Illinois During the Gilded Age
We are indebted to Prof. J. B. Turner, for a pamphlet copy of his essay on the Education of American Farmers, recently read before the national agricultural congress in St. Louis, Mo. As might be supposed, the essay contains a vast amount of good hard sense, and no intelligent man could read it without appreciating the fact that the utterances are those of no novice. We hope at another time to make some extracts which are sure to be interesting.
The Education of American Farmers.
I wish to show why, and how it is, that almost the entire force of our common schools tends to throw our young men away from the shop and the farm, and to drive them into the scholastic professions; or pile them up, in huge stacks of agents, clerks, and office-seekers; or send them "prospecting" to California, or "carpet-bagging," down South.
If your patience will indulge me, I would like to show it, in such detail and minuteness of description, as would enable each one of us to attempt to institute the needed reform, in his own school district. I deem this the very highest service, which I can here and now render, either to this congress,
The vital moving force, the power and the glory of modern society, consists in its capacity of voluntary co-operation. The voluntary cooperation of the voters of this Union, in upholding our free institutions, is indeed one of the most unique and sublime spectacles in the history of our race. But the voluntary co-operation of all the forty millions of men women and children, of this wide republic, to uphold some system of common schools, to prepare the rising generation for their duties and their destinies, in the republic, greatly transcends it. Nothing to be compared with it, was ever seen or heard of before, in the history of man.
I most fully sympathize with the sentiments of an eminent, and sensible American citizen, who, after three years wandering in Europe in search of some better place to educate his children, than our own country can afford, declared that "there was something in our American school houses, and the moral atmosphere which surrounds them which he had missed, in all his wanderings over Europe; and that for making your average man and woman of solid utility, the public school system of America is the very best appliance on the planet."
"The cui bono is never lost sight of; and in a country like ours this is the great desideratum: the most precious heritage any average boy or girl could possess."
These remarks, I trust, will sufficiently guard me from all suspicion of hostility to our American common school system, while I attempt to point out some of its remaining defects and dangers, especially as related to our great agricultural and industrial interests.
In all things earthly, the dangers and perils are ever in proportion to the good and the power involved.
We have, indeed, elaborated a true system, the true mechanism both of government and of education; at least the outline of it; and that is blessing and glory enough for one people and one age of men to achieve. But it will take many generations to come, to fully perfect the practical use, and handling, and running of either of them. It is well, perhaps, that we feel the remaining evils and defects of both, more keenly than we realize the good they already bring us. It incites us to our best endeavors for the future. In accordance with this, there is a wide-spread feeling that our schools are not doing all for us, especially for the people in the rural districts, which they ought to do.
A committee of the Massachusetts Legislature, where our whole system originated, and where it has been carried to greater perfection than perhaps in any other State, report that "the results of their system of schools is not satisfactory;" and that "the public school system of New England fails to meet the demands of modern civilization."
The great uprising of the industrial classes, and their new attempts at founding schools, all over the republic, whatever may be said or thought of their work, shows the same fact. Along side of our efforts to confine children, through all their young and growing years, to school-rooms, and the abstract studies in books, the nervous system has become either excessively developed or diseased; insanity has greatly increased; a whole crop of brain and nervous diseases are said to have sprung up, some of which are not developed till late in life; females in particular become inert, weak, and nervously diseased; indisposed and incapacitated for the real duties of the wife and the mother: insomuch that the most highly educated races are perpetually running out, and giving place to races of less, so-called culture, but of greater stalwart vigor; all of which tends to show that we may be making them over into angels, a little too fast for the good of earth and time; or if not, it betokens widespread distrust and doubt, not of our present system as such, but of our present mode of running it. The general
4complaint, that children are kept in school so continuously, that they become dull and listless, and although immense sums of money are expended upon the schools, that they do not after all leave them as well fitted for the real duties of life, as they used to do in half the time, and at less than half the expense, shows the same general fact of uneasiness, under our present administration.
Now how much of all this is real; how much is cause, and how much only accidental coincidence, it is impossible at present to fully determine; but I know of no thoughtful man who thinks of abandoning our American system, as such, on account of these evils, even if they all exist, no more than we think of abandoning our republican form of government, because we cannot yet make it run to suit us.
However great these evils may be, or may not be, one great vital and all important end of our school system, is, after all, being perpetually realized and attained, whatever else may fail; our children are learning those habits of self-government and self-restraint in public, in crowds, and acquiring a sort of homogeneity in manners, tastes and feelings, which could never be learned at home; and which perhaps tends to conserve and perpetuate the freedom of the republic more than all else combined. At least this is generally true; true in almost all cases, except where the parents themselves are perpetually encouraging the truancy of the school room, by siding with the folly of their children, keeping them out of the schools, or in some way interfering with their proper success and discipline, lest their own pet darlings should be soiled, or harmed. They seem to assume that their children are better than other people's. The very assumption is enough to ruin the children, for all proper uses of a republic like ours; and it generally does it.
