Popular Science Monthly/Volume 40/January 1892/An Experiment in Education I
|AN EXPERIMENT IN EDUCATION.|
By MARY ALLING ABER.
IN October, 1881, a primary department was added to a private school in Boston, Mass., and the control of it given to me, for the purpose of making an experiment in education. While it was hoped the primary would sustain the usual relation to the higher departments, the proprietor guaranteed freedom of action for three years, and generously furnished the means required. Gratitude is due to others also, especially to the teachers who assisted in some part of the work.
The aim of the experiment was to see if the child may not be introduced at once to the foundations of all learning—the natural and physical sciences, mathematics, literature including language, and history—and at the same time be given a mastery of such elements of reading, writing, and number as usually constitute primary education.
The experiment began with nine children between the ages of five and a half and seven years. With scales and measuring rod each child was weighed and measured, while such questions were asked as—"Have you been weighed before? When? What did you weigh then? How does your weight to-day compare with that?" The shyest children forgot they were at school, and chatted freely while watching and comparing results. By questions as to why a present weight or measure was greater than a former one, the statement "Children grow" was obtained. Questions about the causes of growth led to the statements "Children eat," "Children sleep," "Children play." A question as to whether anything besides children grows started a talk about animals, in which were given the statements "Animals grow," "Animals eat" "Animals sleep," "Animals play." In like manner similar statements about plants were obtained. The children were easily led from thinking of a particular child, animal, or plant, to the general conception and the use of the general term. This was the first lesson in natural science.
Recalling the first general conception reached in the science lesson a child was asked, "Nina, what did you say children do?" "Children grow," she replied. I said, "I will put upon the blackboard something that means what Nina said," and wrote in Spencerian script, "Children grow." In response to invitation the children eagerly gave the general statements gained in the science lesson. Each was written upon the board and read by the child who gave it. They were told that what they had said and I had written were sentences. Each child read his own sentence again. This was the first reading lesson.
One by one each child stood by me at the board, repeated his sentence, and watched while it was written. He was then taught to hold a crayon, and left to write his sentence beneath the model. When a first attempt was finished, the sentence was written in a new place, and the child repeated his effort at copying. In this manner each made from one to four efforts, each time telling what his copy meant and what he wished his effort to mean. None of this work was erased before the children had gone. This was the first writing lesson.
The children were led to count their classmates, their sentences on the blackboards, the tables, chairs, and other objects in the school-room. It was found that all could use accurately the terms one, two, three, and four, and the symbols 1, 2, 3, 4 were put on the board as meaning what they said, and their power to connect these symbols with the ideas that they represent was tested in various ways. This was the first number lesson.
The children were shown a magnetic needle and led to note the direction of its points when at rest, and the terms north and south were given. This was the first geography lesson.
After recess each child read his sentence, wrote it once, and then the subject of the science lesson was pursued further. After special answers to the question, "What do children eat?" the general statement was obtained, "Children eat plants and animals." Similarly, the children were led to give "Animals eat plants and animals," Then came the question, "What do plants eat?" One suggested the sunshine, another the rain, another the air, others the ground or dirt, for which the term soil was given. It was concluded that rain, air, and sunshine help plants to grow, and that some of their food must come from the soil; and the general statement was given, "Plants get food from the soil." Then I asked, "Where does the soil come from?" Before wonder had given way to opinion, I said, "If you bring luncheons and extra wraps to-morrow, we will go to the country and try to find out where the soil comes from." A poem of Longfellow's was read, and the children were dismissed.
