Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 42.djvu/573

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EDITOR'S TABLE.

The great trouble is, says President Eliot, that our popular education is not really conducted in such a way as to develop intelligence. It teaches children to read (after a fashion), to spell, to write, and to cipher; it also imparts a little knowledge of geography; but none of these things, as commonly taught, calls into activity in any adequate manner those powers on the due exercise of which the growth of intelligence depends—the power of observing facts, the power of accurately and faithfully recording facts, the power of reasoning correctly in regard to facts. Nor is any sufficient practice given in the important art of composition or correct expression in writing. To give a proper training in the observation of facts some branch of natural science or some kind of handicraft should be taught. At present whatever quickness of observation children acquire is acquired in connection with their sports; and their school studies lack vitality and effect simply because the element of original observation has no part in them. To make an observation of one's own in regard to any matter is to gain at once an interest in that matter, and in all probability to prepare the way for other observations. While we agree with President Eliot that some branch of natural science or some "well-conducted work with tools or machines" furnishes the best means of developing the observing faculty, we also agree with him in holding that almost any line of study may, in the hands of a competent teacher, be turned to good account for the same purpose. As he rightly observes, one teacher will get better results out of one subject and another out of another. Geography, which, "as commonly taught, means committing to memory a mass of curiously uninteresting and unimportant facts," may, under proper treatment, become a most stimulating study; but, in order that this may be the case, a teacher is required who has a vivid apprehension of the relation of geographical facts to one another, and a clear conception of the general relation of physical to political geography. So with language: it may be made a mere thing of arbitrary rules or it may be exhibited in its vital connection with thought, and its structure and etymology made to yield abundant exercise both for the observing and the analytical faculties.

In the recording of facts opportunity is given both for the cultivation of accuracy of statement and for the acquisition of correct modes of expression. We do not, indeed, see how first lessons in composition could be given with greater advantage than in connection with the statement of facts observed by the pupil. Every fact is observed under some conditions of place, time, etc., and, in the due setting forth of these, various adverbial and other elements of a well-developed sentence come into requisition. There is no point at which the inefficiency of our higher schools has been more apparent, or has given rise to severer criticism, than in the matter of composition; and the reproach will remain until the problem of its removal is approached in a scientific spirit and by scientific methods. Language is the garb of thought, not a substitute for thought, nor a thing to be acquired and possessed independently of thought. He alone can use language with freedom, certainty, and accuracy who is conscious of needing for the expression of his thought all the words and phrases that he employs. First catch your thought and then array it suitably. A lesson in language should therefore always be a lesson in thinking; and words, instead of appearing, as they so often do in language lessons, as meaningless superfluities, should be exhibited as essential for that communication of our thoughts on which the whole of our rational and social life depends. Language lessons in the earlier stages should always turn upon such words, phrases, and narratives as actually relate to the daily life of the child. Thought