Page images
PDF
EPUB

I. THE TEACHER AND HIS ASSISTANTS.

THAT the University of Cambridge should institute a Introduccourse of lectures on the Art and Method of teaching is fron. a significant fact in the history of Education in England. We have in this fact a recognition on high authority of a principle which has hitherto been but imperfectly admitted, in relation to the higher forms of school life and instruction, although it has been seen in most beneficial application to the elementary schools. That principle I take to be, that there is in the teacher's profession the same difference which is observable in all other human employments between the skilled and the unskilled practitioner, and that this difference depends in large measure, on a knowledge of the best rules and methods which have to be used, and of the principles which underlie and justify those rules. It is easy to say of a schoolmaster nascitur non fit, and to give this as a reason why all training and study of method are superfluous. But we do not reason thus in regard to any other profession, even to those in which original power tells most, and in which the mechanic is most easily distinguishable from the inspired artist. For when in the department of painting you meet with a heaven-born genius, you teach him to draw; and you know that whatever his natural gifts may be, he will be all the better

62 F. L.

pro tanto, for knowing something about the best things that have been done by his predecessors; for studying their failures and their successes, and the reason why some have succeeded and others have failed. It is not the office of professional training in art, in law or in medicine, to obliterate the natural distinctions which are the result of special gifts; but rather to bring them into truer prominence, and to give to each of them the best opportunities of development. And if it be proved, as indeed I believe it to be demonstrable, that some acquaintance with the theory, history and rules of teaching may often serve to turn one who would be a moderate teacher into a good one, a good one into a finished and accomplished artist, and even those who are least qualified by nature into serviceable helpers, then we shall need no better vindication of the course

on which we are about to enter. Teaching It seems scarcely needful to reply to the contention not to be of those who urge that the art of teaching is to be best learned by practice learned by practice, that it is a matter of experience only. only, that a man becomes a teacher as he becomes a

swimmer, not by talking about it, but by going into the water and learning to keep his head above the surface. Experience it is true is a good school, but the fees are high, and the course is apt to be long and tedious. And it is.a great part of the economy of life to know how to turn to profitable account the accumulated experience of others. I know few things much more pathetic than the utterances of some Head Masters at their annual conferences, at which one after another, even of those who have fought their way to the foremost rank of their profession, rises up to say, “We have been making experiments all our lives; we have learned much, but we have learned it at the expense of our pupils; and

The University and the Teacher.

much of the knowledge which has thus slowly come into our possession might easily have been imparted to us at the outset, and have saved us from many mistakes." The truth in regard to the office of a teacher is that which Bacon has set forth in its application to the larger work of life, “Studies perfect nature and are perfected by experience: for natural abilities are like natural plants that need pruning by study. And studies themselves do give forth directions too much at large, except they be bounded in by experience." There is here, I think, a true estimate of the relation between natural aptitude, the study of principles and methods, and the lessons of experience. Each is indispensable, you cannot do without all three, you are not justified in exalting one at the expense of the rest. It is in the just synthesis of these three elements of qualification, that we must hope to find the thoroughly equipped schoolmaster, the teacher of the future. And of these three elements, it is manifest that it is the second only which the University can attempt to supply. She cannot hope to give the living power, the keen insight into child-nature, which distinguish the born teacher, the man of genius from the ordinary pedagogue. The University does not need to be reminded What a that the best part of a teacher's equipment is incommu

u may do nicable in the form of pedagogic lectures; and that when to improve she undertakes to give a professional diploma to the ". schoolmaster, some of the most important qualifications of the office—as zeal, faithfulness, self-consecration, and personal fitness—will escape her analysis and defy her power to test them. She is conscious of the inevitable limitations under which she works, in regard to this, as indeed to all other of the learned professions. It suffices for her to say that she will attempt to communicate only that which is communicable; and to test so much as

in its nature is capable of being tested, and no more. Nor can the University to any appreciable extent supervise the actual professional practice of her sons and daughters, or follow them into the schoolroom, the laboratory and the home, to see how well they do their work, and lay to heart the lessons which experience has to teach. But she can help to call attention to principles of teaching; she can record for the guidance and information of future teachers, the details of the best work which has been done aforetime; she can accumulate rules and canons of the didactic art, can warn against mistakes, can analyse the reasons why so much of scholastic work has often been joyless, dull and depressing, can set up year by year a higher standard of professional excellence, can “allure to brighter worlds

and lead the way.” The Art Shall we attribute this newly awakened ambition to of Teach

- nothing but the restless spirit of modern academic life; ing, the proper to discontent with the old plain duty of encouraging a Univer.

learning, devotion and research, to a morbid and uneasy sity. hankering after “fresh woods and pastures new?" I

think not. The great function of a University is to teach; and to supply the world with its teachers. The very title of Doctor, which marks the highest academic distinction in each of the faculties of Law, Divinity and Physic implies that the holder is qualified to teach the art which he knows. And if the experience of these later times has brought home to us the conviction that the art of communicating knowledge, of rendering it attractive to a learner, is an art which has its own laws and its own special philosophy; it is surely fitting that a great University, the bountiful mother whose special office it is to care alike for all the best means of human culture and to assign to all arts and sciences Teaching not to be stereotyped.

their true place and relation should find an honoured place for the master science, a science which is closely allied to all else which she teaches—the science of teaching itself. It is not good that this science, or indeed any other science, should be mainly pursued per se, in separate training institutions or professional colleges, where the horizon is necessarily bounded, and where everything is learned with a special view to the future necessities of the school, or the class-room. It is to the Universities that the power is given in the highest degree of co-ordinating the various forms of preparation for the business of life; of seeing in due proportion the study and the practice, the art and the science, the intellectual efforts which make the man, as well as those which make the lawyer or the divine. It is to the Universities that the public look for those influences which will prevent the nobler professions from degenerating into crafts and trades. And if the schoolmaster is to become something more than a mere pedant; to know the rules and formulae of his art, and at the same time to estimate them at their true value, it is to his University that he ought to look for guidance; and it is from his University that he should seek in due time the attestation of his qualifications as a teacher; because that is the authority which can testify that he is not merely a teacher, but a teacher and something else.

Even at the risk of lingering a little longer at the Indepenthreshold, I am tempted to refer briefly to one other dence no

discouragobjection which is often felt by thoughtful people, and ed by the which is doubtless present in the minds of some of you, sunyi to the trial of the novel experiment in which we who are assembled here are all interested. Teaching is an art it may be said, which especially requires freshness and vigour of mind. The ways of access to the intelligence and the

« PreviousContinue »