The Principles of Instruction
THE PRINCIPLES OF INSTRUCTION are the laws which guide the teacher in imparting instruction. These principles are derived from three distinct sources; the Nature of the Mind, the Nature of Knowledge, and the Nature of Instruction. Therefore, we shall present those principles in three classes. First class, the principles derived from the nature of the mind have reference to the proper culture of the mental faculties; second class, those derived from the nature of knowledge have reference to the order in which knowledge shall be presented to the mind; and third class, those derived from the nature of instruction have reference to the manner in which knowledge shall be taught. We shall present ten principles of each class, and present a brief discussion of the function of Teacher.
The Principles of Instruction as Derived from the Nature of the Mind
The following ten principles are derived from the nature of the mind, and indicate the laws which should govern the teacher in imparting instruction so that the mind may be properly trained and developed:
1. The primary object of teaching is to afford culture. In education culture is more valuable than knowledge. Culture gives the power to acquire knowledge, and this is worth more to the pupil than the knowledge he has already acquired. Culture also gives one the power to originate knowledge, to invent new ideas and thoughts. Without culture the mind is a mere receptacle of ideas and thoughts; with it the mind is an active energy that can transform its knowledge into new products. Knowledge makes a learned man; culture makes a wise man; and wisdom is better than learning. This primary object of teaching should never be forgotten. The teacher should carry in his mind a clear conception of the faculties of his pupils, and keep constantly before him the thought whether his work is adapted to the growth and culture of these faculties. He should know the relation of each branch of study to the minds of his pupils, see clearly what faculties are brought into activity by it, and be sure that his work is giving, not merely knowledge, but intellectual power. In other words, he should measure his work, not merely by the knowledge he is imparting, but by the mental power he is cultivating. The neglect of this duty has warped and stunted many a young mind.
2. Exercise is the great law of culture. This law is universal, and applies to both mind and matter. A muscle grows strong by exercise. The arm of the blacksmith and the leg of the pedestrian acquire size and power by use. So every faculty of the mind is developed by its proper use and exercise. The power of perception grows by perceiving, the power of memory by remembering, the power of thought by thinking, etc. Hang the arm in a sling and the muscle becomes flabby and almost powerless; let the mind remain inactive and it acquires a mental flabbiness that unfits it for any severe or prolonged activity. An idle mind loses its tone and strength, like an unused arm; the mental powers go to rust through idleness and inaction.
3. The teacher should aim to give careful culture to the perceptive powers of the child. The perceptive powers are the most active in childhood. Mental activity begins in the senses. A little child almost lives in its eyes and ears and fingers; it delights to see and hear and feel. Its eyes are sharp, its ears are quick, and its fingers so busy as to be continually in what people call "mischief." The teacher should direct this activity, and give the child food for the senses. He should provide objects for its instruction, and give it facts to satisfy this craving mental appetite, rather than attempt to feed it upon abstract ideas and thoughts for which it has no taste or capacity at that age.
4. The teacher should aim to furnish the memory of the child with facts and words. The memory of children is especially strong for facts and words. Every object of nature comes through the senses with such a freshness to the mind that it stamps itself indelibly on the memory. Facts seem to stick as naturally to the young mind, as burrs to the dress. Its memory for words is no less remarkable than its memory of things. A new word, once heard, is usually a permanent possession. A child will learn to speak three or four languages in a year, if it has the opportunity of doing so. The teacher should remember these facts, and conform his work to them. He should give the child an opportunity to furnish its mind with the facts of nature and science, and also to add to its stock of words and acquire a rich and copious vocabulary.
5. The memory should be trained to operate by the laws of association and suggestion. The mind in retaining and recalling knowledge works in accordance with a certain law of mental operation. It ties its facts together by the thread of association, or arranges them in clusters like the grapes of a bunch. This tendency is called the Law of Association. The principal laws of association are the law of Similars, the law of Contrast, the law of Cause and Effect, and the law of Contiguity in Time and Place. The teacher should understand these laws and require the pupil to link his knowledge together by means of them. In geography he should have pupils associate similar facts in respect to cities, states, etc.; in history he should require them to make use of the law of contiguity in time and place, and lead them to associate events as related by cause and effect. All the knowledge taught should be so systematized that it may be readily recalled by the law of logical or topical relations.
6. The power of forming ideal creations should be carefully cultivated. The faculty of ideal creation is the Imagination. This power is awakened into action through the medium of perception. The facts of the senses touch the fancy, and arouse it into activity. The forms and colors of nature, the arching sky and the spreading landscape, linger in the memory as forms of beauty, and excite the imagination to modify and create such forms for itself. This tendency is sometimes so strong, that fact and fancy become so interwoven in the mind of a child that it is difficult to discriminate between them. The teacher should encourage the activity of this faculty and train it to a healthy and normal development.
