Craftsmanship in Teaching
by William Chandler Bagley
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The difference between the ideal child and the real child,—the difference between what fancy pictures a schoolroom to be and what actual first-hand acquaintance shows that it is, the difference between a preconceived notion and an actual stubborn fact of experience,—these were among the lessons that I learned in these schools. But, at the same time, there was no crass materialism accompanying this teaching. There was no loss of the broader point of view. A fact is a fact, and we cannot get around it,—and this is what scientific method has insisted upon from its inception. But always beyond the fact is its significance, its meaning. That the St. Louis schools have for the last fifty years stood for the larger view; that they have never, so far as I know, exploited the new and the bizarre simply because it was new and strange,—this is due, I believe, to the insight and inspiration of the man[13] who first fashioned the framework of this system, and breathed into it as a system the vitalizing element of idealism. Personally, I have not always been in sympathy with the teachings of the Hegelian philosophy,—I have not always understood them,—but no man could witness the silent, steady, unchecked growth of the St. Louis schools without being firmly and indelibly impressed with dynamic value of a richly conceived and rigidly wrought system of fundamental principles. The cause of education has suffered much from the failure of educators to break loose from the shackles of the past. But it has, in some places, suffered still more from the tendency of the human mind to confuse fundamental principles with the shackles of tradition. The rage for the new and the untried, simply because it is new and untried,—this has been, and is to-day, the rock upon which real educational progress is most likely to be wrecked. This is a rock, I believe, that St. Louis has so far escaped, and I have no doubt that its escape has been due, in large measure, to the careful, rigid, laborious, and yet illuminating manner in which that great captain charted out its course.


Fundamentally, there is, I believe, no discrepancy, no inconsistency, between the scientific spirit in education and what may be called the philosophical spirit. As I have suggested, there are always two dangers that must be avoided: the danger, in the first place, of thinking of the old as essentially bad; and, on the other hand, the danger of thinking of the new and strange and unknown as essentially bad; the danger of confusing a sound conservatism with a blind worship of established custom; and the danger of confusing a sound radicalism with the blind worship of the new and the bizarre.

Let me give you an example of what I mean. There is a rather bitter controversy at present between two factions of science teachers. One faction insists that physics and chemistry and biology should be taught in the high school from the economic point of view,—that the economic applications of these sciences to great human arts, such as engineering and agriculture, should be emphasized at every point,—that a great deal of the material now taught in these sciences is both useless and unattractive to the average high-school pupil. The other faction maintains that such a course would mean the destruction of science as an integral part of the secondary culture course,—that science to be cultural must be pure science,—must be viewed apart from its economic applications,—apart from its relations to the bread-and-butter problem.

Now many of the advocates of the first point of view—many of the people that would emphasize the economic side—are animated by the spirit of change and unrest which dominates our latter-day civilization. They wish to follow the popular demand. "Down with scholasticism!" is their cry; "Down with this blind worship of custom and tradition! Let us do the thing that gives the greatest immediate benefit to our pupils. Let us discard the elements in our courses that are hard and dry and barren of practical results." Now these men, I believe, are basing their argument upon the fallacy of immediate expediency. The old is bad, the new is good. That is their argument. They have no sheet anchor out to windward. They are willing to drift with the gale.

Many of the advocates of the second point of view—many of the people who hold to the old line, pure-science teaching—are, on the other hand, animated by a spirit of irrational conservatism. "Down with radicalism!" they shout; "Down with the innovators! Things that are hard and dry are good mental discipline. They made our fathers strong. They can make our children strong. What was good enough for the great minds of the past is good enough for us."

Now these men, I believe, have gone to the other extreme. They have confused custom and tradition with fundamental and eternal principles. They have thought that, just because a thing is old, it is good, just as their antagonists have thought that just because a thing is new it is good.

