Part 2 out of 6
"It is the custom among men," said he, "to make out their report, in
such a case, fully, so that it would explain itself; and I should like
to have you, if you are willing, make out yours a little more
Accordingly, after a little additional explanation, the boys made
another attempt, and presently returned with something like the
"The committee for counting the nails report as follows:
Number of nails. . . . 35
Room for more . . . . 15."
The other report was very similar, though somewhat rudely written and
expressed, and both were perfectly satisfactory to the preceptor, as he
plainly showed by the manner in which he received them.
I need not finish the description of this case by narrating particularly
the reading of the reports, the appointment of a committee to assign the
nails, and to paste up the names of the scholars, one to each. The work,
in such a case, might be done in recesses, and out of school hours; and
though, at first, the teacher will find that it is as much trouble to
accomplish business in this way as it would be to attend to it directly
himself, yet, after a very little experience, he will find that his
pupils will acquire dexterity and readiness, and will be able to render
him very material assistance in the accomplishment of his plans.
This, however--the assistance rendered to the teacher--is not the main
object of the adoption of such measures as this. The main design is to
interest the pupils in the management and the welfare of the school--to
identify them, as it were, with it. And such measures as the above will
accomplish this object; and every teacher who will try the experiment,
and carry it into effect with any tolerable degree of skill, will find
that it will, in a short time, change the whole aspect of the school in
regard to the feelings subsisting between himself and his pupils.
Each teacher who tries such an experiment will find himself insensibly
repeating it, and after a time he may have quite a number of officers
and committees who are intrusted with various departments of business.
He will have a secretary, chosen by ballot by the scholars, to keep a
record of all the important transactions in the school for each day. At
first he will dictate to the secretary, thus directing him precisely
what to say, or even writing it for him, and then merely requiring him
to copy it into the book provided for the purpose. Afterward he will
give the pupil less and less assistance, till he can keep the record
properly himself. The record of each day will be read on the succeeding
day at the hour for business. The teacher will perhaps have a committee
to take care of the fire, and another to see that the room is constantly
in good order. He will have distributors for each division of seats, to
distribute books, and compositions, and pens, and to collect votes. And
thus, in a short time, his school will become _regularly organized as a
society or legislative assembly_. The boys will learn submission to the
majority in such unimportant things as may be committed to them; they
will learn system and regularity, and every thing else, indeed, that
belongs to the science of political self-government.
There are dangers, however. What useful practice has not its dangers?
One of these is, that the teacher will allow these arrangements to take
up too much time. He must guard against this. I have found from
experience that fifteen minutes each day, with a school of 135, is
enough. This ought never to be exceeded.
Another danger is, that the boys will be so engaged in the duties of
their _offices_ as to neglect their _studies_. This would be, and ought
to be, fatal to the whole plan. This danger may be avoided in the
following manner. State publicly that you will not appoint any to office
who are not good scholars, always punctual, and always prepared; and
when any boy who holds an office is going behindhand in his studies, say
to him kindly, "You have not time to get your lessons, and I am afraid
it is owing to the fact that you spend so much time in helping me. Now
if you wish to resign your office, so as to have more time for your
lessons, you can. In fact, I think you ought to do it. You may try it
for a day or two, and I will notice how you recite, and then we can
Such a communication will generally be found to have a powerful effect.
If it does not remedy the evil, the resignation must be insisted on. A
few decided cases of this kind will effectually remove the evil I am
Another difficulty which is likely to attend the plan of allowing the
pupils of a school to take some part in this way in the administration
of it is that it may tend to make them insubordinate, so that they will,
in many instances, submit with less good humor to such decisions as you
may consider necessary. I do not mean that this will be the case with
all, but that there will be a few who will be ungenerous enough, if you
allow them to decide sometimes what shall be done, to endeavor to make
trouble, or at least to show symptoms of impatience and vexation because
you do not allow them always to decide.
Sometimes this feeling may show itself by the discontented looks, or
gestures, or even words with which some unwelcome regulation or order on
the part of the teacher will be received. Such a spirit should be
immediately and decidedly checked whenever it appears. It will not be
difficult to check, and even entirely to remove it. On one occasion
when, after learning the wish of the scholars on some subject which had
been brought before them, I decided contrary to it, there arose a murmur
of discontent all over the room. This was the more distinct, because I
have always accustomed my pupils to answer questions asked, and to
express their wishes and feelings on any subject I may present to them
with great freedom.
I asked all those who had expressed their dissatisfaction to rise.
About one third of the scholars arose.
"Perhaps you understood that when I put the question to vote I meant to
abide by your decision, and that, consequently, I ought not to have
reversed it, as I did afterward?"
"Yes, sir," "Yes, sir," they replied.
Do you suppose it would be safe to leave the decision of important
questions to the scholars in this school?"
"Yes, sir;" "No, sir." The majority were, however, in the affirmative.
Thus far, only those who were standing had answered. I told them that,
as they were divided in opinion, they might sit, and I would put the
question to the whole school.
"You know," I continued, addressing the whole, "what sort of persons the
girls who compose this school are. You know about how many are governed
habitually by steady principle, and how many by impulse and feeling. You
know, too, what proportion have judgment and foresight necessary to
consider and decide independently such questions as continually arise in
the management of a school. Now suppose I should resign the school into
your own hands as to its management, and only come in to give
instruction to the classes, leaving all general control of its
arrangements with you, would it go on safely or not?"
As might have been foreseen, there was, when the question was fairly
proposed, scarcely a solitary vote in favor of government by scholars.
They seemed to see clearly the absurdity of such a scheme.
"Besides," I continued, "the trustees of this school have committed it
to my charge; they hold me responsible; the public hold _me_
responsible, not you. Now if I should surrender it into your hands, and
you, from any cause, should manage the trust unfaithfully or
unskillfully, I should necessarily be held accountable. I could never
shift the responsibility upon you. Now it plainly is not just or right
that one party should hold the power, and another be held accountable
for its exercise. It is clear, therefore, in every view of the subject,
that I should retain the management of this school in my own hands. Are
you not satisfied that it is?"
The scholars universally answered "Yes, sir." They seemed satisfied, and
It was then stated to them that the object in asking them to vote was,
in some cases, to obtain an expression of their opinion or their wishes
in order to help _me_ decide, and only in those cases where it was
expressly stated did I mean to give the final decision to them.
Still, however, if cases are often referred to them, the feeling will
gradually creep in that the school is managed on republican principles,
as they call it, and they will, unless this point is specially guarded,
gradually lose that spirit of entire and cordial subordination so
necessary for the success of any school. It should often be distinctly
explained to them that a republican government is one where the power
essentially resides in the community, and is exercised by a ruler only
so far as the community delegates it to him, whereas in the school the
government is based on the principle that the power, primarily and
essentially, resides in the teacher, the scholars exercising only such
as _he_ may delegate to _them_.
With these limitations and restrictions, and with this express
understanding in regard to what is, in all cases, the ultimate
authority, I think there will be no danger in throwing a very large
share of the business which will, from time to time, come up in the
school, upon the scholars themselves for decision. In my own experience
this plan has been adopted with the happiest results. In the Mount
Vernon School a small red morocco wrapper lies constantly on a little
shelf, accessible to all. By its side is a little pile of papers, about
one inch by six, on which any one may write her motion, or her
_proposition_, as the scholars call it, whatever it may be, and when
written it is inclosed in the wrapper, to be brought to me at the
appointed time for attending to the general business of the school.
Through this wrapper all questions are asked, all complaints entered,
all proposals made. Is there discontent in the school? It shows itself
by "_propositions_" in the wrapper. Is any body aggrieved or injured? I
learn it through the wrapper. In fact, it is a little safety-valve,
which lets off what, if confined, might threaten explosion---an index--a
thermometer, which reveals to me, from day to day, more of the state of
public opinion in the little community than any thing beside.
These propositions are generally read aloud. Some cases are referred to
the scholars for decision; some I decide myself; others are laid aside
without notice of any kind; others still, merely suggest remarks on the
subjects to which they allude.
The principles, then, which this chapter has been intended to establish,
are simply these: in making your general arrangements, look carefully
over your ground, consider all the objects which you have to accomplish,
and the proper degree of time and attention which each deserves. Then
act upon system. Let the mass of particulars which would otherwise
crowd upon you in promiscuous confusion be arranged and classified. Let
each be assigned to its proper time and place, so that your time may be
your own, under your own command, and not, as is too often the case, at
the mercy of the thousand accidental circumstances which may occur.
In a word, be, in the government of your school, yourself supreme, and
let your supremacy be that of _authority_; but delegate power, as freely
as possible, to those under your care. Show them that you are desirous
of reposing trust in them just so far as they show themselves capable of
exercising it. Thus interest them in your plans, and make them feel that
they participate in the honor or the disgrace of success or failure.
I have gone much into detail in this chapter, proposing definite
measures by which the principles I have recommended may be carried into
effect. I wish, however, that it may be distinctly understood that all I
contend for is the _principles_ themselves, no matter what the
particular measures are by which they are secured. Every good school
must be systematic, but all need not be on precisely the same system. As
this work is intended almost exclusively for beginners, much detail has
been admitted, and many of the specific measures here proposed may
perhaps be safely adopted where no others are established. There may
also, perhaps, be cases where teachers, whose schools are already in
successful operation, may ingraft upon their own plans some things which
are here proposed. If they should attempt it, it must be done cautiously
and gradually. There is no other way by which they can be safely
introduced, or even introduced at all. This is a point of so much
importance, that I must devote a paragraph to it before closing the
Let a teacher propose to his pupils, formally, from his desk, the plan
of writing propositions, for example, as explained above, and procure
his wrapper, and put it in its place, and what would be the result?
Why, not a single paper, probably, could he get, from one end of the
week to the other. But let him, on the other hand, when a boy comes to
him to ask some question, the answer to which many in the school would
equally wish to hear, say to the inquirer,
"Will you be so good as to write that question, and put it on my desk,
and then, at the regular time, I will answer it to all the school."
When he reads it, let him state that it was written at his request, and
give the other boys permission to leave their proposals or questions on
his desk in the same way. In a few days he will have another, and thus
the plan may be gently and gradually introduced.
