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BY A. H. WELD, A. M., FORMER SUPERINTENDENT OF ST. CROIX COUNTY,
[Lecture delivered before the St. Croix Valley Teachers' Association, Nov. 19, 1872.) Having discussed the influence of natural agencies upon the cultivation and improvement of the mind, and incidentally the qualifications of teachers requisite for the use of these agencies, I will briefly consider some of the artificial agencies employed for the same end.
In civilized nations there is generally found what are termed systems of education. The word system here implies a combination of means and agencies for promoting popular education. Most of the states in our own country have a system of their own. In the state of Wisconsin there are a state university, three normal schools, and five thousand or more public schools. From the public school fund and taxes, about two millions of dollars are annually expended for school purposes. To operate this system five thousand teachers are required, but owing to changes during the year in most of the districts, nine thousand teachers are actually employed. A formidable army when brought into the field of action. Clad in the panoply of learning, zeal and patriotism, they are a greater power in the state than a standing army of thrice their number.
There are nearly four hundred private schools in the state which derive no support from the funds or taxable property in the state, but as they are supported by the people, they should be reckoned as a part of the general system of instruction. Such are the means employed in a single state for the education of its children and youth.
Similar provisions exist in most of the other states. It may now be truly said that the means of education are brought to the very doors of nearly every citizen of the United States, and that parents are without excuse who suffer their children to grow up in ignorance. So long as a prevailing appreciation of educational influences exists in our country, and so far as the great ends of human culture are apprehended and felt by parents and teachers, the people may rejoice in their form of government and rest assured of its stability. The con quest of such a people is impossible, and their liberties rest upon an immovable foundation.
As laborers in one department of this system you are now assembled to consult together upon the best methods of applying the agencies within your control to the improvement and elevation of the public school. The public school, a branch in the state system, is nevertheless a system within itself. As a system it comprises, within certain territorial limits, the electors, a school house, the district officers, the teacher and the pupils. Perfection would imply perfection in each of its parts. The electors would be so right-minded as to choose their best men for officers, and so liberal and so wise that with unstinted expenditure they would make their school-house a model of beauty, comfort and convenience ; they would take great delight in the selection of a site which would be health-inspiring and attractive, and in the suitable adornment of the grounds, and in the neatness of the enclosure ; they would ungrudgingly supply all the needful maps, charts, books and illustrative apparatus. In their perfected reason they would even do much more, if their means would justify it, for the place where the idols of their hearts would spend so large a part of the most susceptible period of their lives, and where every habit formed and every impression made upon their plastic minds would be as lasting as life itself.
In a perfect system, district officers would faithfully and tenderly care for the interests of the school, and in the exercise of their delegated powers would make every authorized provision seasonably and promptly for the comfort and convenience of the school. Like Aaron and Hur they would stay up the arms of the teacher they had wisely selected.
We have now before as the ideal body of a school; a model district; a model school-house. But there is still something wanting : a living soul “ to actuate the whole," and this is the teacher. With bim, now lies the responsibility of all this outlay and sacrifice. failure all these provisions, however wisely and liberally made, are but a useless waste ; unfaithful to his trust he disappoints the cherished hopes of parents who find their only relief in the short duration of his engagement.
In our public schools teaching must of necessity be elementary
Upon his Agencies in Education.
Some branches are merely arts, as chirography and linear drawing. In some branches the faculty of memory is chiefly concerned; as in spelling and the outlines of geography. In others the powers of both memory and calculation are involved. Reading is, to some extent, an art, and requires a careful training of the organs of speech. These are commonly termed the elementary branches. No one of them is very inspiring to the imagination, and teachers who are confined to these are in imminent danger of becoming feeble-minded and dwarfish in their culture and general knowledge. But in teaching these, there is singular opportunity for the display of art, skill and ingenuity. And oftentimes the brightest qualities of the teacher shine forth in these elementary classes. Not long since, in one of our normal schools, 1 found one of the most noted teachers and educators in the state teaching a class of teachers in the simple elements of reading. In this work he displayed the talents of an educator more than he could have done before a class in geometry or conic sections. In another room I found a lady who had been the principal of one of the first graded schools in the state, teaching also a class of teachers how to make correctly the algebraic signs in multiplication and addition; but even in this simple work she evinced the skill of an accomplished teacher. One of the greatest obstacles to progress in knowledge is the lack of thorough elementary training. Students are advanced too rapidly over first principles, and sooner or later are obliged to retrace their steps, often to their own discouragement and the disappointment of others.
