Popular Science Monthly/Volume 30/January 1887/Manual Instruction



MR. MUNDELLA, in an interesting address which he delivered at the Polytechnic last year, took us Londoners somewhat severely to task because more is not done in the metropolis to provide for the intellectual wants of our people. Certainly I must admit, as a Londoner, that we are far from being as advanced as we could wish. I would, however, point out two reasons. In the first place, the areas of government in London are for many purposes too small. I have no desire to speak disrespectfully of vestries or vestrymen. But take the case of free libraries: London is reproached for having so few, but would Birmingham have had its magnificent library if it were governed by the vestries of the separate parishes? One reason which has defeated the efforts to establish free libraries in London has been that the parishioners have been told that, while the expense would fall on them, readers could come in from other parishes. A bill should be proposed next session to remedy this by amending the Free Libraries Act in the metropolitan district by making the area that of the union instead of the parish. Again, why have we in our educational institutions so few members and students belonging to the great shopkeeping community? It is on account of the excessively long hours in London shops. This, again, is to a great extent owing to the difficulty in such immense communities of obtaining and securing common action. I hope that next session we may do something to mitigate this great evil. Free libraries and shorter hours in shops are two of the most pressing wants in London. Still, I can not help thinking that Mr.Mundella was rather too severe on us. Can any provincial city show a nobler work than that carried on by Mr.Quentin Hogg at the old Polytechnic Institution? The members and students now, I understand, number nearly ten thousand, and not only does Mr.Quentin Hogg devote an immense amount of time to the work, but the annual cost to him can not be much below £10,000 a year. If it had been in one of our provincial cities we should probably have heard more of it. Londoners are, perhaps, too modest. Our London School Board has done its work efficiently, and is generally blamed for spending too much rather than too little. Again, the stimulus which has been recently given to the cause of technical education in England has no doubt been very greatly due to the City and Guilds of London Technical Institute, so ably directed by Sir Philip Magnus. The Commissioners on Technical Instruction, in their interesting report on technical education, have given endless cases showing the great importance of technical instruction, and I can not help thinking that much more technical education might be introduced even into elementary schools. Something of the kind, indeed, is done in the case of girls by the instruction in needlework and cookery, which latter, I am happy to see, is showing satisfactory results. Why should not something of the same kind be done in the case of boys? There are some, indeed, who seem to think that our educational system is as good as possible, and that the only remaining points of importance are the number of schools and scholars, the questions of fees, the relation of voluntary and board schools, etc. "No doubt," says Mr.Symonds, in his "Sketches in Italy and Greece," "there are many who think that when we not only advocate education but discuss the best system, we are simply beating the air; that our population is as happy and cultivated as can be, and that no substantial advance is really possible. Mr.Galton, however, has expressed the opinion, and most of those who have written on the social condition of Athens seem to agree with him, that the population of Athens, taken as a whole, was as superior to us as we are to Australian savages."

That there is some truth in this probably no student of Greek history will deny. Why, then, should this be so? I can not but think that our system of education is partly responsible.

Technical teaching need not in any way interfere with instruction in other subjects. Though so much has been said about the importance of science and the value of technical instruction, or of hand-training, as I should prefer to call it, it is unfortunately true that in our system of education, from the highest school downward, both of them are sadly neglected, and the study of language reigns supreme.

This is no new complaint. Ascham, in "The Schoolmaster," long ago lamented it; and Milton, in his letter to Mr.Samuel Hartlib, complained "that our children are forced to stick unreasonably in these grammatick flats and shallows"; and observes that, "though a linguist should pride himself to have all the tongues Babel cleft the world into, yet, if he have not studied the solid things in them as well as the words and lexicons, he were nothing so much to be esteemed a learned man as any yeoman or tradesman competently wise in his mother dialect only"; and Locke said that "schools fit us for the university rather than for the world." Commission after commission, committee after committee, have reiterated the same complaint. How, then, do we stand now?

I see it, indeed, constantly stated that, even if the improvement is not so rapid as could be desired, still we are making considerable progress in this direction. But what are the facts? Are we really making progress?

