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experience. The demands made upon the teacher may be great, but the ideals upon which they are based are within easy reach. Any day of the school year a halfhour's or an hour's ride will take me into the presence of those from whom my pictures have been drawn. My ideal is a present reality, and the realization of this ideal in our own schools has but strengthened and confirmed my belief in the ever-increasing efficiency of the public school as one of the means for the training of our boys and girls in the development of worthy characters.
THE CLASS RECITATION. WHETHER we regard the prime purpose of the school as mental or moral instruction and discipline, the formation of character, or the manual skill that shall aid in securing a comfortable livelihood, the recitation is that about which center all the activities of school-life, giving it success or stamping it with failure.
The personal influence of the teacher is of the first importance; the power to control and direct, invaluable; the magnetism which shall inspire and incite to earnest, loving effort, a necessity to the accomplished, successful teacher; but all of these qualifications find full scope in the recitation, and, without this end, they have little cause or reason to be.
The recitation is the controlling influence, determining the length and character of the lessons, the manner of their preparation, the conduct of the pupil, his hours of study, his interest in school, and his regard for his teacher, and gives the color, the value, to all his schooldays, his waking and his sleeping hours.
It is the recitation, with its direct or indirect influences, which makes him a trusty friend or a hopeless truant, a student or a scamp, and which will guide him along the paths of honest and successful industry, or into the by-ways of indolence and worthlessness.
Here he finds the rewards of well-doing or the condemnation of his negligence; an incitement to renewed effort or an excuse for feeble exertion and lax endeavor.
In the recitation, too, the teacher gives proof of her calling or shows her unfitness for her position. In the recitation is concentrated the devotion, the thought, the life of the teacher, and the work, the purpose, the zeal, and the performance of the pupil. Here is displayed the life of the school, and here is decided whether the school shall be a means of growth and development or a source of unworthy motive, of false aims and ignoble character.
There is a common and flippant charge made against the public graded school, that the individual is neglected, that all are recklessly run through the same mill, without regard to the personal peculiarities of the pupil or to the purpose of his life; that the alert and the sluggish mind receive the same stupefying potions—that to the future senator and the incipient slugger are administered the same dull and dismal doses of dreary didactics and deadening discourses.
But the intelligent teacher soon discerns the differences of character and disposition, and distinguishes the slow and logical thinker from the ready, but unreasoning reciter ; the cultured heir to wealth and winning ways from the child of sturdy toil and untrained manners ; and adjusts herself and her instructions to the equally imperative, but differing needs of each.
And in the varying characters and contrasted thought of each may the other derive a knowledge of society and real life which shall fit him for the duties and responsibilities of his after - calling that no exclusive training could impart. Not because they are in the same class or grade do they receive the same impressions or benefits, or learn the same lessons of science, of truthfulness, of right.
One acquires the love of learning and the principles which shall urge him onward to assured success, while the other simply tastes of the cup that shall cheer his idle hours and give him higher thoughts of humanity and life. One is awakened to the full use of his powers in the grand struggle of existence, which shall bring him a glad fruition; the other merely finds an adornment of his leisure hours, a pleasing resource from the weary demands upon his time and attention.
To the one, his study becomes an important part of his life work, while to the other, his acquisitions are but a grateful relief from perplexing and troublous cares. To one the recitation is an inspiring duty; to another, a wearisome task, or perchance, a diversion.
Notwithstanding the pleasing picture, so often drawn, of Garfield and Dr. Hopkins upon their log, it somehow happens that our pupils are not all Garfields, and it may perhaps with equal safety be admitted that we are not all Hopkinses. And, however useful a proper amount of such familiar intercourse might prove—and the relation of teacher and pupil should, I think, contain the possibility of this intimate converse-yet for the common instruction of the school, I confess, for myself, a firm and abiding faith in the power of class-teaching.
We do not all grow into the same likeness of form or feature by sitting at the same table and supplying our daily wants from the same bill of fare.
In the college and university, with more mature minds and more definite purposes of life, with habits of thought and investigation already formed, the literary or philosophic lecture or the scientific dissertation may fulfill their purpose, but in the public school, including the high-school, the skill and power of the teacher find their best expression in the well-conducted recitation.
In the right recitation should be sought, and by some means secured, the close and fixed attention of each and every pupil. To it he should come as a seeker, a discoverer of hidden treasure. Every power should be awake, the interest aroused, to get some clew to assist him in his future search, some data to verify the conclusions of his own efforts. He should be on the alert to perceive any wrong statement, to note any undue coloring, and be ready to correct the false deduction and refute the empty argument by a clear presentation of real or supposed truth. The recitation of one should be the recitation of all, and thus class instruction become truly individual instruction, with the added interest and power that can come only from contact of mind with mind.
The pupil who merely rises and repeats with close fidelity the words of the book has done nothing but exhibit an exercise of the memory, a power not to be despised, but lamented here, as so far short of the aim of the recitation. This power of memory is one of inestimable value, this power to repeat with strict accuracy the words of an author; a power fitted to hold in its fast and fond embrace the immortal words and sentences which spring only from inspired hearts and minds, and should not be wasted upon the frivolous and belittling lines so often found upon the pages of our educational
t to thth his ities and
papers; too grand a power for a trifling triplet of words, or for the paltry passages of unimportant history.
The teacher greatly underrates his opportunities and mistakes his calling who simply puts forth his questions and signifies his assent or dissent to the correctness of the recital with an accompanying mark of merit or demerit.
A very ordinary text-book can do all that for the boys and girls, and much more. They are there to be taught, to be directed, to be encouraged, inspired to the prosecution of their purpose, and the dull, dead “not correct," with no indication of the nature of the error, no suggestion, falls like a blow upon the defenseless head of a young ambition that might have been guided to a worthy, useful life.
This recitation is much more than a test of the pupil's memory; he is to be taught to think, to consider the reasons for or against the statements of the book or the teacher, and clearly and thoughtfully express his views. He may be all wrong in his conclusions, and yet show a strength, a power of reasoning and statement fairly entitling him to a high rank as a student. His knowledge may be insufficient, his data incorrect, but his deductions from his premises conclusive.
The clear and correct expression of his opinions and judgments is to be encouraged as an important part of the recitation. I recollect how, in the old days—and some of the old fellows, I fear, still live—when we ventured to essay our unfledged wings in feeble flight, we were brought up standing with the supposed unanswerable remark, that “ It was written by Dr. So and So, and it was hardly worth while to try to improve upon his language.” And, perhaps, the eminent doctor, too, was but repeating the words of some preceding eminent dullard.