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tecting life, insuring property, fencing the altar, guarding the government, giving space and liberty to all the fine powers of man, and lifting him up to his own place in the order of creation." This well describes the nature of the teacher's office.
It was the boast of the Emperor Augustus, that he found Rome brick, and left it marble. Let it be the higher praise of the Public School teachers, that California was found a wilderness, but that they have contributed by their exertions to fill its valleys and cities with a virtuous and intelligent population-a richer treasure than all her nodding harvests, than all her mines of gold.
4. CONCERNING COMMON SENSE IN TEACHING."
It is one of the highest compliments we can pay a man to say that he possesses good common sense. The article in question is certainly one of the most important qualifications of a successful teacher. Call it "tact," or "knack," or faculty," or gift," or whatever you please, it implies always a clear conception of things as they exist, and an adaptation of means to the end sought.
In broaching this subject, I feel that I may place myself in the situation of the learned divine, whose third and principal division. of his discourse was concerning that of which we know nothing. I do not propose to treat of a course of instruction for graded schools, where children are presumed to be in regular attendance for a series of years, and where provision is made for a specific course of learning for all the faculties of the mind; but to consider briefly those schools remote from cities, and continued only a part of the year. What are they expected to accomplish, and what view should the common sense teacher take of his field of labor? Many of our public schools, in the sparsely settled districts of the State, are kept less than six months in the year, and even then the attendance is irregular and inconstant. Pupils may be expected to attend school from the age of six to fourteen; and allowing six months attendance in each year-a high average when one-fourth attend only three months of the year-the actual time at school will be reduced to four years. The question propounded by common sense is: What course of instruction will impart the greatest amount of useful information, and best fit the children for the duties of common life?
Now, hardly any course of study or mental exercise can be sought out which shall be utterly useless. The driest and dullest style of memorizing musty text books, and the most parrot-like verbatim recitations, involve some thought, and are not without some advantages. The thoughtful man of wealth, who, in order that his son should not grow up in idleness, compelled him to wheel a huge pile of stones from one part of his garden to another, and then wheel them back again, and so kept him wheeling them back and forth each day of the year, was wiser than the parent who allows his son to do nothing. But it would have been more sensible in the man of
*Read before California State Teachers' Institute, 1863.
wealth had he set his boy at work upon some useful labor, which would have interested his attention, instead of keeping him engaged in unprofitable drudgery.
I cannot help thinking that sometimes in our schools we set the boys to wheeling stones, instead of building walls, or clearing fields for future harvests. For instance, keeping a boy for years drilling on the stereotyped forms of solving Mental Arithmetic, committing a great mass of routine verbiage, when he ought to learn the simple forms of Written Arithmetic used in business life, is undoubtedly "wheeling stones." The boy may repeat the "solution," and the "forms," and the "conclusion," and the "therefores," and "wherefores," with a marvelous skill, and yet it is not common-sense teaching. A man was brought before an Eastern king, and extolled by the courtiers for his wonderful powers of endurance, because he could stand on one leg for twenty-four hours. "A goose can stand longer than that," said the king.
When, in school, we teach boys and girls the abstract rules and scientific mysteries and technicalities of grammar, training them skillfully to analyze complex, compound, and involved sentences, but omitting to teach them by daily practice how to express common thoughts in correct English, or how to talk correctly in ordinary conversation, without using provincialisms or cant phraseswhat are we doing but keeping them "wheeling stones," and feeding on husks?
When children study for years the columns of uncommon and obsolescent words, piled up in perpendicular obelisks, staring them in the face like huge exclamation marks of wonder and surprise, and then leave school unable to write a list of articles wanted from the corner grocery without exciting the risibilities of the groceryman, or are unable to write a friendly letter without offending the eye by misspelling the commonest words-what have they been doing but "wheeling stones?'
So when scholars are kept forever drilling on elementary principles and minute particulars, it is not in accordance with common sense. "Be thorough," is a good maxim ; but there is such a thing as being too thorough-of dwelling on particulars, to the neglect of essentials. A teacher may be painfully particular, like a good aunt of mine, years ago, who was so distressingly neat that nobody ever took any comfort in her house.
