Wednesday, 1 March 2017

2 July 1881 - 'How to Improve One's Education' Part One

The numerous readers of THE GIRL'S OWN PAPER must vary so much in age, position, and education, that it is not possible to write on such a subject as we have chosen exactly in the way that will give most satisfaction to everyone. Nevertheless we will undertake to say that no girl who carefully reads what follows on the question of self-improvement will regret having done so; on the contrary, it is hoped that each one will be either refreshed, or encouraged, or stimulated to adopt at once one of the methods here suggested for increasing her own usefulness.

The subject of "Finishing Schools" will be a familiar one to many. In all probability some who read this will already have left such an establishment, with a "finished" education; it is hoped to attract and rouse these to the reality that as long as we live we shall find something to learn, and that our life and our education must terminate at the same time.

There are also probably many amongst our readers who regret that they have not been able to enjoy the privileges that a dear friend has enjoyed, so far as early teaching is concerned. More than this, that circumstances have arisen to cause a gap in educational work just at a time when the mind is most ripe to receive instruction. Perhaps, too, during this unfortunate period much with which one was one familiar has been lost, hopelessly lost, it seems. Let these remember that it is never too late to learn, and that much can be done in the way of making up deficiencies in early education by patient and persevering study. One's own desire and strength of purpose are large factors in such work: we hope to guide the way and encourage those who are patiently plodding on.

Another class of readers, possibly not a very small one, if one could hear the silent assent which follows the reading of the remark, may include those who, having been provided with the best means of obtaining instruction, have not felt a sufficiently strong desire to learn much. They have done what was absolutely necessary to be done at school, but were glad when the time came to leave school. Let us hope that at least these also fall within the number of those who are really desirous to do something for self-improvement.

Though it would be possible to select other classes of readers, we will rest satisfied for the present with asking (1) all those who think they know all that it is necessary for them to know; (2) all those, who from a variety of circumstances apart from themselves, have been unable to receive a good education; and (3) all those who, having had the opportunity of good teaching, have not been able to appreciate it, and so have lost much from their own want of wisdom, to spend a quiet half hour with us.

The question now occurs, What is a good education? Opinions vary very much as to what standard should be acknowledged as the test of a good education, but no one will dispute the point, that position in life must always be an element in determining this. For instance, the education which one would call goods  for the upper classes in a Board school, would not be entitled to the same epithets in the upper classes of our middle class and high schools; and what would be a good education  for the housemaid could not be considered in the same light when speaking of the ladies of the house. In every grade and rank of life however, the intelligence which is given to us has to be cultivated, and it behoves each one to do the best that is possible to improve and elevate the mind. It has been said that "the best part of one's education is that which one gives to one's self," If this be realised, then there can be no stronger inducement necessary to urge forward those who have hitherto thought to impossible to teach one's self.

Begin to study at once. As soon as the effort is made much pleasure and a good deal of knowledge will be sure to follow. We shall not now expect to be met with the remark, "Yes, some people are clever, and can work alone;" only believe that all people can work alone, and do very much real good to themselves, if they will not e faint-hearted, and give up in despair at the first difficulty which presents itself.

But we have not yet fixed our standard of what we ought to know. Let us adopt then as our motto the well known words of a well-educated man who decided that we ought to know "something of everything, and everything of something." Let us also remember with this the French proverb, "Les demi-connaissances sont plus dangereuses que l'ignorance."

The field is wide when we feel that we must know something of everything, but then we have made up our minds and we shall not readily be turned aside by difficulties. We already, too, have a foundation of general education to work upon, and the whole of our life may be devoted to the perfecting of our mind. The question now is, How are we to work?

Well, one has to find out what one already knows, and this may be done by testing one's self by getting copies of questions given at a general examination, say the College of Preceptors, for instance, and answering these questions. Of course one must be very strict with one's self with regard to keeping the rules and correcting the papers when done; no fault must be allowed to pass unnoticed, and one must answer the questions at once – that is at sight; no looking up of little points must be allowed when once the questions have been read, and everything must be done in the given time.

It would be well, if not very advanced, or not in the habit of working examination questions, to test one's self first with the third class papers, then with the second, and so on. When finished the answers may be compared with a book on the subject and all mistakes marked. Something is now accomplished. The difference between real and fancied knowledge has been made plain, and knowing now what you do not know helps to fix for you what you want to know Now take a schedule of some examination, or form a definite plan of work, fixing the subject, or subjects of study, and the time to be devoted to it, taking care to keep most steadily to the plan laid down. Make it a duty and remember that "England expects that every man will do his duty," and every girl too!

