Notes on: Bentham, J.  (1983) [1806] Chrestomathia (the collected works of Jeremy Bentham).  J. Smith and W.  Burston (eds).  Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Dave Harris

Editorial introduction

This volume concerns the project to form a chrestomathic school, that is one 'conducive to learning'.  The intention was to raise funds by public subscription.  Teaching was to be based on the monitorial methods of Bell and Lancaster [the editors note that Bell was soon associated with the Church of England and the National Society, which led to an artificial rivalry between Bell and Lancaster.  Lancaster might have been a nonconformist].

Monitorialism was seen as an economical and effective solution to provide mass primary education [for the poor].  Bentham detailed the methods to be used including: moving from concrete to abstract topics (from 'senses' to the 'mind', for example doing natural history and then logic); basing the curriculum on happiness, so that 'useful' subjects like the sciences were preferred to the classics and the old vague material, requiring in turn restructuring of academic subjects; the use of visual devices such as tables and diagrams; an individualist emphasis so that pupils would be ranked according to the results of the tests, remain occupied at all times, and their education would be based on their desire to succeed.  These are the same principles and architecture as in Panopticon [a model prison, or rather penitentiary].

Bentham's own contributions were supportive and supplemented by various supporting appendices, such as:

Appendix II 'Successful applications of the new system of language learning in the High School of Edinburgh, as reported by Professor Pillans'(enclosed in a letter to Mr. Fox, 1814).

The School operates with large classes (200 in Pillans' class), with wide variations of attainment.  There is a clear need to gain the attention of pupils and to avoid tedium and indiscipline, requiring an emphasis on motives.  Lessons including those on parsing and translation of Latin verses which were 'prescribed' the previous day—that is they were  'the last word mentioned, but no assistance was given' (132).  Classes were divided into 20 divisions, each with a Monitor.  The Monitor can call on each boy to translate a section.  The names of failures were recorded.  Boys could also record any mistakes by the Monitors, for example when giving a pre-provided grammar lesson.  Each division then re-forms into the overall class, and 'appeals' can be heard—against the judgments of or any mistakes made by the Monitor.  If an appeal is successful, the appellant advances one place, and the Monitor loses one.  'This system binds both Monitor and pupil to careful preparation at home: the former from a fear of detection and exposure by a boy far below him in the class; the latter both by the infallible certainties of his being called upon to say [a lesson] and reported if he fails; and by the honorable desire of rising in the class, and proving that he knows the lesson better than the Monitor' (132). The approach also leads to a focus on the more difficult passages, and is thus educationally valid.  Sometimes the Monitors are asked to construe rather than the pupils, and this is kept secret 'until I give out from the pulpit the order of business' (132).  The boys are also called at random to perform, often from the list of failures notified earlier. Questions are put in to link with other aspects of the curriculum and 'to insinuate moral and religious instruction' (133).  Written exercises are provided twice a week, and the marks for them can also effect class placings.  Monitors can rank pupils on the spot, subject to appeal.

Instruction in Greek is rather basic, but the pupils can and do read extra material.  Monitors are tested for 'mastery'.  They are asked to listen to the boys and then released early 'as a reward'.  In Geography, the master draws an outline map of each (Mediterranean) country and then adds more and more detail with each lesson—relief, then the rivers, their length and breadth, towns and so on.  Any 'striking facts' which help the pupils to learn are added.  Then the pupils are tested by being asked to recall details from their own map.  The best ones are displayed and the creators are made into Monitors.  Teaching other boys also helps 'rivet' information in their memory.

Appendix III, from Mr. Gray, also of Edinburgh High School, 1813.

