The Child Vision, Being a Study inb Mental Development & Expression

The Child Vision, Being a Study inb Mental Development & Expression


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Composition and literature, with their necessary adjuncts of reading and writing, are the oldest subjects of formal instruction. Possibly the teaching of versifying may be earlier than that of prose composition; but if bards and seers taught their disciples the art of poetry, we know very little about it. But over twenty-three centuries ago Athens was in a ferment because a class of men had arisen who earned their living by teaching young men how to compose speeches. It gave the young men an unfair advantage; and their fellow-countrymen who had to speak against them were naturally indignant, from which we may fairly conclude that the teaching was in a large measure effective. From that time onwards till a hundred years ago, Rhetoric had but one rival in the sphere of education above the most elementary stages; and that rival, Logic, was so nearly related to it that we may almost say that, prior to the nineteenth century, the history of education is the history of an attempt to make human beings better able to express themselves. It is true that the Renaissance resulted in the attempt being confined to a dead language and to the imitation of a Roman orator who had died fifteen hundred years previously; but this only emphasizes the dominance of the aim of expression in education.

Strange is it therefore that, after all these twenty-three centuries, the teaching of composition in the vernacular should have been still in the unformed state which we still remember from our own schooldays. We were indeed expected to compose; "essays" might be sprung upon us in any form from the first to the sixth; but of any real instruction how it was to be done we cannot call up a memory. The method was as simple as the old method of teaching a boy to swim by throwing him into the water, but it was by no means as successful. Possibly a reaction against the methods by which Latin composition had been taught by the Ciceronian enthusiasts of the Renaissance and by their half-hearted successors was one of the reasons for this discarding of all method in the teaching of composition in English.

Latterly, the spread of elementary education has compelled teachers to invent methods of teaching English composition; but no one is really satisfied with them. What, then, was wrong with the old rhetorical training and with the modern elementary methods?

Mrs. Truman's answer is that the mistake throughout has been to ignore the child's obvious difficulty, namely, . that when he is called on to say something he has nothing to say, and to compel him at one and the same time to go through two processes, either of which is sufficient to tax his full powers, that of finding something to say and that of thinking how to say it.

A little reflection on past methods of teaching will show that Mrs. Truman is right. Traditional methods, in fact, unconsciously assumed that the child had not and could never have anything to express. He must therefore be supplied with something by the teacher. The only difference discoverable between any one past system and any other was the difference between supplying him with other people's words and supplying him with other people's ideas; or, to put it in another way, whether or no he was expected to understand the ideas before he reproduced them.

The Renaissance humanists, whatever may have been their theory, were in practice quite satisfied by the reproduction of other people's words. They had a regular machinery for what they called invention, which meant something very different from "invention "—it meant the discovery of something which another person had already said on the same point. The whole system of classical teaching which became fixed by the end of the Renaissance consisted in a wearisome reading of authors for the purpose of filling note-books with subject-matter for essays on commonplace subjects and phraseology for writ1ng on that subject-matter—it aimed at turning the pupil into a receptacle for other people's ideas and a machine for reproducing their forms of expression. We are inclined to smile when the English exponent of humanist education, Sir Thomas Elyot, gravely recommends the use of a certain manual because "It prepareth invention, tellynge the places from which an argument for the profe of any matter may be taken with little studie." But the schoolboy of the next two centuries improved on that; for he found that the places from which it could be found with still less study were the old exercises of preceding generations which were carefully handed down for the purpose....

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781663523464
Publisher: Barnes & Noble Press
Publication date: 06/28/2020
Series: Educational Series , #9
Pages: 206
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.47(d)

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