Popular Science Monthly/Volume 31/August 1887/Manual Training in School Education

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"Manual labor is the study of the external world."—Emerson.

THE first object of education being to bring the mind of man into direct relation with its surroundings, and as this communion is only possible through the senses, the importance of the cultivation of the senses is duly insisted upon by all educational authorities. Now, of the several organs through which we obtain a knowledge of the external world, the sense of touch and the muscular sense have a certain prominence as giving us perceptions which are mainly intellectual. For this reason we should expect that the training of the muscular and tactile sensibility of the hand, and the training of the muscular sense generally, as exercised in the determination of size, shape, and resistance, would form an essential factor of education. But so little has this been the case that, until comparatively recent times, the training of the faculties by which we obtain, at first hand, our knowledge of the things about us has been sadly neglected, and education has consisted mainly in storing the memory with words, with the statements and opinions of others, and with inferences therefrom. Apart altogether from the value of the constructive power which manual skill affords, the knowledge of the properties of matter which is obtained in the acquisition of that skill is considerable, and can not be equally well acquired in any other way. It is this which gives to manual training its value as an educational discipline, and it is mainly for this reason that it is coming to be regarded as an important part of the educational system of nearly every country. "The introduction of manual work into our schools is important," says Sir John Lubbock, "not merely from the advantage which would result to health, not merely from the training of the hand as an instrument, but also from its effect on the mind itself."[1] And it is to this effect on the mind that I desire to call especial attention in this article.

By manual training one commonly means exercises in the use of the tools employed in working wood and iron.

It can not be too often repeated that the object of workshop practice, as a part of general education, is not to teach a boy a trade, but to develop his faculties and to give him manual skill; that, although the carpenter's bench and the turner's lathe are employed as instruments of such training, the object of the instruction is not to create carpenters or joiners, but to familiarize the pupil with the properties of such common substances as wood and iron, to teach the hand and eye to work in unison, to accustom the pupil to exact measurements, and to enable him by the use of tools to produce actual things from drawings that represent them. The discipline of workshop instruction may be regarded as supplementary to that of drawing, with which, however, it should always be associated, as teaching a knowledge of substance in addition to that of form. Moreover, under competent instructors, it may be made an instrument of education similar, in many respects, to practical science. In the workshop, the operations to be performed are less delicate, the measurements are not required to be so exact, the instruments are more easily understood, the substances employed are more ordinary; but the training is very similar, and in so far as the faculties exercised are those of observation rather than of inference, the training, educationally considered, is a fitting introduction to laboratory practice. At the same time, the skill acquired in the workshop is particularly serviceable to the laboratory student in enabling him to make and fit apparatus, and in giving him that adroitness on which progress in scientific work so much depends. But while a certain amount of manual training is valuable in the education of all classes of persons a fact which is already recognized by the head-masters of several of our best secondary schools the usefulness of this kind of training is much greater in the case of the children of the working-classes, whose education is too limited and often too hurried to admit of any practical science-teaching, such as older children obtain, and to whom the skill acquired is of real advantage in inducing in them an aptitude and taste for handicrafts, in facilitating the acquisition of a trade, and possibly in shortening the period of apprenticeship, or of that preliminary training which in so many occupations takes the place of it.

An objection is sometimes raised to the introduction of manual training into elementary schools on the ground that, as the children of the working-classes necessarily leave school at an early age, and spend their lives for the most part in manual work, such time as they can give to study should be occupied in other pursuits in cultivating a taste for reading, and in the acquisition of book-knowledge. This objection is due to a misconception of the true objects and aims of education, and to an imperfect knowledge of what is meant by workshop instruction. To assume that the best education can be given through the medium of books only, and can not be equally well obtained from the study of things, is a survival of the mediævalism against which nearly all modern educational authorities protest. But there is another and more deeply-rooted error in this argument. People often talk and write as if school-time should be utilized for teaching those things which a child is not likely to care to learn in after-life; whereas the real aim of school education should be to create a desire to continue in after-life the pursuit of the knowledge and the skill acquired in school. In other words, the school should be made, as far as possible, a preparation for the whole work of life, and should naturally lead up to it. The endeavor of all educators should be to establish such a relation between school instruction and the occupations of life as to prevent any break of continuity in passing from one to the other. The methods by which we gain information and experience in the busy world should be identical with those adopted in schools.

