Chapter 20 Suggestions Toward a Curriculum

Chapter 20
Suggestions Toward a Curriculum
(For children under 14)

Part 1

Summary of Preceding Chapters.––I have left the consideration of a curriculum, which is, practically, the subject of this volume, till the final chapters; because a curriculum is not an independent product, but is linked to much else by chains of cause and consequence. The fundamental principles of docility and authority have been considered in the first place because they are fundamental; but, for that very reason, they should be present but not in evidence; we do not expose the foundations of our house. Not only so, but these principles must be conditioned by respect for the personality of children; and, in order to give children room for free development on the lines proper to them, it is well that parents and teachers should adopt an attitude of masterly inactivity.

Having considered the relations of teachers and taught, I have touched upon those between education and current thought. Education should be in the flow, as it were, and not shut up in a watertight compartment. Perhaps reverence for personality as such, a sense of the solidarity of the race, and a profound consciousness of evolutionary progress, are among the elements of current thought which should help us towards an educational ideal.

In considering the training of children under the convenient divisions of physical, mental, moral, and religious, I have not thought it necessary to give counsels upon matters of common knowledge and general acceptance, but have dwelt upon aspects of training under each heading which are rather likely to be overlooked. Under the phrase 'Education is a life,' I have tried to show how necessary it is to sustain the intellectual life upon ideas, and, as a corollary, that a school-book should be a medium for ideas and not merely a receptacle for facts. That normal children have a natural desire for, and a right of admission to, all knowledge, appears to me to be covered by the phrase, 'Education is the science of relations.'

These considerations clear the ground for the consideration of a curriculum, which occupies the remaining chapters; these are, in fact, a summary of what has gone before; and therefore I beg the reader's patience with such repetitions as seem to me necessary in bringing the argument to a point.

Some Preliminary Considerations.––As the following suggestions have been worked out in connection with the Parents' National Educational Union, it may perhaps be desirable to repeat here that the first effort of this society, continued through ten years of its existence, was to impress upon its members the definition of Education contained in our motto, 'Education is an Atmosphere, a Discipline, a Life.' By this we mean that parents and teachers should know how to make sensible use of a child's circumstances (atmosphere), should train him in habits of good living (discipline), and should nourish his mind with ideas, the food of the intellectual life. These three we believe to be the only instruments of which we may make lawful use in bringing up children. An easier way may be found by trading on their sensibilities, emotions, desires, passions; but the result must be disastrous. And for this reason, that habits, ideas, and circumstances are external, and we may help each other to get the best that is to be had of them; we may not, however, meddle directly with personality of child or man; we may not work upon his vanity, his fears, his love, his emulation, or anything that goes to make him a person. Most people are in earnest about the bringing up of children; but we are in danger of taking too much upon us, and of not recognising the limitations which confine us to the outworks of personality.

A Definite Aim.––The Parents' Union, having devoted as I have said, ten years of its existence to learning how to use the three instruments of education (circumstances, habits, and ideas), took a new departure some few years ago, and asked what should be the end in view as the result of a wise use of due means. What is education? The answer we accept is that Education is the Science of Relations.

We do not use this phrase in the Herbartian sense, that things or thoughts are related to each other and that teachers must be careful to pack the right things, in together, so that, having got into the pupil's brain, each may fasten on its kind, and, together, make a strong clique or apperception mass.

What concerns us personally is the fact that we have relations with what there is in the present and with what there has been in the past, with what is above us, and about us; and that fulness of living and serviceableness depend for each of us upon how far we apprehend these relationships and how many of them we lay hold of. Every child is heir to an enormous patrimony. The question is, what are the formalities necessary to put him in possession of that which is his?

Education Objective, not Subjective––The point of view is shifted; it is no longer subjective as regards the child, but objective. We do not talk about developing his faculties, training his moral nature, guiding his religious feelings, educating him with a view to his social standing or his future calling. We take the child as we find him, a person with many healthy affinities and embryonic attachments, and we try to give him a chance to make the largest possible number of these attachments valid.

