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ART. VII.-INSTRUCTION IN Schools AND Colleges.
1. Address delivered at the opening of the Free Schools in Charleston, June 26, 1852. By JAMEs SIMMONs, Esq.
2. Catalogus Senatus Academici et eorum qui munera, et officia Academica gesserunt in Collegio Yalensi, Novi portus in Republica Connecticutensi. 1850.
3. Catalogue of the Officers and Students of the College of Charleston. 1851.
THE spirit of the age is two-fold. On the one hand an intense thirst for knowledge prevails; on the other an absorbing spirit of accumulation. The great problem is to cause these two elements of civilization to harmonize. And in some respects they do harmonize wonderfully. He who labours in the field of science, reaps the reward for his toils in the lecture room. The demand for the popularization of science fills his purse with gold. If the popular mind is not completely enlightened, something at least is gained. The language of science becomes familiar to the general ear, and one may talk learnedly without incurring the charge of pedantry. The subject of education is one on which the people of America are fond of boasting. The mania pervades every portion of our country; but the exhibition of its symptoms is less offensive at the South, than at the North. If we are to judge from some of the reports of the New-England School Commissioners, and from the comments of their Southern admirers, we would conclude that there is no such thing as elementary instruction needed in that happy region; that every Abecedarian institution is calculated to turn out Professors of Colleges, and, a priori, we may infer that the acquirements of those who enjoy the advantages of the schools of higher grade, are of a nature so exalted as to entitle them to a high position in utopia. The importance of the subject of instruction in schools and colleges is such, that we deem no apology necessary in again demanding the attention of our readers. We propose to do little more than reiterate old truths; to recapitulate old arguments. We have no hesitation in declaring, at the outset, our attachment to the old system under which we have grown up and prospered. We think it is incumbent on us so to do, because a spirit of innovation
and of reformation is abroad. Against this spirit we have at present nothing to urge, but the common sense one, that it must show good grounds for displacing the old system. Nothing is more easy than to denounce the existing order of things. In all human affairs imperfections will abound; and a skilful sophist may, by adroitly marshalling them, make it appear to the unreflecting multitude that nothing can atone for this array of error; but a wise man will examine, and he will find that with error there is also much truth ; it is important to observe, too, whether the error has been engrafted in truth, or whether truth shines out occasionally in spite of error. He will reflect, finally, that the present system is that of several ages, that it has trained our minds and that of our fathers, and he will reverently adhere to that which exists, until it be satisfactorily shown that a better system is matured and ready to take its place. We propose now to discuss the subjects of instruction in primary schools, in grammar schools, and in colleges. Whenever a child is to be educated, it should be ascertained what is to be his probable destiny. We do not mean that his career is to be definitely marked out for him, that his profession is to be selected in advance; such a procedure would be unwise, if it were not impracticable. But his social position being ascertained, and the means provided for his maintenance being known, he should be educated in accordance with the condition in which he is expected to commence his career. Every child should be taught to read, to write, and to cipher. These elements form the key to all knowledge, and should be placed within reach of all. They are as necessary to the moral and intellectual man, as food and raiment are to his body. But as the quality of the food and raiment of each man depends upon his means and his condition, so the same circumstances should determine whether the intellectual food and raiment should exceed that necessary modicum which the spirit of the age seems to require. So far as this fundamental and rudimental instruction is concerned, the States of America do not boast vainly. An adult, who is ignorant of the art of reading and writing, is an unusual sight in any part of this country. But the spirit of the age is not content with this. It desires to elevate the character of these schools, to give the children more instruction, to make all men more learned. We have strong doubts whether this result is practicable, stronger still, whether it is desirable. Confining ourselves to our vernacular tongue, it may be asked, what can young children be taught besides reading, writing, and arithmetic | The advocates of improvement reply, that many branches of useful knowledge may be learned ; and they enumerate history, geography, grammar, and other sciences. That some of them may be taught, is doubtless true, but not in the mode proposed by the modern advocates of improvement. Whoever will take the trouble to examine any of our schools, will find that the little minds of the pupils are exercised in all or most of these branches, to each of which a text-book is appropriated. One book teaches the elements of geography, and all that wood-cuts can do in a cheap way is brought to bear upon the infant mind in his investigations into this science. History, too, is brought to the level of their comprehensions, and grammar is evolved for the edification of the rising generation. That something may be gleaned from these books, we are far from denying, but that any true knowledge