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[Note--some notes about the British school system are posted at the bottom of this page.]
A persistent message can be very powerful. The author of The Pagan may not be criticizing Pelmanism [a system of training the mind to improve the memory], but Pelmanism certainly is criticizing secondary education. Half a million people are criticizing the education they received--judges, generals, admirals, lawyers. Perhaps the spirit that whispers in the ear of critics is a lying spirit, but when so many credible people are saying the same thing, we have to suspect there's some truth to what they're saying. And it makes those of us involved in secondary education a little bit nervous. Also, the Board of Education wants accountability from schools who aren't already communicating with the State. This will help in various ways to ensure that citizens get a broad education. One popular saying is, 'If you pay the teachers more, education will improve.' So, in one neighborhood, a village teacher gets a salary of $600 and housing, and another teacher, an Oxford graduate, just as qualified who has a wife and family to support, gets no housing and is expected to live on $250 a year! But work is more important than wages, and this exclusive focus on salaries demeans teachers. Most of us know of some enthusiastic educational project making progress without any financial reward, or even praise. So what's the real hindrance to a teacher's work, and the stumbling block in the way of a broad, generous
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education? It's the continuous drudgery of having to teach what no one wants to learn. Before the war (WWI), the President of the British Association complained that school was boring for students, teachers and parents. That's why we're always in the learning process, yet never knowing. That's why teachers expend so much effort to create learning games, and why crafts and 'Eurhythmics' [rhythmic movement training] and similar things are offered, not to supplement education, but instead of education! That's why our Public Schools are under pressure to change, and smaller private schools are facing extinction.
All of the creative, zealous effort of teachers shows how enthusiastic and devoted they are. They understand that education isn't just an interest, it's a passion. This isn't just true of those working in major schools, but little private schools scattered all over England, too.
We've all heard of 'the two Miss Prettymans who kept a girls school at Silverbridge [from The Last Chronicle of Barset by Anthony Trollope]. Two kindlier ladies never presided over a school as they.' As for the elder sister, Annabella Prettyman, 'it was assumed that she did all the thinking. She knew more than any woman in Barsetshire. All of the Prettyman educational ideas came from her mind. Those who knew them best also said that she was more good-natured than her kind sister, and the most generous, loving and conscientious teacher.' The younger sister, Ann, may have known more about Roman history and Roman law than current events and English law, but which would you rather have as your teacher?
This was the kind of school that Anthony Trollope was familiar with many years ago. And maybe it wouldn't be too hard to find another school like it in a similar town of
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today. But these days, we're uneasy. In our anxiety, we create a 'Joan and Peter' kind of education--where small schools protect and encourage freaks, and even great schools with a lot going for them suspect that something's not quite right. They fail to turn out students who have broad intellectual interests, or who have a flexible mind that can, like Matthew Arnold said, be of benefit to our neighboring countries. And there is that ongoing problem of Pelmanism, which accuses current methods of being inadequate. There always seems to be some new book by an author bringing railing accusations against the school he went to. Here is one of the more restrained protests by Colonel Repington, which is revealing:
'When I remember my Eton school, I have mixed feelings. I loved the five years I spent there. I gloried in its beauty and traditions, and I graduated at the top of my class. Yet, at the same time, I was conscious that Eton wasn't teaching me the things I wanted to know. Instead, I was being taught things that revolted me, especially math and classics. What I wanted to learn was history, geography, modern languages, literature, science and political economy. At Eton, I didn't have much chance of learning more than a smattering of any of those things. I disagree with those who say that we didn't learn anything, or that we were lazy--we worked very hard. But the things we were putting forth so much effort to learn were, as far as I was concerned, useless things. So, with my feet planted firmly in the ground, I stubbornly resisted any attempts to teach me dead languages and higher math. I believed I was right. Classics have left me with no more than a few ideas that I could have learned better in kindergarten.'
The author is probably wrong about what he owes to Eton. Without those five years, he might not have become a Colonel with expertise on war theory and tactics. Who knows how much those classics like Caesar may have influenced him as a little boy! Public schools undoubtedly have many faults, but they still do a worthy job of turning out the men who do the world's work. We know about the 'playing fields,' [?] but maybe, when all is said and done, it's the influence of the classics
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that children learn in school that makes them different. Yet the accusation that, 'Eton wasn't teaching me the things I wanted to know,' is something worth considering.
It's easy to criticize and condemn schools. But, the fact is, a human being is born with a desire to know a lot about all kinds of things. How is a school going to get them all in adequately in twelve years? And, children can be excessively resistant and stubborn. Every child resists attempts to teach him, not only dead languages and higher math, but literature, science--in fact, every subject that the teacher works at. With the average child, a gallon of teaching results in just a half cup of learning. What's a teacher to do? Yet, behind that stubborn resistance, there's a hunger for knowledge--not just the right kind of knowledge, since every kind of knowledge is the right kind--but taught in the right way. I can't say that every way of teaching is the right way.
I'll explain what the PNEU (Parents National Education Union) has done to solve this problem. I'll explain with tentative modesty, yet with confidence, because I know that no one is more open to conviction than many distinguished Headmasters and Headmistresses if they can be shown reasonable cause. If they are convinced, may they have the courage to follow through on their convictions!