In both cases, obviously, the scientific spirit is lacking. The most fundamental of all principles is the principle of truth. And yet these men who are teachers of science are—both classes of them—ruled themselves by dogma. And meantime the sciences are in danger of losing their place in secondary education. The rich promise that was held out a generation ago has not been fulfilled. Within the last decade, the enrollment in the science courses has not increased in proportion to the total enrollment, while the enrollment in Latin (which fifteen years ago was about to be cast upon the educational scrap heap) has grown by leaps and bounds.

Now this is a type of a great many controversies in education. We talk and theorize, but very seldom do we try to find out the actual facts in the case by any adequate tests.

It was the lack of such tests that led us at the University of Illinois to enter upon a series of impartial investigations to see whether we could not take some of these mooted questions out of the realm of eternal controversy, and provide some definite solutions. We chose among others this controversy between the economic scientists and the pure scientists. We took a high-school class and divided it into two sections. We tried to place in each section an equal number of bright and mediocre and dull pupils, so that the conditions would be equalized. Then we chose an excellent teacher, a man who could approach the problem with an open mind, without prejudice or favor. During the present year he has been teaching these parallel sections. In one section he has emphasized economic applications; in the other he has taught the class upon the customary pure-science basis. He has kept a careful record of his work, and at stated intervals he has given both sections the same tests. We propose to carry on this investigation year after year with different classes, different teachers, and in different schools. We are not in a hurry to reach conclusions.

Now I said that the safeguard in all work of this sort is to keep our grip firm and fast on the eternal truths. In this work that I mention we are not trying to prove that either pure science or applied science interests our pupils the more or helps them the more in meeting immediate economic situations. We do not propose to measure the success of either method by its effect upon the bread-winning power of the pupil. What we believe that science teaching should insure, is a grip on the scientific method and an illuminating insight into the forces of nature, and we are simply attempting to see whether the economic applications will make this grip firmer or weaker, and this insight clearer or more obscure. I trust that this point is plain, for it illustrates what I have just said regarding the danger of following a popular demand. We need no experiment to prove that economic science is more useful in the narrow sense than is pure science. What we wish to determine is whether a judicious mixture of the two sorts of teaching will or will not enable us to realize this rich cultural value much more effectively than a traditional purely cultural course.

Now that illustrates what I think is the real and important application of the scientific spirit to the solution of educational problems. You will readily see that it does not do away necessarily with our ideals. It is not necessarily materialistic. It is not necessarily idealistic. Either side may utilize it. It is a quite impersonal factor. But it does promise to take some of our educational problems out of the field of useless and wasteful controversy, and it does promise to get men of conflicting views together,—for, in the case that I have just cited, if we prove that the right admixture of methods may enable us to realize both a cultural and a utilitarian value, there is no reason why the culturists and the utilitarians should not get together, cease their quarreling, take off their coats, and go to work. Few people will deny that bread and butter is a rather essential thing in this life of ours; very few will deny that material prosperity in temperate amounts is good for all of us; and very few also will deny that far more fundamental than bread and butter—far more important than material prosperity—are the great fundamental and eternal truths which man has wrought out of his experience and which are most effectively crystallized in the creations of pure art, the masterpieces of pure literature, and the discoveries of pure science.

Certainly if we of the twentieth century can agree upon any one thing, it is this: That life without toil is a crime, and that any one who enjoys leisure and comfort and the luxuries of living without paying the price of toil is a social parasite. I believe that it is an important function of public education to impress upon each generation the highest ideals of living as well as the arts that are essential to the making of a livelihood, but I wish to protest against the doctrine that these two factors stand over against one another as the positive and negative poles of human existence. In other words, I protest against the notion, that the study of the practical everyday problems of human life is without what we are pleased to call a culture value,—that in the proper study of those problems one is not able to see the operation of fundamental and eternal principles.

I shall readily agree that there is always a grave danger that the trivial and temporary objects of everyday life may be viewed and studied without reference to these fundamental principles. But this danger is certainly no greater than that the permanent and eternal truths be studied without reference to the actual, concrete, workaday world in which we live. I have seen exercises in manual training that had for their purpose the perfection of the pupil in some little art of joinery for which he would, in all probability, have not the slightest use in his later life. But even if he should find use for it, the process was not being taught in the proper way. He was being made conscious only of the little trivial thing, and no part of his instruction was directed toward the much more important, fundamental lesson,—the lesson, namely, that "a little thing may be perfect, but that perfection itself is not a little thing."

