Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

active life, how the principles of Christianity ought to operate in all the diversified circumstances and relations of society.-But, leaving this topic, in the mean time, let us attend a little more particularly to the range of instruction in our common initiatory schools.

After a knowledge of the characters of the alphabet and of the principal elementary sounds is acquired, the scholar is led through a series of dry and uninteresting lessons and spelling exercises in which his memory and his faculty of pronunciation are solely exercised. The New Testament is next put into his hand, and, after reading a portion of it with great difficulty and awkwardness, and before he is capable of reading one sentence with ease and accuracy, he is introduced to such books as "Barrie's Collection," and "Tyro's Guide," and "Scott's Beauties of Eminent Writers," in which there is scarcely one selection interesting to a youthful mind, or level to its comprehension. But this circumstance seems to be considered by many as a matter of no importance; for it is seldom or never that an attempt is made to convey to the minds of youth the ideas contained in the lessons they read and commit to memory. During these reading exercises, the Shorter Catechism is put into their hands, in order that its vocables may be committed to memory; and that, too, at so early a period, that they find the greatest difficulty in mastering the pronunciation of the long and technical terms with which it abounds. Through his ungracious task they struggle, with the greatest reluctance, and generally, too, without annexing a single idea to any of the answers they repeat. They are soon after, perhaps before they are seven years of age, introduced to the study of English grammar; and, after feeling much apathy and not a little disgust at this abstract science, and experiencing many days and hours of ungrateful labour, they are able to repeat a few of its rules, definitions, and declensions. Like so many parrots, they can tell us by rote, what is a verb, an adverb, or a preposition, or that "conjunctions which imply contingency require the subjunctive mood," without understanding what they say, or annexing a clear idea. to any of the rules or definitions they repeat. By turning over Scott's or Fulton's Dictionary, they learn that virtue is a noun, ecause n is annexed to it—that, to write is a verb, because v is annexed to it-and that from is a preposition, because pre is annexed to it; but, beyond such reasons they seldom attempt to aspire; and after two or three years' training in such exercises, they know little more of the subject, or of the application of its rules to composition, than when they first commenced. The principal acquisition made, is a facility in finding out words in a

dictionary, without any attention being paid to their meaningan object which may easily be accomplished in a few days.The useful art of writing is next attempted to be taught; and, in most instances, a far greater degree of importance is attached to the acquirement of an "elegant text," or a "fine running hand," than to the cultivation of the moral and intellectual powers, and the acquisition of substantial knowledge.-Arithmetic follows in the rear, and the scholar, after hurrying through its four fundamental rules, without any sensible illustrations of the different operations, is exercised in calculations respecting Tare and Tret, Interest and Annuities, the Square and Cube Root, Exchange, Discount and Equation of Payments, before he has the least knowledge of the nature of these transactions; and, consequently, like one walking in the dark, is unable to perceive the drift and tendency of most of his operations, or the foundation of the rules by which he calculates; and hence it happens that, when he actually engages in the business of real life, he has almost the whole of his arithmetical processes to study over again, and to re-investigate the foundations, objects, and principles, of his operations, in their applications to the transactions in which he is engaged.

In fine, during the whole of the process now described, the moral powers of the young are in a great measure overlooked, and the business of moral tuition shamefully neglected. To improve their tempers and affections, and to bend them into that direction which will tend to promote their own happiness and that of others, is considered as a matter of inferior moment, in which teachers are very little, if at all, interested. It forms, at least, no prominent object, in our schools, to meliorate the tempers of the young, to counteract the principles of malice, envy, and revenge -to inspire them with kindness and benevolence-and to train them to moral excellence. On the contrary, the mode in which they are treated has frequently a tendency to produce obstinacy, dissimulation, superstition, pride, hatred, and disaffection. The spirit of unchristian emulation, contention, and revenge, is indirectly fostered by the books they read, the discipline by which they are trained, the amusements in which they indulge, the false maxims and Pagan sentiments which are interwoven through the whole course of their education, and by the admiration which is attempted to be excited in their breasts for barbarous heroes and the butchers of mankind. The active powers of the young being thus allowed to take the natural bent of their depraved inclinations, selfishness, pride, malice, and other malignant passions, are allowed to spring up and flourish, without feeling the force of those

salutary checks which might impede their progress, or destroy them in the bud; and thus perverse habits and dispositions are induced, which “ grow with their growth, and strengthen with their strength," till at length they display themselves with diabolical energy in the scenes of domestic life, and on the theatre of the political world, amidst the contentions of communities and "the tumults of the people."

Such is the amount of the education which the great mass of our population receive prior to their entrance on the scene of active life. To affirm that it is attended by no beneficial effects, would be to fly in the face of all observation and experience. It prepares the mind, in some measure, for certain avocations in civil society, and for the reception of knowledge in after life, should it ever be exhibited in a more judicious and intelligent manner; and, in some instances, when combined with judicious domestic instruction, it will assist and direct the pupil, in the pursuit of knowledge and of mental enjoyments. But, considered by itself, as a system of culture for rational and immortal beings, in order to the development of their moral and intellectual powers, and as a prepa. ration for a higher state of existence, it is miserably deficient, both in the means which are employed, in the range of instruction, and in the objects which it is calculated to accomplish.-To illustrate this position is the object of the following remarks.