There's so little known about how the mind works that's it's open to anyone to make discoveries in this mysterious territory. I'm not talking about psychology. We hear a lot about that, although we actually know very little. I'm talking about the mind itself. Its ways are subtle and hidden. Nevertheless, the only valid education is education that focuses on the mind. The main challenge is the huge amount of subjects to introduce children to. They have a right to them as human beings, and they need to find out about the things that they're drawn to as people and that
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they'll spend the rest of their lives pursuing further. The first and the most important is the knowledge of God. This is to be learned most directly from the Bible. Then comes the knowledge of man. He learns this from history, literature, art, civics, ethics, biography, drama, and languages. And last, enough knowledge of the universe as he needs to help him understand the phenomena we're all familiar with, and to give him at least the names of birds, flowers, stars and stones. And the knowledge of the universe can't go very far in any direction without some knowledge of math. The proposed curriculum is immense, but the hours of school are limited. The 'Academic' solution to this dilemma is to teach one thing thoroughly--perhaps Greek, or Chemistry or Math, and then he'll have the key to all knowledge. Therefore, proponents say, it isn't the detail of what you know that matters, it's how you learn it. A grueling course of Grammar, a class in higher math, or some lab with a few other things thrown in, is supposed to be all the education a person needs. This plan is fine for the few top students in a school who are so smart that they'll do their own learning in various extracurricular subjects on their own. But it isn't enough for the average student who has just as much right to a decent education. Soon I hope we'll have a new guiding rule: every school will have to teach all students about the three kinds of knowledge that are due to every human being. Some will ask, 'what is knowledge?' There's no clear-cut answer to that, but we do know this--Knowledge is that which we know, but a person can only know what he expends the effort to learn. Nobody can learn for him, it's something he has to do for himself. But an appalling apathy is in the way. Children don't care to know, so they don't learn. And, when they grow up, their intellectual diet will consist of nothing more than evening poker games and golf on weekends.
We of the PUS (Parents Union School) have discovered
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a great thirst for knowledge in children of every age and class. Children also have a remarkable ability to focus their attention, retain, and respond intellectually on the mental diet they consume. The first step is paying attention, and every child of any age, even mentally challenged children, seem to have an unlimited ability to pay attention. And they don't need grades, prizes, first place standing, praise, threats or blame to do it, either. When a teacher realizes this, great things will be possible, although at first, he may find it hard to believe, or even ludicrous. But education of the future will probably result in intellectual progress as surprising as the moral ethics we saw demonstrated in WWI.
We haven't attained it yet, but I think we're well on our way. After 25 years of experience on a wide scale, and after consequently doing some research, we've discovered what children are capable of learning, and what they want to know. We know what their minds will act on when it comes to judgment and imagination. We know what they aren't able to learn. And we know what conditions have to be met for them to learn. We don't need to make learning a game, or spend school time doing arts and crafts or physical movements. We don't need to fill school time with sports on the false assumption that boys will take to it better than learning. Physical and vocational training are necessary for upbringing the young, but training shouldn't be confused with education. Training is for the physical body; education is concerned with the things of the mind. Current educational methods are good for 'developing the faculties,' but what if there aren't any faculties in need of developing? If all there is to develop is a mind that's already alert, active on its own, discriminating, logical, capable of both great imaginings and the tiniest processes--then we'll need to change our educational tactics. Occasional gymnastics benefit the mind as much as the physical body, but the mind can't live
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on that any more than the physical body can live on calisthenics.
Like I said, knowledge is the food that the mind needs. Knowledge is, roughly, ideas clothed with facts. This is the kind of mental diet a child needs--in large quantities and about varied subjects. The wide curriculum I have in mind is designed so that, in every detail, it meets some specific need of the mind. What's interesting is that when a curriculum has lots of subjects, students aren't at all confused trying to keep them all straight. They don't make comical blunders, or mix things up, like mixing a bit of English trivia with a fact from French history.
We've made another discovery--the mind refuses to learn anything that isn't presented in a literary [usually story] form. It's no surprise that this should be the case with privileged children who are used to a literary atmosphere. But it's surprising that it's just as true of uneducated inner-city children. People can expend the effort to commit facts from the driest compilation of data in a textbook to short-term memory for a public exam, but that information doesn't seem to reach the real mind. Yet, for someone like young Paschal, who enthusiastically pursued math on his own, the knowledge is handled directly by the region of higher thinking. The knowledge seemed to him like poetry itself. Geniuses like that will learn no matter what, they can't be held back. But they have a gift, it's not a result of their own laborious efforts to plod along against their will. But for the majority of students, the general consensus of teachers is probably right--a lower, less exacting standard should be used for standardized tests.
In teaching science, too, we need to realize that the way to the wonder of nature isn't through the confusion of science the way it's usually taught, but through field study or other personal observation, supplemented with literary reading.
The French Academy was able to advance science and art, probably due to the use of the charmingly lucid and exquisite prose of the many French books
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about science subjects. The mind is like a container that can use its own ability to work on whatever is put into it. But the one power that it lacks is the ability to sift through the sand and sawdust and filter out the pure essence of ideas from it. That should help us to understand the kind of diet that the living organism called 'the mind' needs for its daily subsistence. I've already mentioned that the mental diet needs a lot of variety, and we remember Dr. Arnold urgently insisted that students have 'very varied reading' in all three fields of knowledge: knowledge of God, knowledge of man, and knowledge of the world around him.
