Chapter 6 Some Educational Theories Examined

Chapter 6
Some Educational Theories Examined

Theories of Pestalozzi and Froebel––It is refreshing to turn to that school of German educational thought which has produced the two great apostles, Pestalozzi and Froebel. What we may call the enthusiasm of childhood, joyous teaching, loving and lovable teachers and happy school hours for the little people, are among the general gains from this source. To look a gift horse in the mouth is unworthy, and it would seem pure captiousness to detect any source of weakness in a system of psychology to which our indebtedness is so great. But no stream can rise higher than its source, and it is questionable whether the conception of children as cherished plants in a cultured garden has not in it an element of weakness. Are the children too carefully tended? Is Nature too sedulously assisted? Is the environment too perfectly tempered? Is it conceivable that the rough-and-tumble of a nursery should lend itself more to the dignity and self-dependence of the person and to the evolution of individual character, than that delightful place, a child-garden? I suppose we have all noticed that children show more keen intelligence and more independent thought in home-play and home-talk than one expects of the angelic little beings one sees at school. I daresay the reader will know Fra Angelico's picture of 'The Last Judgement,' one of the scenes in which gives us a circle of little monks (become as little children) dancing round, hand-in-hand, with gracious angels on their way to Paradise. The little monks are obviously very happy and very good; but somehow one misses the force of personality; they do not look as if they were capable of striking out a line for themselves; and this may be a danger in the Kindergarten.

Lack the Element of Personality.––'Make children happy and they will be good,' is absolutely true, but does it develop that strenuousness, the first condition of virtue, which comes of the contrary axiom––'Be good and you will be happy'? Kindergarten teachers are doing beautiful work; but many of them are hampered by the original metaphor of the plant, which is exactly lacking in that element of personality, the cherishing and developing of which is a sacred and important part of education. The philosophic German mind beheld in man a part of the Cosmos, which, like the rest, needed only to be placed in fit conditions to develop according to its nature.

The Struggle for Existence, a Part of Life.––The weak point in the argument is that man would appear to fall under the laws of two universes, the material and the spiritual; and that to energise and resist and repel is the law of his being. It will be said that this need not apply to the child; that the struggle for existence may well begin after a happy childhood has been secured; but probably any sort of transition violates the principles of unity and continuity which should rule education. No doubt all thoughtful Kindergarten teachers recognise in what direction the limitations––all men have their limitations––of their Founder lay, and their practices are levelled up to modern thought. The general substitution of free brush-drawing, in which the children have some initiative, for the cramped pencil drawing in chequers of the old Kindergarten, is an illustration of the modern spirit; but it is well for us all to remember our origins and our tendencies, that we may recognise and avoid our dangers.

Herbartian Psychology.––I have only space to glance at one more 'psychology,' that which is, curiously enough, dividing the American mind with the school which regards psychology as a 'natural science,' and at which English teachers are beginning to snatch as a drowning man snatches at a straw. This is the psychology of Herbart, another German philosopher of the beginning of the last century, contemporary with both Pestalozzi and Froebel during the best years of his life. His theory of man is wide as the poles apart from either of those we have already considered; and there is no denying that it affords a tempting working basis for education. It is only when we come to examine the Herbartian psychology in connection with the two or three great thoughts upon which, as we have seen, the world is being educated, that it is found wanting. Herbart begins to account for man minus what I have called the person.3 He allows a soul, but he says, "The soul has no capacity nor faculty whatever either to receive or to produce anything. It has originally neither ideas nor feelings nor desires. It knows nothing of itself and nothing of other things. Further, within it lie no forms of intuition or thought, no laws of willing and acting, nor any sort of predisposition, however remote, to all this.4There remain two possibilities for the soul: an effective vis inertiae and what Herbart describes as the power of reacting on an idea; that is to say, the soul itself is no longer quite as it was after it has thus reacted.

The Person, an Effect and not a Cause.––The problem is simplified anyway. All our complex notions of intellect, will, feeling and so on, disappear. The soul is thrown open to ideas––a fair field and no favour; and ideas, each of them a living entity, according to the familiar Platonic notion, crowd and jostle one another for admission, and for the best places, and for the most important and valuable coalitions, once they have entered. They lie below the 'threshold' watching a chance to slip in. They hurry to join their friends and allies upon admission, they 'vault' and they 'taper,' they form themselves into powerful 'appreception masses' which occupy a more or less permanent place in the soul; and the soul––what does it do? It is not evident otherwise than as it affords a stage for this drama of ideas; and the self, the soul or the person, however we choose to call him, is an effect and not a cause, a result, and not an original fact.

A philosopher who emphasises the potency of ideas does good work in the cause of education. We get glimpses of a perfect theory––how our function shall be, to supply the child always with fit ideas, and with the best ideas; how we shall take care so to select and arrange these ideas that they shall naturally fly to one another and make strong 'apperception masses' once they have got beyond the 'threshold' in the child's soul.

