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A Paper read by Mr. ADAM WOOD of Sheffield, at the Yorkshire and Lincolnshire Teachers' Conference, held at Doncaster, on Good Friday, 1863.
By Select Classes, we mean 'all classes in the Sunday school consisting of persons of more than sixteen years of age, who have been connected with the school for some time.
Many of these classes, so far as regards the age of the members are adult classes; but from the fact that the persons composing them, after having passed through several classes in the school, become members of the select class, that name is properly applied to them to distinguish them from the classes which are composed of. persons who have wasted their youth, but who have been induced to place themselves under the teaching of benevolent Christians after they have arrived at adult age. We would call classes composed of such persons, adult classes. In some districts there are schools consisting of what are called "neglected men and women," which are known as adult schools; the claims of which on the sympathy of the churches would be an interesting subject for a separate paper.
The subject of select classes has occupied the attention of Sunday school teachers for some years. Books have been written advocating the claims of these classes, they have been the topic of many discussions, yet there are difficulties connected with the working of them which remain unsolved.
The opposition which was raised by some persons to the formation of these classes a few years ago, has now subsided, so that it would be difficult to find a man, who would state, that to take our youth who have attained the age of sixteen years, and form them into a class, would be to pamper their pride, and to spoil them by filling them with self-conceit.
It is also universally admitted, that however efficient a select class may be where it forms a part of the general school, a separate room would be an unspeakable advantage to both the teacher and the class; and where such a room is provided, that every thing which can make it attractive should be procured, and that money thus expended is most wisely invested, and will bring in large returns in the form of success. These remarks appear so selfevident, that we shall not waste time in supporting them by argument.
In this and in many, if not in all parts of the country, rooms have been provided and furnished, scarcely a school of any impor
tance can be found without its select class; yet our young men and women leave us, so that with increased appliances Sunday schools are not effecting their proper results in the retention of our elder scholars.
That Sunday schools have produced, and are producing much good in all classes of society, the enemies of Christianity are compelled to admit. But we want to see, and have a right to expect more direct success. There is a large amount of effort wasted in our Sunday schools, all of which is so much mental and spiritual capital, which ought to be most carefully worked,-we do not hold firmly enough the truth, that God's promised blessing always accompanies the wisely directed efforts of His people when associated with faith and prayer.
It is in no unthankful spirit that the above remarks are made, and it is with a heart overflowing with gratitude for the success which God has given to us as Sunday school teachers, that we ask, ought we not to look for much greater results in the future than have cheered us in the past? Of the religious agencies by which we would seek the increase of the church, and endeavour to elevate all classes of society, we claim for the Sunday school a place in the first rank. The Sunday school teacher is a co-worker with the minister, indeed, many ministers do not hesitate to call the Sunday school teacher their right arm. We think that no minister, who has any knowledge of Sunday school teaching, will object to this relationship; few will have any fear of the Sunday school teacher so magnifying his office as to forget his relation to his pastor and the church. It is far better to have a high opinion of our calling than a low one, if we associate with that opinion proportionate responsibility.
All Sunday school work is of first importance. The select class derives its importance from the fact, that it is the culminating point of the Sunday school system. The members composing it are the elder scholars, whose connection with the school has extended over some years. These youths or young women will have much Bible information, and will be ready for well-prepared Scripture lessons. They will require matter as food for the mind, far in advance of the ordinary class. To meet this demand, it has been recommended that the teacher of such a class should be well educated, and that he have all the accompaniments of polite bearing and general refinement in manners.
The addition of all the accompaniments of a liberal education to the essential qualifications of a select class teacher, would have a most salutary effect on the young of both sexes; but that education and piety should be the only requirements necessary to place a
person over the head class in the school, was not intended by some writers, when they gave a superior education the first place in the qualifications of a teacher of a select class. That this interpretation has been put on the words of some intelligent advocates of select classes is but too clear, from the fact, that on the formation of such a class, the common course is to secure the services of some, so-called, respectable member of the church-not in the Sunday school-to preside over it.
To this plan there are several objections.
1st. The teacher of a select class must be the friend of those committed to his care. There must be the greatest intimacy between teacher and taught, or the class will fail in its object. This cannot be the case where the newly introduced teacher is a perfect stranger to the school.
The association of teacher and select class should not close with the Sabbath engagements.
2nd. In most instances the persons alluded to are ignorant of Sunday school teaching. Whatever their educational acquirements and accomplishments may be, prudence and principle would say, let them be tried before such an important position as teacher of the select class is assigned them.
