Joshua Girling Fitch

British educationalist

Sir Joshua Girling Fitch (February 13, 1824 – July 14, 1903) was an English educationist, who entered in 1861 into the political arena with the publication of Public Education : Why is a New Code needed?

Sir Joshua Girling Fitch (February 13, 1824 – July 14, 1903) was an English educationist,


  • Pure mathematics is a collection of hypothetical, deductive theories, each consisting of a definite system of primitive, undefined, concepts or symbols and primitive, unproved, but self-consistent assumptions (commonly called axioms) together with their logically deducible consequences following by rigidly deductive processes without appeal to intuition.
    • The Fourth Dimension simply Explained. (New York, 1910), p. 58. Reported in Moritz (1914); Also cited in: Howard Eves (2012), Foundations and Fundamental Concepts of Mathematics, p. 167
  • I have undertaken to say a few words to you on the "Art of Questioning". It is a subject of great importance to all of you who desire to become good teachers ; for, in truth, the success and efficiency of our teaching depend more on the skill and judgment with which we put questions than on any other single circumstance.
  • It is very possible for a teacher to be fluent in speech, earnest in manner, happy in his choice of illustration, and to be a very inefficient teacher, nevertheless. We are often apt to think it enough if we deliver a good lesson, and to forget that, after all, its value depends upon the degree in which it is really received and appropriated by the children. Now, in order to secure that what we teach shall really enter their minds, and be duly fixed and comprehended there, it is above all things necessary that we should be able to use effectively the important instrument of instruction to which our attention is now to be drawn.

Lectures on Teaching, (1906)Edit

Joshua Girling Fitch, Lectures on Teaching, (New York, 1906), Reported in: Memorabilia mathematica or, The philomath's quotation-book, by Robert Edouard Moritz. Published 1914

  • We are so accustomed to hear arithmetic spoken of as one of the three fundamental ingredients in all schemes of instruction, that it seems like inquiring too curiously to ask why this should be. Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic—these three are assumed to be of co-ordinate rank. Are they indeed co-ordinate, and if so on what grounds?
    In this modern “trivium” the art of reading is put first. Well, there is no doubt as to its right to the foremost place. For reading is the instrument of all our acquisition. It is indispensable. There is not an hour in our lives in which it does not make a great difference to us whether we can read or not. And the art of Writing, too; that is the instrument of all communication, and it becomes, in one form or other, useful to us every day. But Counting—doing sums,—how often in life does this accomplishment come into exercise? Beyond the simplest additions, and the power to check the items of a bill, the arithmetical knowledge required of any well-informed person in private life is very limited. For all practical purposes, whatever I may have learned at school of fractions, or proportion, or decimals, is, unless I happen to be in business, far less available to me in life than a knowledge, say, of history of my own country, or the elementary truths of physics. The truth is, that regarded as practical arts, reading, writing, and arithmetic have no right to be classed together as co-ordinate elements of education; for the last of these is considerably less useful to the average man or woman not only than the other two, but than 267 many others that might be named. But reading, writing, and such mathematical or logical exercise as may be gained in connection with the manifestation of numbers, have a right to constitute the primary elements of instruction. And I believe that arithmetic, if it deserves the high place that it conventionally holds in our educational system, deserves it mainly on the ground that it is to be treated as a logical exercise. It is the only branch of mathematics which has found its way into primary and early education; other departments of pure science being reserved for what is called higher or university instruction. But all the arguments in favor of teaching algebra and trigonometry to advanced students, apply equally to the teaching of the principles or theory of arithmetic to schoolboys. It is calculated to do for them exactly the same kind of service, to educate one side of their minds, to bring into play one set of faculties which cannot be so severely or properly exercised in any other department of learning. In short, relatively to the needs of a beginner, Arithmetic, as a science, is just as valuable—it is certainly quite as intelligible—as the higher mathematics to a university student.
    • pp. 267-268.
  • Suppose then I want to give myself a little training in the art of reasoning; suppose I want to get out of the region of conjecture and probability, free myself from the difficult task of weighing evidence, and putting instances together to arrive at general propositions, and simply desire to know how to deal with my general propositions when I get them, and how to deduce right inferences from them; it is clear that I shall obtain this sort of discipline best in those departments of thought in which the first principles are unquestionably true. For in all 59 our thinking, if we come to erroneous conclusions, we come to them either by accepting false premises to start with—in which case our reasoning, however good, will not save us from error; or by reasoning badly, in which case the data we start from may be perfectly sound, and yet our conclusions may be false. But in the mathematical or pure sciences,—geometry, arithmetic, algebra, trigonometry, the calculus of variations or of curves,—we know at least that there is not, and cannot be, error in our first principles, and we may therefore fasten our whole attention upon the processes. As mere exercises in logic, therefore, these sciences, based as they all are on primary truths relating to space and number, have always been supposed to furnish the most exact discipline. When Plato wrote over the portal of his school. “Let no one ignorant of geometry enter here,” he did not mean that questions relating to lines and surfaces would be discussed by his disciples. On the contrary, the topics to which he directed their attention were some of the deepest problems,—social, political, moral,—on which the mind could exercise itself. Plato and his followers tried to think out together conclusions respecting the being, the duty, and the destiny of man, and the relation in which he stood to the gods and to the unseen world. What had geometry to do with these things? Simply this: That a man whose mind has not undergone a rigorous training in systematic thinking, and in the art of drawing legitimate inferences from premises, was unfitted to enter on the discussion of these high topics; and that the sort of logical discipline which he needed was most likely to be obtained from geometry—the only mathematical science which in Plato’s time had been formulated and reduced to a system. And we in this country [England] have long acted on the same principle. Our future lawyers, clergy, and statesmen are expected at the University to learn a good deal about curves, and angles, and numbers and proportions; not because these subjects have the smallest relation to the needs of their lives, but because in the very act of learning them they are likely to acquire that habit of steadfast and accurate thinking, which is indispensable to success in all the pursuits of life.
    • pp. 291-292
  • What mathematics, therefore are expected to do for the advanced student at the university, Arithmetic, if taught demonstratively, is capable of doing for the children even of the humblest school. It furnishes training in reasoning, and particularly in deductive reasoning. It is a discipline in closeness and continuity of thought. It reveals the nature of fallacies, and refuses to avail itself of unverified assumptions. It is the one department of school-study in which the sceptical and inquisitive spirit has the most legitimate scope; in which authority goes for nothing. In other departments of instruction you have a right to ask for the scholar’s confidence, and to expect many things to be received on your testimony with the understanding that they will be explained and verified afterwards. But here you are justified in saying to your pupil “Believe nothing which you cannot understand. Take nothing for granted.” In short, the proper office of arithmetic is to serve as elementary 268 training in logic. All through your work as teachers you will bear in mind the fundamental difference between knowing and thinking; and will feel how much more important relatively to the health of the intellectual life the habit of thinking is than the power of knowing, or even facility of achieving visible results. But here this principle has special significance. It is by Arithmetic more than by any other subject in the school course that the art of thinking—consecutively, closely, logically—can be effectually taught.
    • pp. 292-293.

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