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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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A Rational Lesson

by S. De Brath
Volume 8, 1897, pgs. 119-125


The end of instruction is not the imparting of knowledge! It seems well to preface an attempt to explain what it is by this paradoxical statement, because the contrary proposition is accountable for nearly all the mistakes of honest teachers. To "instruct" (instruere) is to build up--not knowledge--but the mind. It alone can be instructed. It is not a rag-bag for storing odds and ends, nor even a set of pigeon-holes where every item finds its fit place, but a living thing, and the characteristic of life is "function", action. To every intellectual problem which comes before us in daily life, we bring nothing but more or less acute perceptions, more or less alert reasoning, and more or less habit of resolution. Apart from duty and love, which are less matters of instruction than of education, the effectiveness of our action in face of life's daily tasks, will be in direct ratio of the degree to which these faculties have been developed. Putting aside for the present Willing, that motor power which uses circumstance as its raw material, let us consider for a few moments how the mind can be instructed--built up--so as to acquire quick perceptions and the habit of sound reasoning.

The notion that instruction is "storing the mind" with information, is at the root of the whole cramming system, unavoidable when true instruction has been neglected, and an examination looms near, but inexcusable as part of the normal course of education. Teachers endeavor, often with great pains, to give to their pupils the conclusions they have themselves arrived at, and the information they have themselves acquired, but it does not seem to strike them that the more correct and unassailable these conclusions are, the more passively receptive the mind of the learner is likely to become. To have the thinking done for them by the teacher, and to accept with careless assurance the results of that thinking, is a state of affairs which the average pupil regards with much equanimity, but it does not fit him to grapple with difficulties himself, nor for thinking correctly on the available evidence. This desirable consummation can only be attained by the habit of constantly going through the process itself, and in order that the teacher may know how to put the mind through its paces, he must first understand the way in which a mind works. His instruction, that is, must be modeled on the laws of mind--it must be rational or psychological. I am a little afraid of using this last word, because some persons seem to think that it implies hypnotism, mesmerism, and ghost-seeing! I therefore prefer to speak of sound instruction as "rational", conformable to the reasoning powers, although, no doubt, few readers of the Parents' Review would mistrust the former term.

Excluding the results of the spiritual perceptions, which are above those of the intellectual perceptions as wisdom is above knowledge, ideas are of two kinds:

1) General truths, which are abstractions formed by taking out of many particular cases, that which is common to them all.

2) Mind-pictures, by which we call up in our minds presentments of persons, events, and dramas of human life or of nature that we have never seen.

The first is necessarily described in language, the second would be best described pictorially. To the former belongs every idea which is summed up as a mathematical or grammatical rule, a law of Nature, a moral verity, a generalization from history, or such other "abstract truth". The latter includes all which conceivably might have been seen, or might be seen, such as Henry V., the Battle of the Nile, the trial of Charles I., the Carboniferous Age, or the Solar System. Art unites the two; the picture, statue or poem embodying a truth and presenting a wide generalization by means of particulars whose every detail is studied to subserve the main effect.

The stages by which the former kind of idea is reached are very easy to follow. First comes the direction of attention to the matter in hand; then that careful note of successive sense impressions which is called Observation; then the separation by the mind of what is distinct in these different percepts from what is common to them all; and lastly, the expression of this in correct language. These four stages have been called Attention, Observation, Generalization, and Formulation. Correct reasoning involves going through this process, and if the premises are complete, the observation accurate, and the inferences logical, the result is a truth. The concept is now complete. The lesson should move this process as a key moves a lock. Sound teaching, which habituates the mind to move logically, must be adapted to it, and the corresponding stages of each lesson are: Preparation, recalling the old, and directing the attention towards the new; Presentation of the new matter, to all the senses as far as possible; Association of the particulars and that which is essential in each; and Formulation, the expressing of the result attained in good plain English.*

