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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 78

Section I. — Lecture on the Science of Education

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Section I.

Lecture on the Science of Education

A Strong Indictment.

The first meeting of the 1906 session of the Froebel Club was held in the Y.W.C.A. Rooms on May 10. Dr Truby King delivered a lengthy and striking lecture on 'The General Principles of the Froebel-Pestalozzi School.'

Mr Mark Cohen presided over a large and intensely-interasted audience, and in introducing the speaker said that he was one of the best educators of public opinion in Dunedin. He took time to think his subject out thoroughly, and arrived at conclusions as the result of deep and earnest study. Moreover, he had the courage of his opinions, and was not afraid to express them. The club were doing good work in bringing the true principles of Froebelism before the public.

Dr. King said that there was one title which above others, a medical man possessed to speak on the subject of education. He had to deal specially with the body, its health and well-being, and in the present day it might be fairly said that education was often enlisted on the side of reducing the body to a state of very indifferent health. It was reasonable, therefore, that a medical man should say what he had to say the subject. The principles which were laid down by Froebel and his school were consistently ignored in the general scheme of education. Those concerned next in practical education had not, for the most part, given much study to the fundamental aspects of the subject. He would quote the present head-master of Eton, one of the great authorities. Speaking to a club of thirteen schoolmasters, of which he was one, the Hon. Edward Lyttelton said that the indifference of English schoolmasters to the fundamental principles as bearing on the practice of their profession was profound. He added that a superficial acquaintance with the theoretical writers on education, of whom the most prominent were Herbert Spencer, Pestalozzi, and Froebel, would show that, though they differed in detail, there was one group of principles which they agreed in maintaining. The principles were those connected, not with the teaching of any one subject, but with the fundamental difference between genuine education and cram, between the training of the mind and the imparting of the knack of deceiving examiners. Some years ago he (the speaker) had given his opinion on the question of rural education in country schools. He had said that he thought that to have agriculture taught in the primary schools would be a mistake, because the children had not had the fundamental training of the observation which would be necessary to make them apprehend the facts of a special study like that. He said then that it was the duty of schools to teach all children the laws by which God governed the universe. He said, too, that the teachers could not know how to teach scientific subjects, because they had not been trained. He then suggested that the teachers should be taught the methods of scientific instruction. He was told then that he knew nothing page 2 about what was going on in the schools, and how much scientific training was being given. But since that date a commission had been set up, and the very inspectors acknowledged that the majority of the teachers knew nothing what-ever about scientific instruction. The speaker quoted voluminously from Canon Lyttelton and Herbert Spencer. Because a child could describe something that somebody had told him he did not necessarily know anything about it. Knowledge had to be assimilated till it became part of self. By our present-day methods the memory was being crammed at the expense of mind, morals, and physique. There was no greater fallacy than to imagine that one could develop even the faculty of memory in the long run by inducing the pupil to temporarily register for examination purposes a diverse set of detached facts. True, useful memory had to be woven into the being in a slower way through interesting and rational association of ideas on the principles laid down by Froebel and other investigators and thinkers. Not only was the crowding of the memory by detached statements or facts useless, but, as pointed out by Professor Bain, it was one of the costliest processes in wear and tear of brain substance to which the growing organism of the child could be subjected. Moreover, it produced secondary stunting of growth and development in every direction.

The Necessity for Exercise.

Another head-master (Mr Cottrell) said that the dangers in the life of the average young man began after his office hours, and the test of the education he had undergone was How had it fitted him to spend his leisure time? Had it resulted in making him an ardent believer in and practiser of daily outdoor physical exercise as a necessity for a wholesome and healthy life? That is had he not only taken such daily exercise at school, but had he got whilst at school to regard it as wrong not to take it ? Had the thing become part of his principles? Did he regard the taking of daily vigorous outdoor exercise in the same light that he regarded the taking of his daily cold tub? Had it become to him a necessary daily habit, the neglect of which would make him feel discomfort and something like shame? If this were so, then, indeed, had his school done much for him; it had bestowed upon him a gift the value of which—physically, mentally, morally—was incalculably great. This was a strong statement for physical exercise, and its lesson was that an education system ought to accustom boys and girls to physical exerise at school—not merely formal gymnastics, but those healthy associative games which could only be carried out effectively in extensive open-air spaces.

[Refer to Chart A, Page 52.]