Before saying more on the details of study we will consider a few points of general interest. They will not be exhaustive, neither will they be new to all our readers, but they will, it is to be hoped, open out some new veins of thought to many minds. To those who are very anxious to work we say –

1. Do not attempt too many subjects of study at once if you are much occupied with household duties or engaged in teaching. Remember that regular and systematic study spread over a period of time, even though the time be in half-hours, will enable one to store up a good deal of knowledge in the course of a few years. To those who think differently let me say very earnestly try it.

2. Make an effort to surround yourself with useful books. Many girls find in their homes wonderful stores of books; they know the book-cases, but are often astounded when an occasional visitor tells them that the information they seek is in such and such a book, on such and such a shelf in a particular bookcase in their own home! Besides having books, know what is inside them, examine and criticise them as you do your acquaintances, and be able to give the good and bad points in them. Make them your friends and companions. You will seldom have time to feel dull. With many, however, the case is different, and it is not easy always to get books. One good plan to adopt is to keep a list of books by you that you really want, and when asked by friends what you would like for a birthday present, Christmas present &c., to name one or two of your long-desired friends.

3. Cultivate the friendship of those who are better informed than yourself take every opportunity, without of course being tedious, of talking with well-read people, listening with the utmost attention, and asking for explanations when you do not understand. Much help and guidance in the choice of books may be obtained from these people.

4. Read carefully and thoughtfully. The habit of reading man story books and missing over the "dry" parts is very unhealthy, and is by no means a good preparation for study. Nothing can make up  for the want of regular and careful reading. "Reading," as Bacon tells us, "maketh a full man;" he also gives us a very good piece of advice on reading, "Read not to contradict nor to believe, but to weigh and consider," preparing us  for the fact that much that we read must be questioned and tested before we are to accept it as fact, and this throws us back on the judgment of those who are wiser than ourselves and who best know what books we should read. The same great writer tells us further that "some books are to be tasted, and then to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested."

5. In order to be quite sure of the real benefit derived from reading it is necessary to examine one's self from time to time and recapitulate and summarise what has been done. Another good plan is to keep a book for extracts.

The following is a good introduction to such a book:-

"In reading authors, when you find
Bright passages that strike your mind
And which perhaps you may have reason
To think of at another season,
Be not contented with the sight,
But take them down in black and white;
Such a respect is wisely shown,
It makes another's sense one's own."

6. It is also a good plan to write short essays on subjects that have been read. This will help wonderfully in giving readiness and precision in expressing one's thoughts, and it is also a guarantee that one knows a subject. It is not possible to write clearly upon a subject of which one is altogether ignorant.

7. Where possible it is also a good plan to discuss certain points in reading. It is an advantage to acquire the habit of good speaking. Many people speak indistinctly or incoherently, who are of necessity obliged to speak in public. This would not happen if the art of speaking or debating were more usually adopted. A few girls, sisters and their friends, might have weekly, fortnightly, or monthly meetings, choose a president or umpire, and speak on a given subject, say for five or ten minutes each, with very great advantage. Of course it is hardly necessary here to suggest that the subject should be prepared, and that there should be no gossip and no temper admitted into these little societies. An afternoon tea would be a genial close.

8. Another very interesting mode of self-improvement, known and practised possibly by many readers of this paper, is that of forming a kind of literary society, or club, the members of which write papers on given or self-chosen subjects, to be read and remarked on in writing, by each member of the club. The prize schemes of THE GIRL'S OWN PAPER are a public form of this method; an appreciated one also.

9. Among girls, too, it is very customary to have Dorcas meetings. It is a good plan here for one to read aloud. A lighter kind of literature, or poetry, will form a pleasant and healthy recreation here, as well as at the evening needlework, where fathers and brothers join the circle, and sometimes become the reader.

Many more points occur as showing their advantages, but doubtless our readers have already framed some additional ones of their own; if so, our object in this respect is already gained.

In gathering up in conclusion the thoughts put forward here, our readers will readily agree that our centre of observation is on the choice, accumulation and use of books. THE GIRL'S OWN PAPER has already shown "how to form a small library." Of books not to be found in this library, and not included in the list of gift books spoken of, and yet needed, the lending library, of which nothing has been said, will supply the place. There are students' lending libraries, as well as circulating libraries, which contain little but novels. Books then are within reach, and we hope also that every girl has some one to guide her in the choice of books; may she use them well when she has the! She will not regret the work when she has acquired the knowledge which gives pleasure in its search, enjoyment in the possession and satisfaction in its distribution; which makes her a happier, more intelligent, and more useful member of society, and a help-meet  for the best of men.

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