The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 30
My opinion is that the lines that have been laid down in our educational system in regard to both syllabus and standards have been too much the work of theorists, and that consequently they are tending to make our teachers mere machines and our scholars educated parrots. The system practically says: here are numbers of children, and the teacher's duty is to turn them out according to a prescribed model. Now, children are not like timber or iron or any other inert material, that, given a knowledge of their constituents and the necessary experience and skill, success in reproducing the model can be insured. My study and experience of children has proved to me that there are mental and constitutional differences in them that require to be carefully studied and considered if one desires to see produced in them true educational success. To some the syllabus as prescribed is no overtask; to others quite the contrary. Mental development does not take place in some so early as in others; and in the case of the former to bring them up to the standard, a laborious and at the same time ruinous system of cramming has to be resorted to, the result being more destructive to success in after life than if one-half of the so called education were dispensed with. I could, if necessary, detail cases in point coming within my own knowledge to illustrate this view. Children are in many respects like the lower animals, or like plants in the vegetable kingdom. If you lay down any cast iron rule for their training, in some cases you may succeed, in others, the results will be unsatisfactory. And as with the training of the lower animals or in the growing of plants, the main secret of success lies in the skill and intelligence of the trainer or gardener, so the successful education of children depends mainly I affirm in the skill and intelligence of the teachers. The present system may tend to the development of a phase of skill in cramming that may be destructive to the exercise of that intelligence necessary to be exercised in determining how and in what quantity and form instruction can be best imparted to the young plants, with a view to their success in after life. What I think should be more aimed at than is at present, is to provide our schools with well-trained, intelligent teachers, who are able to discriminate and weigh the capabilities of their scholars, and who should be allowed far more exercise of their own individuality in the management of the schools under their charge, and who, from their daily careful study of the mental and physical constitutions of their scholars, ought to be the best judges of the amount and kind of work most suitable and expedient in each case, and that is likely to prove most successful and useful in after life. This leads me to express my conviction that the system of classification of teachers adopted by the Inspector-General, is not calculated to encourage the production of the best workmen.
J. Wilkie & Co., Printers and Stationers, Princes Street.