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English Notions as to Classical Education.
be, it is not always that it is handled with the requisite degree of discrimination and appreciation. Many of our eulogizers of a Latin and Greek education in this country, plead the cause of classicality on grounds which are satisfactory enough in the abstract, but which have no bearing whatsoever on the circumstances to which they are meant to be applied. Herr Beneke, however, takes anxious care that he shall not play off upon us any sophism of this kind. He tells us not only what classics are worth, but for whom- für denjenigen welcher auf die höchste Bildungs-stufe gestellt werden soll'-for him whom it is intended to plant upon the highest platform of intellectual culture. Thus his championship of a classical education for the gymnasia, is in the most perfect harmony with his determined exclusion of the same studies from the Bürger-schools. Non omnia possumus omnes;' the merchant goes to his counting-house, the young agriculturist to his model farm, when the young philosopher is going from Homer and Herodotus in the gymnasium, to Plato and Immanual Kant in the university. This is the way they manage matters in Germany; but among ourselves there is still reason to fear that the true position and value of classical education in relation to the different classes of society, and their intellectual wants, is not everywhere distinctly understood; that there is too much of a general indiscriminating idol-worship of the mere letter of Greek and Latin, to which languages, in their mere rudiments and disciplinarian externals, a sort of magic virtue is attributed, as if they alone, without aid from living poetry and philosophy, and without the least regard either to social position or intellectual wants, had the power of turning every thing into gold. On some such notion as this the exclusive classicism of Oxford, and whatever in England is connected with that, seems to depend; while in Scotland we find, in many places, herds of young men who should begin and end their education at a commercial school, drilled for five years principally into the mere beggarly elements of Latin, and then sent to college (still in the shape of mere boys) for a little more Latin, and a little Greek, that they may forget both in a year or two over the toils of the comptoir and the recreations of the circulating library. Now how do the Berlin educationist's sensible remarks apply to such a case as this? Plainly thus, that one-half of the lads, who in Scotland study Latin and Greek at grammar-schools and universities, should have been sent to a Bürger-school, from which the classical languages were excluded, and the other half should have been brought beyond the point of nibbling at a shell, and really taught to live in the atmosphere, and drink from the fountains, of ancient wisdom. As things stand at present we have good reason, with the
late Professor Walker,* to despair altogether of the cause of classical literature beyond the Tweed, and to denounce the present system, not merely as a futile abortion in itself, but as one of the greatest hindrances to a rational system of education, that the three angles of our triangle contain. In England, wherever the old system of exclusive classicality still prevails, we have at least one thing thoroughly studied in the schools, and carried afterwards in the universities to that point of perfection in which intellectual pleasure and profit are combined; but classicality in Scotland is a mere obstructive heap of grammatical thorns and brambles, neither producing any fruit of itself, nor allowing seeds of a more hopeful character to find their way through its choking superincumbence.†
We shall now give the English reader a sample of Herr Beneke's sensible and thoroughly practical views on the methods of education;' and from this part of his subject we can select nothing more appropriate than the remarks on the monitorial system. Fully alive to the necessary defects of this over-trumpeted machinery, the Berlin professor has too much judgment to overlook its manifold advantages. The monitorial system, wisely applied, teaches the educator to make a virtue of necessity; and he who can do this commands a charm, not of the highest kind, but one which, in such a world as the present, is likely to be more generally available than any other.
"Let us first consider the quantity of instruction given by the method of Bell and Lancaster; and here it seems to us evident where there is an ordinary degree of skill displayed in the school arrangements, that each individual scholar receives a greater share of the master's time and attention under the monitorial system than by the common plan, according to which scholars of all different degrees of advancement fall to be instructed by a single teacher. For in proportion as diversities of this kind exist in a class, the master is forced to split his time and attention into so many altogether independent sections; and while he is occupied with one section the others will either be less beneficially occupied than they might be, under monitors, or are altogether idle. On the other hand, if the teacher can devolve the exhausting business of mere preparation and repetition on others, it is clear that so much time and strength as was lost on this can now be devoted to the proper business of instruction.
