Slike strani
PDF
ePub

it, yet we agree in the belief that advantages may be looked for. How profound and wide-spreading are the consequences which may follow from the answer given to the question—- Are acquired characters hereditary?' I have pointed out in the preface to The Factors of Organic Evolution in its republished form ; and perhaps I may be excused if I here reproduce the essential passages for the purpose of giving to them a wider diffusion :

Though mental phenomena of many kinds, and especially of the simpler kinds, are explicable only as resulting from the natural selection of favourable variations; yet there are, I believe, still more numerous mental phenomena, including all those of any considerable complexity, which cannot be explained otherwise than as results of the eritance of functionally-produced modifications. ...

Of course there are involved the conceptions we form of the genesis and nature of our higher emotions; and, by implication, the conceptions we form of our moral intuitions.

• That our sociological beliefs must also be profoundly affected by the conclusions we draw on this point, is obvious. If a nation is modified en masse by transmission of the effects produced on the natures of its members by those modes of daily activity which its institutions and circumstances involve; then we must infer that such institutions and circumstances mould its members far more rapidly and comprehensively than they can do if the sole cause of adaptation to them is the more frequent survival of individuals who happen to have varied in favourable ways.

'I will add only that, considering the width and depth of the effects which acceptance of one or other of these hypotheses must have on our views of Life, Mind, Morals, and Politics, the questionWhich of them is true ? demands, beyond all other questions whatever, the attention of scientific men.'

HERBERT SPENCER.

THE REIGN OF PEDANTRY IN

GIRLS' SCHOOLS.

I HAVE felt considerable hesitation in attempting to criticise the system of modern education, or, as it should more strictly be called, instruction for girls, not only because what I have to say must run counter to the opinions and the practice of many of the most influential thinkers and teachers of the day, but also because I cannot feel that I have a sufficient acquaintance with facts to justify an absolute conviction of the truth of my impressions. But it may do no harm to the upholders of the plans at present acted upon to learn how they appear to one who was born in an age when the necessity for the careful teaching of girls was only beginning to dawn upon the public mind, and who has watched the development of modern theories with attention, and to a great degree with sympathy.

If I cannot bring myself to believe that the instruction which girls are now receiving is the best that could be provided for them, it is because it sometimes strikes me that in fleeing from Scylla we are likely to fall into Charybdis; in seeking to avoid ignorance based on superficiality, we are in danger of falling into ignorance based on narrowness.

We English certainly are a very singular people. We clamour for freedom, we profess to worship liberty, and yet at the very same time we voluntarily place ourselves under the strictest laws, and yield with abject submission to the Frankensteins, social, political, and educational, which we have ourselves created. The despotism of fashion is universally admitted, but who imposes it upon us ? The tyranny of democracy we are all learning to dread, yet from whence does democracy derive its power? And the tyranny of educational systems-is there such a thing ? That is the question into which I propose to inquire.

We will look into the schools for girls of the educated classes in England at this present time. They are multitudinous, and of various grades : High Schools, embracing children of every class and priding themselves upon it; private schools—for young ladies, as they are especially designated; educational homes—as I see is becoming customary to define a very small circle of what used to be

termed private pupils, living as one family. What are the young people in these schools doing? What are they learning ? Reading, writing, spelling, and elementary arithmetic of course. But would any one who had not inquired into the matter readily believe that they are, with very few exceptions, studying precisely the same period of English history, or at least that they have only a choice between two periods ? Would it be credited that one specified play of Shakespeare or one poetical subject is put before all ?-that the quick and the stupid alike are to be required to enter into abstruse questions as to the derivation of obsolete words, and to explain recondite allusions to old-world customs ?

Would it be considered natural and necessary that hours and hours should be devoted to advanced arithmetic and algebraic calculations by girls who may have naturally no aptitude for figures, and may probably never be called upon to calculate more than ordinary sums of compound interest ? Would it be thought the best possible use of time—so inestimably valuable in these early years—to spend it in learning the names which grammarians have affixed to the different parts of a sentence, and determining whether co-ordinate sentences are of the copulative, adversative, or causative (illative) class'?

I speak in ignorance, and am honestly open to correction and conviction, but I confess that this species of instruction to me savours strongly of pedantry. M. Jourdain spoke French fluently (at least we may take it for granted he did) before he knew that his sentences were thrown into a form called prose ; and as we all—if we are sane—have the power of reasoning logically, though we may never have heard of the mood Barbara,' so educated persons have the power of speaking grammatically, though they may have never been called upon to write

ten complex sentences with an adjective sentence qualifying the subject, and ten more with an adjective sentence qualifying the object.'

I trust I may not be misunderstood. No doubt grammatical analysis is good as a mental exercise, but does it do more than enable us to affix certain technical names to certain portions of a sentence? Will not young people as they grow up-if they have been perfectly grounded in the simple elementary parts of grammatical knowledge, and have a taste for languages-study these distinctions and definitions for themselves, and learn in a few days what in childhood and early youth it would have taken weeks and months to acquire ? And if they have no taste for languages, will not the terms they have learnt-often with sorrowful hearts and red eyes, and many reproofs and reproaches--be put aside, like a worn-out book, upon those dusty shelves of the mind which are devoted to useless memories ?

