« PreviousContinue »
ART. V.-Outlines of Philosophical Education; illustrated by the Method of Teaching the Logic, or First Class of Philosophy, in the University of Glasgow. By Geo. Jardine, A. M. Professor of Logic and Rhetoric in that University. 8vo. Longman and Co. London, 1818.
THIS is a useful rather than an eloquent book; and the author has evidently sacrificed more to the desire of doing good than to the love of fame. The main object of the work seems to be an honest and avowed recommendation of the method of teaching pursued in Glasgow college, and which, of course, can only be directed to those who conduct philosophical education, by means of written lectures read from a professor's chair. It is impossible to forget Dr. Johnson's observation on this plan of teaching; and we ourselves are perfectly satisfied that, as far as young persons are considered, who have still to learn the very principles and language of philosophy, no method could be more absurd and ineffectual. We are now speaking, indeed, of bare lectures, unaccompanied with examination and other means of practical training; for we are ready to admit, if the students be regularly catechised on the subjects of the lectures, and be induced to read and write on the topics which they have heard discussed by their master, that, though the knowledge thereby acquired may be more extensive than precise, the faculties of the mind will be sharpened and invigorated. At Glasgow, it should seem, the lecture-system is made the most of its peculiar advantages are industriously brought into action; and its numerous defects are compensated for by vigilant discipline, and constant, well-regulated exertion.
Most of our readers are aware that the term lecture has not the same meaning in Scotland as it has in this part of the United Kingdom. In our colleges, a tutor is said to give a lecture when, in translating the classics with his pupils, he illustrates the more obscure passages, and points out the beauties or defects of the composition. But a lecture, as applicable to the practice of the Scottish Universities, is an "exposition of some literary or philosophical subject, drawn up in rather an expanded and popular form, and interspersed with copious illustrations, to assist the comprehension of the younger students." Now, it is very obvious that, if the business of teaching be confined to the pronouncing of such discourses, very little effect can be produced; and we have reason to believe, from several statements in the work now before us, that, in some of the Scottish colleges, the duty of the professor is limited to the simple act of reading his paper.
In the class taught by our author, and, we infer, in all the other philosophical classes in the same seminary, the detail of teaching is conducted as follows: At an early hour in the morning, the students, who correspond to our under-graduates, assemble in the class-room; where they hear a lecture, an hour long, on the elements of mental philosophy, on the principles of reasoning, or on taste and criticism. To collect as much as possible of what is said by the professor, the young men usually take notes as he proceeds in his discourse: noting down, for the assistance of the memory, the divisions and subdivisions of the subject, as well as the principal topics which he introduces for the sake of illustration. Some, we are told, attempt short-hand writing, which is very much discouraged, as it necessarily confines the attention to the mere mechanical process of committing signs to paper; and others, it is added, trust entirely to the power of reminiscence, who, as soon as they have returned to their chambers, write down the substance and outline of all that they may have heard, in order to answer the claims which are to be made upon them in the after part of the day. At another hour in the forenoon, accordingly, the class is again assembled, when the professor proceeds to examine his pupils, or rather, indeed, to converse with them on the subject of the morning lecture. going over the same ground in a familiar, viva voce, style of question and answer; discovering, in this way, whether he has been properly understood, or, if not, in what part of his argument the chain of reasoning has been broken, or the connexion of his discourse not clearly perceived. To aid their comprehension, he varies and multiplies his illustrations, leads their minds into fresh analogies, and, by reiterated appeals to their experience or their consciousness, he endeavours to bring the subject home to their understanding, and to fix it in their memories. With the view of rendering them still more completely masters of the principles and conclusions which he lays before them, he selects every day, or every second day, in the beginning of the session, a leading topic from among the subjects discussed in his lecture, and prescribes it as a theme on which all the students are to write a short essay, to be given up at the examination hour, or to be read aloud, by these juvenile authors, in the hearing of their class fellows.
The details connected with this system of essay-writing, occupy a large portion of Mr. Jardine's volume; and certainly they constitute not the least interesting portion of it. He divides. his"themes" or exercises into five orders, according to the progress of his pupils, and the subject of his lectures; for this judicious teacher has constantly present to his mind the homely remark of Locke, that, "he who begins with the calf may carry
the ox; but he that will go at first to take up the ox, may so disable himself, as not to be able afterwards to lift the calf."
The object of the first order of themes, he informs us, is to accustom the student to frame clear notions of simple perceptions, and to express these notions in plain and perspicuous language. Exercises of this kind, it is justly observed, bring to the test the accuracy and distinctness of their views. A student may be induced to imagine that his notions are sufficiently clear on any given subject, and he may even express them in such a manner as to deceive others as well as himself; but the moment he attempts to embody them in writing, he will perceive where the light fails him, and where obscurity and confusion begin; and he will find many blanks in that knowledge which he thought he had possessed entire. By such exercises, too, as are usually prescribed at this stage of his progress," the object of thought is kept longer within the notice of his mind; embodied in written signs, the smaller portions or fragments of thought take their place, keep their position, and thus prove the means of distinct and permanent knowledge." As the young men advance in their studies, so do the exercises prescribed become more difficult and complex; and, accordingly, instead of the short essays for which only one night or two at the most was allowed, they are engaged towards the end of the session in dissertations of considerable length; all of which are submitted to the personal inspection of the professor, and afterwards produced by him in the class, where they are read and criticized in the hearing of all his pupils. Under the five different heads into which the themes are divided, the author has mentioned examples of the questions or subjects which he prescribes to the students; and, generally speaking, they are so judiciously selected that they cannot fail to make a demand upon them for all the knowledge which they may have acquired, and to call into action all the rules of arrangement and composition which they may happen to have learned.
