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The precepts which govern moral education and instruction - Although the adult relegates the child to an existence among toys, and inexorably denies him those exercises which would promote his internal development, he claims that the child should imitate him in the moral sphere. The adult says to the child: “Do as I do.” The child is to become a man, not by training and development, but by imitation. It is as if a father were to say in the morning to his little one: “Look at me, see how tall I am; when I return this evening, I shall expect you to have grown a foot.”

Education is greatly simplified by this method. If a tale of some heroic deed is read to the child, and he is told to “become a hero”; if some moral action is narrated and is concluded with the recommendation, “be thou virtuous”; if some instance of remarkable character is noted together with the exhortation, “you too must acquire a strong character,” the child has been put in the way of becoming a great man!

If children show themselves discontented and restless, they are told that they want for nothing, that they are fortunate to have a father and a mother, and to conclude, they are exhorted thus: “Children, be happy a child should always be joyous”; and behold! the mysterious yearnings of the child are supposed to be satisfied!

Adults are quite content when they have acted thus. They straighten out the character and the morals of their children as they formerly straightened their legs by bandaging them.

True, rebellious children occasionally demonstrate the futility of such teachings. In these cases a good instructor chooses appropriate stories showing the baseness of such ingratitude, the dangers of disobedience, the ugliness of bad temper, to accentuate the defects of the pupil. It would be just as edifying to discourse to a blind man on the dangers of blindness, and to a cripple on the difficulties of walking. The same thing happens in material matters; a music-master says to a beginner: “Hold your fingers properly; if you do not, you will never be able to play.” A mother will say to a son condemned to sit bent double all day on school benches, and obliged by the usages of society to study continually: “Hold yourself gracefully, do not be so awkward in company, you make me feel ashamed of you.”

If the child were one day to exclaim: “But it is you who prevent me from developing will and character; when I seem naughty, it is because I am trying to save myself; how can I help being awkward when I am sacrificed?” To many this would be a revelation; to many others merely a “want of respect.”

There is a method by which the child may be brought to achieve the results which the adult has laid down as desirable; it is a very simple method. The child must be made to do whatever the adult wishes; the adult will then be able to lead him to the heights of goodness, self-sacrifice and strength, and the moral child will be created. To dominate the child, to bring him into subjection, to make him obedient this is the basis of education. If this can be done by any means whatever, even by violence, all the rest will follow; and remember, it is all for the good of the child. The child could not be molded by any other means. It is the first and principal step in what is called “educating the will of the child,” one which will henceforth enable the adult to speak of himself as Virgil speaks of God.

After this first step the adult will examine himself to see what are the things he finds most difficult, and these he will exact from the child in time, that the child may accustom himself to the necessary difficulties of man’s life. But very often the adult also imposes conditions which he himself has not the fortitude to accept even partially ... as, for instance, the task of listening motionless for three or four hours every day, during a course of years, to a dull, wearisome lecturer.

It is the teacher who forms the child’s mind. How he teaches - The same conception governs the school: it is the teacher who must form the pupil; the development of the child’s intelligence and culture are in his hands. He has a truly formidable task and a tremendous responsibility. The problems that present themselves to him are innumerable and acute; they form as it were a hedge of thorns separating him from his pupils. What must first of all be devised, to win the attention of his pupils, so that he may be able to introduce into their minds all that seems to him necessary? How is he to offer them an idea in such a manner that they will retain it in their memories? To this end, it is essential that he should have a knowledge of psychology, the precise manner in which physical phenomena are produced, the laws governing memory, the psychical mechanism by means of which ideas are formed, the laws governing the association of ideas, by means of which very gradually ideas proceed to the most sublime activities, impelling the child to reason. It is he who, knowing all these things, must build up and enrich the mind. And this is no easy matter, because, in addition to this difficult work, there is always the difficulty of difficulties, that of inducing the child to lend himself to all this endeavor, and to second the master, and not show himself recalcitrant to the efforts made on his behalf. For this reason the moral education is the point of departure; before all things, it is necessary to discipline the class. The pupils must be induced to second the master’s efforts, if not by love, then by force. Failing this point of departure, all education and instruction would be impossible, and the school useless.

Another difficulty is that of economizing the powers of the pupils, that is to say, utilizing them to the utmost without wasting them. How much rest is necessary? How long should any particular work be carried on? Perhaps ten minutes’ rest may be necessary after the first three-quarters of an hour of occupation; but after another three-quarters of an hour, a pause of fifteen minutes may be required, and so on throughout the day; finally, a quarter of an hour’s rest may be needed after ten minutes’ occupation. But what instruction is best adapted to the powers of a child during the various hours of the day? Is it best to begin with mathematics or with dictation? At what hours will the child be most inclined to exercise his powers of imagination, at 9 in the morning or at 11?

Other anxieties must assail a perfect teacher! How should he write on the blackboard so that the children seated at a distance may see? for if they do not see his work is of no avail. And how much light shall fall upon the blackboard, in order that all may see clearly the white characters on the black surface? Of what size should be the script specially chosen by the master to suit distant vision? This is a serious matter, because if the child, obliged by discipline to look and learn from a distance, should put too great a strain upon his powers of visual accommodation, he may in time become short-sighted; then the teacher would have manufactured a blind person. A serious matter indeed!

What consideration has ever been given to the state of anxiety of such a teacher? To get some idea of his anxiety we may think of a young wife about to become a mother, who should set herself such problems as the following: how can I create an infant, if I know nothing of anatomy; how can I form its skeleton? I must study the structure of the bones carefully. I must then learn how the muscles are attached; but how will it be possible to put the brain into a closed box? And must the little heart go on beating continually until death? Is it possible that it will not weary?

In like fashion, she might ponder thus over her new-born babe: it is evident that he will not be able to walk if he does not first of all understand the laws of equilibrium; if he is left to himself, he will not be able to understand these till he is twenty; I must therefore prepare to teach him these laws prematurely in order that he may be able to walk as quickly as possible.

The schoolmaster is the person who builds up the intelligence of the pupil; the intelligence of the pupil increases in direct proportion to the efforts of the teacher; in other words, he knows just what the master has made him know and understands neither more nor less than the master has made him understand. When an inspector visits a school and questions the pupils he turns to the master, and if he is satisfied says: “Well done, teacher!” For the result is indubitably the work of the master; the discipline by which he has fixed the attention of his pupils, even to the psychical mechanism which has guided him in his teaching, all is due to him. God enters the school as a symbol in the crucifix, but the creator is the teacher.