7. The mind should be gradually led from concrete to abstract ideas. The young mind begins with the concrete, with objects and their qualities. Its first ideas are perceptions of objects, of things that it can see and hear and feel. Its ideas of quality are not abstracted from, but rather associated with, objects. These concrete qualities it begins to conceive independently of the objects in which they are found, and thus it gradually rises to abstract ideas. From hard objects it gets its ideas of hardness, from kind parents and friends it obtains its notion of kindness, etc. This natural tendency should be noticed and aided, so far as possible, by the teacher. Especially should he be careful not to lift the pupil up into abstractions too soon. He should present concrete examples of that which he is teaching, that the pupil may have a definite idea of the subject to be presented before he attempts to consider it abstractly. He should aid the child to rise from things to thoughts.
8. A child should be gradually led from particular ideas to general ideas. The young mind begins with the particular. Its first idea is of particular objects, not of general notions. A man, to the young mind, is a particular person; a bird is a particular bird. Gradually it rises from the particular object to the general conception, from a percept to a concept. The teacher should watch this natural tendency and aid it. The process should not be forced, it should not be attempted too early; but when the pupil is ready, he can gradually be lifted up from the concrete into the sphere of abstract and general conceptions. It should be the special aim of the teacher to aid the mind in rising from the particular to the general.
9. A child should be taught to reason first inductively and then deductively. The child's first thoughts are the facts of sense. From these particular facts it gradually rises to general truths. By and by, after the mind has attained to some general principles through Induction, it begins to reverse the process and infer particular truths from such general principles. It also begins to apply the self‑evident truths to reaching conclusions that grow out of them. This natural activity of the mind should be understood by the teacher, and the work of instruction be done accordingly. Especial care should be taken not to require deductive thought too early. In all things the law of nature should be implicitly followed.
10. A child should be gradually led to attain clear conceptions of the intuitive ideas and truths. Mental life begins in the senses; the child's first ideas and truths are those which relate to the material world. But, by and by, intuition awakens into activity, and in it begin to dawn the ideas and truths of the Intuition. The teacher should watch this natural activity, and be governed by it. He may aid the child in developing the ideas of Space, Time, Cause, the True, the Beautiful, and the Good, by presenting suitable occasions. He may also aid the pupil in reaching the self-evident truths which spring out of these several ideas, by particular examples and suitable questions. Some of the axioms of number and space are quite early awakened in the mind; and the teacher can aid their developments
The Principles of Instruction as Derived from the Nature of Knowledge
The ten principles of the previous list (first class) are drawn from a consideration of the nature of the mind. The principles of the second class are derived from the consideration of the nature of knowledge. The following ten principles are regarded as among the most important of this class:
1. The second object of teaching is to impart knowledge. A person should not only know how to obtain knowledge, but he should possess knowledge. He should not only know how to use his memory in acquiring knowledge, but he should have it stored with interesting and useful facts. He should not only know how to think, but his mind should be filled with facts and truths both as the materials for and the results of thought. Though culture, which trains to the use of the faculties, may be better than learning, learning is very much better than ignorance. The teacher should therefore aim to fill the minds of his pupils with the facts of history, geography, physics, etc. He should hold up before them a high ideal of scholarship, and create in them an ambition for wide and extensive learning.
2. Things should be taught before words. This principle is in accordance with the natural development of knowledge. The object existed and was known before a name was given to it; the word was introduced to designate the object. This natural order in the genesis of knowledge should be followed in the imparting of knowledge. The principle is also in accord with the natural laws of mental development.
This principle is very frequently disregarded by the teacher. It is violated by requiring pupils to commit words without definite ideas of their meaning, and to repeat definitions without understanding them. Such a course is most pernicious in its influence on the mind. It leads the pupil to acquire wrong habits of thoughts, to be satisfied with the expression without a knowledge of the idea or fact expressed; and deludes him with the idea that words, the symbols, are the realities of knowledge.
3. Ideas should be taught before truths. This law is also in accordance with the natural law of acquisition and mental development. The mind has ideas before it puts them together in judgements or thoughts. Thus it has an idea of a chair and the floor before it thinks the chair is on the floor. So in science, as in arithmetic and geometry, the ideas presented in the definitions are learned before the truths which pertain to them. This principle is also manifest from the nature of the mind. Ideas are given by perception and conception; thoughts are the result of judgment and reasoning; and the acts of perception and conception precede those of judgment and reasoning. This order should be followed in instruction. The effort of the teacher should be to fill the mind of the pupil with ideas, both concrete and abstract, and subsequently to teach the truths which belong to them.
