The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."

Volume 1, 1890, pg. 631

"En hoexkens ende boexkens."

"Human Intercourse" by P. G. Hamerton (Macmillan, 7s. 6d.), is no new work. The copy before me is dated 1884, and yet, I fancy, the book is not at all widely known. The writer, who is an authority on matters connected with etching, has in this volume given the world the impressions of a scholarly and contemplative mind. According to Aristotle, the contemplative life is the only one worth living, and we presume the harvest of it is the only harvest worth gleaning." Sweet it is to stand upon the shore and watch ships tossed upon the sea," and on the tossing of our frail barks, and on the reason for the unrest of the sea of life, these pages have much to say. Family Ties," "Fathers and Sons," "Genteel Ignorance," "Courtesy in Epistolary Communication," are fascinating titles for chapters when we know that a scholar is writing, and much that is true and much that men will not open their eyes to is stated bluntly enough here. "There is nothing in the mere fact of fraternity to establish friendship;" "the peculiar peril of blood-relationship is that those who are closely connected by it often permit themselves an amount of mutual rudeness which they would never think of inflicting upon a stranger." "I have heard of a boy who went into domestic service under a feigned name that he might be out of the range of his brutal father's tongue." Containing these unpromising sentences the chapter on Family Ties is yet full of wisdom, and the paper on Fathers and Sons boldly faces the truth that we are in a transition age in which fathers are willingly descending from their pedestal of old authority without having found out the new pedestal on which to take their stand. How many people understand the "rights of the guest," and how many guests act as if "it is a clear breach of hospitality and of manners to utter anything in disparagement of any opinion whatever that is known to be held by any one guest present?" Nowhere can you find the uses of moderate wealth set more clearly forth than in the chapter on Rank and Riches. There are deeper thoughts on deeper subjects; but nowhere is the author an iconoclast, or a setter forth of new doctrines. His intimate knowledge of the ways of life among two great nations justifies his book, which is an analysis of manners and a guide book (if there be any who need one or will profit by one) to the gentle life. It is a great pity that so fair a writer should choose to misapprehend and to misjudge the teachings of Christianity. In Cardinal Newman's definition of a gentleman we read, "Even if he be an unbeliever he respects piety an devotion; he even supports institutions, as venerable, beautiful, and useful, to which he does not assent; he honours the ministers of religion, and it contents him to decline its mysteries without denouncing or assailing them."

PSYCHOLOGY. -- The best introduction to a brief consideration of this subject will be a few remarks on the works of three leading teachers of the present day -- Professor Bain, Mr. Sully, and Mr. Herbert Spencer. These writers agree in one point - that of representing the practice of education as needing considerable reform, and that the time has arrived when something must be done; but as to what that is, there does not appear to be a like degree of unanimity. Another point of accord is, they are all eminent psychologists; perhaps in this respect rising in popularity in the order I have named them; the last, however, being exceptional in taking other ground than that which is generally regarded as psychological as the basis of his teaching. While appropriating many valuable observations of these writers, and feeling deeply indebted for them, we may still be permitted to notice, with much deference to their high authority and distrust of our own limited perception, a few particulars appearing more as omissions than defects, and which by no means overshadow the special merit of each work. The first of these -- the absence of any practical and short system of teaching -- amounts in these cases to a serious loss. The great question is -- What are the best methods for developing our children's faculties? I have failed to find a practical answer in psychology.

The title Professor Bain gives his book - "Education as a Science" - raises our hope that in it, if anywhere, we shall find some orderly arrangement on which education may be carried out and accompanied by some of that certainty and thoroughness with which we approach the study of an experimental science. But this hope is soon dashed by reading in the preface that the author has only "tested and amended the maxims of ordinary experience by the laws of the mind," a proceeding partaking rather of the deductive than of the inductive method, being so far a return to the high and dry teaching of authority, and that, with the added liability to be mistaken in its uniform and drill for something better. Nor is our confidence restored when a little further on we find the following observation:-- "The leading inquiry in the art of education is how to strengthen the memory" (p. 8). I could hardly believe this of Professor Bain, until I found the principle seriously worked out in his introductory chapters; but was once more consoled, however, by finding towards the end of the book that the death-blow to such an ogre had been given in his own words, "Of all the evasions coming under the designation unmask" (p. 308). But when the "time-honoured composition called the Catechism" (same page) was brought in as an example of this evasion, I could not help thinking the illustration was as recklessly used as the self-condemned assertion. Then the frequent use of abstract terms, and the logical, rather than the natural, arrangement of the earlier parts of the book gave it an air of stiffness and unreality which might easily have been avoided. But, on the other hand, the classification of mental elements into activities, senses, emotions, and intellectual powers, together with suggested development of these elements under the influence of pleasure and pain, opens quite a new departure from the scholastic models. And the sequence of studies - "Things first, words second" -- mother-tongue, modern languages, art, and lastly science -- though not an original programme -- commends itself at once to everybody's acceptance and use.

