Imatges de pàgina
PDF
EPUB

ately from school. The scheme of examinations for direct commissions is simple and easy, and requires nothing that is beyond the reach of any boy of moderate industry and ordinary capacity. The public-school candidates for Sandhurst in the same time were 23 out of 375. Of the 18 who succeeded (also above the average proportion) 11 came direct from school. The qualifying examination for Woolwich required, before 1862, an amount of mathematical knowledge difficult of attainment for a boy educated at a public school, but then underwent some changes which inake it easier. In three years previous to this change, 35 public-school candidates passed and 49 failed to pass, the totals of candidates being 545 and 689. Of the whole 84, two only went direct from the schools and these failed.

The Course and Subjects of Instruction proper for the Schools.For the instruction of boys, especially when collected in a large school, it is material that there should be some one principal branch of study, invested with a recognized and, if possible, a traditional importance, to which the principal weight should be assigned, and the largest share of time and attention given. This is necessary in order to concentrate attention, to stimulate industry, to supply to the whole school a common ground of literary interest and a coinmon path of promotion. The study of the classical languages and literature at present occupies this position in all the great English schools and with the advantage of long possession

- an advantage so great that we should certainly hesitate to advise the dethronement of it, even if we were prepared to recommend a successor.

It is not without reason, however, that the foremost place has been assigned to this study. Grammar is the logic of common speech, and there are few educated men who are not sensible of the advantages they gained as boys from the steady practice of composition and translation, and from their introduction to etymology. The study of literature is the study, not indeed of the physical, but of the intellectual and moral world we live in, and of the thoughts, lives, and characters of those men whose writings and whose memories succeeding generations have thought it worth while to preserve.

We are equally convinced that the best materials available to Englishmen for these studies are furnished by the languages and literature of Greece and Rome. From the regular structure of their languages, from their logical accuracy of expression, from the comparative ease with which their etymology is traced and reduced to general laws, from their severe canons of taste and style, from the very fact that they are “dead," and have been handed down to us directly from the periods of their highest ! perfection, comparatively untouched by the inevitable process of degen- , eration and decay, they are beyond all doubt the finest and most serviceable models we have for the study of language. As literature, they supply the most graceful and some of the noblest poetry, the finest eloquence, the deepest philosophy, the wisest historical writing; and these excellencies are such as to be appreciated keenly, though inadequately,

by young minds and to leave, as in fact they do, a lasting impression. Besides this, it is at least a reasonable opinion that this literature has had a powerful effect in molding and animating the statesmanship and political life of England. Nor is it to be forgotten that the whole civilization of modern Europe is really built upon the foundations laid two thousand years ago by two bighly civilized nations on the shores of the Mediterranean; that their languages supply the key to our modern tongues ; their poetry, history, philosophy, and law, to the poetry, history, philosophy, and jurisprudence, of modern times; that this key can seldom be acquired except in youth, and that the possession of it, as daily experience proves, and as those who have it not will most readily acknowledge, is very far from being merely a literary advantage.

It may be objected that this is only true provided the study is carried far enough, and that in a large proportion of cases it is not carried far enough. Of the young men who go to the Universities a great number never acquire so much Latin and Greek as would enable them to read the best classical authors intelligently and with pleasure, and more than half of those who leave school do not go to the Universities at all; among these the average of classical attainment is certainly lower still, and probably in nine cases out of ten they never, after they have quitted school, open a Greek or Latin book. It may be asked whether the mental discipline which such boys have received could not have been imparted to them at least as well by other studies, in which they might perhaps have made more sensible progress, and which would have furnished them at the same time with knowledge practically and immediately serviceable to them in the business of life.

This objection supposes that there should be different courses in each school for different capacities, (a question discussed farther on,) or that there should be but one course in which the classics should not enter or should hold a subordinate place. Now it is and ought to be the aim of the public schools to give an education of the best kind, not of the second best. Their great service consists in giving such an education to boys who bave capacity and industry enough to take advantage of it, and they should not forego this office for the sake of bringing down their teaching to a level adjusted to the reach of dull, uncultivated, or listless minds. They are bound indeed to adjust it to the scope of ordinary intellects, for the vast majority of boys intrusted to them are not clever. But it is not necessary to be clever in order to gain solid advantage from the study of Latin and Greek; it is only necessary to be attentive, a condition equally indispensable to progress in any other study. And without doubt, a boy of ordinary capacity, and even a dull and backward boy who can be induced to take pains, is likely to profit more on the whole in a school where he has highly cultivated masters, and travels the same road with companions who are being highly educated, where there is a higher standard of taste and attainment, and the instruments and whole machinery of instruction are of the finest and most perfect kind, than he would under a system sedulously lowered to the pitch of his own intellectual powers.

Yet the course should not be exclusively classical. It is the office of education not only to discipline some of the faculties, but to awaken, call out, and exercise them all so far as this can usefully be done in boyhood; to awaken tastes that may be developed in after life; to impart early habits of reading, thought, and observation ; and to furnish the mind with such knowledge as is wanted at the outset of life. A young man is not educated-indeed, is not educated at all who can not reason or observe or express himself easily and correctly, and who is unable to bear his part in cultivated society from ignorance of things which all who mix in it are assumed to be acquainted with. He is not well educated if his information is all shut up within one narrow circle, and if he has not been taught at least that beyond what he has been able to acquire lie great and varied fields of knowledge, some of which he may afterwards explore if he has inclination and opportunity to do so. The kind of knowledge which is necessary or useful, and the best way of exercising or disciplining the faculties, must vary, of course, with the habits and requirements of the age and of the society in which his life is to be spent. No system of instruction can be framed which will not require modification from time to time. The highest and most useful office of education is certainly to train and discipline; but it is not the only office. And whilst in the busy world too great a value perhaps is sometimes set upon the actual acquisition of knowledge and too little upon the mental discipline which enables men to acquire and turn it to the best account, there is also a tendency which is exactly the reverse of this, and which is among the besetting temptations of the ablest schoolmasters; and if very superficial men may be produced by one of these influences, very ignorant men are sometimes produced by the other.