But the mind is always deceiving us. Every teacher knows how a class will work away quietly for a whole hour--yet accomplish nothing, even when the students think they've been reading. [If asked for details about what they just read, they won't be able to give any.] We all know how miserably we fail when we try to share about the daily newspaper we've spent the morning poring over. Details escape us. We're able to say, 'Did you see the article about such and such?' But we're unable to explain what the article said. We try to help our children avoid the vagueness that we fall prey to by making them take notes of their lessons, but it doesn't do much good. The mind seems to have an 'outer court' where information comes in, and then goes out, without ever making any kind of impression on the inner place where the personality is. And this is the dark secret of learning by rote. It's a purely mechanical process that can't be explained, yet it's a process that leaves the student entirely unaffected. What teacher hasn't experienced the dreariness of grading a stack of papers that lack even a shred of evidence of student personality? But now we have discovered a natural solution to the problem of merely skimming the surface of the ground with our educational plow. Give students the kind of knowledge they were made to digest, served in a literary medium, and they'll pay great attention. What's our next step? Clever comprehension questions? No. As Dr. Johnson told us, questions are an intrusion, and they're boring. We have an ancient word of wisdom to guide us: 'The mind doesn't really know anything that it can't express
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by asking itself a question and coming up with an answer on its own.' Notice--not a question asked by someone else, but a question the mind asks itself. We all know the trick we use when we want to remember a conversation or sermon or lecture well enough to repeat it to someone later. We go over it in our mind first. Then our mind quizzes itself by asking itself one question, the same question again and again: 'What comes next?' And, before we know it, we have it, the whole thing! We've heard the story of how a young man once recited a complete pamphlet by Burke at a college supper. And those pamphlets aren't light reading! We admire that kind of feat, and think that such an accomplishment is out of our reach. But any fifteen-year old could do it if they were allowed to look at the pamphlet only once. Allowing a second look would be fatal, because nobody gives their full attention to something they expect to see or hear again. If we get used to the crutch of being able to go back to something, we lose the ability to pay attention--forever. We teachers commit a serious offense with this mistake. We think that if we just talk more, repeat ourselves, reinforce the point, explain it one more way, add an illustration, then students will eventually hear us. We don't do this because we love the sound of our own voices, but because we don't fully appreciate and have faith in knowledge and in our students. We don't really understand that the mind and knowledge are like a ball and socket joint. Each of them is useless without the other. Education will have started off on the right foot when we finally realize that knowledge is to the mind what food is to the physical body. Without knowledge, the mind will faint and starve and finally die as surely as the body will without food.
The cure for this is very simple. Let the child (elementary age) tell back what's been read to him, all of it or even just part of it, right away. Then ask again a few months later during exam time. One might object, 'That's mere verbal memory.' All I can say is, try it yourself. Read an essay of Charles Lamb's, or maybe Matthew Arnold's. Or read Lycidas or the
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raven scene from Barnaby Rudge. Then put yourself to sleep, or wile away an anxious or boring hour by repeating to yourself what you read. The result will be disappointing. You'll find that you forgot a certain point, or a link in the chain of an argument. But you'll know the gist of the whole thing surprisingly well--the events, the characters, the subtle line of reasoning will stand out in your mind like figures on a relief sculpture cut in stone. You'll find that you've taken in 'mind stuff' that will be used in a thousand ways, perhaps for the rest of your life.
And here we see the powers of the mind that need to be continually at work in education: attention, assimilation, narration, retention, and reproduction. But what about reason, judgment, imagination, discrimination, and those other 'faculties' that teachers have been working so hard to develop? They take care of themselves and work on the knowledge that's been received with attention, and cemented with narration. They take care of themselves as naturally and involuntarily as the digestive organs work on food that's been thoroughly chewed. We need to feed the mind in the same way we feed the body--with food that's suitable, and in generous portions. The less we meddle with the digestive processes, the more healthy the person will be, whether it's the digestive organs of the body, or the mind. The human mind is an infinitely amazing thing, and it's present in completeness and power even in the slowest student. Even of the dullest child, it can be said,
'Darkness may bind up his eyes, but not his imagination. Lying in his bed, he might, like Pompey and his sons in all parts of the earth, speculate on the universe and enjoy the whole world within his own mind.'
We are paying the price today for the wave of materialism that swept over the country a hundred years ago. People don't set out specifically to be materialistic today, but our educational thought is in the midst of a trend that's carrying us where we don't want to go. Anybody espousing a new method is welcome to us. We've
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stopped believing in the mind. Although we might not say out loud, 'the brain secretes thought in the same way that the liver secretes bile,' yet we still have a strictly physical concept of the mind. Therefore, the spiritual mind isn't the objective in our educational methods. One might say that, 'mankind is like a horse, and things are in the saddle riding mankind.' We've come to believe that ideas or knowledge can't reach children.
The message for our generation is, Believe in the ability of the mind. Let education go directly to the student's mind. Of course, you'll need books, since nobody is arrogant enough to think that they can teach every subject of a broad curriculum thoroughly on their own, using the same original thoughts and identical facts of the expert who's made the subject his life's work and wrote a book about it. Yet we realize that teachers aren't trying to teach everything because they're arrogant. They're just trying to be helpful. They honestly believe that students can't understand well-written books, and they want to be a bridge between the student and the real instructor, which is the man who wrote the book.
But now we've proved that students, even inner-city students, are fully capable of understanding any book suited for their age. Children of age eight or nine are able to grasp a chapter of Pilgrim's Progress after a single reading. Students of age fourteen can read one of Lamb's essays, or a chapter of Eothen. Seventeen-year-olds can narrate after reading Lycidas. If you give children a well-written literary book suitable for their age, they'll have no problem dealing with it --they don't need us to spell it out for them. Of course, they won't be able to answer leading questions about it, because questions are an annoyance that all of us resent. But they will be able to tell back the whole thing with their own little individual touches. This might be the key to overcoming the huge difficulty of teaching humanities in English. We don't have to be overwhelmed with the thought of trying to cover such a large body of material at a snail's pace to try to make sure the student gets something out of the author he's reading. The slow process is our own invention.