* Evidence before the Royal Commission for visiting the Scottish Universities, 1827.
We happen to have lay besides us an extract from an old number of the Edinburgh Review,' which expresses in a single sentence the essentially false position of classical learning in Scotland. Nothing has more contributed in this country to disparage the cause of classical education than the rendering it the education of ALL. With us the learned languages are taught at once too extensively, and not intensively enough.'
The Monitorial System.
"As little, however, is it to be denied that even this preparation and repetition, and much more so the instruction, properly so called, when they are superintended by scholars, do not admit, with regard to all subjects, of being efficiently carried into practice; for there is always something mechanical' about the teaching of a monitor which, if teaching is to be intellectual, necessarily renders the instrument inadequate to the effect desired. This may be granted; but there are certain subjects that admit of being communicated, if not altogether, at least in some degree, only in a manner that may comparatively be termed mechanical; nay, we may go further and say that the extraneous admixture of spurts of spirit, so to speak, into these subjects, tends to produce confusion rather than to excite interest, and is, consequently, more prejudicial than beneficial to the real work of teaching. We shall, therefore, do wisely to make a distinction; and, unless where sorry necessity compels, apply the monitorial method only to those subjects in which the instruction given must necessarily be in a great measure mechanical; as spelling, writing, drawing, arithmetic, and the external frame-work of geography and history. To the province of the monitorial method (to repeat what we have said under another phase) belong all those subjects, and those subjects only, that can be transferred so completely by a good teacher to an apt scholar, that the scholar can feel the communicated elements, so far as they go, perfectly in his own power, and is ready to transfer them distinctly and without confusion to another; while, on the other hand, all those subjects are to be withheld from the handling of a pupil teacher, which are capable only of a very imperfect transference from the master to the scholar. To this category belong all exercises prescribed especially for the training of the understanding, all instruction in religion, in morality, and in the inner spirit and significance of history. But, with all this limitation, is it not a decided gain that what may and must be taught, to a certain degree, mechanically, is by the monitorial method taught more certainly in a school with only one master than it can be without this instrumentality?
"If we consider further to what an extent this merely mechanical part of instruction is and must be practised in every school, let the teacher be as vivacious and intellectual as he pleases; we shall be forced on a review of the real details of the matter to admit that unless in a few peculiarly fortunate cases, a certain number of the scholars will, in all classes, soon begin to fall behind; and whenever this takes place, the teacher, where he has no assistants, must either allow this number to lag, and finally give them up as a hopeless job, or by extraordinary care bestowed upon a few dullards, deprive the good scholars of that attention of which they are more worthy. I know it from the best authority that, high as our system of elementary instruction in Prussia undoubtedly stands, and zealous as are the exertions of our educational officials, there are nevertheless children even here, in Berlin, who, after four or five years regular attendance at school, can neither read nor write with any readiness. If such things happen in the green tree, what are we to expect from the dry? And is it then wise, to remain in a state VOL. XXXIV. NO. LXVII.
of vain self-satisfaction with an imagined perfection, and refuse the aid of a method, which, whatever may be its defects, can certainly, when actively superintended, be made to achieve that which our most active men without it must in the nature of things often fail to do? Let monitors, therefore, by all means be employed, to do that which can be done by monitors: and if the instruction which they can give is at best merely mechanical, let us bear in mind that this intellectual mechanics is at least in itself better than nothing, and that when once there, it may readily be made the bridge to something higher that could never have existed without it.
"It now remains to make a remark or two on the quality of the instruction communicated by the mutual method. Now here, the main advantage seems to be-what indeed we have already mentioned—that by portioning out the scholars, according to their different progress and capacities, into a great many separate groups, and giving each a suitable drilling by appropriately furnished monitors, every scholar at every individual moment is kept actively employed according to the exact measure of his wants and attainments, and neither above nor beneath this mark. Now when details are to be taken up mechanically in teaching this is not something merely, but it is all.
