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Carriage in a school-room is not unimportant. Entering a school-room once I noticed the lounging, lifeless attitude of the teacher. A class was reciting, and it was amusing to see how perfectly the scholars had caught the spirit and unconsciously imitated the very motions of the teacher. The line resembled a worm-fence, while the scholars each resting on one foot, were gazing listlessly around the room. Entering an adjoining room where the teacher stood erect or moved with quick, firm step, the class line was as straight as an arrow and the scholars alert, with every eye fixed on the teacher. This occurred years ago, but I could never forget the forcible illustration it furnished of the influence of the mere manner of the teacher over her scholars. Perhaps no two rooms in our schools now would present so striking a contrast, and yet there are differences which can be readily traced to the teacher.
Now that instruction in our schools is so largely oral, greatly increased intelligence is demanded on the part of the teacher. Deprived, to a large extent, of the use of text-books, the teacher will oftentimes find herself at sea unless she has a large stock of information on all subjects on which to draw. Careful preparation of the lesson in advance, which should always be made, may in some measure obviate the difficulty, but this is hard work and often impossible to the teacher whose knowledge is small. How shall such a teacher know where to look for the needed information or get the book that contains it? Nothing it seems to me can be more utterly disheartening, and I may say dishonest, than the expedient resorted to by some teachers of keeping by study just one lesson ahead of the class with no general knowledge of the subject taught.
So much depends on aptitude to teach that I will not say that the teacher of the largest information will always prove the best. It is well to imitate the example of the venerable Dr. Bishop, who, with the proverbial caution of the Scotchman always prefaced any proposition however simple presented to his class with the clause, “other things being equal." You will agree with me then that “other things being equal,” the greater the knowledge on all subjects the better the teacher.
The teacher should be familiar with the best writers on educational topics. The impression prevails that treatises on education are necessarily dry, and only to be read from an
awful sense of duty. So far from this being true there are many books on the subject, which are bright and entertaining. Certainly no one could call Quick's Educational Reformers a dull book. It must be inspiring to teachers and lead to nobler views of responsibility and duty to read of the grand men of their profession who endured hardness and the loss of all things for an idea. It may teach them to value more highly our methods of instruction, to learn how they were wrought out by a succession of great men whose reward was defeat and failure so far as this world was concerned. Happily for them the decisions of this world are not final.
The teacher should always be a reader of the best periodicals of the profession. All trades and professions now have their organs, and their existence proves their necessity and value. No teacher ambitious to excel can afford to do without one of these periodicals which come every month laden with the rich experience of the best teachers in the actual work of the schoolroom. Having taken and read for many years our excellent Ohio Educational Monthly permit me to commend it to you all.
But the teacher needs a broader culture than can be obtained by confining thought and reading to topics purely professional. No excuse can be made for one whose vocation is intellectual, who, with a large, free public library open night and day, remains ignorant of the rich stores of general literature. No greater boon could be conferred on any of you than a taste for reading, and the means for its gratification. Our public library supplies the one, and if anything I may say shall induce you to cultivate the other, I shall be entitled to your lasting gratitude. What I shall say on the subject of reading shall be so reasonable and practical that no one of you can escape its force by the claim that it is impossible for you. If my object were different I might hold up a higher standard. I admit the force of the excuse given by teachers for neglecting general reading. The profession is laborious and exacting, and at the close of the day the conscientious, faithful teacher oftentimes finds her nerves unstrung and herself unfitted for intellectual exertion of any kind. Domestic and other duties also occupy much time outside of the school-room. Granted, however, the largest margin for these excuses, and yet time and opportunity will not be wanting to accomplish much. Enough certainly to rob the dreaded examination in English literature of all its terrors.
The reading to which I invite you is not a drudgery, but a delight. By taking a good book in your hand many of you would find, even when worn out by study, that a change of occupation is rest.
Some are deterred from beginning by a lack of knowledge as to what to read. It is perplexing to enter a large library without any definite aim and with a sincere desire for information, select a book to read. Within the reach of all such perplexed souls there are judicious and experienced friends who would be more than willing to give advice. Permit me to say something in a general way on the subject.
WHAT TO READ.
My advice would be not to begin with a rigid, definitelymarked course of reading. I have noticed that in one public library several sets of standard histories lack the first volume. I have tried to explain this singular fact, and can account for it in no other way than that some novice, ashamed of ignorance and spurred to effort possibly by an exhortation like this, has resolved to read and to read only the best and most solid books, has broken down in resolution before finishing the first volume, and disgusted with failure, has not had even the grace to return the book. How much better to have commenced with milk and gone on to strong meat. If you are wearied with your work there is certainly no objection to reading for amusement. A good novel is a good thing. I have read many with the feeling that the time was by no means lost, and that I had gained strength and profit from them. I cannot, however, say as much for all the novels I have read. It is strange that the majority of novel readers, and I fear some of our teachers, turn away from Scott, Thackeray, Dickens, George Eliot, Cooper, Hawthorne, and Miss Muloch, to the weak dilutions of Mrs. Holmes and Mrs. Southworth.
