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Third Prize Essay. Child=study: The Teacher's Privilege and Duty.


frances-c-robinson.jpgMrs. Frances C. Robinson was born in St. John, N. B., Canada, but has resided in Boston, Mass., and vicinity for the past sixteen years. Her musical education was received in private training under excellent masters. Her first teacher came from the Royal Academy of Music, London, Eng., and he was also, later on, organist and choir-master in one of the English cathedrals. After four years’ thorough study with this teacher, Mrs. Robinson was for nine years a pupil of Mrs. Louise (Greening) Armstrong (late of Baltimore, Md.), who graduated from the Paris Conservatoire with great honors, and also studied for several years in Germany, having the honor of playing under Liszt’s criticism and teaching. Mrs. Robinson is now living in Wakefield, Mass., where she gives lessons in pianoforte and harmony, and also devotes considerable time to musical journalism and composition.

Probably good teachers have always studied their pupils to some extent, but the fact is now recognized that the study of child-nature is one of the best means for making good teachers. In the closing years of this century the pursuit of child-study is followed more and more closely. Old systems of teaching and governing children are passing away, and the prime question now asked of teachers is apt to be: “How much do you know about the child himself?” Teachers of the present study and originate the very best methods of instructing the young; but without the power to discern the varying conditions of child- nature, whether in class or individual training, the best methods of teaching may be productive of undesirable results. This applies to general education and also in a particular manner to the sacred calling of teaching music.

Child-study! What a privilege, and yet what a difficult thing! How may we best begin? There is the scientific study of children, which has been followed out, not only by those who are interested in general education, but by scientific men of our time, who have recognized that science had much to gain from an investigation of the physical growth of children, and of their social characteristics, and also of their mental, moral, and religious tendencies and development. We find professors, or specialists, of certain branches of science all over the world eagerly interested in the investigation of special phases of child-life. By this is demonstrated how very much may be learned by a deep study of child-nature. This scientific study of children may not be absolutely necessary for, or possible to, all persons who instruct the young, but such knowledge is more or less requisite, and is found to be an excellent foundation for original study and experiment with children.

Up to the present time, all that has been thought necessary in order that the teacher-that-is-to-be may “get her certificate” has been the acquiring of certain facts, or knowledge, of certain branches of study, that would enable such a one to answer certain questions, —i.e., to pass certain examinations as to facts,—while these answers could not give the least idea as to the real ability to guide and instruct the young. Sometimes we hear it suggested that all teachers of music should be compelled to show a diploma or certificate proving their ability to teach; but no diploma can do this. It can speak only for the teacher’s knowledge of facts, and of her own accomplishments.

It is my desire to confine the present article to the subject of cultivation in ourselves of the gift of teaching, and to deal with the opportunities that lie before every conscientious, true-hearted teacher of music. Much has been learned from Froebel and his wonderful ideas; and, as the years go on, his methods are being evolved and expanded. A recent writer has alluded to this as “the kindergarten age.” Several excellent kindergarten systems have, of late, come into musical life, but the present article will bear upon the instruction of children, and the study of children themselves, who are beyond the age for regular kindergarten training. Children of seven or eight years of age are, generally speaking, unwilling to attend kindergarten classes, musical or otherwise. The following ideas, or hints, are therefore intended for the consideration of teachers who are instructing children from seven to fifteen years of age.

In studying children, and youth, individually, the teacher’s powers of observation require to be very keen, and the judgment broad and well balanced. She must study each child’s mental capacity and temperament, and also duly note the physical nature, so that she may decide the amount and quality of work which may reasonably be expected from each child. Extra care and patience will be required, of course, for the dull, slow ones. Children whose minds move slowly, and to whom concentration is difficult, must not be too hastily pronounced stupid and inattentive; and the nervous, restless ones must not be called “naughty.” Young children must not be expected to keep very still, even during a short music-lesson; it is almost cruel to be too strict on this point. All teachers find that each child needs special instruction, and guidance, adapted to his particular requirements. Musical training should be made to develop and cultivate, in every child, his powers of observation, reflection, and reverence, and should be made to appeal to his imagination and affections. In other words, the study of music is to be made a means of development of the entire artistic nature,—which is but another name for soul!