On the second morning the children came bounding in before nine o'clock, eager to find and read their sentences, which each did without hesitation; and until nine o'clock they amused themselves finding and reading one another's sentences, teaching and challenging in charming style. A few minutes later we started on our first field lesson in science. An hour's ride in street cars brought us to the open country. We went into a small field where a ledge of rock presented a bold front. "Children," I said, "an answer to our question is in this field. I wish each of you to find the answer for himself, to speak to no one until he thinks he has found it, and then to whisper it to me." Soberly they turned away, and I seated myself and waited. One child looked up at the sky, another at the ground, one began to pull over some gravel, another to dig in the soil—most to do some aimless thing because they knew not what to do. After a while some began to climb the ledge and to feel of it. Suddenly one of these darted to me and breathlessly whispered, "I think the soil comes from the rock over there." "Well, don't you tell," I whispered back. The sun climbed higher, but I waited until the last child brought me that whisjDered reply. Calling them together, I said: "You have all brought me the same answer. Why do you think soil comes from this rock?" They turned to the ledge, picked off the loose exterior, and showed me the same in masses at the base. A hammer was produced, with which they picked away the rock until it became too hard for them to break. I then said, "We see that a kind of soil comes from this rock, but what kind did we come to learn about?" "The soil that plants get food from," they replied. "How do you know that any plants can get food from this soil?" I asked. Instinctively they turned to the cliff; there were grasses and weeds growing in the talus at the base, and in crevices all up its front and sides; these they pulled, and showed me the roots with the rock soil clinging to them. Referring to the work with the hammer and comparing what they picked off with the hard mass underneath, they were led to. variously describe the process of passing from rock to soil, and finally the statement was obtained, "Rock decays to make soil." After luncheon and a bit of play, the children were led to speak of rocks and soils seen elsewhere. Telling the children to shut their eyes and try to picture what I said, I told them that the earth is round like a ball, and is a mass of rock with a little soil on the outside of it; that if a giant could take the earth in his hand, he might peel or scrape off the soil as we take a carpet from a floor, only the soil would seem much thinner than the carpet, because the earth is so big. All had traveled in railway trains, and had such impressions of their swiftness that this illustration was used: Suppose we start for the center of the earth on a train. Traveling day and night, it would take nearly a week to reach the center, and another week from there to the surface again; and all day while we watched, and all night while we slept, we should be rushing through the rock; and if we came out through the thickest layer of soil, it would take but a few seconds to pass through it. Then, telling them to open their eyes, I took a peach whose rind was thin and peeled smoothly from the pulp, spoke of the giant as I drew off the rind, and told them that the soil is thinner on the rock ball of earth than that rind on the peach. A few remaining minutes were spent in observing some pine trees and barberry bushes growing near.
On the third day, after reading the sentences already on the board—of which each child besides his own read one or more others—the following sentences were easily elicited: "Children eat plants and animals. Animals eat plants and animals. Plants get food from the soil. The soil comes from the rock. Rock decays to make soil." These were written on the blackboard, read, and copied by the children as on the first day. This was the natural science, reading, and writing of the third day. In number, the children added and subtracted ones by making groups and joining and leaving one another. In geography the first lesson was recalled, and the terms east and west associated with the appropriate points.
On the fourth day, after the children had retold what they had learned in the science lessons, they were shown a globe, and asked to imagine one as large as the room would hold, and how, to represent the earth, they must think it all rock, with only a thin layer of dust to represent the soil. In geography they were shown a map of the school-room, and led to see its relations to the room, and the relative positions of objects in the room and on the map. The next day, on another map, they traced their route to the country, and located the field and ledge of rock where their question was answered. In the fifth day's science lesson the children were led to speak of rain and wind as washing and blowing off the decayed rock and exposing fresh surfaces, and so increasing the decay, and to give the following summary: "Without decay of rock there would be no soil; if no soil, no plants, no animals, no people." In reading they had seventeen sentences, which they read without hesitation and wrote with some resemblance to the originals. In number, none failed to count to ten and to add and subtract ones to ten. Each, day a passage of poetry was read at the opening and closing of the session; little songs were taught, gentle gymnastic exercises were introduced between the lessons, and the free-arm movement in making long straight lines was added to their lessons in writing. This work of the first week is given to show how the experiment was begun. The classes entering the second and third years were started with different sets of lessons, but substantially on the same lines.