A good deal of help is given to teachers in their superhuman task. There is a kind of division of labor, by virtue of which more advanced experts prepare the schemata of instruction; basing them upon psychology, if the teaching is on a scientific plan, or on the principles laid down by one of the great pedagogists such as Herbart, for example; moreover, the sciences, such as hygiene and experimental psychology, are further invoked to overcome many practical difficulties and to help in the arrangement of schoolrooms, the drawing up of the curriculum, time-tables, etc.

Here, for instance, are notes for lessons on a psychological basis, that is to say, lessons which take account of the proper order of succession in which the psychical activities should develop in the mind of the child; by exercises of this kind, the pupil will not only learn, but will develop his intelligence in accordance with the laws governing its formation.


A Candle: Education of the sensory and perceptive faculties.

Sight. White, solid.

Touch. Greasy, smooth.

Nomenclature. Parts of the candle: wick, surface, extremity, edges, upper part, lower part, middle part. The candles we use are made of wax mixed with stearine. Stearine is made of the fat of oxen and sheep and pigs. Hence they are called stearine candles. There are also wax candles. These are yellowish and less greasy. Wax is produced by bees. There are also tallow candles; these are very greasy and have a disgreeable smell when burning.

Memory. Have you ever seen a candle-factory? Have you ever seen a bee-hive? Of what are the cells of the honeycomb made? When do you light a candle? Have you ever carried a lighted candle carelessly? Did not this cause a disaster?

Imagination. Draw the outline of a candle on the blackboard.

Comparison, association, abstraction. Similarity and difference in candles of stearine, wax, and tallow.

Judgment and reasoning. Are candles useful? Were they more useful formerly, or now that we have gas and electric light?

Sentiments. Children are greatly pleased by a visit to a candle-factory. It is indeed very agreeable to see how candles used by so many people are made. When we can satisfy our desire for instruction we feel pleasure and contentment.

Volition. What should we do with the fat of pigs if we did not know how to make it into stearine? What should we do with wax if we did not know how to utilize it? Man is able to work and to transform many products into useful substances and objects. Work is our life. Blessed be the workers! Let us also love work and devote ourselves diligently thereto.

(N.B. The children are all to listen without moving.) Any kind of lesson may be based on the same psychical plan, even a moral lesson. For instance:

Moral education derived from the observation of actions.

(N.B. The actions are all invented and narrated.)

Agreeable manners. Incident. “Is it true, Miss, that the village church is more than a kilometer from here? My mother has ordered me to go there. I thought I had arrived, and I was so pleased. I have come a long way, and I am so very, very tired.” “Indeed,” replied the girl, who was standing at the gate of her home, “you are still a kilometer and a half from the church. But come through my gate, and take the short cut I will show you through my fields. You will get to the church in five minutes.” What an amiable girl!

Successive relations of cause and effect. The village girl showed amenity to the little traveler. The latter reached the church quickly, was saved much fatigue, and felt great relief.

Memory. Have you always been pleasant to your companions? Have you always been ready to lend a comrade anything he has asked for? Have you always thanked those who have done you favors in an agreeable manner?

Comparison, association, abstraction. Comparison between an agreeable child and a boorish one.

Judgment, reasoning. Why is it necessary to be courteous to all? Is it sufficient to give help solely to show oneself to be amiable?

Sentiments. He who is amiable has a soul rich in sweetness and suavity. What sympathy he evokes in all! The disagreeable person is irritated by trifles. He excites disgust and fear in others. He who is affable shows love to his neighbor.

Volition. Children, accustom yourselves to be pleasant to every one. You should be pleasant when you are conferring some favor, otherwise the favor will seem irksome. When you want something, do you ask for it arrogantly? If so, it will be easier to say no than yes to you. On the other hand, if you ask politely for something, will it not be difficult to refuse you?

It will perhaps be more interesting to follow a lesson actually given, and accepted as a model for teachers in general. I therefore reproduce one of the lessons which gained a prize at a competition of teachers held in Italy. In this, according to the subject or theme, only one primary psychical activity was to be dealt with: viz. sensory perception. (The compositions were distinguished not by the names of the authors, but by mottoes.)

Motto. Things are the first and best teachers.

I set myself the following limits:

To give an idea of icy cold in contrast to that of heat. [This would be amply sufficient in itself, for these ideas are not grains to pick up one after the other, but sublime psychical facts of great complexity, and, consequently, very difficult to assimilate.]

Combine with the idea to be imparted, the cultivation of a sense of compassion and pity for the very poor, to whom winter brings such severe suffering; a feeling I have already tried many times to arouse.

The above is for my own guidance; what follows is for the children.

“Children, how comfortable we are here! Everything is clean; everything is in order; I am so fond of you; you are so fond of me. Isn’t this true, children?

Children. I am, I am. Me too (correct).

Tell me, Gino, are you cold? You said no at once. Well, no, you are right; we are really very cozy here. There, in that corner (I point) there is a thing which gives out much ...

Children. Heat. It is the stove.

But outside, where there is no stove, over there, towards the horizon (the children are to a certain extent familiar with this word), there is no warmth.

Children. It’s cold there (an answer due to the clarity of the laws of contrast).

Last night ... while we were asleep, while your mother perhaps was mending your clothes ... dear mother, how kind she is!... well, last night, so many, many white flakes fell softly from the sky!...

Snow, snow! exclaim the children.

Children! let us say: so many snowflakes fell. How beautiful the snow is! Let us go and look at it closely.

Children. Yes, yes, yes, yes.

It is so beautiful that I see you would all like to take a little. But perhaps this is not allowed. To whom does the snow belong? (No answer.) Who bought it? Who made it? You? No. I? No. Your mother? No. Then did your father buy it? (They look at me in astonishment; these are really very strange questions.) No, again. Well then, the snow belongs to every one. And if this is so, we may take a little handful of it. (Evident signs of joy.) I will hand round the boxes you made yesterday. (These children have not desks with lockers in which they may put their little works. Using the boxes will be a good way of demonstrating the utility of their work.) They will do very well to hold the beautiful snow. (I talk to them as I distribute the boxes, that their attention may not flag.) I will take mine too, the one I made with you. It is larger than yours; so which will hold more snow, mine or yours?