But I wish to point out some of the evils that have grown up under our system, that more particularly affect the farmers and the industrial classes in the rural districts of the republic.
I. The first that I will mention is the curse of thoroughness, so-called; which is really not genuine, but a sham thoroughness. In a philosophical point of view, a child cannot go thoroughly into any subject whatever, and it is utterly absurd to attempt to make him do it. It would not be more absurd to attempt to glue tassels and ripe ears upon a corn stalk, as soon as it is out of the ground, in order to make a sort of a dumb-show of an early harvest, and seem to outstrip the old fogy pace of your neighbors. A child's thoroughness, in any such sense, is all a mere sham — mere wind and words, and nothing else. More than that, it is a curse that may and will weight him down in all after life.
5Nature requires, every where, that things should slowly grow into all organisms, physical, mental, and moral; they can neither be pounded into them, nor glued or tied on to them. It is as absurd to attempt to teach a child what a man ought to know, as it would be to attempt to make him lift or eat what a man does. He cannot safely even begin those forms and modes of knowledge that are peculiar to riper years; or if he does, he begins at the peril of his physical or intellectual well teeing, or both. He may, indeed, seem to be a prodigy when he is young, but he will be dead, or a fool, before he grows old. Long continued wearisome and exhaustive attention to any subject whatever, is unsuitable for a child, under pretense of giving them something to do. Something to do!! whoever saw a young child idle? I would like to see one. Something to do!! why, has he not got all the flies of the house, and all the butterflies of the field to catch and examine; his top, and skates, and whip, to mend and to spin, and ten thousand other things to do, that no mortal else ever thought of? Has he not got to stand on his head, knock his hat-crown in, and wear holes in his shoetoes, knees and elbows? Look into a boy's drawer, where he keeps his own peculiar "school apparatus," and you will find out that he has got enough planned out to do for a life-time. Has he not got to eat tons of green apples and other course vegetable and animal products, and before he is a dozen years old, to transform all this rough garbage into at least one hundred pounds of good, solid human bones, muscles and nerves; so firmly, and yet so delicately elaborated, that they are fit for an angel's use? All these things which he now contrives to do for himself, help him forward in this first, greatest, and most important part of all his life-work on earth. When will it get through our stupid scholastic heads, that the first duty of every born man and woman on earth, both to God and man, is to eat, to drink, to rolic, and to grow? And if they are simply shielded from harm, and kept out of unendurable mischief, and allowed to do it, much in their own way, it is the best thing we can do for them, or with them, for well nigh the first ten years of their life. Some little general shaping of their course, some power of reading, some "Kindergardon" care, either in school or out, and better out all the time than in, more with reference to varying their tastes and employments, and improving their moral feelings, than in hope of making them savans in anything, is about all we can safely do for them.
In a world where no man on earth thoroughly knows how a candle burns or a blade of grass grows, or his own eyes see, what consummate folly to attempt to make a mere child thorough in anything. Nature
6and Nature's God, give a child a sort of birds-eye view of a vast variety of things in their most simple and natural relations, without protracted or profound views of anything. This is their programme of education and my experience is, that Nature and Nature's God, after all, are not half as apt to blunder in the long run, as the sciolists and savans are.
According to the official advertisement of Harvard University, published in "The Nation" of April 4, 1872, it would take a pupil thirty-nine years to go through, in regular succession, with all the courses of science and literature distinctively marked out for public patronage in that single school; besides these, there are numerous irregular or incidental side courses of lectures, etc. The pupil would pass through the hands of some scores, if not hundreds, of teachers of distinct sciences and arts, before he completed his long peregrination. In all this no one supposes that he would be thorough in any one single study, science or art. He would come out, entering at 15 years of age and graduating at 55, a mere tyro in every thing, thorough in nothing; having as yet received an introduction to only the barest elements, the mere nomenclature, only the dead tools, of the living languages, arts, and sciences of the world, and would not become, after being most thoroughly schooled all his life, the tenth part of a scholar, nor the hundreth part of a man in any one thing. How utterly preposterous is it, then, to think of making a mere child thorough in anything, or of giving to any born man a knowledge of the nomenclatures and tools of universal science, unless you intend to make of him a mere walking dictionary — a learned fool, of no use to himself or any one else, to start with.
