Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 23.djvu/224

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

ing in favor, and we are once more told that it is a successful revolt against book-studies. It is chiefly applicable to the sciences, and its cardinal idea is instruction without a text-book. This looks fair, but it is delusive. The method does not remove the book that the pupil may come at the phenomena, but it removes the book that the teacher may take its place. Oral-teaching is class-instruction, in which information is imparted in a familiar manner with the view of awakening the interest of the class. But, so far as real science is concerned, it is doubtful if this method is not worse than the one it replaces. Following the maxim of certain German educators, that "the teacher is the school," it was assumed that when apathy prevails in the schoolroom it is solely the teachers' fault. Oral exercises enable them to escape this reproach by giving animation to school-work. It is said that this is a "live system" in contrast to the old humdrum routine of lessons and recitations. But science gets no real help. There is only the substitution of a superficial class-activity for the more deliberate work of the individual pupil. More mental effort is required on his part to get a lesson from a book than to listen to a lesson given by the teacher. The teacher is to do everything, and stands in the place not only of the book but of the pupil also. Is this not a step backward in education? The teacher is magnified at the expense of close study, and science is cheapened by the method. Oral-teaching implies a fertility, a versatility, and a proficiency in scientific knowledge on the part of teachers which that class of persons does not possess. It is a premium on tutorial smattering and cramming by which the voluble teacher with superficial acquisitions and a ready memory becomes the model teacher. There may be benefits in this method, but science does not gain them. Judicious oral assistance, as in the physical, chemical, or natural history laboratory, given by a competent master to a pupil at work, is invaluable for stimulus and guidance; but the aid must be discreet, and the skillful teacher will not talk too much. But where it is all talk and no work, and text-books are filtered through the very imperfect medium of the ordinary teacher's mind, and the pupil has nothing to do but to be instructed, every sound principle of education is outraged, and science is only made ridiculous. This failure to gain the benefits of real scientific study has its source deep in the constitution of the public schools. In dealing with masses of children, classification became necessary, which gave rise, as we have seen, to grading and an elaborate mechanical system. The working of children in lots seems to be a necessity of the public schools, but it strengthens the practice of verbal instruction, recitations, and lesson-giving. It is well fitted to impress the public with the idea that there is much done in the schools. There are a prescribed routine of operations and a display of order that are admired. But teacher and learner are subordinated to the system. It is machine-work, and machines make no allowances. Gradation assumes and enforces a uni-