Every child can be taught something of music, if it is presented properly, so that it meets the requirement of each special case. I believe that unmusical people are the result of early neglect. Nature’s law is inexorable: “Use and improve, or lose”!

When I speak of educating a child’s powers of observation I do not mean, merely, the bodily senses, but rather the powers which are behind, and which use, the senses. Says a favorite writer: “Behind our senses are the organs which use them; and behind these, the soul itself, with its faculties. We must not confound the organs of observation with the senses, for then we limit the power of their education. Perhaps the eye and ear cannot be trained to very much greater quickness and power, but the faculties which use the eye and ear certainly can.” These faculties are educated by the study of Nature; they, also, are educated by the study of art. The same writer, quoted above, goes on to say that knowledge is acquired in two ways, viz.: by perception and by intuition; that by the use of our perceptive powers we come in contact with the actual universe, and by our intuitive faculties we lay hold of the ideal universe.

In musical life there must be, first, the educating of the powers of observation, and, next, the training that will cause children to reflect upon what they have observed. Imagination is part of the intuitional nature. Everything, to be well done, requires the use of the imagination. By our imaginations we perceive the ideal, or “the perfect in all things.” Musical training makes an appeal, simultaneously, to the intellect and to the imagination. Teachers can, from the very start, begin to train the emotional possibilities of each child. Wise teachers will carefully avoid the dangers of false emotionalism,—mere sentimentalism,—and strive to develop only that which is true. Children, generally speaking, have large observation and large imagination. These faculties must be carefully studied, and their development undertaken as a sacred privilege. Le Couppey says: “Teaching requires a special aptitude… . This gift of transmitting to others, which is so rare and so precious; this sort of intuition, that penetrates a pupil’s character at once; this sure and rapid judgment that discovers the best means of succeeding, whether it be by affection, by mildness, or by firmness; this clearness in demonstration, so necessary with children; in a word, this difficult art of instructing, and at the same time keeping up the interest, all this cannot be learned; it is a gift of Nature rather than a result of study.” Granting that the faculty for teaching is “a gift of Nature,” I believe that it is possible for persons to be in possession of the gift without realizing it, and I further believe that persons desiring to become teachers of music can do much to help the development, or unfolding, of Nature’s powers within themselves. Persons aspiring to teach must cultivate their own powers of observation and reflection; thye (sic) must cultivate their own imaginations, or poetic natures, and endeavor to assist their own growth, mentally and spiritually. Experience, too, is a great help,—one learns by doing.

Music is the grandest and noblest of all the arts, and all persons who undertake to lead others into musical life should be able to show, to some extent at least, that music has affected them for good and is developing, in them, something of nobility of soul.

No pupil is so trying to the teacher as the careless one—the pupil who, knowing better, is indifferent and negligent; but even in such a case, the teacher must endeavor to break up this indifference; monotony must be avoided, his interest must be awakened, if possible, by some new line of work. The secret of the whole matter, I might say, is to interest one’s pupils. Lessons, and the talks regarding lessons, must be varied frequently. Much tact and judgment is required in dealing with each pupil. Sometimes young pupils can be lead into a habit of practice by making an appeal to their affections and ambition,—they will practice their little lesson to please their teacher whom they love, and take a pride in “surprising” her at next lesson by showing how well the exercises can be played. I sometimes offer a tiny prize to children whose parents can say of them, at the end of the term, or season, that they have practiced faithfully and cheerfully.

About once a month I give an afternoon to my juvenile pupils. I invite them to spend an hour, or two, with me. They listen attentively while I tell them, in story fashion, about some of the great musicians, or about some musical instrument and its history. I expect them to remember all they can for our next meeting, when I question them on the former talk. I also encourage them to ask questions. We play musical games, and have piano selections from four or five of those present, after which we play miscellaneous games and have light refreshments. These little meetings afford me an opportunity for making further discoveries in child-nature, and I look forward to them quite as much as the children do.

As I said above, child-study is a difficult thing, but, while difficult, it is a privilege, and a very true pleasure. To get at a child, from all sides, we must see him in various circumstances; only a small part of a child’s nature can be observed under any one condition. A very large portion of the real nature of children is shown in their play. May we teachers never lose interest in studying child-nature, and may we ever press onward, “toward the high calling” which we, as music-teachers, have chosen!


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