From this vast field every man, who would be any thing, or become any thing, must elect some very small infinitesimal part, to start with; and one of the chief uses of our schools, (after confirming them all alike, in the great moral American habit of self-government,) is to enable them, by giving them tastes and snatches of as wide a range of subjects as possible, connected with the real arts and interests of common and social life, more intelligently to make this proper selection for themselves.
We should not assume that they are to become teachers, or experts in any one thing whatever, that can be got out of books; for not one in a thousand of them ever will, or ever ought to, do so.
Take for example our four fundamental branches: reading, spelling, writing and arithmetic. These are the keys that unlock the gateways of knowledge to all other branches. These keys of all knowledge open the doors to all other forms of human intercourse, human thought, and
7human knowledge. Of course some knowledge of these is an indispensable necessity, as a first step, to every child alike. But how much? that is the question. To become an expert at either single one of these most simple and elementary of all the forms of learning, a man must devote his whole life to the task; and then probably not one in a hundred would really succeed. Amid all our schools and schoolings, a real expert at reading, writing, or arithmetic, is about the rarest of all men found. The fact is, that even in these most common and indispensable of all branches of human learning, there is no more sense in keeping our children drumming and thumbing over them in the schools, year after year, as though we expected to make them experts in one, or all of them, than there would be in trying to fit them out with a pair of wax wings, to fly to the moon with. A child should be taught to read, write and cypher, well enough for a child; not for a man; an expert; a writing master; a stage player; an United States Senator; or an investigator of Tammany Hall accounts; and there the whole subject should be dropped; giving him pen, ink, and paper, and interesting books to read; and in his regular school drill he should pass on to something else, of more interest and importance for him as a child, to learn and to know, than those higher graces of utterance, and aptitudes in investigation, which belong only to maturer years, and cannot usually be attached to a child, drill them as you will; or if seemingly so in the high-days and show-days of the school-room, the drill will all be cast aside, in the real conflict of after life; and each man who amounts to anything, as a writer, or speaker, or accountant, will have a method of his own, peculiar to him and his vocation as a man, and not that which his teacher tried so long in vain, to drill into him when he was but a boy.
Who of us all ever thinks of reading, writing, or cyphering, as our teachers tried to drill us to do, when we were boys? To be sure, we use the same alphabet, and multiplication table; and that is about all of it. With good books, eloquent speakers, interest tables, and lightning calculators, lying all about us, we soon make out methods of our own, for our own peculiar use, shorter and better, than any school-drill in childhood can possibly give us, and have no need to fill our heads, to start with, so full of dry abstract memorized rules, that there is no room for brains in them.
In all this I am fully aware of our popular monomania for spelling, or of the pedant's unpardonable sin, of not knowing how to spell; and of the common impression, that if a child is not drilled for a couple of eternities in the spelling book, he never will learn to spell. Well, suppose
8it is so; it may be better still not to know how to spell or write, all the totally absurd words in the English language, than it is to know nothing else. The man who can make a plow, or invent a plow, or hold a plow, is a vastly greater man, all other things being equal, than one who can only spell it, however many silent letters he may hitch on to it. The pedantic sensitiveness about mere spelling, fostered in many of our schools and communities, is not unlike the anxiety of some of our good ladles about the orthodox cut of their minister's dickey or shirt collar. If a boy has been to school for fifteen or twenty years, where they did little or nothing else but learn to spell, it might indeed be a reproach to him to have failed; certainly he ought to have had sense enough to have kept out of such a school. But if he learned to spell well enough for a child, while at school, and has since been so busy at more important things, or has a mind so constituted that he cannot retain such details, without its costing him a thousand times more labor than it is worth to him, what then? Is his misspelling a mark of either ignorance, or negligence, or only because that one mind can not learn to excel at all sorts of things? Some children have such a natural facility at remembering mere words and letters, that they soon learn to spell from reading, without any difficulty at all, much as our colored children learn to sing; others never would or could learn it, if drilled on it through a whole life-time; and yet it is by no means certain that the good spellers will eclipse the poor ones in real intellectual power, or in the great race of after-life.
A printer, or a proof-reader ought to know how to spell, for that is their business as experts; but I do not think a practical business man need to feel that he is foreordained to be damned to all eternity, if he should happen to spell "phthisic" without all the "ph-es" and "th-es," deemed essential to that orthodoxly-wheezing word. Some of the best and sharpest things in the English language are now written by men who purposely misspell all their words. It is a good thing for us Americans; as it shows us that sense does not consist in mere sounds or dead letters, however much our old scholastic pedants may groan over it. To experts, or in a communion of educated apes, all these little mere verbal trifles may be of vast importance to social standing; but tolerably developed men ought some time to rise above them.