So with officers. They should be appointed among the scholars only _as
fast as they are actually needed_, and the plan should thus be
cautiously carried only so far as it proves good on trial. Be always
cautious about innovations and changes. Make no rash experiments on a
large scale, but always test your principle in the small way, and then,
if it proves good, gradually extend its operation as circumstances seem
By thus cautiously and slowly introducing plans, founded on the
systematic principles here brought to view, a very considerable degree
of quiet, and order, and regularity may be introduced into the largest
and most miscellaneous schools. And this order and quiet are absolutely
necessary to enable the teacher to find that interest and enjoyment in
his work which were exhibited in the last chapter; the pleasure of
_directing and controlling mind_, and doing it, not by useless and
anxious complaints, or stern threats and painful punishments, but by
regarding the scene of labor in its true light, as a community of
intellectual and moral beings, and governing it by moral and
intellectual power. It is, in fact, the pleasure of exercising _power_.
I do not mean arbitrary, personal authority, but the power to produce,
by successful but quiet contrivance, extensive and happy results; the
pleasure of calmly considering every difficulty, and, without irritation
or anger, devising the proper moral means to remedy the moral evil; and
then the interest and pleasure of witnessing its effects.
We come now to consider the subject of Instruction.
There are three kinds of human knowledge which stand strikingly distinct
from all the rest. They lie at the foundation. They constitute the roots
of the tree. In other words, they are the _means_ by which all other
knowledge is attained. I need not say that I mean Reading, Writing, and
Teachers do not perhaps always consider how entirely and essentially
distinct these three branches of learning are from all the rest. They
are arts; the acquisition of them is not to be considered as knowledge,
so much as the means by which knowledge may be obtained. A child who is
studying Geography, or History, or Natural Science, is learning
_facts_--gaining information; on the other hand, the one who is learning
to write, or to read, or to calculate, may be adding little or nothing
to his stock of knowledge. He is acquiring _skill_, which, at some
future time, he may make the means of increasing his knowledge to any
This distinction ought to be kept constantly in view, and the teacher
should feel that these three fundamental branches stand by themselves,
and stand first in importance. I do not mean to undervalue the others,
but only to insist upon the superior value and importance of these.
Teaching a pupil to read before he enters upon the active business of
life is like giving a new settler an axe as he goes to seek his new home
in the forest. Teaching him a lesson in history is, on the other hand,
only cutting down a tree or two for him. A knowledge of natural history
is like a few bushels of grain gratuitously placed in his barn; but the
art of ready reckoning is the plow which will remain by him for years,
and help him to draw out from the soil a new treasure every year of his
The great object, then, of the common schools in our country is to teach
the whole population to read, to write, and to calculate. In fact, so
essential is it that the accomplishment of these objects should be
secured, that it is even a question whether common schools should not be
confined to them. I say it is a _question_, for it is sometimes made so,
though public opinion has decided that some portion of attention, at
least, should be paid to the acquisition of additional knowledge. But,
after all, the amount of _knowledge_ which is actually acquired at
schools is very small. It must be very small. The true policy is to aim
at making all the pupils good readers, writers, and calculators, and to
consider the other studies of the school important chiefly as practice
in turning these arts to useful account. In other words, the scholars
should be taught these arts thoroughly first of all, and in the other
studies the main design should be to show them how to use, and interest
them in using, the arts they have thus acquired.
A great many teachers feel a much stronger interest in the one or two
scholars they may have in Surveying or in Latin than they do in the
large classes in the elementary branches which fill the school. But a
moment's reflection will show that such a preference is founded on a
very mistaken view. Leading forward one or two minds from step to step
in an advanced study is certainly far inferior in real dignity and
importance to opening all the stores of written knowledge to fifty or a
hundred. The man who neglects the interests of his school in these great
branches to devote his time to two or three, or half a dozen older
scholars, is unjust both to his employers and to himself.
It is the duty, therefore, of every teacher who commences a common
district school for a single season to make, when he commences, an
estimate of the state of his pupils in reference to these three
branches. How do they all write? How do they all read? How do they
calculate? It would be well if he would make a careful examination of
the school in this respect. Let them all write a specimen. Let all read,
and let him make a memorandum of the manner, noticing how many read
fluently, how many with difficulty, how many know only their letters,
and how many are to be taught these. Let him ascertain, also, what
progress they have made in arithmetic--how many can readily perform the
elementary processes, and what number need instruction in these. After
thus surveying the ground, let him form his plan, and lay out his whole
strength in carrying forward as rapidly as possible the _whole school_
in these studies. By this means he is acting most directly and
powerfully on the intelligence of the whole future community in that
place. He is opening to fifty or a hundred minds stores of knowledge
which they will go on exploring for years to come. What a descent now
from such a work as this to the mere hearing of the recitation of two or
three boys in Trigonometry!
I repeat it, that a thorough and enlightened survey of the whole school
should be taken, and plans formed for elevating the whole mass in those
great branches of knowledge which are to be of immediate practical use
to them in future life.
If the school is one more advanced in respect to the age and studies of
the pupils, the teacher should, in the same manner, before he forms his
plans, consider well what are the great objects which he has to
accomplish. He should ascertain what is the existing state of his
school both as to knowledge and character; how long, generally, his
pupils are to remain under his care; what are to be their future
stations and conditions in life, and what objects he can reasonably hope
to effect for them while they remain under his influence. By means of
this forethought and consideration he will be enabled to work
It is desirable, too, that what I have recommended in reference to the
whole school should be done in respect to the case of each individual.
When a new pupil comes under your charge, ascertain (by other means,
however, than formal examination) to what stage his education has
advanced, and deliberately consider what objects you can reasonably
expect to effect for him while he remains under your care. You can not,
indeed, always form your plans to suit so exactly your general views in
regard to the school and to individuals as you could wish. But these
general views will, in a thousand cases, modify your plans, or affect in
a greater or less degree all your arrangements. They will keep you to a
steady purpose, and your work will go on far more systematically and
regularly than it would do if, as in fact many teachers do, you were to
come headlong into your school, take things just as you find them, and
carry them forward at random without end or aim.
This survey of your field being made, you are prepared to commence
definite operations, and the great difficulty in carrying your plans
into effect is how to act more efficiently on _the greatest numbers at a
time._ The whole business of public instruction, if it goes on at all,
must go on by the teacher's skill in multiplying his power, by acting on
_numbers at once._ In most books on education we are taught, almost
exclusively, how to operate on the _individual_. It is the error into
which theoretic writers almost always fall. We meet in every periodical,
and in every treatise, and, in fact, in almost every conversation on the
subject, with remarks which sound very well by the fireside, but they
are totally inefficient and useless in school, from their being
apparently based upon the supposition that the teacher has but _one_
pupil to attend to at a time. The great question in the management of
schools is not how you can take _one_ scholar, and lead him forward most
rapidly in a prescribed course, but how you can classify and arrange
_numbers_, comprising every possible variety both as to knowledge and
capacity, so as to carry them all forward effectually together.
The extent to which a teacher may multiply his power by acting on
numbers at a time is very great. In order to estimate it, we must
consider carefully what it is when carried to the greatest extent to
which it is capable of being carried under the most favorable
circumstances. Now it is possible for a teacher to speak so as to be
easily heard by three hundred persons, and three hundred pupils can be
easily so seated as to see his illustrations or diagrams. Now suppose
that three hundred pupils, all ignorant of the method of reducing
fractions to a common denominator, and yet all old enough to learn, are
collected in one room. Suppose they are all attentive and desirous of
learning, it is very plain that the process may be explained to the
whole at once, so that half an hour spent in that exercise would enable
a very large proportion of them to understand the subject. So, if a
teacher is explaining to a class in Grammar the difference between a
noun and verb, the explanation would do as well for several hundred as
for the dozen who constitute the class, if arrangements could only be
made to have the hundreds hear it; but there are, perhaps, only a
hundred pupils in the school, and of these a large part understand
already the point to be explained, and another large part are too young
to attend to it. I wish the object of these remarks not to be
misunderstood. I do not recommend the attempt to teach on so extensive a
scale; I admit that it is impracticable; I only mean to show in what the
impracticability consists, namely, in the difficulty of making such
arrangements as to derive the full benefit from the instructions
rendered. The instructions of the teacher are, _in the nature of
things,_ available to the extent I have represented, but in actual
practice the full benefit can not be derived. Now, so far as we thus
fall short of this full benefit, so far there is, of course, waste; and
it is difficult or impossible to make such arrangements as will avoid
the waste, in this manner, of a large portion of every effort which the
A very small class instructed by an able teacher is like a factory of a
hundred spindles, with a water-wheel of power sufficient for a thousand.
In such a case, even if the owner, from want of capital or any other
cause, can not add the other nine hundred, he ought to know how much of
his power is in fact unemployed, and make arrangements to bring it into
useful exercise as soon as he can. The teacher, in the same manner,
should understand what is the full beneficial effect which it is
possible, _in theory_, to derive from his instructions. He should
understand, too, that just so far as he falls short of this full effect
there is waste. It may be unavoidable; part of it unquestionably is,
like the friction of machinery, unavoidable. Still, it is waste; and it
ought to be so understood, that, by the gradual perfection of the
machinery, it may be more and more fully prevented.
Always bear in mind, then, when you are devoting your time to two or
three individuals in a class, that your are losing a large part of your
labor. Your instructions are conducive to good effect only to the one
tenth or one twentieth of the extent to which, under more favorable
circumstances, they might be made available. And though you can not
always avoid this loss, you ought to be aware of it, and so to shape
your measures as to diminish it as much as possible.
We come now to consider the particular measures to be adopted in giving
The objects which are to be secured in the management of the classes
1. Recitation. 2. Instruction.
These two objects are, it is plain, entirely distinct. Under the latter
is included all the explanation, and assistance, and additional
information which the teacher may give his pupils, and under the former,
such an _examination_ of individuals as is necessary to secure their
careful attention to their lessons. It is unsafe to neglect either of
these points. If the class meetings are mere _recitations_, they soon
become dull and mechanical; the pupils generally take little interest in
their studies, and imbibe no literary spirit. Their intellectual
progress will, accordingly, suddenly cease the moment they leave school,
and so cease to be called upon to recite lessons. On the other hand, if
_instruction_ is all that is aimed at, and _recitation_ (by which I
mean, as above explained, such an examination of individuals as is
necessary to ascertain that they have faithfully performed the tasks
assigned) is neglected, the exercise soon becomes not much more than a
lecture, to which those, and those only, will attend who please.
