The Parents' Review
A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture
"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
Schoolbooks and How They Make for Education
by Charlotte Mason
[This paper was reorganized and can now be found in Charlotte Mason's book 'School Education,' Volume 3 of her series; you can find bits of this paper in chapters 8, 11, 15 and 16.]
P.N.E.U. Conference Wednesday, May 16th, 10.30 a.m.
Mrs. Percy Bigland (Chairman): It is a great pleasure to me to be here this morning. I am only a new member of the Parents' National Educational Union, but in the short time I have belonged to it, it has been of great assistance to me, and I have also received much help from the papers I have read and the lectures I have heard, and from talking to members of the Union. The whole object of a Conference is conferring together, and as lukewarm praise is a proof of mediocrity, so is lukewarm agreement; and the discussion of opposite ideas tends to bring out fresh points and strengthen the Association. We are very sorry that Miss Mason cannot be present herself to read her paper.
Mrs. Howard Glover then read a paper by Miss Mason, on Schoolbooks and How They Make for Education.
It gives me great pleasure to speak once more, though it must be by proxy, to a P.N.E.U. audience. The theme of "School Books" is not a new one and, I daresay, you will find that I have said before what I shall say today. But we are not like those men of Athens who met to hear and to tell some new thing; and you will, I know, listen patiently because you will recognize how necessary it is to repeat again and again counsels which are like waves beating against the rock of an accepted system of things. But, in time, the waves prevail and the rock wears away; so we go to work with good hope. Let me introduce what I have to say about school books by a little story from an antiquated source.
Frederika Bremer, in her novel of The Neighbours (published 1837), tells an incident of school-girl life (possibly a bit of autobiography), with great spirit. Though it is rather long, I think you will thank me for it--the little episode advances what I have to say better than could any duller arguments of my own.
The heroine says:--"I was then sixteen, and, fortunately for my restless character, my right shoulder began to project at the time. Gymnastics were then in fashion as remedies against all manner of defects, and my parents determined to let me try gymnastics. Arrayed in trimmed pantaloons, a Bonjour coat of green cloth and a little morning cap with pink ribbon, I made my appearance one day in an assemblage of from thirty to forty figures dressed almost the same as myself, who were merrily swarming about a large saloon, over ropes, ladders and poles. It was a strange and novel scene. I kept myself in the background the first day and learned from my governess the 'bending of the back' and the 'exercises of the arms and legs'. The second day I began to be intimate with some of the girls, the third I vied with them on ropes and ladders, and ere the close of the second week, I was the leader of the second class, and began to encourage them to all manner of tricks.
"At that time I was studying Greek history; their heroes and their heroic deeds filled my imagination, even in the gymnastic school. I proposed to my band to assume masculine and antique names and in this place, to answer to no other than such as Agamemnon, Epaminondas, etc. For myself I chose the name of Orestes, and called my best friend in the class, Pylades. There was a tall thin girl, with Finlandish accent, whom I greatly disliked, chiefly on account of the disrespect for me and my ideas which she manifested without reserve . . . ; from this arose fresh cause for quarrels.
"Although in love with the Greek History, I was no less taken with the Swedish. Charles XII was my idol and I often entertained my friends in my class with narration of his deeds till my own soul was on fire with the most glowing enthusiasm. Like a shower of cold water, Darius (the tall girl whose name was Britsa) one day came into the midst of us, and opposed me with the assertion that Czar Peter I was a much greater man that Charles XII. I accepted the challenge with blind zeal and suppressed rage. My opponent brought forward a number of facts with coolness and skill, in support of her opinion, and when I, confuting all her positions, thought to exalt my victorious hero to the clouds, she was perpetually throwing Bender and Pultawa in my way. O, Pultawa! Pultawa! Many tears have fallen over the bloody battlefield, but none more bitter than those which I shed in secret when I, like Charles himself, suffered a defeat there. Fuel was added to the flame until--'I challenge you, I demand satisfaction,' cried I to Darius, who only laughed and said, 'Bravo, bravo!' . . . I exclaimed, 'You have insulted me shamefully and I request that you ask my pardon in the presence of the whole class, and acknowledge that Charles XII. was a greater man than Czar Peter, or else you shall fight with me, if you have any honour in your breast and are not a coward.' Britsa Kaijsa blushed, but said with detestable coolness: 'Ask pardon indeed? I should never dream of such a thing. Fight? O, yes, I have no objection! But where and with what? With pins, think you, or'--'With the sword, if you are not afraid, and on this very spot. We can meet here half-an-hour before the rest: arms I shall bring with me; Pylades is my second and you shall appoint your own!' . . . Next morning, when I had entered the spacious saloon, I found my enemy already there with her second. Darius and I saluted each other proudly and distantly. I gave her the first choice of the swords. She took one and flourished it about quite dexterously, as if she had been accustomed to the use of it. I saw myself (in imagination) already stabbed to the heart . . . 'Czar Peter was a great man,' cried Darius--'Down with him! Long life to Charles XII.!' I cried, bursting into a furious rage. I placed myself in an attitude of defence. Darius did the same . . . Our swords clashed one against the other and in the next moment, I was disarmed and thrown on the ground. Darius stood over me, and I believed my last hour had arrived. How astonished was I, however, when my enemy threw her sword away from her, took me by the hand and lifted me up, whilst she cheerfully cried: ' Well, now you have satisfaction; let us be good friends again; you are a brave little body!' At this moment a tremendous noise was heard at the door and in rushed the fencing master and three teachers. My senses now forsook me."
