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NOTES ON GERMAN SCHOOLS
In the Journal of Education 1 the following paragraph occurs :
“Dr. J. M. Rice, the editor of the Forum, has been giving specimens of the work that is to be undertaken by the Bureau of Educational Research recently organised under his guidance and direction. The object of the Society is to discover what a pupil's average knowledge and ability should be at different stages of school life, according to the time he has devoted to those subjects, and in this way to gauge the relative worth of schools and teachers. The difference revealed in the schools of six different cities by tests in arithmetic applied by Dr. Rice is astonishing. Thus in Standard IV. the highest average of city 6 is below the lowest average of city 1."
I quote this paragraph because it indicates that, to some extent, America recognises the need for comparative work with definite tests if real educational progress is to be made, and because I have attempted
1 July 1903.
to apply a definite system of measurement and test to some of the subjects taught in German schools. It is of little use to pile up work in educational exhibitions, or to show samples of great excellence, unless we know the conditions of their production, the age of the pupils, their length of school attendance, the regularity of that attendance, the number in class, and the time devoted to the particular subject of instruction. In fact, much of the excellent work thus shown inspires in experienced teachers very grave doubts as to the fairness of its production. It is not difficult to get such work done if other subjects and other pupils are comparatively neglected ; and there is a direct temptation to this neglect if schools are to be estimated by the special work in special subjects of a few picked scholars. I am not arguing for the abolition of Exhibitions, far from it; I am pleading only that they should be scientific in the best sense of that much-abused word. Moreover, even opinions formed by the inspection of work done under normal conditions may be very misleading, unless these impressions are carefully checked by actual tests.
This book is not a treatise on German education as a whole. Not months, but years of patient inquiry would be necessary to undertake such a task. I rather hoped by confining my work within narrower limits to accomplish something of more permanent value.
I had endeavoured, before visiting the country, to prepare myself by a careful perusal of all available reports on German education, and as many of the official syllabuses of work as I could obtain.
My attention was mainly confined to the primary, middle, and that section of secondary schools in which modern languages and science take a prominent place. Such a limitation is strictly necessary if one is to avoid generalising from particular instances, which an endeavour; to cover the whole field of German education in a month or two would certainly involve. How often, for example, one reads an account of the teaching of foreign languages in Germany, which leads us to think that grammatical teaching is dead, that exercise writing is abolished, that no translation is permitted, and that oral instruction by the direct method is the only one in favour with the best teachers. The detailed lessons which I give form a needful corrective to such notions; they could, I think, only arise from a very limited experience dealing exclusively with a particular type of teaching
The schools which I visited were chosen for me by the Schulrat (Superintendent) in each town, my only conditions being that the schools selected should comprise some in poor surroundings, some in average surroundings, and some of the most fortunately circumstanced ; and, further, that they should be good schools, rather in the sense of instruction and training than in excellence of building.
It is, perhaps, particularly opportune just now to give some data for comparison between the German educational system and our own, as a very considerable approximation to the former is likely to result under the new Education Act for England. Municipalities are to take a much larger share in educational direction than before, and, as in Germany, the body directly concerned with education is to be a committee, not directly elected for that purpose, and containing expert members. No view of education which neglects the method of administration can have much practical value ; so that we may learn both the advantages and disadvantages which accrue when such a system is, and has been for some time, in full working order.
The German educational authorities are more inclined than our own to believe that the scientific problems, psychological and other, upon which educational practice is based, are matters for specialistic knowledge and scientific research. We are prone to decide such questions, not indeed without thought and inquiry, nor without the aid of expert knowledge ; but we too often imagine that methods of teaching and the psychological knowledge on which they are based can be sufficiently determined by information gained from teachers and inspectors, most of whom are too busy with actual administration, even if they possess the necessary scientific equipment, to give an undivided attention to these extremely difficult questions. At Breslau, for example, the educational authorities recently commissioned Professor Ebbinghaus, a distinguished German psychologist, to investigate the nature and extent of nervous fatigue in their schools. And this action is only an indication of the general feeling in Germany against an empirical method of dealing with such problems.
In my opinion the characteristic feature of this book is the reproduction, in outline, of actual lessons heard by me. It is not usual in scientific research to attach much importance to conclusions arrived at when the evidence on which they are founded is not given. It is hardly necessary to indicate how much of educational theory to-day is opinion, open to no verification. We have, it is true, very little in the way of recognised units in educational research, and until definite experimental methods are adopted, there is little hope for a science of pedagogy. But one can, at least, attempt as much definiteness as circumstances render possible, and refrain from mere impressionism. Moreover, one can furnish much of the evidence on which one's own conclusions are based, so that the value of the work does not merely depend upon those conclusions. These considerations induced me to give notes of the lessons in detail. But even then, every psychologist knows how very misleading oral class answering may be, and how easily even written results may be misinterpreted. I have endeavoured to present what is typical, but I have not rejected, rather have I welcomed, examples and illustrations which were in conflict with preconceived views, whether they were my own or those of others.
I need hardly lay stress on the age of the pupils, the number in the class, and the time given to the subject, as vital factors in our judgment of a lesson. Indeed, I look forward to a time when no educational authority will attempt to discuss any question of school curriculum without calling for these facts as a necessary preliminary. And if neglect of these matters prevents us from reaching correct conclusions as to our own work at home, it is fatal where an attempt