In his preface, Mr. Sully warns us that psychology, though the only practical science in guiding the whole mind, does not open up an easy road to the teacher, but only "helps to correct and improve our empirical rules." We want something positive, and may reasonably expect to find in so large a book some definite realisation of this moderate prospect. Unfortunately the ambiguous meaning of its title, "Outlines of Psychology with special reference to the Theory of Education," shows it to be neither a purely metaphysical work nor a thoroughly practical treatise, but an attempt to satisfy the uncompromising demand of the day with the relics of the schools, rehashed indeed, but ground to powder in the process. The disproportion of large print to small, which alone contains the special reference, proves how inadequately treated is the only useful object it refers to, while some early inconsistencies render the task of discrimination difficult; for instance, the consideration of attention, not before it, as on page 77. Again, after remarking in connection with the study of words in a new language, "The depth of the impression depends on the frequency of the repetitions" (page 232), it seems an ingenuous contradiction to remark, "Hardly anything requires to be said at the present day on learning things, and not simply words" (page 296). Next page we find the following canon, "Things should be taught only so far as the understood relations between facts form the main basis of acquisition." It is not by this kind of teaching that a heavy demand is made on verbal memory in geography, history, and arithmetic (page 299), but by the frequent repetition of unexplained and misunderstood rules and words. Notwithstanding these seeming aberrations, Mr. Sully's work is most important and suggestive. I have adopted as the best summary I could find his sketch of the reasoning process by which ordinary judgments are formed through observation and inference. Together with this, the threefold division of mental operations into inductive, deductive, and practical (page 441), and the value set on self-reliance as a moral (page 568), and an intellectual power (pages 623-4), make this book a much-needed transition between the effete systems of a past generation and the more natural ones of the present.

Though some of the articles forming Mr. Spencer's book were published upwards of thirty years ago, it must still be looked upon as marking the advanced post in the camp of Nature's teachers. In it there is no attempt at system, because a clearance must first be made of the many hoary, but not beneficent, idols still cumbering the ground of teaching, before a new erection can be planned. While recognising the value of this vantage ground, we may be pardoned, perhaps, for complaining of the absence of some of the usual means for handling a book like this, such as a table of contents or an index, both of which are absent in the edition of 1861. Also, we cannot but regret the very few instances Spencer enumerates of the actual application of his proposed reforms to particular cases, and the second-hand character of those that are given. By the thinness of the soil in this direction, and the consequently stunted condition of the herbage, we are tempted to conclude that a theoretical, rather than an experimental, treatment would be the more congenial to him.

However this may be, it would be the height of imprudence not to make the best use we can of the light given, though it fall short of the brilliancy we might have expected. Spencer is the only writer I know of who uses psychology as a means to draw attention to the "enormous value of that spontaneous education which goes on in early years," and who concludes from it that "a child's restless observation, instead of being ignored and checked, should be diligently ministered to and made as complete as possible" (p. 29). Here it is that psychology, though generally deductive and leading on to mere theorising, in its inductions first touches Nature. Speaking of ordinary culture Spencer says, "If words given second-hand through books cannot be interpreted into ideas in proportion to the antecedent experience of things, intellectual progress cannot proceed from the concrete to the abstract." Therefore, he concludes, "nearly every subject dealt with is arranged in abnormal order, definitions and rules being put first, instead of their being disclosed as they are in the order of nature, through the study of cases . . . Then, pervading the whole, is the vicious system of rote-learning, a system sacrificing the spirit to the letter. . . No art of applying knowledge has been cultivated, therefore no active inquirer or self-instructor is developed" (p. 30). Here, apparently, not only a preference is shown for other methods than those of psychology, but an unmistakable compliance is manifested with Aristotle's trust in Nature, Quintilian's teachableness of children, and Pestalozzi's use of observation, carried on into Kant's perfecting aim, and proving thereby how complete an agreement exists among leading naturalistic teachers, and how coincident is their influence in developing human powers. Spencer's threefold measure of good training: "Is it the nearest to perfection in the things which most subserve complete living?" (p. 11), "Does it create a pleasurable excitement?" (p. 79), "Is it as much as possible a process of self-evolution?" (p. 99) -- leave no doubt as to his aim and standards; while the grave warning to parents that "they are very generally responsible for the pain, debility, depression, and misery of their offspring" (p. 27), shows that ignorance on their part is dangerous, and neglect a crime. With such deep and helpful enlightenment does Herbert Spencer touch the question of education and encourage us in its practice!

By way of establishing the above application of psychology, a study of Dr. Carpenter's "mental Physiology" would he useful. He proposes "The distinction between automatic and volitional operation as the only sound basis of education and self-discipline" (Pref. ix.), and shows how it makes itself felt throughout life by "unconscious cerebration" and "self-determining power"; -- the practical side, we may suppose, of education as he began it in the essays.

The works I have attempted, so inadequately, to review disclose many noble efforts to simplify and make known the principles of teaching most approved of at the present day, and those most likely to influence the future. It would be a great advantage to have them concisely stated and tabulated by some competent person, that they might be easily carried into practice and made the basis of an unmistakable working plan. Darmstadt.


Typed by happi, Apr 2016