« AnteriorContinuar »
during the first few years of school education upon the enlargement and clarification of the child's experience, instead of expending so much energy and time upon the teaching of the mere symbols for ideas, the words. If any teacher is prone to believe that the child entering school at the age of five or six is possest of an experience sufficiently large and clear to warrant the starting upon the learning of the science of reading, let her review the data assembled and the conclusions reached by G. Stanley Hall.3
All thru our modern society the effect of this early dominance of words over ideas is to be noted. Eloquence comes to receive a higher respect than sound argumentation; style is emphasized above substance, and symbols are mistaken for realities. The tyranny of the printed word is a natural result emerging from the early and continuous emphasis upon the book in our educational system. Important as the literary ideal is, its importance must never overshadow that of the scientific and moral ideals. The realities of experience must ever be reverenced above the symbolism of language.
Motivation in early education should be interest. Modern pedagogy has laid much stress upon interest as a motive force in education, but the curriculum of the elementary school is not yet so arranged that the average child can find much wholehearted interest in his work. Is it possible to make the three R's interesting to the average child of six? Many methods of teaching reading have been devised, but the fact remains that most children do not enjoy the process of learning to read. None of all the methods devised succeed in securing and retaining the natural interest of the child. Any casual observer of the lower grades may note the very apparent lack of interest in reading, writing, and spelling, when compared with the equally apparent signs of interest in some of the other studies which are gradually finding their way into the curriculum. How many young children who have just learned to read spend much of their time in reading during the long summer vacation? There are, no doubt, a few exceptions to the general rule, but it must be granted that most children under eight or nine years of age will do everything else but read in order to spend the many leisure hours during the summer. So true is this that the teacher often finds when the school reopens in the fall that reading has almost become a lost art for many of the little children. Would this be the case if they were interested?
3 The Contents of children's minds on entering school, New York, 1893.
At a later age, the child will be desirous of knowing how to read, for he will see the need of it in his life and will have ready uses for it. The foreigner learns our language, both spoken and written, in a short time, when once he has settled down among us, while our little children require many months of unpleasant school work to accomplish a similar result. What is the difference? The immigrant brings to his task two aids which the young child lacks: a more mature mind and a desire to learn. "Where there's a will, there's a way" is just as true of learning to read as of anything else; desire to reach the goal must furnish the interest in the process.
Rousseau may have exaggerated, but there was much truth in his remark when he said: “Reading is the curse of childhood."4 And our elementary schools which place the three R's at the center of the curriculum find their motivation in effort rather than interest.
Education should be thru activity rather than passivity. “Learn to do by doing,” “hand-mindedness," "self-expression," and the like, are phrases indicative of the emphasis placed upon the activity of the learner by modern educators. This is true at least of their theorizing. In spite of such views, however, the fact stands forth that learning the three R's is pretty much of a passive occupation. Books, desks, chairs, silence--are these symbolic of activity? Of course it may be objected that there is such a thing as intellectual activity which goes on when the external appearances are those of passivity; such activity, however, is characteristic of adults rather than young children, and the objection is not a serious one. Even with many adults there is the demand for something doing” in order to insure intellectual activity.
4 Emile, p. 80 (Everyman's library).
While there are some occupations finding their way into the early school which allow scope to the activity of the growing child, they have not yet attained sufficient weight in the curriculum. It is so much easier to administer education to a group of children thru the book than otherwise that our schools have come to be extremely "bookish.” Even those studies which might rather easily and naturally be taught without books are too often reduced to "textbook courses" and the child is supposed to spend much of his time in individual, silent “study.” With body cramped into some unnatural shape and a book before his eyes, the activity which nature has bestowed upon the growing child is put under the ban, and only mischievous outlets are possible. What greater contrast to the normal activity which is displayed by the child when outside of the school could be imagined than that which is actually to be seen in our schoolrooms? Without being allowed to talk, or even to whisper, without being permitted to move his body, forced to spend the greater portion of the long school day in a sedentary position, scarcely daring so much as to turn his head, is it any wonder that many a child begins to tire of education before he has fairly begun the process?
Education should accompany growth, but not precede it. The type of education at any period of the child's development should be fitted to that specific period. Even if it be granted that the work of the early grades was properly adapted to the child who entered our schools a generation ago, it is not at all certain that the same work is adapted to the child of younger age who is entering our schools today. It might have been quite proper that the first work of the school should be the three R's when children entered at seven and eight years of age, and yet not at all proper when the average age is five and six years. The need is to fit the curriculum to the child instead of attempting to fit the child to the curriculum. Altho we have pushed back the entrance age, we have not changed to any marked degree the curriculum of the elementary grades; the emphasis is still upon the literary ideal.
Educating ahead of growth is both wasteful of energy and also dangerous. Retardation is less to be feared than precosity. While this is perhaps more apparent in the case of the very bright child, it is also a sound educational principle for the average child. The time comes when certain things can be taught quickly and at the same time well, but to attempt to teach those same things before the child is ripe for them is to do little good and often to do considerable damage in the ultimate education. This is as true for the three R's as for any other educational material; they are not fitted to the stage of development which has been reached at five or six years. In corroboration of this, the following statements from the writings of G. Stanley Hall are worthy of note:
“It is perfectly clear," writes Hall, “as I have tried to show in the chapter dealing with reading, writing, and arithmetic, that much of any drill upon these topics before the eighth year is not only waste of time but positive injury, giving either habits or points of view that have to be changed with great effort, if indeed their evil influence ever is overcome. And again he writes: "Stated school work should and probably will, sooner or later, be postponed one and very probably two years. Indeed, the first two years are to a great extent wasted. The child is not mature enough for the stock methods of the three R's. It is the age for less formal study. As many censuses of the contents of children's minds on entering school show, they are grossly ignorant of their own environment.''
5 Educational Problems, Vol. 2, p. 612.
• Ibid., Vol. 2, p. 609. For similar views advocating a later beginning of the three R's, cf. V. Vaney, L'age de la lecture, Bulletin de la Société Libre pour l'Étude psychologique de l'enfant, Vol. 9, p. 11-17; also, L. P. Ayres, Entering age as affecting progress in the grades: Report of the Russell Sage Foundation, 1909.
Other educational principles might be enumerated, but the six already stated will suffice for present purposes. When will they be embodied in our elementary schools? Abstractly formulated, they meet with ready acceptance but their definite application to the concrete problem of our day-the actual education of children-seems to tarry.
The one question which naturally arises is this: If the literary material of the elementary school be postponed, what is to take its place? The three R's have furnished the chief content of the curriculum of the early grades. Are there enough educational materials available to make up a worthy course of study for the child if the literary ideal be kept out of sight until he is eight years old? This would have been a more serious problem for educators a generation ago than it is today. The studies of the child, both physiological and psychological, which have been so many in recent years, the development of the kindergarten with its non-literary curriculum, and the perfection of mechanical devices of great educational values, such as the phonograph and the cinematograph—these have suggested educational materials sufficient for a new type of training in the elementary school.
It is not within the scope of the present discussion to outline carefully just what the reorganized curriculum of the early school should be, but only to suggest something of the wealth of educational material from which the selection may be made. Dramatization might well receive more attention, founded upon the "make-believe" and imitative instincts, with a firm psychological justification in the fact that many children are "muscular-minded,” tending to image, remember, and think in terms of action, dramatization in the school has a much larger educational value than has hitherto been recognized. Children are “born actors” and their interest in the drama is natural. Storytelling by the child is of great value in developing the vocabulary correctly as well as in its training of mental activities. How will children learn to speak the language in correct form without much practise? And yet the average