Chapter 7 An Adequate Theory Of Education

Chapter 7
An Adequate Theory Of Education

A Human Being––I have laid before the reader, as a working hypothesis,––that man is homogeneous, a spiritual being invested with a body––capable of responding to spiritual impulses, the organ by which he expresses himself, the vehicle by which he receives impressions, and the medium by which he establishes relations with what we call the material world;––that will, conscience, affection, reason, are not the various parts of a composite whole, but are different modes of action of the person.

His Capacities––That he is capable of many relations and consequently of many modes of action; that, given the due relations, his power of expansion in these relations appears to be, not illimitable, but, so far as we know, as yet unlimited.

His Limitations––But that, deprived of any or all of the relations proper to him, a human being has no power of self-development in these directions; though he would appear not to lose any of his capacity for these relations.

His Education.––Again, that any relation once initiated leaves, so to speak, an organic memory of itself in the nervous tissue of the brain; that in this physical registration of an experience or a thought, or of the memory of an experience or a thought, lies the possibility of habit; that some nine-tenths of our life run upon lines of habit; and that, therefore, in order to educate, we must know something of both the psychological and physiological history of a habit, how to initiate it and how to develop it; and, finally, that a human being under education has two functions––the formation of habits and the assimilation of ideas.

The Behaviour of Ideas.––Physiologists and 'rational psychologists' have made the basis of habit pretty plain to us. All who run may read. The nature, functions, and behaviour of ideas, and how ideas have power in their impact upon the cerebral hemisphere to make some sort of sensible impression––all this is matter as to which we are able only to make 'guesses at truth.' But this need not dismay us, for such other ultimate facts as sleep and life and death are equally unexplained. In every department of science we are brought up before facts which we have to assume as the bases of our so-called science. Where a working hypothesis is necessary, all we can do is to assume those bases that seem to us the most adequate and the most fruitful. Let us say with Plato that an idea is an entity, a live thing of the mind.

No one can Beget an Idea by Himself––Apparently no one has power to beget an idea by himself; it appears to be the progeny of two minds. So-and-so 'put it in my head,' we say, and that is the history of all ideas––the most simple and the most profound. But, once begotten, the idea seems to survive indefinitely. It is painted in a picture, written in a book, carved into a chair, or only spoken to someone who speaks it again, who speaks it again, who speaks it again, so that it goes on being spoken, for how long? Who knows! Nothing so strikes the student of history as the persistent way in which ideas recur, except the way in which they elude observation until occasion calls them forth. Our natural progeny may indeed die and be buried; but of this spiritual progeny of ideas, who may forecast the history or foretell the end?

Certain Persons attract Certain Ideas.––Perhaps we may be allowed this further hypothesis––that, as an idea comes of the contact of two minds, the idea of another is no more than a notion to us until it has undergone a process of generation within us; and for that reason different ideas appeal to different minds––not at all because the ideas themselves have an independent desire to club into 'apperception masses,' but because certain persons have in themselves, by inheritance, may we assume, that which is proper to attract certain ideas. To illustrate invisible things by visible, let us suppose that the relation is something like that between the pollen and the ovule it is to fertilise. The ways of carrying the pollen are various, not to say promiscuous, but there is nothing haphazard in the result. The right pollen goes to the right ovule and the plant bears seed after its kind; even so, the person brings forth ideas after his kind.

The Idea that 'Strikes' Us––The crux of the situation is: how can an emanation so purely spiritual as an idea make an impression upon even the most delicate material substance? We do not know. We have some little demonstration that it is so in the fact of the score of reflex actions by which we visibly respond to an idea that 'strikes' us. The eye brightens, the pulse quickens, the colour rises, the whole person becomes vitalised, capable, strenuous, no longer weighed down by this clog of flesh. Every habit we have formed has had its initial idea, and every idea we receive is able to initiate a habit of thought and of action. Every human being has the power of communicating notions to other human beings; and, after he is dead, this power survives him in the work he has done and the words he has said. How illimitable is life! That the divine Spirit has like intimate power of corresponding with the human spirit, needs not to be urged, once we recognise ourselves as spiritual beings at all.

Expansion and Activity of the Person––Nor does this teeming population of ideas arise to us without order and without purpose beyond the scope of our busy efforts and intentions. It would seem as if a new human being came into the world with unlimited capacity for manifold relations, with a tendency to certain relations in preference to certain others, but with no degree of adaptation to these relations. To secure that adaptation and the expansion and activity of the person, along the lines of the relations most proper to him, is the work of education; to be accomplished by the two factors of ideas and habits. Every relation must be initiated by its own 'captain'5 idea, sustained upon fitting ideas; and wrought into the material substance of the person by its proper habits. This is the field before us.