The Lancaster method is preferred to the old methods, where 100 pupils occupy the class, and each was simply required to repeat a bit of a lesson in turn.  This was very long- winded, and those waiting do not listen.  The good boys do not benefit, and many fail.  The Lancaster scheme helps to avoid failure.  Failure leads to evil, such as dislike of the teacher and the subject, indolence, and 'habits dangerous to virtue', which produce struggles later in life (137).  Under the Lancaster scheme, boys were employed every minute, either speaking or listening.  The division of classes under monitors saves repetition.  Pupils study because 'ignorance is more shameful where the account is to be rendered to one of his own year than to a man' (137).  Boys made better instructors than teachers, because they were closer to their fellows.  Monitors were assiduous because they were afraid to lose their position, and their work was checked by the Master any way.  No one has failed.  The method offers at least the basics, attainable by all, and at least introductions to ['proper']  education were possible—'the shield of the young mind against the ruinous inroads of vice' (138).  Everyone seemed to be happy.  Corporal punishment had been abolished as brutal and ineffective.  Instead the goal was 'to animate the school with one spirit' (139) [I have commented that this involves a double control over the pupil, self motivation as well as the influences of the actual contents which are supposed to socialize.  Foucault's commentary on Panopticon is also of obvious relevance].

Appendix IV Bentham 'Essay on Nomenclature and Classification'

This involves attempts to classify different academic subjects and make them 'useful' and thus suitable as part of the curriculum of the chrestomathic school.  The nomenclature of academic subject needs clarification to make it accessible.  Academic 'denominations' have two purposes: the first one is an ordinary purpose, presenting to view the contents of a branch of knowledge, but the second one is systematic, to reveal the relations between different branches of knowledge.  For the ordinary purpose, denominations need 'a conception as clear, correct and complete as by and in the compass of a single denomination can be afforded'.  Ideally, they would be represented as a single word which would avoid ambiguity (142).  For the systematic purpose, a single word might not be suitable or possible.  Here, a denomination 'should [remove] doubts about whether it is included in any other branches of knowledge'.  Therefore it needs to depict both the identity and diversity of properties (143).  [A note says it should indicate the relations of agreement and disagreement with the other branches and 'relations of connection and dependence: viz those which [involve] an acquaintance, more or less intimate, with this or that other branch of art and science' (144).

The argument then goes on to attack the names of particular subjects which are misleading, especially 'Natural Philosophy' to refer to science, which only raises an ambiguity whether chemistry is or is not natural.  [Bentham long had objections to the notion of natural law theories to explain jurisprudence].  A new terminology is required to produce clarity which in turn would break down the barriers between teachers and learners: 'the only line of separation...  is that which has been drawn by the hand of Time' (149). 'Nature' is only a 'well-known fictitious personage' (150).

The essay goes on to criticize the French Encyclopedists for developing inconsistent clarifications. 

Section XI 'The Mode of Division should, as far as may be, exhaustive—why?'

Bentham argues that the parts of the subject must 'exhaust the contents of the whole…[so]...the information contained in a work which is composed of them can be complete' [I have noticed this and several earlier similarities between Bentham's work and later principles of 'closure' in computer based models of learning, especially that of Pask].  If this does not happen, 'instead of that of a regular tree, the form in which it presents itself will be no other than that of the confused peak of unconnected fragments,—each of them, in respect of form and quantity, boundless and indeterminate' (280).  [no support for Deleuzian rhizomes here!] Such reframing helps us exercise 'dominion over almost every branch of science' (219), and permits the activities of 'legislators' who 'act sometimes in furtherance of the interest of the professors…  [but with any luck]  more frequently and more necessarily in furtherance of the interests of the whole community' (219)

Section XVIII 'How to Plant A Ramean Encyclopaedical Tree on any given part of the field of art and science'

First list all the keywords and their relations in columns.  Then find out which words and relations are the most the 'extensive', 'whether [an individual terms]  exactly covers the whole extent of [your] proposed field'.  If so 'employ it for your universal trunk' (255).  Then go on to sort out two main branches, both of which are found in the trunk.  If this is not possible, or if there are more than two, seize the most important ones as the most positive branch and 'negate' the others.  Proceed to do the same with minor branches.  Choose single word synonyms where possible.  Isolate the distinctive properties of each term.  Separate out the real and fictitious entities [the latter include abstract concepts—these need a whole new system logical theory of language (259), that is new classifications]

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