I hope my hearers have not been among the naughty children who read the fable and skip the moral; for, whatever is to follow, is, in fact, the moral of the pretty tale you have listened to.
What was it, we wonder, in their school books that these Swedish maidens found so exciting. There is no hint of other than school reading. In the first place, we may conclude it was books. The oral lesson for young children, the lecture for older, had not been invented in the earlier years of the century. We use books in our schoolrooms; but one does not hear of wild enthusiasm, ungovernable excitement, over the tabulated events of the history books, the tabulated facts of the science primers. Those Swedish girls must have used books of another sort; and it is to our interest to find out of what sort. As records would be hard to come by, we must look for information to the girls themselves; not that we can summon them to give a direct answer, but, if we can get at what they were, we shall be able to make a good guess at what should fire their souls.
The story discloses no more than that they were intelligent girls, probably the children of intelligent parents. But that is enough for our purpose. The question resolves itself into--What manner of book will find its way with upheaving effect into the mind of an intelligent boy or girl? We need not ask what the girl or boy likes. She very often likes the twaddle of goody-goody story-books, he likes condiments, highly-spiced tales of adventure. We are all capable of liking mental food of a poor quality and a titillating nature, and no doubt, such food is good for us when our minds are in need of an elbow-chair; but our spiritual life is sustained on other stuff, whether we be boys or girls, men or women. By spiritual I mean that which is not corporeal; which, for convenience sake, we call by many names--the life of thought, the life of feeling, the life of the soul.
It is curious how every inquiry, superficial as it may seem to begin with, leads us to fundamental principles. This simple-seeming question--what manner of school books should our boys and girls use?--Leads us straight to one of the two great principles which bottom the work of our Union. We believe that spiritual life, using spiritual in the sense I have indicated, is sustained upon only one manner of diet--the diet of ideas--the living progeny of living minds. Now do but send to any publisher for his catalogue of school books and you will find that it is accepted as the nature of a school book that it be drained dry of living thought. It may bear the name of a thinker, but then it is the abridgment of an abridgment, and all that is left for the unhappy scholar is the dry bones of his subject denuded of soft flesh and living colour, of the stir of life and power of moving. Nothing is left but what Oliver Wendell Holmes calls the "mere brute fact".
It cannot be too often said that information is not education. You may answer and examination question about the potion of the Seychelles and the Comoro Islands without having been anywise nourished by the fact of these island groups existing in such and such latitudes and longitudes, but if you follow Bullen in The Cruise of the Cachelot, the names excite that little mental stir which indicates the reception of real knowledge. Intelligent teachers are well aware of the dry-as-dust character of school books, so they fall back upon the "oral" lesson, one of whose qualities must be that it is not bookish.
Living ideas can be derived only from living minds, and so it occasionally happens that a vital spark is flashed from teacher to pupil. But this occurs only when the subject is one to which the teacher has given original thought. In most cases the oral lesson, or the more advanced lecture, consists of information got up by the teacher from various books, and imparted in language, a little pedantic, a little common-place, or a reading-made-easy in style. At the best, the teacher is not likely to have vital interest in and, consequently, original thought upon, more than one or two subjects.