Taken broadly, there were three great educational periods to be considered. The first period was the 500 years before and after Christ; the second the period of the dark and middle ages (another thousand years); the third, the period of the Renaissance and of modern education—really one period, for we ha've not yet shaken ourselves free from the errors of conventional pedantism which Montaigne so scathingly denounced over 500 years ago. We still hold men memorising to be learning, and we still esteem the learner above the thinker and the doer. Montaigne said :—

The evil comes of the foolish way in which our instructors set to work; and on the plan on which we are taught no wonder if neither scholars nor masters become more able, whatever they may do in becoming more learned. In truth, the trouble and expense of our fathers are directed only to furnish our heads with knowledge :not a word of judgment or virtue. Cry out to our people about a passer-by "There's a learned man!" and about another "There's a good man!" they will be all agog after the learned man, and will not look at the good man. One might fairly raise a third cry "There's a set of numskulls!" We are ready enough to ask "Does he know Greek or know Latin? Does he write verses or write prose ?" But whether he has become wiser or better should be the first question, and that is always the last. We ought to find out, not who knows most, but who knows best.

Greek Education.

The Greek system of education was first and foremost a physical system, the great idea being for every man and woman to have a perfect body. They saw in that the highest expression of the perfect work of a divine power. They worshipped it from an artistic point of view and at the temple of the soul. The first great work on education was the dialogues of Plato, in the first of which was given the sum of Greek wisdom in the equivalent of the phrase "Mens sana in corpore sano." It was to be marked that the education given by the Greeks was received in the interludes between periods of physical exercise. So in that period one saw the physical page 3 being considered first. The Greeks recognised clearly that there could be no perfect development of mind and morale without a reasonable development of the body.

The Dark Ages.

In the dark ages, the period from 500 A.D. up to the birth of the Renaissance, scant attention was paid to the systematic cultivation of either body or mind by the great majority of the population. Education was practically submerged with the fall of the Roman Empire and the overrunning of Europe by the Goths. He could not better show how far we had fallen from the Greek deal than by this exhibit that he held in his hand—a lady's shoe, very sharply pointed. "I cannot think," he said, "how a being created in the image of his God could show more contempt for his Creator than by trying to jam his foot into a thing like that. It is, surely, the negation of practical religion. I cannot understand such meat idiocy." Elaborating this point, the lecturer said that in China they cut bones out of the women's feet in order that they might be compressed, and as to a great many of the feet that wore boots like this (holding up the shoe) they would be the better for having a bone cut out. He didn't wish to blame women only—the bootmaker from whom he got that shoe told him that the men were almost as vain. They would never get a reasonable ideal of human life until they went back somewhere near to the Greek system—until public opinion was educated to such an extent that there would be nothing but contempt for a woman who wore a shoe like that. Then, and not till then, bootmakers would keep reasonable boots. "Tightlacing" was not so bad as it used to be, though no one could go along Princes street today without seeing many women still doing themselves and those who were to come after them irreparable injury. Tight-lacing struck directly at the organism of woman and at her duties towards posterity.

The Third Period.

Towards the end of the Middle Ages there came a transition in the state of things. It was almost impossible to realise what a sudden subversion there was of the ideas of the previous thousand years This period was ushered in by the fall of. Constantinople and the Eastern Empirs; the discovery of America; the discovery of printing; and what had been called the "discovery" of the Greek and Roman classics, which meantime had been lost sight of. Then came the scientific investigations of Galileo, and a new conception of the universe. At this time the life and the faith of ten centuries were dying. The trend which education was to take was trembling in the balance. One would have thought that with the invention of the telescope by Galileo and the discoveries of the wonders of the universe, the trend of education would have turned in this direction, and the turn which it finally took could not be understood unless it were realised what science was at that time. As the discoverer of the telescope said, they would not look through his telescope to read the truths of the universe; what they would do was to study and compare old manuscripts. The beginning and end of scientific reasoning, then, was an affirmation. Even an original thinker and investigator like Sir Thomas Browne seemed afraid to trust his powers of observation and his reasoning faculties, and would not state a simple matter of scientific fact without due citation of authority for and against, though he would end (where he might have begun and ended) by saying: "I know it is so, because I have seen and studied the thing myself." About this time the discovery of printing saw the old Greek and Roman manuscripts published, and people found that there was a system and an art much more wonderful than anything they had imagined. If at this time men had had any correct realisation of the marvels of Nature and their direct bearings on the life and welfare of mankind, our children would not now be waiting for rational instruction in the laws by which God governs the universe. Language and formal information and formal reasoning had got the start, and we had remained in a similar rut ever since. This led to the attention of educators becoming fixed on the teaching of Greek, Latin, and mathematics as the highest aim. Western Europe never seriously attempted to adopt and assimilate Greek and Roman culture and civilisation, but was content to imperfectly master the dead languages. For the first time in the history of mankind the mere acquisition of dead languages became a main aim of education. The first great spontaneous and relatively independent educator of this period was Commenius, the chief of the Moravian brotherhood. He stated that education ought to commence from the cradle, at the mother's breast, and that languages ought to be taught as we are now beginning to teach them—direct through the senses and "things." Locke was the next authority. He said :—"Knowing is seeing; and if it be so, it is madness to persuade ourselves to do so by page 4 another man's eyes, let him use never so many words to tell us what he asserts is very visible. Till we ourselves see it with our own eyes, and perceive it by our own understandings, we are as much in the dark and as void of knowledge as before, let us believe any learned authors as much as we will." But he centred his attention too minutely on the human understanding, and came to the conclusion that as the understanding was not in the state of advanced development in boyhood, it was only necessary for the boy to form regular habits and train his physique. Stepping aside from the period for the moment, the lecturer said that the method adopted by many modern schoolmasters was to fix information in the memory in such a manner that it could be displayed on the day of examination, forgetting that this sort of knowledge often made no impression whatever on the reasoning faculties. In extreme cases the memory of mere symbols sufficed.

