Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 14.djvu/66

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56
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

Much more, however, is meant by the gratification of the self-activity of the learner. That expression points to the acquiring of knowledge, as little as possible by direct communication, and as much as possible by the mind's own exertion in working it out from the raw materials. We are to place the pupil as nearly as may be in the track of the first discoverer, and thus impart the stimulus of invention, with the accompanying outburst of self-gratulation and triumph. This bold fiction is sometimes put forward as one of the regular arts of the teacher; but I should prefer to consider it as an extraordinary device admissible only on peculiar occasions.

It is an obvious defect in teaching to keep continually lecturing pupils, without asking them in turn to reproduce and apply what is said. This is no doubt a sin against the pupil's self-activity, but rather in the manner than in the fact. Listening and imbibing constitute a mode of activity; only it may be overdone in being out of proportion to the other exercises requisite for fixing our knowledge. When these other activities are fairly plied, the pupil may have a certain complacent satisfaction in his or her own efficiency as a learner, and this is a fair and legitimate reward to an apt pupil. It does not assume any independent self-sufficiency; it merely supposes an adequate comprehension and a faithful reproduction of the knowledge communicated. The praise or approbation of the master, and of others interested, is a superadded reward.

Notwithstanding, there still remains, if we could command it, a tenfold power in the feeling of origination, invention, or creation; but as this can hardly ever be actual, the suggestion is to give it in fiction or imagination. Now, it is one of the delicate arts of an accomplished instructor to lay before his pupils a set of facts pointing to a conclusion, and leave them to draw the conclusion for themselves. Exactly to hit the mean between a leap too small to have any merit, and one too wide for the ordinary pupil, is a fine adjustment and a great success. All this, however, belongs to the occasional luxuries, the bonbons, of teaching, and cannot be included under the daily routine.

It is to be borne in mind that although the pride of origination is a motive of extraordinary power, and in some minds surpasses every other motive, and has a great charm even in a fictitious example, yet it is not in all minds the only extraneous motive that may aid the teacher. There is a counter-motive of sympathy, affection, and admiration, for superior wisdom, that operates in the other direction; giving a zest in receiving and imbibing to the letter what is imparted, and jealously restraining any independent exercise of judgment such as would share the credit with the instructor. This tendency is no doubt liable to run into slavishness, and to favor the perpetuation of error and the stagnation of the human mind; but a certain measure of it is only becoming the attitude of a learner. It accompanies a proper sense of what is the fact, namely, that the learner is a learner, and not a teacher or a discov-