« VorigeDoorgaan »
ing in brightness among the host of stars-convey to their minds fragments of useful knowledge, more diversified and practical, than any thing they acquire from their catechisms, spelling-books, grammars, and “English Readers," in the manner in which they are generally taught. In school they acquire, indeed, the means of knowledge, in being taught the arts of reading, writing, and arithmetic; but as they are seldom taught to apply these means to their proper ends, little knowledge is thereby acquired; and, in the majority of instances, they depart from school, and pass the remainder of their lives, without ever thinking of making the further cultivation of their minds even a subordinate object of pursuit-glad that they are at length released from the confinement and drudgery connected with scholastic discipline. As a proof of this I need only appeal to the ignorance, the prejudices, the foolish opinions and the wayward passions, which still pervade the greater portion of the inferior ranks of our population, and even of the middling and higher classes-and the disinclination which so generally exists to rational investigations, and to prosecuting the path of mental improvement.
Much has of late been said on the subject of abolishing corporal punishment in schools; and it is certainly a highly desirable object, which we should endeavour to promote by every means in our power. But we can have little hope that this will ever be fully attained while the present plan of education continues in operation, and while the majority of children are so injudiciously trained, as at present, by their parents and guardians. If, however, the evils complained of in this chapter were removed; if the books which are put into the hands of children were interesting and level to their comprehension; if they were taught to understand the lessons they read and commit to memory; if the understanding and the affections were as frequently exercised as the memory; if the mechanical drudgery of grammar were postponed to a period when they could enter into its spirit and applications; if the processes of arithmetic were more frequently illustrated by sensible objects and representations; if interesting experiments and representations, calculated to illustrate the operations of nature and art, were frequently exhibited; if ample and agreeable accommodation were furnished, both within and without doors; if they were not too long confined in school; if a spirit of conciliation on the part of teachers, and a disposition to bestow merited commendation, were generally exercised; if every branch of education were taught at separate hours, and the attention of the pupil completely engaged while in school; and if a system) of moral training were to form a prominent object in the business
of education-we have good reason to believe that corporal punishment might be almost, if not altogether superseded; and the employment of teaching in crowded promiscuous schools-instead of resembling Paul's "fighting with beasts at Ephesus," might become a rational, interesting, and delightful employment, both to the teacher and to the scholars.*
Hints in reference to a comprehensive and improved system of Education.
THE education of human beings, considered in its most extensive sense, comprehends every thing which is requisite to the cul
* The preceding strictures, chiefly written in 1821, were published in the Edinburgh Christian Instructor, for March 1822, and February 1823. The Author has good grounds for stating, that they proved a stimulus to the active mind of its learned Editor, the late Dr. A. Thomson, in exciting to those arrangements which were afterwards made in St. George's Parish, over which he presided, for establishing schools on a more enlightened system, both for the children of the higher and the lower ranks within that district. In the autumn of 1823, the author had several conversations with the Doctor, by special request, in reference to this subject, in which he unfolded his leading ideas on what he considered the true principles of education and the improvements that required to be introduced, which in general met the Doctor's approbation, and appeared to coincide with the views he had lately adopted on the subject. He showed the author, at the same time, a variety of natural and artificial objects, which he had partly purchased, and partly received as donations from certain benevolent ladies, with the view of introducing them as part of an improved system of tuition which he intended soon to establish; and urgently requested him to continue his disquisitions on education, in the Christian Instructor, at certain moderate intervals between the appearance of the different essays, in order that the subject might be kept for some time before the view of the public. The intended communications, owing to certain circumstances, were never published; but the substance of what was then intended to be communicated will be found in the following pages. The schools established by Dr. Thomson, alluded to above, along with the Edinburgh Sessional School, under the superintendence of Mr. Wood, are material improvements on the usual mode of scholastic instruction, and though deficient in many important particulars, approximate, in a considerable degree, to the true intellectual mode of tuition.
The strictures thrown out in the preceding pages, more particularly apply to the parochial and other schools in Scotland, for the instruction of the middle and lower classes; but most of them are likewise applicable to the general modes of tuition in England. Since the period stated above, when they were first written, a few schools on more improved plans, have been established; but their number does not, perhaps, exceed twenty or thirty throughout the whole of North Britain; so that the preceding remarks will still apply to the modes of instruction generally practised in our country.
tivation and improvement of the faculties bestowed upon them by the Creator. It ought to embrace every thing that has a tendency to strengthen and invigorate the animal system-to enlighten and expand the understanding-to regulate the feelings and disposi tions of the heart-and, in general, to direct the moral powers in such a manner as to render those who are the subjects of in. struction happy in themselves, useful members of society, and qualified for entering on the scenes and employments of a future and more glorious existence. The series of instructions by which these ends are to be attained, ought to be continued, not merely for five or six years, or less than the tenth part of the period of human existence-but during the whole of that interval which lies between the cradle and the grave.