Children. Yours.

Come then, children. Put a white handful into your boxes. How delightful!

(Going.) Just stop a moment; how comfortable we are here! Put one hand over your face. How warm your face is, and how warm your hand is too! We shall see whether your hands will still be so warm after you have touched the snow.

Children. They will be cold.

Yes, indeed. (Going out.) How beautiful it is! It fell down from above. The sky has given the earth a beautiful dress, all ...

Children. White.

At this juncture my children, accustomed to that principle of healthful, ordered liberty which is the main factor in the formation of character, touch and gather up the snow; some of them break the pure surface with little drawings. I let them. I wait a minute, then I make as it were a sudden assault upon their attention:

Children, I too will take a little snow, but together with all of you. Stop. Stand up. Look well at me. Let us take away a little strip of the great cloak. Let us put it in our boxes. That’s right. (Re-entering the schoolroom.) Oh! how cold it is! The children who are not well wrapped up are the coldest. Poor little things! And those who haven’t that thing full of burning coal in their houses!

Children. The stove.

How cold they will be! Come now, quickly; all to your places. Put the boxes on the desk. How cold the snow is! Did you notice how cold it made your hands, which were quite warm?

Children. My hand is cold! Mine too! Etc.

In the courtyard, I saw Caroline take a little snow, and then suddenly let it fall; she was not strong enough to bear such cold. But then she tried again, and the second time she did not drop it.

Child. I didn’t. I putted it (correct) quickly into my box.

Children, when the cold is as great as the cold of the snow, it is called frost. Say that, Guido. What is the word? Now you, Giannina. And the snow which is so cold is ... what? Who can guess?

A child. Frozen.

Say: the snow is frozen.

We came indoors, because it is frosty outside, and inside it is ...

Children. Warm.

But we brought with us a frozen thing which is called ...

Children. Snow.

What is it the stove gives us? Do you remember?

Children. Heat.

I want Maria to tell me. And now, Peppino.

Do you know, our mouths also give out heat. Open yours. Not too much! Hold up one hand in front of it, the right hand. Breathe on it as I am doing. Let us breathe again; now let us send our breath outwards, as I am doing. Again ... again ... again. That’s right. Now feel. You see your mouth too gives out a little ...

Children. Heat.

Now let us try putting a little snow into it. A little piece like this. Oh! the heat of the mouth is escaping, it has already gone at the icy touch of the snow.

Children. Our mouths are cold now.

Yes, that’s right. They are very, very cold, so cold that they are what we call ...

Children. Freezing.

Perhaps Giuseppe doesn’t know. He didn’t say it with the others. Say it again, that he may say it with you. Again. That will do. Bravo, Giuseppe. So our mouths were ...

Children. Freezing.

Let us eat another little piece of snow. The snow turns to water in our mouths, because it is made of water only. Now bread is made of water too, but not only of water. What does the baker want to make the dough for bread?...

Children. Flour.

And what else?

Children. Salt.

And what else?

Children. Yeast.

I see Luigi is still eating snow, and Alfonso too, and Pierino. Do you like it?

Children. Yes, Signora.

Do you like it?

Children. Yes, Signora. Me too, me too (correct).

Well, eat a little more, but not much, it might make you ill. It is so freezing (I repeat this word very often, because it expresses the idea I am trying to convey).

When it snows it is so very cold, and just think that there are many children, many people, who are not warmly dressed and have no stoves; they are very poor. They suffer very much, and some of them die; poor people! How fortunate we are, on the other hand! We have so many garments (they have learned this word) to cover ourselves with; we have a stove at home and one at school, to warm us. How lucky we are!

A child. I have no stove at home.

I know you have not, Emilio, and I am very sorry. Children, you must be kind to Emilio and Giuseppina, because they are very ...

Children. Poor.

Have you eaten it all?

Children. No, Signora.

Now let us go into the courtyard and throw away the rest of the snow. Then we will put the boxes on this table to dry. And to-morrow I will show you a pretty picture of country covered with snow. Come along; bring your boxes, and when you have emptied them put them back where I told you.”

I intend to repeat this lesson in another form, combining others with it, and referring in it to other ideas, which bear a relation to that here set forth.

As everything in the physical and moral world is one and indivisible, bound together in closest union, human development is gravely impeded by the presentment of isolated educational facts in a desultory manner, because it is impossible to disconnect things united by a sacred and eternal law.

In the above “model” lesson, it is claimed that only two perceptions are dealt with, those of cold and heat, and that the child has been allowed a good deal of liberty, but of a judicious kind.

Now it would be exceedingly difficult to limit the perceptions strictly to two, especially when dealing with persons placed in an environment abounding in stimuli, who have already stored up a whole chaos of images. But such being the object in view, it is necessary to eliminate as far as possible all other perceptions, to arrest those two, and so to polarize attention on them that all other images shall be obscured in the field of consciousness. This would be the scientific method tending to isolate perceptions; and it is in fact the practical method adopted by us in our education of the senses. In the case of cold and heat, the child is “prepared” by the isolation of the particular sense in question; he is placed blindfolded in a silent place, to the end that thermic stimuli alone may reach him. In front of the child are placed two objects perfectly identical in all characteristics perceptible to the muscular tactile sense: of the same dimensions, the same shape, the same degree of smoothness, the same resistance to pressure; for instance, two india-rubber bags, filled with the same quantity of water, and perfectly dry on the outside. The sole difference is the temperature of the water in the two bags; in the hot one, the water would be at a temperature of sixty degrees centigrade; in the cold, at ten degrees centigrade. After directing the child’s attention to the object, his hand is drawn over the hot bag, and then over the cold one; while his hand is on the hot bag the teacher says: It is hot! While he feels the cold one he is told: It is cold. And the lesson is finished. It has consisted merely of two words, and of a long preparation designed to ensure that as far as possible, the two sensations corresponding to these two words shall be the only ones that reach the child. The other senses, sight and hearing, were protected against stimuli; and there was no perceptible difference in the objects offered to the touch save that of temperature. Thus it becomes approximately probable that the child will achieve the perception of two sensations exclusively.

And what about the liberty of the child, we shall be asked?