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Instead, just let the student read it and tell it back, and he'll know it.
This practice of telling back sounds simplistic, but it's really a magical creative process where the person narrating 'sees' what he's talking about in his mind, clear and vivid--after reading the material just once. I keep repeating the stipulation about only one reading because--let me say it again--it's impossible to give our full attention to something we've heard before, and know we'll hear again.
Students should be treated in this reasonable way--mind to mind. I don't mean their young minds with the teacher's mind, that would exert too much of the teacher's influence. I'm talking about the minds of various thinkers meeting students, mind to mind, by way of books. The teacher performs the gracious task of introducing one enthusiastic mind to the other. With this method, students can cover an incredible amount of material in the limited time they have.
One of the best indicators of how well-educated a person is, is how many substantives [specific people, places, events they can name] they know well enough to use with confidence. We remember Sir Walter Scott telling how he tried various subjects to start a conversation with a stranger on his coach. Nothing worked until he brought up 'bent leather.' Then they chatted on and on, because the man happened to be a saddle-maker! We've all had such experiences, and we have to admit that we ourselves have proven to be difficult for someone else to find something in common with until the person trying to strike up a conversation with us found our own topic of expertise. And this is something that teachers should consider. There are a thousand different things we could know about thoroughly enough to be able to speak intelligently. Yet we focus on vague 'general knowledge' so that students exert their efforts trying to get scrappy information, and then make bloopers on their essay papers because they can't keep them straight. The only solution is a lot of consecutive reading from various literary books. We have no trouble making time for all these books because one
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single reading is enough, and there shouldn't be any reviewing for an upcoming exam. Look at this list of 200 names (substantives) that an 11-year old used easily and confidently on a term exam in Form II (grades 4-6):
Abinadab, Athenian, Anne Boleyn, Act
of Uniformity, Act of Supremacy, America, Austria, Alcibiades, Athens,
Auckland, Australia, Alexandria, Alhambra.
Bible, Bishop of Rochester, Baron, Bean-shoots, Bluff, Bowen Falls, Bishoprics, Blind Bay, Burano.
Currants, Cupid, Catholic, Court of High Commission, Cranmer, Charles V, Colonies, Convent, Claude, Calais, Cook Strait, Canterbury Plain, Christchurch, Cathedral, Canals, Caliph of Egypt, Court of the Myrtles, Columbus, Cordova.
David, Defender of the Faith, Duke of Guise, Dunedin, Doge's Palace.
England, Emperor, Empire, Egmont (Count), English Settlement
Flour, Fruits, French, Francis I, Francis of Guise, Ferdinand, Foveau Strait, Fuchsias, Fiords, Ferns.
Greek, Germany, Gondolas, "Gates of the Damsels," Gondoliers, Granada, Gate of Justice, Gypsies.
Henry VIII, History, Hooper, Henry II, Hungary, Haeckel.
Israel, Italian (language), Italy, Infusoria.
Jesse, Jonathan, Joseph, John, Jerusalem, James, Jane Seymour.
King of Denmark, King of Scotland, Kiwi.
"Love-in-Idleness," Lord Chancellor, Lord Burleigh, Lord Robert Dudley, Lime, Lyttleton, N.Z., Lake Tango.
Mary (The Virgin), More (Sir Thomas), Music, Martyr's Memorial, Milan, Metz, Monastery, Mary, Queen of Scots, Mediterranean, Microscope, Messina, Middle Island, Mount Egmont, Mount Cook, Milford Sound, Museum, Moa, Maoris, Mussulman, Moorish King.
Naomi, Netherlands, Nice, New Zealand, North Island, Napier, Nelson.
Oberon, Oxford, Orion.
Pharisees, Plants, Parliament, Puck, Pope, Protestant, Poetry,
Philosophy, "Paix des Dames ," Philip II, Paris, Planets, "Pink Terraces," Piazetta, Philip of Burgundy.
Queen Catherine, Queen Elizabeth, Queen Mary, Queen Isabella, Queen Juana.
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Ruth, Robin Goodfellow, Ridley,
Reformation, Radiolaria, Rotomaliana (Lake), Rea.
Saul, Samuel, Simeon, Simon Peter, Sunshine, Sugar-cane, Spices, Sultan, Spain, St. Quentin, Socrates, Stars, Sycamore, Seed-ball, Stewart Island, Seaports, Southern Alps, Scotch Settlement, St. Mark, St. Theodore, St. Maria Formosa (Church), Sierra Navada.
Temple, Titania, Testament, Treaty, Turks, Toul, Thread Slime, Tree Ferns, Timber Trees, Trieste, Toledo.
Verdure, Venus (Planet), Volcano, Volcanic Action, Venice.
Whieat, Wiltshire, William Cecil, Walsingham, Winged Seed, Wellington, Waikato.
These nouns were all used appropriately and matter-of-factly. You can see the exam among the papers included later in this book.