The business, therefore, of a thorough examination of the class must not
be omitted. I do not mean that each individual scholar must every day be
examined, but simply that the teacher must, in some way or other,
satisfy himself by reasonable evidence that the whole class are really
prepared. A great deal of ingenuity may be exercised in contriving means
for effecting this object in the shortest possible time. I know of no
part of the field of a teacher's labors which may be more facilitated by
a little ingenuity than this.
One teacher, for instance, has a spelling lesson to hear. He begins at
the head of the line, and putting one word to each boy, goes regularly
down, each successive pupil calculating the chances whether a word which
he can accidentally spell will or will not come to him. If he spells it,
the teacher can not tell whether he is prepared or not. That word is
only one among fifty constituting the lesson. If he misses it, the
teacher can not decide that he was unprepared. It might have been a
single accidental error.
Another teacher, hearing the same lesson, requests the boys to bring
their slates, and, as he dictates the words one after another, requires
all to write them. After they are all written, he calls upon the pupils
to spell them aloud as they have written them, simultaneously, pausing a
moment after each, to give those who are wrong an opportunity to
indicate it by some mark opposite the word misspelled. They all count
the number of errors and report them. He passes down the class, glancing
his eye at the work of each one to see that all is right, noticing
particularly those slates which, from the character of the boys, need a
more careful inspection. A teacher who had never tried this experiment
would be surprised at the rapidity with which such work will be
performed by a class after a little practice.
Now how different are these two methods in their actual results! In the
latter case the whole class are thoroughly examined. In the former not a
single member of it is. Let me not be understood to recommend exactly
this method of teaching spelling as the best one to be adopted in all
cases. I only bring it forward as an illustration of the idea that a
little machinery, a little ingenuity in contriving ways of acting on the
_whole_ rather than on individuals, will very much promote the teacher's
In order to facilitate such plans, it is highly desirable that the
classes should be trained to military precision and exactness in these
manipulations. What I mean by this may perhaps be best illustrated by
describing a case: it will show, in another branch, how much will be
gained by acting upon numbers at once instead of upon each individual in
Imagine, then, that a teacher requested all the pupils of his school who
could write to take out their slates at the hour for a general
exercise. As soon as the first bustle of opening and shutting the desks
was over, he looked around the room, and saw some ruling lines across
their slates, others wiping them all over on both sides with sponges,
others scribbling, or writing, or making figures.
"All those," says he, speaking, however, with a pleasant tone and with a
pleasant look, "who have taken out any thing besides slates, may rise."
Several, in various parts of the room, stood up.
"All those who have written any thing since they took out their slates
may rise too, and those who have wiped their slates."
"When all were up, he said to them, though not with a frown or a scowl,
as if they had committed a great offense,
"Suppose a company of soldiers should be ordered to _form a line_, and
instead of simply obeying that order they should all set at work, each
in his own way, doing something else. One man at one end of the line
begins to load and fire his gun; another takes out his knapsack and
begins to eat his luncheon; a third amuses himself by going as fast as
possible through the exercise; and another still, begins to march about
hither and thither, facing to the right and left, and performing all the
evolutions he can think of. What should you say to such a company as
The boys laughed.
"It is better," said the teacher, "when numbers are acting under the
direction of one, that they should all act _exactly together_. In this
way we advance much faster than we otherwise should. Be careful,
therefore, to do exactly what I command, and nothing more.
"_Provide a place on your slates large enough to write a single line_,"
added the teacher, in a distinct voice. I print his orders in Italics,
and his remarks and explanations in Roman letters.
"_Prepare to write_.
"I mean by this," he continued, "that you place your slates before you
with your pencils at the place where you are to begin, so that all may
commence precisely at the same instant."
The teacher who tries such an experiment as this will find at such a
juncture an expression of fixed and pleasant attention upon every
countenance in school. All will be intent, all will be interested. Boys
love order, and system, and acting in concert, and they will obey with
great alacrity such commands as these if they are good-humoredly, though
The teacher observed in one part of the room a hand raised, indicating
that the boy wished to speak to him. He gave him liberty by pronouncing
"I have no pencil," said the boy.
A dozen hands all around him were immediately seen fumbling in pockets
and desks, and in a few minutes several pencils were reached out for his
The boy looked at the pencils and then at the teacher; he did not
exactly know whether he was to take one or not.
"All those boys," said the teacher, pleasantly, "who have taken out
pencils, may rise.
"Have these boys done right or wrong?"
"Right;" "Wrong;" "Right," answered their companions, variously.
"Their motive was to help their class-mate out of his difficulties; that
is a good feeling, certainly."
"Yes, sir, right;" "Right."
"But I thought you promised me a moment ago," replied the teacher, "not
to do any thing unless I commanded it. Did I ask for pencils?"
"I do not blame these boys at all in this case; still, it is better to
adhere rigidly to the principle of _exact obedience _ when numbers are
acting together. I thank them, therefore, for being so ready to assist
a companion, but they must put their pencils away, as they were taken
out without orders."
Now such a dialogue as this, if the teacher speaks in a good-humored,
though decided manner, would be universally well received in any school.
Whenever strictness of discipline is unpopular, it is rendered so simply
by the ill-humored and ill-judged means by which it is attempted to be
introduced. But all children will love strict discipline if it is
pleasantly, though firmly maintained. It is a great, though very
prevalent mistake, to imagine that boys and girls like a lax and
inefficient government, and dislike the pressure of steady control. What
they dislike is sour looks and irritating language, and they therefore
very naturally dislike every thing introduced or sustained by means of
them. If, however, exactness and precision in all the operations of a
class and of the school are introduced and enforced in the proper
manner, that is, by a firm, but mild and good-humored authority,
scholars will universally be pleased with them. They like to see the
uniform appearance, the straight line, the simultaneous movement. They
like to feel the operation of system, and to realize, while they are at
the school-room, that they form a community, governed by fixed and
steady laws, firmly but kindly administered. On the other hand, laxity
of discipline, and the disorder which will result from it, will only
lead the pupils to contemn their teacher and to hate their school.
By introducing and maintaining such a discipline as I have described,
great facilities will be secured for examining the classes. For example,
to take a case different from the one before described, let us suppose
that a class have been performing a number of examples in Addition. They
come together to the recitation, and, under one mode of managing
classes, the teacher is immediately beset by a number of the pupils with
excuses. One had no slate; another was absent when the lesson was
assigned; a third performed the work, but it got rubbed out, and a
fourth did not know what was to be done. The teacher stops to hear all
these, and to talk about them, fretting himself, and fretting the
delinquents by his impatient remarks. The rest of the class are waiting,
and, having nothing good to do, the temptation is almost irresistible to
do something bad. One boy is drawing pictures on his slate to make his
neighbors laugh, another is whispering, and two more are at play. The
disorder continues while the teacher goes round examining slate after
slate, his whole attention being engrossed by each individual, as the
pupils come to him successively, while the rest are left to themselves,
interrupted only by an occasional harsh, or even angry, but utterly
useless rebuke from him.
But, under another mode of managing classes and schools, a very
different result would be produced.
A boy approaches the teacher to render an excuse; the teacher replies,
addressing himself, however, to the whole class, "I shall give all an
opportunity to offer their excuses presently. No one must come till he
The class then regularly take their places in the recitation seats, the
prepared and unprepared together. The following commands are given and
obeyed promptly. They are spoken pleasantly, but still in the tone of
"The class may rise.
"All those that are not fully prepared with this lesson may sit."
A number sit; and others, doubtful whether they are prepared or not, or
thinking that there is something peculiar in their cases, which they
wish to state, raise their hands, or make any other signal which is
customary to indicate a wish to speak. Such a signal ought always to be
agreed upon, and understood in school.
The teacher shakes his head, saying, "I will hear you presently. If
there is, on any account whatever, any doubt whether you are prepared,
you must sit.
"Those that are standing may read their answers to No. 1. Unit figure?"
While these numbers are thus reading, the teacher looks at the boys, and
can easily see whether any are not reading their own answers, but only
following the rest. If they have been trained to speak exactly together,
his ear will also at once detect any erroneous answer which any one may
give. He takes down the figures given by the majority on his own slate,
and reads them aloud.
"This is the answer obtained by the majority; it is undoubtedly right.
Those who have different answers may sit."
These directions, if understood and obeyed, would divide the class
evidently into two portions. Those standing have their work done, and
done correctly, and those sitting have some excuse or error to be
examined. A new lesson may now be assigned, and the first portion may be
dismissed, which in a well-regulated school will be two thirds of the
class. Their slates may be slightly examined as they pass by the teacher
on their way to their seats to see that all is fair; but it will be safe
to take it for granted that a result in which a majority agree will be
right. Truth is consistent with itself, but error, in such a case, never
is. This the teacher can at any time show by comparing the answers that
are wrong; they will always be found, not only to differ from the
correct result, but to contradict each other.
The teacher may now, if he pleases, after the majority of the class have
gone, hear the reasons of those who were unprepared, and look for the
errors of those whose work was incorrect; but it is better to spend as
little time as possible in such a way. If a scholar is not prepared, it
is not of much consequence whether it is because he forgot his book or
mistook the lesson; or if it is ascertained that his answer is
incorrect, it is ordinarily a mere waste of time to search for the
"I have looked over my work, sir," says the boy, perhaps, "and I can not
find where it is wrong." He means by it that he does not believe that it
"It is no matter if you can not," would be the proper reply, "since it
certainly is wrong; you have made a mistake in adding somewhere, but it
is not worth while for me to spend two or three minutes apiece with all
of you to ascertain where. Try to be careful next time."
Indeed the teacher should understand and remember what many teachers are
very prone to forget, namely, that the mere fact of finding an
arithmetical error in a pupil's work on the slate, and pointing it out
to him, has very little effect in correcting the false habit in his mind
from which it arose.
The cases of those who are unprepared at a recitation ought by no means
to be passed by unnoticed, although it would be unwise to spend much
time in examining each in detail.