I say that I have witnessed such an exercise in the very practical field of manual training. I may add that I went through several such exercises myself, and emerged with a disgust that always recurs to me when I am told that every boy will respond to the stimulus of the hammer and the jack plane. But I should hasten to add that I have also seen what we call the humanities so taught that the pupil has emerged from them with a supreme contempt for the life of labor and a feeling of disgust at the petty and trivial problems of human life which every one must face. I have seen art and literature so taught as to leave their students not with the high purpose to mold their lives in accordance with the high ideals that art and literature represent, not the firm resolution to do what they could to relieve the ugliness of the world where they found it ugly, or to do what they could to ennoble life when they found it vile; but rather with an attitude of calm superiority, as if they were in some way privileged to the delights of aesthetic enjoyment, leaving the baser born to do the world's drudgery.

I have seen the principles of agriculture so taught as to leave with the student the impression that he could raise more corn than his neighbor and sell it at a higher price if he mastered the principles of nitrification; and all without one single reference to the basic principle of conservation upon which the welfare of the human race for all time to come must inevitably depend,—without a single reference to the moral iniquity of waste and sloth and ignorance. But I have also seen men who have mastered the scientific method,—the method of controlled observation, and unprejudiced induction and inference,—in the laboratories of pure science; and who have gained so overweening and hypertrophied a regard for this method that they have considered it too holy to be contaminated by application to practical problems,—who have sneered contemptuously when some adventurer has proposed, for example, to subject the teaching of science itself to the searchlight of scientific method.

I trust that these examples have made my point clear, for it is certainly simple enough. If vocational education means simply that the arts and skills of industrial life are to be transmitted safely from generation to generation, a minimum of educational machinery is all that is necessary, and we do not need to worry much about it. If vocational education means simply this, it need not trouble us much; for economic conditions will sooner or later provide for an effective means of transmission, just as economic conditions will sooner or later perfect, through a blind and empirical process of elimination, the most effective methods of agriculture, as in the case of China and other overpopulated nations of the Orient.

But I take it that we mean by vocational education something more than this, just as we mean by cultural education something more than a veneer of language, history, pure science, and the fine arts. In the former case, the practical problems of life are to be lifted to the plane of fundamental principles; in the latter case, fundamental principles are to be brought down to the plane of present, everyday life. I can see no discrepancy here. To my mind there is no cultural subject that has not its practical outcome, and there is no practical subject that has not its humanizing influence if only we go to some pains to seek it out. I do not object to a subject of instruction that promises to put dollars into the pockets of those that study it. I do object to the mode of teaching that subject which fails to use this effective economic appeal in stimulating a glimpse of the broader vision. I do not object to the subject that appeals to the pupil's curiosity because it informs him of the wonderful deeds that men have done in the past. I do object to that mode of teaching this subject which simply arouses interest in a spectacular deed, and then fails to use this interest in the interpretation of present problems. I do not contend that in either case there must be an explicit pointing of morals and drawing of lessons. But I do contend that the teacher who is in charge of the process should always have this purpose in the forefront of his consciousness, and—now by direct comparison, now by indirection and suggestion—guide his pupils to the goal desired.

I hope that through careful tests, we shall some day be able to demonstrate that there is much that is good and valuable on both sides of every controverted educational question. After all, in this complex and intricate task of teaching to which you and I are devoting our lives, there is too much at stake to permit us for a moment to be dogmatic,—to permit us for a moment to hold ourselves in any other attitude save one of openness and reception to the truth when the truth shall have been demonstrated. Neither your ideas nor mine, nor those of any man or group of men, living or dead, are important enough to stand in the way of the best possible accomplishment of that great task to which we have set our hands.


