We come now to consider the subject of Instruction.
There are three kinds of human knowledge which stand strikingly distinct from all the rest. They lie at the foundation. They constitute the roots of the tree. In other words, they are the means by which all other knowledge is attained. I need not say that I mean Reading, Writing, and Calculation.
Teachers do not perhaps always consider how entirely and essentially distinct these three branches of learning are from all the rest. They are arts; the acquisition of them is not to be considered as knowledge, so much as the means by which knowledge may be obtained. A child who is studying Geography, or History, or Natural Science, is learning facts—gaining information; on the other hand, the one who is learning to write, or to read, or to calculate, may be adding little or nothing to his stock of knowledge. He is acquiring skill, which, at some future time, he may make the means of increasing his knowledge to any extent.
This distinction ought to be kept constantly in view, and the teacher should feel that these three fundamental branches stand by themselves, and stand first in importance. I do not mean to undervalue the others, but only to insist upon the superior value and importance of these. Teaching a pupil to read before he enters upon the active business of life is like giving a new settler an axe as he goes to seek his new home in the forest. Teaching him a lesson in history is, on the other hand, only cutting down a tree or two for him. A knowledge of natural history is like a few bushels of grain gratuitously placed in his barn; but the art of ready reckoning is the plow which will remain by him for years, and help him to draw out from the soil a new treasure every year of his life.
The great object, then, of the common schools in our country is to teach the whole population to read, to write, and to calculate. In fact, so essential is it that the accomplishment of these objects should be secured, that it is even a question whether common schools should not be confined to them. I say it is a question, for it is sometimes made so, though public opinion has decided that some portion of attention, at least, should be paid to the acquisition of additional knowledge. But, after all, the