An infant comes into the world with a thousand feelers which he at once begins to fix with great energy; and out of everything about him he gets––

     "That calm delight which, if I err not, surely must belong,
     To those first-born affinities that fit
     Our new existence to existing things,
     And in our dawn of being, constitute
     The bond of union between life and joy1."

He gets also when left to himself that real knowledge about each thing he comes across which establishes his relations with that thing. Later, we step in to educate him. In proportion to the range of living relationships we put in his way will he have wide and vital interests and joy in living. His life will be dutiful and serviceable if he is made aware of the laws which rule each relationship; he will learn the laws of work and the joys of work as he perceives that no relation with persons or with things can be kept up without effort.

Our part is to remove obstructions, to give stimulus and guidance to the child who is trying to get into touch with the universe of things and thoughts. Our error is to suppose that we must act as his showman to the universe, and that there is no community between child and universe except such as we choose to set up.

Interests––Have we many keen interests soliciting us outside of our necessary work? If we have, we shall not be enslaved by vapid joys.

Interests are not to be taken up on the spur of the moment; they spring out of the affinities which we have found and laid hold of. And the object of education is, I take it, to give children the use of as much of the world as may be.

Influenced by such considerations as these, the phrase, 'Education is the Science of Relations,' gives us the advantage of a definite aim in our work.

Educational Unrest.––We have been made familiar with the phrase 'educational unrest,' and we all feel its fitness. Never were there more able and devoted teachers, whether as the heads or on the staffs of schools of all classes. Money, labour, and research are freely spent on education, theory is widely studied, and pains are taken to learn what is done elsewhere; yet there is something amiss beyond that 'divine discontent' which leads to effort. We know that a change of front is necessary; and we are ready, provided that the change be something more than an experiment. Headmasters and mistresses are, I believe, amongst the persons most ready to fall in with a sound reform; but, because these are persons with wide experience and highly-trained intellects, they are unwilling to launch changes which have not a philosophic basis as well as a utilitarian end.

A Unifying Principle.––Hitherto we, of the Parents' Union, have pressed on the public rather our views on home-training than those on school-teaching, but this is because we have been unwilling to disturb the existing order. We have, however, during the last twelve years worked out in our training college and school a unifying principle and adequate methods with happy results. We exist because we have a definite aim, and to carry out that aim. I need not now speak of the few principles which form a guide to us in the upbringing of children; but that principle which guides us in what is commonly called education––the teaching of knowledge––may be found to indicate the cause of many educational failures and may point the way to reform.

Education should give Knowledge touched with Emotion.––To adapt a phrase of Matthew Arnold's concerning religion,––education should aim at giving knowledge 'touched with emotion.' I have already quoted the charming episode in Frederika Bremer's Neighbours, where two school-girls fight a duel on behalf of their heroes––Charles XII. and Peter the Great. Parents may be glad that we have no girl-duels to-day! The school-girl does not care for heroes, she cares for marks. Knowledge for her is not 'touched with emotion,' unless it be those of personal acquisitiveness and emulation. The boys and girls have it in them to be generous and enthusiastic; that they leave school without interests, beyond that of preparing for further examinations or the absorbing interest of games, is no doubt the fault of the schools. Perhaps the 'unrest' of the public mind at home and abroad about secondary education is due to the fact that young people are turned out from excellent schools devitalised so far as their minds go. No 'large draughts of intellectual day' have been offered to their thirst; and yet the thirst was there to begin with.

Mr. Benson ["The Schoolmaster," by H. C. Benson, of Eton College.––Nineteenth Century, December 1902.] speaks very frankly. He says: "I honestly believe that the masters of public schools have two strong ambitions––to make boys good and to make them healthy; but I do not think they care about making them intellectual: intellectual life is left to take care of itself. My belief is that a great many masters look upon the boys' work as a question of duty––that is, they consider it from the moral standpoint and not from the intellectual . . . It must frankly admitted that the intellectual standard maintained at the English public schools is low; and, what is more serious, I do not see any evidence that it is tending to become higher."

