The most striking feature of the modern educational system is the atmosphere of practical application which surrounds every line of its endeavor. Educators have come to realize that the surest approach to the child's mind is through the light of his experience. They are therefore striving to utilize the impressions gathered outside the classroom in motivating some of the mental gymnastics which, heretofore, have been sheerest abstractions. Not only has the scope of the curriculum been extended in such a way as to include the subjects founded upon home and community problems, but the very manner of dealing with those subjects themselves has undergone a change consistent with the general scheme of making the child's experience the constant handmaid to his training.
Under the old school the plan of the textbook was to arrange the subject-matter in a logical and scientifically sequential form, giving but little thought to the manner of development in the child's mind. In those days it was thought that a textbook should represent a storehouse of racial subject-matter arranged systematically and according to the most logical method. But little attention was given to the idea of making the textbook a bridge between the child's experience and the subject into which the child should be led.
Modern thought along these lines has made evident the fact that the child's mind unfolds naturally in response to his experience, that the child is a learner outside the classroom, to and from school, and at home. In fact, during all his waking hours, he is continually absorbing from his environment. With this fact in mind, the so-called "phychological" method of instructing has come into vogue. That is, the immediate interest of the child is utilized in an effort to lead him into the realms of the unknown. A consideration of this conception easily leads one to believe that the method of procedure in teaching could not then be identical in any two children, due to the fact that no two children are equally endowed mentally, neither have their experiences been the same. Therefore the psychological plan of teaching in its strictest sense could be perfectly employed only in a class consisting of one student. If this psychological plan were followed to the extreme there is great danger that it would lead to random thought, encouraging a sort of mind wandering, due to the fact that no definite goal existed.
Ironclad advocates of the old school of logical thinking apparently believed that the child existed for the sake of fitting himself into the established methods of training, and that each child should be slavishly led, or driven as the case might be, through this prescribed course, regardless of his personal aptitudes or individual inclinations; likes and dislikes were not in the consideration. It was this school of pedagogy which believed that the sequential logic of the subject should be the master in prescribing the order of procedure in all school texts. On the other hand, the swing of the pendulum brought many so-called educators to the opposite extreme where they were ready to cast aside every form of prescribed methods of procedure, and in every line of thought endeavor to cause the mind to unfold "naturally" with but little foresight as to the ultimate goal. This sort of procedure was sure to result in rambling which gave the student absolute command of nothing that would function in the solution of future problems.
These two extremes lie open to anyone who attempts the preparation of a textbook. While the logical arrangement has been rigidly followed for many generations past in some of the old line subjects, it has asserted itself only to a very limited degree in the newer industrial lines. There have, however, been a few attempts at industrial textbooks which were so inflexible in the work that they set forth as to stint the development of the students, and give them but little that has any connection with the great store of world subject-matter. There can certainly be no greater pedagogical error than to introduce a practical subject and then teach it in such a way as to strip it of all of its practical applications.
By far the greatest error, however, has been at the other extreme of the pendulum. Too much of the industrial work of our public schools has been so afraid of falling into the conventional forms of the older lines that it has been almost chaotic; on account of this lack of method, it has brought results which were far from satisfactory. The newness of industrial work as a public-school undertaking has naturally been the cause of its failure to conform to established methods of procedure. Superintendents have been impressed with the beautiful theories often set forth by the expert industrial teacher saying that the work should be made to conform absolutely with the child's personal experiences, and that every problem should arise out of the child's own conception and initiative. Such methods have been tried and superintendents have been very much disappointed to find that, when the classes were entrusted to less skillful teachers, the educational results fell far short of the expectations which had been set upon hearing this theory so beautifully expounded by the expert.
If any line of handwork is to have its real educational value it can not be at variance with the established rules of pedagogy. It is absurd to think that a child undergoes any transformation, either physically or mentally, because it happens to be in an industrial laboratory, rather than in a classroom for the abstract subjects. In the preparation of this text, which is based upon many years of personal instruction and observation of all types of schools in several states, the effort has been to find a sane medium between the rigid logical method of arrangement and the almost chaotic result of the unqualified psychological method.
Those who are familiar with the subject of sewing are well aware that it does present many scientific phases, and that there are correct and incorrect ways of doing things which belong to this important art. These established principles are but the outgrowth and development which the age now holds as its heritage from the careful and thoughtful efforts of generations gone by. Surely each girl should not be called upon to relive all these experiences in the sewing class, and to develop herself from the crudest undertakings of sewing through all of the primitive steps which have made possible our modern needlework. Neither, on the other hand, should the child be compelled to master in an absolute way a definite and prescribed set of disassociated needlework principles. The experiences of the child, her own environment, and outlook into her future occupation, as well as her immediate needs should be studiously considered in prescribing her work. The course should be sufficiently flexible to adapt itself to these various needs without in any way disregarding the established principles of the subject. The apperceptive powers of the girl constitute her only means of interpreting her surroundings. With this idea in mind, this text has been designed to deal with logical principles in a psychological" way. Paradoxical as this may seem at first, an examination of the text reveals the fact that every lesson presents ample opportunity for the student to acquaint herself with different principles, and at the same time employ those principles in the making of a project which will appeal to her native interest. In order to provide for the development of initiative and to stimulate the exercise of individual tastes, untold possibilities lie open in the matter of original design, choice in decoration, and in the employment of the artistic touches which are in no way a violation of principles.
In order to meet the widely different conditions of mind, which must necessarily exist in the children who come from homes of varying conditions, a very extensive list of projects has been presented in each section. Kindred ones have been suggested, thus making it possible to claim the interest and attention of every normal girl, allowing her to make articles which are of practical value in her daily experience, and at the same time, enabling her to develop her latent talent for artistic expression.
As this text is submitted to the opinion of our fellow teachers it is our most sincere hope that it will find some place in which to offer its share of real practical assistance to every force which is endeavoring to render practical service to our girls who desire to fit themselves for lives of usefulness.