It is because the opposite theory has so long prevailed, that our school-training has proved so inadequate a preparation for the real work of life. This was not the case in former times; and the demand for technical instruction, both in our elementary and in our secondary schools, is a protest against the contrast which has so long existed between the subjects and methods of school-teaching and the practical work of every-day life.

We are always justly complaining that in this country children leave school at too young an age, before they can have had time to properly assimilate the knowledge they have acquired, with the result that they soon forget a great part of the little they have learned. At the age of fifteen or sixteen, when they begin to feel the want of technical instruction, they are wholly unprepared to avail themselves of the opportunities for obtaining it now brought within their reach. It is to remedy this state of things that continuation schools and recreative classes are much needed. But there can be little doubt, if elementary education were made more practical, that parents would be more willing, even at some sacrifice, to let their children benefit by it. They are often led to take their children away from school, because they do not see much use in the "schooling." Of course, the desire to secure the child's early earnings operates in very many cases; but I am convinced that it would be easier to persuade parents to forego these earnings, if the school-teaching had more direct reference to the work in which the children are likely to be subsequently occupied.

Now, in order that manual training may serve the purpose of an intellectual discipline, the methods of instruction must be carefully considered. That the training of the hand and eye, and the development of the mental faculties, are the true objects of the instruction should never be lost sight of. In many respects, the instruction should partake of the character of an ordinary object-lesson. Before the pupil commences to apply his tools to the material in hand, he should learn something of its nature and properties. The teacher, in a few words introductory to each lesson, should explain to his pupils the distinguishing characteristics of different kinds of wood, as met with in the shop and as found in Nature, and also the differences in the structure and properties of wood according to its sections, treatment, etc. And he should illustrate his lessons by reference to specimens and examples, a collection of which should be found in every school workshop. Something should be said of the countries from which timber is imported, and the conditions under which it is bought and sold, and in this way the material to be manipulated should be made the center of a series of scientific object-lessons.

Concurrently with the practice in the use of any tool, the pupil should learn its construction, the reason of its shape, and the history of its development from other simpler forms. The saw, the plane, the chisel, and the calipers should each be made the subject of an object-lesson to the pupils. In the same way, the teacher should explain the purposes of the different parts of constructive work, and should have models of tenon, mortise, dovetailing, and other joints to illustrate his explanations.[2] Fifteen or twenty minutes thus spent might be made the means of stimulating the intelligence and of exercising the observing and reasoning faculties of the children, and of enabling them to fully understand the work they are doing and the instruments they are using.

Further, the children should be taught, from the very first, to work from correct scale-drawings, made by themselves from their own rough sketches. How simple soever the object may be which the pupil is to construct, it should exactly correspond with his own drawings. In this way, the workshop instruction supplements and gives a meaning to the drawing-lesson, and the school-teaching is made to have a direct bearing upon the subsequent work of the artisan. Dr. Woodward, the instructor of the St. Louis Manual Training-School, who has had considerable experience in organizing and superintending workshop instruction, tells us that "the habit of working from drawings and to nice measurements gives to students confidence in themselves altogether new"; and he justly claims that "it is the birthright of every child to be taught the three methods of expression: 1. By the written, printed, or spoken word. 2. By the pencil and brush, using the various kinds of graphic art. 3. Through the instrumentality of tools and materials, which enable one to express thought in the concrete."[3] The Committee of Council on Education, in their recent report, speaking of the teaching of cooking to girls, say: "After the three elementary subjects and sewing, no subject is of such importance for the class of girls who attend public elementary schools, and lessons in it, if properly given, will be found to be not only of practical use, but to have the effect of awakening the interest and intelligence of the children." Surely, what is true of sewing and cooking in the case of girls, is true to a greater extent of drawing and handicrafts in the case of boys.

In many parts of the Continent manual training has now for some years been associated with elementary instruction. In France, Belgium, Austria, Holland, and Sweden the workshop is a part of the school-building; and in the United States the number of manual training-schools of higher grade, somewhat similar to the well-known apprenticeship-schools of France, is steadily increasing. Indeed, judging from the published accounts of these schools, and from the writings of some of the most prominent educationists in the United States, an enthusiasm is spreading among Americans in favor of workshop instruction, which is likely to have an important influence on the industrial progress of this eminently practical and inventive people.

