« PreviousContinue »
the parties seems to me, however, to be right in its objections to the other.
11. In late years there have been those who have maintained that we ought to begin the instruction in history with that of the native country; since that is nearer to us than Greece, Rome, &c. This view seems at first so simple and natural that it attracts us; but, upon closer consideration, one who is moderately acquainted with the history of Germany would be slow to adopt it. Are not the most important periods of German history-such, for instance, as the mediæval contest between the popes and the emperors-of a character far too difficult for the intellects of boys? Do they not require, for even a moderate understanding of them, a comprehension of the science of church and state, and of their mutual relations? And other equally significant questions might be asked; as, for example, whether a boy of from ten to twelve years old is capable of understanding tho movements of the Reformation ?
12. I now turn from methods which I do not approve to the consideration of those which I consider correct.
The first beginning of historical instruction is, in part, coincident with religious instruction. Christ stands upon the bounds which separate ancient and modern history. Ancient history is related to him, lives in him; and he is the creator of the modern period, and will remain with us until the end of the world.
In this department we first become acquainted with the evangelists--the history of Christ—and thus acquire the capacity to learn aright, both in ancient history and modern, whither the former tended and whither the latter is tending.
Historical instruction proper I would commence with the Old Testament. My reasons are these :_*
1. Because the Old Testament history does not begin arbitrarily at any particular period, but at the beginning--the Creation.
2. Because this history is at once so simple and so vividly grapbic. The
persons and scenes of the Old Testament impress themselves involuntarily upon the mind. Its descriptions and narratives excite the children's imaginations to the forming of mental pictures, which remain in their minds, instead of merely passing through their memories, like mere names which have no actual existence. The Bible does emivently well what is required by the adherents of the biographical method of studying history. 3. Because the history of the Jews is a remarkably individualized
It is the history of the people of God, chosen out and set apart * It should be understood that, for the purpose of historical instruction, many parts of the Old Testament should be omilled, and left to be read at a maturer age.
from the heathen; and for this very reason it is more intelligible when separate from others--not incessantly referring to foreign nations, whose existence connects itself with its own, and thus requires some full knowledge of their history. This makes the mastery of it much more simple, and enables the attention to be directed, without divergence or confusion, to this one nation exclusively. This limitation of the subject is excellently adapted to the dimensions of the minds of school children.
4. Because the history of the Jews is a theocratical one, in which the finger of God is visibly seen. God, to whom all his works are known from the beginning, the educator of the human race, often withdraws himself from sight in the history of other nations, as if he had given men over to themselves; and it is a characteristic of profound historical research and knowledge to look beyond the accidents of the time, and to recognize the justice of God ruling over the nations and over individuals. In the history of the Jews, on the contrary, the divine punishment follows sin, as the thunder does the lightning; while the blessings of the just—as in the case of Davidfall visibly upon him and his posterity.
5. Because the Old Testament history not only reveals the true God in his justice, but also in bis infinite mercy. While it relates the origin of sin, and with sacred impartiality reveals the sins even of men of God, yet it is a book of encouragement and of hope; because it every where points toward the coming Saviour.
Such a history furnishes the first point of view from which correctly to understand and estimate the history of other nations. It is the foundation—and even more, it is the living heart—of the history of the world. As Palestine was a land most isolated in situation, yet admirably adapted to become related to the Roman world, so the ancient Jewish history is a most individualized and isolated one, and yet contains within itself a living energy which enables it, at the epoch of Christ, to open out into a most comprehensive history of the world.
With the Old Testament are connected the histories of the Assyrians, Chaldeans, Medes, Persians, and Egyptians; for which, indeed, the Bible itself is one of the authorities. Daniel refers to Alexander the Great. The Apocrypha, with Josephus, fills up the gap between the return from exile and the time of Christ. And at this last point the history of the Greeks and Romans joins on to that of the Jews.
13. We now come to a point of divergence. Hitherto, history, entirely biblical, has been the same for all Christian children ; but here there arise distinctions, depending on condition and sex.
Boys will either study for a learned profession, or not. The former
study Greek and Latin, and can and must be introduced to the sources of Greek and Roman history. These sources include not merely the historians, but all the classic authors; for they all characterize their nations.
Now, should the boys be carried through a detailed history of both the classic nations, omitting the classic authors, before they read the latter? By no means; but still they should study a brief outline of it, with reference to the future reading of the classics. This outline will serve to fix correctly their ideas in chronology, just as their previous geographical studies have done in space. But it is not intended that this portion of study should be completed during their attendance at the gymnasium.
The case is different with boys of the higher ranks, who will not study a profession, and with girls. These may study a more detailed history; since nothing can be left for a subsequent reading of the classics. But this history must still be written throughout in an easy and popular style, and must not demand any previously acquired learning in order to its comprehension. Both Greek and Roman history must be presented in their relations to the kingdom of God; and the opposite characters of heathenism and Christianity must be presented. A description of the Roman Empire at the time of Christ is of special importance.