Throughout the three years reading was taught as in the first week. When there were enough, sentences to make a four-page leaflet of print, they were printed and read in that form. The first transfer from script to print was made at the end of six weeks. The printed leaflets were distributed; the children merely glanced at them; as yet they were of less interest than the objects usually distributed. I said, "Look at the papers; see if there is anything on them that you have seen before." Soon one hand was raised, then another, and another. "Rosamond, what have you found?" "I think one of my sentences is here, but it don't look just like the one on the board." In less than ten minutes, by comparison of script and print, they read the whole leaflet, each pointing out "my sentences." After a few readings the children took the leaflets home, the sent(3nces were erased from the boards, and the same process repeated with the new matter that was accumulating. The reader may think there was great waste of time and effort, since the new vocabulary and the written and printed symbols must have been forgotten almost as soon as learned. I expected the children to forget much, and was surprised to find that they did not. One morning in March, a visitor who was looking over the accumulated leaflets asked to have them read. I told her they had been read when first printed only; but she urged the test, so I distributed them as they happened to come. The first leaflet fell to the youngest girl, and I think I was more amazed than our visitor when she read it without faltering. The visitor asked her, "What does palmately-veined mean, where you read 'The leaf of the cotton-plant is palmately-veined'?" The child replied, "I can show what it means better than I can tell it." "Show us, then, Marjorie," I said. The child drew on the board a fairly correct outline of a cotton-plant leaf, inserted its palmate veining, and turning to the visitor pointed to that veining. All the leaflets were read without help, nothing was forgotten, neither ideas nor words, as the visitor assured herself by questions.
No effort was made to use a special vocabulary, to repeat words, to avoid scientific terms; there was no drill in phonics or spelling; no attention was given to isolated words as words—a thought was the unit and basis of expression. In the science lessons the minds of the children were intent on the getting of ideas and the expression of them. Direction to look or think again usually sufficed to change vague, wordy expressions into clear, terse ones by giving the child clear and accurate conceptions. When the child's own vocabulary was exhausted, he was promptly helped to words by classmates or teacher, the effort being to use the speech of cultivated people.
At first the reading could by no means keep pace with the science lessons: from the mass of expressions obtained some were selected for the reading and writing matter. With increase of power to remember forms and combinations of letters and words, the number of sentences was increased, until what was gained in the science lessons was reproduced in the reading lessons. This increase was rapid. From the first field lesson two sentences—eleven words—only could be taken, while a field lesson near the close of the second year yielded ninety-seven sentences—over eleven hundred words. In the former the sentences were written on the board and read every day for five weeks; in the latter they were taken down in pencil by the teacher as the children gave them, arranged according to topics, printed, and presented in the printed form for the first reading. There was little hesitation in that reading, so vivid were the impressions from such a day out-of-door.
During the first year a little reading matter was drawn from lessons in literature and history. This was gradually increased during the second and third years. Still the sentences for reading were taken chiefly from the science lessons, because there could be more certainty of the child's having accurate and well-defined ideas as the basis of each expression, and the sentences could be more completely their own. In March of the first year reading-books were introduced. At the first trial they took Swinton's Easy Steps for Little Feet, and in twelve minutes read a page-and-a-half story. Of their own accord they sought and independently obtained from the context the meaning of all but two of the unfamiliar words, and gave to express the meanings either the exact words of the book or synonymous ones, for which those of the book were substituted. After this they read from books whenever such reading could be related to their other work—not much otherwise. While the production by the children of the bulk of their reading matter was a prominent feature, this was not the object of the experiment but merely an adjunct to the chief end in view. Nor were the science topics selected with reference to the reading matter, but on their own merits, mutual relations, and the capacities of the children.
As soon as a child's writing on the blackboard could be read by his classmates—copy being erased—he began to write at his desk with pencil on unruled, paper, the copy being still written on the board. When all had reached this stage, concert arm and finger movements were taught. During the second and third years the forms of the letters and combining strokes were analyzed, and each drawn on a large scale to accurate measurements.
