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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 78

Radical Differences of Opinion as to Fundametals

page 91

Radical Differences of Opinion as to Fundametals.

The following paragraphs, quoted from the joint report of the Otago School Inspectors to the Education Board (dated March 9, 1906). confirm and illustrate some pints mentioned in the footnote on page 54 :—

Premature promotion must be laid partly at the doors of parents and partly at the doors of teachers, many of whom are not strong enough to resist the importunate demands of unreasonable parents, who, no matter what the character of the attendance, expect to see their children advanced a class every year: and what they expect they too often get.

For some years the Department has issued for the middle and higher Standards test cards in arithmetic, and to these it has since the advent of the new Syllabus, added test cards in composition. The former are generally well drawn as far as they go; but the latter are, in our opinion, very faulty in what they suggest as right lines of study, and deficient as tests of rational teaching of sentence forms—that is, teaching that connects accurate observation of appropriately selected forms with accurate reasoning about the forms, and that trains the pupils to discover for themselves those idioms of sentence-structure which are to expression almost what the multiplication table is to arithmetic, to express them accurately, to use them in their own composition, and to see them or the breach of them in that of others. They are we think, not suitably graded, those for Standard III. being such as a well-taught Standard II. could answer, and those for Standard V. differing little in difficulty and scope from those of Standard IV. The examples given for analysis and synthesis vary greatly in difficulty and scope within the cards for the same standard, and are not so chosen as to exemplify important points in PROSE composition. Few of them are selected with due regard to the following important considerations :—

(1) That, a sentence being the verbal expression of a mental image, its form cannot be profitably studied if the image of the thing symbolised by the form cannot be mentally realised : and (2) that the form of a sentence being determined partly by the matter expressed by it and partly by the forms of the sentences between which it is placed, the sentences given for analysis and synthesis should be given in their context, or should contain within themselves the material from which the pupils can realise the mental images of which the sentences are the verbal expression. To divorce mental processes from words and thought from the symbols and grouping of symbols that give it best expression does not seem to us the right way either to teach composition or to cultivate appreciation of composition. The latter, though generally disregarded in discussions on the teaching of composition, is of as much importance as the former, for upon it depends a reader's power to discriminate between the good form and the bad of the books with which publishers are flooding the reading world.

Fortunately most of us can do our life work without much power of original composition-—for nine-tenths of us it is sufficient to be able to state accurately and concisely what we see and feel, to tell a straight tale in a straightforward way: but few of us can read wisely without some training in literary appreciation, and that is an unworthy conception of composition which does not include such training.

We need not discuss whether the Syllabus and the Central Authority are right, or the Inspectors, who unanimously hold that they are wrong. It suffices that the child is tossed on the horns of a dilemma, and neither horn is a comfortable resting place.

Most of us would be satisfied if our children could learn at school the despised power of being able to "state accurately and concisely what they see and feel, to tell a straight tale in a straightforward way." The risks attending grammatical complexity and the use of long involved sentences are so obvious that one would certainly not encourage any such tendencies, especially in the case of Children. After thirty years of teaching Professor Miall concludes that it is a great mistake to puzzle children with grammatical considerations which are repugnant and cannot be appreciated. As he says :—"Mastery of English does not page 92 come by grammar and analysis, but by observation and practice." Until the schoolmen have settled among themselves how much, and what kind of, grammatical knowledge can be taught to young children without doing them positive harm, surely they should not be exacting in the subject of English composition.

Few people fully realise the strain put on children by their having to spend nearly half the year in preparing for four examinations—three by the school-master and one by the Inspector; to say nothing of the strain of being examined. Parents should be brought to realise that it is not natural or right that their children should be wearied and jaded at the end of school terms.

The following extract from the latest and most authoritative pronouncement on the subject of Fatigue, from the point of view of scientific investigation, should act as a warning both to parents and teachers :—