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Much has been said against a teacher's using a text-book in conducting his recitations. It is said that he should be so familiar with every chapter, paragraph, and sentence of the author, that he can always guide and correct the pupil or class without referring to his book. I remember an earnest declamation on this subject, in which teachers who made any use of text-books with their classes, in time of recitation, were denounced in terms of strongest reprehension and ridicule. Now, admitting that a teacher should thoroughly understand all that the text-book contains, and a great deal beyond it, and that many teachers do make a very slavish and unworthy use of the text-book, it by no means follows that the book may not be used without abusing it. The teacher may not retain in mind the precise arrangement of every sentence and paragraph in all the text-books used in his school, and he may not regard it necessary or wise to spend the requisite time to reëxamine before every lesson the pages of each author, merely to fix in mind the arrangement of topics or examples. You might as well demand that the preacher should commit to memory his hymns and Scripture readings, and the lawyer his authorities. This talk against books becomes even more ludicrous when the assumption is made that teachers ought to know so much more than the books contain, that he who leans at all upon the text-book
as authority, must be an ignoramus. There is such a thing as being, in the proverbial sense, “ wise above what is written,” without knowing, after all, so much more than the authors themselves! Then let the teacher make a judicious use of his text-books, in recitation and out of it; and smile at those whose affected independence, after all, may be more in seeming than in fact.
There are several special topics, just now attracting the attention of educators and the public, which will expose us to the dangers of extreme opinions and unwise practice. One of these is the subject of physical training in the school-room, or school gymnastics. As teachers and parents, we have certainly been occupying the extreme of gross neglect. We have forced the intellectual culture, or rather the mental cramming, of our children, and left the physical form to become distorted, and the general system to be undeveloped. We have compelled our pupils to breathe the foul air of unventilated school-rooms, while we have pressed their heated brains to double tasks. We have sacrificed our children's health, too often, to a vain show of intellectual attainments. Parents have too willingly allowed their daughters to run the terrible risk of prematurely failing in the race of life, by overburdening them, at the outset of their career, with intellectual tasks too severe for delicate organizations. From whatever motive of childish ambi
tion, or parental pride, or supposed economy of time, this course is all wrong. It is very true, then, that every teacher should be charged with the responsibility of guarding his pupils against this neglect of their physical health. But on the other hand, there is a liability to an opposite extreme. Too much time may be given in the school-room to gymnastic amusements, especially where children have much out-ofdoor exercise in work or play, and require a good deal more mental than physical gymnastics. I would introduce in every school-room some simple system of physical motions, with music if possible, and allow it to come in as a relief from study, two or three times a day. If a touch of the military is included, no matter. An improvement in position, movement, and manly bearing, may in this way be often secured to children otherwise careless, shuffling, and lounging. With some simple exercises, such as I have indicated, let not parents. be displeased. They can do no possible harm.
Essentially the same view may be taken of objectlessons, upon which I cannot remark at length. It is certainly true that young children's minds cannot be rapidly and naturally developed by the methods of abstract instruction once so exclusively in vogue in the school-room. Their powers of observation need first to be trained to the careful study of objects around them; learning their qualities and their uses. This, in fact, is what they are ever doing, in certain undirected methods, outside of the school-room, and inside as well. Let the teacher, then, take in hand the training of these observing faculties; and by occupying them legitimately with something to gratify the eye, the ear, the touch, and the general curiosity, let him harness these powers, and ply them in the direction of school order and progress, instead of finding them constantly in conflict with the schoolroom regulations. This can be well done, of course, only in schools which are graded to the capacity of such children. · In miscellaneous schools, there may be danger of attempting more in this way than can be successfully carried out. And there is the further danger, in all circumstances, of underestimating the child's power of grasping abstract truths; or of so delaying his attempts in that direction, that he will too long need the simplifying and objective processes of mental training. Let children be set upon the work of grappling with abstract principles as early as may be, along with their objective training.
The subject of professional schools for teachers may also occupy in the public mind an extremely high or an extremely low regard. Fully convinced as I am of the importance of normal training for our teachers, and anxious as I am that the facilities of this kind, in our own State, should be made of the most complete and satisfactory character, I feel the propriety of cautioning some sanguine friends, that, with the confessed advantages of such institutions, they will not prove a royal road to learning the great art of teaching. I make no doubt that the practical result of their operation here, as elsewhere, will disappoint those who now expect no benefit from them; and it may equally disappoint the few who stand at the opposite extreme.
Other points might be introduced to illustrate this tendency to extreme opinions in educational affairs ; but I forbear to occupy more time upon a single theme. I cannot leave it, however, without expressing my sympathy with the extreme of enthusiasm which sometimes carries people “too fast and too far,” rather than with that of conservatism, falsely so called, which stands with its face to the past, struggling against the tide of progress which would bear it onward. Even a hobby, running away with its rider, is a less ludicrous picture than the “ slow coach” lumbering along the dusty highway, the driver and passengers together apparently indifferent whether they reach their journey's end at sunset or at midnight. The spirit of the age is bearing us “onward.” With the wise precaution and the homely phrase of the rough old Texan, let us “be sure we are right, then go ahead !”