On the contrary, the present rules made by the Education Department are crushing out elementary science. There are two heads elementary science may be taken under, which are known as "class subjects" or "specific subjects." Under the Code, there are four so-called class subjects, only two of which may be taken. One of them must be English, which I am afraid in a great many cases practically means grammar. Consequently, if either history or geography were selected for the second, elementary science must be omitted. It has been pointed out, over and over again, that the tendency must be to shut out elementary science, because the great bulk of the schools are sure to take history or geography. The last report shows how grievously this has proved to be the case. The President and Vice-President of the Council, in the report just issued, say that elementary science "does not appear to be taken advantage of to any great extent at present." This is a very mild way of putting it. Mr.Colt Williams says, more correctly, that "specific subjects are virtually dead." Mr. Balmer observes that "specific subjects have been knocked on the head." In fact, out of the four and a half million children in our schools, less than twenty-five thousand were examined last year in any branch of science as a specific subject. Take, for instance, the laws of health and animal physiology. Only fourteen thousand children were presented in this subject. Yet how important to our happiness and utility! Neither Mr. Bright nor Mr. Gladstone, I believe, ever learned any English grammar, and, as regards the latter, it has been recently stated, by one who knows him intimately, that the splendid health he enjoys is greatly due to his having early learned one simple physiological lesson.

Turning again to the class subjects, last year elementary science was only taken in forty-five schools out of twenty thousand. This, however, was not because it was unpopular, but simply on account of the rules laid down in the Code. According to Mr.Williams, grammar—which, under compulsion, was taken in over nineteen thousand schools—was not a popular subject, and, if only the Code permitted it, it would be dropped in half his schools. One of her Majesty's inspectors, in the last report, seemed to regard it as an advantage of grammar that "its processes require no instruments, no museums, no laboratories." This, on the contrary, is one of its drawbacks. It fails to bring the children into any contact with Nature. Indeed, Helmholtz is probably correct in his view, that the rules of grammar, followed, as they are, by long strings of exceptions, weaken the power of realizing natural laws. Again, it is surely undesirable to attach so much importance to the minutiae of spelling. Dr.Gladstone has shown that the irregularities of English spelling cause, on an average, the loss of more than one thousand hours in the school-life of each child. "A thousand hours in the most precious seed-time of life of millions of children, spent in learning that i must follow e in conceive, and precede it in believe; that two e's must, no one knew why, come together in proceed and exceed, and be separated in precede and accede; that uncle must be spelled with a c, but ankle with a k, and numberless other and equally profitless conventions! And this, while lessons in health and thrift, sewing and cooking, which should make the life of the poor tolerable, and elementary singing and drawing, which should make it pleasant and push out lower and degrading amusements, are, in many cases, almost vainly trying to obtain admission." At present, we really seem to follow the example of Democritus, who is said to have put out his eyes, in order that he might reason better. It was a truer instinct which identified the "seer" and the "prophet." It seems very undesirable that our rules should be so stringent as to lay down a "flattening-iron" over schools, but if the choice of subjects were dictated at all, why, of all subjects in the world, should grammar, with its dry and bewildering technicalities, be especially favored? I do not, however, wish to disparage grammar; all I desire is, that it should not block the way; that elementary science should have a fair chance. The three objections which are sometimes heard, especially at schoolboard elections, are over-pressure, over-expense, and over-education. That there is really no general over-pressure, Mr.Fitch and Mr.Sydney Buxton have satisfied most impartial judges. Still, the relief afforded by a change from literature to science, from books to nature, from taxes on memory to the stimulus of observation, is no doubt of the most grateful character.

