The Philosophy of Teaching -  The Teacher, The Pupil, The School - Nathaniel Sands - ebook


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The Philosophy of Teaching - The Teacher, The Pupil, The School


Nathaniel Sands

First digital edition 2017 by Gianluca Ruffini







Of the various callings to which the division of labor has caused man specially to devote himself, there is none to be compared for nobility or usefulness with that of the true teacher. Yet neither teachers nor people at present realize this truth.

Among the very few lessons of value which might be derived from so-called “classical” studies, is that of the proper estimate in which the true teacher should be held; for among the Greeks no calling or occupation was more honored. Yet with a strange perversity, albeit for centuries the precious time of youth has been wasted, and the minds and morals of the young perverted by “classical” studies, this one lesson has been disregarded.

What duty can be more responsible, what vocation more holy, than that of training the young in habits of industry, truthfulness, economy, and sobriety; of giving to them that knowledge and skill without which their lives would become a burden to themselves and to society? Yet, while the merchant seeks to exercise the greatest caution in selecting the persons to whom he intrusts his merchandise, and yields respect to him who faithfully performs his commercial engagements; he makes but scant inquiry as to the character or qualifications of the MIND-BUILDER upon whose skill, judgment, and trustworthiness the future of his children will greatly depend.

The position assigned by our social rules to the teacher accords, not with the nobility of his functions, but with the insufficient appreciation entertained of them by the people, and is accompanied by a corresponding inadequate remuneration. And what is the result? Except a few single-hearted, noble men and women, by whom the profession of the teacher is illustrated and adorned; except a few self-sacrificing heroes and heroines whose love of children and of mankind reconciles them to an humble lot and ill-requited labors, the class of school-teachers throughout the whole civilized world barely reaches the level of that mediocrity which in all other callings suffices to obtain not merely a comfortable maintenance in the present, but a provision against sickness and for old age.

What aspiring father, what Cornelia among mothers, select for their children the profession of a teacher as a field in which the talents and just ambition of such children may find scope? Nor can we hope for any improvement until a juster appreciation of the nobility of the teacher’s vocation, and a more generous remuneration of his labors shall generally prevail.

It is to the desire to aid somewhat in bringing about a juster appreciation in the minds alike of teachers and of people of the utility and nobleness of the teacher’s labors and vocation that these pages owe their origin.

When we consider the nature of the Being over whose future the teacher is to exercise so great an influence, whose mind he is to store with knowledge, and whom he is to train in the practice of such conduct as shall lead to his happiness and well-being, we are lost in amazement at the extent of the knowledge and perfection of the moral attributes which should have been acquired by the teacher. It is his duty to make his pupils acquainted with that nature of which they form a part, by which they are surrounded, and which is “rubbing against them at every step-in life.” But he cannot teach that of which he himself is ignorant. Every science then may in turn become necessary or desirable to be employed as an instructive agent, every art may be made accessory to illustrate some item of knowledge or to elucidate some moral teaching.

Man, is his subject, and with the nature of that subject and of his surroundings he must be acquainted, that the object to be attained and the means for its attainment may be known to him.

What is man? What are his powers, what is his destiny, and for what purpose and for what object was he created? Let us enter the laboratory of the chemist and commence our labors. Let us take down the crucible and begin the analysis, and endeavor to solve this important problem. In studying the great Cosmos, we perceive each being seeking its happiness according to the instincts implanted in him by the Creator, and only in man we see his happiness made dependent on the extent to which he contributes to the happiness of others. What, so far as we can see, would this earth be without any inhabitants? What great purpose in the economy of nature could it serve? A palace without a king, a house without an occupant, a lonely and tenantless world, while we now see it framed in all its beauty for the enjoyment of happiness.