"It is not of much consequence," the teacher might say, "whether you
have good excuses or bad, so long as you are not prepared. In future
life you will certainly be unsuccessful if you fail, no matter for what
reason, to discharge the duties which devolve upon you. A carpenter, for
instance, would certainly lose his custom if he should not perform his
work faithfully and in season. Excuses, no matter how reasonable, will
do him little good. It is just so in respect to punctuality in time as
well as in respect to performance of duty. What we want is that every
boy should be in his place at the proper moment; not that he should be
late, and have good excuses for it. When you come to be men, tardiness
will always be punished. Excuses will not help the matter at all.
Suppose, hereafter, when you are about to take a journey, you reach the
pier five minutes after the steamer has gone, what good will excuses do
you? There you are, left hopelessly behind, no matter if your excuses
are the best in the world. So in this school. I want good punctuality
and good recitations, not good excuses. I hope every one will be
It is not probable, however, that every one would be prepared the next
day in such a case, but by acting steadily on these principles the
number of delinquencies would be so much diminished that the very few
which should be left could easily be examined in detail, and the
Simultaneous recitation, by which I mean the practice of addressing a
question to all the class to be answered by all together, is a practice
which has been for some years rapidly extending in our schools, and, if
adopted with proper limits and restrictions, is attended with great
advantage. The teacher must guard against some dangers, however, which
will be likely to attend it.
1. Some will answer very eagerly, instantly after the question is
completed. They wish to show their superior readiness. Let the teacher
mention this, expose kindly the motive which leads to it, and tell them
it is as irregular to answer before the rest as after them.
2. Some will defer their answers until they can catch those of their
comrades for a guide. Let the teacher mention this fault, expose the
motive which leads to it, and tell them that if they do not answer
independently and at once, they had better not answer at all.
3. Some will not answer at all. The teacher can see by looking around
the room who do not, for they can not counterfeit the proper motion of
the lips with promptness and decision unless they know what the answer
is to be. He ought occasionally to say to such a one, "I perceive you do
not answer," and ask him questions individually.
4. In some cases there is danger of confusion in the answers, from the
fact that the question may be of such a nature that the answer is long,
and may by different individuals be differently expressed. This evil
must be guarded against by so shaping the question as to admit of a
reply in a single word. In reading large numbers, for example, each
figure may be called for by itself, or they may be given one after
another, the pupils keeping exact time. When it is desirable to ask a
question to which the answer is necessarily long it may be addressed to
an individual, or the whole class may write their replies, which may
then be read in succession.
In a great many cases where simultaneous answering is practiced, after a
short time the evils above specified are allowed to grow, until at last
some half a dozen bright members of a class answer for all, the rest
dragging after them, echoing their replies, or ceasing to take any
interest in an exercise which brings no personal and individual
responsibility upon them. To prevent this, the teacher should exercise
double vigilance at such a time. He should often address questions to
individuals alone, especially to those most likely to be inattentive and
careless, and guard against the ingress of every abuse which might,
without close vigilance, appear.
With these cautions, the method here alluded to will be found to be of
very great advantage in many studies; for example, all the arithmetical
tables may be recited in this way; words may be spelled, answers to sums
given, columns of figures added, or numbers multiplied, and many
questions in history, geography, and other miscellaneous studies
answered, especially the general questions asked for the purpose of a
But, besides being useful as a mode of examination, this plan of
answering questions simultaneously is a very important means of fixing
in the mind any facts which the teacher may communicate to his pupils.
If, for instance, he says some day to a class that Vasco de Gama was the
discoverer of the passage round the Cape of Good Hope, and leaves it
here, in a few days not one in twenty will recollect the name. But let
him call upon them all to spell it simultaneously, and then to pronounce
it distinctly three or four times in concert, and the word will be very
strongly impressed upon their minds. The reflecting teacher will find a
thousand cases in the instruction of his classes, and in his general
exercises in the school, in which this principle will be of great
utility. It is universal in its application. What we _say_ we fix, by
the very act of saying it, in the mind. Hence, reading aloud, though a
slower, is a far more thorough method of acquiring knowledge than
reading silently, and it is better, in almost all cases, whether in the
family, or in Sabbath or common schools, when general instructions are
given, to have the leading points fixed in the mind by questions
But we are wandering a little from our subject, which is, in this part
of our chapter, the methods of _examining_ a class, not of giving or
Another mode of examining classes, which it is important to describe,
consists in requiring _written answers_ to the questions asked. The form
and manner in which this plan may be adopted is various. The class may
bring their slates to the recitation, and the teacher may propose
questions successively, the answers to which all the class may write,
numbering them carefully. After a dozen answers are written, the teacher
may call at random for them, or he may repeat a question, and ask each
pupil to read the answer he had written, or he may examine the slates.
Perhaps this method may be very successfully employed in reviews by
dictating to the class a list of questions relating to the ground they
have gone over for a week, and then instructing them to prepare answers
written out at length, and to bring them in at the next exercise. This
method may be made more formal still by requiring a class to write a
full and regular abstract of all they have learned during a specified
time. The practice of thus reducing to writing what has been learned
will be attended with many advantages so obvious that they need not be
It will be perceived that three methods of examining classes have now
been named, and these will afford the teacher the means of introducing a
very great variety in his mode of conducting his recitations, while he
still carries his class forward steadily in their prescribed course.
Each is attended with its peculiar advantages. The _single replies,_
coming from individuals specially addressed, are more rigid, and more to
be relied upon, but they consume a great deal of time, and, while one is
questioned, it requires much skill to keep up interest in the rest. The
_simultaneous answers_ of a class awaken more general interest, but it
is difficult, without special care, to secure by this means a special
examination of all. The _written replies_ are more thorough, but they
require more time and attention, and while they habituate the pupil to
express himself in writing, they would, if exclusively adopted, fail to
accustom him to an equally important practice, that of the oral
communication of his thoughts. A constant variety, of which these three
methods should be the elements, is unquestionably the best mode. We not
only, by this means, secure in a great degree the advantages which each
is fitted to produce, but we gain also the additional advantage and
interest of variety.
By these, and perhaps by other means, it is the duty of the teacher to
satisfy himself that his pupils are really attentive to their duties.
It is not perhaps necessary that every individual should be every day
minutely examined; this is, in many cases, impossible; but the system of
examination should be so framed and so administered as to be daily felt
by all, and to bring upon every one a daily responsibility.
* * * * *
We come now to consider the second general head which was to be
discussed in this chapter.
The study of books alone is insufficient to give knowledge to the young.
In the first stage, learning to read a book is of no use whatever
without the voice of the living teacher. The child can not take a step
alone. As the pupil, however, advances in his course, his dependence
upon his teacher for guidance and help continually diminishes, until at
last the scholar sits in his solitary study, with no companion but his
books, and desiring, for a solution of every difficulty, nothing but a
larger library. In schools, however, the pupils have made so little
progress in this course, that they all need more or less of the oral
assistance of a teacher. Difficulties must be explained; questions must
be answered; the path must be smoothed, and the way pointed out by a
guide who has traveled it before, or it will be impossible for the pupil
to go on. This is the part of our subject which we now approach.
The great principle which is to guide the teacher in this part of his
duty is this: _Assist your pupils in such a way as to lead them, as soon
as possible, to do without assistance._ This is fundamental. In a short
time they will be away from your reach; they will have no teacher to
consult; and unless you teach them how to understand books themselves,
they must necessarily stop suddenly in their course the moment you cease
to help them forward. I shall proceed, therefore, to consider the
subject in the following plan:
1. Means of exciting interest in study.
2. The kind and decree of assistance to be rendered.
3. Miscellaneous suggestions.
1. Interesting the pupils in their studies. There are various
principles of human nature which may be of great avail in accomplishing
this object. Making intellectual effort and acquiring knowledge are
always pleasant to the human mind, unless some peculiar circumstances
render them otherwise. The teacher has, therefore, only to remove
obstructions and sources of pain, and the employment of his pupils will
be of itself a pleasure.
"I am going to give you a new exercise to-day," said a teacher to a
class of boys in Latin. "I am going to have you parse your whole lesson
in writing. It will be difficult, but I think you may be able to
The class looked surprised. They did not know _what parsing in writing_
"You may first, when you take your seats, and are ready to prepare the
lesson, write upon your slates a list of the ten first nouns that you
find in the lesson, arranging them in a column. Do you understand so
"Then rule lines for another column, just beyond this. In parsing nouns,
what is the first particular to be named?"
"What the noun is from."
"Yes; that is, its nominative. Now you may write, at the head of the
first column, the word _Nouns_, and at the head of the second, _Nom._,
for nominative. Then rule a line for the third column. What shall this
contain!" "The declension." "Yes; and the fourth?" "Gender." "The
In the same manner the other columns were designated. The sixth was to
contain case; the seventh, the word with which the noun was connected in
construction; and the eighth, a reference to the rule.
"Now I wish you," continued the teacher, "to fill up such a table as
this with _ten_ nouns. Do you understand how I mean?"
"Yes, sir;" "No, sir," they answered, variously.
"All who do understand may take their seats, as I wish to give as little
explanation as possible. The more you can depend upon yourselves, the
Those who saw clearly what was to be done left the class, and the
teacher continued his explanation to those who were left behind. He made
the plan perfectly clear to them by taking a particular noun and running
it through the table, showing what should be written opposite to the
word in all the columns, and then dismissed them.
The class separated, as every class would, in such a case, with a strong
feeling of interest in the work before them. It was not so difficult as
to perplex them, and yet it required attention and care. They were
interested and pleased--pleased with the effort which it required them
to make, and they anticipated, with interest and pleasure, the time of
coming again to the class to report and compare their work.
When the time for the class came, the teacher addressed them somewhat as
"Before looking at your slates, I am going to predict what the faults
are. I have not seen any of your work, but shall judge altogether from
my general knowledge of school-boys, and the difficulties I know they
meet with. Do you think I shall succeed?"
The scholars made no reply, and an unskillful teacher would imagine that
time spent in such remarks would be wholly wasted. By no means. The
influence of them was to awaken universal interest in the approaching
examination of the slates. Every scholar would be intent, watching, with
eager interest, to see whether the imagined faults would be found upon
his work. The class was, by that single pleasant remark, put into the
best possible state for receiving the criticisms of the teacher.
