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It is seldom that the capabilities for usefulness of a British School are tested to so remarkable an extent as in the present instance. Yet it is not difficult to infer from these facts, that much more might be done in many schools for the social and moral improvement of a neighbourhood than is at present attempted. In Abbey-street it is found, that each department of effort acts beneficially on every other, and that no danger or weakness results to any one portion from the extension of the rest. Striking as these statistics are, no figures can give an adequate estimate of the value of an institution like this in the heart of al-green, nor
present the true aggregate of civilizing, healthy and religious influences which, under God's blessing, it may be expected to dispense.
WRITTEN EXAMINATIONS. OBSERVANT teachers will not have failed to notice of late a considerable increase in the number of competitive examinations. Certificates of merit for schoolmasters and mistresses, the pecuniary advantages derived year after year by pupil-teachers, clerkships and other offices in public departments, and the numerous prizes and certificates recently offered by the Society of Arts, are among the most prominent rewards of successful competition in examination; but these are by no means the only instances which might be cited of a very general and increasing disposition to make the prizes of life dependent on the attainments of the candidates ; and to test those attainments by means of written examinations.
A few years ago the mode of determining the amount of a person's knowledge by the manner in which he could give an account of it on paper, was almost confined to the Universities. For although some viva voce interrogation is still employed in them, a very insignificant portion of the work is tested in this way, and fellowships, degrees and other University distinctions have now been long awarded on a system of written examinations; the old methods of public disputation and declamation having been gradually abandoned. The plan is well-known, and remark. able alike for fairness and simplicity. A paper of printed questions is placed before the candidate; to each of these the examiner has privately affixed a certain figure, indicating the proportional value of the answer. The total of all these figures gives a numerical representation of complete success on the part of the candidate. The degrees of credit attained by each competitor are of course proportioned to the number of marks, and those who fail to obtain a prescribed number are not permitted to pass at all.
We believe that a method similar to this is now generally adopted in many competitive examinations, as well for candidates in the civil service as for many other offices.
A large number of young persons, therefore, now in schools, must look forward to the probability of undergoing some such ordeal as this, and some attention to the matter seems to be requisite on the part of schoolmasters.
Written examinations are good tests of acquirement for the most part; they reveal with tolerable certainty many important items of a man's character ; his accuracy, his clearness of thinking, and the amount of his knowledge. But they fail to determine the activity and originality of his mind, his tact, fertility of resource, and general power of adapting his knowledge to circumstances. Few of the finer sbades of character disclose themselves in a paper examination. The degree to which gentleness and refinement have been cultivated, or common sense has been exercised,--the power of rightly estimating knowledge or using it—to say nothing of the quantity of work which lies in him, and the morale and whole motive force of the man---these are matters which can never show themselves infallibly in a paper examination; and which, in fact, are apt to defy all summary and mechanical tests whatsoever.
The practical inferences from this thought are very simple. Teachers should acquire the habit of questioning their upper classes in writing, much more than they have hitherto done. This is but fair to the young people, who, whether wisely or not, will hereafter be measured by this standard, when they come to be candidates for clerkships or other offices. But they should not rely on this form of interrogation, nor ever permit it to supersede that rigorous oral questioning which has long been the distinguishing characteristic of British Schools. Mental activity and development of the highest kind can after all be better stimulated by much actual intercourse and friction with the mind of a superior, than by mere book-cramming and writing out the results afterwards. This is true to a far greater extent in early than in later life, and therefore the test which may, on the whole, be fairly applied to the acquirements of a man, should be used with caution and judgment in the case of boys. Even as it is, the experience of life often curiously reverses the deci.. sions of University examiners. The order of merit on a class-list, or at an “honour" examination, by no means represents the true rank of a number of students, even as far as available knowledge is concerned; still less does it indicate the relative worth or nobleness of the fortunate men. In boys' schools, the purely literary test of a pupil's standing is still more delusive. It is a very valuable one up to a certain point, but can never be exclusively employed without deadening and drying up the intelligence to some extent.
A recent visit to a very well-taught and well-disciplined British School illustrated this view of the subject. It was observed, on questioning, that the children were slow and unable to answer inquiries such as are oft responded to in far inferior schools. This could not be attributed to want of effort on the part of the master, nor want of knowledge on that of the children. And when an explanation was sought, the master said, that “it was his usual habit to depend on written exercises, and to test all his teaching by examining slates and note-books." He had in a painstaking and conscientious manner succeeded in conveying to his pupils a considerable mass of information, which was probably above the average in point of correctness and fulness of detail ; but in failing to give them readiness of utterance, and facility in the choice of language, he had surely neglected an important duty.