The Being upon whom the art and science of the teacher is to be exercised is one to whom food, clothing, fuel, and shelter are needful; possessed of organs of digestion, whose functions should be made familiar to their possessor; of breathing organs, to whose healthful exercise pure air is essential; a being full of life and animation, locomotive, desirous of moving from place to place; an emotional being, susceptible to emotions of joy and sorrow, love and hate, hope and fear, reverence and contempt, and whose emotions should be so directed that their exercise should be productive of happiness to others. He is also an intellectual being, provided with senses by which to receive impressions and acquire a knowledge of external things; with organs of comparison and of reason, by which to render available for future use the impressions received through the senses in the past. Lastly: he is also a social being, to whom perpetual solitude would be intolerable; sympathizing in the pains and pleasures of others, needing their protection, sympathy and co-operation for his own comfort, and desirous of conferring protection upon and of co-operating with them. But, further, he is a being who desires to be loved and esteemed, and finds the greatest charm of existence in the love and esteem he receives; to be loved and esteemed and cared for, he must love, esteem and care for others, and be generally amiable and useful.

Such is the Being, susceptible of pain and pleasure, of sorrow and joy, whom the MIND-BUILDER is to train up so that, as far as possible, the former may be averted and the latter secured.

The teacher, then, must train him in habits of industry and skill, that work may be pleasant and easy to him, and held in honorable esteem; for without work, skillfully performed, neither food, clothing, fuel nor shelter can be obtained in sufficient quantity to avoid poverty and suffering. Knowledge also must be acquired by the laborer, in order that the work which is to be skillfully performed may be performed with that attention to the conditions of mechanical, chemical, electrical, and vital agencies necessary to render labor productive. A knowledge of the conditions of mechanics, of chemistry, of electricity, and of vital phenomena should be imparted by the teacher; and to impart this knowledge, he must first possess it.

How sublime, then, are the qualifications, natural and acquired, which the true teacher should possess! How deep should be our reverence for him who, by his skill and knowledge, is capable, and by his moral qualities willing, to perform duties so onerous and so difficult. What station in life can be regarded as more exalted; whose utility can be compared with that of him who proves himself faithful to the duties he assumes, when he takes upon himself the office of a teacher of youth?

The question which is ever present to the mind of the true teacher is: What can I do to insure the happiness of these beings confided to my charge, whose minds it is given to me to fashion, not according to my will, but according as my skill and judgment shall, more or less, enable me to adapt my teachings to their natures? What shall I seek to engrave upon the clear tablets of their young and tender minds, in order that their future lot may be a joyous one? Let me illustrate (he will say) my profession. I will raise it high as the most honored among men, and for my monument I will say: “Look around; see the good works of those whom I have taught and trained; they are my memorials!”

Such may, such will become the hope and aspiration common to teachers in that good day to come, when their labors shall be honored as they deserve; when parents, in all the different ranks into which society falls, shall vie with each other in the respect and honor tendered to the teacher, whose true place in society is at least not beneath that of the Judge.

The teachers to be developed by such a state of society will, as their first step, seek to obtain a clear and comprehensive view of the work they propose to accomplish, and will then seek to adopt the most judicious means to reach the end proposed. They will adapt their methods of teaching to the nature of the object to be taught and to the order in which the faculties of the human mind naturally unfold themselves, for true education is the natural unfolding of the intellectual germ. In order to obtain the knowledge necessary of the object to be taught, the true teacher turns to nature as his guide, for the voice of nature is the voice of God, and in reading her statutes we read that grand volume in which He has left an impress of Himself. The science of nature is nothing more than the ability to read and interpret correctly the lessons taught. There was a period when mankind knew very little of the planet upon which they lived and moved and had their being; there was a time when they knew almost nothing; and there will come a time when they will know almost everything that can be known by finite man. The earth is our mother, and nature is our teacher, and if we listen to her voice, she will lead us higher and higher until we will stand the master and the king in the glorified temple of wisdom. To reach results so grand and a position so exalted, our natures must unfold in exact harmony with all the laws and forces which surround and control us from the time our existence commences until its close.

From the period of conception until birth the child draws to itself all the essential elements required for the organization of a human being; the capabilities and powers of the parent are taxed and called upon to contribute their material to enable nature to reproduce itself.