A great deal has been written against what is called desul. tory reading. An old proverb says “ beware of the man of one book.” That, of course, means that by the thorough mastery of the subject he has studied, his mental discipline is so com. plete and his knowledge so compact that he would be a dangerous opponent in any intellectual conflict. But, after all, he may have sacrificed breadth to accuracy. I should be inclined to beware of him for another reason. I should expect to find him a dull pedant and a great bore. Some of the ablest men I
have known, and masters in their professions, have been wide and omnivorous readers. Giving their best energies to their callings of law, medicine, divinity, or teaching, they have sought literature as a recreation and a solace. Business over, and in the social circle, as they poured out their wealth of information, what delightful companions these men were !
So I may say to you that you need not fear to read widely if you read only the best books. There is no danger that the best povelists and poets will spoil your taste for what some mistak. enly call more solid reading. If you master them they will give you plenty of problems to solve. What a misnomer to call George Eliot or Shakespeare light reading! The taste for reading once acquired there will be no further need for exhortation. The danger will lie in the other direction, of reading to the neglect of more imperative duties. For outside the realm of novels and poetry what a rich field for enjoyment for the reader for mere recreation. What would be more delightful than biography? We all wish to know the great men we admire. A well-written biography admits us to an intimacy which no personal acquisition could give. Who could call history dull with the fascinating pages of Macaulay, Prescott, Motley, and Froude, before him?
It is pleasant and profitable to read by subjects or characters and wander from book to book, and author to author, as they shed light on what we are studying. In this way the whole round of novel, poetry, biography, history, and philosophy, may be delightfully gone over.
Read anything then provided it be the best of its kind rather than not read at all. You may ask me how shall I know what are the best books ? Excepting a few new writers who have not yet secured recognition, public opinion, which is unerring in judgment when full time has been given for its expression, has placed its seal on the best, and any well-informed person can tell you what they are in every department.
True to the proposition with which I set out that I should be 80 reasonable in my requirements that you could not destroy the force of my exhortation by the cry of impracticability, I conclude with the simple advice, read only the best books, but be sure they are the best, for as Ruskin well says: “ Books have been written in all ages by their greatest men; by great leaders, great statesmen, and great thinkers. These are all at your choice; and life is short. You have heard as much before; yet have you measured and mapped out this short life and its possibilities. Do you know if you read this you cannot read that—that what you lose to-day you cannot gain to-morrow. Will you go and gossip with your house maid or your stable boy when you may talk with kings and queens?”
But after all the main question for the teacher, as indeed for us all, is not what we know, but what we are. Character is the prime factor of success in any calling. Our theories may be right and our knowledge perfect, yet if indolence, selfishness, and lack of self-control find place in the heart, it will show itself in the life. The care of a room full of small children is most trying and exciting, and is sure to bring to light whatever weaknesses of character may exist. It is vain to attempt to conceal your true character from the children you teach. It is wonderful what shrewd observers young children are, and oftentimes remarks dropped by them reveal a knowledge of characteristic traits which the teacher supposed were concealed from every human eye.
How often has a teacher been betrayed by irritating conduct on the part of a pupil into an act of violence which has been a stain upon her character and an unavailing regret of all future life. The truth is, character will reveal itself; it distils as the dew. It shows itself in the lines of the face, in the motions of the body, in
every unguarded word and act. The influence of a noble, God-fearing woman over her pupils is as the dew of Hermon; of a selfish and insincere one as a poisonous vapor. How beautifully Sir Richard Steele depicts the pervading and moulding influence of character in his portraiture of Lady Elizabeth Hastings: “Though her mien carried much more invitation than command, to behold her is an immediate check to loose behavior; to love her was a liberal education."
If you would attain the noblest success you must follow the only path that leads to it,--the strait and narrow way of selfdenial and self-culture. I lay upon you no hard condition, but one that is common to all. God has laid it upon every human soul. The noble word, self-culture, has come in these latter days to be associated with a school of thought, which has debased its true significance. A culture whose aim and end is beauty, whose centre and circumference is self, whose object is the restoration of the old Greek civilization, is not the kind I mean. It is the culture of the fathers I recommend to you, whose end is holiness, and whose object is the good of all man