"The first fault which I suppose will be found is that some are
The scholars looked surprised. They did not expect to have that called
"How many plead guilty to it?"
A few raised their hands, and the teacher continued:
"I suppose that some will be found partly effaced. The slates were not
laid away carefully, or they were not clean, so that the writing is not
distinct. How many find this the case with their work?"
"I suppose that, in some cases, the lines will not be perpendicular, but
will slant, probably toward the left, like writing.
"I suppose, also, that, in some cases, the writing will be careless, so
that I can not easily read it. How many plead guilty to this?"
After mentioning such other faults as occurred to him, relating chiefly
to the form of the table, and the mere mechanical execution of the work,
"I think I shall not look at your slates to-day. You can all see, I have
no doubt, how you can considerably improve them in mechanical execution
in your next lesson; and I suppose you would a little prefer that I
should not see your first imperfect efforts. In fact, I should rather
not see them. At the next recitation they probably will be much better."
One important means by which the teacher may make his scholars careful
of their reputation is to show them, thus, that he is careful of it
Now in such a case as this, for it is, except in the principles which it
is intended to illustrate, imaginary, a very strong interest would be
awakened in the class in the work assigned them. Intellectual effort in
new and constantly varied modes is in itself a pleasure, and this
pleasure the teacher may deepen and increase very easily by a little
dexterous management, designed to awaken curiosity and concentrate
attention. It ought, however, to be constantly borne in mind that this
variety should be confined to the modes of pursuing an object--the
object itself being permanent, and constant, and steadily pursued. For
instance, if a little class are to be taught simple addition, after the
process is once explained, which may be done, perhaps, in two or three
lessons, they will need many days of patient practice to render it
familiar, to impress it firmly in their recollection, and to enable them
to work with rapidity. Now this object must be steadily pursued. It
would be very unwise for the teacher to say to himself, My class are
tired of addition; I must carry them on to subtraction, or give them
some other study. It would be equally unwise to keep them many days
performing example after example in monotonous succession, each lesson a
mere repetition of the last. He must steadily pursue his object of
familiarizing them fully with this elementary process, but he may give
variety and spirit to the work by changing occasionally the modes. One
week He may dictate examples to them, and let them come together to
compare their results, one of the class being appointed to keep a list
of all who are correct each day. At another time each one may write an
example, which he may read aloud to all the others, to be performed and
brought in at the next time. Again, he may let them work on paper with
pen and ink, that he may see how few mistakes they make, as mistakes in
ink can not be easily removed. He may excite interest by devising
ingenious examples, such as finding out how much all the numbers from
one to fifty will make when added together, or the amount of the ages of
the whole class, or any such investigation, the result of which they
might feel an interest in learning. Thus the object is steadily pursued,
though the means of pursuing it are constantly changing. We have the
advantage of regular progress in the acquisition of knowledge truly
valuable, while this progress is made with all the spirit and interest
which variety can give.
The necessity of making such efforts as this, however, to keep up the
interest of the class in their work, and to make it pleasant to them,
will depend altogether upon circumstances; or, rather, it will vary
much with circumstances. A class of pupils somewhat advanced in their
studies, and understanding and feeling the value of knowledge, will need
very little of such effort as this; while young and giddy children, who
have been accustomed to dislike books and school, and every thing
connected with them, will need more. It ought, however, in all cases, to
be made a means, not an end--the means to lead on a pupil to an
_interest in progress in knowledge itself,_ which is, after all, the
great motive which ought to be brought as soon and as extensively as
possible to operate in the school-room.
Another way to awaken interest in the studies of the school is to bring
out, as frequently and as distinctly as possible, the connection between
these studies and the practical business of life. The events which are
occurring around you, and which interest the community in which you are
placed, may, by a little ingenuity, be connected in a thousand ways with
the studies of the school. If the practice, which has been already
repeatedly recommended, of appropriating a quarter of an hour each day
to a general exercise, should be adopted, it will afford great
facilities for doing this.
There is no branch of study attended to in school which may, by
judicious efforts, be made more effectual in accomplishing this object,
leading the pupils to see the practical utility and the value of
knowledge, than composition. If such subjects as are suitable themes for
_moral essays_ are assigned, the scholars will indeed dislike the work
of writing, and derive little benefit from it. The mass of pupils in our
schools are not to be writers of moral essays or orations, and they do
not need to form that style of empty, florid, verbose declamation which
the practice of writing composition in our schools, as it is too
frequently managed, tends to form. Assign practical subjects--subjects
relating to the business of the school, or the events taking place
around you. Is there a question before the community on the subject of
the location of a new school-house? Assign it to your pupils as a
question for discussion, and direct them not to write empty declamation,
but to obtain from their parents the real arguments in the case, and to
present them distinctly and clearly, and in simple language, to their
companions. Was a building burned by lightning in the neighborhood? Let
those who saw the scene describe it, their productions to be read by the
teacher aloud, and let them see that clear descriptions please, and that
good legible writing can be read fluently, and that correct spelling,
and punctuation, and grammar make the article go smoothly and
pleasantly, and enable it to produce its full effect. Is the erection of
a public building going forward in the neighborhood of your school? You
can make it a very fruitful source of subjects and questions to give
interest and impulse to the studies of the school-room. Your classes in
geometry may measure, your arithmeticians may calculate and make
estimates, your writers may describe its progress from week to week, and
anticipate the scenes which it will in future years exhibit.
By such means the practical bearings and relations of the studies of the
school-room may be constantly kept in view; but I ought to guard the
teacher, while on this subject, most distinctly against the danger of
making the school-room a scene of literary amusement instead of study.
These means of awakening interest and relieving the tedium of the
uninterrupted and monotonous study of text-books must not encroach on
the regular duties of the school. They must be brought forward with
judgment and moderation, and made subordinate and subservient to these
regular duties. Their design is to give spirit and interest, and a
feeling of practical utility to what the pupils are doing; and if
resorted to with these restrictions and within these limits, they will
produce powerful, but safe results.
Another way to excite interest, and that of the right kind, in school,
is not to _remove_ difficulties, but to teach the pupils how to
_surmount_ them. A text-book so contrived as to make study mere play,
and to dispense with thought and effort, is the worst text-book that can
be made, and the surest to be, in the end, a dull one. The great source
of literary enjoyment, which is the successful exercise of intellectual
power, is, by such a mode of presenting a subject, cut off. Secure,
therefore, severe study. Let the pupil see that you are aiming to secure
it, and that the pleasure which you expect that they will receive is
that of firmly and patiently encountering and overcoming difficulty; of
penetrating, by steady and persevering effort, into regions from which
the idle and the inefficient are debarred, and that it is your province
to lead them forward, not to carry them. They will soon understand this,
and like it.
Never underrate the difficulties which your pupils will have to
encounter, or try to persuade them that what you assign is _easy_. Doing
easy things is generally dull work, and it is especially discouraging
and disheartening for a pupil to spend his strength in doing what is
really difficult for him when his instructor, by calling his work easy,
gives him no credit for what may have been severe and protracted labor.
If a thing is really hard for the pupil, his teacher ought to know it
and admit it. The child then feels that he has some sympathy.
It is astonishing how great an influence may be exerted over a child by
his simply knowing that his efforts are observed and appreciated. You
pass a boy in the street wheeling a heavy load in a barrow; now simply
stop to look at him, with a countenance which says, "That is a heavy
load; I should not think that boy could wheel it;" and how quick will
your look give fresh strength and vigor to his efforts. On the other
hand, when, in such a case, the boy is faltering under his load, try the
effect of telling him, "Why, that is not heavy; you can wheel it easily
enough; trundle it along." The poor boy will drop his load, disheartened
and discouraged, and sit down upon it in despair. It is so in respect
to the action of the young in all cases. They are animated and incited
by being told _in the right way_ that they have something difficult to
do. A boy is performing some service for you. He is watering your horse,
perhaps, at a well by the road-side as you are traveling. Say to him,
"Hold up the pail high, so that the horse can drink; it is not heavy."
He will be discouraged, and will be ready to set the pail down. Say to
him, on the other hand, "I had better dismount myself. I don't think you
can hold the pail up. It is very heavy;" and his eye will brighten up at
once. "Oh no, sir," he will reply, "I can hold it very easily." Hence,
even if the work you are assigning to a class _is_ easy, do not tell
them so unless you wish to destroy all their spirit and interest in
doing it; and if you wish to excite their spirit and interest, make your
work difficult, and let them see that you know it is so; not so
difficult as to tax their powers too heavily, but enough so to require a
vigorous and persevering effort. Let them distinctly understand, too,
that you know it is difficult, that you mean to make it so, but that
they have your sympathy and encouragement in the efforts which it calls
them to make.
You may satisfy yourself that human nature is, in this respect, what I
have described by some such experiment as the following. Select two
classes not very familiar with elementary arithmetic, and offer to each
of them the following example in addition:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 1
3 4 5 6 7 8 9 1 2
The numbers may be continued, according to the obvious law regulating
the above, until each one of the nine digits has commenced the line. Or,
if you choose Multiplication, let the example be this:
Now, when you bring the example to one of the classes, address the
pupils as follows:
"I have contrived for you a very difficult sum. It is the most difficult
one that can be made with the number of figures contained in it, and I
do not think that any of you can do it, but you may try. I shall not be
surprised if every answer should contain mistakes."
To the other class say as follows:
"I have prepared an example for you, which I wish you to be very careful
to perform correctly. It is a little longer than those you have had
heretofore, but it is to be performed upon the same principles, and you
can all do it correctly, if you really try."
Now under such circumstances the first class will go to their seats with
ardor and alacrity, determined to show you that they can do work, even
if it is difficult; and if they succeed, they come to the class the next
day with pride and pleasure. They have accomplished something which you
admit it was not easy to accomplish. On the other hand, the second class
will go to their seats with murmuring looks and words, and with a
hearty dislike of the task you have assigned them. They know that they
have something to do, which, however easy it may be to the teacher, is
really difficult for them; and they have to be perplexed and wearied
with the work, without having, at last, even the little satisfaction of
knowing that the teacher appreciates the difficulties with which they
had to contend.
