In discussing this important subject, we shall treat it under the following heads:—1st, The Uses of Catechising. 2d, Elliptical Catechising. 3d, Direct Catechising.
1. Uses op Catechising. 1. Catechising secures the attention of the scholars. A lecturing style of teaching children is peculiarly improper, from their power of sustaining attention being so feeble. He must be a very lively teacher indeed, who can command the minds of a class by an address above a very few minutes. The young mind is roving, and disinclined to continuous effort of any kind, and especially to continuous attention. It craves active employment. Even in sports it requires variety. Children's minds would have perpetual holiday. It is nearly impossible to make a young child sit quite still. In five minutes, he will throw his body into fifty different postures; and the mental restlessness is akin to the bodily. The younger the child is, the more must this disposition be humoured. It is not till a later period that he can be harnessed to the car of life.
Catechising fits in with this disposition, by affording it varied exercise, without overtasking its energies. Attention is needed, but not in an unbroken chain. The thread of thought is alternately in the hands of teacher and scholar; and the child, instead of being dragged through a lesson as by a lecture, walks through it hand in hand with , his teacher.
2. Catechising is an aid to the memory. There is a certain rate of motion beyond which an object, though passing directly before the eye, will leave no impression on it. The same is true of thought. A succession of ideas may flit before the mind so rapidly as to be forgotten the next moment. This is especially true of minute particulars, dates, names, and numbers. A question arrests the fleeting thought, and concentrates the attention upon it; many apparently trifling questions must be asked for this purpose. Thus, if we ask, Which of Joseph's brethren wished to save him from the pit 1 the answer, Reuben, by calling attention to the name, will make the fact to be better remembered.
3. Catechising refreshes the memory. It keeps the mind from growing rusty, makes a ready thinker and speaker, and, by renewing fading impressions, renders them permanent.
4. Catechising is an index to the mind. We learn by it the extent of a child's knowledge, in what he excels, and in what he is deficient, and are enabled to adapt our instruction to his wants. "A teacher who has not been in the habit of proposing such questions, can form no adequate notion of the amount of ignorance and misapprehension which this ploughshare of the mincl will turn up." A girl being asked the meaning of a word in the Catechism, replied, a little smartly, "I know no meanings." A boy was asked, after reading the fourth chapter of the Acts, Why was Peter imprisoned "For killing Christ," was his reply.
5. Catechising disciplines the mind. The information acquired by it will be retained by the mind as the fruit of its own labours. Instead of being laid on the surface, it is wrought into the body of the thoughts. A person will remember the way to a friend's house in a large city, much better if obliged to find it out for himself, than if guided to it by a friend.
Every teacher's experience will furnish him with examples of the benefits of catechetical discipline.. In a lesson on the evil of sin, after shewing how anything is injured by using it contrary to its nature, as in bending back the fingers, or twisting the arm, we asked, Why is sin hurtful to the soul? A girl replied, "Because God never made man to sin."
On another occasion, speaking of the Bible being neglected, we made the remark, We may say of a great many what a good old man once said to his son, "Your Bible is too clean." Some weeks afterwards, in catechising a class on the barren fig-tree, we asked, Mention some ways in which persons are like the tree. A boy called out, " In keeping their Bibles too clean."
II. Elliptical Catechising. There are two kinds of catechising—the direct and the elliptical. The direct, when we ask, who, why, when, what, where, &c.; and the elliptical, where a word is dropped out of a sentence, to be supplied by the scholar—as, Joseph forgave his - - - brethren.
A teacher need not confine himself to any one of these methods, but employ either as he finds most convenient. At the same time, the direct mode is the more useful of the two. The elliptical mode suits revising, narrative lessons, and young children; it should rarely be used by itself. We cannot ask a question by an ellipsis which requires much thought.
The following rules, abridged from Ross's Manual of Method, in reference to the elliptical method, embrace all that we have to remark on the subject.
1. "The word or words left out should be pretty obvious."
2. "An ellipsis should not occur in a question." We once heard the question asked, "Of what is the attitude in prayer---of something else?" No one could answer it. The teacher gave for answer, "An indication." Thus, a careless attitude indicates a careless mind!
3. "The voice ought not to be raised at the word preceding the ellipsis, nor in any other way any intimation given that an ellipsis is about to be madefor the children will be more occupied with watching the change of tone than the sense of the question.
4. "Do not tell part of the word or clause left out. This, when done, renders the ellipsis useless." It is a poor way, unless with very young children indeed, to suggest the first syllable—as, Rehoboam's father was called ---So- -- So-- - Solomon.