As an instance let us take a lesson to a child of about thirteen beginning chemistry, on the distinction between mixtures and compounds. The definite concept to be reached is that in a mixture the components still exist as such, but in a compound of a new kind of substance is formed out of them. The first stage of the lesson will recall instances of mixtures, and elicit what the children already know, for this is always the point of departure. A class will instance mixed marbles, mixed sweets, colored sands, earth and water, milk and tea, oil and paint, etc. etc. The idea of a mixture already exists. Second stage: Bring before them some flour of sulphur and iron filings. The greenish mixture is separable (by sifting or with a magnet) into yellow sulphur and bluish iron; bring out that each is separately existent in the mixture. Heat some in a ladle; the greenish powder has become a black solid, having quite new physical properties. Now wherein does the difference consist? Children will probably think that it lies in the separability, but a question or two on how to separate oil and paint, or mild and tea, will disprove this. Present other compounds, sulphate of copper, black oxide of iron, litharge, etc., and point out that each is a new kind of thing, having new properties different from the united properties of the components. Third stage: The separate percepts are now complete. Skillful questioning (and here again the skilful teacher is seen distinct from the lesson-hearer) will bring out the essential point, that among many characteristics the one common to all is the formation of a new substance. This will come bit by bit from the children. Fourth stage: The conclusion reached will be expressed in correct language by the class, aided, of course, by the teacher, and written down--"a mixture is formed when two or more bodies are blended without either being changed; a compound is formed when they change each other into a new kind of substance." They have now reached, by their own exertion, a general truth which is long remembered.

Ideas of the second class, dealing with unseen persons or facts, are reached by a somewhat similar process, the synthesis of particular notions to form a general notion. The steps of the mind are here: Attention, the recall of similar or associated concepts; Imagination of the fresh notions brought up by the teacher; the combination of these with the preceding ones; and finally, the Visualization of the combined concepts. The corresponding teaching steps are again: Preparation, the revival of the old knowledge to establish an associative interest; Presentation, which gives the material for the new idea; Association of the new with the old, and with collateral images; with a final Visualization of the whole imaginative picture called up.

This process has the very distinct difference from the last that the end reached is not a product of the reasoning, but of the imaginative faculty. The lesson which is to culminate in the visualization of a person, a character, a dramatic scene, or a natural phenomenon must, therefore, be differently treated to that which ends in a concept properly so called, even though the process be sufficiently like the former to be fitly called by the same names. Finally in either case comes the transition without which no instruction is complete, or is permanently understood, the passing from Saying to Doing the practical application of the thing learned, and this is a point which is almost totally neglected in the ordinary schools of to-day.

All this is an application of natural psychological law. It is not a patent "system" or ingenious device to save trouble to the learner, every "live" teacher conforms to it more or less. But like most truths it needs an apprenticeship for the application of it, and it is certain that considerable thought and practice are required in order to give effective instruction on this plan. For not only has the place of each lesson to be carefully thought out and allotted so as to form useful material for use in its turn, but each involves considerable reflection what, out of the vast mass of available material, shall be chosen to lead the class by direct and unfaltering steps to the essential point. That this is not the method or the ordinary lesson it is needless to point out. The usual course is simply to set the new fact or rule before the child in printed language to be learned and remembered, and I have noted how very often the effort to remember the words completely checks the process of forming the idea, not to speak of the fact that his interest is not aroused, that he endeavors to keep the formula in his mind till examination time, and soon finds out that if he subsequently forgets all about it nobody seems to care. He is not called upon to use it as a basis for further acquirement, and to him it seems detached from all living interests, and set him for some wholly inscrutable reason.

We are now in a position to look more closely into the first stage of the rational lesson--Preparation.