It is a very common but absurd notion, and has been too long acted upon that the education of our youth terminates, or should terminate, about the age of thirteen or fourteen years. Hence, in an article on this subject, in one of our Encyclopedias, education is defined to be " that series of means by which the human understanding is gradually enlightened, between infancy and the period when we consider ourselves as qualified to take a part in active life, and, ceasing to direct our views to the acquisition of new knowledge or the formation of new habits, are content to act upon the principles we have already acquired." This definition, though accordant with general opinion and practice, is certainly a very limited and defective view of the subject. In the ordinary mode of our scholastic instruction, education, so far from being finished at the age above stated, can scarcely be said to have commenced. The key of knowledge has indeed been put into the hands of the young; but they have never been taught to unlock the gates of the Temple of Science, to enter within its portals, to contemplate its treasures, and to feast their minds on the entertainments there provided. Several moral rules and maxims have been impressed on their memories; but they have seldom been taught to appreciate them in all their bearings, or to reduce them to practice in the various and minute ramifications of their conduct. Besides, although every rational means were employed for training the youthful mind till near the age of puberty, no valid reason can be assigned why regular instruction should cease at this early period. Man is a progressive being; his faculties are capable of an indefinite expansion; the objects to which these faculties may be directed are boundless and infinitely diversified; he is moving onward to an eternal world, and, in the present state, can never expect to grasp the universal system of created objects, or to rise to the highest point of moral excellence.
His tuition, therefore, cannot be supposed to terminate at any period of his terrestrial existence; and the course of his life ought to be considered as nothing more than the course of his education. When he closes his eyes in death, and bids a last adieu to every thing here below, he passes into a more permanent and expansive sphere of existence, where his education will likewise be progressive, and where intelligences of a higher order may be his instructors; and the education he received in this transitory scene, if it was properly conducted, will form the groundwork of all his future progressions in knowledge and virtue throughout the succeeding periods of eternity.
There are two very glaring defects which appear in most of our treatises on education. In the first place, the moral tuition of youthful minds, and the grand principles of religion which ought to direct their views and conduct, are either entirely overlooked, or treated of in so vague and general a manner, as to induce a belief that they are considered as matters of very inferior moment; and, in the business of teaching, and the superintendence of the young, the moral precepts of Christianity are seldom made to bear, with particularity, upon every malignant affection that manifests itself, and every minor delinquency that appears in their conduct -or to direct the benevolent affections how to operate in every given circumstance, and in all their intercourses and associations. In the next place, the idea that man is a being destined to an im mortal existence, is almost, if not altogether overlooked. Volumes have been written on the best modes of training men for the pro fession of a soldier, of a naval officer, of a merchant, of a physician, of a lawyer, of a clergyman, and of a statesman; but I know of no treatise on this subject which, in connection with other subordinate aims, has for its grand object to develop that train of instruction which is most appropriate for man considered as a candidate for immortality. This is the more unaccountable, since, in the works alluded to, the eternal destiny of human beings is not called in question, and is sometimes referred to as a general position which cannot be denied-yet the means of instruction requisite to guide them in safety to their final destination, and to prepare them for the employments of their everlasting abode, are either overlooked, or referred to in general terms, as if they were unworthy of particular consideration. To admit the doctrine of the immortality of the human soul, and yet leave out the consideration of it, in a system of mental instruction, is both impious and preposterous, and inconsistent with the principle on which we generally act in other cases, which requires, that affairs of the greatest moment should occupy our chief attention. If man is
only a transitory inhabitant of this lower world, if he is journeying to another and more important scene of action and enjoyment, if his abode in this higher scene is to be permanent and eternal, and if the course of instruction through which he now passes has an important bearing on his happiness in that state, and his preparations for its employments-every system of education must be glaringly defective which either overlooks, or throws into the shade, the immortal destination of human beings.
If these sentiments be admitted as just, the education of the young must be a subject of the highest importance-and there cannot be an object more interesting to Science, to Religion, and to general Christian society, than the forming of those arrange ments, and the establishing of those institutions, which are calculated to train the minds of all ranks to knowledge and moral rectitude, and to guide their steps in the path which leads to a blessed immortality. In this process there is no period of human life that ought to be overlooked-we must begin the work of instruction when the first dawning of reason begins to appear, and continue the process through all the succeeding periods of mortal existence, till the spirit takes its flight to the world unknown.
In the following cursory observations, I shall, in the first place, offer a few general remarks on the proper training of the young during the earlier stages of life, and afterwards illustrate some of the modes of instruction which may be proper to be adopted in the more advanced stages of human existence. It may be proper, however, to premise, that I have no intention of presenting to the reader a detailed system of education, but only a few general hints in reference to the outlines of this important subject, and to the principles on which a system of rational tuition ought to be conducted.
SECTION I.-On the Education of the Young during the period of Infancy.
At the moment a child is ushered into the world, and first draws into its lungs the atmospheric air, it may be said to com mence its education. What its sensations are, when it has emerged from the watery fluid with which it was surrounded, and inhales this new element, it is impossible to determine; but from the sounds which it utters, we may reasonably conjecture that they are attended with pain. It struggles and cries-hunger produces an uneasy sensation-it feels a want-that feeling opens its lips. and makes it seize and greedily suck the nourishing breast of its mother. At this period its eyes are generally dull and languid; it seems to keep them fixed and idle; they want that lustre which