The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 26
III.—Grammar a Logical Course
III.—Grammar a Logical Course.
But throughout the teaching of grammar as grammar, and apart from its application to the writing of English, let it be page 14 steadily borne in mind, as already said, that one great purpose that it serves in school-work is that of mental exercise, of training the mind, in some degree, to logical, scientific, and abstract thinking and discrimination. It should, therefore, be instinct at every step with intelligence. The reason of every statement should be brought out, and expressed with logical accuracy. All rote-work must be banished. The scholar must be able at every point to state why such a thing is what he states, and then why that again is so, and so backwards till he come to the fundamental postulates and axioms of the subject. It should be as rigorously, but pleasantly, taught as mathematics. Yet how little is this done! No one that has not seen many schools and their work would believe that grammar is so little taught with intelligence as it is. Instead of this, it is a mere matter of the heavy memory of difficult and unknown technicalities. So-called "parsing," even in upper classes, is little more than the glib repetition of a certain unvarying form of words, and is often best done where least understood, because the form of speech has been more frequently repeated than where it is better taught. A little questioning as to the structure of the sentence and the relations of the words they have so trippingly described, and the reasons for the descriptions given, exposes the hollowness of the whole performance. It is an exercise, eliciting, as Professor Bain truly says, the very minimum of thought. Yet teachers remonstrate that their children are not accustomed to be questioned as to the reason why! If they are not, it is high time they should be, in a subject which is intended to exercise the reasoning powers and train to correct thinking.
The great source of error lies in not realising and acting on this idea, that grammar supplies the logical course it can be made. Let the knowledge communicated and the words used be fully understood, and, therefore, such as can be comprehended at the stage at which the child is; let the subject be intelligently taught with a definite aim at mental training; let every step be firmly taken before another is attempted,—and we may assure ourselves of thorough and pleasing suc- page 15 cess, and of making it a study in which children take intelligent and positive delight. I speak from my own experience both as scholar and teacher, and can vividly recall the painful dislike the subject inspired under one teacher, and the glow of delight and mental impetus it inspired under another who taught it as it should be taught.