Mr.Matthew Arnold, in his recent "Report on Certain Points connected with Elementary Education in Germany, Switzerland, and France," points out that in German elementary schools there is a "fuller programme" and a "higher state of instruction" than in ours. He takes Hamburg, as a good typical case, and he tells us that "the weekly number of hours for a Hamburg child, between the ages of ten and fourteen, is, as I have said, thirty-two; with us, under the Code, for a child of that age, it is twenty." And then, or I should rather say "but then," "the Hamburg children have, as the obligatory matters of their instruction, religion, German, English, history, geography, natural history, natural philosophy, arithmetic and algebra, geometry, writing, drawing, singing, and gymnastics, thirteen matters in all." In one of our schools under the Code, the obligatory subjects are "three—English, writing, and arithmetic. Of the optional matters, they generally take, in fact, four, singing and geography; . . . and as specific subjects, say, algebra and physiology, or French and physiology. This makes in all, for their school-week of twenty hours, seven matters of instruction." As a matter of fact, I have shown that comparatively few children are presented in any specific subject. But even if two are taken, this would only bring up the subjects to half those included in the ordinary German course. Mr.Arnold "often asked himself" why, with such long hours, and so many subjects, the children had "so little look of exhaustion or fatigue, and the answer I could not help making to myself was, that the cause lay in the children being taught less mechanically and more naturally than with us, and being more interested.''

I feel sure there is a great deal in this; variety in mental food is as important as in bodily food, and our children are often tired simply because they are bored.

As to expense, it is really ignorance and not education which is expensive.

But then we hear a great deal about over-education. We need not fear over-education; but I do think we suffer much from misdirected education. Our schoolmasters too often seem to act as if all children were going to be schoolmasters themselves.

It is true that more attention is now given to drawing in some schools; and this is certainly a matter of very great importance, but some changes must be made in the Code before that development can be made which we should all wish to see. Manual work in boys' schools seems to be exactly parallel with, and in every way analogous to, that of needlework in girls' schools, and I am inclined to agree with Sir P.Magnus that the value of the one kind of teaching should be as fully recognized and assisted by the state as that of the other. Why could they not introduce carpentering or something of that sort, which would exercise the hands of the boys as well as their heads? I have myself tried an experiment in a small way in the matter of cobblery, and although the boys did not make such progress as to be able to make their own boots, they no doubt learned enough to be able to mend them.

The introduction of manual work into our schools is important, not merely from the advantage which would result to health not merely from the training of the hand as an instrument, but abo from its effect on the mind itself.

I do not, indeed, suppose that, except in some special districts, we can introduce what is known as the "half-time" system, in the sense that the children will do ordinary work for wages, though Mr.Arnold tells us in his "Report on Certain Points connected with Elementary Education in Germany, Switzerland, and France," that in Prussia "the rural population greatly prefer the half-day school, as it is called, for all the children, because they have the elder children at their disposal for half the day."

I do not, I confess, see why a system so popular in Germany should be impossible in England; but what seems more immediately feasible is that our boys should be trained to use their hands as well as their heads. The absence of any such instruction is one of the great defects in our present system.

Such teaching need not in any way interfere with instruction in other subjects, Mr.Chadwick has given strong reasons for his opinion, "that the general result of the combined mental and bodily training on the half school-time principle is to give to two of such children the efficiency of the three on the long school-time principle for productive occupations."

Again, the Commissioners on Technical Instruction, speaking of schools in the Keighley district, say: "The most remarkable fact connected with these schools is the success of the half-timers. The Keighley district is essentially a factory district, there being a thousand factory half-timers attending the schools. Although these children receive less than fourteen hours of instruction per week, and are required to attend the factory for twenty-eight hours in addition, their percentage of passes at the examination is higher than the average of passes of children receiving double the amount of schooling throughout the country."

In our infant-schools we have generally object-lessons or some more or less imperfect substitutes of that kind for the very young children. But after this, with some rare exceptions, our teaching is all book-learning; the boy has no "hand-work" whatever. He sits some hours at a desk, his muscles have insufficient exercise, he loses the love and habit of work. Hence to some extent our school system really tends to unfit boys for the occupations of after-life, instead of training the hand and the eye to work together; far from invigorating the child in what M.Sluys well terms "le bain refraichissant du travail manuel," it tends to tear his associations from all industrial occupations, which, on the other hand, subsequently revenge themselves, when their turn comes, by finally distracting the man from all the associations and interests of school-life.