But I did not propose this morning to talk to you about science as a part of our educational curriculum, but rather about the scientific spirit and the scientific method as effective instruments for the solution of our own peculiar educational problems. I have tried to give you reasons for believing that an adoption of this policy does not necessarily commit us to materialism or to a narrowly economic point of view. I have attempted to show that the scientific method may be applied to the solution of our problems while we still retain our faith in ideals; and that, unless we do retain that faith, our investigations will be without point or meaning.

This problem of vocational education to which I have just referred is one that is likely to remain unsolved until we have made a searching investigation of its factors in the light of scientific method. Some people profess not to be worried by the difficulty of finding time in our elementary and secondary schools for the introduction of the newer subjects making for increased vocational efficiency. They would cut the Gordian knot with one single operation by eliminating enough of the older subjects to make room for the new. I confess that this solution does not appeal to me. Fundamentally the core of the elementary curriculum must, I believe, always be the arts that are essential to every one who lives the social life. In other words, the language arts and the number arts are, and always must be, the fundamentals of elementary education. I do not believe that specialized vocational education should ever be introduced at the expense of thorough training in the subjects that already hold their place in the curriculum. And yet we are confronted by the economic necessity of solving in some way this vocational problem. How are we to do it?

It is here that the scientific method may perhaps come to our aid. The obvious avenue of attack upon this problem is to determine whether we cannot save time and energy, not by the drastic operation of eliminating old subjects, but rather by improving our technique of teaching, so that the waste may be reduced, and the time thus saved given to these new subjects that are so vociferously demanding admission. In Cleveland, for example, the method of teaching spelling has been subjected to a rigid scientific treatment, and, as a result, spelling is being taught to-day vastly better than ever before and with a much smaller expenditure of time and energy. It has been due, very largely, to the application of a few well-known principles which the science of psychology has furnished.

Now that is vastly better than saying that spelling is a subject that takes too much time in our schools and consequently ought forthwith to be eliminated. In all of our school work enough time is undoubtedly wasted to provide ample opportunity for training the child thoroughly in some vocation if we wish to vocationalize him, and I do not think that this would hurt him, even if he does not follow the vocation in later life.

To-day we are attempting to detect these sources of waste in technique. The problems of habit building or memorizing are already well on the way to solution. Careful tests have shown the value of doing memory work in a certain definite way—learning by unit wholes rather than by fragments, for example. Experiments have been conducted to determine the best length of time to give to drill processes, such as spelling, and penmanship, and the fundamental tables of arithmetic. It is already clearly demonstrated that brief periods of intense concentration are more economical than longer periods during which the monotony of repetition fags the mind to a point where it can no longer work effectively. We are also beginning to see from these tests, that a systematic method of attacking such a problem as the memorizing of the tables will do much to save time and promote efficiency. We are finding that it is extremely profitable to instruct children in the technique of learning,—to start them out in the right way by careful example, so that much of the time and energy that was formerly dissipated, may now be conserved.

And there is a suggestion, also, that in the average school, the vast possibilities of the child's latent energy are only imperfectly realized. A friend of mine stumbled accidentally upon this fact by introducing a new method of grading. He divided his pupils into three groups or streams. The group that progressed the fastest was made up of those who averaged 85 per cent and over in their work. A middle group averaged between 75 per cent and 85 per cent in their work, and a third, slow group was made up of those who averaged below 75 per cent. At the end of the first month, he found that a certain proportion of his pupils, who had formerly hovered around the passing grade of 70, began to forge ahead. Many of them easily went into the fastest stream, but they were still satisfied with the minimum standing for that group. In other words, whether we like to admit it or not, most men and women and boys and girls are content with the passing grades, both in school and in life. So common is the phenomenon that we think of the matter fatalistically. But supply a stimulus, raise the standard, and you will find some of these individuals forging up to the next level.

Professor James's doctrine of latent energies bids fair to furnish the solution of a vast number of perplexing educational problems. Certain it is that our pupils of to-day are not overburdened with work. They are sometimes irritated by too many tasks, sometimes dulled by dead routine, sometimes exhilarated to the point of mental ennui by spectacular appeals to immediate interest. But they are seldom overworked, or even worked to within a healthful degree of the fatigue point.