What if we change the perspective of a conscientious, intelligent teacher so that he perceives that the mind is complete and already has all the ability it needs except its suitable mental diet, so that the teacher gives up the erroneous concept of developing faculties? And what if he yields his role as 'the fountainhead of all knowledge,' and lets his students get at knowledge first-hand from the best books, because he knows that students are fully capable of dealing with it themselves? What if he abandons the use of text-books and abridged summaries he's been using, since he realizes that the mind will never be interested in such dry compilations, and only the short-term memory will touch such stuff? What if he admits that students need a wide base of knowledge in many different areas, so that a broad curriculum is needed to help them become intelligent, noble-minded citizens? What if he becomes convinced that any student can face such a curriculum because he knows that all children have an immense ability to focus their attention and know their lesson after just one single reading? Doesn't he still have one or two fallacies that we haven't attacked yet? He'll tell you that his goal isn't to expose students to a general look at all the
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subjects that intelligent people should know something about. No, his aim is to pick two or three topics and give a thorough understanding of them, so that he turns out well-bred young Englishmen. More specifically, he sees the school as a place to form character, not a place to acquire information. And, about his choice of two subjects--classics [in dead languages] and higher math--I have no real objections, since I recognize the value of them and I realize that, under our current system, students need to do well in them to get the opportunity for a good career. But perhaps if students get into the habit of covering more material quickly [as a result of focused attention and getting it the first time], then they'll have more time left to pursue the additional subjects that give him a more broad, balanced education. One of the country's major grammar schools is trying this as an experiment. I don't need to show how valuable these kinds of experiments are to us as a democracy. It looks like it will be possible for the masses to learn to read at school in such a way that they'll be able to use as many substantives on a term exam as the list I showed earlier. If the mainstream public learns about 'Sancho Panza,' Elsinore, 'Excalibur,' 'Rosinante,' 'Mrs. Jellaby,' redstart, 'Bevis,' and bogbean, then the privileged classes should be familiar with them, too. If one social class learns about the art of the Van Eycks, with 'Comus,' 'Duessa,' 'Baron of Bradwardine,' then the other classes should know about them, too. And they should all be able to use that knowledge with as much effect as a political leader does when he quotes something familiar from Horace. Such a quote should touch some sentiment in all of our hearts, because things we're familiar with seem like old friends to us. What we need is some common ground, a bond of common thought that comes when everybody reads the same books and is familiar with the same art, the same music, the same interests. When we have this solid ground of shared knowledge, we'll be able to relate to each other in both
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public speeches and personal conversations. We'll all hear about 'the wonderful works of God in our own language' [Acts 2:11] because we've all learned the same things, we'll all be familiar with the same great conversation that's been recorded in the books of the ages by those who lived before us, and whose purpose was to teach us. And we'll be able to speak persuasively with those who have received the same education and will listen to logic, rather than belligerently opposing reason in their ignorance.
Education for those living in a democracy needs to have certain features. We all need to be able to speak well, representing the concerns of groups of people and relating their sentiments and joys. Then we'll stop being motivated by self-interest and personal advantage in our political activism. We'll be able to touch sentiments of poetry and heroism, which most hearts will rise to. And, as a result, we'll be able to build 'a new Jerusalem right here in England's green, pleasant land.' To accomplish this, we all need to read the same books--in English, not in Latin or Greek. Most people, including the average student at a classical school, will never have the time to become fluent in Latin or Greek. Perhaps we'll still want an exclusive class of ivy-league students, and this seems like a good idea to me, since the one thing we've always done well at is instilling character and proper behavior in the top-notch schools. But we should broaden its base at the bottom, and narrow it as it gets to the top. In the earlier years, there should be a whole lot of books that everybody has to read. In the high school years, we need to cover less dead language classics and less higher math, to make room for more history and literature in our own language. I know I'm not an authority, but it seems to me that there's a lot of overlap from prep school to public boarding school, and from one Form (grade) to another, and from high school to the university [eliminating redundant overlaps and review could free up some time for more learning.] We could probably find a way to instill the same high-quality, character-building education, but we could make it inclusive rather than exclusive.
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We could use more of the kinds of books that everyone should know. We could include enough history and geography to make everyone feel at home wherever they travel. And everyone could become familiar with the natural phenomena that affects us in the world around us. If we give up the false concept that the mind has faculties to be developed by the teacher, and accept that education needs to get a large body of knowledge to the student for him to assimilate on his own, there is a fear that traditional exclusive education will be lost. But that would be a tragedy. We need to keep what's good about it, and add a wider variety of reading to it. H.G. Wells' characters in 'Joan and Peter' should teach us a lesson. Peter isn't enrolled at a respected boarding school because his guardian doesn't like them. He prefers games [sports?] Later, Joan and Peter are at college. 'No religion has convinced Joan that she has any specific purpose in her life. Neither Highmorton nor Cambridge has taught her simple devotion, or given her any career guidance. The only future suggested by girls schools was career student, or teaching.' Wells' accusation against the schools was that each, in its own way, tried to find a substitute for knowledge for the sake of learning. Academic success isn't the same as really learning. Many good schools fail to pass on the joy of learning for its own sake, or to teach the kinds of things that influence a person's character and actions. A good school should get high ideals to sink in and affect its students slowly, even imperceptibly.
And there's another standard, possibly an even higher consideration. At our PNEU schools, we offer knowledge for its own sake. Our students discover that lessons can be something enjoyable. We don't limit our focus to the top students. We don't need to. The top students work
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well on their own. In fact, so do the average and challenged students. Historical people become real to them, and they get familiar with a pretty wide range of history. They don't grow up in woeful ignorance of other countries' histories. For example, they understand that life in India is better today than it used to be because they know something about Akbar, and they know that he lived at the same time as Queen Elizabeth. They take to heart the lesson learned from young Phaeton's presumption. Midas, Circe, Xerxes and Pericles enrich their thoughts in the background. The different Forms (grades) cover a lot of reading because we've learned that a single reading is all that's needed to get a pretty clear knowledge of a subject, if the right book is used. That means that many books are needed, and every book is read through from beginning to end so that the student's knowledge isn't just vague bits here and there. Our teachers enjoy the work scheduled for each term as much as the students do. There's no monotony or dullness in the classroom. There's hardly any idleness or wandering attention, so there's no need to disguise learning as a game, as is sadly necessary in most schools. Games should be used for fun outside of lessons, there's no need to create games to get students to do their lessons.
