« PreviousContinue »
sary to have exact and detailed information in respect to these five particulars, namely:
1. The ages of the pupils in each division, — not merely the average of the ages, but the number of pupils who are twelve, thirteen, fourteen, etc.
2. The length of time these pupils of the different ages have been in the Grammar Schools.
3. The actual proficiency of the pupils in each division.
4. The work assigned to each division for the current half-year.
5. The mode in which each branch is taught.
If such an examination were made, doubtless many facts highly creditable to individual teachers and schools would be made known; but, unless I am greatly mistaken, the general result would not be so satisfactory as could be desired. It would appear I think that the ma jority of the pupils who are leaving our school to enter upon the practical duties of life, carry with them a more inadequate and incomplete elementary education than one would suppose, judging only from the standard of the graduating classes. If this is doubted let the examination be made, and let the facts and figures thus obtained speak for themselves. The poverty of result here complained of, is not due to any lack of effort on the part of the teachers. It is due mainly to the system, or rather to the want of system, on which the instruction is conducted. We have no Grammar School programme, in the proper sense of the word. We have never pretended that these schools have a programme setting forth a systematic course of instruction. They have a
prescribed list of text-books to be used; but a prescribed list of text-books is not a programme. And hence the efforts of teachers and pupils have not been turned to the best account.
Now let any member of the Board take the proposed programme and carefully examine the requirements set down for the sixth or lowest class; let him see what is required to be done with the reading-book, the spellingbook, the writing-books, and the text-book in geography, and what is to be taught in all the other branches. Having done this, let him go to the schools and see what has been done and is now doing in the lowest classes. With the facts in mind thus obtained, let him decide which course of instruction he prefers for the first step, considering the wants and destination of the pupils,
that actually pursued, or that proposed as a substitute. One who should continue this process of comparison through all the classes might be expected to be prepared to make up an opinion on the merits of the proposed change, as a whole. No candid and intelligent person who is acquainted with the subject of education could fail to be convinced by such a course of investigation that if this programme could be adopted and faithfully carried out, it would very materially promote the interests of these schools, in all their grades, and especially the lower classes.
Is it said that this programme requires too much of the teachers? Those who take this position place themselves under the unpleasant necessity of disparaging the ability and skill of our teachers. I have no fear that our teachers will prove incompetent to the
task. All the really capable teachers would doubtless gladly welcome a provision calculated to relieve them from the hard necessity of wasting time and strength in useless routine text-book cramming. There may be, I admit, some few worthy teachers who have been so long accustomed to the routine of text-book drilling of merely hearing the pupils say their lessons, that they have not much confidence in their own ability to carry out successfully a rational and independent course of teaching. With such, I am willing to exercise patience. It is too much to expect that every member in a numerous teaching corps to be up to the highest level of ability. Certainly there is no Master who is not abundantly capable of comprehending and carrying out such a programme within the sphere of his duties.
It cannot be said that there is anything too hard for the pupils, for there is no limit as to the time allowed to do the work assigned to the respective classes. It would be absurd to say that the work of the sixth class, for example, is too much, since the time for doing it is not set down. It is true that the work for each class is intended to be about what would be accomplished under ordinary circumstances in one year. But there is no requirement to this effect. What is required is to do the work of one class before taking up the work of the next, taking the time necessary for this purpose. Does any one say that the spelling-book cannot be gone through in a year? I reply by stating that it has been done easily in a class in one of our schools in about a quarter of a year, and with evident advantage over the plan of keeping a class six months on a dozen pages.
Is "reduction, with simple practical questions, involving small numbers," objected to as premature in the course? This, too, is actually done, done easily, and under ordinary circumstances. And one fair case of this kind outweighs all objections that can be made in opposition to the plan. As an example of what can be done by a competent teacher under favorable circumstances, untrammelled by bad system, let me state that one of the excellent Masters of our Latin School, two years ago, took a class of boys of ages varying from nine to eleven years of age, through Colburn's Intellectual Arithmetic in about nine months, without any perceptible cramming or high-pressure; and this branch was only one of the eight or ten which the class had to attend to during the year.
The replacing of the medals with graduating diplomas has rendered the adoption of a programme absolutely necessary. The medals were awarded on a competitive examination. The number of medals being limited, of course they were awarded to those pupils who reached the highest percentage in their examination, taken in connection with their standing in scholarship and deportment during the year. The essential question to be determined in awarding the medals was not so much whether the candidates had completed a prescribed course of study, but which were the best ten or twelve pupils, as the case might be, in the highest class at the close of the school year. But the Regulations provide that the diplomas shall be awarded on a different principle. They are to be awarded, not on a competitive examination, as in the case of the medals,
but on a pass examination, for the number of diplomas not being limited, they are to be awarded not merely to the best pupils, but to all "who have, in the opinion of the District Committee, properly completed the prescribed course of study, and whose deportment during the year has been generally satisfactory." All who come up to a minimum standard are entitled to the certificate of graduation. But who can tell what it is to complete this prescribed course of study? For one, I cannot. Its vagueness is such that it is impossible to form a definite idea of what ought to be regarded as a completion of it. Hence the diploma has no definite value. In one school it stands for one thing, and in another school it stands for a different thing. This incongruity is fully appreciated by the Committee, and it has been proposed to get rid of it by subjecting the candidates for graduation in all the schools simultaneously to the same examination. Suppose it to be decided to adopt this plan, the Committee charged with its execution would be confronted at once with the impossibility of framing a set of questions that would do equal justice to all the schools, considering that they have been taught on no one systematic plan. Until a programme has been provided for the schools, defining with some precision what the course of instruction shall be, a comparative examination of all the schools, which the proposed plan would amount to, would inevitably work injuriously, for a master has not now the requisite data from which he can form a definite opinion of what a committee-man outside his own district would deem the minimum standard of attainments requisite for the