« 上一頁繼續 »
But men-enthusiastic believers in the virtue of doing the solid work within their reach—had started in the race, before Mechanics’ Institutes were set up in the country. Unostentatiously, but with most encouraging results, a few workers had set up schools. Mr. Owen had begun his great experiment at New Lanark in Scotland before there was a single infantschool in England. Indeed, when in 1819, under the auspices of Henry Brougham, the Marquis of Lansdowne, Zachariah Macaulay, Thomas Babington, Sir Thomas Baring, Joseph Wilson, and others, an infantschool for the poor of Westminster was projected, the projectors turned to New Lanark to discover a proper master for the new and strange establishment. The Westminster school was soon imitated in many poor districts; notably in Spitalfields, at the cost of earnest Mr. Joseph Wilson. Mr. Wilson engaged the services of Mr. and Mrs. S. Wilderspin. We have a vivid picture of this school, dropped in the centre of a disorderly pauperised district.* Now for our portrait of a model social doctor.
Schoolmaster Wilderspin is a sensible, religious, cheerful man. He is at home in the midst of babies. He has made their whims, and foibles, and tempers, and tastes his serious study. He has the sound sense to perceive that he can operate healthily upon these germs of men and women, only through the emotions. If he would instruct them without harming them, he must contrive to amuse them at the same time that he is giving them lessons. They must be drawn by silken threads. They, like men, must be taught as though you taught them not. “There are, and always will be, a great number of poor children in the world,” said Schoolmaster Wilderspin; “therefore it behoves us to endeavour to make them as happy as we can, and as useful to society as possible.” The school in Spitalfields was a happy place, whither children went laughing from their wretched homes to spend the day in well-ventilated rooms and an open playground. People said to Mr. Wilderspin, and other masters of infant schools for the poor, “Why, you are taking the work out of the parents' hands. The poor will henceforth believe that they are absolved from the duty of educating their offspring.” Mr. Wilderspin answered, “Shall we wait until the poor are qualified and willing to educate their children ?” When Mr. Wilderspin was playing at school in Spitalfields, he declared that many of the parents of his little pupils could not have paid one penny a week; and he adds,“ many that are would sooner let their children run the streets than pay a penny; yet the children of the latter persons are the greatest objects of charity.” In those days, unquestionably the infant children of the poor were to be pitied. They were left to the streets, and to the contamination of the streets; and as criminals they met with
viction that there was enjoyment of a pure and spiritual kind, over which fortune had no control.
* See The Importance of Educating the Infant Poor, from the age of Eighteen months to Seven years, &c. Second Edition. By S. Wilderspin, Master of the above (Spitalfields) School. London, 1824.
the utmost rigour of the law. “Two," writes Mr. Wilderspin, “ were cast for death,—the last sessions, under twelve years of age.”
Mr, Webster might make a charming picture of Wilderspin and wife in the midst of their ragged Spitalfields scholars. There are more than two hundred little children assembled, all from the neighbourhood of that notorious Wentworth Street, where, in 1819, a famous infant-school of another description was kept, viz. a pickpocket school, where the young idea was trained up in the way it should go-to the gallows. Wilderspin's scholars have reached the schoolroom, clean washed, hair cut short and combed, and clothes well mended, according to the regulations, at half-past eight o'clock in the morning. Those children who have brought their dinner with them will remain all day,“ to enable the mother to go to work.” All who are absent will be compelled to account for their absence. Then Mr. Wilderspin exhorts the poor parents of his pupils to make them repeat the Lord's Prayer night and morning at home. This Spitalfields school is, in fact, a day-nursery as well as a school.
“By sending the children's dinners with them," says Mr. Wilderspin, “ they (the parents) are enabled to do their work in comfort; and the children, when properly disciplined, will be no additional trouble to the teacher, for they will play about the playground while he gets his dinner, without doing the least mischief.”
In compelling regular attendance, the Spitalfields schoolmaster showed a sound knowledge of the people with whom he had to deal. He kept his school clear of vagrant scholars, who would not profit by his teaching, and might contaminate the regular children.