The children saw no misspelled words, and were not asked to spell or write isolated words. During the first and second years they usually had a copy from which they wrote. In the third year they wrote original exercises. They were told to ask, when not sure how to write a word. The word was written on the board: no effort was made to have them think how a word should look, no matter how many times they had seen it written and printed.
Work in the natural and physical sciences, starting with broad conceptions, was carried forward along various lines, care being taken to show relations, and to lead the children to regard themselves as a part of nature. In mineralogy and geology, the paving, building, and ornamental stones most used in Boston; the ores of the principal metals, and their products; graphite and the making of pencils; gypsum and halite, were studied, each child getting his knowledge from specimens before him. Each was furnished with a testing outfit, including what a field geologist commonly carries, except the blowpipe and reagents to use with it; and these children from six to ten soon learned to use the outfit with as much skill as any adults whom I have taught.
In physics, lessons were given on extension and gravity; on the solid, liquid, and gaseous states of matter; on heat as the force producing expansion and contraction; on the evaporation, condensation, and freezing of water, with results in dew, clouds, rain, snow, and the disintegration of rocks; on movements of air as agents producing wind and storms; on the thermometer; on magnets, and two of their uses. In chemistry, lessons were given on air and its composition; on combustion and its products; on iron rust as to formation, and effects on iron; on CO3 as an ingredient of calcite, and a product of breathing; on acids as tests for lime rocks containing CO2; on the distinction between physical and chemical changes. In astronomy, a few lessons were given on the relations of sun and earth as causing day and night and the seasons.
Botany was pursued in the fall and spring months. In the spring the children planted a window garden, from which they drew plants for the study of germination and growtli. From garden and wild plants they studied buds and their developments, and the forms, parts, and uses of some leaves, flowers, and fruits. A series of lessons on plants yielding textile fabrics and the manufactures from them was projected; but, owing to the difficulty of getting plants in proper condition, the only portion given was that on the cotton plants. Fine specimens of these were received from Georgia, which kept fresh nearly two weeks, and showed all stages, from flower bud to open boll of cotton fiber. No work in zoölogy was done, save the giving of a few lessons on silk-worms and sheep, as yielding silk and wool. In physiology, lessons were given on the general parts of the body: on the joints, skin, hair, nails, and teeth; on the chest, and the process of breathing and its products; on food and digestion—all with reference to the care of the body, keeping the lungs from disease, and the true object of taking food. Geography was connected with science, history, and literature—the original habitat and migrations of rocks and plants, and the location of events leading to imaginary journeys. The forms of water and land, and a demonstration of the shape of the earth by the positions and appearances of vessels at sea, were gained in lessons to the country and the sea-shore. Boston and its surrounding townships were studied in connection with lessons in local history. Maps, globes, compass, and modeling clay were used throughout the course.
While the work in mathematics was not so fully developed on new lines as in other subjects, some work done in the first year may be of interest to the reader. In a field lesson of the second week, some distinguishing features of the apple, beech, pitch and white pine trees were noted and branches obtained. These branches furnished material for many days' number lessons. Apple leaves with their two stipules, pitch-pine sheaths with their three needles, beechnut exocarps with their four sections, and white pine sheaths with their five needles, were used by the children in constructing concrete number tables, which—picking up the objects—they recited as follows: "In one sheath of white pine are five needles; in two sheaths of white pine are two times five needles," etc. When the concrete table was familiar, the same number relations were written on the blackboard with figures and symbols. In this manner the children learned the four classes of tables as far as sixes. Meanwhile the study of geometrical forms and the plant lessons gave illustration and review. In January work with money was begun, and continued through the remainder of the year; but other opportunities to give practice in number were utilized—as, the six faces of the halite crystal, the six stamens of the tulip, etc. To get unworn coins we sent to the Philadelphia Mint. In two lessons the children learned the names and values of one copper, two nickel, four silver, and six gold pieces; in the third, by placing piles of coin side by side, they constructed and learned the table:
Two silver half dollars equal one gold or silver dollar.
