The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 30
As one who has passed through every phase of the teacher's profession, I must own there is nothing, in my opinion, so distasteful to a teacher of strong individuality as the rule requiring him to teach subjects that he knows full well to be next to useless, and to the neglect of subjects which, were he permitted to teach, might become the forerunner of blessings to most of his pupils in their after lives.
Every scheme of national education which has come under my notice fails, so it appears to me, in this all important principle, viz., that the children and teachers, and even the subjects which have to be taught, are made to bend to departmental plans, rules, and regulations, instead of the department being made to adapt its administrative plans and methods to the special needs and individualities of districts. Were such a course adopted as here pointed out, we should not see, as I venture to say is to be seen daily in page 8 this Colony, the instruction and training of children being bent to the whims and wishes of this inspector or of that one, to the neglect of the one prime object of school training: the preparation of children for the due fulfilment of their duties as citizens.
There are in this district, as I suppose in every other in New Zealand, three aspects of social life, represented by town, country, and bush; and the condition and wants of the people differ very greatly in each: the town from the country, the country from the bush; and also the bush aspect of life is farther removed from the town than from the country. As the aspects are different, so are the ways and conceptions of the people. The local surroundings, the wants and the pursuits of bush settlers have little in common with the ways of living and pursuits, of the. people in the towns; and is it not natural to suppose that the education of the children, if it is to be something better than a show, should be arranged upon and adapted to these different modes of living? But as it is now there is no difference in the standard requirements for the children throughout the Colony. They must all pass through the same needle's eye. Chinese uniformity is the recognised order of the day, and even inspectors are not allowed to deviate from the lines laid down by the Government, however necessary the inspectors may deem it desirable to do so. The future bushman, ploughman, mechanic, merchant, schoolmaster, and professor are provided in the Government workshops with exactly the same kinds of tools, to perform entirely different functions in life, with the result that we find words are now an equivalent for ideas, memory for mind, and instruction for education.
I might pursue this very interesting and important subject at much greater length, were it needful to do so, to show that education, in my judgment, to be effective and permanent must be of two sorts: General and Special. After the training of the organs of sensation: sight, feeling, taste, touch, and smell, which, bye the way, ought to be the main aim of our infant schools, there are only two school subjects, both of them mechanical, which are common and needful for all. I refer to Reading and Writing. These are the two modes by which mankind in general communicate their thoughts to one another. They are the pictorial means of conveying thoughts and facts without the use of vocal sounds. As soon as these arts have been well and fully mastered by children, specialisation really begins. It is for this important reason, among others, that I am not in favour of the present standard syllabus of instruction. Whilst we want Government control and Government supervision, we do not want Government uniformity in education. We want centralism and localism harmonised, although the problem may seem a difficult one to solve. To me the duty of the Government is clear. It should insist upon all children being prepared for citizenship, but it should throw the onus of preparation upon the counties and boroughs. At once we should have adaptation and differentiation in education. By means of inspectors the Government should know what districts are doing in the way of advancing education, but it should not insist upon this subject or upon that one being taught to the exclusion of everything else. I am opposed to any limit being put upon what children may learn, so long as there is no age clause in operation when each standard must be passed, and no payment by results. I believe that the powers of children in the acquisition of knowledge are very great, if the subjects they are permitted to learn are adapted to their mental tastes, which, by-the-way, is simply specialisation. I do think, however, that the present Standard subjects are too page 9 numerous to compass thoroughly in the short space of 950 hours, which is the actual school time between one standard examination and another, and that much better work would be done by having a seventh, and even an eighth, standard, and by an examination in special subjects one year, and in general subjects the next year, and so on, in all standards higher than the Second. Examinations would then become more real on the part of the inspectors, and less harassing and detrimental to the children.
As to details in relation to the syllabus of subjects now prescribed for the standards, I think they are well drawn out, but, as explained above, I object to a stereotyped syllabus for a nation of children whose mental likes and dislikes are as various as their bodily ones, and whose life pursuits will be, of necessity, as diversified as their tastes. Were an extended standard syllabus prepared in Botany, Geology, Natural History, Cookery, Needlework, Drawing, Agriculture, Chemistry, Economy, Physical Geography, Mechanics, &c., just as there is in Arithmetic, History, &c.; and were the choice of subjects other than the general ones left optional to the several districts, we should see the law of adaptation being applied to the promotion and advancement of education, as it is seen throughout the animal and vegetable kingdoms, and the results would be infinitely better than they now are in too many cases, where cramming the memories of children with useless rubbish is made to do duty for the expanding of their minds and the development of their intellects.
What we do want is a meeting of educationists to draw up a feasible scheme, not based upon what England does or upon what Victoria would like to do, but upon what we ourselves ought to do tinder the varying conditions of life in New Zealand, so as to produce earnest, intelligent, and industrious citizens, and men who will love and look upon the Colony as their fatherland.