It should also be remembered that in the case of the children of the poor, this point is of still greater importance than in higher grades. Among cultivated people, who are in the habit of making the knowledge they have acquired from books the subject of familiar conversation, there is little doubt that the thoughtful and retiring student will generally be encouraged to produce his acquirements, and make them available for the improvement of those around him. It is not necessary that he should have been drilled at school in the art of making his knowledge presentable ; the experience of life will generally teach him that accomplishment. But the rude and ignorant, and, indeed, persons several degrees above them in the social scale, have seldom the power to draw forth the little stores which a studious son or daughter has acquired at school, while the current tone of conversation in the houses of the poor is by no means encouraging to the development of thought about literature, or poetry, or science. The children who are in such circumstances need, it is true, a training which shall prevent their attainments from being showy, inaccurate, or superficial; but they also need readiness and fluency in expression, a certain flexibility in adapting what they know to the requirements of life, and some power of communicating it in an interesting way to those who are uninformed. If the home affords but few opportunities for developing these gifts, it becomes all the more necessary that they should be diligently cultivated in the elementary school; and for this purpose vivá voce interrogation-frequent, rigorous, and searching—is desirable in connexion with every subject taught, and no other mode of testing work will ever supersede its necessity.
(From a Correspondent.) The modern system of teaching in public schools forms a contrast to that practised in private seminaries. In the former, as a general rule, all is supposed to be accomplished in the school, the children being left to do as they wish at home; while in the latter, a large portion of the school duties consists in the reproduction of what was committed to memory, or in the examining of what was wrought out at home.
It is no new thing to hear the advocates of these plans stoutly defend the one which they respectively follow. The teacher of the private school maintains that his plan, which cultivates the memory, disciplines the mind, and lodges such an amount of book knowledge in the head, is far superior to that which, midst noise and numbers, is given vivâ voce by monitors or pupil-teachers. On the other hand, the master of the public school strongly affirms his system far in advance, going as it does at once to the understanding of the child, and educing its reasoning faculties. The private system is frequently called a mere cramming, causing such a distension as effectually prevents a wholesome digestion ; while the public system is said to be an artificial feeding of the mind, equally opposed to the absorption of nutriment for want of sufficient quantity, or volume.
But the opinion is fast gaining ground that these extreme notions require modifying ; that the via media is the safer course, and that the blending of both would produce a system more likely to promote a good education, than the exclusive practice of either.
To the British and Foreign School Society we are indebted for the introduction of home lessons. Its series of books for the express purpose called attention to the subject, and gave a stimulus in that direction, which has led to great effort to extend the duty even beyond what was originally intended.
The Glasgow system of modern date takes up the subject, and follows in the wake ; for, though no regular plan of home lessons is pursued at the Parent Institution, yet somehow or other the teachers leave it strongly impressed with the importance of the matter, and numbers of them are laudably struggling to make it effectual in their schools.
In the subject of home lessons, the teacher is left to his own discretion ; he may adopt them, or he may forbear; he is not at liberty to omit other subjects, but upon home lessons he receives no special instruction, either from the Training School, or his local Committee. Inspectors speak very favourably of the practice in the isolated instances that come under their notice; parents are delighted to see their children with something to do in the evenings, though it may answer no higher pnrpose than keeping them out of the streets ; boys themselves do not generally object to home tasks, at all events, they like to be seen doing as other pupils, carrying the street symbols of the school-boy, viz., a satchel of books and a slate thrown across the shoulder, or dangling by their side.
Here, then, is universal opinion in favour of a subject well-nigh universally neglected. This, it would be contended, is one great reason why it should be generally carried out.
Another strong reason for home lessons lies in the fact that they serve to accustom the child to fixed attention and close application, and without them, or some substitute for them, he contracts the habit of learning little but what comes from the voice. It is patent to all, that, with some exceptions, the natural tendency of a child is to do nothing for itself which can be done for it--that is, nothing requiring effort, pains, and self-denial. Take the case of a young man, the son of some well-paid mechanic, who finds himself called upon to bush it in Australia, or rough it in some
Crimean campaign--he utterly breaks down, and hopelessly mourns that he has not been better disciplined in early life.
In the minutes of Council on Education, 1855-56, the Rev. J. Kennedy has some valuable observations bearing on this subject. I subjoin a mere extract--the whole is well worth perusal.
“I confess, I think there is truth in the statement, that those who leave our National Schools deteriorate intellectually rather than improve; and I do not think this is satisfactorily accounted for by the early age at which they leave. I thiuk there is a serious defect both in the end and means of our schools. I incline to the opinion, that the aim of our National School should be to give the boy not knowledge, but power to acquire knowledge ; that we should think more how we should make him not an educated boy, but a self-educator.” Again, “I fear that at present, even in our better schools, our National school-boy skims over too many things; that all is too superficial with him, and made too easy for him.” Further on, Mr. Kennedy observes, “Moreover, the boy assimilates very little of all this food by getting up these subjects for himself. The matter is chiefly put into him by the oral teaching of the master."
Now, no amount of lecturing or talking can ever make up for the discipline of mind which the practice of committing to memory exercises over a young person. We have no lack, in these days, of oral illustration, demonstration, explanation, elucidation, &c. &c., neither is there any dearth of laborious teachers who are constantly teaching, training, and drilling ; but while all this is going on, the memory, that grand gift of God, is left to shrivel up like the arm of a Hindoo devotee, so that, if called upon to act in after-life, it refuses, having lost all its elasticity. “I wish,” says Wesley, in a letter from school to his illustrious mother, “I wish to store my mind now, before the elasticity of youth is gone.” How pregnant with meaning is such a sentence! And look at the results in his subsequent career! “Here,” said the late Duke of Wellington, upon visiting Eton school late in life, and doubtless calling to mind the iron mental discipline to which he had there been subjected, “ Here the battle of Waterloo was fought.”