We wish to place before the child open doors to many avenues of instruction and delight, in each one of which he should find quickening thoughts. We cannot expect a school to be manned by a dozen master-minds, and, even if it were, and the scholar were taught by each in turn, it would be much to his disadvantage. What he wants of his teacher is moral and mental discipline, sympathy and direction; and it is better, on the whole, that the training of pupil should be undertaken by one wise teacher than that he should be passed from hand to hand for this subject and that.
We begin to see what we want. Children make large demands upon us. We owe it to them to initiate an immense number of interests. "Thou hast set my feet in a large room," should be the glad cry of every intelligent soul. Life should be all living, and not merely a tedious passing of time; not all doing or all feeling or all thinking--the strain would be too great--but, all living; that is to say, we should be in touch wherever we go, whatever we hear, whatever we see, with some manner of vital interest. We cannot give the children these interest; we prefer that they should never say they have learned Botany or Concology, Geology or Astronomy. The questions is not,--how much does the youth know? when he has finished his education--but how much does he care? and about how many orders of things does he care? In fact, how large is the room in which he finds his feet set? And, therefore, how full is the life he has before him?
I know you may bring a horse to the water, but you cannot make him drink. What I complain of is that we do not bring our horse to the water. We give him miserable little textbooks, mere compendiums of facts, which he is to learn off and say and produce at an examination; or we give him various knowledge in the form of warm diluents, prepared by his teacher with perhaps some grain of living thought to the gallon. And all the time we have books, books teeming with ideas fresh from the minds of thinkers upon every subject to which we can wish to introduce children.
The fact is, we undervalue children. The notion that an infant is a huge oyster, who by slow degrees, and more and more, develops into that splendid intellectual and moral being, a full-grown man or woman, has been impressed upon us so much of late years that we believe intellectual spoonmeat to be the only food for what we are pleased to call "little minds". It is nothing to us that William Morris read his first Waverly Novel when he was four and had read the whole series by the time he was seven. He did not die of it, but lived and prospered; unlike that little Richard, son of John Evelyn, who died when he was five years and three days old, a thing not to be wondered at when we read that he had "a strong passion for Greek, could turn English into Latin and vice versa with the greatest of ease," had "a wonderful disposition to Mathematics, having by heart divers propositions of Euclid"; but I quote little Richard (nobody could ever have called him Dick by way of warning and not of example).
Macaulay seems to have begun life as a great reader. We know the delightful story of how, when Hannah More called on his parents, he, a little boy of four, came forward with pretty hospitality to say that if she "would be good enough to come in" he would bring her "a glass of old spirits." He explained afterwards that, "Robinson Crusoe often had some."
But we may dismiss these precocious or exceptional children. All we ask of them is to remind us that our grandfathers and grandmothers recognized children as reasonable beings, persons of mind and conscience like themselves, but needing their guidance and control, as having neither knowledge nor experience; witness the queer old children's books which have come down to us; before all things, these addressed children as reasonable, intelligent and responsible persons. This is the note of home-life in the last generation. So soon as the baby realized his surroundings, he found himself morally and intellectually responsible. And children have not altered. This is how we find them--with intelligence more acute, logic more keen, observing powers more alert, moral sensibilities more quick, love and faith and hope more abounding; in fact, in all points like as we are, only much more so; but absolutely ignorant of the world and its belongings, of us and our ways, and, above all, of how to control and direct and manifest the infinite possibilities with which they are born.
Knowing that the brain is the physical seat of habit, and that conduct and character, alike, are the outcome of the habits we allow; knowing, too, that an inspiring idea initiates a new habit of thought, and, hence, a new habit of life; we perceive that the great work of education is to inspire children with vitalizing ideas as to every relation of life, every department of knowledge, every subject of thought; and to give deliberate care to the formation of those habits of the good life which are the outcome of vitalizing ideas. In this great work we seek and assuredly find the co-operation of the Divine Spirit, whom we recognize, in a sense rather new to modern thought, as the supreme Educator of mankind in things that have been called secular, fully as much as in those that have been called sacred.