Three Great Teachers.

The three great educational reformers whose work had a bearing on the subject he was dealing with were Rousseau, Pestalozzi, and Froebel, and the period of these three men was about the time of the French Revolution. Rousseau, indeed, was a great factor in bringing about the Revolution. Pestalozzi was a contemporary of the Revolution and of Napoleon, and Froebers period came up to 1862. Rousseau's idea in connection with a boy's education was: "Exercise his body, his organs, his senses, his powers; but keep his mind passive as long as possible." Rousseau saw the essential truth that it was the worst thing in the world to force knowledge upon a child and stunt its proper natural development. Where he made the mistake was in thinking too exclusively that childhood was the sleep of reason, in ignoring the life of a child as an intellectual and moral being. His successor, Pestalozzi, was greatly influenced by him, but saw life through a different temperament. He, too, realised that a child had a right to live its life as a child, and that its learning should be developed from its natural tendencies. "You have no right," he said, "to take away from a child the divine right of finding things out." The teacher was to develop the pupil along the lines of his own natural being. Further Pestalozzi felt that family life supplied the true ideal for the bringing up of children. He treated them seriously, and held that the best national teaching could be evolved in association with the practical work of the country. Though a visionary, he was also a practical teacher, which Rousseau was not, and he aimed at developing the growing child all round in body, mind, and morals. The keynote of his own practice was intense earnestness and sympathy. He had immense difficulties to contend with in following his system in Switzerland. He had not only to teach the children, but to look after their physical needs; and he brought his pupils in six months to a physical condition that could not be compared with that in which he received them. Their mental and moral progress was almost as surprising, yet it was long before he was accorded any general recognition. Froebel spent a couple of years with Pestalozzi to fit himself for teaching. He realised that education should be more highly systematised. Froebel desired to bring about the evolution of perfect men and women, and his system for children was only a first stage in a broad scheme of education, which should be carried on throughout school life. But nowadays what was started in kindergarten was rarely carried out beyond the kindergarten period. After this comparatively short period of time spent in teaching the senses, and gradually developing the faculties of the 'child in their due order, the pupil was handed over to the tender mercies of school books, cram, and examination. This was quite contrary to Froebel's teaching and to that of Herbert Spencer, whose book on education said the first and last word on this point. Froebel's conception of the true aim of the educator—viz., that he should slowly bring out and develop in their due order and proportion all the latent powers and faculties of the pupil—physical, mental, and moral—is entirely opposed to our system of strenuous, compulsory cramming and examination, with rewards and temptations in the way of prizes, scholarships, displays, and public praise for the winners. Froebel aimed at making all forms of learning healthy and enjoyable for the pupil, basing his system on the fact that the normal exercise of every natural faculty is accompanied by pleasurable feelings. He always had in his mind's eve the natural growth and unfolding of a plant or flower, and his favorite saying was: "Give space and time and rest."

Teachers and the Syllabus.

It might seem hard to say that for the most part teachers did not appear to him to be thoroughly trained to instruct scientifically, but such seemed to him to be page 5 the case, and he had felt bound to say so. No one could fairly accuse him of underestimating the significance and importance of the calling of schoolmaster—possibly the greatest calling in life. When he contrasted his own profession with that of teaching he always felt that the power of the teacher in the service of humanity was the greater. The doctor had to do for the most part with men and women—with the ships that were already launched and out of port. His work was mending rather than creating or building. To the teacher was entrusted the privilege and responsibility of building the ship, of seeing that she was not unduly strained while being built, and of thus safeguarding her as far as possible against being wrecked later on. The teaching profession should be a highly paid one, into which the best men and women should be encouraged to enter. Many of the teachers were not blind to the fundamental wrongness of the system. They knew that it was impossible for them under present conditions to follow out correct principles. Conversing with some women teachers he had seen the tears in their eyes at the hopelessness of their task. Examiners were too exacting, the syllabus was over-weighted, and the subjects taught were, some of them, of use neither in this world nor in the next. The speaker concluded with a dramatic recital of the danger of overwork on a child's future, on the duties of parents and the State to children. He said that as a result partly of over-strain of the faculties in girlhood, and partly through insufficient time being spent in the open-air and sunshine, combined with lack of healthy exercise and recreation and want of sufficiently vigorous exercise, many women could not suckle their own children. He had asked Mr Cohen whether there was not any place that could be purchesed as a playground for the schools, where children could be taken twice a week. If the State owed anything to the children it was two half-days a week to take part in such recreation. It had been pointed out by German investigators that children on a holiday to the sea-tide grew more in three weeks' time than in the whole of the rest of the year when at school. It seemed that it was possible to purchase 60 acres of land here for such a purpose as he had suggested This was his practical suggestion, and they were poor citizens if they could not get the money for such a purpose.—(Applause.)