2. We now come to consider the subject of rendering assistance to the
pupil, which is one of the most important and delicate parts of a
teacher's work. The great difference which exists among teachers in
regard to the skill they possess in this part of their duty, is so
striking that it is very often noticed by others; and perhaps skill here
is of more avail in deciding the question of success or failure than any
thing besides. The first great principle is, however, simple and
_(1.) Divide and subdivide a difficult process, until your steps are so
short that the pupil can easily take them._
Most teachers forget the difference between the pupil's capacity and
their own, and they pass rapidly forward, through a difficult train of
thought, in their own ordinary gait, their unfortunate followers vainly
trying to keep up with them. The case is precisely analogous to that of
the father, who walks with the step of a man, while his little son is by
his side, wearying and exhausting himself with fruitless efforts to
reach his feet as far, and to move them as rapidly as a full-grown man.
But to show what I mean by subdividing a difficult process so as to make
each step simple, I will take a case which may serve as an example. I
will suppose that the teacher of a common school undertakes to show his
boys, who, we will suppose, are acquainted with nothing but elementary
arithmetic, how longitude is determined by means of the eclipses of
Jupiter's satellites; not a very simple question, but still one which,
like all others, may be, merely by the power of the subdivision alluded
to, easily explained. I will suppose that the subject has come up at a
general exercise; perhaps the question was asked in writing by one of
the older boys. I will present the explanation chiefly in the form of
question and answer, that it may be seen that the steps are so short
that the boys may take them themselves.
"Which way," asks the teacher, "are the Rocky Mountains from us?"
"West," answer two or three of the boys.
In such cases as this, it is very desirable that the answers should be
general, so that throughout the school there should be a spirited
interest in the questions and replies. This will never be the case if a
small number of the boys only take part in the answers, and many
teachers complain that when they try this experiment they can seldom
induce many of the pupils to take a part.
The reason ordinarily is that they say that _any_ of the boys may answer
instead of that _all_ of them may. The boys do not get the idea that it
is wished that a universal reply should come from all parts of the room,
in which every one's voice should be heard. If the answers were feeble
in the instance we are supposing, the teacher would perhaps say,
"I only heard one or two answers; do not more of you know where the
Rocky Mountains are? Will you all think and answer together? Which way
are they from us?"
"West," answer a large number of boys.
"You do not answer fully enough yet; I do not think more than forty
answered, and there are about sixty here. I should like to have _every
one in the room_ answer, and all precisely together."
He then repeats the question, and obtains a full response. A similar
effort will always succeed.
"Now does the sun, in going round the earth, pass over the Rocky
Mountains, or over us, first?"
To this question the teacher hears a confused answer. Some do not
reply; some say, "Over the Rocky Mountains;" others, "Over us;" and
others still, "The sun does not move at all."
"It is true that the sun, strictly speaking, does not move; the earth
turns round, presenting the various countries in succession to the sun,
but the effect is precisely the same as it would be if the sun moved,
and, accordingly, I use that language. Now how long does it take the sun
to pass round the earth?"
"Does he go toward the west or toward the east from us?"
"Toward the west."
But it is not necessary to give the replies; the questions alone will be
sufficient. The reader will observe that they inevitably lead the pupil,
by short and simple steps, to a clear understanding of the point to be
"Will the sun go toward or from the Rocky Mountains after leaving us?"
"How long did you say it takes the sun to go round the globe and come to
"How long to go half round?" "Quarter round?"
"How long will it take him to go to the Rocky Mountains?"
"You can not tell. It would depend upon the distance. Suppose, then, the
Rocky Mountains were half round the globe, how long would it take the
sun to go to them?" "Suppose they were quarter round?"
"The whole distance is divided into portions called degrees--360 in all.
How many will the sun pass in going half round?" "In going quarter
"Ninety degrees, then, make one quarter of the circumference of the
globe. This, you have already said, will take six hours. In one hour,
then, how many degrees will the sun pass over?"
Perhaps no answer. If so, the teacher will subdivide the question on the
principle we are explaining, so as to make the steps such that the
pupils _can_ take them.
"How many degrees will the sun pass over in three hours?"
"How large a part of that, then, will he pass in one hour?"
"One third of it."
"And what is one third of forty-five?"
The boys would readily answer fifteen, and the teacher would then dwell
for a moment on the general truth thus deduced, that the sun, in passing
round the earth, passes over fifteen degrees every hour.
"Suppose, then, it takes the sun one hour to go from us to the River
Mississippi, how many degrees west of us would the river be?"
Having thus familiarized the pupils to the fact that the motion of the
sun is a proper measure of the difference of longitude between two
places, the teacher must dismiss the subject for a day, and when the
next opportunity of bringing it forward occurs, he would, perhaps, take
up the subject of the sun's motion as a measure _of time._
"Is the sun ever exactly over our heads?"
"Is he ever exactly south of us?"
"When he is exactly south of us, or, in other words, exactly opposite to
us in his course round the earth, he is said to be in our meridian; for
the word meridian means a line drawn exactly north or south from any
There is no limit to the simplicity which may be imparted, even to the
most difficult subjects, by subdividing the steps. This point, for
instance, the meaning of meridian, may be the subject, if it were
necessary, of many questions, which would render it simple to the
youngest child. The teacher may point to the various articles in the
room, or buildings, or other objects without, and ask if they are or are
not in his meridian. But to proceed:
"When the sun is exactly opposite to us, in the south, at the highest
point to which he rises, what o'clock is it?"
"When the sun is exactly opposite to us, can he be opposite to the Rocky
"Does he get opposite to the Rocky Mountains before or after he is
opposite to us?"
"When he is opposite to the Rocky Mountains, what o'clock is it there?"
"Is it twelve o'clock here, then, before or after it is twelve o'clock
"Suppose the River Mississippi is fifteen degrees from us, how long is
it twelve o'clock here before it is twelve o'clock there?"
"When it is twelve o'clock here, then, what time will it be there?"
Some will probably answer "one," and some "eleven." If so, the step is
too long, and may be subdivided thus:
"When it is noon here, is the sun going toward the Mississippi, or has
he passed it?"
"Then has noon gone by at that river, or has it not yet come?"
"Then will it be one hour before or one hour after noon?"
"Then will it be eleven or one?"
Such minuteness and simplicity would, in ordinary cases, not be
necessary. I go into it here merely to show how, by simply subdividing
the steps, a subject ordinarily perplexing may be made plain. The reader
will observe that in the above there are no explanations by the
teacher--there are not even leading questions; that is, there are no
questions the form of which suggests the answers desired. The pupil goes
on from step to step simply because he has but one short step to take at
"Can it be noon, then," continues the teacher, "here and at a place
fifteen degrees west of us at the same time?"
"Can it be noon here and at a place ten miles west of us at the same
It is unnecessary to continue the illustration, for it will be very
evident to every reader that, by going forward in this way, the whole
subject may be laid out before the pupils so that they shall perfectly
understand it. They can, by a series of questions like the above, be led
to see, by their own reasoning, that time, as denoted by the clock, must
differ in every two places not upon the same meridian, and that the
difference must be exactly proportional to the difference of longitude.
So that a watch which is right in one place can not, strictly speaking,
be right in any other place east or west of the first; and that, if the
time of day at two places can be compared, either by taking a
chronometer from one to another, or by observing some celestial
phenomenon, like the eclipses of Jupiter's satellites, and ascertaining
precisely the time of their occurrence, according to the reckoning at
both, the distance east or west by degrees may be determined. The reader
will observe, too, that the method by which this explanation is made is
strictly in accordance with the principle I am illustrating, which is by
simply _dividing the process into short steps._ There is no ingenious
reasoning on the part of the teacher, no happy illustrations, no
apparatus, no diagrams. It is a pure process of mathematical reasoning,
made clear and easy by _simple analysis._
In applying this method, however, the teacher should be very careful not
to subdivide too much. It is best that the pupils should walk as fast as
they can. The object of the teacher should be to smooth the path not
much more than barely enough to enable the pupil to go on. He should not
endeavor to make it very easy.
(2.) Truths must not only be taught to the pupils, but they must
_fixed_, and _made familiar._ This is a point which seems to be very
"Can you say the Multiplication Table?" said a teacher to a boy who was
standing before him in his class.
"Well, I should like to have you say the line beginning nine times one."
The boy repeated it slowly, but correctly.
"Now I should like to have you try again, and I will, at the same time,
say another line, to see if I can put you out."
The boy looked surprised. The idea of his teacher's trying to perplex
and embarrass him was entirely new.
"You must not be afraid," said the teacher. "You will undoubtedly not
succeed in getting through, but you will not be to blame for the
failure. I only try it as a sort of intellectual experiment."
The boy accordingly began again, but was soon completely confused by the
teacher's accompaniment. He stopped in the middle of his line, saying,
"I could say it, only you put me out."
"Well, now try to say the Alphabet, and let me see if I can put you out
As might have been expected, the teacher failed. The boy went regularly
onward to the end.
"You see, now," said the teacher to the class who had witnessed the
experiment, "that this boy knows his Alphabet in a different sense from
that in which he knows his Multiplication Table. In the latter, his
knowledge is only imperfectly his own; he can make use of it only under
favorable circumstances. In the former it is entirely his own;
circumstances have no control over him."
A child has a lesson in Latin Grammar to recite. She hesitates and
stammers, miscalls the cases, and then corrects herself, and, if she
gets through at last, she considers herself as having recited well, and
very many teachers would consider it well too. If she hesitates a little
longer than usual in trying to summon to her recollection a particular
word, she says, perhaps, "Don't tell me," and if she happens at last to
guess right, she takes her book with a countenance beaming with
"Suppose you had the care of an infant school," might the instructor say
to such a scholar, "and were endeavoring to teach a little child to
count, and she should recite her lesson to you in this way, 'One, two,
four--no, three--one, two, three----stop, don't tell me--five--no,
four--four--five--------I shall think in a minute--six--is that right?
five, six,' &c. Should you call that reciting well?"
Nothing is more common than for pupils to say, when they fail of
reciting their lesson, that they could say it at their seats, but that
they can not now say it before the class. When such a thing is said for
the first time it should not be severely reproved, because nine children
in ten honestly think that if the lesson were learned so that it could
be recited any where, their duty is discharged. But it should be kindly,
though distinctly explained to them, that in the business of life they
must have their knowledge so much at command that they can use it at all
times and in all circumstances, or it will do them little good.