This principle of manual instruction has been elaborately worked out in Sweden, where it is known as the "Slöjd" system, by Mr.Abrahamson and Mr.Solomon, and has been already adopted in over six hundred schools. It has recently been the subject of a very interesting memoir by M.Sluys,[1]* who was depvited by the Belgian Minister of Education to visit Mr.Abrahamson and report upon it. The importance of manual practice as an integral part of all education was long ago realized by the genius of Rousseau, and first worked out practically and as regards young children by Froebel. Basedon indeed, in 1774, introduced manual instruction as a counterpoise to mental work; but Finland seems to be the country where the value of manual instruction as an integral part of education was first realized, when, thanks to the efforts of Uno Cygnæus, the Government enacted in 1866 that it should be an obligatory subject in all primary and normal schools. The system of Basedon appears to have been less successful than might have been expected, probably in great measure because the instruction was confided to artisans, whereas it seems to be of great importance not to separate the direction of the manual from that of the mental training.

There have been, indeed, two very different points of view from which manual instruction has been recommended. The first looks at the problem from a specially economical point of view. The school is arranged so as to elicit the special aptitudes of the pupils; to prepare and develop the children as quickly and as completely as possible for some definite trade or handicraft, so as to, if possible, assure them, when leaving school, the material requisite of existence. In this way, it is maintained, that the wealth and comfort of the nation can be best promoted.

The second theory regards the manual instruction as a form of education; the object is to give to the hand, not so much a special as a general aptitude, suitable to the varied circumstances of practical life, and calculated to develop a healthy love of labor, to exercise the faculties of attention, perception, and intuition. The one treats the school as subordinate to the workshop, the other takes the workshop and makes it a part of the school. The one seeks to make a workman, the other to train up a man. In short, the Swedish system is no preparation for a particular occupation, but is intended as a means of general development. The time devoted to manual instruction is there from four to six hours a week.

Of all handiworks, carpentering has been found most suitable. The work of the smith strengthens the arm, but it does not train the hand—tends rather, indeed, to make it too heavy. Moreover, the work is rather hard for children. In basket-work, the fingers alone are exercised; few tools are required or mastered, the younger children can not finish off a basket, and it is an additional disadvantage that the work is done sitting. Bookbinding is too limited and too difficult; moreover, it does not afford sufficient opportunities of progressive difficulty. Work with cardboard is in many respects very suitable, but it trains the fingers rather than the hand, and does not sufficiently develop the bodily vigor. On the whole, then, working in wood is recommended, and it is remarkable that it was long ago suggested by Rousseau:

Tout bien considéré, le métier que j'aimerais le mieux qui fût du goût de mon élève est celui de menuisier. II est propre, il est utile, il peut s'exercer dans la maison, il tient suffisamment le corps en haleine; il exige dans l'ouvrier de l'adresse et de l'industrie et dans la forme des ouvrages que l'utilité détermine, l'élégance et le goût ne sont pas exclus.

Abrahamson has prepared a hundred models, which the children are successively taught to make, commencing with a very easy form, and passing on to others more and more difficult. The series begins with a simple wooden peg, and the series includes a paper-knife, spoon, shovel, axe-handle, flower-stand, mallet, boot-jack, a cubic décimètre, a mason's level, chair, butter-mold, and ends with a milk-pail.

When the model is finished it is inspected. If unsatisfactory, it is destroyed; yet if it passes muster, the child is allowed to take it home. It is all his own work; no one has helped. It is, indeed, found important that the children should make something which they can carry away, and much stress is laid on the condition that they should make it entirely themselves, from the beginning to the end. If one does one part, and one another, if one begins and another finishes it, neither practically takes much interest in it.

The objects made are all useful. At first, some were selected which were playthings, or merely ornamental, but the parents took little interest in articles of this character; they were regarded as mere waste of time, and have gradually been discarded.