5. "The sentence in which the ellipsis is made ought not to be of such an ambiguous form as to admit of various words being supplied."
III. Direct Catechising. When we wish merely to ascertain the extent of a child's knowledge on any particular subject, or to make him illustrate a lesson by texts or Scripture examples with which he is familiar, there is no great difficulty in shaping our questions. We have only to ask them briefly, and distinctly enough, and give them sufficient variety, to gain our object. The great difficulty lies in so forming and arranging them, as to lead the children to the discovery of truth. A proficiency in this is not to be attained without application. To this we would first call the reader's attention.
1. Drawing lessons. (1.) The lessons which a teacher leads his scholars to draw, must be such as he has previously thought out for himself The questions are not to be asked blindly with the view of getting sharp and ingenious answers of some sort; we must have a particular lesson before us, to the educing of which the questions tend. If other thoughts are suggested by the way, so much the better, but we are not to depend on these.
(2.) To enable the scholars to draw the inference which we are in search of, we must give them the materials in full which led us to it ourselves. The subject must be vividly described, that, by the power of sympathy, and the inference of the natural association of ideas, the children may fall into the same train of reflections as the teacher.
Example—In order to teach a child the strength of Abraham's faith, we must remind our scholars that Isaac was an ouly son, a pious son, a son on whose life much depended, &c. It would serve little purpose to read over the words, "And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son," and then ask, What do we learn from this? The answer, whether correct or not, would be very slightly associated with the scholars' convictions.
We asked a class one day, What was the best news that Christ made known to the world? There was no answer. We then proceeded :—Suppose a man were to fall into the sea—he is in danger of being drowned.—Two men stand on the shore—one calls out to him, I have come to pay you a thousand pounds I owed you; the other, Ho! here is a rope, seize it, and I will pull you ashore. Which of these two, then, had the best news for the drowning man?—The man who had the rope. Well, what do we need most?—The pardon of sin. And what did Christ come to the world for?—To save us from sin.
That was the best news, then, which even Christ could give us; for what would it profit us though we were to gain the whole world and lose our soul?
(3.) If a teacher finds on repeated trials that he makes little progress in this mode of drawing lessons, let him not spend much time daily in the attempt, but rather set the lessons he finds in his text as vividly as he can before his scholars, and examine them on what he has told them. The teacher as well as the scholars are sure of becoming confused when such catechising is prolonged.
2. Before catechising, the subject should be introduced by a few lively remarks. A pump out of use requires a pitcherful of water to make it work ; so the inert mind will be stirred up to activity by the prefatory remarks. They will also set the child upon the track, and interest him in the lesson. For example, a child who is not able to read well, is so occupied with the pronunciation of words, that he does not catch the train of thought in the passage he has read ; we must, therefore, set it before him previous to catechising. We are first to communicate knowledge ; then catechise on what has been taught, till it becomes familiar; and then endeavour to lead the pupil to think over it, to discover its natural inferences.
3. In catechising, start with the leading idea of the sentence. Example—Luke viii. 1, "It came to pass afterward, that he went throughout every city and village, preaching and shewing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God; and the twelve were with him." Jesus Christ preaching is obviously the principal figure in the picture, and round him the lesser ideas must be grouped; as, When did he preach? Where did he preach? With whom did he preach? This is preferable to asking, What came to pass? Where did it come to pass? &c. Second example—Col. iii. 1, "If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth at the right hand of God." Our first question here ought not to be, What is meant by being risen with Christ? but, What is meant by seeking the things which are above ? So also 2 Cor. vii. 1, "Having, therefore, these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of the Lord." Here—though we might refer to the epistle and its author—our first question on the subject of lesson should be, What are we commanded to do? Fourth example.—Mark xiii. 37, " What I say unto you, I say unto all, Watch." Here we must first discuss the meaning of watchfulness, before considering who are the persons addressed. By this method, we give to the different particulars their true proportion, as the principal idea is ever repeated in its connexion with that to which it is related, and there is an order and distinctness in the questions highly conducive to clear thinking in the scholars.
In asking questions on catechisms, this principle is seldom attended to. The clauses are usually taken as they stand in the book, though they do not always stand in the best order for examination. Thus, "Adoption is an act of God's free grace, whereby we are received into the number, and have a right to all the privileges, of the sons of God." Our first question here should not be upon the clause, " Act of God's free grace," but upon the nature of adoption.