One of the most common cases of difficulty in pursuing mathematical
studies, or studies of any kind where the succeeding lessons depend upon
those which precede, is the fact that the pupil, though he may
understand what precedes, is not _familiar_ with it. This is very
strikingly the case with Geometry. The class study the definitions, and
the teacher supposes they fully understand them; in fact, they do
_understand_ them, but the name and the thing are so feebly connected in
their minds that a direct effort and a short pause are necessary to
recall the idea when they hear or see the word. When they come on,
therefore, to the demonstrations, which in themselves would be difficult
enough, they have double duty to perform. The words used do not readily
suggest the idea, and the connection of the ideas requires careful
study. Under this double burden many a young geometrician sinks
A class should go on slowly, and dwell on details so long as to fix
firmly and make perfectly familiar whatever they undertake to learn. In
this manner the knowledge they acquire will become their own. It will be
incorporated, as it were, into their very minds, and they can not
afterward be deprived of it.
The exercises which have for their object this rendering familiar what
has been learned may be so varied as to interest the pupil very much,
instead of being tiresome, as it might at first be supposed.
Suppose, for instance, a teacher has explained to a large class in
grammar the difference between an adjective and an adverb; if he leave
it here, in a fortnight one half of the pupils would have forgotten the
distinction, but by dwelling upon it a few lessons he may fix it
forever. The first lesson might be to require the pupils to write twenty
short sentences containing only adjectives. The second to write twenty
containing only adverbs. The third to write sentences in two forms, one
containing the adjective, and the other expressing the same idea by
means of the adverb, arranging them in two columns, thus:
He writes well. | His writing is good.
Again, they may make out a list of adjectives, with the adverbs derived
from each in another column. Then they may classify adverbs on the
principle of their meaning, or according to their termination. The
exercise may be infinitely varied, and yet the object of the whole may
be to make _perfectly familiar_, and to fix forever in the mind the
These two points seem to me to be fundamental, so far as assisting
pupils through the difficulties which lie in their way is concerned.
Diminish the difficulties as far as is necessary by shortening and
simplifying the steps, and make thorough work as you go on. These
principles, carried steadily into practice, will be effectual in leading
any mind through any difficulties which may occur. And though they can
not, perhaps, be fully applied to every mind in a large school, yet they
can be so far acted upon in reference to the whole mass as to accomplish
the object for a very large majority.
3. _General cautions_. A few miscellaneous suggestions, which we shall
include under this head, will conclude this chapter.
(1.) Never do any thing _for_ a scholar, but teach him to do it for
himself. How many cases occur in the schools of our country where the
boy brings his slate to the teacher, saying he can not do a certain sum.
The teacher takes the slate and pencil, performs the work in silence,
brings the result, and returns the slate to the hands of his pupil, who
walks off to his seat, and goes to work on the next example, perfectly
satisfied with the manner in which he is passing on. A man who has not
done this a hundred times himself will hardly believe it possible that
such a practice can prevail, it is so evidently a mere waste of time
both for master and scholar.
(2.) Never get out of patience with dullness. Perhaps I ought to say,
never get out of patience with any thing. That would, perhaps, be the
wisest rule. But, above all things, remember that dullness and
stupidity--and you will certainly find them in every school--are the
very last things to get out of patience with. If the Creator has so
formed the mind of a boy that he must go through life slowly and with
difficulty, impeded by obstructions which others do not feel, and
depressed by discouragements which others never know, his lot is surely
hard enough without having you to add to it the trials and suffering
which sarcasm and reproach from you can heap upon him. Look over your
school-room, therefore, and wherever you find one whom you perceive the
Creator to have endued with less intellectual power than others, fix
your eye upon him with an expression of kindness and sympathy. Such a
boy will have suffering enough from the selfish tyranny of his
companions; he ought to find in you a protector and friend. One of the
greatest enjoyments which a teacher's life affords is the interest of
seeking out such a one, bowed down with burdens of depression and
discouragement, unaccustomed to sympathy and kindness, and expecting
nothing for the future but a weary continuation of the cheerless toils
which have imbittered the past; and the pleasure of taking off the
burden, of surprising the timid, disheartened sufferer by kind words and
cheering looks, and of seeing in his countenance the expression of ease
and even of happiness gradually returning.
(3.) The teacher should be interested in _all_ his scholars, and aim
equally to secure the progress of all. Let there be no neglected ones in
the school-room. We should always remember that, however unpleasant in
countenance and manners that bashful boy in the corner may be, or
however repulsive in appearance, or unhappy in disposition, that girl,
seeming to be interested in nobody, and nobody appearing interested in
her, they still have, each of them, a mother, who loves her own child,
and takes a deep and constant interest in its history. Those mothers
have a right, too, that their children should receive their full share
of attention in a school which has been established for the common and
equal benefit of all.
(4.) Do not hope or attempt to make all your pupils alike. Providence
has determined that human minds should differ from each other for the
very purpose of giving variety and interest to this busy scene of life.
Now if it were possible for a teacher so to plan his operations as to
send his pupils forth upon the community formed on the same model, as if
they were made by machinery, he would do so much toward spoiling one of
the wisest of the plans which the Almighty has formed for making this
world a happy scene. Let it be the teacher's aim to co-operate with, not
vainly to attempt to thwart, the designs of Providence. We should bring
out those powers with which the Creator has endued the minds placed
under our control. We must open our garden to such influences as shall
bring forward all the plants, each in a way corresponding to its own
nature. It is impossible if it were wise, and it would be foolish if it
were possible, to stimulate, by artificial means, the rose, in hope of
its reaching the size and magnitude of the apple-tree, or to try to
cultivate the fig and the orange where wheat only will grow. No; it
should be the teacher's main design to shelter his pupils from every
deleterious influence, and to bring every thing to bear upon the
community of minds before him which will encourage in each one the
development of its own native powers. For the rest, he must remember
that his province is to cultivate, not to create.
Error on this point is very common. Many teachers, even among those who
have taken high rank through the success with which they have labored in
the field, have wasted much time in attempting to do what never can be
done, to form the character of those brought under their influence after
a certain uniform model, which they have conceived as the standard of
excellence. Their pupils must write just such a hand, they must compose
in just such a style, they must be similar in sentiment and feeling, and
their manners must be formed according to a fixed and uniform model; and
when, in such a case, a pupil comes under their charge whom Providence
has designed to be entirely different from the beau ideal adopted as the
standard, more time, and pains, and anxious solicitude is wasted in vain
attempts to produce the desired conformity than half the school require
(5.) Do not allow the faults or obliquities of character, or the
intellectual or moral wants of any individual of your pupils to engross
a disproportionate share of your time. I have already said that those
who are peculiarly in need of sympathy or help should receive the
special attention they seem to require; what I mean to say now is, do
not carry this to an extreme. When a parent sends you a pupil who, in
consequence of neglect or mismanagement at home, has become wild and
ungovernable, and full of all sorts of wickedness, he has no right to
expect that you shall turn your attention away from the wide field
which, in your whole school-room, lies before you, to spend your time,
and exhaust your spirits and strength in endeavoring to repair the
injuries which his own neglect has occasioned. When you open a school,
you do not engage, either openly or tacitly, to make every pupil who may
be sent to you a learned or a virtuous man. You do engage to give them
all faithful instruction, and to bestow upon each such a degree of
attention as is consistent with the claims of the rest. But it is both
unwise and unjust to neglect the many trees in your nursery which, by
ordinary attention, may be made to grow straight and tall, and to bear
good fruit, that you may waste your labor upon a crooked stick, from
which all your toil can secure very little beauty or fruitfulness.
Let no one now understand me to say that such cases are to be neglected.
I admit the propriety, and, in fact, have urged the duty, of paying to
them a little more than their due share of attention. What I now condemn
is the practice, of which all teachers are in danger, of devoting such a
disproportionate and unreasonable degree of attention to them as to
encroach upon their duties to others. The school, the whole school, is
your field, the elevation _of the mass_ in knowledge and virtue, and no
individual instance, either of dullness or precocity, should draw you
away from its steady pursuit.
(6.) The teacher should guard against unnecessarily imbibing those
faulty mental habits to which his station and employment expose him.
Accustomed to command, and to hold intercourse with minds which are
immature and feeble compared with our own, we gradually acquire habits
that the rough collisions and the friction of active life prevent from
gathering around other men. Narrow-minded prejudices and prepossessions
are imbibed through the facility with which, in our own little
community, we adopt and maintain opinions. A too strong confidence in
our own views on every subject almost inevitably comes from never
hearing our opinions contradicted or called in question, and we express
those opinions in a tone of authority, and even sometimes of arrogance,
which we acquire in the school-room, for there, when we speak, nobody
These peculiarities show themselves first, and, in fact, most commonly,
in the school-room; and the opinions thus formed very often relate to
the studies and management of the school. One has a peculiar mode of
teaching spelling, which is successful almost entirely through the magic
influence of his interest in it, and he thinks no other mode of teaching
this branch is even tolerable. Another must have all his pupils write on
the angular system, or the anti-angular system, and he enters with all
the zeal into a controversy on the subject, as if the destiny of the
whole rising generation depended upon its decision. Tell him that all
that is of any consequence in any handwriting is that it should be
legible, rapid, and uniform, and that, for the rest, it would be better
that every human being should write a different hand, and he looks upon
you with astonishment, wondering that you can not see the vital
importance of the question whether the vertex of an _o_ should, be
pointed or round. So in every thing. He has _his way_ in every minute
particular--a way from which he can not deviate, and to which he wishes
every one else to conform.