Using my methods can have an interesting effect on the whole family as the child shares what he just read from Waverley with the caregiver and the lawn maintenance man. I recently heard from a teacher, 'A.J. correctly identified a moss that her father picked from the very top of Ben Lawers mountain. It's very rare and only grows there and on one other mountain. She is so pleased!' And her father must be, too! The whole household thinks about and reflects on great thoughts, because nothing is as contagious as knowledge and the fine attitude of mind that it brings. Children taught this way are fun to be around because they're interested in so many things, and they have worthy thoughts. They have a lot to talk about, and this kind of talk can't help but have a beneficial effect on those around them--and on society. That pleasant sense
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of knowing about things worth knowing, and things that make life worth living, is like a delightful atmosphere. It's what makes people noble-minded. We agree with Milton that a noble mind is the most appropriate result of education.
Students taught along these lines are familiar with a large number of books, many historical and literary persons, and quite a range of natural phenomena. Compare that with what a normal school student can claim--a sterile curriculum that isn't mastered very well. This should give us cause for reflection. Perhaps the students' moral and intellectual progress reflects the teachers themselves, since they're the ones who put together the curriculum. Every head school official knows how to put together the best possible curriculum and make the students do it if they stick to just a few basic subjects. But we PNEU workers have an advantage because we recognize a couple of natural laws.
I'm sure that some of you are interested in the work we're doing in elementary schools. The work is even more impressive because it begins with children who have a narrow vocabulary and no experience with literature. Yet these children show themselves capable of hearing or reading a well-written book, and, after just one single reading, narrating passages with enthusiasm and accuracy. They don't balk at even the longest names, and they don't muddle complicated statements. This was a revelation to us. It proves that a literary education isn't out of reach for anyone, and it doesn't have to take tedious and difficult preparation, but it can work immediately. All children need is the right books, and the right methods.
I'll say it again--we live in times that are critical for everybody, but especially for teachers. The world is depending on them. Will education aim at what's best for the individual, or what's best for everyone? Will it just prepare students to get a job, or will it try to work towards
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higher thinking and contentment for everyone, which would be best for society as a whole?
I beg school officials who understand what I'm saying to realize that we're at a parting of ways, and to please consider a method that will bring some promise of educational improvement.
For example, we're able to answer the question that the Departmental Committee on English is considering:
'Can history and literature be made more a part of the school curriculum than it is now? How much grammar is necessary? Can oral composition, drama and debate help to turn around our country's loss of verbal skills? How can prep schools teach English better? How can we get more substance into school essays? How can exams test English without destroying students' love for literature?'
One couldn't have planned better questions to provide a chance for the PNEU to list its advantages. History--European as well as English--is taught consecutively with literature. Some knowledge of syntax is necessary, as well as a lot of what we call grammar. But that's not to teach the art of correct writing and speaking. Those skills come naturally, and the beautifully eloquent, consecutive articulating of our student narrations is a thing to be heard with some envy. As far as our national loss of verbal skill, I'll quote a Director of Education: 'Being ready and willing to speak becomes normal. If all children in England are schooled using this method, then, in twenty five years, a strong silent Englishman will be a rarity!' One teacher said that his older students are now eager to speak for long time periods--something he's never seen before. Imagine how valuable this will be in the future as our country's safety depends more and more on the ability of the common people to communicate clearly and with confidence. Oral composition [narration] is routine for our schools in all
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grades--students narrate from age six to eighteen. One reporter from a local newspaper was sent out to investigate the PNEU method after reading an article that a teacher wrote for The Nineteenth Century and After. The article the reporter wrote after investigating was called, 'Ten Year Olds Who Read Shakespeare.' As far as prep schools, the best we can offer is a method that has some surprising results in the teaching of English. The final concern about how exams can help students' minds can be answered by looking at some PUS [Parents Union School] exam papers.
School officials shouldn't take on any project without some thought. This method requires a solid understanding of certain principles, and practicing them faithfully. Some people smile politely and say that all things have something good in them, and one educational method is as good as another. In fact, they say, taking a little from each of them should work just fine. But this kind of casual attitude doesn't provide enough conviction in any one method to try very hard--so the resulting progress is disappointing. I feel strongly that trying to use my method without following its few principles will be worse than useless--it will be disastrous. One teacher said, "If we had your booklist, we could accomplish anything!' So he used the booklist--but utterly failed because he ignored the principles [CM's 20 Principles]. We teachers don't like to brag by coming right out and saying that we're better at handling a subject than a carefully selected author who specializes in writing books about that subject. One bright young teacher said, 'Yes, but we know more about reaching the minds of children than any writer, no matter how eloquent, who speaks through the pages of some dull book.' But this is the misconception that we're finally getting rid of. We've shown that the bulk of knowledge, taught in a way that leaves a vivid impression and encourages sound judgment, gotten from the right books, is far superior and visualized much more sharply by
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students than hearing lectures from even the most enthusiastic and effective teacher. That's why we insist on the use of books. It isn't because teachers are incompetent. It's because a student can't really know something unless his mind actively processes and assimilates it by itself, without someone else's influence.
