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READING is one of the essential branches of a public school course of study. All children must be taught to pronounce words, and to read sentences. This is necessarily a slow process, and too many teachers make it a mechanical one. Too little attention is given to reading as an art, in which the purpose of the reader is to convey ideas to those who listen. Elocutionary training, in its higher departments of declamation, dialogue, recitation of poetry, vocal culture and gesture, should form a part of common school instruction. Elocution, as an art, has been considered as lying beyond the province of the common school, and belonging mainly to the High School, the Academy, and the College.
Elocutionary instruction should be given in the common schools, because there a greater majority of American children receive their only education. It should be begun in early life, because then the vocal organs are flexible, and susceptible of training. It is a serious defect in our school methods of instruction, that the expressive faculties, comprising feeling, affection, emotion, passion, imagination, fancy, association, imitation and description, are called so little into action. Elocution, when properly taught, calls into active exercise the expressive faculties, and tends to educate the child as a social being.
The practical question which here suggests itself is, how can elocution be taught in the common school?
In the primary classes, daily simultaneous exercises should be given, comprising drill on the vowel sounds, varying in pitch, force, and time, and exercises on consonant sounds and combinations, to secure distinct articulation. Every reading exercise should be preceded by a breathing exercise, to fill the lungs to their utmost capacity, and to secure an eroct attitude, with the shoulders thrown back. Then, as a general exercise of five minutes, for rest or recreation, the whole school should unite in vocal exercises, consisting of lessons on inflection, pitch, time, movement, force, and the repetition, after the teacher, of select sentences, stanzas, and paragraphs. In most ungraded schools in the country, and in many city schools, two hours of the closing afternoon of each week, may be most usefully devoted to declamation, dialogue, and select readings. It is not advisable to compel every child in school to take part in these exercises, for there are some who never can become good readers, and others who are so awkward and diffident, that it is cruel to force them upon the school stage with a declamation. Appropriate selections should at first be made by the teacher, for the uncultivated taste of pupils will lead them to choose pieces either altogether too difficult, or utterly worthless when committed to memory. Select at times, for the boys, short, simple prose declamations, which, when learned, remain in the memory as models of pure prose and patriotic feeling. If they learn a poem, let it not be made up of doggerel rhymes, or of painful attempts at a low order of wit. A careful selection of pieces will be the surest safeguard against the ranting, tearing, overstrained, semi-theatrical style of florid oratory which so painfully mars very many school exhibitions. The teacher can take odd moments at the intermission or recess, or before and after school, for the purpose of hearing rehearsals, and giving special instructions. The teacher should instruct his pupils in the elements of gestures. Gestures spring naturally from the close sympathy of mind and body. A look of the eye-an expression of the countenance-a movement of the hand, often convey more than words can express. The principles of gesture may be easily learned from any one of several excellent works on elocution, and any teacher who is in earnest can make a practical application of them suficient for the elementary training of school-boys.
The reading and recitation of poetry by girls is an indispensable part of the education of woman, as one of the most efficient modes of disci. pline for the taste and imagination. Many of the most exquisite passages of the poets can never be fully appreciated until repeated by the voice of woman.
Whatever the number of classes, however pressed for time the teacher may be, some attention should be given to elocution in every school. The advantages are too great to be overlooked.
Elocution cultivates a taste for reading; the young scholar beoomes familiar with the choicest passages of English literature, which, committed to memory, are retained through life. There are no purer models of classical English than the speeches of Daniel Webster: no more INTRODUCTORY.
glowing words spoken for liberty and freedom than those of our own lamented Baker and King. There is Whittier, the bard of Freedom, whose sweetest songs are sung in his old age—let our school-boys and school-girls know his poems by heart. The patriotic lyrics of Holmes, and Bryant, and Longfellow, and Lowell—they will mould American character, and why are they not as valuable in the schoolroom as the multiplication table and the spelling book?
It requires no close observer to perceive the effocts of poetry on the youthful mind. Childhood delights in the melody of verse, and is pleased with its flowing harmony of sound. In poetry are embodied some of the most beautiful lessons of morality: and they are presented in a manner which arrests the attention and impresses the character. “Let me write the ballads and songs of a people,” says one, “and I care not who makes the laws." What teacher has not seen the dull eye kindle, the vacant countenance take expression, the face glow with emotion, and the whole boy become lost in the sentiment of his declamation ?
The need of elocutionary culture, somewhere in our course of educa. tion, is self-evident. American public speakers, as a class, whether at the bar, on the stump, in the pulpit, or in the lecture-room, are good illustrations of the neglect of early elocutionary training. One stands with his hands in his pockets: one rests his body on his paws, like an Orang-Outang: another offends the eye, by wild, meaningless, uncouth, frantic gesticulations: and a fourth stands stock-still, like a cast-iron city lamp-post.
The wonderful melody of the human voice—that is heard in the solemn monotonous and melancholy bass which not unfrequently proceeds from the pulpit: in the hard hacking, in the sharp, shrill, dry, high-pitched tones which too often proceed from the teacher's desk, and in the bawl. ing, shouting, yelling, vociferating vehemence of our stump orators at great political mass meetings, who shriek their sentences into the ears of their audiences
"Till silence, like a poultice, coines
One speaker has the high, piping, thin, shrill, sharp, piercing note of a steam whistle, and his screech grates on the ear like the filing of a saw: another the gruff, guttural voice of old Falstaff over a pot of sack: 'a third has the regular Yankee nasal twang, and the last rants and mouths like a stage-struck school-boy.
It is true, the golden age of oratory has been succeeded by that of printing. The orator no longer sways the turbulent current of popular opinion; the still, small voice of the newspaper speaks to the millions of the nation in the busy mart, and around the fireside at home. Yet few intelligent American citizens pass through life without being called upon to speak, in the local town-meetings, in political conventions, in the legislature, or before some gatherings of their fellow-citizens. A little school instruction which shall enable them to speak in a natural tone of voice, and with self-possession of manner, will certainly not be out of place in American Common Schools. Let elocution be introduced in the public schools, to cultivate a taste for reading, to exercise and strengthen memory, to awaken feeling, to excite imagination, and to train those who are to enter the professions, to become graceful and pleasing speakers. Introduce it as a relief from study, a pleasing recreation, and a source of intellectual enjoyment. Introduce it as a part of the aesthetic education, so peculiarly appropriate for woman. Make it as a part of the education of man as an expressive being.
We have indulged in gratifying recollections of the past, in the prosperity and pleasures of the present, and in high hopes for the future. But let us remember that we have duties and obligations to perform, corresponding to the blessings which we enjoy. Let us remember the trust, the sacred trust, attaching to the rich inheritance which we have received from our fathers. Let us feel our personal responsibility, to the full extent of our power and influence, for the preservation of the principles of civil and religious liberty. And let us remember that it is only religion, and morals, and knowledge, that can make men respectable and happy, under any form of government. Let us hold fast the great truth, that communities are responsible, as well as individuals; that no government is respectable, which is not just; that without unspotted purity of public faith, without sacred public principle, fidelity, and honor, no mere forms of government, no machinery of laws, can give dignity to political society. In our day and generation let us seek to raise and improve the moral sentiment, so that we may look, not for a degraded, but for an elevated and improved future. And when both we and our children shall have been consigned to the house appointed for all living, may love of country and pride of country glow with equal fervor among those to whom our names and our blood shall have descended! And then, when honored and decrepit age shall lean against the base of this monument, and troops of ingenuous youth