Personal experience tells more than argument or reasoning with most of us; and as I was not taught upon the modern system, but learnt my lessons in a way so primitive that it would make a teacher

6

in a High School hold up her hands in horror, I cannot be called a good judge of the usefulness of this complicated grammatical instruction. All I can say is that carefully defined rules upon points which common sense will make clear have been to myself a bindrance rather than a help. As an instance of this, when I first ventured to write a sentence for publication, having a deep sense of my profound ignorance of the rules of punctuation, I applied myself to the study of Lindley Murray's grammar—then the one accepted authority for English people. He gave seventeen rules for the right placing of the comma, and I thought it my duty to endeavour to master them. But my patience did not hold out. Like the American who put no stops in his book, but filled a page with them at the end that every reader might take which he pleased, I threw aside the seventeen rules of punctuation, and in their stead placed on one mental page the simple definitions of the respective value of periods, colons, semicolons, and commas which I had learnt as a child, and then took whichever common sense and observation pointed out as suitable to my purpose ; and in the end I found that I escaped any special criticism.

But I have another complaint. This modern fashion of treating noble thoughts, feelings, and principles, set forth in prose or verse, merely as the material for grammatical analysis, appears to my prejudiced mind to be a kind of intellectual vivisection. The life is destroyed in the act of discovering and distinguishing the elements of which its body is composed. A young friend of mine said to me the other day that she had done' the story of Margaret, in the Excursion, with notes, for a correspondence class, questions being given upon the notes. All that she had retained from this doing' was, as far as I could gather, nothing but the fact that she had done' it. Feeling, admiration, there was none. The poetry had been a lesson to be got through.' The language was to be mentally dissected, and then the lesson was finished, and the story of Margaret need never be thought of more.

No doubt we must teach young people the rules of grammar, but why should we for this purpose degrade the most elevating, imaginative, rhythmical of English writings? Do we suppose that the young minds which have been laboriously concentrated on the grammatical analysis of a difficult passage of Paradise Lost will leave their work with a high appreciation of Milton's poetical powers ? We may as well think that religious impressions will be deepened by making the Bible ---as was proposed to me many years ago--the vehicle for arithmetical calculations. A gentleman of my acquaintance, anxious to make the Scriptures a matter of constant daily study, said to me that the Bible ought, he thought, to be connected with other lessons. As regarded arithmetic, it would be easy to make sums—there were the twelve apostles, the four evangelists, &c. He spoke quite gravely, and I

have no doubt did really believe that by adding together, multiplying, or dividing numbers which had sacred associations, some spiritual effect would be produced. The suggestion is not to be wondered at, for in those days we all thought it well to teach children of seven years old to read from the Scripture Parables, because the words were so easy and at the same time so sacred and instructive.

But what is the use of making this protest? If girls are to teach in High Schools they must learn what is required in High Schools. If a certificate is essential in order to procure a situation, they must be put in the way of getting a certificate. If the knowledge of certain subjects is required by the University examiners, it must be obtained, or the poor girls will be hopelessly stranded on the educational shore. We, women belonging to the past rather than the present generation, may nevertheless have some misgivings as to the wisdom shown in the choice of these subjects. It may appear to us (at any rate it appears to me) that Milton's Areopagitica, one of the lately selected subjects for the literature examination, is rather abstruse; and that girls of sixteen and seventeen, possessing only ordinary abilities, are not likely to be greatly edified by arguments against the censorship of the press. The profit to be gained from this study appears more likely to be appreciated by the gentleman who prepared the edition of the Areopagitica with notes which the young students were obliged to purchase, than by the girls them. selves or their parents.

And so again, after devoting a year to the reign of Charles the First and the Commonwealth, it would seem to an outside observer that to give up another year, as I understand has lately been arranged, to a minute study of the last book of Clarendon's History of the Rebellion is, to say the least, unnecessary, when the whole course of European history is demanding attention. Clarendon's History is an expensive work, it could not be bought by every candidate for examination ; but the last book, printed separately with notes, will secure a most advantageous sale, and here also the editor is likely to be more profited than the student.

But whether or not the particular subjects chosen for study are desirable, one thing is certain—the girls at the majority of English schools, even if they do not all present themselves for examination, are compelled to give their attention to the special period of history or literature marked out by the examiners for the year, because the governesses and teachers are not, as a rule, able to carry on different sets of lessons and different classes, some for the young people who are to be examined, and others for those who are not. The ability of the governesses must be concentrated upon one object-a successful examination. They may have individual opinions as to the usefulness of any particular study, or the best mode of acquiring it; but the laws under which they find it necessary to place

« PrejšnjaNaprej »