In Arithmetic, for instance, it is keeping a boy wheeling stones 'to discipline his mind" a month in learning to explain in due form the reason of "inverting the divisor in dividing one fraction by another," if thereby he should fail to learn how to write a prommissory note, compute simple interest, or make out a bill. A teacher from a graded city school would fail in an unclassified school, should he attempt to apply the same test of thoroughness, or to pursue the same exact course of study. Certain results must be obtained, to the sacrifice of many particulars which are all good in themselves. One great reason why self-educated men are practical workers, is that they learn nothing they do not want to use, and so learn it well. Concentration gives them strength. Napoleon dispensed with tents and luggage in his great armies, taking only what he wanted to use-the sword and the bayonet.
It seems to me-and the conclusion has been growing stronger each year, during twelve years' experience in public school teaching --that no small part of what children are required to learn might appropriately be headed: "Things worth forgetting." Nature is wiser than we are, and casts off the useless surplus of facts and figures into utter oblivion. Run through an ordinary school geography, and see how many bushels of chaff to a single grain of wheat. Look at the compendious arithmetics, strike out ninetenths of which, and the remainder would be more than sufficient. Look at the bulky grammar, grown fat by feeding on all other grammars printed since Lindley Murray's, of which, not even the authors could carry in their heads a moiety. Look at the school histories of our country, full to repletion of dates and chronological tables, containing more of details than any grown man in the United States could learn in a lifetime. I allude to these only to show how much a teacher must omit in the school text books, and how essential that he should have common sense to guide him in selecting.
A four years' course of study in an unclassified school can neither be very complicated nor very extensive. A matter-of-fact teacher would look at his work in something of this manner: These boys are, most of them, to become farmers, miners, mechanics, and laborers. All the scholastic education they receive will be gained here. These girls will, most of them, become the wives of farmers, miners, mechanics, and laborers. What instruction is absolutely essential to these boys and girls to fit them to grow up respectable men and women? Letting alone the geniuses and the prodigies, they are of average mental capacity. What shall be done with them? First, they must learn to read, write, and spell the English language. Reading is usually taught well enough for all practical purposes, whether according to elocutionary rules or not; but penmanship and spelling are too often sadly neglected. Almost every man, in whatever occupation engaged, is called upon to write, more or less, every day of his life. Writing involves spelling, and both are unmistakable evidences of culture, or want of it. Teach these three things thoroughly, so that every child fifteen years of age shall be able to read readily, to write legibly, and to spell correctly, the words in the English language most used in common lifè. Sacrifice everything to this--even let algebra remain a minus quantity, and the higher branches take a back seat. They are of vastly more practical value than arithmetic-the trite and venerable maxim, that the study of arithmetic is the best discipline of the mind, so often quoted by arithmetic-run-mad teachers, to the contrary notwithstanding. A knowledge of arithmetic sufficient to enable men and women to keep accounts correctly, will suffice, letting alone the mental discipline of the reasoning faculties, so often harped about. Ben. Franklin was a dullard in arithmetic ; he grew up with pretty tolerable reasoning faculties, because he kept. his perceptives wide awake. Don't let arithmetic, then, be the great nightmare of the school to squeeze out all the vitality from the scholars. Most Americans take naturally to reckoning dollars and cents, without the aid of text books.
Some knowledge of the geography of the world is necessary, and particularly that of our own country. But common sense declines. to expect that little boys and girls should learn the names and locations of the two thousand little round dots on the map of the United States, called towns and cities, with figures attached representing the population; or the names and length of the five hundred little black lines, drawn like spiders' webs over the map, representing rivers. Neither is it necessary that they should commit to memory the entire returns of the last census. Strike out one half of the questions and answers in any school geography, and the remaining twentieth will be more than most children of average ability can learn and retain. How I wish some of these bookmakers had to learn their own books! Any teacher who would expect or compel his scholars to answer all the "questions in the book” on examination day, ought to be indicted for a lack of common sense; and any committeeman who should find fault because the scholars couldn't answer them, ought to be strapped within an inch of his -collar. How many teachers, after years of study and daily use of the geography, can remember one fifth of the tenth-rate rivers and towns, or one twentieth of the hackneyed descriptions. I would flog a child of mine if he wouldn't forget such rubbish.