In the report of the Commissioners on Technical Instruction, notices will be found of some of the principal Continental schools which are now fitted with workshops. Sir John Lubbock, in the article above quoted, has supplemented this information by reference to the "Slöjd" system of manual instruction which is adopted in Sweden. An interesting account of this system has been written by M. Sluys, who is well known to educationists from his connection with the École Modèle of Brussels. Since the report of the commissioners was published, the movement in favor of workshop-teaching in schools has advanced rapidly in France. Nearly every large town has now its higher elementary school (a type of school as yet scarcely to be found in this country) fitted with workshops for wood and iron; and, out of one hundred and seventy-four primary schools supported by the city of Paris, ninety-five are now provided with workshops, ninety for instruction in carpentry and wood-turning, and five for metal-work. In these schools the manual teaching has hitherto been given either before or after the ordinary school-hours; but the Municipal Council of Paris attach such importance to this training that it is proposed to make the workshop instruction a part of the regular school curriculum. This change will necessitate a rearrangement of the school-hours and the provision of workshops in the remaining seventy-nine schools in which they have not yet been fitted. But it is confidently expected that the municipality of Paris, which has done so much for the technical education of its artisans, will not hesitate to incur this additional expense. The action of the city of Paris gives additional weight to the recommendation of the English commissioners on this subject.

Experiments of introducing workshops into elementary schools have been tried in this country, with results sufficiently encouraging to justify the extension of the system. In Sheffield, Birmingham, and Glasgow the results have been eminently satisfactory. In London the experiment has recently been tried on a small scale, and under not the most favorable circumstances, in the Beethoven Street schools; but the report of Mr. Tate, the energetic head-master, is so encouraging that the School Board of London is very desirous of extending the system of instruction to a large number of the schools under its control. In his report to the board, Mr. Tate says:

This class was started on September 28, 1885, in a shed or workshop built by the board in a recess in the playground, and the instruction is given by the school-keeper, a carpenter by trade, under the direct supervision of the headmaster.

The boys are chosen mainly from the seventh standard, and attendance at the workshop is considered a privilege, and a reward of merit in ordinary school subjects. It is therefore a simulus and incentive to industry and thoroughness of work. This plan has been so effective that a boy once chosen values the teaching and practice so much that he continues to be chosen each week, and the instruction is therefore continuous, for the class has been virtually the same since it started.

Boys who have been trained in a good school, and have acquired soundly the rudiments of education, too often when they leave school think that their proper career is a city counting-house, and that to wear black clothes and appear as a gentleman is a fair summit of their ambition. I certainly think that this workshop for upper standard boys will help to dissipate this idea, as it will show boys that, after we have given them the best education which the school offers, we then lead them into the workshop, and so practically show them that the end and aim of our training is to enable them to learn some useful trade, and so become good workmen.

The workshop, I believe, is a valuable training to enable the eye and hand to work in harmony. It is intended to make the school-drawing, especially the scale-drawing and geometry, apply as much as possible to the work done in the workshop. It is certainly a pleasant relief to ordinary school-work. Should a boy not follow a trade when he leaves school, he will at least be able to make his home-work comfortable by using the skill and facility which he has acquired in this workshop.

At the expense of the Rev. S. Barnett and a few of his friends, a workshop has recently been fitted in the school attached to St. Jude's Church, Whitechapel. Arrangements have been made for giving instruction in carpentry and turnery to boys, and in modeling and woodcarving to girls of the upper standards, and the results of the lessons have fully justified the most sanguine expectations of the advocates of this kind of instruction. Those who have visited these schools have been struck with the cheerful interest shown by the children in their work, and by the effect of the teaching in quickening their perceptive faculties and in stimulating their intelligence. The contrast between the listless and often inattentive attitude of children, occupied with some ordinary class lesson, and the eager eyes and nimble fingers of the same children at the carpenter's or modeling bench is most instructive; and no one who has seen it can have any doubt of the educational value of this kind of training. These results, it must be remembered, have been attained by teachers most of whom have themselves been trying experiments, and have been working by the light of Nature without any well-considered methods. Under properly-trained instructors, the results would doubtless have been far more satisfactory.

There is good reason to believe that the stimulating effect of workshop instruction on the intelligence of children will be such that, not-withstanding the loss of the time spent in the shop, their progress in their ordinary studies will be in no way retarded.

Mr. Swire Smith, a member of the late Commission on Technical Instruction, states "that the half-time children of the town of Keighley, numbering from fifteen hundred to two thousand, although they receive less than fourteen hours of instruction per week, and are required to attend the factory for twenty-eight hours per week in addition, yet obtain at the examinations a higher percentage of passes than the average of children throughout the whole country receiving double the amount of schooling." This answers the objection so often raised, that the curriculum of elementary schools is already overcrowded. Possibly it may be with literary studies, but not with practical work, and the combination of the two will go far to correct the tendency to over-pressure inherent in our system of payment by results.