The school-proceedings are unlike that dull round of duties which the pedants of those days (and of these also) imposed upon children who should have been still upon their mothers' knees. Wilderspin's happy little ones were lured to a knowledge of reading and writing. He discovered that, as a rule, children are fond of singing. So he set the alphabet and the pence and multiplication tables to airs, and taught his classes to sing their lessons, headed by monitors of seven years' experience ! Constant changes of scene and method hold the attention, because the interest of these baby pupils is kept alive. Here a teacher is holding letters at the end of a long stick, with the two hundred little urchins' faces all eagerly upturned. Each child in turn calls the letter that is shown. This is no lesson, but, on the contrary, it appears to be excellent amusement. When the alphabet has been exhausted, pictures of birds and beasts are held aloft; and the little creatures learn to distinguish between the eagle and the vulture, the lion and the tiger. Sometimes letters and animals are intermingled, that the attention of the children may be tested. When the letters have been learned, the spelling of short words is communicated in the same way. And the children are delighted. Stick-teaching is a novelty to them, and they beg to be taught in this way. Then they are shown how to teach one another. Here and there raised letters are hanging upon nails against the walls. Suddenly, the master calls to a child to fetch him P or S off the nail; and it is amusing to see the little creature toddle to the wall, and puzzle itself sometimes, sorely. Figures are taught in the same manner, the teacher adding at his pleasure. Inches of cube wood make a variety, and the variety keeps the children's attention.
Kind Mr. Wilderspin holds that his schoolroom is also a nursery, and that it behoves him to have a strict regard for his pupils' health. The baby pupils must be diverted, or they will cry; and some round dozens screaming in concert would destroy all the economy of his realm. There are parents who will smile incredulously when Mr. Wilderspin asserts that “it is possible to have two hundred, or even three hundred, children assembled together, the eldest not more than six years of age, and yet not to hear one of them crying for a whole day.” The worthy schoolmaster has proved his assertion. His system is so amusing, that his sucklings cry to come to his humble academy and be taught. The rooms are spacious; and their little limbs are not cramped by compulsory sitting upon forms. They are not doomed to unbroken silence. They are by nature restless; they must develop their muscles and their lungs. Schoolmaster Wilderspin is sagacious enough to see all this. When he wants them to count, he makes them raise and depress their arms to the numbers. This action amuses them, while they learn; it exercises them also. Next, they are told to take hold of their toes, sitting upon the ground, and to continue counting; raising and lowering their feet to each number. The action of this lesson—which amuses them vastly-exercises every part of their little bodies. If we follow them to the playground, we find them still engaged in instructive games. Each class has a tree, about which it forms, in circle. Clasping hands, they dance round the trees, saying the multiplication-table, the alphabet, or singing a hymn. When the weather is wet, the swings—arranged in the schoolroom—are in requisition; and Wilderspin's happy little scholars swing as they repeat their lessons. They learn courage also. Some of these little pupils swing boldly upon one leg, who, not long since, would not approach the ropes. The swings and letters put aside, pictures are produced. All children delight in pictures. Mr. Wilderspin has drawings from Scripture, of animals, of public buildings. When he produces a new drawing, all the children crowd about it, and clamour to learn the meaning of it. He takes advantage of this awakened curiosity to explain every part of the picture, and to cross-question his group of little spectators, on his explanations. He shows them how useful, for instance, the camel is in the deserts of Arabia; how much it can carry, how long it can go without water, and the reason, &c. Mr. Wilderspin is right: “ All these things will assist the thinking powers of children, and enlarge their understandings, if managed carefully." His experience of this kind of teaching was, that he was tired before the children. There is no need for severity, since the interested pupils petition to learn. They even bring their parents to see master's wonderful pictures. These pictures are exhibited at intervals : the children are not allowed to become so familiar with them as to cease to be interested in them.
“ The human mind,” Mr. Wilderspin remarks, “is susceptible of such an infinite variety, that it is continually seeking for new objects; and that which is the most beautiful, by being placed before our eyes too frequently, loses almost all its attraction, and ceases to claim our notice. Therefore, although the children are fond of this mode of teaching, unless it is man. aged with a proper degree of care,—with an eye to please as well as edify,
—the children will be cloyed with having too much at once; and whatever good the teacher may wish to do for his little pupils, unless he particularly attends to this part of the subject, he will most certainly defeat his own objects."*
Nor does Mr. Wilderspin overrate the importance of his labours. The children of the poor must be taught young, or they will get little education, and no moral training. Directly their labour is of value to their parents, school is forgotten. Yet to make young children reach that degree of conscientiousness which will not permit them to touch fruit within their reach that has not been given to them, is to teach them a principle that will stand them in good stead amid the temptations to which the poverty of their parents subjects them. There are fruit-trees in Schoolmaster Wilderspin's playground; there are flowers in pots in all directions : yet fruit and blossom are safe. There are dinner-boxes, where the children put their dinners. These boxes are not locked; and there are hungry little boys and girls in the school : but the dinners of their companions are respected.