Professor Sadler, with a perhaps wider outlook, says, practically, the same thing––our secondary schools have capital points, but intellectually they are behindhand, compared even with those of some continental nations. Mr. Benson speaks no doubt from personal knowledge; but is it a fact that so intellectual a body as our headmasters deliberately forego intellectual distinction in their schools? Or is it not rather that examinations throw them back on the pseudo- intellectual work known as 'cram'? It is because cram is deadening that some of us deprecate the registration of teachers as a backward movement. Hundreds of mediocre young women set themselves to cram for a course of examinations, often a long course, to end at last in registration; and already headmistresses feel the evil and inquire diligently for assistants who are 'not the usual sort.' Women are apt to be over-strenuous and over-conscientious, and the strain of moral effort carried on through years of preparation for successive examinations often leaves a certain dulness of apprehension. There are brilliant exceptions, but the average young woman who has undergone such an experience has little initiative, is slow of perception, not readily adaptable, not quick in the uptake; is, in fact, a little devitalised. I speak of moral effort, because the labour of preparing for examinations, of going through steady long-sustained grind, is apt to be rather a moral than an intellectual effort. With young men it is otherwise; they are commonly less strenuous, less absorbed, and therefore, perhaps, more receptive to the ideas that beset the way of their studies.

Education is the Science of Relations.––The idea that vivifies teaching in the Parents' Union is that Education is the Science of Relations; by which phrase we mean that children come into the world with a natural 'appetency,' to use Coleridge's word, for, and affinity with, all the material of knowledge; for interest in the heroic past and in the age of myths; for a desire to know about everything that moves and lives, about strange places and strange peoples; for a wish to handle material and to make; a desire to run and ride and row and do whatever the law of gravitation permits. Therefore we do not feel it is lawful in the early days of a child's life to select certain subjects for his education to the exclusion of others; to say he shall not learn Latin, for example, or shall not learn Science; but we endeavour that he shall have relations of pleasure and intimacy established with as many as possible of the interests proper to him; not learning a slight or incomplete smattering about this or that subject, but plunging into vital knowledge, with a great field before him which in all his life he will not be able to explore. In this conception we get that 'touch of emotion' which vivifies knowledge, for it is probable that we feel only as we are brought into our proper vital relations.

Is there such a thing as the 'Child-Mind'?––We get courage to attack so wide a programme through a few working ideas or principles: one of these is, there is no such thing as the 'child-mind'; we believe that the ignorance of children is illimitable, but that, on the other hand, their intelligence is hardly to be reckoned with by our slower wits. In practical working we find this idea a great power; the teachers do not talk down to the children; they are careful not to explain every word that is used, or to ascertain if children understand every detail. As a girl of twelve or so the writer browsed a good deal on Cowper's poems and somehow took an interest in Mrs. Montague's Feather Hangings. Only the other day did the ball to fit that socket arrive in the shape of an article in The Quarterly on 'The Queen of the Bluestockings.' Behold, there was Mrs. Montague with her feather hangings! The pleasure of meeting with her after all these years was extraordinary; for in no way is knowledge more enriching than in this of leaving behind it a, so to speak, dormant appetite for more of the kind. The recent finds at Knossos are only to be appreciated by those who recollect how Ulysses told Penelope about Crete with its ninety cities, and Knossos, and King Minos. Not what we have learned, but what we are waiting to know is the delectable part of knowledge. Nor should knowledge be peptonised or diluted, but offered to the children with some substance in it and some vitality. We find that children can cover a large and various field with delight and intelligence in the time that is usually wasted over 'the three R's,' object-lessons, and other much-diluted matter in which the teaching is more than the knowledge.

