Chapter 22 Suggestions Toward a Curriculum

Chapter 22
Suggestions Toward a Curriculum
(For Children under Twelve)
Part III.––The Love of Knowledge

The Use of Books makes for Short Hours.––Considering that under the head of 'Education by Books' some half-dozen groups of subjects are included, with several subjects in each group, the practical teacher will be inclined to laugh at what will seem to him Education in Utopia. In practice, however, we find that the use of books makes for short hours. No book-work or writing, no preparation or report, is done in the Parents' Review School, except between the hours of 9 and 11.30 for the lowest class, to 9 and 1 for the highest, with half an hour's interval for drill, etc.

From one to two hours, according to age and class, are given in the afternoons to handicrafts, field-work, drawing, etc.; and the evenings are absolutely free, so that the children have leisure for hobbies, family reading, and the like. We are able to get through a greater variety of subjects, and through more work in each subject, in a shorter time than is usually allowed, because children taught in this way get the habit of close attention and are carried on by steady interest.

'Utilitarian' Education.––I should be inclined to say of education, as Mr. Lecky says of morals, that "the Utilitarian theory is profoundly immoral." To educate children for any immediate end––towards commercial or manufacturing aptitude, for example––is to put a premium upon general ignorance with a view to such special aptitude. The greater includes the less, but the less does not include the greater. Excellent work of whatever kind is produced by a person of character and intelligence, and we who teach cannot do better for the nation than to prepare such persons for its uses. He who has intelligent relations with life will produce good work.

Relations and Interests.––I have throughout spoken of 'Relations,' and not of 'Interests,' because interests may be casual, unworthy, and passing. Everyone, even the most ignorant, has interests of a sort; while to make valid any one relation, implies that knowledge has begun in, at any rate, that one direction. But the defect in our educational thought is that we have ceased to realise that knowledge is vital; and, as children and adults, we suffer from underfed minds. This intellectual inanition is, no doubt, partly due to the fact that educational theorists systematically depreciate knowledge. Such theorists are, I think, inclined to attach more importance to the working of the intellectual machinery than to the output of the product; that is, they feel it to be more important that a child should think than that he should know. My contention is rather that he cannot know without having thought; and also that he cannot think without an abundant, varied, and regular supply of the material of knowledge. We all know how the reading of a passage may stimulate in us thought, inquiry, inference, and thus get for us in the end some added knowledge.

The depreciation of which I speak is by no means of set purpose, nor is it even realised; but the more education presents itself as a series of psychological problems, the greater will be the tendency to doctor, modify, and practically eliminate knowledge;––that knowledge, which is as the air, and the food, and the exercise, the whole life of the mind of man. In giving 'education' without abundant knowledge, we are as persons who should aim at physical development by giving the maximum of exercise with the minimum of food. The getting of knowledge and the getting of delight in knowledge are the ends of a child's education; and well has said one of our prophets [Carlyle], "that there should one man die ignorant who had capacity for knowledge, this I call a tragedy."

To sum up, I believe that our efforts at intellectual education commonly fail from six causes:

Causes of Failure.––(a) The oral lesson, which at its worst is very poor twaddle, and at its best is far below the ordered treatment of the same subject by an original mind in the right book. (The right books exist, old and new, in countless numbers, but very great care is necessary in the choice, as well as much experience of the rather whimsical tastes and distastes of children.)

(b) The lecture, commonly gathered from various books in rapid notes by the teacher; and issuing in hasty notes, afterwards written out, and finally crammed up by the pupils. The lecture is often careful, thorough, and well-illustrated; but is it ever equal in educational value to direct contact with the original mind of one able thinker who has written his book on the subject? Arnold, Thring, Bowen, we know, lectured with great effect, but then each of them lectured on only a few subjects, and each lecture was as the breaking out of a spring of slowly gathered knowledge. We are not all Arnolds or even Bowens.

(c) The text-book, compressed and re-compressed from one or many big books. These handbooks are of two kinds––the frankly dry and uninteresting, which enumerate facts and details; and the easy and beguiling. I think we are safe in saying that there is no educational value in either sort of text-book.

(d) The debauchery of the mind which comes of exciting other desires to do the work of the inherent and fully adequate desire of knowledge.

(e) In elementary schools, the dependence upon apparatus and illustrative appliances which have a paralysing effect on the mind.

(f) Again in elementary schools, the use of 'Readers,' which, however well selected, cannot have the value of consecutive works.

Education by Books.––For the last twelve years we have tried the plan of bringing children up on Books and Things, and, on the whole, the results are pleasing. The average child studies with 'delight.' We do not say he will remember all he knows, but, to use a phrase of Jane Austen's, he will have had his 'imagination warmed' in many regions of knowledge.