Story of Kaspar Hauser.––To make my meaning plainer, let me run over the story of Kaspar Hauser, that 'child of Nuremberg,' upon whom an unique experiment was said to have been tried, criminal in its character, and therefore not to be repeated. The story is as well accredited as most of our data, but we will assume its truth in so far only as the experience of this boy tallies with what we know of the experience of an infant; or, as regards the use of his senses, with the experience of an adult person who has for the first time attained to, sight, let us say. On 28th May 1828, the attention of a cobbler in Nuremberg was excited by a strange figure leaning, as if unable to support itself, against a wall and uttering a moaning sound. The figure was that of a young man of about seventeen, who, when the cobbler approached, moaned some incoherent sounds. He had fair hair and blue eyes, and the lower part of his face projected a little like a monkey's. Everyone who watched him came to the same conclusion, that his mind was that of a child of two or three, while his body was nearly grown up; and yet he was not half-witted, because he immediately began to pick up words and phrases, had a wonderful memory, and never forgot a face he had once seen or the name which belonged to it. At first, he was placed in the guard-house for safety, and the children of the gaoler taught him to walk and to talk as they did their own baby-sister. He was not afraid of anything. After six or seven weeks the townspeople decided to adopt him as the 'child of Nuremberg.' He was placed under the charge of Professor Daumer, whose interest led him to undertake the difficult task of developing his mind so that it might fit his body. Later, Dr Daumer gleaned a short account of his previous life from Hauser by careful questioning. It was to this effect. 'He neither knows who he is nor where he came from. He always lived in a hole where he sat on straw on the ground. He never heard a sound nor saw any vivid light. He awoke and he slept and awoke again. When he awoke he found a loaf of bread and a pitcher of water beside him. Sometimes the water tasted nasty, and then he fell asleep again. He never saw the face of the man who came to him. At last the man taught him to stand and to walk, and finally carried him out of his hole.' For several months after he came to Nuremberg he refused to eat anything but bread and water, and was, in fact, made quite ill by the smell of meat, beer, wine or milk. For the first four months of his stay with Daumer, his senses of sight, taste, hearing and smell were very acute. He could see much further than most people by day, without, however, losing his power of seeing in the dark. At the same time he could not distinguish between a thing and a picture of that thing, and could not for a long time judge distances at all, for he saw everything flat. He thought a ball rolled because it wished to do so, and could not see why animals should not behave, at table for instance, like human beings. His sense of smell was very keen, painfully so, in fact, for he was made quite ill by the smell of the dye in his clothes, the smell of paper, etc. On the other hand, he could distinguish the leaves of trees by their smell. In about three months Dr Daumer was able to teach him other things besides the use of his senses. He was encouraged to write letters and essays, to use his hands in every way, to dig in the garden, etc. For the next eleven months he lived a happy, simple life with his friend and tutor, who mentions, however, that the intense acuteness of his senses was gradually passing away, but that he had still the charming, obedient, child-like nature which had won all hearts.

What Nature does for a Child.––Here we have an instance (more or less credible), and the only instance on record, of what Nature, absolutely unaided and unhindered, has done for a child. Kaspar Hauser came out of his long retirement, unusually intelligent, with his senses intensely acute, and 'sweet and docile' in disposition. This is an object-lesson which cannot lawfully be repeated, and we may not take a single instance as proving any position. But certainly this illuminating story––coupled with the fact that Kaspar Hauser, on his emergence, was in some respects in the condition of an infant in arms––that is, he knew nothing of round, or flat, or far, or near, or hot, or cold, he had no experience; and in some respects in that of a child of two years old with quick intelligence, keen perceptive powers, capital memory, and child-like sweetness––Kaspar Hauser's story and our common experience go to prove that the labour we spend on developing the 'faculties,' or in cultivating the senses, is largely thrown away. Nature has no need of our endeavours in these directions. Under the most adverse conceivable conditions she can work wonders if let alone. What she cannot away with is our misdirected efforts, which hinder and impede her beneficent work. Nature left to herself hands over every child to its parents and other educators in this condition of acute perceptive powers, keen intelligence, and moral teachableness and sweetness. This solitary instance goes to show that she is even capable of maintaining a human being in this child-like condition until he reaches the verge of manhood.

The Child has every Power that will serve Him. –– What, then, have we to do for the child? Plainly we have not to develop the person; he is there already, with, possibly, every power that will serve him in his passage through life. Some day we shall be told that the very word education is a misnomer belonging to the stage of thought when the drawing forth of 'faculties' was supposed to be a teacher's business. We shall have some fit new word meaning, perhaps, 'applied wisdom,' for wisdom is the science of relations and the thing we have to do for a young human being is to put him in touch, so far as we can, with all the relations proper to him.

