Popular Science Monthly/Volume 38/November 1890/Correspondence

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Editor Popular Science Monthly:

THAT the present system of graded schools is far in advance of the old ungraded one, where the same teacher instructed Johnny in his A, B, C, and Johnny's older brother in geometry, is an undeniable tact. But to the non-professional observer, who merely looks at the effect on the children, it is by no means evident that the reaction against the schools of fifty years ago has not gone too far. By the present mode of specialization, many individual teachers have worked out their own hobbies, and presented their arguments so plausibly that they have gained general acceptance. Each succeeding year shows a so-called advance in these "natural" methods, and they are all united in a system so unnatural that a course of it kills out all individuality in the child mind and life, and leaves us with a set of little machines, all stamped out from the original metal with the same die.

Look, for a moment, at some of the methods employed in our schools, examples taken at random, and that ought to speak for themselves. First comes a city grammar-school, where the pupils average thirteen years of age. To save herself the trouble of speaking the names of her children, the enterprising teacher has arranged these names in alphabetical order, numbered them according to this order, and addresses the pupils as "Number Two," "Number Twenty-eight," "Number Forty-three." Slight as this fact may seem, it is not without its influence. From ceasing to have any names of their own, as far as their teacher is concerned, the children cease to have any personality in her eyes, and the pupil becomes a mere hollow block, labeled with a certain number, into which daily portions of arithmetic, geography, and grammar are to be poured, regardless of the capacity of the block and the strength of its walls to resist overpressure. The child keenly feels such , loss of individuality, and, by this loss, much of the incentive to work is withdrawn.

As for the lessons themselves, much fault lies at the foundation of all learning to read. While our parents were forced to spell columns of words, real or imaginary, like am, bam, cam, dam, and so on to zam, and, by perusing such cheerful sentences as "the lamb is on the tomb," to discover that in some words the final letter b is superfluous, as an improvement on that the children of to-day are taught to read without spelling, recognizing each word by its appearance, and learning it as a detached fact. The time spent in gaining a vocabulary in this way would surely be more than sufficient to teach the child the separate letters and their usual combinations, and his reasoning powers would be quite as rapidly developed in the latter case.

A lesson in writing was recently witnessed with some amusement and perplexity. One of the pupils took her place at the piano while the teacher gave these brief orders "Attention; sit erect; feet together; lean forward; elbows on desks; curve two finders; hold pen; describe letters m the air." And, while the piano rattled out a gay march or a lively waltz, fifty arms were waved in mid-air, vaguely outlining a string of letters. Again the voice was heard: "Stop; dip pens; write on paper; begin." And then capital I's were scratched off by the score, while the waltz sounded its accompaniment. Then came the command, "Wipe pens." Alas for the luckless child whose pen was not dipped deeply enough, or caught a thread on its tip! On, on he must go until the order "Dip pens" or "Wipe pens" gave him a chance to repair his accident. The avowed object of all this is to teach the rapid writers to take more time, while those who are slower with their pens must learn to hurry. Why is this necessary? And if the lessons of school are to prepare one for the everyday needs of life, it would be the natural conclusion from this that our business men have grand pianos and church organs in their offices and counting-rooms, and that the clerks take turns in playing appropriate selections from the old masters.

But two more strange rules can be glanced at. By the first, each child in a certain public school must take home one book every night, no matter whether the lessons are all prepared or not. The other, which, like the first, comes to us from Massachusetts, is still more absurd. In this case the text-books are free, and each book has a string securely tying down the leaves not yet studied. On no account may a child slip out a leaf and look ahead. The object of this last regulation still unknown; but for most teachers it is safe to assume that when a child wishes to learn a fact, then is the best time to teach him regarding it.

Is not the present craze for carrying "methods" to extremes worthy of some consideration? Anna Chapin Ray.

West Haven, Connecticut.


Editor Popular Science Monthly:

In the short list of important discoveries of the last fifty years, given in the July number (p. 428), that of the antiseptic treat|treatment}} treatment is omitted. Dr. Lister, now Sir Joseph Lister, realizing that inflammation and suppuration of wounds (whether caused by accident or the kindly knife of the surgeon) proceeded from noxious spores settling in exposed parts of the flesh (as taught by Pasteur), arranged methods by which none of these germs might light upon the wound, or, if they did alight, that they might be killed. This, the antiseptic or germicide system, gives the modern surgeon, with the use of anæsthetics, such a command of circumstances that he can amputate a limb or explore interior parts of the body with an impunity almost miraculous. The wound that, in former times, almost inevitably suppurated, is now protected from serving as a fertile ground for germs that but a few years ago would have settled there and multiplied enormously. The presence of these bacteria produced the inflammation, and thereby much of the vital force of the patient was expended in the process of recuperation from a trouble which was but a sequel to the wound. Now, every skillful surgeon protects his patient from these spores, and, binding up the exposed flesh with antiseptic bandages, the wound heals rapidly without secondary symptoms. The existence of inflammatory gangrene in hospitals ought to be forever exorcised.

To religiously prominent men are built shrines, even though they did not perform miracles either during their lives or after death. But there will be no need to visit Lister's tomb; for the almost miraculous benefits he has conferred upon us can be obtained at the uttermost ends of the earth. Votive offerings innumerable might well be made to one who, if not listed among the saints, has rendered an inestimable service to mankind.

The English Government created Dr. Lister a baronet, though he was, in the estimation of many, as deserving of a higher title as any upon whom such honor is conferred. The Germans accepted his teaching promptly and cordially, and, when he visited Germany, awarded him a grand ovation. The American physicians adopted Sir Joseph's ideas, and have, perhaps, improved upon his system. It is now appropriate that the laity of all nations should recognize his most valuable teachings, and raise a sum of money to create, say, an endowment for original research to be named for the baronet.

Yours truly, Horace J. Smith.

Pontresina Switzerland.