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bread instead of a stone; in substituting for the inane and commonplace contents of the ordinary reader, the healthy, bracing reading-matter which the judgment of time has declared classic.
The first years of a child's school experience are devoted to initiating him into the mysteries of the alphabet and the primer. Having mastered their difficulties he passes onward to a graded series of readers which as a rule consists of five books,“the five inanities," they have been called. The briefest examination of any of these books will show that the average reader is a purely hap-hazard collection of prose and poetical extracts of varying degrees of literary merit. In the lower numbers the contents are of such a vacuous and insipid character, and appeal so slightly to the interest or to the imagination of the child, that one is unavoidably forced to conclude that the selections have been made to order for grading purposes only. The third and fourth readers are less trivial perhaps, but even more commonplace. Where the selections have not been taken outright from standard works, they are generally feeble and uninspiring; and their literary value is nil, whether we examine them from the point of view of their thought-content, the language in which they are written, or the form in which they are cast. The literary value of the higher numbers is generally greater, inasmuch as the lessons are made up almost entirely of extracts from standard authors. Although the selections are not always wisely or even happily made, yet these readers present to children their only opportunity of coming in contact with real literature during their school course.
Nor does a closer inspection of our school readers disclose in them any hidden excellences that might have escaped a hurried first examination. Even in those readers which are made up of extracts from classic writings it is not always apparent that the selections have been made with the view of cultivating the taste of the youthful scholar, or of developing in him the habit of critical reading. Degraded, as the average reader has been, to the position of an educational maid-of-all-work, one finds
scattered throughout it scraps of geography, bits of history, chunks of science, and an olla podrida of whatever may be the prevailing pedagogic fad of the day, be it physiology or patriotism ; but scans its pages in vain for those writings, described by Plato as finding their gracious way into the secret places of the soul, exalting the minds of those who read them.
Constantly, series of readers are being advertised as differing widely from all others in their method, scope, and construction; but a closer scrutiny will show that in form and substance they are essentially the same, the trail of the bookmaker being over them all. From an extended examination of the various series in use throughout our schools, it can be safely affirmed that, with a few notable exceptions, the majority of them are but shabby collections of fragmentary reading matter. Without any distinctively educational idea running through them, they merely afford the child the pitia ful opportunity for a drill in reading words that he has already learned to spell. From internal evidence it would also appear that the making of readers has fallen largely into the hands of people who seem to be remarkably ignorant of the value of the study of language to culture, and who, moreover, are curiously devoid of that literary sense which is generally believed to be a sine qua non in the writing of books.
Do these strictures seem severe? Listen then to what the doughtiest of our public school iconoclasts of the nineteenth century, President Eliot of Harvard, has to say on the same subject : “ I have paid some attention to the readers used in our public schools throughout the country. I have read an enormous quantity of them, and I can express the conviction that it would be for the advantage of the whole public school system if every reader were hereafter to be absolutely excluded from the schools. I object to them because they are not real literature; they are but mere scraps of literature, even when the single lessons or materials of which they are composed are taken from litera. ture. But there are a great many readers that seem to have
been composed expressly for the use of children. They are not made up of selections from recognized literature, and, as a rule, this class of readers is simply ineffable trash. They are entirely unfit material to use in the training of our children. | The object of reading with children is to convey to them the ideals of the human race; our readers do not do that, and are thoroughly unfitted to do it. I bclieve that we should substitute in all our schools real literature for readers.”
This being the character of the books that nine-tenths of our school children are droning over to-day, can we wonder that with such a Barmecide feast spread before them the reading hour is so often a time of tediousness and somnolence, and that the teaching of their native tongue to children has become such a burdensome and unsatisfactory task! Considering all these circumstances, is it not strange that our school authorities have not long ago discovered that from the reading of real literature, as readily as from the reading of the twaddle which we are daily serving up to them, children acquire the ability to pronounce words? and this is all that most of the so-called reading lessons accomplish. And is it not equally apparent that real literature is vastly more interesting, and from an educational point of view infinitely more profitable to children, than the empty stuff which fills page after page of their readers? Another phase of the evils flowing from the constant use of our scrapbook readers, and one which has not received from teachers the serious atten. tion it merits, is the baneful influence that such reading exerts on the mental habits of children. The uninteresting nature of the selections naturally begets inattention in the child, while their fragmentary character induces an inability for sustained attention that is destructive of all mental discipline. Under these demoralizing conditions, need we be surprised that there is developed in the child a vagrancy of thought which makes any ripe intellectual life impossible?
It is a matter of statistics that one-half of all the children who go to school leave before the age of eleven, and that threefourths of them leave before they are twelve. With the
school readers that are ordinarily in use it is a safe but a sad
Where, then, can be found an adequate solution of the mani-
The earliest opportunity for the cultivation of a literary taste in children comes to the teacher when the child commences the second reader. To many this may seem an early age at which to begin this work, but teachers should be the last to overlook the fact that “the period which a child has lived before he reaches his teens is not only impressionable,
but charged with the gravest potentialities," and that, once the ability to read has been acquired by him, this power should ever afterward be directed to his future happiness and growth.
It is curious to observe that the ordinary school reader has not utilized the most inviting field for the commencement of this important work. For, standing just outside the threshold of the school, awaiting in vain a proper grading by the bookmakers, is a vast array of valiant heroes of every age, from Hercules to "Little Lord Fauntleroy," whose deeds and personalities are more real and enduring to the average child than any of the creations of Homer or Shakespeare can be to their elders. When we consider the great amount of this material, and the world-wide territory ic covers, ranging from the story of Polyphemus to Alice in Wonderland, it is passing strange that our bookmakers should have so completely ignored the educational value of wonder inhering in every child, and neg. lected such golden opportunities for the enlargement of their sympathies and the elevation of their ideals.
After a course of reading in selected classics to be continued through the third reader grades, the child will then be ready for the more mature forms of literature. For the first time the great world of books is now before him, and the success or failure of our efforts will depend upon the literature with which we make him first acquainted, as well as the means we employ in introducing him to it. I confess to having little sympathy with those educators who do not distinguish between meat for strong men and milk for babes, and who thus fail to recognize that literature written for adults is not always literature fit for children. Nor, on the other hand, can one with any literary conscience indorse the books usually placed in the hands of children. To say nothing of their character as literary productions, the constant perusal of books dealing with juvenile deeds and childish thoughts is enfeebling, if not destructive of the pupil's ability to climb to greater heights later on.
What middle course is there, then, that children can pursue