4. Catechising ought to be connected. The questions and answers should be so nicely fitted into each other, that by omitting the words, who, what, &c., they may be read as complete sentences. Example—What is the best book in the world?—The Bible. Why do you say so?—Because it is the Word of God. What book should be read oftenest? —The Bible. For what reason?—Because it is God's Word. What is the use of the Bible?—To teach us how to be saved. Give me another reason for reading it often, &c. There is a train of thought here, and each question is related to what precedes and follows, so as to have the effect of a spoken address.
How much catechising does not obey this principle, but is more like questions on the book of Proverbs than catechising for a determinate purpose! Example—What is the best book in the world? How do persons neglect the Bible? What is the use of the Bible? Prove that it is the best book in the world, &c. Now, if you render this into common forms of speech, it would run thus—The Bible is the best book in the world; many persons neglect the Bible} the Bible tells us the way to hpaven; it was given by inspiration of God. This is by no means an extreme case, but it is sufficient to shew how little impression such disjointed questions are fitted to make.
5. Questions ought to be simple and distinct They ought not to be above a child's capacity, either in sense or language. While casting about for an intelligent answer, he ought not to be embarrassed by any difficulty in understanding the terms of the question; they should be so transparent as to direct the mind at once towards the object sought. Such questions as, Who once stood as our covenant-surety? are very discouraging.
There ought not to be many particulars in a question. Example—John xv. 21, "All these things will they do unto you for my name's sake, because they know not him that sent me." Instead of asking. For whose sake, and for what reason would the world persecute the disciples? the question, for the sake of distinctness, should be divided into two.
The questions should not be general, but particular, having, only one appropriate answer. Example—Mark ix. 17, "One of the multitude answered and said, Master, I have brought unto thee my son, which hath a dumb spirit," &c. Were we to ask here, Why did this man come to Jesus? the answer might either be, To have his son cured; or, Because no one else could cure him. Both answers would be obtained more directly by asking, For what purpose did he come? and Why did he come to Jesus rather than to any other? Yet, great precision cannot be looked for in the impromptu catechising of our schools.
Difficult words should be avoided in catechising. Such questions as, How did Jesus condescend to convince Thomas? What promise did Satan make if his suggestions were complied with? What induced the Jews to seal the sepulchre?—are not judicious. They might be expressed in common language. A child will often not answer intelligently from not understanding the nature of the question. A key will not open a lock unless it fits it. It needs a good question to secure a good answer.
When we have asked questions that prove to be too difficult, we must vary our language, or go back till we reach the point at which we lost hold of the children's minds, and take up the broken thread.
6. Avoid trifling questions. In being simple, let us not be childish. It is mere waste of time, and it quite frets the mind of an intelligent child, to be asked, In how many-days did God make the world? What does the word Jesus mean? Where was Christ crucified?—or to be questioned about trifles in the lesson which the merest babe understands, as Matt. vi. 26, "Behold the fowls of the air; for they sow not, neither do they reap."
Children are sometimes capable of deeper thought than we give them credit for. A girl about four years old once asked her mother, " Mamma, what is meant by honouring one's father and mother?" "If I were to bid you go to another room, and you refused, that would not be honouring me," said her mother. "Oh, mamma, but I never would think of not going," said the girl; then, after a pause, she resumed, "I might go sloiv, though." She felt that to go sloio was to disobey her mother.
In Foster's Life of Miss Sarah Saunders, we are told, "Before the age of four years, having failed in some small duty, her mother remarked to her, ' Sarah, do you know that it is said in Scripture, Children obey your parents?' 'Yes,' she replied; 'and directly after, it takes the part of the poor children, and says, Fathers, provoke not your children to wrath.'"
Some teachers plume themselves on the ease and rapidity with which they obtain answers to their questions; but, perhaps in such cases the answers were so trifling as not to be worth having—the questions have not been deep enough. It is always a good sign when the questions make the children pause a moment before they reply —it proves the mind is at work. We do not go to school for our ease, but for the children's good. As Dr Johnson says, "If a boy could answer every question, there would be no need of a master to teach him."
7. Leading questions are improper. Such formulas as, ought, and ought not—was, and was not—should occur very rarely, and only as an introduction to something more stimulating. When we ask, Ought you not to love God? Ought men to pray? Was not Solomon very wise? Ought we to steal?—the answers, Yes, and No, are given to the Ought, and Ought not—Was, and Was not —and would have been answered almost as correctly had we omitted the rest of the sentence.
One of the most singular examples of this style of catechising that we have met with is the following, from a catechism on the evidences of Christianity:—
"Is it not a natural principle in the human mind to trace effects to their causes?—Yes."