We ask ourselves--"Is there any fruitful idea underlying this or that study that the children are engaged in?" We divest ourselves of the notion that to develop the faculties is the chief thing, and a "subject" which does not rise out of some great thought of life we usually reject as not nourishing, not fruitful; while we retain those studies which give exercises in habits of clear and orderly thinking. Mathematics, grammar, logic, etc., are not purely disciplinary, they do develop (if a bull may be allowed) intellectual muscle. We by no means reject the familiar staples of education in the school sense, but we prize them even more for the record of intellectual habits they leave in the brain tissue, than for their distinct value in developing certain "faculties". Teachers and parents alike trust perhaps a little blindly to the training which certain subjects five in certain mental aptitude. The classics, they consider, cultivate in one direction, the mathematics in another, science in a third. So they do, undoubtedly, so far as each of these subjects is concerned; but possibly not in forming the general habits of intellectual life which we expect to result. Remove the mathematician from his own field and he is not more exact or more on the spot than other men; indeed he is rather given to make a big hole for the cat and a little hole for the kitten. The humanities do not always make a man humane, i.e., liberal, tolerant, gentle and candid, as regards the opinion and status of other men. The fault does not lie in a any one of these or in any other of the disciplinary subjects, but in our indolent habit of using each of them as a sort of mechanical contrivance for turning up the soil and sowing the seed. There is no reprieve for parents. It rests with them far more than with the schoolmaster and his curriculum, to form those mental habits which shall give intellectual distinction to their children throughout their lives.
The intellectual life, like every manner of spiritual life, has but one food whereby it lives and grows--the sustenance of living ideas. It is not possible to repeat this too often or too emphatically, for perhaps we err more in this matter than any other in bringing up children.
I hardly dare touch upon the burning question of a curriculum which shall furnish children, not with dry bones of fact, but with fact clothed in living flesh, breathed into by quickening ideas. I should like to say here that a sort of unconscious inherited parsimony, coming down to us from the days when incomes were smaller and books were fewer, sometimes causes parents to restrict their children unduly in the matter of lesson-books--living books, varied from time to time, and not thumbed over from one school generation to another until the very sight of them is a weariness to the flesh.
Our educational aim is expressed in a sentence of Coleridge's concerning the methods of Plato:--
"He desired not to assist in storing the passive mind with the various sorts of knowledge most in request, as if the human soul were a mere repository or banqueting-room, but to place it in such relations of circumstance as should gradually excite its begetting and germinating powers, to produce new fruits of thought, new conceptions and imaginations and ideas."
Perhaps the main part of a child's education should be concerned with the great human relationships, relationships of love and service, of authority, of obedience, of reverence and pity, and neighbourly kindness, relationships to kin and friend and neighbour, to "cause" and country and kind, to the past and the present. History, literature, archaeology, art, languages (whether ancient or modern), travel and tales of travel; all of these are, in one way or other, record or expression of persons, and we, who are persons, are interested in all persons, for we are all one flesh, and we are all of one spirit, and whatever any of us does or suffers is interesting to the rest. If we will approach them with living thought, living books, if we will only awaken in them the sense of personal relation, there are thousands of boys and girls to-day capable of becoming apostles, saviours, great orientalists who will draw the East and the West together,--great archaeologists who will make the past alive for us and make us aware in our souls of men who lived ten thousand years ago. It rests with us to give the awakening idea, and then to form the habit of thought and of life.
There seems good reason to believe that the limit to human intelligence arises largely from the limit to human interests, that is, from the failure to establish personal relations on a wide scale with the persons who make up humanity,--relations of love, duty, responsibility, and above all, of interest, living interest, with the near and the far-off, in time and in place. We hammer away for a dozen years at one or two languages, ancient or modern, and rarely know them very well at the end of that time; but directly they become to us the languages of persons whom we are aching to get at--can only do so through the medium of their own tongues, there seems no reason why many of us should not be like the late Sir Richard Burton, able to talk in almost any known tongue. I think we should have a great educational revolution once we ceased to regard ourselves as assortments of so-called faculties, and realized ourselves as persons whose great business it is to get in touch with other persons of all sorts and conditions, of all countries and climes, of all times, past and present. History would become entrancing, literature a magic mirror for the discovery of other minds, the study of sociology a duty and a delight. We should tend to become responsive and wise, humble and reverent, recognizing the duties and the joys of the full human life. We cannot, of course, overtake such a programme of work, but we can keep it in view; and I suppose every life is moulded upon its ideal.
