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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 54.djvu/407

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CHILDREN LEARNING TO READ AND WRITE.

a decided relative ear-mindedness. Few laboratory researches have been made upon the relative rapidity of development of the special senses in children, but such as have been made tend to confirm the indications of the "culture epochs" theory, and to show that the auditory centers develop earlier than the visual.

More and more attention is given in our elementary schools to the subject of languageā€”more, as some think, than the relative importance of the subject warrants; but without discussing this question, it is indubitably shown by child psychology that it is the spoken language which belongs to the elementary school. The ear is the natural medium of instruction for young children, and all the secondhand knowledge which it is necessary that the child should receive should come to him in this way. It should come from the living words of the living teacher or parent, not through the cold medium of the printed book. In the elementary school, then, the child may be instructed in language as it relates to the ear and the tongue, and this is the real language. He may be taught to speak accurately and elegantly, and he may be taught to listen and remember. He may study in this way the best literature of his mother tongue, and get a living sympathetic knowledge of it, such as can never come through the indirect medium of the book. Indeed, this language study need not be limited to the mother tongue. There is no age when a child may with so great economy of effort gain a lasting knowledge of a foreign language as when he is from seven to eleven years old.

When the spoken language has been mastered in this way, and when the child has arrived at the reading and writing age, language in its written form may be acquired in a very short time, and that which now fills so many weary years of school life will sink into the position of comparative insignificance in which it rightfully belongs. Reading and writing have usurped altogether too much time. In the schools of to-day there is a worship of the reading book, spelling book, copy book, and dictionary not rightfully due them. By dropping the study of letters from the lower grades much needed time may be found for other timely and important subjects, such as Nature study, morals, history, oral language, singing, physical training, and play.

One of the greatest goods which would follow the banishing of the book from the primary and elementary schools would be the cultivation of better mental habits. Children suffer lasting injury by being left with a book in their seats and directed to "study" at an age when the power of voluntary attention has not developed. They then acquire habits of listlessness and mind-wandering afterward difficult to overcome. They read over many times that which does not hold their attention and is not remembered. Lax habits of