This book was written at the turn of the 20th century for Catholic teaching nuns. It is called The Catholic Teacher’s Companion – A book of Inspiration and Self-Help by Rev. Felix M. Kirsch, O.M.C. (1924). The lessons between the covers are valuable for parents, educators and all who work with children.
From The Catholic Teacher’s Companion, 1924
The misunderstood children who are reached the stone of discouragement instead of the bread of hope and who are branded “dull and backward” when laid upon the Procrustean bed of closely graded schools. -THOMAS EDWARD SHIELDS.
The Rev. Dr. Shields gives us a pathetic but true picture of the dullard in his book The Making and the Unmaking of a Dullard. He tells us that the dullard is the trial of every teacher, and the prolific source of heartache and humiliation to his parents. His days are eked out in discouragement, and the future stretches out before him a barren waste with no ambitions beckoning to him, and no ray of hope to illumine his path.
Misunderstood by his companions, abused by his superiors, held up to the school as an example to be avoided, the butt of ridicule for the smart, jeered at by the thoughtless and the ill-bred, with all the currents of life soured and turned back upon their source, the dullard too frequently finds his way to the Juvenile Court, and thence he passes on to recruit the ranks of the vagabond and the criminal.
A PATHETIC PICTURE
Dullards are the trial of the elementary school teacher in particular, because she cannot, like the college professor, reject them but must bear with them patiently and do for them all that human and often superhuman efforts can accomplish.
But the dull pupils offer her an opportunity also. Anyone can teach a bright child. Skill in teaching is shown at its highest when it brings out the best in dull pupils. The teacher should, above all, avoid wounding the sensibilities of a dull child. There will always be those in every school who are slow to comprehend.
After their classmates have grasped an idea during the teacher’s explanation, they still have the vacant stare—the unintelligent expression. This may be so after a second or third explanation.
The teacher is now strongly tempted to indulge in expressions of impatience, if not of opprobrium. This temptation she should resist. Such children are to be pitied, but never to be censured for their dullness.
It is an unfeeling thing to sting the soul that is already benighted. She should cheer and encourage such a slow mind to greater effort, by the sunshine of kind looks, and the warm breath of sympathy, rather than freeze up by a forbidding frown, or a blast of reproach, the feeble current of vivacity which still remains.
A dull child is almost always affectionate; and it is through the medium of kindness and patience that such a one is most effectually stimulated.
THE POWER OF KINDNESS
By employing kind methods, the teacher may strengthen the memory of the dullard, develop his imagination, and so further his mental growth.
Visual aids must be used extensively in the case of dullards, and the teacher should be an expert in the training of the senses. It is obvious that the dullard requires more individual attention than the other pupils, but in overcrowded classrooms such attention will be out of the question as the teacher cannot neglect the whole class for the sake of a few stragglers.
The teacher should be slow in declaring a pupil a dullard or a hopeless dunce. Quite often the apparent dullness is due only to laziness, and then stern measures are in order. Or the pupil may be dull in certain subjects only, while gifted in others.
The history of many of the world’s greatest men shows that such a condition is not rare among highly-gifted pupils. The gifted child may also be somewhat slow of comprehension or slow in developing mentally, and if discouraged in his efforts may be stunted forever after.
Dr. Shields’ book on the dullard proves convincingly that mistakes in teaching are sometimes responsible for the dullness of pupils. The famous educationist Ernesti could rightly speak of a pedagogical dullness brought on by methods of teaching that insist on formalism and hence afford no opportunity for independent thinking on the pupils’ part.
Pupils may also be crippled mentally for life if they are compelled, despite their innate mental limitations, to take up higher studies. Such pupils are unequal to the task of assimilating all the mental foodstuffs crammed into their system, and consequently are afflicted with mental dyspepsia for the rest of their days.
There is a tendency among modern educators to overestimate intellectual gifts. Though intellectual gifts are very desirable, and meritorious too if put to the proper purpose, yet they are not the whole man.
At all events the teacher is never justified in scorning the child who lacks these gifts. There may be other gifts that compensate for the absence of intellectual ability.
Some pupils who occupy the last place in school, may be possessed of valuable mechanical ability and may be trained to render very important service to their fellow-men. But it would be imprudent to advise the latter pupils to take up a course of higher studies.
It is also a mistake to insist that all who are intellectually gifted, should train for the learned professions. Every teacher would welcome a device that would enable her to measure reliably the natural gifts of her pupils. Helpful work has been done in this regard by empirical psychology, and much valuable assistance may be expected of educational measurements and intelligence tests.
However, for the time being the heads of schools are still trusting more to the word of experienced teachers than to the findings of the psychologists.
The psychologist Meumann offers the following as providing indisputable evidence of the absence of intellectual gifts: If you have a pupil who cannot memorize, who recites without understanding whatever has been crammed into his head, who quickly forgets all that he has learned, who cannot follow the easiest explanation, who can express himself neither in spoken nor in written language—then you can no longer doubt that he is intellectually dull.
The teacher must always strive to be fair to her pupils in judging their work. She must acknowledge the good will of the pupil who may be diligent and conscientious though he is intellectually less gifted.
But of the highly-gifted pupil she must justly demand more, and it is only the gifted that she should encourage to take up higher studies. The pupils with a talent for drawing and painting, or for singing and music, should be encouraged in the respective subject, while those who show aptitude for manual skill should be urged to take up manual and technical training.
But one and all should be encouraged to obtain first, a broad general training. It is broad men sharpened to a point, that the world needs most.
“To rear your child successfully, begin by resisting the first signs of evil inclinations and by sowing the first seeds of good in his soul. You can never pay too much attention to your child’s character formation in the first years. In this early period, the education of the child is based entirely on habits. On the parents depends the formation of either good or bad ones. To develop good habits in the little one is to prepare for him now the path he will follow as an adult.” -Education of Children, S. Hart
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