The great object of all this system of essay-writing and examination is to keep the youth constantly employed; proceeding all along upon the principle that, in these times, the mere communication of knowledge is a matter of very inferior consequence when compared with the improvement of the mental powers. In forme times, when books were scarce, and when learned men were nowhere to be found but in seminaries of education, young persons flocked to universities, in order to have access to those treasures of science and literature which were not yet spread over the face of society to enrich and adorn its general intercourse. In these days, however, the residents in our colleges, so far from possessing, exclusively or originally, the rich stores of knowledge, and thereby enjoying a preeminence over every other
order of the community, are not unfrequently found to take their science at second hand, and to confess their obligations for the means of keeping pace with the progress of the human mind to those who are without. Mere information, therefore, or an acquaintance with books and the opinions of the learned, ought not to be the main object with those who repair to seats of public instruction, nor with those whose office it is to direct the energies of the youthful mind. To lead the student into such application of his faculties as shall form in him habits of research, discrimination, and accuracy, and confer upon him a ready command of his intellectual powers in reasoning, composition, and utterance, is of far more use, and would contribute far more to the promotion of science, than to pour into his mind, were such an act within the limits of possibility, all the knowledge which is contained in all the works which have appeared since the invention of printing.
In following out his plan of philosophical education, the author informs us that he is greatly assisted by constantly calling into action the powerful feeling of emulation so natural to the minds of ingenuous youth. The daily examination of the students in the presence of one another; the reading of their exercises in the same public manner; the praises which are bestowed upon the diligent; and the exhortations, more severe than direct reproof, which are addressed to the sluggish; all these combined are found sufficient to stimulate the industry, and sustain the exertions of the great body of the class. In addition, however, to these motives, he likewise mentions the institution of prizes, as a part of their academical discipline; according to which, certain honours are awarded to the most deserving, whether in respect of good conduct or distinguished proficiency, the several degrees of merit being determined by the suffrage of the students themselves. We shall conclude our sketch of Mr. Jardine's book with an extract or two from the chapter on prizes, a subject which the author has evidently much at heart.
"As soon, then, as this class is fully convened in the beginning of the session, a day is appointed for explaining distinctly to all the students the grounds upon which they are to enter into competition for the honours which are to be conferred at the end of it, and for placing before their eyes the scale of merit according to which their determinations in that matter are to be regulated. It is then particularly stated, that the prizes are to be awarded upon a judgment formed in cumulo of their diligence, proficiency, general abilities, regularity, and propriety of conduct and manners. From the day that this arrangement is made, and the path of competition is clearly marked out, the spirit of emulation begins its work, and continues to operate in the minds of by far the greater number of the students until the very end of the session. Though the object at which they strain be still at a great distance, their hopes and expectations keep pace with all
their labours; and often do they breathe with tumultuous feelings the ardent wish of Sergestus, in the Trojan games.
"Non jam peto prima, Mnestheus; nec vincere certo;
"One difficult and very important part, in administering the system of prizes, still remains to be stated; namely, the method by which the different degrees of merit among the students are ascertained and determined; a point in which any error with regard to principle, or suspicion of practical mistake would completely destroy all the good effects aimed at by the establishment in question. It has been already mentioned that the qualifications which form the ground of competition for the class prizes, as they are sometimes called, and which at all events are to be distinguished from the university prizes, are diligence, regularity of attendance, general eminence at the daily examinations and in the execution of themes, propriety of academical conduct, and habitual good manners : and on these heads, it is very obvious, a judgment must be pronounced either by the professor or by the students themselves, as no others have access to acquire the requisite information. It may be imagined at first view that the office of judge here would be best performed by the professor; but after long experience and much attention to the subject in all its bearings, I am inclined to give a decided preference to the exercise of this right as vested in the students. Were the professor to take this office upon himself, it would be impossible, even with the most perfect conviction on the part of the students that his judgment and candour were unimpeachable, to give full satisfaction to all parties: whilst on the other hand, were there the slightest reason to suspect his integrity, in either of these points, or the remotest ground for insinuation that he gave undue advantage to any individuals, in bringing forward their claim to the prejudice of others, the charm of emulation would be dissolved at once, and every future effort among his pupils would be greatly enfeebled.
"When the day arrives, the professor, deeply interested, as he cannot fail to be, in the business upon which they are going to enter, addresses them in terms of affection and kindness, representing to them in the strongest language which he can employ, the importance and sacredness of the decision in which they are immediately to bear a part. With this preparation, the catalogue is called over; and the question put to every individual is expressed in these terms, Whose name shall stand at the highest degree in the scale of merit inter seniores?" The same question is then put ad juniores, and it is repeated until the several degrees in both scales are filled up; upon which the names of the successful candicates are inscribed with acclamation.
"Whatever doubts or objections may be urged against this mode of adjudging the prizes, in a first class of philosophy, the proof from experience is a complete answer to them all. I have at least fully satisfied myself, by the closest attention to the subject in every point of view. For example, on the evening of the day prior to that on which the determination is to take place, I have every year studied the cata