"Can the human mind, in tracing effects to their causes, rest till it arrive at something which renders further inquiries unnecessary?—No."
It is easy to avoid these expressions byamoment's thought. Instead of asking, Was not the Sabbath kept on the last day of the week by the Jews? we may ask, On what day was it kept? or, Was it kept on the first or seventh day?
8. Avoid a uniform manner of shaping questions. The questions, What does this teach? What do we learn from this?—pall on the mind if too often repeated, and. like worn-out flints, elicit no spark. Let the form of the question grow naturally out of the subject, and it will be sufficiently varied.
Varied catechising is necessary, in order that the same thoughts may be presented in new lights. We asked some girls one day, "Who was the second man?" "The second man! I don't know." "Don't you know who the second man was?" "I never heard that question before." "Who was Adam's eldest son?" "Oh, was it Cain?" On another occasion we asked a boy, "Who was Peter?" "Simon, son of Jonas," was the reply. "Who was Peter's father, then?" "I don't know." "Who was Peter himself?" "Simon, son of Jonas." "Well, if he was Simon, son of Jonas, who was his father?" "I don't know." The connexion in this boy's mind between the question, Who was Peter? and the answer, was not one of sense, but of position.
9. Never keep slavishly to Bible words in asking a question. Example—"It came to pass that, as he was praying in a certain place, one of his disciples said unto him." Instead of asking here, What came to pass? rather ask, What took place? What happened next? Again— Luke xiii. 11, "There was a woman which had a spirit of infirmity;" here ask, What was the matter with her?
What ailed her? not, What had she? Let the ideas in a sentence guide the question rather than the words.
10. Answers may occasionally be required in Scripture language, as, Who made the "world?—"In the beginning-God created the heavens and the earth." Why did Jesus come into the -world?—"It is a faithful saying," &c. How happy the answer of the boy, who, when asked, Why has God made you deaf and dumb? wrote in reply, "Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight."
11. Correct the answers in a kindly manner. If a child is scolded for an incorrect answer, or if the class is allowed to titter at it, a serious check is put upon freedom of expression. The teacher, in a pleasant manner, should commend so much of the answer as is to the purpose, or point out more clearly what he meant. The religious prejudices of children should be gently dealt with, lest we drive them from school, or disturb their convictions. A girl being asked, "Do you pray?" said, "Yes." "What do you say?" She then repeated a doggrel rhyme containing a prayer to the saints. It was better to push the error out of the head of this Catholic girl by the truth, than to blame her for her mode of praying.
12. Children should be encouraged to speak their own minds freely. A child will sometimes be observed looking up in his teacher's face, as if to ask, What does he wish me to say? Dispossess the scholars of this notion, and convince them that what you want is to hear their own opinions, be they right or wrong.
We asked a boy once, What do you think of Peter for denying Christ? "I think he was very scant of wit," was the homely answer. How much better to have free-spoken replies like this, than capriciously to insist on the very words or thoughts we had in our own minds! It was a very natural answer of the girl, who, when asked, "What is tale-bearing?" answered, "It is when nobody does nothing, and somebody goes and tells of it."
13. Guessing should not be allowed. When children begin to guess, stop them, and re-state the question.
14. Do not allow the quickest scholars to answer all the questions. Teachers, wearied with the ignorance or inattention of their scholars, and glad to get an answer from any one, sometimes allow two or three of the readiest to monopolise the whole answers; thus virtually excluding the silent scholars from the benefit of their instructions. It is to be remembered that the sharpest scholars are not always the most profound; the powers of apprehension and expression are not always equal.
15. The child's name should be put at the end of the question. Instead of saying, Mary, who was John the Baptist? ask, in preference, Who was John the Baptist, Mary? This may appear to be a very minute direction, yet it has its use. If the name is put at the beginning, none of the class but the one addressed will take any interest in the question; if placed at the end, since none know to whom it is to be put, all will be on the alert.
16. Catechise up and down the class. If the teacher catechises in the order in which the children sit, they will only attend to him when personally addressed; but by keeping them in ignorance of the person who is to be called upon next, he will secure the attention of all. The teacher should never allow any other pupil to answer a question than the one who is asked.
17. When a child is inattentive, put a question to him, and he will not be so apt to indulge in wandering- thoughts.
18. Rarely refer to the book when catechising. A person ought to master his lesson so thoroughly as to be able to ask most of the questions from memory. Questions asked from a printed book, or a written paper, lose much of their power. The child gathers much of the force of a question from the teacher's speaking eye : the eye, like the mark (?) after a question, gives the question prominence.