Well, we admit that every lesson infringes the liberty of the child, and for this reason we allow it to last only for a few seconds: just the time to pronounce the two words: hot, cold; but this is effected under the influence of the preparation, which by first isolating the sense makes, as it were, a darkness in the consciousness, and then projects only two images into it. As if from the screen before a magic lantern, the child receives his psychical acquisitions, or rather they are like seeds falling on a fertile soil; and it is in the subsequent free choice, and the repetition of the exercise, as in the subsequent activity, spontaneous, associative, and reproductive, that the child will be left “free.” He receives, rather than a lesson, a determinate impression of contact with the external world; it is the clear, scientific, pre-determined character of this contact which distinguishes it from the mass of indeterminate contacts which the child is continually receiving from his surroundings. The multiplicity of such indeterminate contacts will create chaos within the mind of the child; pre-determined contacts will, on the other hand, initiate order therein, because with the help of the technique of isolation, they will begin to make him distinguish one thing from another.

The technique of our lessons is governed by experimental psychology. And this trend, without doubt, is in contrast to that of the past, which was governed by speculative psychology, on which the whole of the educational methods commonly in use in schools has hitherto been based.

It was Herbart who used the philosophical psychology of his day as a guiding principle to reduce pedagogic rules to a system. From his individual experience he believed he could deduce a universal method of developing the mind, and be made this the psychological basis of methods of teaching. The German pedagogist, whose methods are now, thanks to Credaro, formerly Professor of Pedagogy at the University of Rome, and afterward Minister of Education, adopted for elementary education throughout Italy, gave a unique type of lesson on the four well-known periods (the formal steps): clarity, association, system, method. These may be explained approximately as follows: presentation of an object and its analytical examination (clarity); judgment and comparison with other surrounding objects or with mnemonic images (association); definition of the object deduced from preceding judgments (system); new principles derived from the idea which is thus deepened, and which will lead to practical application of a moral order (method).

The teacher must guide the child’s mind on these lines in every kind of teaching; he must, however, never substitute his own intelligence for that of the child, but rather make the child himself think, and induce him to exercise his own activity. For instance, in the association period, the master must not say: “Look at such and such an object, and at such and such another; see how much alike they are, etc....” He should ask the pupil: “What do you see when you look around? Is there not something which is like, etc.?” Again, in the definition period, the master should not say: “A bird is a vertebrate animal covered with feathers; it has two limbs which have been transformed into wings,” but by rapid questions, corrections, and analogies, he should induce the child to find the precise definition for himself. If the mental process of Herbart’s four periods is to come naturally, it would be essential that great interest in the object should exist; it is interest which would keep the mind amused, or, as the famous pedagogist would say, plunged in the idea, and would maintain it in a system nevertheless embracing multilateral ideas; and hence it is necessary that “interest” should be awakened and should persist in all instruction. It is well known that a pupil of Herbart’s must, to this end, supplement Herbart’s four periods by a prior period, that of interest; linking all new knowledge to the old, “going from the known to the unknown,” because what is absolutely new can awake no interest.

“To make oneself interesting artificially,” that is, interesting to those who have no interest in us, is indeed a very difficult task; and to arrest the attention hour after hour, and year after year, not of one, but of a multitude of persons who have nothing in common with us, not even years, is indeed a superhuman undertaking. Yet this is the task of the teacher, or, as he would say, his “art”: to make this assembly of children whom he has reduced to immobility by discipline follow him with their minds, understand what he says, and learn; an internal action, which he cannot govern, as he governs the position of their bodies, but which he must win by making himself interesting, and by maintaining this interest. “The art of tuition,” says Ardigo, “consists mainly of this: to know up to what point and in what manner one can maintain the interest of pupils. The most skilful teachers are those who never fatigue one fraction of the pupil’s brain, but act in such a manner that his attention, turning now here, now there, may rest itself and, gaining strength, return to the principal argument of the discourse with renewed vigor.”

A much more laborious art is that which leads the child to find by means of its own mental processes, not what it would naturally find, but what the teacher desires, although he does not say what he desires; he urges on the child to associate his ideas “spontaneously” as the teacher associates them and even succeeds in making the child compose definitions with the exact words he himself has fixed upon, without having revealed them. Such a thing would seem the result of some occult science, a kind of conjuring trick. Nevertheless, such methods have been and still are in use, and in some cases they form the sole art of the teacher.

When in 1862 Tolstoy was making his tours of inspection in the schools of Germany, he was struck by this method of tuition, and among the pedagogic writings describing his school, Iasnaja Poliana, he reproduces a lesson which deserves to be recorded, although perhaps it would no longer be possible to find an example of such a lesson in any German school.


Calm and confident, the professor is seated in the class-room; the instruments are ready; little tables with the letters, a book with the picture of a fish. The master looks at his pupils; he knows beforehand all they are to understand; he knows of what their souls consist, and various other things he has learned in the seminary.

He opens the book and shows the fish. “Dear children, what is this?” The poor children are delighted to see the fish, unless indeed they already know from other pupils with what sauce it is to be served up. In any case, they answer: “It is a fish.” “No,” replies the professor (all this is not an invention nor a satire, but an exact account of what I have seen without exception in all the best schools in Germany, and in those English schools which have adopted this method of teaching). “No,” says the professor. “Now what is it you do see?” The children are silent. It must not be forgotten that they are obliged to remain seated and quiet, each one in his place, and that they are not to move. “Well, what do you see?” “A book,” says the most stupid child in the class. Meanwhile, the more intelligent children have been asking themselves over and over again what it is they do see; they feel they cannot guess what the teacher wants, and that they will have to answer that this fish is not a fish, but something the name of which is unknown to them. “Yes, yes,” says the master, eagerly, “very good indeed, a book. And what else?” The intelligent ones guess, and say joyfully and proudly: “Letters.” “No, no, not at all!” says the teacher, disappointed; “you must think before you speak.” Again all the intelligent ones lapse into mournful silence; they do not even try to guess; they think of the teacher’s spectacles, and wonder why he does not take them off instead of looking over the top of them: “Come then; what is there in the book?” All are silent. “Well, what is this thing?” “A fish,” says a bold spirit “Yes, a fish. But is it a live fish?” “No, it is not alive.” “Quite right. Then is it dead?” “No.” “Right. Then what is this fish?” “A picture.” “Just so. Very good!” All the children repeat: “It is a picture,” and they think that is all. Not at all. They have to say that it is a picture which represents a fish. By the same method the master induces the children to say that it is a picture which represents a fish. He imagines that he is exercising the reasoning faculties of his pupils, and it never seems to enter his head that if it is his duty to teach children to say in these exact words, “it is a book with a picture of a fish,” it would be much simpler to repeat this strange formula and make his pupils learn it by heart.

