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The Sabbath School and Bible Teaching
Systems of Teaching


When a person makes the inquiry, What is the best system of teaching 1 he naturally expects to have a well-organised plan of instruction laid before him, which he has only to adopt, to be successful at once. Various writers have endeavoured to answer the inquiry in this very way. Accordingly we have the systems of Pesta-lozzi, Gall, Stowe, and the Catechisms, each embodying one or more great principles, but none of them embracing all. The great drawback on all such systems is their exclusiveness. They exaggerate the value of the one principle they embody, and in doing so, look slightingly on other principles, perhaps equally valuable.

There is also a temptation in the teacher who adopts them to be diverted from the end to the means ; and to ask how he shall teach his lesson by his particular mode, rather than how he shall do most good to his pupils.

A teacher who depends upon system, forgets one or two very important principles.

1. He forgets that the true use of a good mode of instruction is not to save the teacher labour, but to make his labour more productive, not to give him ease, but the scholars more profit. It is not to allow him to sit with folded hands, because, by his superior mode, he can do as much as those who are straining every nerve ; but to enable him to direct his own efforts more successfully. The sharper a weapon is, it must not only cut more easily, but deeper.

2. There is not any one pre-eminent mode of communicating knowledge. There are general principles which must ever be acted on in all teaching, but they will receive an infinite variety of modifications and combinations according to circumstances. A teacher should always be simple, intelligent, and earnest ; but these three qualities will receive a new shape according to the nature of the lesson, and the disposition of the pupil. We cannot teach history and doctrine precisely in the same way. A child of six, and one of sixteen, must have very different treatment. One teacher is very successful who is totally destitute of imagination; another's forte is illustration.

3. More depends on the spirit than the mode of instruction. In mechanics we see the most surprising results from the combination of forces; a child may raise a weight that ten men could not move. And something, doubtless, may be accomplished in teaching by the use of a good method; for every obstruction in the channel, by retarding, breaks the force with which the ideas are impelled on the mind. But the influence of method has narrow bounds. It is to the life of the lessons—the contact of mind with mind—that we must look for success. A good writer will write better with a bad pen, than a bad writer with a good pen 3 and a mind full of its subject, and earnest in communicating its thoughts, is to be prized above any measure of mere mechanical dexterity.

Some readers may be slow in believing this. They have gone into a school where the training system prevails ; and marking the interest the scholars take in the lessons, their intelligence, and the liveliness of their replies, they have exclaimed, " Here at length have we found a perfect system. Could we only learn this method, we. should be above difficulty." Whereas, to the talent of the teacher, rather than to the peculiarity of the machinery, may the success be attributed. For system does not create thought, it merely furnishes a channel for its communication. Any method, therefore, which allows full play to the faculties will be successful; but the very best method, if there is a deficiency in the quality of thought, must fail. That mode of teaching must be signally at fault, which can reduce the efficacy of valuable thought to the level of even well taught commonplace.

We have no great expectation of there being very much better teachers in the future than there has been in the past, though we believe that the number of indifferent teachers may be very much lessened, and the number of superior teachers greatly increased. We shall have improvements in the management of schools, and some of the systems which have fettered the minds of teachers will be laid aside; but we are not to look for great advances in the art of convincing and persuading.

There is indefinite progress in the arts and sciences, because each new inquirer trades on the discoveries or inventions of his predecessor; but the religious instruction communicated to a child in our own day, consists of the very same things that have been taught to children from the first; and the mode of teaching them is substantially the same. To illustrate important truth—to bewitch with the graces of style and fancy—to carry the reason a willing captive'—to fire the imagination—to enthrall the heart—to prove to a child that he is a sinner—-to set before him Christ Jesus crucified, and to teach him what is the law of his God;—these have all been done as well as we are ever likely to see them done, and these are the great departments of a teacher's work.

We would therefore throw back a teacher, as far as human instrumentality is concerned, on the resources of his own mind. As the lightning, though running most readily along its conductor, will, if powerful, force its way through every obstacle; so, if a teacher's mind is charged with thought, and he is determined to impart it, he cannot fail to find means of doing so. His method may not be a common one, nor the best in itself, but every difficulty will disappear before the resolute will.

We do not intend in this work to advocate any of the popular systems of teaching, or to advance one1 of our own, but to illustrate the principles inherent in all good teaching. The first to which we direct attention is the preparation of the lesson.


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