A general knowledge of the leading events in the history of our own country, they should be expected to acquire; but if, on examination day, they fail to tell the exact day and hour on which every battle of King Philip's war, the French and Indian war, or the Revolution, or the war of eighteen hundred and twelve, and exactly how many were killed, wounded, and missing; or should they forget that wonderful account given by one school history, of two early settlers of New England, who were frightened up a tree by a lion, and remained there in perfect terror, and came safely down the next day!--common sense would not be shocked.
Next in importance, comes a knowledge of language, and of the meaning and use of words. This must be communicated by the teacher, in questions on reading lessons, and in oral lessons. Dictionaries alone cannot impart it. Printed words are valuable only as the medium of ideas; if the medium is opaque, the ideas will be muddy. After a knowledge of language, comes the framework of grammar. And here, I think, common sense steps in and dictates that in order that scholars may learn to speak and write the English language correctly, they should be exercised in writing sentences, and talking sentences, instead of continually tearing to pieces the sentences of others. Exercises on grammar, sufficient to enable them to write a letter, and speak plain English correctly, should be embraced in the course.
Some little knowledge of physiology and hygiene should be imparted, inasmuch as each boy has to take care of his own body, and when he ruins that by ignorance of the laws of health, he will find. it very inconvenient to transfer his knowledge of arithmetic and accompanying mental discipline to another corpus. And as most of the young girls will become mothers, and consequently the custodians of the constitutions of the next succeeding generation, common sense opens its eyes in astonishment that committeemen and school
teachers should ignore all allusion to physiology, anatomy, and the laws of health, and exalt arithmetic, algebra, and the fashionable branches.
A little drawing, a little vocal music, a little calisthenic and gymnastic training, may be introduced as incidental amusements and recreations. Some provision should be made during the whole course for daily exercise of the perceptive and the expressive faculties, as well as for the reasoning powers. Children should be trained to habits of observation. They should be trained to distinguish colors; to tell the properties of the common objects by which they are surrounded; should be taught something of natural history, at least enough, to distinguish a dog from a coyote, or a grizzly bear from a calf, or potatoes from yams, or cauliflowers from cabbages. A boy instinctively turns to stories of birds, beasts, and fishes.
Herein lies the most grievous deficiency of our schools: that they deal with the abstract instead of the real. I have repeatedly asked classes which could run off pages of questions in geography with marvelous rapidity, to point north, and the direction generally has been perpendicularly up to the zenith; they had no notion whatever of directions, except as the top and bottom of the map. A city was to them a dot, nothing more; a river-a crooked line; and a mountain a definition. How many classes have I seen versed in "the tables," who would estimate the dimensions of a room sixteen feet by twenty, in numbers ranging from five and forty to ten and eighty; how many who could not estimate the weight of an object weighing five pounds, within four pounds of its weight; how many that had no notion of a mile, except as three hundred and twenty rods; how many who could “ parse like a book," and yet could not write five consecutive sentences in tolerable English!
If common sense were a school-master, he would look with favor on the system of object training as supplying a basis of actual knowledge, on which the reasoning faculties should afterwards be exercised. He would also endeavor to collect a small school library, well knowing that many a boy who grows dull, listless, and lazy over his set tasks, will absorb general knowledge from readable books, as a thirsty plant drinks in the rain-drops of a summer shower. In governing his school, he would treat scholars like human beings, bearing in mind that children are born to be happy, not miserable; and that school ought to be made a pleasant place.
The teacher must expect to leave much untaught. If he attempts to teach everything, he will fail; for nobody ever succeeded. He must expect to find some dull scholars, some obstinate ones, some vicious ones, some troublesome ones, some negative ones, some good ones; if he is a philosopher, gifted with a sublime common sense, he will go calmly and quietly at work, do his duty faithfully, and not worry about results-bearing in mind that all the stupid boys and dull scholars, somehow or other, generally grow up into respectable average men and women.