The objections commonly made to any extension of the old course of study are of a more or less practical character. It is said that many things which ought to be learned ought not to be learned at school, and are best acquired before going thither or after leaving it; that they can not be imparted there effectively nor without injury to more important studies, without dissipating the attention and overloading the mind; that the capacity for learning which an average boy possesses is, after all, very limited, and his capacity for forgetting very great; that ability is rare and industry not very common; that if the apparent results are small, they do not quite represent the real benefit received ; and that the actual results, such as they are, are the best which in practice it is possible to obtain.

There is truth here, yet these arguments have in fact been used against all the improvements that have been already introduced and with proud success. It is quite true that much less can, generally speaking, be mastered and retained by a young mind than theorists might suppose; and true that it is not easy to win steady attention from a high-spirited English lad, who has the restless activity and love of play that belong to youth and health ; who, like his elders, thinks somewhat slowly, and does not express himself readily, and to whom mental effort is troublesome. But these are difficulties which it is the business of the school. master to contend with, and which careful and skillful teaching may, to some extent, overcome. If a youth, after four or five years spent at school, quits it at nineteen, unable to construe an easy bit of Latin or Greek without the help of a dictionary, or to write Latin grammatically, almost ignorant of geography and of the history of his own country, unacquainted with any modern language but his own, and hardly competent to write English correctly, to do a simple sum, or stumble through an easy proposition in Euclid, a total stranger to the laws which govern the physical world and to its structure, with an eye and hand unpracticed in drawing, and without knowing a note of music, with an uncultivated mind and po taste for reading or observation, his intellectual education must certainly be accounted a failure, though there may be no fault to find with his principles, character, or manners; yet this is much more commonly than it ought to be the product of English public-school education.

It is true also that besides what is learned at school by the boy, much may and ought to be acquired by the child, and much more by the man. But that boys come very ill prepared to school is the general complaint, and the evil seems to be on the increase. On the other hand, there are many men who do not learn much after they leave school, because few men read much, for want of inclination or leisure. The schools have it in their power to remedy, to a certain extent, the former of these deficiencies by a stricter examination on entrance; and it should be their aim to at least diminish the latter by opening the minds of their scholars and implanting tastes which are now wanting. But the chances of leisure after entrance into active life must always be precarious. The school has absolute possession of the boy during four or five years, the most valuable years of pupilage, the time when the powers of apprehension and memory are brightest, when the faculty of observation is quick and lively, and he is forming his acquaintance with the various objects of knowledge. Something surely may be done during that time in the way not of training alone, but of positive acquisition, and the school is responsible for turning it to the best account.

The extension of the present course, as proposed, is but very moderate. The importance of arithmetic and mathematics is already recognized, and it is only necessary that they should be taught more effectively. The course should include arithmetic, so taught as to make every boy thoroughly familiar with it, and the elements of geometry, algebra, and plane trigonometry. In the case of the more advanced students, it should also .comprise an introduction to applied mathematics. All the boys at every school should, in some part at least of their passage through it, learn eicher French or German. Natural science is, with slight exceptions,

[ocr errors]

practically excluded from the education of the higher classes in England, and education is, in this respect, narrower than it was three centuries ago. This exclusion is a great practical evil, narrowing unduly and injuriously the mental training of the young, and the knowledge, interests, and pursuits of men in maturer life. For all educated men an early introduction to natural science is desirable, if not necessary, and the value of the study, as a means of opening the mind and disciplining the faculties, is recognized by all who have taken the trouble to acquire it. It quickens and cultivates directly the faculty of observation, which in very many persons lies almost dormant through life, the power of accurate and rapid generalization, and the mental habit of method and arrangement; it accustoms young persons to trace the sequence of cause and effect; it familiarizes them with a kind of training which interests them, and which they can promptly comprehend; and it is perhaps the best corrective for that indolence which is the vice of half-awakened minds, and which shrinks from any exertion which is not, like an effort of memory, merely mechanical. The teaching must necessarily be elementary, and this thoroughly understood, as far as it goes, will satisfy the purposes in view. An hour or two in the week of class teaching, properly seconded, will be found to produce substantial fruits. Whether the sciences should be taught in their logical order, at what age or point of intellectual progress any part of the subject should be taken up, in what manner it should be taught, and how far pursued, are questions to be settled by experience, and by the inquiries and deliberate judgment of the various Governing Bodies. Every boy should learn either music or drawing during a part at least of his stay at school. Positive inaptitude for the education of the ear and voice, or for that of the band and eye, is rare; and these accomplishments are useful as instruments of training and valuable possessions in after life. Greater attention should be paid to history and geography than they now receive. A taste for history may be gained at school; the habit of reading intelligently should certainly be acquired then, and few books can be intelligently read without some knowledge of history, and no history without geography. More attention should also be given to English composition and orthography. A command of pure grammatical English is not necessarily gained by construing Latin and Greek, though the study of the classical languages is, or rather may be made, an instrument of the highest value for that purpose.

It may be objected that there is not time for such a course of study as this. But we are persuaded that by effective teaching time can be found for these things without encroaching on the hours of play; and that room may be made for them, by taking trouble, in the head of any ordinary boy. Of the time spent at school by nine boys out of ten, much is wasted which it is quite possible to economize. Time is economized by increasing attention; attention is sharpened and kept alive by a judicious change of work. A boy can attend without flagging to what

« AnteriorContinua »