The intention of this stage is that with which Froebel begins in the kindergarten--to arouse that self-activity without which the mind sits passive before its task. It is not by carrying the method of the kindergarten into the school, however, that the problem of rational instruction is to be solved, but its principles, and the first of these is the awakening of this self-activity. The stage of preparation therefore can very rarely be a lecture. Oral teaching is sometimes caricatured as that in which the masters learn the lessons and the boys hear them. The remark is just if applied to the lecture, which does not stimulate the self-activity of the schoolboy, whatever it may do for the undergraduate. Possibly even he might benefit by a little questioning on the Peripatetic method used by the Greeks we so admire, before printed books were the ordinary means of instruction. Nor can it be "preparation" in the ordinary sense, where a boy "gets up" so much Homer or Euclid as best he may, and is subsequently "heard" ; but it is any process whereby the attention is aroused and the mind set thinking in the required direction. This may be done in several ways, and some of these are better suited to ideas of the first kind than to those of the second. To bring home a truth we may proceed (1) by questions judiciously put to bring out what the class already knows on the subject. These questions will test the ability of the teacher: he must remember that to call up collateral notions not directly connected with the matter in hand, is to waste time and cultivate a habit of discursiveness; to omit necessary ones is to foster the habit of incorrect reasoning; to ignore previous lessons is to break the continuity of instruction; to ask a string of leading questions is to repress mental activity, not to encourage it; (2) another way is to begin with an experiment already familiar or fairly obvious, often that of the last lesson will serve, but if this method is used it must be very short, very simple, and directly bearing on the principle; or (3) the preparation may be a statement, a question, or some problem which the class can do without difficulty.

The preparation for a lesson of the second kind--the clear imaginative realization of a fact may proceed by any of the above means, but perhaps even preferably by (4) a picture which will call up familiar and kindred ideas; or by repetition (5) of the substance of some previous and closely connected lesson either in the same, or (6) in an allied branch.

Whatever method be adopted, however, effective preparation will have the following essential points: --it will arouse and direct the attention, it will make clear to the teacher the real ideas already existent in the minds of the class, it will cast out the irrelevant matter and will link on the new to the old. A few examples will perhaps be of interest --

(1) GEOGRAPHY--Children aged seven; lesson of thirty minutes. "There are many kinds of earths, soil, mud, clay, sand, gravel, stone, chalk, slate, marble, and others." Preparation by question. What has been noticed out of doors? What do the garden plants grow in? What the ground near is like? The road? The stream-bed? What are the roads mended with, and why? What are houses roofed with, and why? All leading up to definition of the physical properties of each, "preparation" lasting about fifteen minutes.

(2) PHYSICS--Children aged eight. One of a series of lessons on water. Thirty minutes. "The difference between water that has stuff mixed

with it and water that has stuff dissolved in it is that in one case the stuff can be filtered out, and in the other it cannot." Preparation by experiment. Take a little water in a class and put in a pinch of clean sand. Elicit that this is not "mixed". Put in a pinch of powdered chalk. Elicit this is "mixed". Same with powdered white sugar. Elicit this is "dissolved" "Preparation" lasts five minutes.

(3) GEOMETRY--Child aged ten; lesson on "the construction of an isosceles triangle on given base, one side being known". Forty-five minutes. Preparation by statement of a previous lesson. All straight lines drawn from the centre to the circumference of a circle are equal." Class to restate all radii of the same circle as equal. Thence deduce that every are struck with the same radius measures lines of equal length, which is the principle to be applied to the construction. Ten minutes.

(4) HISTORY--Child aged nine. Episodes of the Roman conquest of Britain. Thirty minutes. Preparation by picture. Show the "Landing of the X. Legion," already familiar, and thence recall the whole enterprise up to the starting-point of the lesson. Five minutes.

(5) LANGUAGE--Child aged nine. Series on sweeping the room--Gouin method. Forty-five minutes. Preparation by repetition. Repeat the preceding series. Ten minutes.

(6) LITERATURE--Child aged twelve. Chevy-chase. Forty-five minutes. Preparation by recall of former connected lessons. Recall geography lessons on the Border, and castles and arms of the XIV. Century. Fifteen minutes.

Enough has now been said to make it clear that each "rational" lesson must be adapted to the age of the child, must have its proper place in the general order of instruction, must be linked to those which went before it, and must be given in the natural sequence according to which the mind works, and that the first stage of this sequence is to arouse and direct interest. The next stages carry the child through the reasoning or the imaginative process, and the custom of doing this is instruction--the building up--of the mind, for 'use doth breed the habit in the man.' I know by experience that lessons thus given, and depending one on another, are not forgotten at the end of the term, nor even at the end of the year, but pass into the permanent possessions of the mind, which thus gains knowledge of its own manufacture as a by-product of the educational process, which on its intellectual side is the habit of sound reasoning on the materials placed before it.