As a pendant to this old-fashioned lesson witnessed by Tolstoy in an elementary school in Germany, we may cite the following lesson recently set forth by a distinguished French pedagogist and philosopher, whose text-books are classics in the schools of his own country and in those of many foreign lands, and are also in use in the teachers’ training colleges in Italy. As the sub-title on the title-page informs us, it is one of a series of “lessons designed to mold teachers and citizens who shall be conscious of their duties, and useful to families, to their fatherland, and to humanity.” We are therefore in the ambit of secondary schools. The lesson we cite is a practical application of the principle of giving lessons by means of interrogation (Socratic method), and deals with a moral theme: rights.

“You boys have never mistaken your companion Paul for this table or this tree? Oh, no! Why? Because the table and the tree are inanimate and insensible, whereas Paul lives and feels. Good. If you strike the table it will feel nothing and you will not hurt it; but have you any right to destroy it? No, we should be destroying something belonging to others. Then what is it you respect in the table? the inanimate and insensible wood, or the property of the person to whom it belongs? The property of the person to whom it belongs. Have you any right to strike Paul? No, because we should hurt him and he would suffer. What is it you respect in him? the property of another, or Paul himself? Paul himself. Then you cannot strike him, nor shut him up, nor deprive him of food? No. The police would arrest us if we did. Ah! ah! you are afraid of the police. But is it only this which prevents you from hurting Paul? Oh! no, Sir. It is because we love Paul and do not want to make him suffer, and because we have no right to do so. You think then that you owe respect to Paul in his life and his feelings, because life and feeling are things to respect? Yes, sir.

Are these all you have to respect in Paul? Let us enquire; think well. His books, his clothes, his satchel, the luncheon in it. Well. What do you mean? We must not tear his books, soil his clothes or his satchel, or eat his luncheon. Why? Because these things are his and we have no right to take things belonging to others. What is the act of taking things that belong to others called? Theft. Why is theft forbidden? Because if we steal we shall go to prison. Fear of the police again! But is this the chief reason why we must not steal? No, Sir, but because we ought to respect the property as well as the persons of others. Very good. Property is an extension of human personality and must be respected as such.

And is this all? Is there nothing more to respect in Paul than his body, his books and his copy-books? Do you not see anything else? Can you not think of anything more? I will give you a hint: Paul is an industrious pupil, an honest, good-natured companion; you are all fond of him, and he deserves your affection. What do we call the esteem we all feel for him, the good opinion we have of him? Honor ... reputation. Well, this honor, this reputation, Paul acquired by good conduct and good manners. These are things which belong to him. Yes, Sir; we have no right to rob him of them. Very good; but what do we call this kind of theft, that is, the theft of honor and reputation? And first of all, how can we steal them? Can we take them and put them in our pockets? No, but we can speak evil of him. How? We could say that he had done harm to one of his companions ... that he had stolen apples from a neighboring orchard ... that he had spoken ill of another. That is so. But how could you rob him of honor and reputation by speaking thus? Sir, people would no longer believe him if they had a bad opinion of him; he would be beaten, scolded, and left to himself. Then if you speak evil of Paul, and what you say is false, do you give him pleasure? No, Sir, we should cause him pain, and do him a wrong, which would be very odious and wicked of us. Yes, boys, this lying with intent to injure would be odious and wicked, and it is called calumny. I will explain later that evil speaking differs from calumny or slander in that what is said is not untrue, and I will point out the terrible consequences of evil speaking and slander.

Now let us sum up what we have said: Paul is a living and sensitive creature. We ought not to cause him suffering, to rob him, or to slander him; we ought to respect him. The honorable things in Paul constitute rights, and make him a moral person. The obligation laid upon us to respect these rights is called duty. The obligation and the duty of respecting the rights of others is also called justice. Justice is derived from two Latin words (in jure stare), meaning: to keep oneself in the right.

The duties of justice enumerated by us are to be summed up thus: Not to kill ... not to cause suffering ... not to steal ... not to slander. Always reflect upon the words you say in which “Not” is followed by a verb in the imperative infinitive. What does that mean?

An obligation, a command, a prohibition. Go on, explain. The obligation of respect ... the command to respect rights ... the prohibition of stealing. How may all these things be summed up? In doing no evil.”

Positive science makes its appearance in the schools - Positive science was invited to enter into schools as into a chaos where it was necessary to separate light from darkness, a place of disaster where prompt succor was essential.

Discoveries of medicine: distortions and diseases - The first science, indeed, to penetrate into the school was medicine, which organized a special hygiene for the occasion, a kind of Red Cross service. The most interesting part of the hygiene that penetrates into schools was that which diagnosed and described the “diseases of school children,” that is to say, the maladies contracted solely as a result of study in school. The most prevalent of these maladies are spinal curvature and myopia. The first is caused by excessive sitting, and by the injurious position of the shoulders in writing. The second arises from the fact that in the spot where the child has to remain seated, there is not sufficient light for him to see clearly; or this spot is too far from the blackboard, or from the places where the child has to read, and the prolonged effort of accommodation induces myopia. Other minor generalized maladies were also described: an organic debility so widely diffused that hygiene prescribed as an ideal treatment a gratuitous distribution of cod-liver oil or of reconstituent remedies in general to all pupils. Anemia, liver complaints, and neurasthenia were also studied as school diseases.

Thus a new field was opened to hygiene in connection with the most fertile source of professional disease, and reading and writing were carefully studied in relation to pedagogical methods, and in relation to spinal curvature and defective refraction of the eyes.

The figure of the child, that victim of unsuitable and disproportionate work, was not hereby brought into strong relief, as might have been expected, by the aid of medicine, but a new branch of “legal medicine” came into being. It was, indeed, medicine which drew attention to the diseases and deaths of the victims in orphan asylums, victims of artificial or irrational feeding, in conjunction with wet nursing; it was medicine which passed in review one by one all those individual cases which proclaim this legal fact: children have no civil rights. Medicine now entered into another sphere where the victims were not “cases,” but the generality, the child-population in its entirety; and now it is the law itself which imposes duties upon them, and condemns them en masse to labor for many years in a manner which entails physical torture. If a branch of legal medicine has arisen in connection with criminals, how is it that none should ever have arisen in connection with the innocent?

