Monday, April 23, 2012

Isaac Watts was lived from 1674 to 1748 and is a famous English hymnwriter, theologian, and logician. My son Jonathan has been reading his two logic books, which is a common requirement for Bible school students, and found a helpful quote in "The Improvement of the Mind" beginnining on page 62. I am thinking that this is helpful advice for both teachers and students in light of college decisions and beyond.

I. There are few persons of so penetrating a genius, and so just a judgment, as to be capable of learning the arts and sciences without the assistance of teachers. There is scarce any science so safely and so speedily learned, even by the noblest genius and the best books, without a tutor. His assistance is absolutely necessary for most persons, and it is very useful for all beginners. Books are a sort of dumb teachers ; they point out the way to learning ; but if we labor under any doubt or mistake, they cannot answer sudden questions, or explain present doubts and difficulties: this is properly the work of a living instructor.

II. There are very few tutors who are sufficiently furnished with such universal learning, as to sustain all the parts and provinces of instruction. The sciences are numerous, and many of them lie far wide of each other; and it is best to enjoy the instructions of two or three tutors at least, in order to run through the whole encyclopedia, or circle of sciences, where it may be obtained ; then we may expect that each will teach the few parts of learning which are committed to his care in greater perfection. But where this advantage can not be had with convenience, one great man must supply the place
of two or three common instructors.

III. It is not sufficient that instructors be competently skillful in those sciences which they profess and teach ; but they should have skill also in the art or method of teaching, and patience in the practice of it. It is a great unhappiness indeed, when persons by a spirit of party, or faction, or interest, or by purchase, are set up for tutors, who have neither due knowledge of science, nor skill in the way of communication. And, alas! there are others who, with all their ignorance and insufficiency, have self-admiration and effrontery enough to set up themselves; and the poor pupils fare accordingly and grow lean in their uderstandings. And let it be observed also, there are some very learned men, who know much themselves, but have not the talent of communicating their own knowledge ; or else they are lazy and will take no pains at it. Either they have an obscure and perplexed way of talking, or they show their learning uselessly and make a long periphrasis on every word of the book they explain, or they cannot condescend to young beginners, or they run presently into the elevated parts of the science, because it gives themselves greater pleasure, or they are soon angry and impatient, and cannot bear with a few impertinent questions of a young, inquisitive, and sprightly genius; or else they skim over a science in a very slight and superficial survey, and never lead their disciples into the depths of it.

IV. A good tutor should have characters and qualifications very different from all these. He is such a one as both can and will apply himself with diligence and concern, and indefatigable patience, to effect what he undertakes; to teach his disciples and see that they learn; to adapt his way and method, as near as may be, to the various dispositions, as well as to the capacities of those whom he instructs, and to inquire often into their progress and improvement. And he should take particular care of his own temper and conduct, that there be nothing in him or about him which may be of ill example ; nothing that may savor of a haughty temper, or a mean and sordid spirit; nothing that may expose him to the aversion or to the contempt of his scholars, or create a prejudice in their minds against him and his instructions: but, if possible, he should have so much of a natural candor and sweetness mixed with all the improvements of learning, as might convey knowledge into the minds of his disciples with a sort of gentle insinuation and sovereign delight, and may tempt them into the highest improvements of their reason by a resistless and insensible force. But I shall have occasion to say more on this subject, when I come to speak more directly of the methods of the communication of knowledge.

V. The learner should attend with constancy and care on all the instructions of his tutor; and if he happens to be at any time unavoidably hindered, he must endeavor to retrieve the loss by double industry for time to come. He should always recollect and review his lectures, read over some other author or authors upon the same subject, confer upon it with his instructor, or with his associates, and write down the clearest result of his present thoughts, reasonings, and inquiries, which he may have recourse to hereafter, either to re-examine them and apply them to proper use, or to improve them farther to his own advantage.