Saturday, April 24, 2010

Vernacular as Basis of Instruction

“You should therefore have a great tenderness towards them
and supply their spiritual needs to the best of your ability,
looking upon these children as members of Jesus Christ
and as his much loved ones”
(John Baptiste de la Salle,
Meditation for the feast of St. Nicholas).

John Baptiste de la Salle, known as the Father of Modern Education, lived from 1651 - 1719 and anticipated many of the modern reformers of education. He specialized particularly in primary and elementary "popular" education, meaning by "popular" the children of regular folk, not the intellectually elite or children of nobles.

I thought this section of the Catholic Encyclopedia article on him was interesting in providing a justification for education primarily in the vernacular. It reminded me a little of Charlotte Mason, who was also a believer in true liberal education primarily emphasizing the vernacular literature because of her interest in educating children of the middle and lower class.

De la Salle, furthermore, displayed his genius in giving is institute a distinctive character, that of a teaching body, consecrated to the work of popular education. Thus he became the author of a system of psychologic pedagogy which included the essential principles adopted by later workers in the field of educational reforms, notably by Pestalozzi, Fröbel, Herbart, and others. In making the vernacular the basis of all instruction, de la Salle appealed to the intelligence of the child, prepared the way for the study of national literature, and opened up to the grown man those avenues of real knowledge and delight that had hitherto been closed against the eager multitude. With true scientific insight he perceived the absurdity of retaining Latin texts to teach the art of reading. For this change he gave the following reasons:

* The teaching of the art of reading, in primary and elementary schools, through the vernacular, is of greater and wider utility than by Latin texts.
* The vernacular is more easily taught to children, who already possess some knowledge of it, than the Latin of which they are wholly ignorant.
* It requires considerably less time to learn the art of reading through the vernacular than through a foreign tongue.
* The boys and girls attending the primary and elementary schools, can spend only a few years under instruction. Now, if thy are taught reading from a Latin text, they generally leave school without being able to read the vernacular, and with only an imperfect knowledge of how to read the Latin. Hence, they will soon forget the little they have learned, and, perhaps, even how to read the vernacular.
* Reading is one of he most efficacious means of acquiring knowledge. With due care in the selection of books, children who can read in the vernacular could spread the Christian doctrine in the family circle, and, on evenings, read some useful or instructive books to the assembled household; whereas, if they could read the Latin only, without understanding it, they would be deprived of many valuable benefits resulting from the intelligent reading of a good book.
* It is impossible for children in primary and elementary schools to master the reading of Latin texts, because they are not acquainted with its subject matter. It is, therefore, the part of wisdom to train children thoroughly to theintelligent reading of works written in the vernacular. Thus, having mastered the art of reading in the vernacular, a few months would suffice to make them read theLatin fluently, whereas, if the traditional method were followed, it would require at least several years [Annales de l'Institut, I (1883), pp. 140, 141].

This fact proves that de la Salle was a profound thinker, a genius in the work of popular education. He embraced all classes, all conditions of society. By making the free schools popular, he grasped the growing needs of society in his own day and for all times. No phase of the educational problem escaped his penetrating vision.

If you like browsing through old textbooks and educational manuals, there turns out to be a lot of texts by the Christian Brothers at Google Books (the order he founded was called the Christian Brothers)

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