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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

child is to be individual in his actions, the teacher should certainly be so. The fault in the instruction in our public schools at present, however, is not a lack of individuality, but rather a lack of uniformity. If our teachers depended a little less upon their own individual impulses, and more upon the recognized principles of education, we should probably have fewer imperfect plans to criticise, and would secure better results in our work.

We have not to complain of a "craze" for carrying methods to extremes so much as a "craze" for individual prominence, which results in somewhat absurd plans of procedure that must be abandoned as soon as their novelty wears away. Nothing will correct this weakness so completely as the uniform training of teachers in accordance with recognized psychological principles. When this is secured, the observers of school work will at least do teachers the justice to suppose that they have excellent reasons for what may appear to the uninitiated to be mere erratic action.

Yours truly,
Margaret K. Smith.
Oswego, N. Y., October 24, 1890.
 

 

UNNATURAL READING.

Editor Popular Science Monthly:

Sir: In your issue of November appears a letter from A. C. Ray, calling attention to the method of teaching reading in vogue in our public schools. To quote the writer's own language, "Children are taught to read without spelling, recognizing each word by its appearance, and learning it as a detached fact."

Your correspondent then goes on to show the unnaturalness of the "natural method" so called. Permit me to say that I personally thank the writer for having had the courage to bring this matter to the attention of your readers. The present natural method of teaching children to read is indeed an absurdity, and it is difficult to understand the reason and the authority upon which such a system has been adopted.

My little girl is attending a grammar school in Cambridge, Mass., which has the reputation of being a very good one. My child is in the fifth class, and I am informed by the teacher that this class offers greater difficulties to the average pupil than any of the higher classes. Night after night I have the pleasure of rehearsing with her the writing-lesson of the day. Now, how does the child learn to read! The school uses Swinton's History and Geography. From this book the teacher, no doubt acting under instructions, reads daily with the children, and then dictates to them the principal words contained in the paragraphs they have been reading. I beg to be understood that the words are dictated and written by the children as they are found in the text-book—i. e., the verbs not in the infinitive mood, but in any of the several tenses; nouns either in the singular or plural; all in confusion. I will give here a few of the words found in one of the lessons: Sachem, aurora borealis, Cheyenne City, arctic, eider-down, Phœnix, Indianapolis, Indian dialect, Latin language, French or Indian, Greek language, German language, Latin language, compound English-Greek.

It will be observed that these words represent a fine collection taken from several old as well as modern languages. No explanation is given by the teacher concerning the derivation of the words; if she thinks well of it, she will tell the children what the meaning of such a word is, but all the rest is a tabula rasa to the pupils.

No doubt some people will not believe me when I assert that, though my child has been attending school four years, has been studying writing and reading for the same time, she has never been taught the difference between a vowel and a consonant, and, consequently, she is ignorant of the very tools she is called upon to work with.

It seems but too simple a thing to call attention to the numerous recurring unchangeable prefixes, affixes, endings, etc.; such, for instance, as "ious," "ive," "able," "ation," etc., or to tell ihem that a certain grouping of characters as a rule produces such and such sounds, all of which would materially assist the pupils and save them hours of laborious work. But no, let them grope in utter darkness and recognize each word by its appearance! If that is a correct way of teaching children reading, why don't you apply the same method to teaching arithmetic? As the English language contains about forty thousand words, independently of numerous derivatives, compounds, and grammatical formations, the idea of teaching children reading by recognizing each word by its appearance is indeed absurd.

The evil effects of such a system are self-evident, but the means of overcoming the evil are not so apparent, and after a good deal of consideration I have thought best to apply to The Popular Science Monthly for assistance. No doubt many fathers and mothers will take a deep interest in this matter touching the education of their offspring, and as it is useless for an individual to go to the several school boards, laying his or her grievances before them, I suggest that through the agency of The Popular Science Monthly an association may be formed of such people as are interested in the education of children; that the aim of such association be united action to bring sufficient pressure to bear upon the several school boards to modify or abolish the method now used in the public schools to teach children reading, and to consider ways and means to best accomplish this purpose.

I shall be glad to hear from other people in this matter.

Victor M. Berthold.
Cambridgeport, Mass., October 27, 1890.