Reading naturally divides itself into two branches: reading for personal information, or silent reading, and loud reading for the benefit or amusement of others, or elocution. The first is of vastly the most consequence to all children in our common schools. The sole thing for the child here is, that he should learn to associate every
9printed word with its common conversational, natural pronunciation or sound, and its exact idea. A better way to teach him exactly how not to do it could not be devised than to set him to declaiming, in an unnatural oratund voice, high flights of oratory, or poetry, of which he cannot possibly have an adequate and proper conception, no more than he can of the man in the moon. One of the greatest curses that can befall any man, and especially any child, is to form the habit of using words which he feels he does not know the meaning of. I have never yet met a man or a woman that was so drilled and schooled, that was not, at least in the line of that forced drilling, a sheer intellectual imbecile: and very few of them are able to shake off the evil in all after life.
When I meet a man or a woman who has been catechised and drilled through all their youthful years, in words and ideas they could not comprehend, I give up in utter despair of their ever attaining half common sense, on the subject on hand, whether it be science, or religion, or policy, or morals, or what not. I would as soon undertake to reason with a mule, or a wind-mill. Our common school children of all sorts and classes ought, if possible, to be saved from such a direful life-long calamity.
Understandest thou what thou readest or sayest? should be written in letters of everliving fire, on all the walls of every school room in the land, inside and out; and no child should be allowed to read or utter anything he did not clearly comprehend. This is the only point of thoroughness that should be exacted from a child in a school room. He should not be expected or required to thoroughly understand even the elements of any general subject, or science or art what ever; but those particular points in it, apposite to his peculiar mind as a child, and given to him for that reason, he should be made to understand thoroughly before he passes over them; and there are but few things which a child can know, or ought to know, on any subject whatever. There is a serious objection to even spelling words, the meaning of which is not clearly known; for there is no one habit derived from the school room so valuable to either man or child as the habit of invariably associating all words, and forms of words, with the things which they signify, and never even thinking of the word, without, also, thinking of the idea for which it stands. Such training would make men and women of ideas, and not of mere words. And in our great industrial classes, we do not need men who can talk by the hour, and really mean nothing, however useful they may be in other professions.
In writing, a child ought, first, to learn to write his name in the simplest and clearest form of letters possible: with no flourish of great sprawling capitals, or shadings about it. He should do this because this is the first and most needful thing for him to do, and he may not live to need anything more or better. He should approach this one most useful thing to be achieved, equally necessary to all alike, by the simplest and best analysis of all the parts of the letters of the alphabet, but with no flourish of trumpets or pens whatever, under pretence of giving him a free hand, or making him an expert at mere writing. When he can write a passable letter to his young friends, he should be let alone, and left to practice by himself, and to feel that something is really accomplished, actually done with for the present, and that he is not to be put on a life tramp over a never-ending sea of flourishes.
Then comes geography, in which children are drilled and drilled, and schooled and schooled, till they are well high schooled out of the world; instead of being made acquainted with what is in it. They start with a wheelbarrow full of books, in endless series and progressions; of all imaginable shapes, forms, sizes and editions; with the last improved edition in their satchel as a specimen. A school boy of 8 or 10 years really needs a dray-cart to get his books to school with, and back again; and he is drilled in this matter of geography as though it was expected that his future life-work was to be world-making, and that he was in great danger of getting some island of two acres in the South Seas, or some village in Kamschatka misplaced, or of making some river in Africa to run up hill. But most probably the poor child will never make a world in all his life: though he may get his head so full of mere memorized names and localities, that there is room for nothing else in it.
Then comes grammar, with another host of memorized rules, which every sensible man takes special pains to forget as soon as he possibly can, in order to make room, in his head, for matters of more importance.
The boy who has learned not to swear when he pounds his fingers with a hammer, and the girl who has learned not to exclaim, "Oh, dear!" or "awful," when she breaks a teacup or bespatters her dress has already learned the most important rules in the use of the English language. For the remainder, if in some very brief book, or on the blackboard, those errors or vulgarisms, most common in each location, were simply pointed out to the pupil for practical correction, whenever he speaks or writes, without any wearisome memorizing of abstract rules whatever, it would do more and better for him, as a child, than all that Lindley Murray, and his whole succession of grammatical
11saints, have written from his day to ours. When a boy has decided to become an expert, or a teacher of language, or of literature, then he should commence the metaphysical study of grammar, and not before. We all learn language and use language only by habit and by imitation; and never by rule. No man, from Adam's day to ours, ever yet learned a spoken language by rule, or ever will so learn it; and those few, who ever even think of any of their rules while speaking, or writing, always advertise you of the fact. Their thoughtful, stiff, precise, school-marm mode of utterance always seems to say to you: "I am a pedant or a pedagogue. I have been clean through the grammars. I know a thing or two that you don't."
