Page images
PDF
EPUB

THE IMPROVEMENT OF THE MIND;

CONTAINING Various Remarks and Rules about the Communication of

Useful Knowledge.

THE SECOND PART.

Communication of Useful Knowledge.

INTRODUCTION. The chief design of the former part of this book, is to leal us into proper methods for the improvement of our knowledge ; let us now consider what are the best means of improving the minds of others, and of communicating to them the knowledge which we have acquired. If the treasures of the mind should be hoarded up and concealed, they would profit none besides the possessor, and even bis advantage by the possession would be poor and narrow, in comparison of what the saine treasures would yield, both to himself and 10 the world, by a free communication and diffusion of thein. Large quantities of knowledge acquired and reserved by one man, like beaps of gold and silver, would contract a sort of rust and disagreeable aspect, by lying in everlasting secresy and silence; but ibey are burnished and glitter by perpetual circulation, through the tribes of mankind. I'he two chief ways of conveying knowledge to others, are, that of verbal instruction to our disciples, or by writing and publishing our thoughts to the world.

Here therefore I shall first propose some observations which relate to the conveyance of knowledge to others by regular lectures of verbal instruction or by conversation ; I shall represent several of the chief prejudices of which learners are in danger, with directions to guard against them, and then mention soine of the easiest and most effectual ways of convincing persons of their mistakes, and of dealing with their understandings, when they labour under the power of prejudice. I shall afterwards add, by way of appendix, an essay written many years ago, on the subject of education, when I designed a more complete treatise of it.

CHAP. I.—Methods of Teaching and Reading Lectures.

HE that has learned any thing thoroughly, in a clear and methodical manner, and has attained a distinct perception, and

an ample survey of the whole subject, is generally best prepared to teach the same subject in a clear and easy method; for having acquired a large and distinct idea of it, and made it familiar to himself by frequent meditation, reading and occasional discourse ; he is supposed to see it on all sides, to grasp it with all its appendices and relations in one survey, and is better able to represent it to the learner in all its views, with all its properties, relations and consequences. He knows which view or side of the subject to hold out first to his disciple, and how to propose to his understanding that part of it which is easiest to apprehend ; and also knows how to set it in such a light, as is most likely to allure and to assist his further enquiry.

But it is not every one who is a great scholar that always becomes the happiest teacher, even though he may have a clear conception, and a methodical as well as an extensive survey of the branches of any science. He must also be well acquainted with words, as well as ideas, in a proper variety; that when his disciple does not take in the ideas in one form or expression, he may change the phrase into several forms, till at last he hits the understanding of his scholar, and enlightens it in the just idea of truth. Besides this, a tutor should be a person of a happy and condescending temper, who has patience to bear with a slowness of perception, or want of sagacity in some learners. He should also have mucb candour of soul, to pass a gentle censure on their impertinencies, and to pity them in their mistakes, and use every mild and engaging method for insinuating knowledge into those who are willing and diligent in seeking truth, as well as reclaiming those who are wandering into error. But of this I have spoken somewhat already, in a chapter of the former part, aod shall have occasion to express something more of it shortly.

A very pretty and useful way to lead a person into the knowledge of any particular truth is, by question and answer, which is the Socratical method of disputation, and therefore I refer the reader to that chapter or section which treats of it. On this account, dialogues are used as a polite and pleasant method of leading gentlemen and ladies into some of the sciences, who seek not the most accurate and methodical treasure of learn. ing. But the most usual, and perhaps the most excellent way of instructing students in any of the sciences, is by reading lectures, as tutors in the acadeiny do to their pupils.

The first work is to choose a book well written, which contains a short scheme or abstract of that science ; or at least, it should not be a very copious and diffusive treatise. Or, if the tutor knows not any such book already written, he should draw up an abstract of that science himself, containing the most substa ntial and important parts of it, disposed in such a method as he best approves. Let a chapter or a section of this be read daily by the learner, op which the tutor should paraphrase in this manner, namely, He should explain both words, and ideas more largely, and especially what is dark and difficult should be opened and illustrated, partly by various forms of speech, and partly by apt similitudes and examples. Where the sense of the author is dubious, it must also be fixed and determined.

Where the arguments are strong and cogent, they should be enforced by some further paraphrase, and the truth of the inferences should be made plainly to appear. Where the arguments are weak and insufficient, they should be either confirmed or rejected as useless; and new arguments, if need be, should be added to support that doctrine. Wbat is treated very concisely in the author should be amplified, and where several things are laid closely together they must be taken to pieces and opened by parts. Where the tutor differs from the author which he reads, he should gently point out and confute bis mistakes. Where the method and order of the book is just and happy, it should be pursued and commended; where it is defective and irregular, it should be corrected.

The most necessary, the most remarkable and useful parts of that treatise, or of that science, should be peculiarly recommended to the learners, and pressed upon them, that they would retain it in memory; and what is more unnecessary or superfluous should be distinguished, lest the learner should spend too much time in the more needless parts of a science.

The various ends, uses, and services of that science, or of any part of it, should be also declared and exemplified, as far as the tutor hath opportunity and furniture to do it; particuJarly in mathematics and natural philosophy. And if there be any thing remarkably beautiful or defective in the style of the writer, it is proper for the tutor to make a just remark

upon it.

