doing this, children accumulate a good collection of 'common knowledge.' Huxley thought that this kind of general knowledge should come before formal science teaching. Even more important, students learn to know and take pleasure in objects from nature like they do in the familiar faces of friends. The nature walk shouldn't be used as a chance to dispense miscellaneous tidbits of scientific facts. The study of science should be taught in an ordered sequence, and that's not possible or even desirable during a nature walk. I think that an essential aspect of any living education should be for all students of all ages to spend a half day every week throughout the entire year, outside in nature. In almost every town, there's some place where children can have the opportunity to observe the changing seasons from week to week.
Geography, geology, the sun's course through the sky, the way clouds behave, signs of the weather, everything that the open air has to offer, are utilized on these walks, but it's all casual and incidental, things are simply noticed as they happen to come up. In most areas there are probably naturalists who would be willing to help with these nature walks in one of the local schools.
This direct nature walk is supplemented with
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occasional object lessons, such as the different kinds of hairs on plants, or the diversity of wings, and all the things discussed in Professor [Bernard?] Miall's wonderful books. But we rely on books only as a subordinate supplement to outside observation. We use books by authors such as Mrs. Fisher, Mrs. Brightwen, Professor Lloyd Morgan, Professor Geikie, and, for students over fourteen, Professor Geddes and Thomson. With these books and others like them, the student is put in the position of being an original observer of biology or some other phenomena. They learn what to look for, and they make observations for themselves that are original, at least for them. They get into the right frame of mind to observe and make deductions, and their alert interest is awakened. We're extremely careful not to burden children's verbal memory with scientific names. They learn about pollen, antennae, and whatever, casually as these things appear to them and they need to know its name. Only those children who are curious about it should have the opportunity to see tiny structural wonders that come up in their reading or walks under a microscope. A good microscope lens is a great investment and almost indispensable in nature observation. I think there can be too much of a priority given to education by Things. Although that is tremendously valuable, a certain lack of atmosphere tends to result, as well as a tragic lack of any standard with which to make comparisons, and the principle of reverence for nature. The distinction of an education that relies only on Things and leaves out Books seems to be the kind of attitude that 'We're the only people who ever mattered!'
In pictures, we avoid mechanical aids like grids and directional lines. We don't use
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black lead pencils because they tend to encourage the copying of lines instead of the free rendering of objects. Children tend to always work in the round, whether they're using charcoal or drybrush. They also illustrate stories and poems, which aren't usually impressive as far as drawing skill goes, and don't lend themselves to art instruction. Still, they're useful exercises.
We believe that our picture talks have a lot of value. A reproduction of an appropriate picture, perhaps by Millet, is put into the children's hands, and they study it by themselves. Then, children from ages six to nine describe the picture, giving all the details and showing with a few lines on the blackboard where a certain tree or house is, seeing if they can guess what time of day the picture depicts, and discovering the story of the picture if there is one. Older children can also study some of the lines of the composition, light and shade, the particular style of the artist, and draw certain details from memory. The purpose of these lessons is to help students appreciate art, not to create it themselves.
I don't have enough space to go into more detail about a curriculum; you can see curriculum more fully illustrated in the appendix.