Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 27.djvu/44

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32
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

from carrying on the mental processes which he ought to go through for himself. In fact, the clearer the exposition by the lecturer, the less is left to the student—the lecturer, in fact, is the chief gainer by the system. Moreover, while listening to a connected and logical unfolding of the principles, the student is lulled into a false belief that, as he understands all that has been so clearly presented to him, he knows the subject quite well enough; and the result is to send out a number of conceited men who really can not carry on a rational economic discussion. They wholly miss the discipline which gives exactitude, mental breadth, keenness, and power to express themselves plainly and to the point. Then, not being forced to think over a principle in its application to various phases of concrete phenomena, they know the principle only in connection with the illustrations given by the lecturer, while they utterly fail to assimilate the principles into their own thinking. The subject then becomes to them a matter of memory. They memorize the general statements without ever realizing their practical side, and that which is memorized for the day of examination is forgotten more speedily than it is learned, and the sum total of the discipline has been simply a stretching of the memory. In fact, with the average student in almost any subject the lecture system leads to cramming At the best, it affords a constant temptation to put off that kind of internal struggle which must be gone through with—a period of doubts and questions—by which alone a clearer conception of the subject ultimately emerges. In fact, it is doubtful if the student ever gets much, if any, of that mental attrition on the subject which is the most valuable part of the work. An experience of a year in lecturing to a class of two hundred and fifty, including the best and the poorest men in the university, convinced me of the truth of the above position; and their examination-books were the most unsatisfactory I had read for years.

The usual alternative to the lecture system is the plan of recitations from a text-book. Even the simplest form of recitations is, in my opinion, better than listening to lectures. At least, the student is put to it to express the sense in words under the criticism of the teacher. But this plan has its evident difficulties. If the pupil is called upon for only what is contained in the book, he falls into the habit of memorizing, and fails to think for himself. If you give him the clew, he can tell you on what part of the page the statement is found, and can put the idea in the language of the book; but he knows nothing of the power of applying it to what he sees. If the learner is very clever and inquisitive, he may do something for himself, but the average pupil quite misses the real good of such a course.

2. As it is evident that neither lectures nor formal recitations in the old fashion are satisfactory, we are inevitably led to adopt a plan which possesses the advantages of both. Some text-book is essential as a basis for the instruction. In it the pupil should find an exposition