A Tempting Vista.––A fascinating vista is open before us; education has all things made plain and easy for her use; she has nothing to do but to select her ideas and turn out a man to her mind. Here is a tempting scheme of unity and continuity! One might occupy all the classes in a school for a whole month upon all the ideas that combine in one 'apperception mass' with the idea 'book.' We might have object-lessons on the colours, shapes, and sizes of books; more advanced object-lessons on paper-making and book-binding; practical lessons in book-sewing and book-binding; lessons, according to the class, on the contents of books, from A B C and little Bo-Peep to philosophy and poetry. A month! why, a whole school education might be arranged in groups of ideas which should combine into one vast 'apperception mass,' all clustering about 'book.' The sort of thing was done publicly some time ago, in London, apple being the idea round which the 'apperception mass' gathered.

Eliminates Personality.––If one is to find the principles of unity and continuity in the ideas presented to the soul, this is all good and well. But if, as we believe, these principles must emanate from the soul, or person, himself, this tempting unity may result in the collection of a mass of heterogeneous and unassimilated information.

Turns out Duplicates––Again, given two souls supplied with precisely the same ideas, in precisely the same order, and with no other ideas whatsoever, and we get duplicates of the same person, a possibility which would demolish once and for ever that great conception, the solidarity of the race. Once more, what does the Herbartian theory of man minister to our interest in personality, our sense of the sacredness of the person? The person is non est, or is the mere sport of the ideas which take possession of him. He has not so much as a special fitness for one class of ideas rather than for another; all is casual; and, as for the evolution of the individual it is not he, but this or that mass of ideas which possesses him, that expands. The man appears to be no more than a sort of vessel of transport to carry ideas into their proper sphere of action. Herbartian psychology is rich in suggestion, but we cannot take it up as it stands without losing the educational value of the two or three leading principles which are, as we say, 'in the air' for the teaching of mankind.

Each System fails to meet our Tests––I have now examined briefly the three or four psychologies which hold, more or less, the field of educational thought. We see that each advances truth, but that neither expresses the whole truth even so far as to afford a working basis for educators. So people either work on by rule of thumb, or they borrow a fragment here and a fragment there as the case appears to demand; like children with a hard sum whose answer they know, and who try now division, now multiplication, now subtraction, to make it come right. No doubt there are also many able psychologists who may not have written books, but who work out the problems of education, not with a view to the answer, but according to a code of inherent principles which they have discerned for themselves.

A Psychology that meets the Demands upon it––What have we to bring forward in the way of a working psychology which shall meet the demands I have indicated? We do not claim to be philosophers; we are modest and practical people looking out for a secure basis for education. It is just possible that bringing unbiased minds and a few guiding principles to the task, we have, not joined the parts of the puzzle, but perceived dimly how an outline here and an outline there indicate, not so many separate psychologies, but shadowings forth of a coherent, living, educational principle destined to assume more and more clearness and fulness until it is revealed to us at last as the educational gospel, the discovery of which may be the destined reward and triumph of our age. Let me try to set forth, though with diffidence, what we have done, knowing that no man and no society can say of educational truth, 'This is mine and that is thine,' for all is common, and none of us can know how much he gives and how much he takes.

Educational Truth a Common Possession.––For years we have worked definitely and consistently upon a psychology which appears to me fairly adequate, necessary, and in touch with the thought of our age. (The references here and after are to the distinctive thought and work of the Parents' National Educational Union.) Children brought up on this theory of education, wherever we come across them, have certain qualities in common. They are curiously vitalised; not bored, not all alive in the playing-field and dull and inert in the schoolroom––even when it is that place, proverbial for dulness, a home school-room taught by a governess. There is unity in their lives; they are not two persons, one with their play-fellows and quite other with their teachers and elders; but frank, fresh, showing keen interest in whatever comes in their way. Then, too, there is continuity in their education. Little children are always eager to know; but the desire for knowledge seldom survives two or three years of school-life. But these children begin on lines that go on from the first baby lessons, through boyhood, girlhood, womanhood, motherhood; there is no transition stage, but simple, natural, living progress. The claims I venture to make for these children must rest, not only on the evidence of the few, but on the principles upon which we work.

We take Children as Persons.––In the first place, we take children seriously as persons like ourselves, only more so; the first question that comes before us is––What do we understand by a person? We believe the thinking, invisible soul and acting, visible body to be one in so intimate a union that––

   "Nor soul helps flesh more now than flesh helps soul."