19. Expressions of astonishment at the ignorance or incorrect answers of children are to be avoided. A soliloquy like the following is not uncommon:—"Who was the first king of Israel, Thomas? No answer. *What! do you not remember? David, you can tell me? No answer. This is most astonishing! Robert, I am sure you know? No answer. This is really surprising! Have I not told you over and over again, no later than last Sabbath, that Saul —Said was the first king? See that you remember it better again." All this might wisely be spared; it wastes time, and does not produce the intended effect.
20. Do not repeat the answers of the children. Besides wasting valuable time, it wearies the minds of the scholars, and gives them leisure during the echo to look about for something to amuse them. The following will be recognised as a common form of this fault:—
"What was Goliath's spear like?" "A weaver's beam." "Yes, it was like a weaver's beam."
"And how much did it weigh?" "Six hundred shekels." "Yes, it weighed six hundred shekels."
"And who went before Goliath?" "One bearing his shield." "Yes, one went before Goliath bearing his shield."
Answers should be repeated only when indistinctly heard, or for the purpose of expressing the idea more forcibly.
21. It is a bad custom (says Mr Ross) to accompany every correct answer by the phrases "Very well," "Very good," "Quite right," "That's a good girl." We may shew that we appreciate a good answer, but we should not give praise for it.
22. Liveliness is indispensable in catechising. Slow catechising arises more from want of preparation than slowness of disposition, and may be greatly helped by the teacher being master of his subject before coming to his class. Sabbath-school hours are very precious, and every moment should be well improved but slow catechising wastes time, and wearies the mind with its long pauses. The questions also lose their value by the connexion between them being lost. As a tune, with an interval between each note, would cease to be a tune; so the questions, instead of being felt to be mutually related, stand isolated, and do not help the mind forward.
Examinatory questions may be much more rapid than those intended to elicit new thought.
23. Ladies, in catechising, and indeed in most of the other exercises, rarely speak loud enough. You will see them moving along from scholar to scholar, bending forward till their faces are almost met and whispering the question or explanation in a very subdued tone. But by this mode only one scholar is taught at a time; so that, if the class consists of ten, and the teaching continues one hour, each, instead of one hour's instructions, has only six minutes.
The power of sympathy, -which is one of the great advantages of class teaching above solitary instruction, is also lost by indistinct speaking. A question, though addressed to one scholar, should have an interest for the whole class; as a shock of electricity goes through as many as are in contact. "Distinct speaking," says Mr Ross, "both on the part of the teacher and the pupils, is a matter of so vital importance, that throughout the entire business of instruction too much stress cannot be laid upon it."
24. Children may be encouraged to state their difficulties to their teachers in private. We have had interesting-questions put to us in private, which afforded valuable opportunities of personal intercourse.
Some teachers complain that they cannot get their scholars to answer at all, and may ask how this difficulty is to be overcome. A due attention to the previous directions may, we hope, enable the teacher to reach the minds of his scholars; for, if we catechise in an intelligent and interesting manner, we shall rarely fail in the end to make our scholars work along with us
1. Be on a friendly footing with your scholars. The teacher must not assume the air of the wise, learned, dignified master, who treats his children as poor, ignorant, insignificant scholars, who must be kept at a distance. The more conversational that his manner is, the more readily will their minds open to his questions; for they will forget they are receiving a formal lesson. A little girl, of between three and four years of age, had a lesson from her uncle about Joseph and his brethren. Amongst other questions, he asked, "How many brothers had Joseph?" "Ten." "Ten! no; he had eleven brothers," said the uncle. "He had only ten," returned the little girl. "Papa, had not Joseph just ten brothers?" "He had eleven," said her father; "your uncle knows far better than you." "And if he knows far better than me," was her answer, "why does he ask me?" The lesson had been conducted in such a familiar way, that she had persuaded herself she was communicating important information. The more of this tone we can catch we shall have the readier access to the mind.
2. Ask very simple questions at first. Bashfulness often keeps girls silent. By asking questions which1 they can easily answer, we shall accustom them to the sound of their own voices. We ought to take pains with young girls at first, as the habit of silence, if it is once acquired, will become insuperable.
3. With obstinate children we must take other methods. We may pass them for a time without remark; or put a question, as if we were unaware of their obstinacy, and expected an answer as a matter of course; or we may appeal to the whole class, and bring out their replies by sympathy; or tell a story, which may melt their resolutions; or, finally, when they are least thinking of it, by a sudden question we may surprise them into an answer. But when all other methods fail, a friendly visit will do good. Love is a key which will open almost any lock.