I always admired that truly great and good, and most learned old man, President Day, of Yale College; because, till he was nearly a hundred years old, he still talked with the people, and to the people, even in the pulpit, as they did, and said "nater" and "critter," and "can't" and "shant" and "won't," and all that, in spite of all the changing rules of the grammars and the books, avoiding every where all appearance of putting on precise, pedantic airs; and yet, start a conversation on any of those precise topics, we would find that he actually knew more than any forty of us put together. Who wants to send a child to school to learn to talk like a book?
Then there is Arithmetic. Suppose you should take a boy, and tie upon his back all imaginable sorts of tin cups, and gill-cups, and quart and gallon cups; tight lace him with all sorts of tape-lines, strings, sticks, chains, and measures; fill his pockets with all sorts of old coin and spring steelyards; put all sorts of peck measures, baskets and bushels over his head, already filled brimfull with all imaginable sorts of fractions and rules of fractions, and send him thus equipped out into life, because he may happen to want to weigh or measure something, you don't know exactly what, in after years, and you wish to have his apparatus always with him, right at hand. He needs his measures ever at hand, as much as he does his memorized rules and tables. He can do nothing without the one no more than the other; why not have both always at hand, in all after life? If a man is going to sea, or into the Army or Navy, where sudden emergencies may arrest him, with no possibility of consulting anew either tables or books of any sort, he should of course have the most essential parts of his library reprinted on his brain; for there alone it becomes practically available. And so too he must keep all his other apparatus on board, or along with him. But how, if in five minutes at any time, he can go into his pantry or his library, and find whatever of these things he needs to use for the next six months? Need he try to pack them round
12with him all his life-time? As a plain matter of fact, not one in a thousand ever did do it, or ever will do it. Men of action and enterprise will not burden and bother their heads with retaining such scholastic trifles. They will soon throw them all over-board, to make room for something vastly better and more important.
I know, I am fully aware, as I have said, that these studies are both elemental and fundamental, the indispensable tools of all other forms of knowledge. But how much time shall we spend on these mere elemental tools, before we begin to look out toward their application to real life as it is and must be? Shall we pause over these mere elements or tools for the whole common school period of life, before we begin to cast an eye out to the big world, as it actually is, and as God himself made it, solely for our education? or, shall we go through the thirty-nine years' course of Harvard, in still studying these mere tools and elements of all human knowledge? Where shall we stop? and why? That is the prime question; especially for all our working men on farms and in shops. If we wanted to make a practical mechanic, would we require that he should first acquire a thorough knowledge of the theoretical use of all the tools and machines of the globe, or even of any one of them, before he attempted to strike a blow — under the pretext of disciplining him for his trade, or of giving him a broad culture? Who, that really knows anything about it, does not know that such sort of discipline, is discipline to the death, for all the great ends of practical industrial life, however good it may be for mere teachers and experts; and that such broad culture, even in their case, often becomes at last, as broad as vacuity itself? It is true they get, as they say, a "rounded development": as round as a stove-pipe: and just as hollow. The whole scheme is pedantic, scholastic, artificial and unnatural. God made the actual, practical world of honest labor as it actually is, for the sole purpose of properly disciplining, developing, broadening and rounding out all the faculties of man: rounded, not like a stove pipe full of wind, but like a cannon ball, full of solid metal, sure of its aim and resistless in its force; and the man, or the boy, that is taken out of this great common school of our Heavenly Father, the actual service and hard work of the shop or the field, for more than half his growing years, is actually robbed of the best and most important, part of all possible education for any industrial art or service whatever.
It is said that those children actually put upon half-time schooling, as it is called in England and elsewhere, from the necessities of poverty and of labor in the shops and fields, in the end actually surpass the so-called more favored classes, even in their school attainments. It
13may be, after all, that the Lord knew a thing or two when he made men and things as they actually are, which our grammarians and school-men have not found out yet.
It has been well said, by one of our most eminent educators and common school men of the West, "We take the child out of God's natural industrial university, and away from his proper education, to send him to school," where, at best, only a fraction of his entire manhood can be properly developed. And, after all, we do not fit pupils for actual life; even in these elemental studies, after forty weeks schooling per annum, as well as they used to be fitted in ten weeks, half a century ago.
How has all this happened? It is not the fault of the teacher: or the system as such: nor the scholar. The Republic never before had as good a set of teachers, or as good an outline of a system, or a smarter, brighter race of children than it has got now.