Elementary education has often been accused of transacting its business in small coin,—of dealing with and emphasizing trivialities,—and yet every time that the scientific method touches the field of education, it reveals the fundamental significance of little things. Whether the third-grade pupil should memorize the multiplication tables in the form, "8 times 9 equals 72" or simply "8-9's—72" seems a matter of insignificance in contrast with the larger problems that beset us. And yet scientific investigation tells us clearly and unequivocally that any useless addition to a formula to be memorized increases the time for reducing the formula to memory, and interferes significantly with its recall and application. It may seem a matter of trivial importance whether the pupil increases the subtrahend number or decreases the minuend number when he subtracts digits that involve taking or borrowing; and yet investigation proves that to increase the subtrahend number is by far the simpler process, and eliminates both a source of waste and a source of error, which, in the aggregate, may assume a significance to mental economy that is well worth considering.

In fact, if we are ever to solve the broader, bigger, more attractive problems,—like the problem of vocational education, or the problem of retardation,—we must first find a solution for some of the smaller and seemingly trivial questions of the very existence of which the lay public may be quite unaware, but which you and I know to mean an untold total of waste and inefficiency in the work that we are trying to do.

And one reason why the scientific attitude toward educational problems appeals to me is simply because this attitude carries with it a respect for these seemingly trivial and commonplace problems; for just as the greatest triumph of the teaching art is to get our pupils to see in those things of life that are fleeting and transitory the operation of fundamental and eternal principles, so the glory of the scientific method lies in its power to reveal the significance of the commonplace and to teach us that no slightest detail of our daily work is necessarily devoid of inspiration; that every slightest detail of school method and school management has a meaning and a significance that it is worth our while to ponder.


[Footnote 12: An address delivered before the St. Louis Society of Pedagogy, April 16, 1910.]

[Footnote 13: Dr. W.T. Harris.]




In its widest aspects, the problem of teaching pupils how to study forms a large part of the larger educational problem. It means, not only teaching them how to read books, and to make the content of books part of their own mental capital, but also, and perhaps far more significantly, teaching them how to draw lessons from their own experiences; not only how to observe and classify and draw conclusions, but also how to evaluate their experience—how to judge whether certain things that they do give adequate or inadequate results.

In the narrower sense, however, the art of study may be said to consist in the ability to assimilate the experiences of others, and it is in this narrower sense that I shall discuss the problem to-day. It is not only in books that human experience is recorded, and yet it is true that the reading of books is the most economical means of gaining these experiences; consequently, we may still further narrow our problem to this: How may pupils be trained effectively to glean, through the medium of the printed page, the great lessons of race experience?

The word "study" is thus used in the sense in which most teachers employ it. When we speak of a pupil's studying his lessons, we commonly mean that he is bending over a text-book, attempting to assimilate the contents of the text. Just what it means to study, even in this narrow sense of the term,—just what it means, psychologically, to assimilate even the simplest thoughts of others,—I cannot tell you, and I do not know of any one who can answer this seemingly simple question satisfactorily. We all study, but what happens in our minds when we do study is a mystery. We all do some thinking, and yet the psychology of thinking is the great undiscovered and unexplored region in the field of mental science. Until we know something of the psychology of thinking, we can hope for very little definite information concerning the psychology of study, for study is so intimately bound up with thinking that the two are not to be separated.

But even if it is impossible at the present time to analyze the process of studying, we are pretty well agreed as to what constitutes successful study, and many rules have been formulated for helping pupils to acquire effective habits of study. These rules concern us only indirectly at the present time, for our problem is still narrower in its scope. It has to do with the possibility of so training children in the art of study, not only that they may study effectively in school, but also that they may carry over the habits and methods of study thus acquired into the tasks of later life. In other words, the topic that we are discussing is but one phase of the problem of formal discipline,—the problem of securing a transfer of training from a specific field to other fields; and my purpose is to view this topic of "study" in the light of what we know concerning the possibilities of transfer.