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*the analysis by Professor Rein and other psychologists differs slightly from this, but the essential meaning of all is the same.

VOL VIII A RATIONAL LESSON PGS 176-184
By S. De Brath
(Continued from page 125).

Professor Ladd, of Yale University, in his admirable little "Primer of Psychology," dedicated to the young daughter of his friend and colleague who, he tells us "has been kind enough to read it and to say that she has understood and enjoyed it," gives in this book, perhaps the brightest and most readable sketch of a complex subject, a tale illustrating the formation of a chain of ideas started by seeing in the distance, recognizing, meeting, and addressing a person on the road. "This narrative" he says, "plainly implies what the examination of all experience proves--namely, that the different forms of experience (such as attention, remembering, perceiving, etc.) depend on each other. The story as it was just told, showed how the feeling of interest awakened and fixed the attention; and how attention influenced the growth of perception. For if we had not been interested and attentive, we should probably have passed the person by without recognizing him. The story also showed how to notice likenesses and unlikenesses, and that to imagine, to remember, and to think, are necessary in order to perceive things with a full recognition. It also showed how feelings of interest and of expectation, and the like, influence perceptions and thoughts; and how, in turn, perceptions, memories, and thoughts influence the feelings. And, finally, feelings were seen to lead to plans and choices."

Here in a nutshell are shown the materials of psychology, a train of ideation leading up to a plan, or a choice between courses of action. The purpose of thought is action, immediate or remote, and what that action will be depends (a) on the nature of the agent, and (b) on his perception of external conditions. Right action comes from more or less complete realization of the actual conditions by an honest mind. It would be impossible here to show how completely a true realization needs the unperverted and healthily exercised faculties, trained to the habit of seeing clearly quite irrespective of the personal wishes, as a true reflection is only to be obtained in an unwarped mirror. Nor is it needed, for we all know that this is the special and glorious prerogative of childhood; so far as a child is curious at all, it only cares to know truth. It has no pre-possessions, the time of passion which warps the perception and perverts the judgment is not yet, and He who placed a little child in the midst, and told His hearers that its unbiased receptivity is the true teachable spirit by which alone can men enter into that realization of truth, which is the gate of the Kingdom of Heaven, was emphasizing a fact with which all teachers should be familiar. We have in the child not the blank paper nor the plastic wax, but a growing soul which looks out on its surroundings with an eager desire to know exactly what they are. The honest mind which is the first requisite to right thought is there, looking out of some twenty pair of clear eyes fronting the teacher, whose task is to lead it to the habit of clear realization of conditions by going through the process day by day; one of the gravest and most responsible trusts that can be laid on man or woman.

This process is a definite sequence whose outlines have been given, a process which always begins in the sense. Sight, hearing, touch, taste, or smell-any or all of these convey impressions to the brain, allied ideas are remembered, and these in their turn are recombined to form the new idea or concept. That is to say that all concepts are based on present or past sense perception, either singly or in conjunction; there is no third way, a truth which has been summed up in the Cartesian aphorism,--Nihil in intellectu nisi prius in sensu.

These things may be exemplified by almost any act of daily life. To continue Professor Ladd's illustration. As our acquaintance approaches we note figure and gait, features and traits, which are varieties of form and colour; he speaks, our hearing is appealed to, and so on; each sensorial percept arousing appropriate ideas. This is the normal process of the narrative describes and gives mind-pictures as it goes on, and groups these into the sequences which make history. Clearly this process can be much aided by pictorial presentation. The success of Comenius' Orbis Pictus is now to be repeated with the lantern, and the representatives of men and things which are naturally inaccessible, can be given to the eye instead of using wearisome and ill-understood description. *

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* This represents, too, a vast economy of time. It is, of course, essential that the class be made to observe for themselves, and analyse the scenes portrayed. (a) the figures and their dress; (b) their grouping; and (c) made to realize that the representation is fanciful and not exact.