School officials and teachers can be very generous and they might be justified in thinking that parents can be stingy about providing the necessary books for their children. It's our job to make sure that books have an important place in the hearts of our students. It's the parent's job to be sure that a variety of books is available. We need to make parents understand that it's impossible for children to have a broad education without lots of books. It's also impossible to teach students to spell well if they don't read for themselves. We hear how difficult spelling is, and how we should butcher our beloved language to make words phonetic so everyone can spell them. But we've seen with thousands of our students that children who spend more time reading books on their own can spell well because they tend to visualize words as they read. Those who always listen to read-alouds don't receive an English guide to help them visualize the words they're hearing. That's why oral lessons and lectures should only be used occasionally, as an introduction or review. But for actual education, students need to do their own work by reading their own books with the moral support and guidance of an intelligent teacher. I think we'll find that, once parents realize how important it is to have a good supply of books, they'll be only too willing to provide the books scheduled every term. Mr. Fisher says, 'There are real books, and there are textbooks.' The day is soon coming when everyone will realize that textbooks have no educational value. We hardly ever use textbooks in our Parents Union Schools. Whenever possible, we use books that spark the imagination and have a touch of originality. These are the differences between
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a real book and a text book. Maybe we should apologize for not providing books, just booklists. Any school official can come up with a booklist. But, since there are changes made to their lists every term, trying to keep up with 170 different titles can become a job in itself! We think we can provide some help to over-burdened teachers. Some people say that teachers should have the complete freedom to select their own texts, but that makes about as much sense as advocating the freedom for everyone to make their own shoes! Instead, it should be a question of how we'll divide up the tasks that need doing. If it's a question of freedom, why not take it a step further and say that students ought to have the freedom to choose their own books? But we know that 'freedom' is an elusive gold ring, and it's not always convenient or best to do all the things that we have the freedom to do.
Term exams are very important. They aren't just fleeting measures of what a child learned, but they're evidence of his progress that will probably be part of his permanent records. There are specific things that every student must know--and I mean every child, not just the privileged elite who are being groomed to be prestigious British 'gentlemen.'
The knowledge of God is the most important thing to know. Any Bible teaching that doesn't work towards that purpose is of no religious value. To that end, students read a passage of scripture that covers an incident or specific teaching. If they're too young to be able to read, the teacher reads it to them. If students need to know the geography of the place that comes up in the episode, or a local custom, the teacher goes over that and briefly but reverently emphasizes any spiritual or moral truth before the reading. After the reading, the students narrate. They're able to narrate with striking accuracy, adding their own originality, yet conveying the truth that the teacher indicated. This isn't a case
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of rote memory. It's the result of assimilating the passage so well that it's become a part of them. If you try this method yourself, perhaps by reading and then narrating the story of Nicodemus, or Jesus' talk with the woman at the well, you'll see how clear each incident becomes to you, and how every phrase has a fullness of meaning as a result of your own personal effort. This method works especially well with the gospels, but those of us who read the Bible during WWI couldn't help but notice that the books of Moses and the prophets still show us what God is like. We must not regard the Old Testament as too outdated to use as a guide in our lives.
After religious knowledge, the most important thing to know is history. In fact, our curriculum is built around history. History is like a beautiful, green countryside in the mind. It becomes richer and fuller when we add knowledge of historical people and events, and when we can include national pride. Nationhood is the only way to combat the intolerable individualism that our modern education breeds. As James Amyat wrote in his preface to Plutarch's Lives,
'Reading history is very valuable. History can give us more examples in a day than all the experiences of a long life. Those who read history when they're young, as they should, will gain the same wisdom of understanding world affairs that old, experienced men have. Yes, even if they never leave the comfort of their house, yet they'll be cautioned and informed about everything in the world.'
And that's why the Old Testament is so valuable. It has history, poetry, the law and the prophets. Perhaps nobody understood the educational value of scripture more than Goethe, although he never did realize their spiritual worth. We try to use first-hand accounts from the same time period when studying the Bible.
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We use what's in some of the rooms in the British Museum as a basis. Events from Greek and Roman history come up, not just for their historical significance, but for their distinctly ethical value, too. And we use Plutarch as our foremost authority.
Thomas North wrote, 'Plutarch has written the most profitable story of all authors. Other authors wrote about things that came to no consequence. But Plutarch was sharp, educated and experienced. He chose the notable actions of the best people from the most famous nations of the world for his subject.'
We study English history in every grade. But in the earliest years, it's studied alone. We know from experience that it's not always possible to get the perfect book, so we use the best one we can find and supplement it with the best literary essays from the historical period. Literature hardly even seems like a separate subject because it's so closely associated with the term's world or English history. It might be a first-hand document or a story to teach a little about the time period. It's amazing how much actual knowledge children get when the thoughts and ideas from a time period are meshed with their study of the same time period's political and social developments. I'd like to make a point about the way poetry helps us to understand the thoughts and ideas of a time period--including our own. Every age, every era, has its own poetry that captures the soul and spirit of the time. It's a wonderful thing for a generation to have someone like Shakespeare, Dante, Milton or Burns to collect and preserve its essence as a gift for generations to come.
Let me say it again--what people think of as 'composition' is a natural result of the free but exacting use of carefully planned books. Composition doesn't require any special lessons or exercises until the student is old enough to naturally start becoming interested in the critical use of words. Civics [political philosophy] is a separate subject, but it's so closely tied in with literature and history on the one hand, and ethics (everyday morality) on the other hand, that it hardly seems like a separate subject.