Science has not fulfilled its mission in its dealings with children - Medicine has confined itself to the treatment of diseases artificially produced. It has diagnosed a cause of disease and left this cause undisturbed, content merely to alleviate the resultant evils befalling a multitude of victims. It has not taken up the attitude proper to its great and dignified rôle of “protector” of life; it has merely come forward, like the Red Cross Service during war, to heal the wounded and alleviate the condition of the suffering; it has not considered that the authority it enjoys as the guardian of health would enable it to utter the supreme cry of peace, putting an end to a war so dangerous, unjust, and inhuman.

As, in its struggle against microbes, it was the standard-bearer in the most glorious of victories over death, so, fighting directly against the causes of the impoverishment of generations, it might have aspired to bear the banner of protector of posterity. Instead of this, it confined itself to the elaboration of a branch of study that mimics science: school hygiene; thus making itself the accomplice of a social wrong.

Let us glance into a recent treatise of school hygiene, which merely sums up the ideas and the work of the world at large:

“We will briefly indicate the conditions favorable to the development of spinal curvature. The age when the malady usually appears is that of second infancy, hence its name of spinal curvature of the adolescent; spinal curvature caused by rickets, which appears in early childhood, is rarer, and is of less direct interest to us here. The commonest cause, and that on which our attention should be primarily concentrated, is the vicious attitude adopted by the majority of our pupils during their school work; this cause is so universal that we may call spinal curvature the professional disease of the pupil. Doctor Legendre, in a formula which may be judged over-severe, though unhappily it is only too well-founded, said of our schools that they are factories for the production of the deformed and the myopic.

“The main cause of myopia is to be found in the very conditions under which children are gathered together in schools: insufficiency of light, the over-small type common in school-books, the frequent use of the blackboard, on which the teacher is not always careful to make the size of the characters he traces proportionate to the distance at which they have to be read, are so many causes of ocular fatigue. The visual keenness of a given eye, says Doctor Leprince, decreases rapidly when the intensity of the light falls below a certain limit. The pupil, working with insufficient light, repairs the defective keenness of which this is the cause, by increasing the visual angle under which the details of the object he is looking at appear to him; in other words, he brings that object inordinately close to him.

“The time necessary to recognize a given letter increases greatly, when the limit of visual acuteness has been reached. Therefore, insufficient light would tend to make work slower, unless the pupil increased acuteness by approaching the object more closely. Thus myopia constitutes a positive adaptation to the defective conditions of work, enabling the pupil to work more rapidly.”

It would seem therefore natural to say: let the child find himself a better lighted place; if the blackboard is at some distance from him, let him come nearer to it; if the insufficient light retards his work, let him go more slowly; if the questions at issue are such harmless things as changing a place, advancing a step or two, taking a few minutes longer over a task what tyrant on earth would deny such a small favor, and condemn the suppliant to blindness?

Such a tyrant is the teacher, who aspires to win the affection of his victims by means of moral exhortations.

It would be so simple to allow children, when tired of sitting, to rise, and when tired of writing, to desist, and then their bones would not be twisted. Who can look on unmoved at the spectacle of children whose vertebral column is being deformed by using desks, just as in the Middle Ages the instep was deformed by the torture of the boot. And on what grounds is this odious torture judged to be necessary?

Because a man has substituted himself for God, desiring to form the minds of children in his own image and likeness; and this cannot be done without subjecting a free creature to torture. This is the only reason.

We will now quote the remedies by means of which a so-called science proposes to counteract spinal curvature in school-children. It has determined the exact position in which a child may remain seated and at work for a long period of time without injury to the vertebrae.

“The child, seated at the table, should have his feet planted flat upon the ground, or upon a foot-rest. The legs should be at right-angles to the thighs, as should the thighs be to the trunk, save for a slight inclination of the bench itself. The trunk should be in such a position that there will be no lateral inclination of the vertebral column, the arms should be parallel with the sides of the body, the thorax should not be interfered with by the front edge of the table, the pelvic basin should be symmetrically supported, the head slightly bent forward at a distance of thirty centimeters from the level of the table; the axis of the eyes, remaining parallel with the front edge of the table, should be horizontal; the forearms, two-thirds of which should be laid on the table, should rest on it, but without leaning upon it.”

To realize all these conditions, it is necessary that the desk should be exactly fitted to the proportions of the child; its constituent parts should agree with those of the body and limbs of the scholar.

The following are the measurements which Dufessel considered indispensable in the fashioning of a desk suitable for children:

1. Height.

2. The length of the leg, taken from below the knee, when the child is seated with the legs at right-angles to the thighs, and the feet flat on the ground. This measurement gives the required height of the seat from the foot-rest.

3. The diameter of the body from front to back, taken from the sternum; this, with five centimeters added to it, gives the proper distance from the reading-desk to the back of the seat.

4. The length of the femur, two-thirds of which represent the depth of the seat.

5. Finally, the height of the epigastric cavity above the seat, augmented by a few centimeters, indicates the height of the reading-desk.

We may add that in view of the rapid growth of the child, these measurements should be taken twice in the course of the school year, and children should be made to change places in accordance with these measurements.

There is a little crustacean which, coming naked into the world, chooses an empty shell and adapts itself thereto; when it grows larger and the shell becomes too tight, it sallies forth and takes up its abode in a larger one. This the creature does of its own accord, without a savant to measure it or a teacher to choose a new shell for it. But to us and to scientists, a child is inferior to this lowly invertebrate!

The difficulty of keeping forty or fifty children motionless for hours in the prescribed hygienic attitude, and of finding desks exactly adapted to these growing bodies, makes this remedy impracticable, so hunchbacks continue among us. The problem remains unsolved.

Hence it has been deemed more practical to establish a kind of orthopaedic institution within the building itself in certain model schools in Rome. It consists of a costly and elaborate apparatus, to which the pupils come in turn to be suspended by the head after the method adopted in medicine to combat spinal curvature in Pott’s disease (tuberculosis of the vertebral column) and rickets.