Let me take a specific example. I am not so much concerned with the problem of getting a pupil to master a history lesson quickly and effectively,—not how he may best assimilate the facts concerning the Missouri Compromise, for example. My task is rather to determine how we can make his mastery of the Missouri Compromise a lesson in the general art of study,—how that mastery may help him develop what we used to call the general power of study,—the capacity to apply an effective method of study to other problems, perhaps, very far removed from the history lesson; in other words, how that single lesson may help him in the more general task of finding any type of information when he needs it, of assimilating it once he has found it, and of applying it once he has assimilated it.

In an audience of practical teachers, it is hardly necessary to emphasize the significance of doing this very thing. From one point of view, it may be asserted that the whole future of what we term general education, as distinguished from technical or vocational education, depends upon our ability to solve problems like this, and solve them satisfactorily. We can never justify universal general education beyond the merest rudiments unless we can demonstrate acceptably that the training which general education furnishes will help the individual to solve the everyday problems of his life. Either we must train the pupil in a general way so that he will be able to acquire specialized skill more quickly and more effectively than will the pupil who lacks this general training; or we must give up a large part of the general-culture courses that now occupy an important part in our elementary and secondary curriculums, and replace these with technical and vocational subjects that shall have for their purpose the development of specialized efficiency.

All teachers, I take it, are alive to the grave dangers of the latter policy. Whether we have thought the matter through logically or not we certainly feel strongly that too early specialization will work a serious injury to the cause of education, and, through education, to the larger cause of social advancement and enlightenment. We view with grave foreboding any policy that will shut the door of opportunity to any child, no matter how humble or how unpromising. And yet we also know that, unless the general education that we now offer can be distinctly shown to have a beneficial influence upon specialized efficiency, we shall be forced by economic conditions into this very policy. It is small wonder, then, that so many of our educational discussions and investigations to-day turn upon this problem; and among the various phases of the problem none is more significant than that which is covered by our topic of to-day,—How may we develop in the pupil a general power or capacity for gaining information independently of schools and teachers? If we could adequately develop this power, there is much in the way of specialized instruction that could be safely left to the individual himself. If we could teach him how to study, then we could perhaps trust him to master some of the principles of any calling that he undertakes in so far as these principles can be mastered from books. To teach the child to study effectively is to do the most useful thing that could be done to help him to adjust himself to any environment of modern civilized life into which he may be thrown. For there is one thing that the more radical advocates of a narrow vocational education commonly forget, and that is the constant change that is going on in industrial processes. When we limit our vocational teaching to a mere mastery of technique, there is no guarantee that the process which we teach to-day may not be discarded in five or ten years from to-day. Even the narrower technical principles which are so extremely important to-day may be relatively insignificant by the time that the child whom we are training takes his place in the industrial world. But if we can arm the individual with the more fundamental principles which are fixed for all time; and if, in addition to this, we can teach him how to master the specialized principles which may come into the field unheralded and unexpected, and turn topsy-turvy the older methods of doing his work, then we shall have done much toward helping him in solving that perplexing problem of gaining a livelihood.


I shall not try in this discussion of the problem of study to summarize completely the principles and precepts that have been presented so well in the four books on the subject that have appeared in the last two years. I do not know, in fact, of any book that is more useful to the teacher just at present than Professor Frank McMurry's How to Study and Teaching how to Study. It is a book that is both a help and a delight, for it is clear and well-organized, and written in a vivacious style and with a wealth of concrete illustration that holds the attention from beginning to end. The chief fault that I have to find with it is the fault that I have to find with almost every educational book that comes from the press to-day,—the tendency, namely, to imply that the teacher of to-day is doing very little to solve these troublesome problems. As a matter of fact, many teachers are securing excellent results from their attempts to teach pupils how to study. Otherwise we should not find so many energetic young men to-day who are making an effective individual mastery of the principles of their respective trades and professions independently of schools and teachers. Our attitude toward these questions, far from being that of the pessimist, should be that of the optimist. Our task should be to seek out these successful teachers, and find out how they do their work.