 (4) The fourth, and to the teacher by far the most difficult mode of presentation, is the Socratic, which brings out the idea of good questioning. Those who would like to see what can be done with this method, should, if they have not already done so, read Plato's "Republic." In Dr. Jowett's translation they will find an English, as well as a Greek classic, of keen interest to a thoughtful mind. I know one mother, who, anticipating a dry duty, found in it an intellectual treat, surprised alike at its wit, its simplicity, and the present interest of the matters treated of. But the Socratic questions must not point directly to the answers which the teacher desires to elicit, or they become a machine for repressing activity, or leading the children to reply by mere guesses at what he wants said. And the sequence of the questioning must be as simple as severe, if the class is not to be made to think that anything may be proved by logic-chopping and clever verbiage.

Any or all of these may be combined according to the nature of the lesson and the capacities of the children: the choice and, when needful, rapid change of method is one of the evidences of that fine tact which marks the good teacher.

We may now resume the lessons considered in the last chapter-

(1) Geography--Children aged seven; time, thirty minutes. Preparation has lasted fifteen minutes. Show speciments of chalk, limestone, marble, granite, sandstone, flint. Elicit the physical characters of each,--colour, texture, friable or not, close or grained, hardness, relative hardness shown by which scratches the other (arrange in order of hardness), grittiness, porosity, etc. Ten minutes.

(2) Physics--Children aged eight; thirty minutes. Preparation lasted five minutes. Show filter paper, also wet cotton wool packed in the stem of a funnel, and sponge similarly placed. Elicit that they are all porous, refer to the property of porous things. Filter some of the chalky water through each: water passing through is clear. Repeat with brine. Evaporate some of the filtered brine in a tea-spoon over spirit lamp,--salt is left. Repeat with sulphate of copper: elicit the fact that the dissolved salts pass through the porous substance. Fifteen minutes.

(3) Geometry--Children aged ten; forty-five minutes. Preparation has lasted ten minutes. Construction with scale and compasses. Circles struck from each end of the base, with the same distance taken off the scale, have equal radii. Those radii drawn from the points where the circles cross one another are equal among the rest. Two isosceles triangles result. Ten minutes.

(4) History--Children aged nine: thirty minutes. Preparation, five minutes. Show physical map of England,--north and west barren and mountainous, south and east are fertile plains (they know all this from previous geography lessons, and the whole of this lesson may be given by questions and narrative, mixed). Elicit that the strongest races will keep the fertile lands. Caesar's story: three races in Britain-Gaels, Hibernians, and Britons, all Celtic (slide, Celtic type). Locality of each. Caesar's account, recalled from the Latin lessons. Storming of Colchester, and the battle against the Silures. The Roman roads and the fords of the rivers; why they took the directions chosen (slide, Roman Britain, map of the roads). Agricola's wall in the north. Stations of the Legions at York, Chester, and Caerieon. Scale distances, and show that as the legion could march thirty miles a day, they could reach any part of the mountain frontier in a week, and fall on flank or rear or any raiders. Detachments throughout the plain country. Conquest complete. Twenty minutes.

(5) Language--Children aged nine: forty-five minutes. Preparation ten minutes. Series in different tenses and numbers. This is not a thought, no idea nor mind-picture having to be formed, language being a pure effort of memory aided by insensible association. There is no concept here, but only new means of expressing concepts.

(6) Literature--Children aged twelve: forty-five minutes. Preparation, fifteen minutes. Presentation of the actual thing. Class read aloud by turns and explain meaning where needful, as far as possible without assistance. Twenty minutes.

The Presentation is now complete, and passes into the next stage, that whereby all the ideas called up are associated into one whole. There will often be no very marked transition between this and the last phase of reasoning, the office of the teacher being chiefly to see that the truly essential points are not lost sight of in the crowd of impressions which appeal to the child. But for the most part it will be found that the child associates all that has been said quite naturally, his brain in fact works as insensibly as his stomach--digestion is not a conscious process, though eating is.