One prime cause of this result is, that the bookmakers and publishers have in fact assumed about as absolute control of our schools, as the "politicians" have of our post offices: neither teachers nor parents nor committees have any real control over their absolute practical direction. I am credibly informed that rich publishing houses have offered as high as seventy thousand dollars for the introduction of a single book, into one single State. Books are, of course, generally, made by experts. Every expert desires duly to magnify his office and his department: a mathematician naturally thinks that God and nature are nothing but an unsolved problem in mathematics: a chemist thinks they are all in the bottom of his crucible: a linguist or an elocutionist thinks they are all vox et pretera nihil: while a spelling-book maker thinks they are all spelling, and, in English, at least, all spelled wrong. Each one wants to make a book on his department: he wants every child to be thorough, at least in that. He soon finds that it will take a series of books to go over even the elements needful to an expert, and that if you were to begin with a child as soon as he is born, and drill him till he is older than the archangels, he could not become perfect, even in that single department. But he intends to make a thorough beginning: so he crams into his new series of books all the little unimaginable rules and trifles that the human race in twenty centuries have ever thought, upon the subject. The first dose is homoeopathic: one grain of science diluted by a world full of wind, for very young children: each dose becomes a little more allopathic and stiff and formal, than the preceding: but the trouble is, you never get through with it; you are never done with it: never ready to throw it aside and
14pass on to something else; it is "all motion and no go." A new term brings you flat back against a new series on the game subject: you don't get one dose fairly down before another is ready. All the doses are composed mainly of the three R's, "reading," "'riting," and "'rithmertic." You never seem to get out of that charmed circle.
The bookmaker likes all this: the more series there are, the more binding and printing and sales and profits in all respects: especially as it is morally certain that no two children or pupils of any sort, will continue to use the same books in succession: and a totally new series, full of most wonderful improvements, even on the dead classics, is sure to be born at least once a year, and to outrival everything that preceded it.
A man with much of a family needs to build an out-house for the storing of his old cast-off schools books. He cannot manage, economically, to burn them up for kindling wood, as fast as the bookmakers want him to buy them. But the main trouble is, they are all made by experts: and they usually, either like commentaries on the Bible, explain everything except the precise point that needs explanation, or adjust their explanations to the wants of a preconceived expert, rather than to those of a common child. What would we say of a child's book on human teeth or eyes, which attempted to embody in it all the little rules, and minute facts essential to the expert oculist, or dentist? What of a child's book on the plow, with all the miners', and forgers', and wood-workers', and painters', and holders', and teamsters', and farmers' rules for making, and handling, and using it, embodied in an everlasting series of most thorough and important rules, to be committed to memory by the tyro learner about the plow, in order to make him thorough in his knowledge of it, well-disciplined, and well rounded out? Or what should we say if it was a rule of the school, that every child alike, who took up singing, should advance precisely so far in it before he was allowed to take up anything else, wholly irrespective of his natural taste and aptitude for music. I might, myself, have sung till the stars fall, and done nothing else, and still never have made a singer: precisely so, some children never would make good spellers, or elocutionists, or grammarians, or arithmeticians, if they were drilled on them to all eternity: while they might all easily excel in some one of these things, or in other things outside of them. The teacher has little chance to get hold of this matter; like the postmaster, he must use the materials actually furnished him, simply because he can get no others: or if he could, it is doubtful if the community would tolerate him in the change.
I have thus intimated the need of shortening our present protracted school-drill on the elements; because as they are now taught there is absolutely no room for anything else.
I wish to make room for the beginning of some of those sciences that underlie our industrial arts. The time was when nothing but these most elementary branches could be taught in our schools; "the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now he commandeth all schoolmasters, everywhere, to repent."
A whole fraternity of these practical sciences have been awaiting our notice, ever since "the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy." But we have had our eyes so intently fixed on dead grammars, and dead nomenclatures, that we have not been able to see them.
I would have even these introduced into our common schools, with no sort of expectation or intent of ever making scholars or experts of a single one of the children. I would teach them only what it is needful for every child to know, and not at all what it is needful for an expert or even a teacher to know; any teacher who undertakes to teach a pupil, one-tenth part of what he knows himself on any subject, is really not fit to teach him at all.
I can best illustrate my meaning by taking some one single example. The State of Illinois pays out annually from eight to twelve millions for her schools; nobody begrudges it; it is even now, money well spent; but not as well as it might be.
Our best experts inform us that the same State annually loses from ten to twenty millions of money, from noxious insects: or more than all her schools cost; some years, several times more. Our learned State Entomologist, Dr. LeBaron, stated in a lecture to our farmers last winter, at which I was present, that there are but about one hundred insects, (one hundred and four, I think,) all told, which do this immense amount of mischief. Some few of these insects are well known to all. But I doubt whether there is another single man in the State, except the Doctor, who knows them all by sight; or anything at all of their nature and habits; and the remedies for most of them. About half of these prey upon the products of the farms, and the other half upon those of the garden and orchard. Men are perpetually writing from all parts of the State, to Dr. LeBaron, or sending him these insects, of one sort or another, to inquire what they are, and what they can do with them.