Fulness of Living depends on the Establishment of Relations.––We begin to see light, both as to the lines upon which we should form habits and as to that much-vexed question––the subjects of instruction proper for children. We are no longer divided between the claims of the classical and the modern side. We no longer ask ourselves whether it is better to learn a few subjects 'thoroughly,' so we say, or to get a 'smattering' of many. These questions are beside the mark. In considering the relationships which we may initiate for a child, I will begin with what we shall probably be inclined to call the lowest rung of the ladder. We may believe that a person––I have a 'baby person' in view––is put into this most delightful world for the express purpose of forming ties of intimacy, joy, association, and knowledge with the living and moving things that are therein, with what St Francis would have called his brother the mountain and his brother the ant and his brothers in the starry heavens. Fulness of living, joy in life, depend, far more than we know, upon the establishment of these relations. What do we do? We consider the matter carefully; we say the boy will make a jumble of it if he is taught more than one or two sciences. We ask our friends––'What sciences will tell best in examinations?' and, 'Which are most easily learned?' We discover which are the best text-books in the smallest compass. The boy learns up his text, listens to lectures, makes diagrams, watches demonstrations. Behold! he has learned a science and is able to produce facts and figures, for a time any way, in connection with some one class of natural phenomena; but of tender intimacy with Nature herself he has acquired none. Let me sketch what seems to me the better way for the child.

The Power of Recognition.––His parents know that the first step in intimacy is recognition; and they will measure his education, not solely by his progress in the 'three R's,' but by the number of living and growing things he knows by look, name, and habitat. A child of six will note with eager interest the order of time in which the trees put on their leaves; will tell you whether to look in hedge, or meadow, or copse, for eyebright, wood-sorrel, ground-ivy; will not think that flowers were made to be plucked, for––

   'Tis (his) faith that every flower
   Enjoys the air it breathes"––

but will take his friends to see where the milk-wort grows, or the bog-bean, or the sweet-gale. The birds of the air are no longer casual; he soon knows when and where to expect the redstart and the meadow pipit. The water-skater and the dragon-fly are interesting and admired acquaintances. His eyes have sparkled at the beauty of crystals, and, though he may not have been able to find them in situ, he knows the look of the crystals of lime and quartz, and the lovely pink of felspar, and many more.

Æsthetic Appreciation.––Æsthetic appreciation follows close upon recognition, for does he not try from very early days to catch the flower in its beauty of colour and grace of gesture with his own paintbrush? The wise mother is careful to open her child's eyes to another kind of appreciation. She makes him look from a distance at a wild cherry-tree, or at a willow with its soft catkins, and she shows him that the picture on a Japanese screen has caught the very look of the thing, though when he comes to compare a single catkin or a single cherry blossom with those on the screen, there is no portraiture; and so he begins to learn at a very early age that to paint that which we see and that which we know to be there, are two different things, and that the former art is the more gratifying.

First-hand Knowledge.––By-and-by he passes from acquaintance, the pleasant recognition of friendly faces, to knowledge, the sort of knowledge we call science. He begins to notice that there are resemblances between wild-rose and apple blossom, between buttercup and wood-anemone, between the large rhododendron blossom and the tiny heath floret. A suggestion will make him find out accurately what these resemblances are, and he gets the new and delightful idea of families of plants. His little bit of knowledge is real science, because he gets it at first-hand; in his small way he is another Linnæus.

Appreciative Knowledge and Exact Knowledge.––All the time he is storing up associations of delight which will come back for his refreshment when he is an old man. With this sort of appreciative knowledge of things to begin with, the superstructure of exact knowledge, living science, no mere affair of text-books and examinations, is easily raised, because a natural desire is implanted. We might say the same of art, so far, any way, as the appreciation of art goes. The child who has been taught to see, appreciates pictures with discrimination.

How a Child Sets up a New Relation.––This is how a child goes to work to set up a new relation: a little girl of seven was handling an oar for the first time and remarked––'What a lot of crab-water there is to-day!' Then the next day––'There's not near so much crab-water to-day.' She was asked––'How do you know when it's crab-water?' 'Oh! it's so tough and you can't get your oar through, and it knocks you off your seat!' The child was all wrong, of course, but she was getting a scrap of real science and would soon get on the right track. How much better this than to learn out of a text-book, 'the particles which constitute water have no cohesion, and may be readily separated by a solid substance.'

When we consider that the setting up of relations, moral and intellectual, is our chief concern in life, and that the function of education is to put the child in the way of relations proper to him, and to offer the inspiring idea which commonly initiates a relation, we perceive that a little incident like the above may be of more importance than the passing of an examination. 


5Cf. Coleridge's Method