But some may say, “ We cultivate the memory when, by reiterating facts, they are lodged in the mind.” Provided the knowledge be there, no matter what the means of attainment, the end is the same. Not so. Granting that A. has acquired as much learning as B. ; that the former has come to it by lectures, or oral lessoning, and the latter by individual application, supplemented by the living tutor; B.'s position is not only the better fortified for maintaining past conquests, but much more favourable for future incursions.
If in public schools you go on hammering everything into the children's heads, telling them everything over and over again, till by dint of repetition only, on your part, they pass their school curriculum, you will by this means train up an effeminate race, who will expect to be thus spoon-fed all through life, and who, through what you have communicated, will doubtless become readers; but readers of what? Why, the light ephemeral rubbish teeming daily from our modern press. Such will fly to the facetiæ and anecdote columns of a penny serial, luxuriate over the adventures of Dick Turpin; while the close application of the mind to some really useful subject will be altogether out of the question.
As to the objection, if it may be called such, that the extra labour of giving and looking after home lessons is not a prescribed part of a public school-teacher's duty, it may simply be stated, that no teacher, fully alive to his responsible position, will confine himself to the mere letter of duty, out will rightly use the large discretionary powers tacitly invested in him, by branching off into those extras which may be for the present, future, or eternal benefit of his immortal charge.
It is a mistake to think that “the children will not or cannot purchase books." Most of them will purchase the books, if few and cheap, while the tact of the teacher will devise a plan for supplying those who cannot, without any heavy draw on the school funds, or his private purse.
The Nature of Home Lessons.--They should, of course, include committing to memory, and writing on slates or paper, the usual subjects taught in the school, and should be announced by, or under the direction of, the head master, on the evening of each day for the succeeding morning, or on Friday, for the coming week. Take, for example, Monday evening's home work.
“Trace the river Danube, commit to memory, and mark on slates its rise, course, tributaries, &c. Parse the sentence, ‘To err, is human; to forgive, divine.' From Butler's spelling, under the root grapho, write out, and be prepared to spell twenty words. Write and commit to memory the Stuart line of Kings. Fill any portion of your slate, not occupied by the above, with sums in practice, Let all be done in a neat hand, with correct spelling.”
Books.—Provide text-books on every subject at your own cost, or that of the Committee. Sell them to the boys at cost price, or take a small profit, which will enable you to help a poor boy to procure his outfit of books. Every boy should have a slate or exercise-book of his own.
Time and Mode of Examining. - The first thing in the morning, at five minutes to nine o'clock, the whistle, or bell, summons the scholars to their classes or divisions. Master and assistants, with a few trusty monitors, set vigorously to work, and examine every slate, taking care to test, in the process, the spelling, composition, and neatness. The practice of collecting slates and examining them at other times, is open to serious objections. The memory work comes next. By gathering the boys, having each the same sort of book, into one place, the whole may be heard in a short time; the skilful teacher needs not hear the column of spelling, nor look over every sum to ascertain if both are satisfactorily performed. A boy, slate in hand, sets down the names of such as have carelessly done their work, omitted their tasks, or neglected both. Punishment of some sort should invariably follow. Over this duty, three-quarters of an hour has been spent; meanwhile, those who were not the direct objects of investigation, as, of necessity, some will be in that position, have not been unemployed.
It should be remembered that, before commencing, a black board fronted each class, upon which were written words like the following—“Work out the following sums."
." "Parse this sentence." ". Copy neatly from the sixth page of your Readingbook," &c. &c.
Who should be engaged in Home Lessons ?—I reply, every child in the school who can spell p, i, n, or scribble t, 0, p. The sooner they begin this all-important work, the better ; only let care be taken not to overwork the young mind, nor to have assigned work carelessly performed.
Home lessons, in a large public school, will require great labour and much attention. Numerous obstructions from the boys themselves, from many of their careless parents, and from thoughtless pupil-teachers, will be thrown in the way ; but the motives to perseverance are so numerous and weighty, as to outweigh all other considerations. Lambeth.
“Education is, speaking generally, to qualify a man for a place in society, and though self-helpfulness and readiness for emergencies is an important thing (and the disposition to it more especially to be encouraged), yet we may suppose a man likely to meet with others to do things for him, if he knows how to do anything for them, and to make use of them. For the primary or simple purposes of society, what we need to teach a man, if we can do so, is to understand himself—that is, to see clearly what he is thinking about, and to understand others, what it is they say to him, and what they are likely to wish for or think; to be able to do something for them, or to know something which may be of use to them. For the secondary or more refined purposes of civilized society, what we should wish to produee by education would be a degree of independent activity of thought, and yet of intellectual sympathy; so that the intercourse among the members of the society, independently of their material or merely useful concern with each other, should be a common pleasure and advantage.” -Cambridge Essays, 1856.