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The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
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There is No Necessity For It

by Emily Miall
Volume 3, 1892/93, pgs. 362-364


For what? The over-pressure that Sir James Crichton-Browne denounced with such vehemence in his late address. If parents, teachers and examiners would combine, in the course of the coming year or two they could expel the evil of over-pressure from the school life of young folks. It is the curse of our present system of education, but its dangers are only dimly understood and realized even by those who know it best.

The examiner, who is not aware of the effects of his work, and who perhaps has the smallest share of responsibility in this matter, is nevertheless the man to whom we appeal first for help in our effort to save the health, eyesight, mental vigor, good spirits and good looks of our sons and daughters.

When an examiner is drawing up his questions, if he would ask himself: Are these tests of real knowledge? What effect will this paper have upon teaching? And if he would then erase all such questions as can be answered by "cram," that is by unreal knowledge, he alone could deliver us from over-pressure. How? Real knowledge is digested knowledge, digested knowledge means leisure.

Yes, if in the school-day of every boy and girl, and the reading-day of every student, there were sufficient leisure to digest newly-acquired knowledge, there could be no over-pressure.

This mental digestion is not a rapid process; gradually fresh facts sink into the mind, associating themselves to facts already there, pictured in the imagination, weighed and accepted by reason, brooded over and developed; slowly new ideas take root, finding through many channels a resting-place in the intelligence, and mysteriously cherished till the day comes when they shall bear fruit. This operation cannot be hurried; every child, every youth and maiden will digest their knowledge in their own way and at their own pace; all that is wanted is leisure and rest.

Knowledge acquired in any other way is absolutely worthless and temporary; it leads nowhere and to nothing; it is do much unassimilated mental food doomed to be rejected.

If the humane examiner would ask himself how much of such real digested knowledge can reasonably be expected from average, growing minds during a period of rapid physical development, and set his papers accordingly, over-pressure would become in a year or two a thing of the past.

The teacher would soon discover that hurry, cram and long hours, are fatal to the acquisition of real knowledge; that only a comparatively small amount can be digested and retained; that there is no rumination of any subject that is taught without interest and enthusiasm; that part of every lesson must be given to quiet observation and reflection, to the drawing of conclusions and comparisons, to careful accurate, well-weighed expression; that is to the exercise of all those faculties by means of which knowledge takes an abiding hold of the mind.

The examiner's questions, never foreseen, never causing the teacher to swerve from following out questions that must and should arise in the pupils' minds, are answered by the intelligence, readiness and insight developed by his method of teaching, as well as by the knowledge he has imparted.

An average of three hours' brain work a day for boys and girls from eight to sixteen, and the addition of another hour or two after that age, will be found quite sufficient. There is so much to do that is not brain work , and that ought not be omitted, how can time be found for more than three hours a day, if the necessary interval is allowed for leisure and rest?

Could we, who have had many years' experience of teaching, persuade teachers of the futility of pouring in information in bewildering quantity, and on a bewildering variety of subjects, and persuade them to be satisfied with doing a little well, how much better their pupils would pass examinations!

In the three hours a day we mean to include any preparation that requires mental effort; there is much that does not come under that head. The teaching must be oral (not lecturing) and carefully adapted, both as to subject and method, to the varying stages of the pupil's mental development; it must utilize all a boy's or girl's faculties.

Three hours a day for brain work leaves time for physical training, for art, for leisure, rest and enjoyment-during some of which, consciously or unconsciously, the mind carries on its work of digestion. No more pressure and hurry, no wearing out of eyesight by evening work, no pale cheeks and stooping shoulders, no anxiety, no break-down when the examination is within sight, no after-loathing of study, no loss of enthusiasm and joyousness.

But it is to parents that I appeal with passionate earnestness, for it has been my fate to see much of the bitter consequences of over-pressure. Loss of health and impaired eyesight, depressed spirits, decay of memory and faculty, weeks of care and worry culminating in an exhausting final effort; I wish these were the worst, but, in more than one case, death-in one, alas, suicide!

Parental vanity, ignorance, and greed blind fathers and mothers to the dangers of over-pressure. To obtain some advantage or distinction they goad on their too willing children, heedless of the risk, more often unaware of the risk. For any real good? Oh, no! for the vain, transitory appearance of knowledge, bought at a terrible price, and lost almost as soon as gained.

It is hard for parents to fight against teachers and examiners; it is hard to resist the temptation to see your son's name in the paper and your girl decked in a cap and gown. The teachers urge you on, and laugh at your fears. Their work is over when the boy and girl leave school; they neither see nor know the after effects of over-pressure. Their responsibilities are ended. But what sort of men and women boys and girls become is the parents' concern, and a good, happy, useful life must have a basis of physical well-being.

I have not over-stated my own experience of this wrong. If so much misery has come under the notice of one individual, what must be the sum of misery that could be gathered from the experience of many? If so much evil is seen, admitted, recognized, how much unseen, unadmitted, unrecognized evil is slowly sapping the vitality of the rising generation.