How now would I introduce the study of entomology into the common schools of Illinois? I would go out into the fields and catch these
16one hundred insect culprits, "every mother's son of them," no more and no less, and stick pins through their backs, and put them up in a show-case, in every common school in the State, arranging them for convenience, in their regular classes and orders; and I would make every child in the State thoroughly understand all that he needs to know about them, and to know every one of them by sight as well as he knows his father's cows or horses: instead of having one or two lone men in a great State, some hundreds of miles square, to look after their habits and their remedies, in the next generation I would turn all the million of eyes in the State distinctly and intelligently upon them; and under these natural and necessary conditions, we might hope soon to devise means for either their amelioration or their cure. I would not care particularly whether the pupils knew that there were any other insects in the world or not, but only these and their natural parasites, or cannibals; or whether they knew that there was any such science or word as entomology in the English language. But these fellows, the source of all our insect woes, they should know and know well; though of course a good teacher would naturally, and incidentally, give them an outline of the whole science, and awaken an interest perhaps, in some minds, to pursue it for life, without their knowing when or how he had done it. The sum total of all this most needful practical knowledge given to every child, would not abstract a single month's time from any other study whatever. And yet I myself spent thirty solid years in the schools, without acquiring this knowledge, and I have not got it to-day, though not a single year of my life has passed that I have not suffered for the want of it.
Suppose I had attained it, even at the hazzard of spelling "Phthisic" without wheezing, or of not knowing the boundaries of Kamschatka; or of finding some word in English literature I could not parse according to Lindley Murray; or of not being able to sand my sugar, water my molasses, or whisky, and corn meal my mustard and ginger, according to the rules of "allegation" to all eternity.
Such substantially would be my mode of introducing entomology, and all other sciences and subjects to children, through the whole range of natural history and of human art. I would teach them first only what they, as children, not as present or future scholars or experts, most needed to know and to learn. I would thus impart to them the fixed habit, in childhood, of observing and reflecting upon all the beautiful and peculiar things which God and man has made; instead of confining them to one everlasting drill in the three "r's," until many of them become wearied and disgusted with the whole idea of a school room.
I am well aware that there is another way of introducing a pupil to entomology and all kindred sciences, far more thorough, according to our scholastic notions of thoroughness, and perhaps better for a youth who has determined to become a teacher, or professor, or an expert, for life in that line. It is the scholastic mode. I have in my library a work on entomology written by one of our most able experts. The author wrote it, as he says, as a mere introduction to teach the beginner the mere elements of the science of entomology; that is, to fairly introduce him to his tools, or his indispensable technical and scientific terms. The book contains over 700 large, closely printed octavo pages. At the first dash the pupil is truly informed, that there are about two hundred thousand known and classed species of insects, all with good long, barbarous, Latin and Greek names, wholly unknown to any English reader; two hundred thousand entirely new, and unknown names, of species, to say nothing of their innumerable varieties, to be learned the first dash, as a mere introduction, a sort of bird's eye view, of the needed tools on hand. Most men would learn to read the whole Bible in any civilized language now spoken on the globe, sooner and easier than they could acquire such a ready and prompt use of the bare terminology of this science, as is required by an expert. That we have no time in our common schools for the study of entomology, or any other science, in any such thorough and scientific sense as this, every child must see; indeed there is not time enough on earth for it; it needs a whole eternity. But may not our children know some few things about it; our men a few more, and our experts more still?
Could not our common schools teach us something about this, as well as all other practical sciences, that we as farmers need to know, as well as to teach us a thousand things which we never need to know, and are of no practical use when they are known.
But here comes up "discipline," "discipline," "mental discipline." Well, what of it? What man of common sense does not know that under pretense of "necessity" in the State, "orthodoxy" in the church, and "discipline" in the schools, nearly all the conservative tyrannies and infamies, and stupidities, and crimes, and outrages, and blunders of civilized man have been perpetrated, and preserved for well nigh two thousand years in the world? I wish our conservative friends to fully understand, that on this American soil of ours, they have got something else to do, to preserve their hereditary fixtures, beside to shout "necessity," or "orthodoxy," or "discipline," in our ears, without telling us distinctly what they mean by either of them.