Four silver quarter dollars equal one gold or silver dollar.
Ten silver dimes equal one gold or silver dollar.
Twenty nickle pieces equal one gold or silver dollar.
One hundred copper pennies equal one gold or silver dollar.
On the following day a new concrete table was prepared, and the dollar sign, figures, symbols, and decimal point were substituted for the words in the written work. The relative values of the lower denominations to one another were taught, and tables constructed and written. The different denominations of paper money up to the fifty-dollar bill were added to the coins; and this money—about one hundred and fifty dollars—was used in business transactions, which gave review of the number relations already learned, and taught those necessary to the construction and comprehension of the remaining tables. At the end of eight months the children could use and write numbers to one hundred and fifty, and the signs and (decimal point); and understood the value of position in notation to three places to the left and two to the right of a decimal point. Also, in the oral work with money, they readily used the fractions one half, one fourth, one tenth, one twentieth, and one hundredth; and most of them could write from memory the usual tables from one to twelve. In this first year no effort was made to do a defined kind or amount of work; the children spent from twenty to thirty minutes each day at some mathematical work, but progress and variety depended on their interest and capacities. A visitor who had spent forty years in teaching sat through one of these primary sessions. He expressed pleasure and surprise at the work of the children in science, reading, and other branches, but was incredulous, at first, about the work in number with the money at their desks, and the written work in figures and signs at the blackboards. He went around among the children, tested them, and watched to see if there were not some trick of parrot-like performance. Finally, convinced of the genuine comprehension of what they were doing by these children of six and seven, he said: "I should not have believed it on the statement of any man or woman whom I have known; but I have seen it with my own eyes."
It is a matter of regret to me that growing burdens of care forbade the development of the number work during the second and third years on the lines begun in the first year. To spend from a half-hour to an hour a day for ten years at mathematics, with no better results than the average boy and girl of sixteen can show, looks like a great waste of time and energy. May not the cause be twofold: First, that the beginning work is made silly by its simplicity, and insipid by being related to nothing interesting; second, that processes like the subtraction of large numbers and long division are pressed upon the child before his powers are adequate to their comprehension?
The last fifteen minutes of each day were devoted to literature. Selections with biography and anecdote constituted the materials for these lessons. Advantage was taken of birthdays, anniversaries, and natural phenomena. Storms furnished accompaniments to Lowell's The First Snow-fall, portions of Whittier's Snowbound, Longfellow's Rainy Day, Bryant's Rain, Shelley's Cloud, etc. Flowers brought by the children were related to readings from Burns, Wordsworth, Emerson, Lowell, Bryant, Whittier, and Longfellow. Emerson's Rhodora was committed to memory and recited, a cluster of the purple blossoms being in sight. Selections were made with primary reference to their value. Biography was usually employed to heighten interest in literature; for its own sake when embodying noble sentiments—as Scott's struggle against debt, Sidney's gift of water to the soldier. By such tales of heroic effort and action it was hoped to develop courage, honor, and devotion to duty.
Aside from clear language in narration, accompanied by pictures of persons and places, and such reading as expresses the rhythm and meaning, no effort was made to have biography or selection understood. Many children have such an appreciation of melody that a fine poem well read will hold their attention. Just before Christmas, in our first year, I read a portion of Milton's Hymn on the Nativity, and said, "I hope you will some day read the whole, and like it." "Please read it all now," said several voices. So it was all read, and the children listened intently. Milton's picture was put away, and nothing said of him for a year. When his picture was again put on the easel, a hand was at once raised. "What is it, Tracy?" "I know who that is." "Who?" "Mr. John Milton." "What do you remember about him?" "He gave his eyes for liberty"—an expression which, so far as my knowledge of the child went, he had not heard from any one, but was his own terse summing up of the narrative he had heard a year before, when barely six years old. Most children have such an appreciation of justice and heroism that they will even walk more erectly after listening to a tale involving these qualities. I shall not forget how gravely and proudly fifty children withdrew from the school-room after listening to the story of Sidney's death. An unspoiled child has usually a vivid imagination; and it is as pernicious to meddle with the formation of his mental pictures in literature, as in science lessons to keep telling him what he can get from his specimens. The child's mind should be brought into direct contact with the realities in history and literature, and left to work at them with the least possible interference and guidance. If a child attempted to repeat a quotation or fact, accuracy was required, but he was not urged to remember. Much in the literature lessons was above the children's comprehension; but it was thought well for each child to feel a breath from the mountains above and beyond—a breath whose coolness and fragrance he might feel without analysis or comprehension of its qualities. To have felt was enough. So we paid no attention to ordinary poems and tales for little children, but introduced the children at once to Longfellow and Emerson, Wordsworth and Scott, Milton and Shakespeare.