Knowledge versus Information.––The distinction between knowledge and information is, I think, fundamental. Information is the record of facts, experiences, appearances, etc., whether in books or in the verbal memory of the individual; knowledge, it seems to me, implies the result of the voluntary and delightful action of the mind upon the material presented to it. Great minds, a Darwin or a Plato, are able to deal at first hand with appearances or experiences; the ordinary mind gets a little of its knowledge by such direct dealing, but for the most part it is set in action by the vivifying knowledge of others, which is at the same time a stimulus and a point of departure. The information acquired in the course of education is only by chance, and here and there, of practical value. Knowledge, on the other hand, that is, the product of the vital action of the mind on the material presented to it, is power; as it implies an increase of intellectual aptitude in new directions, and an always new point of departure.

Perhaps the chief function of a teacher is to distinguish information from knowledge in the acquisitions of his pupils. Because knowledge is power, the child who has got knowledge will certainly show power in dealing with it. He will recast, condense, illustrate, or narrate with vividness and with freedom the arrangement of his words. The child who has got only information will write and speak in the stereotyped phrases of his text-book, or will mangle in his notes the words of his teacher.

Children have a Natural Craving for Knowledge.––It is the easier for us to deal in this direct fashion with knowledge because we are not embarrassed by the necessity of cultivating faculties; for working purposes the so-called faculties are sufficiently described as mind; and the normal mind is, we find, as able to deal with knowledge as are the normal digestive organs with food. Our concern is give a child such knowledge as shall open up for him as large a share as may be of the world he lives for his use and enjoyment. As there are gymnastics for the body, so for the mind there are certain subjects whose use is chiefly disciplinary, and of these we avail ourselves. Again, as our various organs labour without our consciousness in the assimilation food, so judgment, imagination, and what not, deal their own accord with knowledge, that it may be incorporated, which is not the same thing as 'remembered.' A further analogy––as the digestive organs are incited by appetite, so children come into the world with a few inherent desires, some with more, some less, to incite them to their proper activities. These are, roughly speaking, the desire for power, for praise, for wealth, for distinction, for society, and for knowledge.

It seems to me that education, which appeals to the desire for wealth (marks, prizes, scholarships, or the like), or to the desire of excelling (as in the taking of places, etc.), or to any other of the natural desires, except that for knowledge, destroys the balance of character; and, what is even more fatal, destroys by inanition that desire for and delight in knowledge which is meant for our joy and enrichment through the whole of life. "A desire for knowledge," says Dr. Johnson, "is the natural feeling of mankind, and every human being whose mind is not debauched will be willing to give all that he has to get knowledge." Is it possible that what has been called 'mark-hunger' is a debauchery of the mind? The undebauched mind takes knowledge with avidity; and we find their studies are so interesting to children that they need no other stimulus.

Children must be Educated on Books.––A corollary of the principle that education is the science of relations, is, that no education seems to be worth the name which has not made children at home in the world of books, and so related them, mind to mind, with thinkers who have dealt with knowledge. We reject epitomes, compilations, and their like, and put into children's hands books which, long or short, are living. Thus it becomes a large part of the teacher's work to help children to deal with their books; so that the oral lesson and lecture are but small matters in education, and are used chiefly to summarise or to expand or illustrate.

Too much faith is commonly placed in oral lessons and lectures; "to be poured into like a bucket," as says Carlyle, "is not exhilarating to any soul"; neither is it exhilarating to have every difficulty explained to weariness, or to have the explanation teased out of one by questions. "I will not be put to the question. Don't you consider, sir, that these are not the manners of a gentleman? I will not be baited with what and why; what is this? what is that? why is a cow's tail long? why is a fox's tail bushy?" said Dr Johnson. This is what children think, though they say nothing. Oral lessons have their occasional use, and when they are fitly given it is the children who ask the questions. Perhaps it is not wholesome or quite honest for a teacher to pose as a source of all knowledge and to give 'lovely' lessons. Such lessons are titillating for the moment, but they give children the minimum of mental labour, and the result is much the same as that left on older persons by the reading of a magazine. We find, on the other hand, that in working through a considerable book, which may take two or three years to master, the interest of boys and girls is well sustained to the end; they develop an intelligent curiosity as to causes and consequences, and are in fact educating themselves.

1The Prelude