14. We now come to modern history. Roman history forms the transition to it, belonging as it does to both ancient and modern times. Boys preparing for the university may study, for this, Tacitus; but not the writers on the Augustan period. At about the epoch of the Antonines begins a period, the original authorities on which are scarcely studied except by professional historians. How few are there who read Cassiodorus, Jornandes, the Byzantine historians, the Latin writers of the middle ages; how many, indeed, even understand the older and middle-age High German ?
At this point, it will be said, come in the eminent modern historians.
I can not refer, for this purpose, to classic writers generally, as I did for ancient history. One reason for this is, that only a few among the modern writers are really able; and among these there are few, again, whose treatment of history is not quite beyond the capacity of youth. Such a one is Spittler, for example. A second reason is, that to read Herodotus and Sallust is an actual intellectual labor for the pupil; he is obliged to pay earnest attention to the course of the history to master his tasks. And it is only too commonly, on the other hand, that young persons read the German historians merely for amusement, very much as they seek
after romances, to pass away the time in indulging their imaginations.
The teacher, I say, should not refer to the modern historians as he does to the ancient ones; especially, not as if they were soon to be read in school. By this I do not mean that he should proceed as if they did not exist; he should give his pupils a sketch of modern history, as of ancient, with reference to the fact that they will sooner or later read the good German historians, and perhaps the English ones. This sketch should be fullest of our own history; and more or less so of the other European nations, according as they are nearer to or further from us, or have more or less interest for us.
15. The question will arise, How many facts, &c., should the pupil fix in his memory? I reply, first, Rather too few than too many. That is a very great error, into which teachers of history fall, of often laying upon their pupils burthens which they themselves could not endure. Instead of selecting remarkable men and occurrences, and giving the proper dates of them to be memorized, they torment the boys with a mass of minutiæ “for future oblivion;" that is, which they will forget as soon as they leave the class. There is no better means than this for inspiring them with a most thorough disgust for history, and one from which they can afterward scarcely free themselves.
The opposite extreme from this cramming process must, however, be avoided—of being too kind to the boys, so as to make them inefficient and afraid of labor. There are teachers so tender of the boys that they are reluctant to make them commit to memory the multiplication table. Every one knows how easily the memory of the young receives and retains facts, names, and dates, unless, indeed, an unwise teacher has broken it down by unreasonable burdens or entire neglect. It is well known that, when this has happened, the sufferer, when grown up, can only with difficulty, or not at all, repair the damage thus inflicted. But we are in after years thankful to our instructors in history, if we retain from their lessons as much even as the succession of the German emperors and the length of their reigns; and are thus enabled so to measure our own historical studies as that we can proceed in them without having our mental processes interrupted by defects of recollection.
16. The more thought is bestowed upon the plan for historical instruction to be pursued in our schools, the more difficult will it appear to lay down any universal rules on the subject. And these rules should, in any event, be only of a most generalized character; and not such as to bind down the teacher to any course of details. The reason of this chief rule is, that historical instruction is eminently dependent upon the personal gifts of the teacher. Shall he, for in
stance, make much or little use of a free, narrative method ? Should he not rather select extracts from historians and read them! I reply, This depends upon whether the teacher has the talent of narratinga very uncommon one. It supposes not only a man of historical knowledge, but the gift of narrating historical facts simply, lucidly, orderly, and fluently, without error or hesitation. And it also requires, above all, a clear and sensible mind, heartily despising that mere declamation for effect, which is only too often made a cloak for ignorance, and is well adapted to destroy at once the scholar's taste and his sense of truth.
If the teacher is skillful and conscientious, as few rules as possible should be prescribed to him, and it would be better to have none at all; for no one can properly claim to understand teaching better than the teacher himself, whose mind has been expressly trained and practiced in his calling as its proper field of labor. Such prescribed rules must, at best, be able to restrain mediocre and bad instructors from ruining their scholars entirely. If unskillfully made, they constrain and confine the best teachers.
17. We have very many text-books of history, from the briefest compends up to voluminous and detailed works.
The former are intended for school use; and furnish very brief, condensed sketches, which are to be filled out and made vivid by the teacher's oral instructions. The pupil, during his study, obtains from them the subjects which are to come up during instruction; and the manual serves, by means of recitation from it, as an aid to the memory, as the short entries in a memorandum-book do. These compends may be even without any style at all—in a tabular form.
Other coinpends pretend to possess a good and readable style, and that no additional oral matter from the teacher is necessary. They are calculated to assist persons studying without teachers, without any other aid. They claim, notwithstanding, to be compends; although, as a general rule, they embarrass the teacher who uses them, because they deprive him of the most important and interesting portions of his materials. The pupil who prepares' himself from a compend of this nature is sated with the subject when he comes to the class, and the teacher's words have no interest for him. Indeed, the teacher can, in this case, at most, do no more than to give instruction, by conversation and examination upon prescribed tasks, out of the book, prepared by the pupil for each lesson.
Voluminous historical manuals are intended only for those who study without a teacher. They can not fill the place of compends in instruction.
18. There is as great a difference between historical compends for