"Such is the clear gain for the taught scholar; for the teaching scholar, the profit is much higher. The object that had hitherto been his only by actual adoption, becomes, in the very act of teaching, his by inward energetic vitality, the inalienable property of his knowing faculty. The frequent repetition which he practises gives him certainty and confidence in the application of what he knows; what he had first learned diligently it may be, but imperfectly and more or less clumsily, he now learns to use with ready dexterity and decided talent. Then there is
the special pleasure that arises in the mind from the consciousness of a thorough command of a subject: this again begets a warmer love to the subject, and acts as the most active of all spurs to further acquisition; so that, taking every thing together, the mechanical part of teaching becomes to the teacher-scholar what it never can be to the principal teacher, not merely not mechanical in the offensive sense of that word, but one of the most healthy and beneficial of intellectual exercises.
"But there are indirect advantages resulting from the monitorial system, not inferior, perhaps, to its immediate influence; and among these we must mention the various postures and movements which the execution of this method renders necessary, and which form a most convenient channel for the outlet of that instinct of corporeal movement which is so characteristic of healthy young persons. But besides this incidental gymnastics the scholars are thus accustomed to submit not merely to the direct power of discipline embodied in the person of the master, but to subordination and control in a much wider and more varied sphere. For however much of mere surface work there may be in this sort of school training-something analogous to the externalities of which common military drill is made up-it is not the less certain that the observance of this external discipline removes the occasion for
The Monitorial System.
many an offence both of an inward origin and drawing inward and moral consequences in its train. Discipline once acknowledged in a few mechanical outward acts, may by degrees control and mould the whole character. And accordingly we find, that, while within the walls of the school, the Bell and Lancaster teachers have been able to boast that their method has enabled them to dispense with every kind of corporeal punishment, beyond these bounds it is alleged that of those who have been subjected to thorough discipline under this system, a smaller proportion has been convicted for police offences than of children educated in the ordinary schools. In addition to all this we must observe the important moral lesson daily taught to those who are under the influence of the monitorial system; namely, that no man lives for himself alone in this world, but that every man, according to his ability and opportunities, must endeavour to make himself useful to his fellows: and this great truth is not impressed upon the memory of the young scholar merely, but it is imprinted on his heart, transferred to his will, and worked into the daily habitude and custom of his existence.
"A single word now remains for the influence of this method on the principal teacher. On this head the most discordant opinions are everywhere expressed: and we hear in the same breath the complaint that the constant superintendence and eager watchfulness over every part of a complicated machinery which this method requires, is too much for the strength of a common man, and that other complaint, which is certainly not consistent with it, that by handing over the principal part of his work to his scholars, the master is apt to become lazy and inefficient. Now with regard to this point it appears to me that they are decidedly in the wrong who imagine that the Bell and Lancaster method, because it enables a good teacher to do more than he could otherwise accomplish, is therefore an easier method for him, and a method which may be satisfied with a less efficient man than the common service demands. So far from this it seems certain that to teach by monitors is a more difficult task for the master than to teach without them; a more vivid and energetic power of generalship must be exhibited. The commander-in-chief in a great battle, though he has and can have no particular post, is in fact present everywhere. As a compensation, however, for this greater demand upon his energy, the monitorial system spares the teacher a great part of that merely mechanical inculcation which is so wearisome; and saves him from that stupifying and blunting influence, which long continued and unremitting occupation with the mere elementary part of teaching never fails to exercise on the intellect."
Here our limits command us to refrain. The extracts we have made are sufficient, we think, to convince the friends of education in this country that a complete treatise, conceived in the same catholic and comprehensive spirit, and so thoroughly discriminating and practical, must be regarded as a most valuable contribution to a branch of social science more talked about in these