3rd. A man's educational position is no index as to his capacity as a teacher. Place one of the professors from some of our colleges at the head of a Sunday school class, and it is a question whether he would be more at home with his charge, than the teacher would be in conducting one of the professor's classes. In both cases the want of adaptation would render their efforts fruitless. It is not what a man knows, but what he can communicate, which makes the successful teacher. This accounts for the fact that many teachers of very limited attainments, have been the most successful.
4th. No other education can supply the want of a Sunday school education in fitting a person to become an efficient teacher of a select class.
Those who have had all the advantages of a first-class education, and who pass through several classes in our schools, and ultimately become the teachers of our select classes, are the most useful and generally the most honoured of those engaged in the Sunday school work. A well educated teacher who has not had this training, might be fraternal in his intercourse with his fellow-teachers, he might win the hearts of his class, but we think his teachings would not be so productive of good as those of his humble fellow-labourer who has few human acquirements of which to boast. The educated teacher gets materials for thought
from books. The humble teacher's lessons are drawn from life, and serve as a sort of moral harness, by which he seeks to keep the minds of his class from swerving from the narrow path during the week.
Whatever allowance may be made for exceptions, the conclusion to which we are led is, that as a rule the efficient teacher of a select class must be a well-trained Sunday school teacher. We say, there may be exceptions. There are some who have minds so comprehensive, and hearts so full of sympathy, that you cannot put them in the wrong place in working for the cause of Christ. For such, no position is too exalted; happy is that school where one such is found.
Such a person will be the best teacher in the school,-is adapted to all circumstances-and that is the teacher who ought to be placed over the select class. In the absence of one so gifted, take the best teacher in the school-the one with the greatest number of qualifications most highly developed. Many young men in our schools have had eight or ten years' experience in teaching. Where the enthusiasm of youth is combined with other excellences in a select class teacher, it is of very great advantage. Whatever obstacle there is to putting the right man in the right place should be removed. Is the teacher who is best qualified to take charge of the select class far down in the school, in the sixth or seventh class? Lift him over the heads of his seniors, it is God's work which you are doing, and if you do it as kindly as you can where it crosses a brother's feelings, but still firmly, and cut the red tape of routine which has too long fettered us all, you will have the reward of success which always follows a bold act when done for God at the call of duty. We have said that the best teacher in the school should be placed over the select class. But the custom in Yorkshire is to elect the best teacher to the office of superintendent. This we know is rather a touchy subject, and if nothing which has been said will excite an after-dinner discussion, to say anything about our Yorkshire plan of causing our best men to retire from active work in our Sunday schools, by appointing them to the office of superintendent, is sure to raise a storm about our ears. Well! be this as it may, to touch the nettle gently is to be stung; to grasp it firmly is the way to escape unhurt.
Many who would make able teachers of our select classes, pass their time in the office of superintendent. We refer to those schools where the work is done by the secretary, and where there are other superintendents in the same room. Where there is only one superintendent, he should be the best man that can be obtained. It is not of
such a superintendent that we speak. Take a school with three rooms, there must be six superintendents, and these the best men in the school. This we believe is a serious evil, and is confined chiefly to this part of the country. It is a great waste of the talent which God has given for the evangelization of the world.
Let us revise our plans, and let our object be to seek work in our Sunday schools. The result will be, that many whose zeal is almost dying of nothing to do in the discharge of one-half or one-third of the duties of superintendent, will be placed at the head of select classes, where they will find that pleasure and work are inseparable allies in the Sunday school. This is our answer to the question, Where shall we find efficient teachers for our select classes? You who are delegates from schools with four or six superintendents, study the law of adaptation in your schools as you would in your business; and you will find many an indifferent teacher who is a first-class business man of exemplary piety, with a large amount of tact, who would fill well the office of superintendent; but the gifted and earnest in our ranks should be retained for our select classes. Remember that the efficient teacher is the great bulwark of the Sunday school.
Two questions ought ever to be kept before us, viz.,-What is the great object aimed at by our select classes? and how can we best attain that object?
The common answer to the first question is, that the great object of select classes is to retain our elder scholars. We ask, for what purpose do we wish to retain them?
To supply our Sunday schools with teachers, is the general reply. These classes, if allowed to do their work properly, will supply our Sunday schools with their best teachers; but the supply will be much greater than the demand.
This will, perhaps, be the proper place to point out one of the greatest evils which select classes have to contend with, the full magnitude of which the teacher of the class only knows. We refer to what we think is the common error, that one great purpose which these classes are to serve, is to supply the places of absentee teachers. Take any school, with from thirty to forty teachers, where the want of system, which prevails too much in our best schools, is seen in every part of the institution. In the supposed school there are three or four teachers noted for irregular attendance. Seldom, if ever, a Sabbath comes, but one or other is absent. The superintendent has the choice of two evils: he must either put the scholars into another class, or procure a teacher from the select class.