Blind Alleys.––May I digress for a moment to raise a warning note against the following of blind alleys, whether in our educational thought or our methods. We do not, in the sphere of education, find hidden treasure by casual digging in the common roadways. Believing in evolution, we perceive that ideas also have their pedigree and their progeny and follow their own laws of generation. A learned and thoughtful Chinese will abstract himself from the outer world, separate himself from the ideas of others, and, when he has arrived at a due state of vacuity, take his writing-brushes and produce out of his inner consciousness––not anything that he has ever seen or heard of; or even imagined––but some hieroglyph of curves, rather pleasing and presentable if he happen to be an artist. This disconnected production he arbitrarily invests with the character of a symbol, and his fellows are willing to receive it as such, and it is duly hung in his Hall of Tablets1. Some of us perhaps know the flowing curves which stand for 'happiness' in this language of symbols.

Now, all this is very engaging, and the Western mind is ready enough to succumb to the charm of such fancies. But does it not offer a key to that baffling problem we call China? Here we have a vast people with some high moral qualities, of astute and sometimes profound intelligence, whose civilisation has for thousands of years remained to all appearance stationary. Is the cause, perhaps, a tendency to follow intellectual futilities, blind alleys, in every direction? These people do not realise that method implies an end perceived, a way to that end, and step by step progress in the way; nor do they perceive that a notion becomes a fruitful idea only upon the impact of an idea from without. A fine Celestial arrogance assures them of their right to casual finds; hence, they do not progress, but remain in all things as they were.

Now, here is the danger that besets us in education. We seize upon ambidexterity, upon figures drawn with the compasses without intention, upon 'child study' as applied to mind, upon terrible agglutinations which we call 'apperception masses,' upon intellectual futilities in a hundred directions, each of which will, we hope, give us the key to education. We may perceive the futility of such notions by applying the test of progress. Are they the way to anything, and, if so, to what? Let us, out of reverence for the children, be modest; let us not stake their interests on the hope that this or that new way would lead to great results if people had only the courage to follow it. It is exciting to become a pioneer; but, for the children's sake, it may be well to constrain ourselves to follow those roads only by which we know that persons have arrived, or those newer roads which offer evident and assured means of progress towards a desired end. Self-will is not permitted to the educationalist; and he may not take up fads.

An Educated Child.––Knowledge is, no doubt, a comparative term, and the knowledge of a subject possessed by a child would be the ignorance of a student. All the same, there is such a thing as an educated child––a child who possesses a sound and wide knowledge of a number of subjects, all of which serve to interest him; such a child studies with 'delight.'

Children delight In School, but not for Love of Knowledge.––It will be said with truth that most children delight in school; they delight in the stimulus of school life, in the social stir of companionship; they are emulous, eager for reward and praise; they enjoy the thousand lawful interests of school life, including the attractive personality of such and such a teacher; but it seems doubtful whether the love of knowledge, in itself and for itself; is usually a powerful motive with the young scholar. The matter is important, because, of all the joyous motives of school life, the love of knowledge is the only abiding one; the only one which determines the scale, so to speak, upon which the person will hereafter live. My contention is, to repeat what has been said, that all children have a capacity for and a latent love of knowledge; and, that knowledge concerning persons and States can best be derived from books, and should be got by the children out of their own books.

In a hundred biographies there are hints of boys and girls who have grown up on books; and there is no doubt that in many schools the study of books is the staple of the work. This probably is the principle which keeps our great public schools perennially alive; they live, so far as they do live, upon books. The best public schoolboy is a fine product; and perhaps the worst has had his imagination touched by ideas; yet most of us recognise that the public school often fails, in that it launches the average and dull boy ignorant upon the world because the curriculum has been too narrow to make any appeal to him. And we must remember, that if a young person leave school at seventeen or eighteen without having become a diligent and delighted reader, it is tolerably certain that he will never become a reader, it may be, however, that the essential step in any reform of public schools should come in the shape of due preparation upon a wide curriculum, dealt with intelligently, between the ages of six and twelve.

An Educational Revolution.––I add appendices to show, (a) how a wide curriculum and the use of many books work in the Parents' Review School; (b) what progress a pupil of twelve should have made under such conditions; and (c) what use is made of oral lessons. Should the reader consider that the children in question prove their right of entry to several fields of knowledge, that they show a distinct appetite for such knowledge, that thought and power of mind develop upon the books we read, as they do not and cannot upon the lectures we hear; should he indeed be convinced of the truth of what I have advanced, I think he will see that, not an educational reform here and there, but an EDUCATIONAL REVOLUTION is before us to which every one of us is bound to put his hand.

The Children's Magna Carta.––My plea is, and I think I have justified it by experience, that many doors shall be opened to boys and girls until they are at least twelve or fourteen, and always the doors of good houses, ('Education,' says Taine, 'is but a card of invitation to noble and privileged salons'); that they shall be introduced to no subject whatever through compendiums, abstracts, or selections; that the young people shall learn what history is, what literature is, what life is, from the living books of those who know. I know it can be done, because it is being done on a considerable scale.

If conviction has indeed reached us, the Magna Carta of children's intellectual liberty is before us. The need is immediate, the means are evident. This, least, I think we ought to claim, that, up to the age of twelve, all boys and girls shall be educated on some such curriculum, with some such habit of Books as we have been considering.2


1See 'Through a Hidden Shensi,' by F. Nichols
2It is highly encouraging that the new regulations of the Board of Education both for primary and secondary schools lend themselves to the lines of work advocated in these pages.