Healthy children, as well as the unsound, suffer by these applications; but on the other hand, the results afford encouraging statistics. If this hanging treatment be initiated regularly at the age of six years it strikes a perfect balance with the injury caused by prolonged deterioration induced by school desks, and children are delivered from spinal disease.

Discoveries of experimental psychology: overwork; nervous exhaustion - Hygiene, making its way into the school, discovered scholar’s spinal curvature and scholar’s myopia; experimental psychology discovered the exhaustion due to overwork, and studied the fatigue of the scholar. It followed in the beaten track of medicine that is to say, it sought to alleviate the ills it had diagnosed, and instituted a branch of science the title of which is not very clearly defined as yet, for some call it experimental psychology applied to the school, others Scientific Pedagogy.

It is necessary to remember that experimental psychology was established in 1860 by Fechner, who was a physicist accustomed to experiment on things, not on living creatures, and who merely adapted the methods employed in physics to psychical measurements, thus founding psycho-physics. The instruments specially invented for esthesiometric measurements were of extreme precision; but the results obtained showed such variations that by mathematical law they could not be attributed to “errors of measurement,” but were obviously due to “errors of method.” Indeed, for the measurement of liquids it is necessary to have an instrument different from that which we use in measuring solids, although we are still in the domain of physics; we cannot measure a stuff by the quart, nor wine by the yard; how much more then must the methods of measuring physical substances and spiritual energy differ?

After psycho-physics, psycho-physiology was introduced by Wundt. Wundt, being a physiologist, applied the methods of study proper to physiological functions to psychical study. He did not make the exact metrical instrument his aim; but he measured nervous reactions exactly in time. Fechner’s primitive researches made it possible to produce instruments so exact that they can measure the sound made by a drop of water falling from the height of a meter, while Wundt’s researches have resulted in chronometers which can measure the thousandth part of a second. But the spirit did not correspond to the exactness of research the results showed by their oscillations that nothing was being measured that the object to be measured escaped. It will suffice to mention that in measuring the nervous currents in rate of transmission of impulse along the nerves and also in the ganglion cells of the spinal marrow, Exner arrived at a rapidity of eight meters, and Bloch at a rapidity of 194 meters, in the same unit of time.

In spite of this startling contrast between the precision of the means of research and the huge variations in the results, which were shown by mathematical law to be absurd, experimental psychology carried on extensive studies, under the illusion that it rested upon a mathematical basis.

It is from this science that a branch has been detached with which to penetrate into the school, for the purpose of giving spiritual help to the scholar, and fresh vigor to pedagogy.

Methods of research are no longer merely those antiquated psycho-physical and psycho-physiological methods formerly in favor; experimental psychology, henceforth emancipated from its origins, has developed independently. It now relies on purely psychological tests for its researches, and although it does not exclude the methods adopted in the laboratory, and the use of such accurate and trustworthy instruments as the esthesiometer and the ergograph, the school itself has become the chief field of experiment.

For example: one of the most familiar tests of attention is to give a printed page to be read over, with directions to strike out every a on the page; the time taken to complete this task is measured by chronometer.

Counting aloud from one to a hundred, and at the same time carrying on arithmetical operations in writing, is a measure of the distribution of the attention, provided the time taken be calculated by the chronometer, and all errors be noted. To make several persons perform similar exercises at the same time enables us to study comparative individual activities. In schools, exercises in dictation which have been previously determined, may be given to a group of scholars, care being taken to note the time occupied in performing the exercise and to compare the errors. This is also an easy and practical means of obtaining collective results.

These experiments all psychologists agree should be carried out without interrupting the usual routine of the school. They are to be regarded as an addition, an extra, and may be summed up as a means of scientific research, throwing light upon the regular psychical conditions of school studies.

The principal results of such experiments have been: the multiplicity of mistakes made, and the difficulty of fixing attention; that is to say, they reveal the weariness, the degree of fatigue, in children.

This gave the alarm! Old-fashioned pedagogy was concerned solely with what children ought to do. The idea that their nervous energies might be impaired was first called into being by the warning note of science.

Researches into the causes of fatigue became more and more frequent, and coupled with such researches was the less immediate enquiry as to how fatigue could be “combated” or “alleviated.” All the factors relating to the question were studied: age, sex, the degree of intelligence, the type of individual, the influence of the seasons, the influence of the various times of the day, of the various days of the week, of habit, intervals of relaxation, interest, variety of work, the position of the body, and, finally, position in reference to the cardinal points.

Science is confronted by a mass of unsolved problems - The outcome of all these researches is a growing mass of unsolved problems. It has not been established whether males are more easily fatigued than females; whether the intelligent are more subject to fatigue than the unintelligent. With regard to the individual type, Tissie’s conclusion seems to be the most noteworthy: “Each individual becomes fatigued or not according to his degree of will.” In connection with the seasons it appears that fatigue increases from the first to the last day of school, but it is uncertain whether this is due to the influence of the seasons, or whether, as Schuyten affirms, the scholar’s gradual exhaustion is due to the scholastic system. With regard to the time of day, “it is still a question whether the fatigue produced is less when the pupil works spontaneously, but this problem is a difficult one to solve.” The days of the week when fatigue is least evident are Monday and Friday, but researches made in this connection are not definitive; as to habit, intervals of rest, interest: “in connection with these factors which are antagonistic to fatigue, it has been questioned whether they actually diminish fatigue, or merely cloak it, but no decision has been reached.” A great variety of interesting researches have been made into the question of change of work with identical results namely, that frequent change of work causes greater fatigue than continuous work of one kind, and that a sudden interruption is more fatiguing than persistence. The following experiment (quoted by Claparede) was made by Schultze: one day the girls were required to add up figures for twenty-five minutes, and then to copy out passages for another twenty-five minutes. Another day they performed the same work, but it was differently divided; they had to add for fifty minutes and to copy for another fifty minutes. Now these last tests gave results infinitely superior to the first. And yet it is well known that, in spite of such results, constant interruption and change of work are commonly practised in schools, as part of a scientific plan for combating fatigue.

