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SUBJECTS AND METHODS OF EARLY EDUCATION.*
BY THOMAS URRY YOUNG.
1. NECESSITY AND NATURE OF THE INFANT OR PRIMARY SCHOOL. The idea of collecting very young children for elementary instruc tion is not new; schools for infants have long existed under the naine of Dame Schools. Indeed the embarrassment arising from the union of children widely differing in age generally led either to the separation of the younger portion, or to their entire neglect. Very little observation and reflection are required to convince us of the marked disparity in the state of mind in children of various ages, which, when we address them familiarly, we involuntarily admit, by bringing our language and ideas to their level; and they themselves generally divide into groups, according to their age for conversation or play. No judicious teacher overlooks this fact, or attempts to unite in one class pupils of five years of age with others of ten and twelve. It is not, therefore, in the mere collecting of young children together, but in the kind of instruction given, and in the mode of communicating it, that the infant school system differs essentially from any previous form of elementary teaching. Under the old system, little was attempted until the child had learned to read; and, during this long and painful interval, the monotony of the school-room was seldom varied by any thing to interest or amuse the little pupil. No physical exercises relieved the wearied body, but all was starched formality, and what was called good order. Immured in a close dull room—all the joyous freedom of infancy repressed—the eyes vacantly poring over the unexplained mysteries of learning's first page, the only motives to exertion being the dread of the fool's cap, or of the
“Tway birchen sprays, with anxious fear entwined;
And fury uncontroll'd, and chastisement unkind." With such a system, was it wonderful that the little sufferer longed to escape from school as from a prison house—that small progress was made—and, worst of all, that the temper and disposition were too often irreinediably injured ? But, with the advancing intelligence of the present century, it began to be perceived and felt that something more was required for the happiness and good of infancy than this, at best, negative system; that, in fact, much could be done in the formation of character and good habits, as well as in the development of the intellectual and physical powers, even with children in the earliest stages of life: hence, infant schools, arising in an age of high intelligence, have had impressed upon them, at their commencement, enlarged and philosophical principles. Throwing aside, as unfit, all previously existing systems, the infant school legislates for its pupils in accordance with their age and state, basing its plans on the simplicity of nature; taking advantage of those restless instincts which were the terror of former teachers, it makes them subservient to the most perfect training, subduing to cheerful orderly activity that incessant restlessness, which, when suppressed, constantly breaks out into irregularities. That troublesome curiosity which so often annoys us in the young, is made to produce the rapid and apparently spontaneous development of the intellectual faculties; while the ever springing love of infancy opens the heart to receive the seeds of the purest virtue.
* Extracts from “ Young's Infant School Teachers' Manual,"
The following extract from an eminent Continental writer gives a fair statement of the position and use of infant schools :
The vocation of such establishments is not to antedate the true effect of our schools, but to dispose and prepare children to enter them. Well directed, their utility is incalculable. The power of education is inversely as the age of the young; and Montaigne perhaps rightly said, that he learned more from his nurse than from all other teachers besides. Now, the teacher of an infant school carries the work of the nurse on to the age at which development really begins, and where habits are effectually formed. How many parents are there, who, for want of intelligence or leisure, of constancy and patience, are unfitted to watch over this first blossoming of our luxuriant human nature; and how desirable is it that the noble task should be intrusted to those who will regard it not as a trade, but as a profession and high art! Such institutions, too, necessarily facilitate, to a great extent, the operations of the primary schools. Instead of losing their best time, and consuming their best efforts, in bringing children within some order and discipline, in accustoming them to the school, and inducing them to fix their attention, the teacher would then only have to carry on an education already begun in every direction. In existing circumstances, and in places where there is no infant school, the teacher has reason to congratulate himself when the children committed to his care have received no education whatever, but remain very much as when they issued from the hands of nature; for then he has not to cause them to unlearn vicious habits instilled by previous maltreatment; but if good infant schools were universal, he would require only to resume the work they had begun, and to continue what already is considerably advanced. Learning to read, write, and cypher, would then not occupy all the leisure of the children ; enough would remain for receiving true instruction, and for the work of education, properly so called.
I do not hesitate to state my opinion, that every primary school open to children from the age of six to fourteen, ought, in its younger classes, to be conducted and disciplined very nearly as an excellent infant school ; and that in the construction of new school-houses, attention should be paid to this special requirement
To work, then, ye generous minds, who seek but an opportunity to accomplish services for humanity; none can be presented to you inore enticing or more easy to be seized! To work, you also, who desire a greater security for your actions, who try your emotions by calculation, and consent to be charitable only when you have proved that thus also you shall be useful and just! The good now in question is in every way manifest, for the education of the people will not be truly provided for until infant schools are established every where; and the success of primary instruction itself can not fully be obtained unless through their establishment.
Arguments in favor of infant (or primary) schools are scarcely needed. Their extensive popularity and usefulness in Europe and America are the best proofs of their utility. The necessity of providing for the care of young children while their parents are engagerl in their daily occupations--the importance of removing them from the moral contamination, as well as from the physical dangers, of the streets—the duty of inculcating, at the age most susceptible, pure moral and religious principles—the immense saving effected in their future education, by employing their otherwise valueless time in the acquisition of elementary knowledge—all plead for the establishment of these institutions wherever practicable.
