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"The first and grand characteristic, which has already been adverted to, is their connexion with the national Church. It was undoubtedly fitting that institutions designed for the moral training of youth, and for impressing upon their tender minds the character best calculated to render them good men and useful members of society, should be placed under the superintendence of those whose office is conversant with the highest spiritual interests of man. And if the Church has strengthened her bulwarks, by having the youth of the land formed, through her influence in the parish school, for her admiration and defence, she has repaid the benefit by surrounding the school with a portion of her own sanctity and interest in the affections of the people; thus communicating to it the pledges of her own durability.
"In the practical arrangements for the support of our parochial schools, a peculiar excellence has been pointed out, (particularly by Dr. Chalmers,*) viz. that of combining the advantages which schools upon other principles only enjoy separately. The school which is sustained exclusively by endowment enjoys in the fund for its support a provision for its permanence, but it wants the stimulus and energy infused by a dependance on fees. other hand, the adventure school, or that which is supported exclusively by fees, is, of necessity, instinct with life and activity; but it is destitute of the independent character and the power of surviving fluctuation, which an endowment confers. It will readily be perceived how these opposing advantages are united, and their countervailing disadvantages obviated in the parochial school.
"The legal provision of salary, school-house, dwelling-house, and garden, secures the permanent establishment of at least one school with an independent and respectable teacher in every parish, and is attended with various advantages corresponding to the different circumstances which exist. It creates and sustains throughout the land the thirst for knowledge, which otherwise would not thus widely exist; for all experience teaches, that this is not a spontaneous appetite of man, but must be implanted and kept in life and vigour by external and obtrusive applications. The utility of the legal provision in this respect is especially perceptible in the remote, unproductive, and thinly-peopled districts, where it provides education for those who would otherwise want even the desire to obtain it, and who could not satisfy that desire, if it did exist, from inability to pay fees. The benefit of the system is equally certain, if less striking, in more populous and fertile parishes. It is true that there the desire originally implanted by the parish school evinces itself in the erection of other seminaries. But these are exposed to the risk of many contingencies. A change in the population, a temporary paucity of scholars, the age, the infirmity, the misconduct or the misfortune of a teacher, popular prejudice or caprice,- any one of these causes may, and does continually, prove destructive to the school, which even itself, perchance, or a similar circumstance affecting the parochial school, erected. The legal provision carries the latter safe through all such perils. An incumbent may sink under them, and the school may for a time be deserted, but the institution stands firm under the shadow of the Church and the law, and waits only till the cloud has passed, to re-assert its claims and vindicate its usefulness.
"But it is evident that, although the Church superintends, and the law provides an endowment, there is yet something wanting to appeal to those interests and considerations, by which, in the wisdom of Divine Providence, men are, whether through the weakness of human nature, or from motives of a more exalted character, roused to active exertion. Enough may be done to avoid the sanction of the Church's power, though much is left
Considerations on the System of Parochial Schools in Scotland. Glasgow, 1819.
undone; and if so, the legal provision is secure, whatever the amount of exertion.
"The stimulus thus wanted is provided in the shape of fees, which the schoolmaster is not only permitted, but enjoined to exact. The advantage of this is not confined to the appeal which is made to the teacher's desire to better his circumstances. Where fees are exacted, there is a contract entered into between the teacher and the parents or guardians of his pupils, which imposes upon the former a clear and acknowledged responsibility of a powerfully stimulating nature. The other party, again, is secured in a right of expectation, which, however silently it may be regarded by both, cannot fail of an active and efficient operation. It is true, that the parents and guardians of children are, in the general case, little qualified to judge of the conduct of a school, or of the merits of systems of education, or even, it may be, of the progress made by the scholars. When they interfere in these matters, they go out of their sphere. But it is equally certain that they are excellent judges, if not the best, of all those outward but sure symptoms, which indicate laxity or negligence in the discharge of professional duty, and that they are not slow to mark their sense of such derelictions.
"It is thus that the advantage of the adventure or voluntary school is engrafted upon that which is enjoyed by the endowed school;-the benefit attendant upon popular opinion acting as a powerful incentive to exertion, while the legal provision rescues from entire dependance upon, or subserviency to, that opinion."-Report, pp. 4—7.
If these advantages result from the co-operation of the State and a mere human institution like the presbyterian kirk in Scotland, how much more may still higher advantages be expected to result from the institution of friendly relations and an active co-operation, between the State and that apostolic branch of the Catholic Church which is established, by God's good providence, in our own favoured part of the island!
Many of the teachers in our parochial schools are beginning to pay greater attention than heretofore to questioning their classes on the lessons they read; but the kind of questioning made use of is not unfrequently of an unprofitable kind. Mr. Menzies makes the same complaint with regard to some of the schools visited by him.