Last comes the Formulation or naming in the one case and the completed picture in the other, the real formation of this latter being verified by naming the parts of which it consists. Naming is purely the work of the teacher, "it is the short sharp stroke of the die which makes the black metal a current coin,) the concept so fixed is the minted money of the mind. The name completes and defines the concept and every lesson must so end, only let the teacher remember that his first business is not to give names but to form ideas, the naming comes last.

A good teacher will keep his eye on the clock and observe the periods which he has decided are called for by the nature of the matter in hand, making of course such departures therefrom as the cases of the children demand. This is not difficult if the teacher refuses to be led into those side issues which waste time and lead to complete distraction from the main current of thought, causing a lesson to lead to "nothing in general," and the aggregate of such lessons to chaos.

Our Geography lesson has but five minutes left, but the presentation having been actual, by the things themselves, each child has associated the special physical characters of the specimens with the objects it has seen and handled. Take each specimen in turn and make the class state its characters. Then reverse the process, give the name to each and let the class repeat the name after hearing the qualities, five minutes.

In the Physics we have ten minutes still available, a longer time being allowed because the association here may prove more of a conscious effort. The children have reached the point that they see there is a difference in state. Elicit that the salt and the bluestone disappeared in the water, the chalk did not-the water remains transparent even when its colour is changed. Filter takes out the stuff in one case and not in the other. Elicit that a different name is needed to describe the two states. In the one case the stuff is said to be mixed with water; in the other case to be dissolved, and the class must be able to state distinctly, and in good English that the difference between them is that the mixed stuff can be filtered out and the dissolved stuff cannot. This is the completed lesson, and here it may be noted that this age is not able to grasp general laws, but only typical facts.

To complete our Geometry lesson we have twenty minutes, and this should be used for the deductive proof, which, not differing from the usual method, does not call for any special notice.

In History we shall not need more than the five minutes we have left, because the mind-picture has already been formed. The leading ideas to be associated are:--The physical nature of the ground, making it inaccessible or the reverse, marching power across the country or along roads, transport, amount of provision to be found in different localities, what areas are worth taking and guarding and first need protection, and so on, and the measures adopted to secure the result. The summing up of the salient points in each situation is an essential part of the history lesson. A well-known examiner told me not long since of a history teacher of quite exceptional ability in his presentation, who can keep his class white-hot with interest, who is nevertheless unable to make his boys retain the connected history in their minds, so that each successive examination* finds them with less and less digested knowledge. The reason was not far to seek; the iron was indeed heated, but the hammer strokes were not given, there was no summary of the essential, and it cooled again nearly into its old form. In our present lesson the essentials are:--The mountains and plains with their properties, the fords of the rivers, the roads, the war sustenance for masses of men, the communication with Gaul, and so with Rome; and the grasp of these is shown by the ability to call up the picture of Roman England, and locate its roads and garrisons on the blank physical map, and say why each was put in the place assigned to it.

The Literature lesson should not conclude with a dry resumé of the action in bald prose, but it may be well to bring out what has specially appealed to different children. This should be a most valuable lesson to the teacher, who can thus get a glimpse into the minds of his class which work far more definitely than, as a rule, he has any idea of. The Rational Lesson has now come to the end of its first half: the receptive process is complete. In the next article I purpose to deal with that which fixes and seals all knowledge, the great purpose and end of all education of which instruction is but a part, the transition from Saying to Doing.

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* It is the fashion to decry examinations, and it cannot be denied that some examinations are unintelligent. But as a rule the public examinations are intended as tests of good general education; they do not involve specialized knowledge, and in order to pass them three things are requisite, (1) clear and correct ideas on the matter in hand, (2) the habit of expressing these ideas in good English, (3) neatness. Is it seriously maintained by those who inveigh against examinations that these are not legitimate tests, and that loose inaccurate information and want of ability to express what is known in good English, and the habit of dirty and careless work in mathematics or writing are satisfactory ends to "a liberal education"? Yet such is the exact fact. Relatively few boys when they leave school show good instruction in these three essentials. That is, they have not been taught to discriminate, nor to reason, nor to understand, nor to be neat and accurate in their work. And then follow a year or two of great effort and expensive "cramming" to catch up the time lost chiefly between the ages of eight and fifteen. But is the examination to blame?