One of the researches directly relating to schools is that of the ponogenic co-efficient of the various subjects of instruction, that is to say, of the degrees of fatigue induced by these. Wagner is of opinion a priori that one hundred, the maximum co-efficient, must be assigned to mathematics; in this case, we should get the following ponogenic co-efficients in schools, for each subject:

History and Geography  
French and German       
Natural History              
Drawing, Religion            77

We may note the arbitrary and surprising manner in which such results are established; nevertheless, in the name of “experimental science” it is possible to make such deductions as the following:

“It would be interesting to enquire if the order of the ponogenic co-efficients varies with the age of the children, which would enable us to know on the one hand when the brain is best fitted for the study of any particular subject and when therefore it would be most judicious to make it predominate in the program; on the other hand, it would help us in the arrangement of the daily time-table; we should take, if possible, the most fatiguing subjects at the beginning of the day” (Claparede, op. cit.).

Another order of recent researches is that made into the toxines produced by fatigue; Weichardt succeeded in isolating these toxines, and in fabricating anti-toxines with which he experimented successfully on rats. The experiments were also repeated in a clinic. With regard to the appearance of the toxines, it was found that they were abundantly produced during the performance of “wearisome” work, whereas there were only traces of them to be found when the work was “interesting.”

Throughout this science so packed with researches which give as their result unsolved problems, we perceive that not one of the factors taken into consideration can alleviate fatigue; interruption and change of work merely aggravate it. The one means by which surmenage (exhaustion due to overwork) can be eliminated is to make work pleasant and interesting, to give joy in work rather than pain.

“The necessity of making education and instruction attractive has been propounded by all pedagogists worthy of the name, such as Fenelon, Rousseau, Pestalozzi, Herbart, and Spencer,” says Claparede, “but it is still unrecognized in the everyday practise of the schools” (op. cit.).

“By common consent, the first duty of the educator is that of doing no harm: first do no harm, a precept also accepted in the practise of medicine. To obey it to the letter is, indeed, impossible, because every method of scholastic education is in some way prejudicial to the normal development of the child. But the educator will seek to alleviate the injury which instruction necessarily entails” (op. cit.).

This is indeed cold comfort, after all these studies and researches! A confession that problems have arisen at every step, and that not a single one has been solved! Indeed, underlying all this is the problem of problems: how to make that place attractive and joyous where hitherto the body has been tortured and contorted, and the blood poisoned by weariness! It is impossible to educate without doing harm; but we must do harm that will give pleasure! This is truly an embarrassing position! And this is why an interminable string of notes of interrogation serves as the decorative motive of this new science, which might be more appropriately styled: ignorabimus.

And it is for this reason that the considerations indicated by hygiene and psychology now tend to do away altogether with the sum total of irreparable evils, “commuting the sentence,” that is to say, abbreviating hours of study, cutting down the curriculum, avoiding written exercises. Thus a new specter, that of ignorance, and henceforth the abandonment of the child for the greater part of the day, present themselves as a substitute for the specter of destruction. Meanwhile our epoch demands an intensive care of the new generation, and the preparation of a culture ever vaster and more complex.

True, it would appear that to-day a way of escape may be offered by the discovery of the anti-toxine for fatigue. “Just think!” exclaims Claparede, “a serum against fatigue. How valuable this would be!” From this point of view, I should say that the ponogenic co-efficients might find a more practical and rational application than that of the revelation of “programs”; indeed these co-efficients indicating the production of toxines would appear destined to determine the dose of anti-toxine necessary to nullify the evil effects resulting from each different subject of instruction. In the not far distant future, when these auxiliary sciences of the school and pedagogy shall have made due progress, we shall perhaps see, side by side with the orthopaedic ward, a physio-chemical clinic, where every evening the pupils, as they leave the beneficent suspensory apparatus which counteracts injury to their skeletons, may enter with a kind of ponogenic prescription regulated by the teaching they have undergone, and receive an injection which will deliver them from the poisonous effects of fatigue!

This reads like an irony of the worst kind, perhaps; but this is not the case. Where the orthopaedic institution is already an accomplished fact, we may very soon see the chemical clinic established. If a problem of liberty is to be solved with machines, and if a problem of justice is to be regarded from the chemical point of view, similar consequences will be the logical end of sciences developed upon such errors.

It is obvious that a real experimental science, which shall guide education and deliver the child from slavery, is not yet born; when it appears, it will be to the so-called “sciences” that have sprung up in connection with the diseases of martyred childhood as chemistry to alchemy, and as positive medicine to the empirical medicine of bygone centuries.

I think it will be of interest here to record the impressions of a person who, leaving the field of mathematics, entered upon the study of biology and experimental psychology.

It is an account of a young English engineer, who had evidently mistaken his vocation, and who, after studying my method for two years, returned to the universities of his own great country as a student of biology.

This is his opinion of experimental psychology:

In psychology we are studying the most modern experimental researches. At present we are engaged upon Thought and Imagination. I must confess that I do not find this course very illuminating, though I agree that it is necessary to know something of these researches. In modern psychology there is nothing at all adequate to the subject of our method. These investigators seem to me like persons looking at a tree, and noting the most obvious of its external forms: the shape of a leaf, a stem, etc., doing all this with great gravity and using very precise language (perhaps believing that this constitutes science), but often confusing the function of definition with that of description.

In this manner descriptions of wonderful and fascinating things are reduced to arid definitions, in order to be clothed in their science, and thus are rendered powerless to inspire thought. They never meditate; they read a great deal; they think in mental images which no more represent facts than a diagram on the blackboard represents a living organ; and these images differ among different psychologists, but their language is always the same. They do all this believing they are making progress, and instead of training their pupils to observe for themselves without prejudice, they instil their own prejudices into the minds of the students, cramming them with definitions and descriptions of the strangest and most amorphous kind, which effectually prevent them from thinking for themselves.

But within the tree there is the fundamental structure which they have not begun to examine, though the revelation of this would explain all the external data. The details would diminish in importance; all these details issuing from a single root might be classified in the simplest manner. This “science” reminds me of that antiquated lore which dealt with the constellations, when the laws of planetary motion were not yet known, and the so-called science confined itself to descriptions of the “Great Bear,” the “Crab,” the “Goat,” etc.

I detest those dryasdusts who, unaware of their own ignorance, write enormous arid tomes with an air of great majesty, as if they were revealing absolute knowledge, books that lie heavy on the minds of the students, making them dry as their teachers. But the students seem to me to care only about passing their examinations and to have no thought of discovering new knowledge; and the professors “serve” them to this end. Thus we are all in a state of servitude due to a mistaken system of education, which calls loudly for reform.