But this is not all. To preach honour and honesty and piety is not enough. Children are shrewd observers and close imitators. The tutor's example-if he wish to hold his authority—must be in harmony with his precept. He must be strictly true to his promises, above all things. “Many of the children," writes Mr. Wilderspin, “were in the habit of bringing marbles, tops, whistles, and other toys to the school, which often caused much disturbance; for they would play with them instead of attending to their lessons, and I found it necessary to forbid the children from bringing any thing of the kind. And after giving notice two or three times in the school, I told them that if any of them brought such things, they would be taken away from them. In consequence of this several things fell into my hands, which I did not always think of returning, and among other things a whistle from a little boy. The child asked me for it as he was going home, but having several visitors at the time, I put the child off, telling him not to plague me, and he went home. I had forgot the circumstance altogether, but it appears the child did not; for some time after this, while I was lecturing the children upon the necessity of telling truth, and on the wickedness of stealing; the little fellow approached me and said, ' Please, sir, you stole my whistle.' 'Stole your whistle !' said I ; did I not give it you again ? No, teacher ; I asked you for it, and you would not give it to me.' I stood self-convicted, being accused in the middle of my lecture, before all the children, and really at a loss to know what excuse to make; for I had mislaid the whistle, and could not return it to the child. I immediately gave the child a halfpenny, and said all I could to persuade the children that it was not my intention to keep it. However, I am satisfied that it has done more harm than I shall be able to repair for some time; for if we wish to teach children to be honest, we should never take any thing from them without returning it again.” This power of example is forcibly shown in the trouble Mr. Wilderspin had in making some of his pupils under. stand that they must not swear, nor use coarse words; the little things replying innocently that their parents used these objectionable words. Mr. Wilderspin had, on the other hand, examples of parents who were reformed by their children. The pictures of Scripture, for instance, so excited one little boy, that he pestered his father night and day to read the passages in the Bible that these pictures illustrated, and so by degrees the man became a constant, because an interested, reader.
* For the child,-yet in native innocence, before his parents have become his serpents on the tree,-speechless, still unsusceptible of verbal empoisonment, led by customs, not by words and reasons, therefore all the more easily moved on the narrow and small pinnacle of sensuous experience,-for the child, I say, on this boundary-line between the monkey and the man, the most important era of life is contained in the years which immediately follow his non-existence, in which for the first time he colours and moulds himself by companionship with others. The parent's hand may cover and shelter the germinating seed, but not the luxuriant tree. Consequently first faults are the greatest; and mental maladies, unlike the small-pox, are the more dangerous the earlier they are taken.- Levana, or the Doctrine of Education, by Jean Paul Fr. Richter.
Mr. Wilderspin is as cheerful and sensible in his brick-paved playground, as we have found him with his swings and pictures in his schoolroom. He plants fruit-trees, to teach his little pupils respect for private property. He has a border of flowers, which he cultivates during playhours, taking occasion to gossip with his pupils about his pinks and dahlias. Here, when the children are free, he may watch the progress of their moral education, and gently correct any bad tendencies that may manifest themselves. “It has been too much the practice with many to consider the business of a school to consist merely in teaching children their letters; but I am of opinion that the formation of character is of the greatest importance, not only to the children, but to society at large." He adds, with a just pride, “I am satisfied that I could take the whole of my children into any gentleman's plantation without their doing the least injury whatever.”
Forty years have passed since Mr. Wilderspin opened his school for the vagrant children of Spitalfields, in Quaker Street. Forty years; and we doubt whether, in this long time, many advances have been made on the kind and sagacious schoolmaster who gathered the rags and squalor of a most immoral and poverty-stricken district under his roof, and put them in the midst of fruit and flowers, and saw them with ripening apples over their little heads, and flowers at their feet, which they respected. Nay, we must beg leave to doubt whether there are many schools in our