Nine-tenths of all the studies now pursued in all our schools alike are more strictly and wholly professional, or of use to a very narrow professional class of teachers and experts, and to nobody else than an outline of these natural and industrial sciences would be. This has happened as a matter of course. Professional men and experts have made all our books, instituted all our courses, methods and curriculums, and educated all our teachers. If they have not taken care of themselves and their own limited and narrow scholastic professions they surely must be great fools; for, to within a very few years, they have done absolutely nothing else; surely nothing for us, except what was barely incidental and unavoidable.
But they have not done shouting, discipline, yet; though not a single man among them can clearly inform us what they mean by it, only that we should leave things much as they are, and run all our schools in practical effect, to make scholars and experts for a very narrow scholastic class, instead of directing their main force to the wants and interests of a very wide industrial class, who pay nine-tenths of all the money expended on them, and furnish nine-tenths of all the pupils that attend them.
How the good Lord of us all came to make the stupendous blunder of leaving all needful and proper mental discipline out of the inevitable pursuits of ninety-nine-hundredths of the human race, and to tie it all up in the books, and theories, and libraries, and pursuits, and interests of the remaining one-hundredth part, they do not clearly explain to us. All our courses of study to-day quietly assume, from the start, that the child is about to be in after life, what not one in a thousand of them ever will be, or ever ought to be, instead of assuming that they all will be, what they inevitably must be. Why we should find all proper mental discipline in the memorized rules, and abstract scholastic trifles, of the one narrow class, and none at all in the worldwide practical facts, interests and sciences of the other class, has never yet been duly explained.
What more true and proper mental discipline is there, in a child's racking his muddled, and puzzled, enfeebled and much-abused youthful brain, in trying to guess out many of the mere arithmetic riddles and conundrums, found in nearly all our school arithmetics, than there would be in his trying to guess at the size of the man's foot in the moon? What more proper mental discipline is there in a boy's spending three-fourths of his whole time, day after day, in tumbling over the leaves of a huge Greek folio dictionary, in search of some word or variation of a word, which he can have no more idea where to look
19or than if he was looking for a needle in a hay mow? He merely guesses that it is from one root, and tumbles to look; then guesses at other, and tumbles again and again, till at last he chances to find it, gives up in despair, and perhaps in a mortification that injures him life. To pick up chips in the wood-yard is an infinitely better discipline for any boy, than such sort of study as this, if he could never reach any better sort. True, if he at last finds his enigmatical word, be will remember it for life; and so he would if you had laid him down and bastinadoed him, under pretence of giving him mental discipline. And bastinadoing bodies is less dangerous than bastinadoing brains, even if it is for the time more painful. True, boys so disciplined will, for most part, live through it. Many of them will become hugely learned; most viciously rhetorical and able; but for most part shockingly conservative of all the old rules in which they have been trained; and still more shockingly imbecile, in the great wide world of thought and action that lies outside of them. In these remarks I am not inveighing against the study of the Greek or of any other language, but only against the barbarian mode in which it is still taught in many of our schools.
In Europe, where the time of a full-grown man is worth but a few pence per day, and where they wish to train up literary experts of all sorts, for the rest of the world: classical experts, to prove that Homer never lived: theological experts, to prove that Christ never was born; or if so, that all he taught was either a plagiarism or a blunder: metaphysical experts, to prove that all existence is an illusion, all morality a prejudice, and all freedom and responsibility an absurdity: republican experts, to uphold all old tyrannies, or foment all new anarchies and discords. I say all this may be well enough for them: but our plain, hard working American people, have no time for such fullness, and breadth, and roundness of culture, such finished mental discipline, as all this implies. We want to know something about our own continent, our own life work, our own bodies and bones and souls: our own duties and destinies in the great republic in which we live. Compared with this what old dead nations and generations may have thought, or said, or done, is of very little moment to us. In any true view, we shall find little in them to admire, and nothing at all to servilely imitate. Even new heathen Japan furnishes us today, apparently, a better Christian example as a nation, than all the old dynasties of Europe put together, have done in three thousand years. So that even if we were born of monkeys, we need not continue to be monkeys. I look only to our agricultural and industrial classes, to lift
20us out of this monkeydom of precedent, into the true freedom of American citizenship. They must make our coalition schools their first and chief instrument: for they alone are able to do it. Fortunately for us, we need no new system: no new laws even: no sudden revolutions or changes of any sort. All that is needful is that each man of us should set about quietly and earnestly improving his own school, in his own district, as fast and as fully as he can.
P.S. — Since writing the above, and since I came into this city, I learn from Prof. Harris, Superintendent of the St. Louis city schools that he has actually introduced the natural sciences into these schools, giving them a lesson of one hour per week, and he informed me that, instead of detracting from their force in other studies, in his opinion it had increased it full fifty per cent. This is even more, and better, than I expected from a first trial.