There was regular study of history for each year. Copies of early and late maps of Boston were given to each child; the older one was drawn on transparent paper, so as to be laid over the later one and show directly the changes and extensions into river and harbor. Colored crayon maps and pictures were used to illustrate the historical narrative. These narratives were drawn mostly from local events—as the settlement of Boston, with certain old Boston worthies as centers, about whom incidents were grouped; the beginning of the Revolutionary War with a visit to the Washington elm at Cambridge; some incidents of slavery and the civil war connected with Garrison. Extracts from diaries, letters, etc., were printed on leaflets and read by the children, who drew their own inferences. These readings from original sources were mostly confined to the third and fourth classes, as the language used was too difficult for children of the first two years. Sometimes gratifying volunteer work was done; as an instance, a boy of eight learned the whole of "Paul Revere's Ride," and recited it, standing at the blackboard and tracing on a colored map of Boston and its surrounding townships the route taken by the rider. This work in history was done by Miss Nina Moore—Mrs. F. B. Tiffany—who developed it with such skill as to fascinate the children, and to lead to her publications on these topics. (See articles in Common-school Education for September, October, November, and December, 1888; and the books Pilgrims and Puritans and From Colony to Commonwealth.)
The industrial part of the experiment was started at the beginning of the third year. Each child was provided with a bench and ten tools—ruler, try-square, scratch-awl, saw, vise, plane, chisel, brad-awl, hammer, nail-set. The children of the two younger classes made a box with the cover hinged on with strips of leather; those of the two older, a case with shelves fitting into grooves. The work was divided into steps; each was mastered before the next was tried. All the children began with the use of the ruler in measurements to an eighth of an inch. The try-square came next. As soon as a true line was drawn, the saw was used to divide the board. After the first day no two children were exactly together, each one's position depending on his own results. The third step—the cross-cut saw—detained most of the children several weeks; a true cut with its face at right angles to each face of the board was required. This the chihh'en tested for themselves. Often during the first work with saws a child would ask, "Will that do?" "Test it" was the reply. Reluctantly the child applied the test, and renewed his courage as Lest he could. After a time the desire to use a new tool and to get on as some other child did gave way to desire for perfection. This brings me to the chief end of the work—not skill in handicraft or any finished products, but to put before the children concrete examples of the true and the false, in such a manner that the child himself should judge his own work by some unvarying standard. As an instance of the moral effects: One of the older boys was the first to finish the shelves and both sides of his case, all but one groove. The excitement of this eminence dizzied him, and that groove was a failure—being too wide, it left an ugly crack above the shelf. No one was more sensitive to that ugliness than he; but the struggle between his desire for perfection and the fancied humiliation of making another side and letting some other child be the first to complete a case went on for some time. Finally, with a manly effort to keep his eyes from overflowing, he laid the faulty side among the failures and began again. To give up the work of many days, and the prospect of coming out ahead, was to win a great battle not for himself alone but for his comrades. For use, the rejected side was almost as good as perfection itself; to ideas of truth and beauty the boy's mind yielded obedience. Such yielding of lower motives to higher ones, such discipline of patience and judgment as these lessons gave, were not reached in any other line of work.
