« AnteriorContinuar »
EDUCATIONAL PRINCIPLES AND THE ELEMEN
TARY SCHOOL In an age of motion, when speed is sought in every sphere, when the automobile, express train, ocean greyhound, flying machine, telegraph, telephone, motion picture, ragtime music are but expressions of an inner activity at the core of our modern civilization, it is not strange that an echo of this tumult should reach even to the schoolhouse and that those interested in education should begin to talk about making more rapid progress in the training of children. Are there any "shortcuts?" Can the course be finished sooner? Can we hurry in some way so that time may be saved for other things, whether those other things be further education or the active life in society? Is there not need for “economy of time in education?"
While much that is reasonable is to be found in the arguments of those who advocate the saving of time in education and one is inclined to accept their general contention, it is important that certain dangerous tendencies of such a doctrine be clearly perceived. In spite of such phrases as “haste makes waste," "slow but sure," "safety first,” and the like, it is a too common interpretation of efficiency which emphasizes quantity at the expense of quality, demanding that much be accomplished in a brief time whether it be accomplished well or not. “Do things quickly and if possible well” often seems to be displacing the supposedly more sensible advice: “Do things well and if possible quickly.”
The philosophy of haste, if so this false view of the “economy of time in education” may be termed, is nowhere
1 Address given at the annual meeting of the South Dakota Educational Association, Aberdeen, S. D., November 24, 1915.
more dangerous than when applied to the early education of the child, and yet its influence has been felt here perhaps more than most educators have realized. One method of "saving time” which readily suggests itself to parents and teachers alike is to "begin early.” The average age of entrance into the elementary school today is considerably younger than it was a generation ago. Children are sent to the school very commonly when they are six years of age and often when only five. Parents and teachers seem to believe that the younger the child is when he “starts school” the better it is for him. Even those parents who are much concerned over the education of their children and send them to school with more thoughtful reasons than the mere purpose of "keeping them out of mischief” and of "getting them out of the way” too often fall a prey to the false philosophy of haste in education.
As the elementary school is now conducted in the average community, children ought not to be allowed to enter before the age of eight. The chief reason lying behind this somewhat radical statement is to be found in the nature of the curriculum. The tyranny of the literary ideal in the early years of our present school system makes it impossible for the child to benefit by beginning school before he is eight. While there are of course advantages in learning to read, write, and spell at a very young age, the disadvantages outnumber the advantages. The three R's receive more emphasis than any other phase of early education in the school, and yet this undue stress upon the literary ideal in elementary education can not be justified at the bar of sound educational principles. 2
It is surprizing to note the large number of educational principles which, when stated in abstract terms, have received wide acceptance among educators but have not yet been embodied in the actual education found in our schools. Without argument in their defence, without attempt to formulate an exhaustive list, I shall merely state several
2 For other ideals needing emphasis in education, cf. author's article: Ideals in present-day education, EDUCATIONAL REVIEW, Vol. 48, No. 3.
of these educational principles and in their light view the literary curriculum of the elementary school. It should be carefully understood that the criticisms here made are not upon the early entrance into the ideal school but rather into the actual elementary school of the average community where the three R's furnish the major portion of the curriculum.
The training of the large, fundamental muscles of the body should precede that of the small, accessory muscles. This educational principle has often been reiterated, and, when stated in abstract form, it has received quite general acceptance. Is it embodied in the work of the elementary school? Quite the contrary; almost the entire emphasis is laid upon the finest muscles of the whole body, those of the eyes and the fingers. When the child of five or six enters school, he has not yet gained proper control of the larger muscles of the body; as a rule, he is awkward and clumsy in action. Instead of helping him to secure better mastery of his body, the school has a tendency to hinder the proper development by an over-exercise of the finer muscles and a corresponding under-exercise of the larger muscles.
Is reading taught without injury to the eyes of childhood? Are we as a nation getting stronger eyesight because of our care of the child's eyes in the elementary school? Do we do right to make the young human being spend so many hours fixating his eyes upon such fine objects as letters? The eyes of the babe are focust upon infinity and only gradually do they tend to fixate upon nearer objects. No matter how much the teacher may seek to avoid it, children persist in having their eyes too near to the objects they are working upon, whether such objects be books they are studying or papers they are writing. The light of the room is often poor, being either too weak, too strong, or poorly distributed. The three R's demand too great a tax upon the very young child.
The case is similar with the fingers. Why is the writing of a young child so "wabbly," so similar to that of an old
person who has lost muscular control? To a large extent, this is traceable to attempting the minute control of the fingers before he has yet secured adequate control of the
While it is true that modern methods of teaching writing are superior to those employed in the school a generation ago, while the “wrist movement” has been displaced by the “forearm movement" and that in turn has given way to the "full arm movement," there is still too great premium placed upon small letters, steady fingers, and minute details, and the muscular and nervous systems of the child are harmed thereby.
Considerable criticism is due to many kindergartens also for their neglect of this educational principle. Too minute work in construction is often found in these schools for the young child. The principle should be embodied even more carefully in the kindergartens, since the age of the child is younger.
The training of the ear should precede the training of the eye. It is surprizing to note how much of our school education of today has been monopolized by the eye. So true is this that it is necessary for a child to leave the school entirely when he has serious trouble with his eyes. It is quite impossible for a child with poor eyesight to secure any education at all in our schools. The eye, however, is but one of a number of sense-organs, and it is possible to educate thru other senses as well as thru sight. The accomplishments of Helen Keller and Laura Bridgeman are outstanding examples of the educational possibilities of all the senses.
Why make education so dependent upon a single sense? It is well to remember that the ear is not easily damaged by early education, but the eye in its first years is very susceptible to injury. How much oral education there might be in the lower grades during the period while the eyes are still developing. Very many of the things that are now taught thru the eye could be taught thru the ear. Too often even those studies which might so easily be taught as ear-studies are taught as eye-studies; music in the lower
grades is a good example. Musical notation never ought to be taught in the primary grades, but aural music ~"singing by ear" should receive a more important place in the curriculum than that commonly given it. Pestalozzi, teacher of Froebel and father of modern kindergarten movements, said that he would never employ a teacher who could not sing, but he made no mention of note-reading. Musical notation may well be taught in the upper grades but it should be excluded from the elementary school.
An argument for this general principle is found in the recapitulation theory—which contends that ontogenesis recapitulates phylogenesis, that the life of the child follows in its development the same order as the life of the race. Talking preceded reading and writing by many thousands of years; letters and books were comparatively late in the history of civilization, and early writing consisted in the drawing of pictures.
Many a teacher of an elementary school would be surprized if she would examine the daily schedule of classes and study periods from the standpoint of the child, determining the exact amount of time when the eyes were being used in proportion to the amount of time spent upon training thru the ear. It is needful to remember that the eye of the child is more easily injured than the ear.
Experience should precede words. In spite of the warnings of many great educators, both of recent times and of days long since past, our schools are still far from free in this respect; ideas and experiences are still subordinate to words. Too many empty words are taught our small children, words which to them are mere sounds and are not vitally connected with experiences and ideas in the realm of childhood. The earlier reading is approached, the more true is this bound to be. In spite of object les sons, simplified reading material, and all other devices supposed to aid in the early teaching of reading, the emphasis is forced upon words when the child attends to the study of reading
Much better would it be to spend considerably more time