4. Particular ideas should be taught before general ideas. This principle is in accordance with the genesis of knowledge and the natural activity of the mind. Our first ideas are of particular objects, derived through the senses; following these come the abstract and general notions given by the understanding. Thus a child has an idea of a particular bird before it can conceive of a bird in general, or of a class of birds; and the same is true of other notions. This order, frequently violated in education, should be carefully followed. To depart from it is to invert the law of mental activity and injure the mind, as well as retard the acquisition of knowledge. The motto should be, from the particular notion or idea to the general.
5. Facts, or particular truths, should be taught before principles, or general truths. A fact is a truth in the domain of sense; a principle is a truth in the domain of thought. The former is concrete; the latter is abstract; and the concrete should be taught before the abstract. The former results from an operation of perception and judgment; the latter from an act of reasoning; and an act of perception precedes an act of reasoning. Again, facts are particular truths; principles are general truths; and the particular should precede the general. The principles in natural science are a generalization from facts; and the mind must be familiar with the facts before it can generalize from them. It is thus clear that facts, or particular truths, should be taught before principles, or general truths.
6. In the physical sciences causes should be taught before laws. In the physical sciences we proceed from facts and phenomena to the laws and causes relating to them. In presenting these, the law of mental growth indicates that we should teach the causes of things before presenting their laws. The idea of cause is very early awakened in the mind. One of the first questions of a little child is, "Mamma, what makes that?" The ascertaining of the laws which control facts and phenomena is a later consideration. The same conclusion appears from the genesis of knowledge. The causes of physical phenomena were sought for long before an inquiry was made for their laws. The ancients made inquiries after the causes in physics and astronomy very early; but the attempt to ascertain the laws is of much more recent date. Besides, too, the law often flows from a correct idea of the cause, as in gravitation, optics, etc. It is thus clear that in teaching the physical sciences, the causes of facts should be considered before their laws.
7. In the physical sciences, causes and laws should be taught before the scientific classifications. This is indicated by the law of mental growth, and also by the genesis of the sciences. The mind grasps facts, causes, and laws, before it is ready for the grand generalizations of Natural History. These latter require a knowledge of particulars and a breadth of conception entirely beyond the grasp of the young mind. The order of development of these sciences also indicates the same law. The scientific classifications of Natural History are much more recent than the facts and principles of Physics, Astronomy, etc.
8. The elements of the Inductive Sciences should precede the Deductive Sciences. The elements of the Inductive Sciences are facts and phenomena; from these we proceed by inductive reasoning to laws, causes, and systems of classification. These facts and phenomena are acquired by perception, and may thus be early presented to the learner. They come naturally into the mind before the ideas of the Deductive Sciences, and should therefore be taught before them. It is only the elements of these sciences, however, that should precede the deductive sciences. The reasoning of the inductive sciences, by which we attain the laws, causes, etc., is more difficult than the first steps of reasoning in the deductive sciences; and should not, except in its simplest form, be taught so early.
9. The formal study of the Deductive Sciences should precede that of the Inductive Sciences. This order arises from the nature of knowledge in its relation to the mind. Though the elementary facts of the inductive sciences present themselves to the mind as early as the elementary ideas of the deductive sciences, yet the first steps of formal reasoning in the deductive sciences are simpler than those of the inductive sciences. Thus, the acts of judgment in Mental Arithmetic, and the syllogisms of Geometry, are much more readily grasped by the young mind than the generalizations of Botany, or the investigations of Physics.
Besides, the reasoning in the mathematical sciences trains the mind to see the relation of premise and conclusion, and gives it the habit of logical activity. A mind brought up on facts, without the training of arithmetic and geometry, will be weak and illogical in its operations, and, as a rule, incompetent for profound thinking. The fact that mathematics and logic were developed before the natural sciences also indicates the correctness of this principle. The fact, also, that many of the physical sciences, as Physics and Astronomy, cannot be developed without the aid of mathematics, makes the order stated in the principle a practical necessity in respect to those branches.
10. The Metaphysical Sciences should be the last in a course of instruction. The term metaphysical is here used in a general sense, to include Psychology, Law, Philosophy, etc. These branches are the most abstract in their nature, and require the most maturity of thought for their comprehension. They are the product of profound reflection, and of that ripeness of wisdom which comes with the maturity of age and study; and as such should not be entered upon until the pupil has attained considerable maturity of mind and culture.