Most public schools for primary children have two sessions a day for ten months; in the experiment there was but one session a day for eight months. In the former, five hours or more a week are spent in reading alone; in the latter, less than five hours a a week were given to the science lessons and to the reading drawn from them. The saving of time in other studies was almost equally great; and besides the large body of superior knowledge opened to the children, the ordinary proficiency in all subjects commonly taught in primary schools was generally reached. This demonstrates the fallacy of the current opinion that children can not be taught science, history, and literature, and at the same time master the usual three r's allotted to them.
But the experiment aimed to introduce the child to the world of real learning, with the idea that such introduction would produce certain effects on his mind; and it is by that aim and those effects that it should be judged. As to the former, the reader has but to examine the body of knowledge outlined, and judge whether it is worthy to be called real learning and the foundation of knowledge.
Among the effects, perhaps the chief place should be assigned to the general attitude toward study. Compare two children trained in the two ways. On entering school both are equally eager and happy. One is kept for the most part away from learning, and laboriously taught to hold the empty wrappers of it; the other is taken at once into the shrine, where he soon becomes at home; and, while he gets wrappers as rapidly as the child outside, every one is full and overflowing. The former grows tired of tasteless drudgery and longs to have school days over; in the latter, nearness to the central fires kindles the sacred flame, and its shining through the fleshly covering makes his face a contrast to that of the other child. One finds the school-room a prison; the other an enchanted land where all is "truly true." If both leave school during the first six years—as so many do—the former is likely to have vague notions about a large field of study, and but little interest in its contents or faith in their value; while the latter will be as likely to preserve sympathy with learning, and desire to advance it in himself and others.
Among other effects may be mentioned:
1. The children learned to ask serious questions. In a lesson on clouds and rain, Emma asked, "Why is the rain not salt, if most of the cloud vapor comes from the ocean?" She was told to dissolve a certain amount of salt, to evaporate the solution over a fire, and note results. On the following day she reported that the same amount of salt was left after evaporation as she had first used, and gave as her conclusion that ocean-water in evaporating leaves all its salt behind; and the youngest boy added, "Then only pure water can float up into the blue sky."
2. They learned that opinion without knowledge is folly. In planting a window garden, they put seeds in pots of earth; I, between wet blotting-papers. Their decided opinion was that my seeds would not grow. A week later they were eager to give this sentence, "The seeds in Miss Alling's garden did grow."
3. They became fond of mental activity. They were not marked, formally examined, hurried, nor required to do a certain amount in a definite time. This freedom and leisure transformed their first laborious, timid thinking into a delight, which they entered upon as spontaneously and fearlessly as upon their outdoor physical games.
4. Their habits of thinking improved. At first they showed but a superficial interest in the objects studied, and much questioning was needed to direct and hold their attention; later, they voluntarily seized upon the marked features of objects and phenomena, and pursued them until practically exhausted. We did not flit hither and thither, giving the children new objects of study each day, but kept them at work upon one so long as it could yield anything within their comprehension. As an instance, successive lessons on the cotton plant were given for three weeks.
5. Their perceptions became almost unerring. At the Museum of the Boston Society of Natural History, one day, Katherine exclaimed as we rapidly passed a case of minerals, "There's some graphite." Turning and seeing whitish specimens, I said, "Oh, no; have you forgotten how graphite looks?" The child insisted, and we turned back to the case. Sure enough, on one shelf the white rocks contained grains and threads of graphite, which fact the child had gathered in one rapid glance.
6. Memory became active and generally true. It was aimed to pursue all things in order, with regard to natural relations and associations; beyond this the cultivation of memory was committed to the qualities of the ideas presented. The result seemed to prove that memory is retentive in proportion to the activity and concentration of the whole consciousness, and that this is proportioned to the interest of the subject-matter.
7. Imagination was vivid and healthy, producing clear reproduction, apt illustration, sometimes witty caricature, and occasionally thought and expression delicate and lovely enough to be worthy the envy of grown-up literati.