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We already discussed (in chapter ten) what we do for students as dwellers of a universe bound by natural laws. And here we have to disagree with some science teachers who think that students can only learn what they discover themselves by first-hand experience. The concept sounds good in theory, but in practice, it's disappointingly narrow and limited. The teacher got much of what he knows from books, so why shouldn't the student use books? Maybe because science textbooks are so dehydrated and empty that that the teacher hopes to make up for their lack of vitality with casual talks, such as Hydra being a creature able to make close friends, or a sea-anemone as a grandmotherly figure who lives a long time. In other words, side issues are used to create an interest in the subject. French scientists know better. They understand that, just as history has a beautiful essence that's like poetry, science also has a beauty that can be expressed in exquisite prose. There are a few of these kinds of books in English, and we use them along with field study and drawing. Drawing is great for promoting an enthusiasm for nature.
I've already explained how we help to make children acquainted with great music and great art. One leading art dealer paid us a nice compliment by saying, 'God help the children!' if our work ceased. He had good reason. He had just sold thousands of beautiful little reproductions by Velasquez to PUS students for their term's picture study. It's no surprise that a man who loves and believes in art should feel that our work is worthwhile. In learning to draw, our students work very freely from natural figures and objects using colors [watercolor?] to illustrate scenes they visualize from the term's reading. We don't teach drawing as a means of self-
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expression. Our students aren't expressing themselves, but what they can see and what they can think of.
I've shown (in chapter ten) how we teach foreign languages. Having a habit of paying close attention, and being prepared to narrate should be a great help for PUS students. I believe that the day is coming when we British will finally become competent linguists. At the House of Education, students narrate in French even more easily and more abundantly than they do in English. They narrate from courses of lectures about French history and French literature that are part of their term's work. In German and Italian, they can read a scene from a play and tell back the scene in character. Or they can tell back a short passage from a narrative. We like to focus on Italian because the language is so beautiful and there's so much good literature. I think other schools should emphasize Italian, too. We teach Latin and Greek the same way that other schools do, except that we also use narration in Latin.
I hope readers will look further into the reasons behind our choice of curriculum. We have a standard of coordinating all things that are essential, but not so meticulously that it becomes a bore. I'll make one more remark, a daring one, and I beg for your complete attention. Society's current theory and method of education are on trial. There's no point in 'developing the faculties' if there's no such thing as faculties to develop. What there is--is the mind. It's like the cloud in Wordsworth's poem--when it moves, the whole thing moves as a unit. So, those individual school subjects designed to develop this, that or the other 'faculty' [such as reasoning skills, judgment or imagination] don't even count. As an educational method, it must be rejected, and we need to look for another basis of teaching. Programs designed to develop those faculties become laughable when we realize that those faculties don't exist. Education needs to be in touch
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with real life. We need to learn the things that we want to know about. Nobody chats with his friend about stinks [?], or the subtle differences of German accents, or irrational numbers (unless they both happen to be mathematicians!) But when Jupiter is rising, that's interesting to know, and to talk about! A friend who can distinguish between bird calls is always good to have around! And we're always grateful to be with someone who's read history and can talk about parallels to events that happened in the great war [WWI]! We tend to throw all our effort into one thing in the hopes that we'll get another different thing. But that doesn't work. If we focus our efforts on SAT's, then the things we need to teach become very narrow and academic, and the result is a narrow, academic, sterile-minded graduate. We reap what we sow.
Our future depends on secondary schools. School officials need to plan a broad field of study. If we allow seeds to be sown from various kinds of knowledge, then the garden of the student's mind will yield surprisingly beautiful things. I boldly propose that school officials from all across the country should adopt the method I've been writing about, the one we use in our Parents Union Schools. They should do this for the good of the country.
Mr. Masefield said,
'There can't be great art without great stories. Great art can only exist where great men reflect intensely about the kinds of things that common men think about a little. Without a popular body of legends, no country can have any unselfish art. Shakespeare's art, for example, was selfish until he turned to the great tales in the four most popular books in his time--Raphael Holinshed, Thomas North's Plutarch, Geraldi Cinthio's Hecatommithi and Francois De Belleforest's Histoires Tragiques. Ever since newspapers became popular, topical events have replaced epics. Now inspiration comes to artists directly, without the life-giving cropping and enlightening of many previous minds.'
It's this life-giving vitality of many minds that we want. We beg educational workers and thinkers to join us in forming a collective body of thought that will be common to everyone. Then England will surely be great in both art and life.
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This is the way to make great men. Petty attempts to form character in one direction or another won't work. Let's admit that great character only comes from great thoughts, and those great thoughts need to come from the minds of great thinkers. Only then will our purpose in education be clear. Character originates in thought, not behavior.
Schools in England:
Primary: Years 1-6 (ages 5-11)
Secondary: Year 7-9 (Forms 1-3, middle school, or high school, ages 11-14)
Year 10-11 (Form 4-5, Upper School, ages 14-16)
Year 12-13 (Sixth Form College, ages 16-18)
Public schools were the prestigious boarding schools in CM's day, and they weren't free, like public schools in the US are. They were open to the paying public, as opposed to religious schools that were limited to those of their doctrine. Private schools, also called independant schools, were more like Prep schools. They weren't under government regulation and often achieved higher academic standards; private primary schools were supposed to increase a child's chances of getting into a better Public Middle school, like Eton, Winchester College, and Charterhouse. Public schools were very successful--many Prime Ministers and Chancellors came from either Eton or Winchester. Private schools were more elite than public schools. They were usually, but not always, boarding schools. The very rich sometimes had the most private education of all--a tutor. ;-)
Poor people went to State Schools, also called secondary modern, grammar, comprehensive or technical schools.