The psychology of the hour has had a curious effect upon the sense of duty. Persons who are no more than a "state of consciousness" cannot be expected to take up moral responsibilities except such as appeal to them at the moment. Duty, in the sense of relations imposed by authority as well as due to our fellows, does not fall within the scope of present-day philosophy. It would be interesting to know how many children of about ten years of age can say the Ten Commandments, and those most clear interpretations of them which children are taught to call "my duty towards God and my duty towards my neighbour"; or, if they are not members of the Church of England, whatever explanation their own church offers of the law containing the whole duty of man. With the Ten Commandments as a basis, children used to get a fairly thorough ethical teaching from the Bible.
They knew St. Paul's mandates:--"Love the brethren; fear God; honour the King; honour all men; study to be quiet." They know that thoughts of hatred and contempt were of the nature of murder. They knew what King Solomon said of the virtuous woman, of the sluggard, of the fool. Their knowledge was not confined to precepts. From history, sacred and profane, they were able to illustrate every text with perhaps too fatal readiness. We, in England, have not the wealth of moral teaching carved in wood and stone--so that the unlettered may read and learn--which some neighbouring countries rejoice in, but our teaching, until the present generation, has been systematic and thorough. I appeal to you to know if this is the case to-day. We eschew for our children (and we often eschew wisely) all stories with a moral. Their books must be amusing and we ask little more. Next after that, they must be literary, and then perhaps a little instructive. But we do not look for a moral impulse fitly given. It is not that we have no ethical teaching, but our teaching is casual. If we happen on a story of heroism or self-denial, we are glad to point the moral. But children rarely get now a distinct ethical system resting on the broad basis of the brotherhood of man. It is something for a child only to recite, "My duty towards my neighbour is to love him as myself," and "to do unto all men as I would they should do unto me." A great many fine things are said to-day about the brotherhood of man and the solidarity of the human race, but I think we shall look in vain in modern writings for a sentence which goes to the root of the matter as does this old code of duty. Precious as are some compendiums of its moral teaching, it is to the Bible itself we must go as to the great storehouse of moral impressions. Let us hear De Quincey on this subject:--"It had happened, that among our vast nursery collection of books was the Bible, illustrated with many pictures. And in long dark evenings, as my three sisters with myself sat by the firelight round the guard of our nursery, no book was so much in request amongst us. It ruled us and swayed us as mysteriously as music. Our younger nurse, whom we all loved, would sometimes, according to her simple powers, endeavour to explain what we found obscure. We, the children were all constitutionally touched with pensiveness; the fitful gloom and sudden lambencies of the room by firelight suited our evening state of feelings; and they suited also, the divine revelations of power and mysterious beauty which awed us. Above all, the story of a just man--man and yet not man, real above all things, and yet shadowy above all things--who had suffered the passion of death in Palestine, slept upon our minds like early dawn upon the waters. The nurse knew and explained to us the chief differences in oriental climates; and all these differences (as it happens) express themselves, more or less, in varying relation to the great accidents and powers of summer. The cloudless sunlights of Syria--these seemed to argue everlasting summer; but, above all, the very name of Palm Sunday (a festival in the English Church) troubled me like an anthem."
May I add De Quincey's beautiful words describing the effect of our liturgy upon him as a child. "On Sunday mornings I went with the rest of my family to church: it was a church on the ancient model of England having aisles, galleries, organ, all things ancient and venerable, and the proportions majestic. Here, whilst the congregation knelt through the long litany, as often as we came to that passage, so beautiful amongst many that are so, where God is supplicated on behalf of 'all sick persons and young children,' and that he would 'show his pity upon all prisoners and captives,' I wept in secret; and raising my streaming eyes to the upper windows of the galleries, saw, on days when the sun was shining, a spectacle as affecting as ever prophet can have beheld. The sides of the windows were rich with stained glass; through the deep purples and crimsons streamed the golden light; emblazonries of heavenly illumination (from the sun) mingling with the earthly emblazonries (from art and its gorgeous colouring) of what is grandest in man. There were the apostles that had trampled upon earth, and the glories of earth, out of celestial love to man. There were martyrs that had borne witness to the truth through flames, through torments, and through armies of fierce, insulting faces. There were saints who, under intolerable pangs, had glorified God by meek submission to his will." "God speaks to children, also, in dreams and by oracles that lurk in darkness. But in solitude, above all things, when made vocal to the meditative heart by the truths and services of a national church, God holds with children 'communion undisturbed.' Solitude, though it may be silent as light, is, like light, the mightiest of agencies; for solitude is essential to man. All men come into this world alone; all leave it alone."