As a general rule, children should be required to have passed the fifth standard before being admitted into the shop. They should receive two lessons a week, and each lesson should be of about two hours'duration. No fixed rule can at present be given as to the number of children who can be taught by one instructor. For convenience of supervision the shop should be fitted for the accommodation of not more than twenty-five children. On starting a class, each pupil requires more individual attention than later on. A class of beginners, therefore, should not consist of the full complement of children. Where the same shop is used for bench-work and lathe-work, it will be found that a double lathe will occupy four pupils, that eighteen can be accommodated at three carpenters' benches, each of not less than fourteen feet six inches in length, while two may be engaged in sawing. Besides the benches and lathes, the school should contain a large blackboard, a cupboard, which is better than boxes for holding tools, and a grindstone.

In estimating the expense of adding this subject to our elementary school course, we have to consider the cost first, of equipping the workshops; second, of the material used; third, of the teaching.

Supposing a shed or some other room to be found, which can be used as a workshop, the cost of equipping the shop with benches and with the necessary tools need not exceed thirty shilling for each pupil's place, and the workshop can be used by different sets of pupils at different times. Moreover, a shop need not be fitted at once with the full complement of benches; for, after a time, the more advanced pupils may be employed in making some of the additional fittings required.

The cost of material is inconsiderable. The children soon learn to construct various articles for their own homes, which, on payment of the cost of the material consumed, become the property of their parents. Some, too, might be employed in making models and other objects, including certain workshop-fittings, which might be purchased for the use of other schools. At the same time, care must be taken that the work is always subordinated to the educational purpose of the instruction.

Of the actual cost of the teaching no very exact estimate can as yet be formed. Much depends on the system adopted. If the instruction were given during school-hours, it would take the place of some other lesson, and, by a proper arrangement of time-tables, might be given at very little additional expense. In some of the schools in which the experiment has been already tried, special teachers have been appointed, who have received a certain fee for each lesson. But if several schools in the same district combined, one teacher might be engaged, and either the children might be brought to a common center, as in the case of the cookery-classes, or the teacher might go from school to school, as in the case of the science-teaching in Birmingham and Liverpool. The latter plan might be more convenient for the schools; but the former plan would be more economical, as enabling one shop and certain tools to be used by several sets of children.

It would be necessary under any circumstances that the instruction should be encouraged by a system of grants, or by some equivalent external aid. A system might be organized of paying grants on the results of the individual work of each pupil; but all the disadvantages of the method of "payment by results" would be emphasized in the case of workshop instruction, and the teaching would lose much of its disciplinary value. The amount of the grant should depend mainly on the average number of children in attendance. A grant of four shillings, as in the case of cookery-lessons, and the recognition of the subject by the Education Department, would afford sufficient encouragement to induce certain school boards and school managers to make manual training a part of the curriculum of the schools under their control. The total amount of these grants would be but a slight addition to our education expenses. According to the last report, the whole number of children presented for examination in the sixth and seventh standards was 112,455. Of these, we may assume that about 60,000 are boys. Supposing half this number to elect to receive workshop instruction, the grant would amount to £6,000 a year. But even this estimate is excessive as an addition to our present expenditure. For many of the children might take handicrafts in lieu of one of the specific subjects on which grants are now paid.[4] It may, therefore, I think, be asserted that, the workshops being once equipped, the additional cost in grants of introducing handicraft teaching into the curriculum of our elementary schools would not exceed £5,000 a year; and for this comparatively small expenditure about 30,000 boys might be annually sent out into the world from our elementary schools endowed with practical skill at their fingers' ends, imbued with a taste and aptitude for the real work of their life, and so educated as to be able to apply to that work the results of scientific teaching and scientific methods.