is obtained, we do seriously question. Before books were as cheap and as common as they now are, it was the custom to give each child a spellingbook; this (honoured be the memories of Dilworth and of Webster) combined the purpose of a spelling-book and a reading book. Children were daily exercised in reading aloud from the moment they mastered the mystery of the power of letters, until their scholastic career was completed. When the exercises in reading contained in the spelling-book had become familiar to the learner, he was presented with a Bible, and from that well of English undefiled, as well as of sound theology, he was daily exercised in elocution. In the course of time some changes were made in this arrangement. Books, specially prepared for the purpose, were got up, and doubtless many of our readers recollect the excellent and agreeable miscellany, both in prose and poetry, compiled by Linelly Murray. This excellent practice is now, we are told, discontinued in most schools, and children are no longer exercised in
reading, after they have so far mastered the art as to read fluently. As a substitute for that most agreeable and desirable accomplishment, a graceful and correct elocution, exercises in declamation have been established ; but it is questionable whether the latter can ever be made to supply the defect arising from continual teaching in the simpler, but more desirable, art of elocution. We have said that geography may be taught in schools; but we do not believe it can be taught by the present system. A child may learn a lesson from Mitchell’s or Smith's Geography, or from any other school manual now in popular use. The great error of teachers is, that these works called elementary, are put in the hands of learners when they are in fact “resumés,” or coup d'ails, of no earthly use but to him who has studied the details. Geography and history are inseparably connected with each other. We may, it is true, enjoy many passages in history without a knowledge of geography. We may fancy the travels of Gulliver all true, and enter with spirit into the politics of Lilliput, or the philosophy of Laputa; but a mere geographical chart, without some sketches, historical or political, is the most uninteresting document which can be laid before us. In the last century, Guthrie's Grammar of Geography was the text-book in the schools, both in England and in this country. The plan laid down by him is substantially the same as that which was pursued by Jedediah Morse, in this country at a later period. The predecessor of both was Mr. Salmon. The exceedingly valuable and entertaining work of this venerable author is, however, like that of Maltebrun, too voluminous for the use of schools. All of these books are exceedingly entertaining. In them geography becomes a true and living science, and the youthful mind is fed with substantial and digestible meat, not condemned to toil over a dull catalogue of dry names. If such books could now be reproduced, if they were introduced into schools as daily reading books, and the pupil examined after each exercise on the subject of the day's lesson, or, better still, that of the preceding day, more true knowledge would be imparted, than is now obtained under our fancied improvements. A serious obstacle, however, exists in the conflicting interests of publishers. It is a melancholy fact that our language, our education, perhaps our very destinies, are in the hands of this class of men. One large publisher being
the owner of Webster's Dictionary, has flooded the country with Websterianisms, and our language is in danger of becoming, not English, but American. Another publisher monopolizes the department of Geography; a third that of history. Any attempt to combine the two would be regarded as an officious interference, and resented accordingly. We confess we have little hope of a true reform so long as such powerful interests are to be combated. The spirit of utilitarianism pervades our schools. All teachers aim at imparting useful knowledge; meaning thereby that knowledge which is immediately available, and may be converted into money. All knowledge is useful; and those are perhaps not the least so, which to the mass appear utterly useless. It is frequently asked, even by those who have received a classical education, why should a child be made to toil for years over dead languages, unless he is specially destined for one of the learned professions? Why should he not spend his time in the acquisition of useful knowledge? If we regard the study of the dead languages in a light no higher than as a learning of words, it may be answer. ed, that in childhood the most that can be accomplished is to learn words. Why then, it may be asked, is not this learning devoted to some useful end ?—if words alone are to be learned, why not teach the words of some modern tongue ! These, at least, may in time become available, There is speciousness in these queries, but not truth. For while words are taught, ideas are insensibly developed with them, and the more remote the words are, from those which the learner is accustomed to hear, the more does he acquire the art of reasoning or comparing ideas. A modern language does indeed, to a considerable extent, supply words, but it does not demand the same exercise of the reasoning powers. The differences in the idioms of the languages of Europe, south of the Elbe, are so little, that passages may be rendered verbatim from one to the other, without any change in the arrangement of the words. An exercise, then, in modern languages is little more than an effort of the memory. Very different is it with the Latin and Greek. Their structure is widely different from that of modern languages, and this difference calls for the exercise of judgment and of taste, as well as