I. In the first place, one glaring defect which runs through the whole system of initiatory instruction (except in very rare instances) is that no attempt is made to convey ideas to the youthful mind, along with the elementary sounds of language and the art of pronunciation. Provided children can mouth the words, and vociferate with alacrity the different sentences contained in their lessons, it appears to be a matter of little importance in the eyes either of teachers or of parents, whether or not they appre ciate the meaning of any one portion of the sentiments they read. Although the great object of education is "to teach the young idea how to shoot," it is almost the only object which is thrown into the shade; and those scholastic exercises which are only the means of education, are almost exclusively attended to as if they were the end. The young are thus treated as if they were only so many puppets, placed on a stage to exhibit series of mechanical movements, and as if they were not possessed of the smallest portion of intellect, and were entirely destitute of affections and passions. Yet, it is undeniable, from fact, that children, at a very carly age, are capable of receiving a variety of ideas into their minds, and of exercising their reasoning powers respecting them. Present an engraved landscape to a boy of four or five years of

age, especially as exhibited through the Optical Diagonal Machine, where he will see every object, in its true perspective as 1 appears in nature-he will at once recognise and describe, in his own way, the houses, the streets, the men, the women, the roads and carriages, and the land and water of which it is composed, and express his opinion respecting them. Present well-executed engravings of a horse, a cow, a lion, an elephant, or a monkey, and he will soon learn to distinguish the one from the other, and will feel delighted with every new exhibition that is made to him of the objects of nature or of art. And, therefore, if sensible objects, level to his capacity and range of thought, and with which he is in some measure acquainted, were uniformly exhibited in his first excursions in the path of learning, his progress in knowledge would nearly correspond to his advancement in the art of spelling and pronunciation. The absurdity of neglecting the cultivation of the understanding, in the dawn of life, and during the progress of scholastic instruction, however common it may be, is so obvious and glaring, that it scarcely requires a process of reasoning to show its irrationality, if we admit that the acquisition of knowledge ought to be one of the great ends of education. What important purpose can be gained by a number of boys and girls spending a series of years, in pronouncing, like so many parrots, a number of articulate sounds, to which they annex no corresponding ideas or impressions, and which cost them so much pain and anxiety to acquire? What is the use of the art of reading, if it be not made the medium by which knowledge and moral improvement may be communicated? And, if we neglect to teach youth to apply this mean to its proper end, while they are under regular tuition, how can we reasonably expect, that they will af terwards apply it, of their own accord, when a sufficient stimulus is wanting? By neglecting to connect the acquisition of useful information with the business of elementary instruction, we place the young nearly in the same predicament as we ourselves should be placed, were we obliged, from day to day, to read and repeat long passages from the writings of Confucius, the Alcoran of Mahomet, or the Shasters of Bramah, in the Chinese, the Turkish and the Hindoo languages, while we understood not the meaning of a single term. And how painful and disgusting should we feel such a revolting exercise!-The consequence of this absurd practice is, that, instead of exciting desires for further acquisitions in learning,-in a majority of instances, we produce a disgust to every species of mental exertion and improvement; instruction becomes unpleasant and irksome, both to the teacher and the scholar; the child leaves school without having acquired any real

1

knowledge, and destitute of any relish for it, and seldom after wards makes any use of the instructions he received for the further cultivation of his mind in wisdom and virtue. To this cause, perhaps, more than to any other, is to be attributed the deplorable ignorance which still pervades the mass of our population, notwithstanding the formal process of instruction they undergo,and the little relish they feel for devoting their leisure hours to the improvement of their minds, and to those pursuits which are congenial to rational and immortal natures.

II. Another defect which pervades the whole system of scholastic instruction in our country, and of which the former is a native consequence, is, that there is scarcely one of our elementary books adapted to the capacities of youth, and calculated to excite their attention and affections, by its interesting and instructive details.

Not to mention the dry and uninteresting lists and details contained in most of our spelling-books, and the vague and sombre moral instructions they exhibit-let us fix our attention, for a moment, on the general train of subjects contained in "Barrie's Collection," and "Tyro's Guide," and in "Scott's Beauties of Eminent Writers,"-the books most commonly used in the parochial and other schools in this country, and we shall soon per. ceive that they are every thing but calculated for the purpose intended. These works (which, like some others of the same fry, seem to have been constructed by means of the scissors) chiefly contain extracts illustrative of the beauties of sentiment and composition:-Speeches on political subjects formerly delivered in the Roman, Grecian, and British Senates-characters of Pope, Dryden, Milton, or Shakespeare-descriptions of the battles of Poictiers, Hastings, Agincourt, and Bannockburn-abstract eulogiums on virtue, oratory, and the art of criticism-prosing dissertations on the cultivation of taste-on happiness, retirement, and meditation-Speeches and Epilogues of stage-players, political disquisitions, foolish tales, parables and allegories-Falstaff's encomiums on sack-Hamlet's advice to players-Epilogue of Garrick for the benefit of decayed actors-the Drunken Knight and his Brawling Lady appeased-Speeches of Quinctius Capitolinus, of Romulus to his citizens, of Hannibal to Scipio, and of Galgacus to his army-East India Company's address on the junction of Spain and France-Mr. Walpole and Mr. Pitt's Parliamentary debates-Extracts from the Poems of Akenside, Thomson, Milton and Young-Speech of Sin to Satan-Speech of Satan in his infernal palace of Pandemonium-Moloch's speech to Satan-Be. ial's speech in reply-Satan's soliloquy-the combat of the Ho

« VorigeDoorgaan »