In organizing a scheme of technical teaching in connection with our elementary schools, the difficulty has to be met of obtaining good teachers and competent inspectors. The artisan, who is a skillful workman and nothing more, may succeed in teaching the elements of carpentry and joinery; but he is not the kind of teacher needed. It is of the utmost importance that the instructor should be a good draughtsman, should have some knowledge of physical science, should be an expert workman, and should have studied the art of teaching. To obtain at first such ideal instructors would be impossible; but there is no reason why, gradually, they should not be trained. Two processes suggest themselves. We might take a well-trained elementary teacher, having an aptitude for mechanical arts, and give him a course of instruction in the use of tools, either in a technical school or in an ordinary workshop; or, we might take an intelligent artisan, who had studied science and drawing in some of the excellent evening classes which are now found in almost every town, and give him a short course of lessons on method in relation to workshop instruction. Good teachers might be obtained by either of these processes. Perhaps the latter is preferable, as it is most important that the teacher who is to inspire confidence should be a good workman to start with and thoroughly familiar with the practice of his trade. For such intelligent and educated artisans there is, I hope, a future of profitable employment. It would be well, however, that in all our technical colleges opportunities should be afforded to teachers in elementary schools of acquiring practice in the use of tools; and that special training-classes should be formed for artisans, in the organization of workshops and in the best methods of workshop teaching.

Nearly all educationists have pointed out the many advantages of enabling children at an early age to realize the connection between knowing and doing. Comenius has well said, "Let those things that have to be done be learned by doing them." Rousseau has pithily expressed a similar idea in saying: "Souvenez-vous qu'en toute chose vos leçons doivent être plus en actions qu'en discours; car les enfants oublient aisément ce qu'ils ont dit et ce qu'on leur a dit, mais non pas ce qu'ils ont fait et ce qu'on leur a fait." (Remember that in everything your lessons ought to be more in actions than in speech; for children easily forget what they have said and what has been said to them, but not what they have done and what has been done to them.) Locke, speaking of the education of a gentleman—for in his day the education of the poorer classes was scarcely thought of—says, "I would have him learn a trade, a manual trade"; and Emerson, in the choice words, "Manual labor is the study of the external world," tersely states the whole aim and purpose of my remarks. Rabelais, Montaigne, Pestalozzi, Froebel, Combe, Spencer, and others have urged the importance of practical teaching, of studying things before words, of proceeding from the concrete to the abstract. But, as yet, such has been the inertia of school authorities and teachers, and such the force of tradition, that we are only now beginning to employ the methods of instruction that have been advocated for years by the most eminent educational reformers.

In what I have said, I have endeavored to show that workshop instruction may be made a part of a liberal education; that, as an educational discipline, it serves to train the faculties of observation, to exercise the hand and eye in the estimation of form and size, and the physical properties of common things; that the skill acquired is useful in every occupation of life, and is especially serviceable to those who are likely to become artisans, by inducing taste and aptitude for manual work, by tending to shorten the period of apprenticeship, by enabling the learner to apply to the practice of his trade the correct methods of inquiry which he has learned at school, and by affording the necessary basis for higher technical education.

Possibly, the latest authoritative expression of opinion on the importance of manual training was a resolution, unanimously agreed to at the International Congress on Commercial and Technical Education, recently held at Bordeaux, to the effect that it is desirable that manual work should be rendered obligatory in primary schools of all grades.

It is satisfactory to know, from a circular[5] that has recently been sent to school managers, that this important subject is engaging the serious attention of the Royal Commission on Education now sitting, whose labors, it is to be hoped, may result in making our elementary teaching more practical, less mechanical, and better adapted to the future requirements of the working-classes.—Contemporary Review.

Baron Eggers is about to undertake the botanical investigation of the hitherto unexplored higher mountains of Santo Domingo. He is under commission of Dr. Urban, assisted by the Royal Academy of Sciences of Berlin. Collections will be distributed in limited numbers, at prices bearing relation to the novelty of the species.

  1. "Fortnightly review," October, p. 467.
  2. Collections of these models for school purposes are sold by Messrs. Schröder, of Darmstadt.
  3. "Proceedings of International Conference on Education," London, 1884, vol. ii, p. 58.
  4. It may be well here incidentally to call attention to the relatively small amount of grants earned for specific subjects. Out of 352,860 children, who last year were examined in elementary subjects in the fifth, sixth, and seventh standards, only 64,376 presented themselves in specific subjects, the total amount of grant paid being £14,662 11s. 8d. Of the children on account of whom these grants were earned, Sir John Lubbock tells us that less than 25,000 were examined in any branch of science.
  5. The circular, as published by Lord Brabazon in a letter to the "Times" of October 11th, contains the following questions:
    1. Is the course of teaching prescribed by the Code suited to the children of your school?
    2. What changes, if any, would you desire in the (Education Acts)? in the Code? in the administration?
    3. Would you recommend the introduction into your school of practical instruction? A. In any of the industries of the district f or in the use of tools for working in wood or iron? B. (for girls) in the domestic duties of home?