This set, formal mannerism is entirely inconsistent with that commanding
intellectual influence which the teacher should exert in the
administration of his school. He should work with what an artist calls
boldness and freedom of touch. Activity and enterprise of mind should
characterize all his measures if he wishes to make bold, original, and
(7.) Assume no false appearances in your school either as to knowledge
or character. Perhaps it may justly be said to be the common practice of
teachers in this country to affect a dignity of deportment in the
presence of their pupils which in other cases is laid aside, and to
pretend to superiority in knowledge and an infallibility of judgment
which no sensible man would claim before other sensible men, but which
an absurd fashion seems to require of the teacher. It can, however,
scarcely be said to be a fashion, for the temptation is almost
exclusively confined to the young and the ignorant, who think they must
make up by appearance what they want in reality. Very few of the older,
and more experienced, and successful instructors in our country fall
into it at all; but some young beginner, whose knowledge is very
limited, and who, in manner and habits, has only just ceased to be a
boy, walks into his school-room with a countenance of forced gravity,
and with a dignified and solemn step, which is ludicrous even to
himself. I describe accurately, for I describe from recollection. This
unnatural, and forced, and ludicrous dignity cleaves to him like a
disease through the whole period of his duty. In the presence of his
scholars he is always under restraint, assuming a stiff and formal
dignity which is as ridiculous as it is unnatural. He is also obliged to
resort to arts which are certainly not very honorable to conceal his
A scholar, for example, brings him a sum in arithmetic which he does not
know how to perform. This may be the case with a most excellent teacher,
and one well qualified for his business. In order to be successful as a
teacher, it is not necessary to understand every thing. Instead,
however, of saying frankly, "I do not understand that example; I will
examine it," he looks at it embarrassed and perplexed, not knowing how
he shall escape the exposure of his ignorance. His first thought is to
give some general directions to the pupil, and send him to his seat to
make a new experiment, hoping that in some way or other, he scarcely
knows how, he will get through; and, at any rate, if he should not, the
teacher thinks that he himself at least gains time by the manoeuvre, and
he is glad to postpone his trouble, though he knows it must soon return.
All efforts to conceal ignorance, and all affectation of knowledge not
possessed, are as unwise as they are dishonest. If a scholar asks a
question which you can not answer, or brings you a difficulty which you
can not solve, say frankly, "I do not know." It is the only way to avoid
continual anxiety and irritation, and the surest means of securing real
respect. Let the scholars understand that the superiority of the teacher
does not consist in his infallibility, or in his universal acquisitions,
but in a well-balanced mind, where the boundary between knowledge and
ignorance is distinctly marked; in a strong desire to go forward in
mental improvement, and in fixed principles of action and systematic
habits. You may even take up in school a study entirely new to you, and
have it understood at the outset that you know no more of it than the
class commencing, but that you can be their guide on account of the
superior maturity and discipline of your powers, and the comparative
ease with which you can meet and overcome difficulties. This is the
understanding which ought always to exist between master and scholars.
The fact that the teacher does not know every thing can not long be
concealed if he tries to conceal it, and in this, as in every other
case, HONESTY IS THE BEST POLICY.
Under the title which I have placed at the head of this chapter I intend
to discuss the methods by which the teacher is to secure a moral
ascendency over his pupils, so that he may lead them to do what is
right, and bring them back to duty when they do what is wrong. I shall
use, in what I have to say, a very plain and familiar style; and as very
much depends not only on the general principles by which the teacher is
actuated, but also on the tone and manner in which, in cases of
discipline, he addresses his pupils, I shall describe particular cases,
real and imaginary, because by this method I can better illustrate the
course to be pursued. I shall also present and illustrate the various
principles which I consider important, and in the order in which they
occur to my mind.
1. The first duty, then, of the teacher when he enters his school is to
beware of the danger of making an unfavorable impression at first upon
his pupils. Many years ago, when I was a child, the teacher of the
school where my early studies were performed closed his connection with
the establishment, and after a short vacation another was expected. On
the appointed day the boys began to collect, some from curiosity, at an
early hour, and many speculations were started as to the character of
the new instructor. We were standing near a table with our hats on--and
our position, and the exact appearance of the group, is indelibly fixed
on my memory--when a small and youthful-looking man entered the room,
and walked up toward us. Supposing him to be some stranger, or, rather,
not making any supposition at all, we stood looking at him as he
approached, and were thunder-struck at hearing him accost us with a
stern voice and sterner brow, "Take off your hats. Take off your hats
and go to your seats." The conviction immediately rushed upon our minds
that this must be our new teacher. The first emotion was that of
surprise, and the second was that of the ludicrous, though I believe we
contrived to smother the laugh until we got out into the open air.
So long since was this little occurrence that I have entirely forgotten
the name of the teacher, and have not the slightest recollection of any
other act in his administration of the school. But this recollection of
his first greeting of his pupils, and the expression of his countenance
at the moment, will go with me to the end of life. So strong are first
Be careful, then, when you first see your pupils, that you meet them
with a smile. I do not mean a pretended cordiality, which has no
existence in the heart, but think of the relation which you are to
sustain to them, and think of the very interesting circumstances under
which, for some months at least, your destinies are to be united to
theirs, until you can not help feeling a strong interest in them. Shut
your eyes for a day or two to their faults, if possible, and take an
interest in all their pleasures and pursuits, that the first attitude in
which you exhibit yourself before them may be one which shall allure,
2. In endeavoring to correct the faults of your pupils, do not, as many
teachers do, seize only upon _those particular cases_ of transgression
which may happen to come under your notice. These individual instances
are very few, probably, compared with the whole number of faults against
which you ought to exert an influence. And though you perhaps ought not
to neglect those which may accidentally come under your notice, yet the
observing and punishing such cases is a very small part of your duty.
You accidentally hear, I will suppose, as you are walking home from
school, two of your boys in earnest conversation, and one of them uses
profane language. Now the course to be pursued in such a case is, most
evidently, not to call the boy to you the next day and punish him, and
there let the matter rest. This would, perhaps, be better than nothing.
But the chief impression which it would make upon the individual and
upon the other scholars would be, "I must take care how I _let the
master hear me_ use such language again." A wise teacher, who takes
enlarged and extended views of his duty in regard to the moral progress
of his pupils, would act very differently. He would look at the whole
subject. "Does this fault," he would say to himself, "prevail among my
pupils? If so, how extensively? It is comparatively of little
consequence to punish the particular transgression. The great point is
to devise some plan to reach the whole evil, and to correct it if
In one case where such a circumstance occurred, the teacher managed it
most successfully in the following manner.
He said nothing to the boy, and, in fact, the boy did not know that he
was overheard. He allowed a day or two to elapse, so that the
conversation might be forgotten, and then took an opportunity one day,
after school, when all things had gone on pleasantly, and the school was
about to be closed, to bring forward the whole subject. He told the boys
that he had something to say to them after they had laid by their books
and were ready to go home. The desks were soon closed, and every face in
the room was turned toward the master with a look of fixed attention.
It was almost evening. The sun had gone down. The boys' labors were
over. Their duties for the day were over; their minds were at rest, and
every thing was favorable for making a deep and permanent impression.
"A few days ago," says the teacher, when all was still, "I accidentally
overheard some conversation between two of the boys of this school, and
one of them swore."
There was a pause.
"Perhaps you expect that I am now going to call the boy out and punish
him. Is that what I ought to do?"
There was no answer.
"I think a boy who uses bad language of any kind does what he knows is
wrong. He breaks God's commands. He does what he knows would be
displeasing to his parents, and he sets a bad example. He does wrong,
therefore, and justly deserves punishment."
There were, of course, many boys who felt that they were in danger.
Every one who had used profane language was aware that he might be the
one who had been overheard, and, of course, all were deeply interested
in what the teacher was saying.
"He might, I say," continued the teacher, "justly be punished; but I am
not going to punish him; for if I should, I am afraid that it would only
make him a little more careful hereafter not to commit this sin when I
could possibly be within hearing, instead of persuading him, as I wish
to, to avoid such a sin in future altogether. I am satisfied that that
boy would be far happier, even in this world, if he would make it a
principle always to do his duty, and never, in any case, to do wrong.
And then, when I think how soon he and all of us will be in another
world, where we shall all be judged for what we do here, I feel strongly
desirous of persuading him to abandon entirely this practice. I am
afraid that punishing him now would not do that.
"Besides," continues the teacher, "I think it very probable that there
are many other boys in this school who are sometimes guilty of this
fault, and I have thought that it would be a great deal better and
happier for us all if, instead of punishing this particular boy whom I
have accidentally overheard, and who probably is not more to blame than
many other boys in school, I should bring up the whole subject, and
endeavor to persuade all the boys to reform."
I am aware that there are, unfortunately, in our country a great many
teachers from whose lips such an appeal as this would be wholly in vain.
The man who is accustomed to scold, and storm, and punish with unsparing
severity every transgression, under the influence of irritation and
anger, must not expect that he can win over his pupils to confidence in
him and to the principles of duty by a word. But such an appeal will not
be lost when it comes from a man whose daily and habitual management
corresponds with it. But to return to the story:
The teacher made some farther remarks, explaining the nature of the sin,
not in the language of execration and affected abhorrence, but calmly,
temperately, and without any disposition to make the worst of the
occurrence which had taken place. In concluding what he said, he
addressed the boys as follows:
"Now, boys, the question is, do you wish to abandon this habit or not?
If you do, all is well. I shall immediately forget all the past, and
will do all I can to help you resist and overcome temptation in future.
But all I can do is only to help you; and the first thing to be done, if
you wish to engage in this work of reform, is to acknowledge your fault;
and I should like to know how many are willing to do this."
"I wish all those who are willing to tell me whether they use profane
language would rise."
Every individual but one rose.
"I am very glad to see so large a number," said the teacher; "and I
hope you will find that the work of confessing and forsaking your faults
is, on the whole, pleasant, not painful business. Now those who can
truly and honestly say that they never do use profane language of any
kind may take their seats."
Three only of the whole number, which consisted of not far from twenty,
sat down. It was in a sea-port town, where the temptation to yield to
this vice is even greater than would be, in the interior of our country,
"Those who are now standing," pursued the teacher, "admit that they do,
sometimes at least, commit this sin. I suppose all, however, are
determined to reform; for I do not know what else should induce you to
rise and acknowledge it here, unless it is a desire hereafter to break
yourselves of the habit. But do you suppose that it will be enough for
you merely to resolve here that you will reform?"
"No, sir," said the boys.
"Why not? If you now sincerely determine never more to use a profane
word, will you not easily avoid it?"
The boys were silent. Some said faintly, "No, sir."
"It will not be easy for you to avoid the sin hereafter," continued the
teacher, "even if you do now sincerely and resolutely determine to do
so. You have formed the habit of sin, and the habit will not be easily
overcome. But I have detained you long enough now. I will try to devise
some method by which you may carry your plan into effect, and to-morrow