If the doctrine of the Resurrection had not been revealed to us, it would be a necessity, in however unimagined a form, to our conception of a person. The countenance of our friend with the thousand delicate changes which express every nuance of feeling; the refinement, purpose, perception, power, revealed in his hand, the dear familiar carriage, these are all inseparable from our conception of the person. Whatever is advanced by the physiologist and the rational psychologist as to the functions of that most marvellous brain cortex, the seat of consciousness, as furnishing us with images and impulses, of the motor nerves as originating action, of the brain as the seat of habit; of the possibility of educating a child in all becoming habits of act, in all sweet habits of thought, by taking measures to secure that these habits become, as it were, a memory of the brain to be awakened by due stimuli,––all these things we believe and receive; and we believe further that the possibility of a rational education rests upon this physiological basis, only fully discovered to us within the present generation.

The Person Wills, and Thinks, and Feels.––But then, we believe the assumption that all this delicate mechanism is automatic to be gratuitous and inadequate; it is to be assumed that the person should possess such vehicle of expression and medium of relation to the outer world. For the rest, we believe that the person wills and thinks and feels; is always present, though not always aware of himself; is without parts or faculties; whatever he does, he does, all of him, whether he take a walk or write a book. It is so much the habit to think of the person as a dual being, flesh and spirit, when he is, in truth, one, that it is necessary to clear our minds on this subject. The person is one and not several, and he is no more compact of ideas on the one hand than he is of nervous and muscular tissues on the other. That he requires nutriment of two kinds is no proof that he is two individuals. Pleasant and well-cooked food makes man of a cheerful countenance, and wine gladdens the heart of man, and we all know the spiritual refreshment of a needed meal. On the other hand, we all know the lack-lustre eye and pallid countenance of the well-fed who receive none of that other nutriment which we call ideas; quick and living thought is as necessary for the full and happy development of the body as it is for that of the soul.

An Adequate Doctrine.––Holding this view, we believe that our educational doctrine is adequate, while following the progress of biological psychology with avidity, and making use of every gain presents itself, and while following with equal care the advance of philosophic thought, we recognise that each of these sees the chameleon in a different light, that the person includes both and is more than both; and, if our educational creed is by no means conclusive, we think it is not narrow, because we have come across no problem of life or mind the solution of which is shut out from us by any dogma of ours. We cannot say that our doctrine is necessary, but we do say that some educational theory which shall include the whole nature of man and the results of scientific research, in the same or a greater degree, is necessary. We find ourselves, too, in touch with those three great ideas which seem to me to be the schoolmasters of the world at the present moment. The person of the child is sacred to us; we do not swamp his individuality in his intelligence, in his conscience, or even in his soul; perhaps one should add to-day, or even in his physical development. The person is all these and more. We safeguard the initiative of the child and we realise that, in educational work, we must take a back seat; the teacher, even when the teacher is the parent, is not to be too much to the front. There is no more facile way of swamping character and individuality than by that idol of the 'fifties'––personal influence.

Education the Science of Relations.––We consider that education is the science of relations, or, more fully, that education considers what relations are proper to a human being, and in what ways these several relations can best be established; that a human being comes into the world with capacity for many relations; and that we, for our part, have two chief concerns––first, to put him in the way of forming these relations by presenting the right idea at the right time, and by forming the right habit upon the right idea; and, secondly, by not getting in the way and so preventing the establishment of the very relations we seek to form.

Teaching must not be Obtrusive.––Half the teaching one hears and sees is more or less obtrusive. The oral lesson and the lecture, with their accompanying notes, give very little scope for the establishment of relations with great minds and various minds. The child who learns his science from a text-book, though he go to Nature for illustrations, and he who gets his information from object-lessons, has no chance of forming relations with things as they are, because his kindly obtrusive teacher makes him believe that to know about things is the same thing as knowing them personally; though every child knows that to know about Prince Edward is by no means the same thing as knowing the boy-prince. We study in many ways the art of standing aside. People sometimes write that the books set in our school constitute much of its usefulness; they do not always see that the choice of books, which implies the play of various able minds directly on the mind of the child, is a great part of that education which consists in the establishment of relations.

The Art of Standing Aside.––I have even known of teachers who have thought well to compose the songs and poems which their children use. Think of it! not even our poets are allowed to interpose between the poor child and the probably mediocre mind of the teacher. The art of standing aside to let a child develop the relations proper to him is the fine art of education, when the educator perceives the two things he must do and how to do these two things. The evolution of the individual is a natural sequence of the opening up of relations.

How we labour towards the solidarity of the race I hope to show more fully, later. But, for example, we do not endeavour to give children outlines of ancient history, but to put them in living touch with a thinker who lived in those ancient days. We are not content that they should learn the history of their own country alone; some living idea of contemporaneous European history, anyway, we try to get in; that the history we teach may be the more living, we work in, pari passu, some of the literature of the period and some of the best historical novels and poems that treat of the period; and so on with other subjects.

There is nothing new in all this; what we venture to claim is that our work is unified and vitalised by a comprehensive theory of education and a sound basis of psychology. 

3'Person' is used in the common-sense, everyday acceptance of the word.
4Lehrbuch zur Psychologie, Part III, sects.152, 153 (See Herbatian Psychology, by J. Adams)