The teacher is the life and soul of his school. His own spirit will: inevitably be diffused in his school, and his own example, methods and style will be, in a greater or less degree, impressed upon his pupils. These will be likely to attach the same importance to any branch of study as their teacher. Whatever impresses his own mind will be felt in the hearts of those under his guidance.
Every intelligent and earnest teacher knows that a single element reappears in a thousand different combinations throughout an extended course of study. Knowing this, and feeling it, he dwells upon it, presenting it in different and impressive forms until it is thoroughly mastered by the pupil.
The truly zealous teacher becomes enthusiastic in the simple elements of reading (or the power and articulation of letters), because he feels the necessity of distinct enunciation, and knows that these same elements reappear in thousands of different words.
There is some diversity in views as to the methods of teaching the different branches; and it is doubtless often of signal benefit to the
young to become acquainted with the modes of management of successful teachers. The practical benefits of institutes and associations are found in the suggestions and exhibitions of experienced teachers and educators.
But of this I am convinced, that the thoroughly earnest teacher, who sees and knows what is to be done, and who feels that it must be done, will not lose his way in doing it. His methods will be justified by his success. Men who have gained eminence in any calling of life find it difficult to point out to others the way by which they have reached it. This is especially true of successful teachers. Still it may be remarked that, in the early stages of education, those methods of instruction are the best which excite the interest and the curiosity of children, and inspire the love of learning. In advanced stages, objects higher than mere learning will not be lost sight of in choosing the best methods of recitation.
Clearness and facility of expression, the power of holding in the memory a continuity of reasoning, facts, and ideas; self possession and thoroughness and completeness in the the knowledge of the topics assigned, are among the most important results of good methods of instruction. After the student has done his work, it is the privi. lege of the instructor to elucidate whatever is obscure by illustrations, and awaken thought by pertinent questions.
The method of recitation by topics under a judicious and competent teacher can hardly fail to meet the requirements above enumerated.
To accomplish the highest ends of education, the natural and artificial agencies should go hand in hand.
Something more than the dry details of artistic training is demanded to fit our children and youth for the destinies and the responsibilities, and the activities of life.
The high duties and requirements of the work of teaching demand that it should be ranked among the learned professions; and that none should be admitted to its responsibilities, even in the humblest sphere, with qualifications in the least degree inferior to the exactions of other professions.
But our systems of education are adapted to our present necessities and a century must intervene before teaching will stand upon the level of other professions.
Teachers have no cause of discouragement. The work of such as are faithful and competent is better appreciated and better rewarded than in any past period. In every successive generation parents are better educated, and claim for their children more ample opportunities for culture.
The demand for higher qualifications should inspire every true and earnest teacher to extend the boundaries of his own knowledge and consecrate his energies to the noble work of training the rising generation to the responsibilities of citizenship and to occupy stations and places of those who will soon pass from the field of action.
In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thy hand; for thou knowest not whether shall prosper either this or that, or whether they both, shall be alike good.
A STEP-CHILD OF OUR COMMON SCHOOLS.
The step-child we are going to introduce to your (if possible, favorable) notice, is not an olive branch in the flesh, although it certainly is a branch; nor is it the only step-child of Dame Common School, but one of several more or less neglected scions adopted by her. Music is one of them; Drawing is another; and so is Composition Writing, the subject of this sketch.
No branch which common sense tells us ought to be taught, and well taught, and which the law, as yet, does not require all of us to teach, receives less attention than “ Composition Writing." We speak of the common school, but there are also institutions of a higher order, where that branch is not in special favor. We have, during the last few years, taken pains to collect statistics on this subject, and we feel justified in calling it a step-child of the school. Here are a few of the answers we received, on asking our colleagues the ominous question, “What do you think of composition writing ?”
“Oh, that's a horrid bore, I always avoid it if I possibly can.”
“ To be candid, I never wrote a decent composition in all my life, and I cannot expect my pupils to do what I am incapable of."
“Don't talk of compositions to me-it takes a talent for literature to write a good essay, and two-thirds of my pupils would rather be thrashed, than write a dozen lines per week.”
“Well, I can write a tolerable composition, but I cannot teach my scholars to do it. They write such horrid nonsense. Besides, if I find them a subject, they say they cannot write on that, and if I give them leave to select it themselves, they cannot find it.”
And so, out of twenty teachers, more than one-half will shirk this branch, a few will teach it after a fashion, and only two or three will show a genuine appreciation of its use and beauty, and make it a reg. ular part of their programmes.