The different objects must be gradually more difficult. When the child is able to make any model satisfactorily, he passes on to the next. He must never be kept doing the same thing over and over again. Useless repetition is almost sure to disgust. The man has to do the same thing over and over again, but the child works to learn, not to live.

Lastly, I may mention that the objects selected are such as not to require any expensive outlay in the matter of tools.

The result, we are assured, gives much satisfaction to the parents, and great pleasure to the children.

A weak point in our present educational system is, that it does not awaken interest sufficiently to enable children generally to continue their education after leaving school. Yet, in addition to all other advantages, a wise education ought greatly to brighten life. Browning speaks of the wild joy of living; but that is not the sense in which life is ordinarily spoken of by the poets. They generally allude to it in a very different sense, as when Pope spoke of it as "life's poor play," observing in another passage—

"These build as fast as knowledge can destroy,
In folly's cup still laughs the babble joy";

while Lytton said—

"With each year's decay,
Fades, year by year, the heart's young bloom away."

A well-known hymn lays it down as an incontrovertible proposition—

"Brief life is here our portion,
Brief sorrow, short-lived care."

But this is to a great extent our own fault. Too often we fritter away life, and La Bruyère truly observes that many men employ much of their time in making the rest miserable. Few of us feel this as we ought, some not at all. We see so clearly, feel so keenly, the misery and wretchedness around us that we fail to realize the blessings lavished upon us. Yet the path of life is paved with enjoyments. There is room for all at the great table of Xature. She provides without stint the main requisites of human happiness. To watch the com grow, or the blossoms set; to draw hard breath over the plowshare; or to read, to think, to love, to hope, to pray—"these," said Ruskin, "were the things that made men happy."

Some years ago I paid a visit to the principal lake villages of Switzerland in company with a distinguished archasologist, M.Morlot. To my surprise I found that his whole income was one hundred pounds sterling a year, part of which, moreover, he spent in making a small museum. I asked him whether he contemplated accepting any post or office, but he said certainly not. He valued his leisure and opportunities as priceless possessions far more than silver or gold, and would not waste any of his time in making money. Just think of our advantage here in London! We have access to the whole literature of the world; we may see in our National Gallery the most beautiful productions of former generations, and in the Royal Academy and other galleries the works of the greatest living artists. Perhaps there is no one who has ever found time to see the British Museum thoroughly. Yet consider what it contains; or, rather, what does it not contain? The most gigantic of living and extinct animals, the marvelous monsters of geological ages, the most beautiful birds, and shells, and minerals, the most interesting antiquities, curious and fantastic specimens illustrating different races of men; exquisite gems, coins, glass, and china; the Elgin marbles, the remains of the mausoleum of the Temple of Diana of Ephesus; ancient monuments of Egypt and Assyria; the rude implements of our predecessors in England who were coeval with the hippopotamus and rhinoceros, the musk-ox, and the mammoth; and the most beautiful specimens of Greek and Roman art. In London we may unavoidably suffer, but no one has any excuse for being dull. And yet some people are dull. They talk of a better world to come, while whatever dullness there may be here is all their own. Sir Arthur Helps has well said: "What! dull, when you do not know what gives its loveliness of form to the lily, its depth of color to the violet, its fragrance to the rose; when you do not know in what consists the venom of the adder, any more than you can imitate the glad movements of the dove? What! dull, when earth, air and water are all alike mysteries to you, and when as you stretch out your hand you do not touch anything the properties of which you have mastered; while all the time Nature is inviting you to talk earnestly with her, to understand her, to subdue her, and to be blessed by her! Go away, man; learn something, do something, understand something, and let me hear no more of your dullness."

Not, of course, that happiness is the highest object of life, but if we endeavor to keep our bodies in health, our minds in use and in peace, and to promote the happiness of those around us, our own happiness will generally follow.—Fortnightly Review.

  1. "L'Enseignement des Travaux Manuels dans les Écoles primaires de Garçons en Suede." Rapport présenté à M.Le Ministre de I'lnstitut Publique par M.A.Sluys, et conclusion de MM. A. Sluys et H.Vankalken. Bruxelles, 1884.