Wbile he is reading and explaining any particular treatise to lis pupils, he may compare the different editions of the same book, or different writers upon the same subject, he should inform them where that subject is treated by other authors, which they may peruse, and lead bis disciples thereby to a further elucidation, confirmation or improvement of that theme of discourse in which be is instructing thein.

It is alluring and agreeable to the learner also, now and then to be entertained with some historical remarks, or any occurrences or useful stories which the tutor has met with, relating to the several parts of such a science, provided he does not put off his pupils merely with such stories, and neglect to give thein a solid and rational inforinatiou of the theme in hand. Teachers should

endeavour, as far as possible to join profit and pleasure together, and miogle delight with their instructions ; but at the same time they must take heed, that they do not merely amuse the ears, and gratify the fancy of their disciples, without enriching their minds. In reading lectures of instruction, let the teacher be very solicitous that the learners take up his meaning, and therefore he should frequently enquire, whether he expresses bimself intelligibly, whether they understand his sense, and take in all bis ideas, as he endeavours to convey them in his own forms of speech.

It is necessary that he who instructs others should use the most proper style for the conveyance of his ideas easily into the minds of those who hear him; and though in teaching the sciences, a person is not confined to the same rules by which we must govern our language in conversation, for he must necessarily make use of many terms of art and hard words, yet he should never use them merely to shew his learning, nor affect sounding language without necessity; a caution which we shall soon farther ioculcate.

I think it very convenient and proper, if not absolutely necessary, that when a tutor reads a following lecture to his pupils, be should run over the foregoing lecture in questions proposed to them, and by this means acquaint himself with their daily proficieocy.* It is in vain for the learner to object, surely we are not school-boys, to say our lessons again; we came to be taught, and not to be catechised and examined. But alas ! how is it possible for a teacher to proceed in his instructions, if he knows not how far the learner takes in and reinembers what be has been taught?

Besides, I most generally believe, it is sloth or idleness, it is real ignorance, incapacity or unreasonable pride, that makes a learner refuse to give his teacher an account how far le has profited by his last instructions. For want of this constantexamination, young gentlemen have spent some idle and useless years, even under the daily labours and inspection of a learned teacher; and they have returned from the academy without the gain of any one science, and even with the shameful loss of their classical learning, that is, the knowledge of Greek and Latin, which they had learnt in the grammar-school.

Let the teacher always accommodate himself to the genius, temper and cupacity of his disciples, and practise various methods of prudence to allure, persuade and assist every one of them in their pursuit of knowledge. Where the scholar bas less sagacity . Jet the teacher enlarge his illustrations ; let him search and find out where the learner sticks, what is the difficulty; and thus let him help the labouring intellect. Where the learner manifests a forward genius, and a sprightly curiosity, by frequent enquiries ; let the teacher oblige such an inquisitive soul by satisfying these questions, as far as may be done by decency and conveniency; and where these enquiries are unseasonable, let bim not silence the young enquirer with a magisterial rebuif, but with much candour and gentleness postpone those questions and refer them to a

* No'e, This precaution, though never to be peglected, is of especial importance when a pupil is eprenog on any new branch of learning, where it is ab. soletely necessary the foodamedial definitions and principles should not ofly be clearly voderstood, but should be rendered very familiar to the mind; and proba, bly most tutors have found youar persons sadly be wildered, as they have gpag oa lo their lectures, for waqt of a little more patieace and care in this respect,

proper hour.

Curiosity is a useful spring of knowledge; it should be encouraged in children, and awakened by frequent and familiar methods of talking with them. It should be indulged in youth, but not without a prudent moderation. In those who have too much, it should be limited by a wise and gentle restraint or delay, Jest by wandering after every thing, they learn nothing to perfection. In those who have too little, it should be excited, lest they grow stupid, narrow-spirited, self-satisfied, and never attain a treasure of ideas, or an aptitude of understanding.

Let not the teacher demand or expect things tou subline and difficult from the humble, modest, and fearful disciple : And where such a one gives a just and happy answer, even to plain and easy questions, let him have words of commendation and love ready for him. Let him encourage every spark of kindling light, till it grow up to bright evidence and confirmed knowledge. Where he finds a lad pert, positive and presuming, let the tutor take every just occasion to shew himn his error : let bim set the absurdity in complete light before him, and convince hiin by a full demonstration of his mistake, till he sees and feels it, and learns to be modest and bumble.

A teacher should not only observe the different spirit and humour among his scholars, but he should watch the various efforts of their reason and growth of their understanding. IIe should practice in his young nursery of learning, as a skilsul gardener does in his vegetable dominions, and apply prudent methods of cultivation to every plant. Let him with a discreet and gentle hand, nip or prune the irregular shoots, let him guard and encourage the tender buddings of the understanding, till they be raised to a blossom, and let him kindly cherish the younger fruits.

The tutor should take every occasion to instil knowledge into his disciples, and make use of every occurrence in life, to raise some profitable conversation upon it ; he should frequently enquire something of his disciples, that may set their young reasort to work, and tearlı them how to form inferences, and to draw one propositiou out of another.

« PreviousContinue »