Another preparation for his relations in life which we owe to a young person is, that he should be made familiar with such a working system of psychology or philosophy (whichever one likes to call it) as shall help him to conduct his relations with himself and with other people. The world is not ripe, perhaps, for a bona-fide science of life, but we are, unhappily, more modest than the Ancients, who made good use of what they had, and turned out a Marcus Aurelius, an Epictetus, a Socrates. Neither did they think that their youth were furnished for life without instruction in philosophy. Modern scientists have added a great deal to the sum of available knowledge which should bear on the conduct of those relations of oneself with oneself which are implied in the term self-management, self-control, self-respect, self-love, self-help, self-abnegation, and so on. This knowledge is the more important because our power of conducting our relations with other people depends upon our power of conducting our relations with ourselves. Every man carries in his own person the key to human nature, and in proportion as we are able to use this key, we shall be tolerant, gentle, helpful, wise and reverent. The person who has "given up expecting anything" of servants, or of dependents, or of employés, or of working people, proclaims his ignorance of those springs of conduct common to us all.
Here is another use of books, the right books; but that is just the question, I hear you say--which are the right books? That is a point upon which I should not wish to play Sir Oracle. The "hundred best books for the schoolroom" may be put down on a list, but not by me. I venture to propose one or two principles of action in the matter of school books, and shall leave the far more difficult part, the application of those principles, to you. For example, I think we owe it to our children to let them dig their knowledge, of whatever subject, for themselves out of the fit book; and this for two reasons: What a child digs for is his own possession; what is poured into his ear, like the idle song of a pleasant singer, floats out as lightly as it came in, and is rarely assimilated. I do not mean to say that the lecture and the oral lesson are without their uses; but these uses are, to give impulse and to order knowledge, and not to convey knowledge, or to afford us that part of our education which comes of fit knowledge, fitly imparted.
Again, as I have already said, ideas must reach us directly from the mind of the thinker, and it is chiefly by means of the books they have written that we get into touch with the best minds.
As to the distinguishing marks of a book for the schoolroom, a word or two may be said. A fit book is not necessarily a big book. John Quincey Adams, aged nine, wrote to his father for the fourth volume of Smollett for his private reading, though, as he owned up, his thoughts were running on birds' eggs; and perhaps some of us remember going religiously through the many volumes of Alison's History of Europe with a private feeling that the bigness of the book swelled the virtue of the reader. But now big men write little books-to be used with discretion,--because sometimes the little books are no more than abstracts, the dry bones of the subjects; and sometimes the little books are fresh and living. Again, we need not always insist that a book should be written by the original thinker. It sometimes happens that second-rate minds have assimilated the matter in hand, and are able to give out what is their own thought (only because they have made it their own) in a form more suitable for our purpose than that of the first-hand thinkers. We cannot make any hard and fast rule; a big book or a little book, a book at first-hand or at second-hand, either may be right, provided we have it in us to discern a living book, quick, and informed with the ideas proper to the subject of which it treats.
So much for the right books; the right use of them is another matter. The children must enjoy the book. The ideas it holds must each make that sudden, delightful, impact upon their minds, must cause that intellectual stir, which mark the inception of an idea. The teacher's part in this regard is to see and feel for himself, and then to rouse his pupils by an appreciative look or word; but to beware how he deadens the impression by a flood of talk. Intellectual sympathy is very stimulating; but we have all been in the case of the little girl who said, "Mother, I think I could understand if you did not explain quite so much." A teacher said of her pupil, "I find it so hard to tell whether she has really grasped a thing or whether she has only got the mechanical hang of it." Children are imitative monkeys, and it is the "mechanical hang" that is apt to arrive after a douche of explanation.
This, of getting ideas out of them, is by no means all we must do with books. In all labour there is profit, at any rate in some labour; and the labour of thought is what his book must induce in the child. He must generalize, classify, infer, judge, visualize, discriminate, labour in one way or another, with that capable mind of his until the substance of his book is assimilated or rejected, according as he shall determine; for the determination rests with him and not with his teacher.
