EYE VERSUS EAR. -|- Educational Philosophy Theory


No Comment - Post a comment

It is admitted on all hands by this time, I suppose, that the best way of learning is by eye, not by ear. Therefore the authorities that prescribe for us our education among all classes have decided that we shall learn by ear, not by eye. Which is just what one might expect from a vested interest.

Of course this superiority of sight over hearing is pre-eminently true of natural science—that is to say, of nine-tenths among the subjects worth learning by humanity. The only real way to learn geology, for example, is not to mug it up in a printed text-book, but to go into the field with a geologist's hammer. The only real way to learn zoology and botany is not by reading a volume of natural history, but by collecting, dissecting, observing, preserving, and comparing specimens. Therefore, of course, natural science has never been a favourite study in the eyes of school-masters, who prefer those subjects which can be taught in a room to a row of boys on a bench, and who care a great deal less than nothing for any subject which isn't "good to examine in." Educational value and importance in after life have been sacrificed to the teacher's ease and convenience, or to the readiness with which the pupil's progress can be tested on paper. Not what is best to learn, but what is least trouble to teach in great squads to boys, forms the staple of our modern English education. They call it "education," I observe in the papers, and I suppose we must fall in with that whim of the profession.

But even the subjects which belong by rights to the ear can nevertheless be taught by the eye more readily. Everybody knows how much easier it is to get up the history and geography of a country when you are actually in it than when you are merely reading about it. It lives and moves before you. The places, the persons, the monuments, the events, all become real to you. Each illustrates each, and each tends to impress the other on the memory. Sight burns them into the brain without conscious effort. You can learn more of Egypt and of Egyptian history, culture, hieroglyphics, and language in a few short weeks at Luxor or Sakkarah than in a year at the Louvre and the British Museum. The Tombs of the Kings are worth many papyri. The mere sight of the temples and obelisks and monuments and inscriptions, in the places where their makers originally erected them, gives a sense of reality and interest to them all that no amount of study under alien conditions can possibly equal. We have all of us felt that the only place to observe Flemish art to the greatest advantage is at Ghent and Bruges and Brussels and Antwerp; just as the only place to learn Florentine art as it really was is at the Uffizi and the Bargello.

These things being so, the authorities who have charge of our public education, primary, secondary, and tertiary, have decided in their wisdom—to do and compel the exact contrary. Object-lessons and the visible being admittedly preferable to rote-lessons and the audible, they have prescribed that our education, so called, shall be mainly an education not in things and properties, but in books and reading. They have settled that it shall deal almost entirely and exclusively with language and with languages; that words, not objects, shall be the facts it impresses on the minds of the pupils. In our primary schools they have insisted upon nothing but reading and writing, with just a smattering of arithmetic by way of science. In our secondary schools they have insisted upon nothing but Greek and Latin, with about an equal leaven of algebra and geometry. This mediæval fare (I am delighted that I can thus agree for once with Professor Ray Lankester) they have thrust down the throats of all the world indiscriminately; so much so that nowadays people seem hardly able at last to conceive of any other than a linguistic education as possible. You will hear many good folk who talk with contempt of Greek and Latin; but when you come to inquire what new mental pabulum they would substitute for those quaint and grotesque survivals of the Dark Ages, you find what they want instead is—modern languages. The idea that language of any sort forms no necessary element in a liberal education has never even occurred to them. They take it for granted that when you leave off feeding boys on straw and oats you must supply them instead with hay and sawdust.

Not that I rage against Greek and Latin as such. It is well we should have many specialists among us who understand them, just as it is well we should have specialists in Anglo-Saxon and Sanskrit. I merely mean that they are not the sum and substance of educational method. They are at best but two languages of considerable importance to the student of purely human evolution.

Furthermore, even these comparatively useless linguistic subjects could themselves be taught far better by sight than by hearing. A week at Rome would give your average boy a much clearer idea of the relations of the Capitol with the Palatine than all the pretty maps in Dr. William Smith's Smaller Classical Dictionary. It would give him also a sense of the reality of the Latin language and the Latin literature, which he could never pick up out of a dog-eared Livy or a thumb-marked Æneid. You have only to look across from the top of the Janiculum, towards the white houses of Frascati, to learn a vast deal more about the Alban hills and the site of Tusculum than ever you could mug up from all the geography books in the British Museum. The way to learn every subject on earth, even book-lore included, is not out of books alone, but by actual observation.

And yet it is impossible for any one among us to do otherwise than acquiesce in this vicious circle. Why? Just because no man can dissociate himself outright from the social organism of which he forms a component member. He can no more do so than the eye can dissociate itself from the heart and lungs, or than the legs can shake themselves free from the head and stomach. We have all to learn, and to let our boys learn, what authority decides for us. We can't give them a better education than the average, even if we know what it is and desire to impart it, because the better education, though abstractly more valuable, is now and here the inlet to nothing. Every door is barred with examinations, and opens but to the golden key of the crammer. Not what is of most real use and importance in life, but what "pays best" in examination, is the test of desirability. We are the victims of a system; and our only hope of redress is not by sporadic individual action but by concerted rebellion. We must cry out against the abuse till at last we are heard by dint of our much speaking. In a world so complex and so highly organised as ours, the individual can only do anything in the long run by influencing the mass—by securing the co-operation of many among his fellows.

Meanwhile, I believe it is gradually becoming the fact that our girls, who till lately were so very ill-taught, are beginning to know more of what is really worth knowing than their public-school-bred brothers. For the public school still goes on with the system of teaching it has derived direct from the thirteenth century; while the girls' schools, having started fair and fresh, are beginning to assimilate certain newer ideas belonging to the seventeenth and even the eighteenth. In time they may conceivably come down to the more elementary notions of the present generation. Less hampered by professions and examinations than the boys, the girls are beginning to know something now, not indeed of the universe in which they live, its laws and its properties, but of literature and history, and the principal facts about human development. Yet all the time, the boys go on as ever with Musa, Musæ, like so many parrots, and are turned out at last, in nine cases out of ten, with just enough smattering of Greek and Latin grammar to have acquired a life-long distaste for Horace and an inconquerable incapacity for understanding Æschylus. One year in Italy with their eyes open would be worth more than three at Oxford; and six months in the fields with a platyscopic lens would teach them strange things about the world around them that all the long terms at Harrow and Winchester have failed to discover to them. But that would involve some trouble to the teacher.

What a misfortune it is that we should thus be compelled to let our boys' schooling interfere with their education!

This Post has No Comment Add your own!

Yorum Gönder