8. There was a beginning made in the habits of independent examination of any matter, of honestly expressing the results of such examination, and stoutly maintaining one's own ideas until convinced of error, and then of readiness to adopt and defend the new, however opposed to the old. These habits lead to mental rectitude, robustness, and magnanimity, which qualities confer the power of discriminating values: for pride of opinion gives blindness; the love of truth for its own sake, sight.
9. In waiting for Nature to answer questions—sometimes they waited three weeks or more—and in continual contact with her regularity and dependence on conditions, they gained their first dim conceptions of what law means, and of the values of patience and self-control, and of realities as opposed to shams. Finding in Nature mysteries which the wisest have not explained, a half-conscious reverence stole upon them—the beginnings of true spiritual growth.
At first the experiment called forth much criticism. At home the children told about rocks and plants, and related stories from history and literature, but said little about reading and writing. Parents came to see, and universally condemned the method. One mother said, "My daughter will study geology and literature when the proper age comes; I wish her now to learn reading and writing, and have simple lessons in arithmetic and geography." But she yielded to her child's entreaties, and allowed her to be experimented upon. Later, this mother visited the department to express her wonder and satisfaction at her daughter's progress in reading, writing, and number. A father, after visiting the department, said, "My boy isn't learning anything; he's having a twaddle of experiments." Three months afterward he said, "My boy's whole attitude of mind is changed; he looks at the world with new eyes, and is also progressing rapidly in the studies common to children of his age."
A criticism frequently met was that the vocabulary was too difficult, and, being largely scientific and technical, could not fit children to read children's books. Experience proved the contrary. Reading for ideas, the children were not deterred by a few unfamiliar words. In reading stories in books, they could usually get the principal ideas; and to infer the meaning of the unknown forms had much novelty and interest. It was also objected that the ideas themselves were too difficult, and could not possibly be comprehended by the children. In a language lesson of the second year, Frank gave the sentence, "The soil is thin." A visitor asked, "Did you ever see a well dug?" "Oh, yes; at my grandfathers, last summer." "Was the soil there thick or thin?" "Thick." "How thick?" Looking from floor to ceiling, "Thicker than from this floor to the ceiling." "Then what do you mean by saying that the soil is thin?" was asked in a mocking, disconcerting tone. Frank dropped his eyes in thought; after a moment he said, "I mean it is thin when you think of all the way down to the center of the earth." This boy entered before he was six years old, and was at this time barely seven.
Teachers who visited the department said, "You have a comparatively small number of children from cultivated families; even similar results could not be obtained in the large, miscellaneous public-school classes." This could be met then by the statement only that mind has everywhere the same elemental possibilities, and must yield similar results for the same influences, although the time required might be much lengthened. This criticism has now been answered in part by the results of a trial made in the public schools at Englewood, Ill., an account of which will appear in a subsequent paper.
The few scientists who knew of the experiment looked on with favor. "It is the ideal way," said one. "A realization of my own dreams," said another. An eminent leader in educational affairs in this country objected that the great majority of our primaryschool teachers could not follow in the same line because lacking the requisite body of knowledge. When courses of study for lower schools are made out by eminent specialists with a view to putting into the hands of children the beginnings of their own lines of research, and when school authorities provide courses of lectures and other means of furnishing to teachers the necessary body of knowledge, I think teachers will, as a whole, be quick to respond to the demand and the opportunity—as a release from the belittling effects of their present monotonous drudgery with trivial ideas, if for no higher motive.
In conclusion, the reader may wish to ask, "Was the experiment, after all, a success?" I answer, "As a demonstration of the possibility and value of introducing little children to real learning, yes; as a realization of my ideals, no." I was conscious that there was much that was superficial in the work; and that, in striving to avoid shadows and to grasp the real substance of education, I often grasped but another and a finer sort of shadow. May some other teacher, having greater fitness for the work, and a longer opportunity for effort, reach the goal for which I started! The instruction such an one could give about primary education is needed all over our beloved land.
- The name of the proprietor is withheld, in deference to a request made while the experiment was in progress.