At the conclusion of the lecture a hearty vote of thanks was accorded the lecturer.

Youthful Over-Study.

Degeneration and Lunacy.

Dr King Quotes Examples.

Towards the end of Dr Truby King's lecture at the Froebel Club last evening (May 10) he touched dramatically on the effect of overexertion of the mind on a child's future He said that people expressed pity for the hardened brute who, after years during which he consistently ill-treated his wife, at last murdered her, and was hanged. But it never occurred to them to pity those who were allowed to kill themselves with overwork. He had to quote the cases of two persons—a boy and girl—sent to Seacliff in one year. These two victims were insane, and it was the duty of the community to protect others from being allowed to share their fate. Not only had human lives been blasted; it appealed in an economic way, too. Every young person sent to the asylum who did not recover cost the State an average of from £500 to £1,000. "Fancy," said the doctor, "a possible sixty years of life spent in an asylum because of your system of education!"

The following is an extract from Dr King's report to his Minister in 1897, and below are appended the doctor's case-book accounts of the two cases referred to by him :—

In the apparent causes of insanity among patients admitted that of "over-study" is of special interest. It is extremely important that parents and guardians should clearly recognise that prolonged and excessive mental strain and neglect of exercise, recreation, and rest, especially among girls, during the period of rapid growth and development, cannot be continued without an ultimate dwarfing of both mind and body, and grave peril to the integrity of the organism. In the stress of competition for honors and prizes the brain is so often worked at the verge of the breaking strain, to the neglect of everything else, that one is inclined to wonder that entire mental collapse does not result more frequently. If the secondary effects of over-pressure among girls in impairing the potentialities of reproduction and healthy maternity were more widely known, it would possibly prove a greater incentive to moderation than the more striking but comparatively rare causation of insanity.

page 6

—the Girl.—

No hereditary diseases in the family. Parents temperate, and not nervous; no tendencies to insanity; clever; great powers of concentration; was dux of a High School; used to work till three o'clock in the morning, and get up again alt 6 a.m.; good memory; very strong will; good power of self-control; affeotionate; very energetic and industrious with regard to everything, study, housework, etc. Had good health, but was very sedentary in her habits. Did not go in for games or any recreation.

—The Boy—

Referring to the boy's case, the doctor said: Some five years before he came to the asylum I was sent for by the boy's mother, who said that he had become paralysed. I went to see him, and found him in bed, very feverish. His mother said he had fainted on the way to school. To my surprise, on examining him I found him to be suffering from acute rheumatic fever. I said: "This did not come on suddenly." She said: "Oh, yes; he fainted going to school." After she had gone I questioned the boy and he admitted that he had been suffering for some time. "Oh, yes," he said; "but I was going for a scholarship, and I tried to walk to school." Rheumatic fever causes the most damnable agony, and is hardly bearable by an adult; and this boy tried to walk to school with that damnable pain, and to conceal it, because his one ambition was a scholarship.

Continuing, the doctor pointed out that these were extreme cases. The injury done to the thousands of others was apparent in impaired mental and bodily capacity, and in the case of women in weakly offspring or no offspring at all Spencer said: "Success in life depends more on energy than information"; and no system which sacrificed energy for in formation was good. In this life the physical underlay the mental, and the mental must not be temporarily developed at the expense of the physical. He would make some practical suggestions for a start. The syllabus should be greatly cut down; no child should be taught a lot of subjects at once. There should be teachers abreast of modern and fundamental requirements. Then were certain things which every teacher ought to do in physical examination of the children under his charge. For example, every child ought to be weighed at school at least every three months; if possible, every month. The children could weigh each other. In that way they would get to be proud of their physical condition, and ashamed of any falling away of it. From this examination the teacher would know when there was any great change in his children's weight, and would have to seek the cause. Then the eye of a teacher properly trained would notice in as instant the flagging interest, the changed expression of face, the jerky movements, or some of the many other signs which could apprise him that something was wrong. The doctor concluded by remarking that he had visited a kindergarten that day, and could not understand how they could fail to do good. The system was absolutely right, though they all recognised that with increased means' and facilities great improvements could be made.