The simplest way of dealing with a paragraph or a chapter is to require the child to narrate its contents after a single attentive reading,--one reading, however slow, should be made a condition, for we are all too apt to make sure we shall have another opportunity of finding out "what 'tis all about." There is the weekly review if we fail to get a clear grasp of the news of the day; and, if we fail a second time, there is a monthly or a quarterly review or an annual summing up: in fact, many of us let present-day history pass by us with easy minds, feeling sure that, in the end, we shall be compelled to see the bearings of events. This is a bad habit to get into; and we should do well to save our children by not giving them the vague expectation of second and third and tenth opportunities to do that which should have been done at first.
There is much difference between intelligent reading, which the pupil should do in silence, and a mere parrot-like cramming up of contents; and it is not a bad test of education to be able to give the points of a description, the sequence of a series of incidents, the links in a chain of argument, correctly after a single careful reading. This is a power which a barrister, a publisher, a scholar, labours to acquire; and it is a power which children can acquire with great ease, and once acquired, the gulf is bridged which divides the reading from the non-reading community. But this is only one way to use books: another is to enumerate the statements in a given paragraph or chapter; to analyze a chapter, to divide it into paragraphs under proper headings, to tabulate and classify series; to trace cause to consequence, and consequence to cause; to discern character and perceive how character and circumstance interact; to get lessons of life and conduct, or the living knowledge which makes for science, out of books; all this is possible for school boys and girls, and until they have begun to use books for themselves in such ways, they can hardly be said to have begun their education.
The teacher's part is, in the first place, to see what is to be done, to look over the work of the day in advance and see what mental discipline, as well as what vital knowledge, this and that lesson afford; and then to set such questions and such tasks as shall give full scope to his pupils' mental activity. Let marginal notes be freely made, as neatly and beautifully as may be, for books should be handled with reverence. Let numbers, letters, underlining be used to help the eye and to save the needless fag of writing abstracts. Let the pupil write for himself half-a-dozen questions which cover the passage studied; he need not write the answers if he be taught that the mind can know nothing but what it can produce in the form of an answer to a question.
These few hints by no means cover the disciplinary uses of a good school book; but let us be careful that our disciplinary devices, and our mechanical devices to secure and tabulate the substance of knowledge, do not come between the children and that which is the soul of the book, the living thought it contains. Science is doing so much for us in these days, nature is drawing so close to us, art is unfolding so much meaning to us, the world is becoming so rich for us, that we are a little in danger of neglecting the art of deriving sustenance from books. Let us not in such wise impoverish our lives and the lives of our children; for, to quote the golden words of Milton:--"Books are not absolutely dead things, but do contain a potency of life in them to be as active as that soul was, whose progeny they are; nay, they do preserve, as in a vial, the purest efficacy and extraction of that living intellect that bred them. As good almost kill a man, as kill a good book; who kills a man kills a good reasonable creature, God's image; but he who destroys a good book, kills reason itself--kills the image of God, as it were, in the eye."
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Mrs. Percy Bigland (Chairman): We have listened to a delightful paper overflowing with suggestions. When I first saw the subject of the paper, I am afraid that I thought "School Books" a little dry, but this paper is teeming with thoughts of fresh life and living ideas. One great point I think we should note is the forming of mental habits. It is so difficult to concentrate one's mind on a particular subject just at the moment one wishes to, and I think if we had been taught as children to attend to the one thing we were doing at the moment, we should have been greatly helped in after life. A great author once told me that the way to learn concentration is to attend simply to one thing at a time: for instance, if you are buttoning your glove, think of nothing else at that particular moment.
Lady Campbell: There is no doubt that teaching children to concentrate their thoughts on the little acts of life would be a great help to them. One tries to do two or three things at once, and then one's mind cannot concentrate. The great point I want to speak about is one of those mentioned in Miss Mason's paper--"God speaks to children, but in solitude." I think that is one of the things this generation is a little apt to overlook. I am not sure we are going to leave any solitude to our children at all. We are so anxious to employ their time and attention, that I think we overlook the value of the germinating period. We all know the value of digestion. None of us would think of feeding our children all day long, and giving their stomachs no rest; but we don't always draw the analogy. We are so anxious to feed their minds, and feed them so much, that I don't know where the time for mental digestion comes in. I feel that is one of the advantages the former generation had over this. If one reads a diary of a former generation, the children seem to have had a long time to themselves. The parents were there as a sort of overlooking Providence--a court of appeal in cases of emergency--but the children seem to have had such long times to work out their own salvation--to try and work out things for themselves. I am sure we ought to think of the time our children have to themselves, for those are the moments when the soul grows.
Proofread May 2011, LNL