Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 54.djvu/400

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
384
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

school existed to teach just these three subjects. The primitive schoolmaster was not superior to the parents of the child, usually not their equal, in anything except his knowledge of "letters." So the child was sent to school for a short time to learn letters. It was not at all the function of the school to educate the child in all that was necessary to fit him for the duties of life. Afterward, as the scope of the school was enlarged, other subjects were added, and these were put after the original ones, and the schoolmaster, furthermore, came rather to take the place of an educator than a mere teacher of letters. It is conceivable, therefore, that the present accepted order of studies in our elementary schools rests upon an accidental rather than upon a psychological basis. It is true that modern educators have expressly considered the subject of the order and correlation of studies, as, for instance, in the case of the Committee of Fifteen, and that, while recommending minor changes in the school curriculum, they have not usually thought of questioning the position so long held by reading, writing, and arithmetic. In the report of the committee just referred to we find this expression: "The conclusion is reached that learning to read and write should be the leading study of the pupil in his first four years of school." But, again, it was not the function of this committee to suggest sweeping changes, nor to raise the inquiry whether the system itself rests upon a psychological basis. Even if it did not rest upon such a basis, expressions like the above would not be unnatural on the part of committees appointed by bodies representing the system as a whole.

We may not, then, conclude a priori that our system of primary education is a sound one. There have indeed been other wholly different systems giving excellent results in their time, as, for instance, that of the ancient Greeks, where music and gymnastics, not reading, writing, and arithmetic, were the principal subjects occupying the time of the pupils.

Much attention has recently been given to the subjects of the physiology and psychology of children. These studies have been systematic, painstaking, and exact. It seems, indeed, to many people improbable that anything very new or very remarkable should just at this time be found out about children, and there have not been wanting either prominent educators or psychologists who have given public expression to warnings against the new "child study." But this, again, is not conclusive, for students of history may recall that every advance in science has met just such opposition—for instance, bacteriology, organic evolution, chemistry, and astronomy. Furthermore, when we reflect that scientific advance in this century has ever been, and inevitably, from the simple to the complex, and, further, that the brain of the child is the most complex thing in the