"While the improved methods," he says, referring chiefly to those which originated in the Édinburgh Sessional Schools, “have in numerous instances produced pleasing and satisfactory results, they have been applied elsewhere with a smaller measure of success; and, in some instances, misapprehension or forgetfulness of their principle and object has rendered them entirely, or in a great degree, unproductive of benefit. This has been the unfortunate consequence, wherever it has been overlooked or forgotten, that the mere asking and answering of questions is not in itself an intellectual exercise, and that it is beneficial only in the degree in which it excites the mental energies of the pupil. It has happened here, as too frequently in other cases, that the form has been mistaken for, and has assumed the place of the substance. And when questions are asked, it is thought sufficient that a verbal answer is given, without any reference to the mental process by which it is prepared,-whether it be indicated by the form of the question, or by the form of the sentence containing the substance of it; or whether it be given word for word as found in the book; in which case it is a mere exercise of memory.
"These errors seem to be engendered, in a considerable degree, by the use of a series of books, which, although they may have done much good by exhibiting a mode of exercising intellectually, are now in general applied too formally and literally, and are thus the occasion of that which they were designed to make a mental and intellectual exercise, degenerating into a mere form and matter of rote. A sentence is taken, and every possible question arising out of its construction is put; thus, The wind blows from the east ;-questions, What blows from the east?'-'what does the wind do?'-' whence does the wind blow?' This is no doubt a good exercise, as long as it is confined to sentences intelligible to the pupil, and as long as care is taken that he is fully aware of the true import and force of the questions. But when the same questions, mutatis mutandis, are reiterated upon every sentence which is read, it is quite obvious that a pupil, by the exercise of a very moderate portion of discrimination, will be able to infer the answer to the question from the mere form and construction of the sentence, and from observing the relations of its different members, although he may be entirely ignorant of the meaning of the words forming the answer. Thus a similar series of questions might be put upon the sentence, 'A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump;' and the boy who had been exercised upon the former sentence would answer correctly here, though ignorant of the meaning of all the essential words, under the guidance of his ear, of the similarity of the questions, and of the disposition of the members of the sentence.
"This points out a great evil arising from this formal mode of interrogation, viz. that the pupil continuing to answer correctly the usual routine of questions, the teacher is deceived into the idea that this is a test of his understanding what he reads, however contrary that may be to the actual state of the fact.
"Another liability to error arises from the mode in which examination is practised upon the Histories, &c. used in our schools; printed forms of questions being generally appended to each chapter. These forms were certainly a great step in improvement, and we should be sorry to see them removed, if no other mode of examination were to be substituted. The natural consequence, however, of the pupil having in his book the precise questions which are to be asked, is, that he turns up the passage containing the answer, and learns it by heart; and thus, such examinations generally elicit merely a series of passages committed to memory, and cannot afford such a test of attentive reading, and of intelligence, and power of expression, as where the questions are put at the moment, and directed so as to oblige the pupil to answer in his own words.
"Another form of the same error is found in the laborious commission to memory of definitions, &c. of words, from vocabularies and dictionaries, without reference to any passage or context in which they occur, or to any other association which will contribute to preserve the recollection of them. This is a pure exercise of memory, and as such may be useful; but it is not in any degree, as it is sometimes supposed to be, an exercise of the understanding."-Report, pp. 51, 52.
We hope to see the time when the present banded conspiracy, as it would seem to be, against instructing children in the meaning of what they read or commit to memory, will be dissolved; and when those who are engaged in imparting or superintending instruction will practically acknowledge, that when we put a reading-book or a lesson-book into a child's hands, we ought to have some higher, some worthier, some more living end in view, than merely that of making him familiar with the forms and sounds of words.* Various
Writing is attended with another evil also, and in this respect it resembles animal-painting; for the creatures of that art stand before us as if they were alive;
reasons are assigned by those who make no attempt to teach the meaning, for their declining or delaying to do so. Want of time is one of the pleas most frequently advanced.
"It is clear that when this apology is made, it is implied that the teaching of the meaning, or the instruction of the understanding, is a matter of secondary importance, and only worthy of attention after the higher object of teaching the sounds of words, or instructing the external organs, has been accomplished. It is forgotten that expertness in reading is of no value, unless accompanied with corresponding readiness and energy in understanding; and that of two individuals, one of whom has acquired perfect fluency in reading, but without comprehending what he reads, and the other, with half the degree of fluency, has acquired, so far as he has gone, a thorough understanding of words and contexts, the latter has made incomparably the greater progress in substantial and valuable knowledge, even when we give the other credit for so much intellectual acquirement as the mind will generally, by its own operations, obtain, without the aid or stimulus of direct intellectual instruction. If the truth of this proposition is admitted, it must surely be also admitted as a legitimate consequence, that a little instruction in reading, with the necessary intellectual training to make that reading understood, is better than much exercise in reading, without any intellectual instruction at all.