As the passions and affections of our nature furnish the first impulses to action, it is important that we address ourselves to the task of moulding and directing them at the age at which they are most yielding and susceptible.* And as examples of good and evil are presented to the mind as soon as it is capable of intelligent observation, it is not sufficient that we ourselves set a good example, but it also becomes necessary to explain to the opening mind of the pupil the nature and tendency of the actions he may witness, or in which he participates.
The acquisition of knowledge suited to the age and state, by occupying the mind, prevents it from receiving evil, and prepares it for the reception of good. Children can not be effectively trained without the society of those of their own age. Constant and skillful treatment is required to form the character and develop the powers. Parents rarely possess the requisite knowledge, os can spare the time required for this important work, and consequently infant schools are necessary for the future welfare of the rising generation.
It must never be forgotten, that the tender age of the pupils renders constraint and severity alike unnecessary and prejudicial. The habit of study and fixed attention is of slow growth, and consequently all long continued lessons are useless and injurious. No lesson is good unless it is pleasing to the children. The lessons should be such as arise out of the spontaneous action of the perceptive faculties, directed by the teacher to a certain end.
* A child is a being endowed with all the faculties of human nature, but none of them developed ; a bud not yet opened. When the bud uncloses, every one of the leaves unfolds. not one remains behind. Such must be the process of education.- Pestalozzi.
The paramount importance of physical development must never be lost sight of, and a pleasant alternation of exercise and repose must be kept up.
And lastly, as the teacher stands for the time in the place of the parent, he must set a good example to his little ones, and lead them to virtue by encouraging every good impulse, and constantly watching for and repressing evil tendencies.
Moral Education. It is more particularly for the first formation of moral character that infant schools are valuable; for, by commencing at so early an age, and before bad habits are formed, we bave not only little to uvdo, but we have the immense advantage of making first impressions on the opening mind.
Every event in the life of a child must be made subservient to this end ; nor can any of its acts be considered unimportant, since they all leave their traces on its future character. The watchful eye of the teacher must ever follow the child. It is the play-ground which first introduces it into social life; there the free play of the limbs is accompanied by an equally free development of the passions; each individual disposition stands out in bold relief, and all the hidden springs of action are revealed, thereby enabling the teacher to apply to each that mode of treatment which is best suited to its nature. No interference which is not positively necessary, should take place with the freedom of the child; but each incident requiring comment ought to be observed and stored up for future instruction in the quiet of the school-room.
The selfish principle is the great obstacle to moral training. All goes on smoothly so long as there is no bone of contention ; for even in the merest infant we may trace almost every outbreak of the evil passions to a desire for the possession of some real or fancied advantage. To moderate this strong instinct, to teach self-denial and selfcontrol, must be the first care of the teacher. We give the following extract on this subject from Simpson's “Philosophy of Education: ”—
Moral education embraces both the animal and moral impulses; it regulates the former and strengthens the latter. Whenever gluttony, indelicacy, violence, cruelty, greediness, cowardice, pride, insolence, vanity, or any other mode of selfishness, shows itself in the individual under training, one and all must be repressed with the most watchful solicitude and the most skillful treatment. Repression may at first fail to be accomplished unless by severity ; but the instructor, sufficiently enlightened in the faculties, will, in the first practicable moment, drop the coercive system, and awaken and appeal powerfully to the higher faculties of conscience and benevolence, and to the power of reflection. This done with
kindness, in other words, with a marked manifestation of benevolener itself, will operate with a power, the extent of which, in education, is yet to a very limited extent estimated. In the very exercise of the superior faculties the inferior are indirectly acquiring a habit of restraint and regulation ; for it is morally impossible te) cultivate the superior faculties without a simultaneous, though indirect, regulation of the inferior.
But in order to carry on this training without impairing the happiness of the child, every reasonable pleasure must be allowed, and above all, those simple enjoyments promoted, which, by exercising the bodily powers, encourage cheerfulness and predispose to good humor.
Every thing that can please, attract, or interest, and thereby draw away the mind from low desires, should be sought. Perfect cleanliness and order must pervade the school and play-ground. Flowers, shrubs, and simple ornaments, as shells, models, natural objects, and pictures, all afford great delight to the young, and create pleasant associations in the mind with the idea of school. The aim of making school agreeable should pervade every arrangement. Unless the children love the teacher, the school, their lessons, and their companions, they will not be bappy; and love, like every feeling, must have a cause.
But besides that kind of moral training which arises out of the actions and events of the day, another important mode is open to us. Children are universally fond of office, and it is both reward and excellent training to employ them in regular duties. The trust thus reposed, elevates and strengthens the character, and even the faults arising from an abuse of trust give rise to excellent opportunities for explaining and confirming moral principles. On these grounds, various offices are created amongst the children, which are frequently transferred from one to another, so as to try the character of each. It will also be found that different children are fitted for different duties, and thus the waste energies of all can be made useful. For instance, a very restless and active child will make a good monitor of order. Som“ children from their love of order are happy when employed in keeping the school neat and putting every thing in its place. Others delight to guide and assist the very little children, and are pleased when one is committed to their care. Some, from their steadiness of character, may be intrusted with the books, clothes and bread, of their respective classes, while the busy intellects can be employed to teach simple lessons to the little ones.
To carry out the training of the child it is necessary that parents and teachers should act in concert. It is comparatively of little use for the teacher to pursue one system at school, whilst a counteracting one is going on at home. This latter must be changed.