"But the plea of want of time proceeds upon the assumption, that whatever time is devoted to intellectual instruction is lost to the attainment of reading and the other branches. The erroneous nature of this idea, however, is proved alike by reason and experience. The excitement of the mental faculties, and the consequent interest created in the objects upon which they are exercised, have an obvious and direct tendency, not only to accelerate the pupil's progress in the department to which his attention may at the moment be more particularly directed, but also to increase the power, and facilitate the operations of these faculties in every other branch of study. This is the result which ordinary principles would lead us to expect, and experience gives ample testimony to the correctness of the inference. Those schools which are most remarkable for the intellectual character of the instruction, and where, of course, the largest portion of time is devoted to teaching the meaning of words, and the apprehension of the import of what is read, are also the most highly distinguished for the proficiency of the scholars in all the branches taught. And thus, in reality, more is done in every branch in those schools where the largest portion of time is devoted to what in others is left entirely undone upon the plea of want of time.
"Another reason sometimes stated for not teaching the meaning, &c. is, that the scholars are not old enough, or far enough advanced. This has already been adverted to, and, probably, enough has been said to show how unwise it is to postpone the intellectual culture of the pupil,-the teaching him the habit of attending to, and understanding what he reads, until other habits have been formed, which, if they do not prevent, must seriously obstruct the acquisition of the other,-habits, namely, of employing merely
but if you ask them what they mean, they look very grave and hold their tongues— σεμνῶς πάνυ σιγά. And so it is with letters. You may fancy they speak like sensible things, but if you want further information, and ask what they said, they give again and again only one and the same answer. Is there not another kind of speech?' You mean,' replies Phædrus,the word, Aóyos, in the mind of the man of knowledge: that which has life and breath, and of which the written word would rightly be called the shadow.'-' I do', said Socrates."-Sewell's Introduction to the Dialogues of Plato, pp. 195, 196.
the eyes and the tongue, of reading without understanding, of being satisfied with the sound of the words, whether the ideas are acquired or not.
"But this reason, (the youth of the pupils,) is founded upon a false estimate of the capabilities of the human mind in the earlier part of life; an estimate into which the teacher is frequently deceived by the absence of that sympathy with his pupil's mind,-that power of figuring to his own the modes of thinking and impressions of the other, which has been elsewhere remarked as an essential element in the qualifications of an accomplished instructor of youth. It is undoubtedly necessary to adapt the words or topics to the tender years of the pupil; and it may be irksome and difficult for those who have never bent their minds or ideas to such a level to make the attempt. But the powers, both of thinking and of expression, betrayed by children in their familiar relations and intercourse, give evidence of their capability to exercise the same powers on subjects suited to their years, in school; and the attempt to elicit them has never been made with discretion and judgment, without results highly gratifying to the teacher."- Report, pp. 54-56.
But where the master is content, and the children are doomed to tread the same dull mill-horse round of reading without understanding, and repeating by rote, even the meagre results desired by the advocates of this miserable "system" are not obtained.
"1. Little but words being taught, the reading is monotonous, and without intelligence, betraying that coarseness and rusticity, which indicate the absence of anything approaching to moral perception or feeling of the sense of the passage. To such a degree does this prevail, and in so undisguised a form, that in one school the lesson of the day was begun at the top of a page, in the middle of a sentence, where there was no pause in the sense, and not even the interruption of a comma; and in another, the Report states, that 'In defiance of all regard to the sense, each scholar stops at the end of his or her third line, whatever part of the sentence occurs there.'
"2. An utter inability to explain even the most familiar words, or to give any account of the passage read. To such a degree does this exist, that the mere asking of a question upon these points frequently excites the wonder and amusement of the scholars, who listen, and if they answer at all, do it with an ill-suppressed titter.
"3. The lessons have no reference to the mental power or progress of the scholar. He is found reading passages, of the general import and particular words of which he is as ignorant as of an unknown tongue. Children (and this happens very frequently, and cannot be too much regretted) who have not read the historical books of the New Testament, and are often unfit even to read them, are found labouring and blundering through the Epistles.
"It is unnecessary to point out the influence of the habits thus formed. The great object of instruction is not only not attained, but remains unknown to the pupil. His mind is taught to rest satisfied at the point where it ought only to be setting out. Learning, instead of an interesting and agreeable exercise, is a labour unrequited by the pleasure which ought to be its reward. And who can wonder, when this state of things prevails, that lessons are irksome, that there is no interest and no zeal, but studying is considered a task, and its cessation a relief?"-Report, pp. 57, 58.
And so it is with regard to every other branch of instruction. Take arithmetic for instance :
"The degree of proficiency in arithmetic generally corresponds with the extent to which the intellectual methods of instruction have been adopted.