Among the most important points emphasized by the recent writers upon the art of study is the necessity for some form of motivation in the work of mastering the text. We all know that if a pupil feels a distinct need for getting information out of a book, the chances are that he will get it if the book is available and if he can read. To create a problem that will involve in its solution the gaining of such information is, therefore, one of the best approaches to a mastery of the art of study. It is, however, only the beginning. It furnishes the necessary energy, but does not map out the path along which this energy is to be expended. And this is where the greater emphasis, perhaps, is needed.

One of the best teachers that I ever knew taught the subject that we now call agronomy,—a branch of agricultural science that has to do with field crops. I was a mere boy when I sat under his instruction, but certain points in his method of teaching made a most distinct impression upon me. Lectures we had, of course, for lecturing was the orthodox method of class instruction. But this man did something more than merely lecture. He assigned each one of his students a plat of ground on the college farm. Upon this plat of ground, a definite experiment was to be conducted. One of my experiments had to do with the smut of oats. I was to try the effect of treating the seed with hot water in order to see whether it would prevent the fungus from later destroying the ripening grain. The very nature of the problem interested me intensely. I began to wonder about the life-history of this fungus,—how it looked and how it germinated and how it grew and wrought its destructive influence. It was not long before I found myself spending some of my leisure moments in the library trying to find out what was known concerning this subject. I was not so successful as I might have been, but I am confident that I learned more about parasitic fungi under the spur of that curiosity than I should have done in five times the number of hours spent in formal, meaningless study.

But the point of my experience is not that a problem interest had been awakened, but rather that the white heat of that interest was not utilized so completely as it might have been utilized in fixing upon my mind some important details in the general method of running down references and acquiring information. That was the moment to strike, and one serious defect of our school organization to-day is that most teachers, like my teacher at that time, have so much to do that anything like individual attention at such moments is out of the question.

Next to individual attention, probably, the best way to overcome the difficulty is to give class instruction in these matters,—to set aside a definite period for teaching pupils the technique of using books. If one could arouse a sufficiently general problem interest, this sort of instruction could be made most effective. But even if the problem interest is not general, I think that it is well to assume that it exists in some pupils, at least, and to give them the benefit of class instruction in the art of study,—even if some of the seed should fall upon barren soil.

This aspect of teaching pupils how to study is particularly important in the upper grades and the high school, where pupils have sufficiently mastered the technique of reading to be intrusted with individual problems, and where some reference books are commonly available. Chief among these always is the dictionary, and to get pupils to use this ponderous volume effectively is one of the important steps in teaching them how to study. Here, too, it is easy to be pedantic. As I shall insist strenuously a little later, the chief factor in insuring a transfer of training from one subject to another is to leave in the pupil's mind a distinct consciousness that the method that he has been trained to follow is worth while,—that it gets results. The dictionary habit is likely to begin and end within the schoolroom unless steps are taken to insure the operation of this factor. It is easy to overwork the dictionary and to use it fruitlessly, in so great a measure, in fact, that the pupil will never want to see a dictionary again.

Aside from the use of the dictionary, is the use of the helps that modern books provide for finding the information that may be desired,—indices, tables of contents, marginal and cross-references, and the like. These, again, are most significant in the work of the upper grades and the high school, and here again if we wish the skill that is developed in their use to be transferred, we must take pains to see that the pupil really appreciates their value,—that he realizes their time-saving and energy-saving functions. I do not know that there is any better way to do this than to let him flounder around without them for a little so that his sense of their value may be enhanced by contrast.


Another important step emphasized by the recent writers is the need for training children to pick out the significant features in the text or portion of the text that they are reading. This, of course, is work that is to be undertaken from the very moment that they begin to use books. How to do it effectively is a puzzling problem and one that will amply repay study and experimentation by the individual teacher. Much studying of lessons by teachers and pupils together will help, provided that the exercise is spirited and vital, and is not looked upon by the pupils as an easy way of getting out of recitation work. McMurry strongly recommends the marking of books to indicate the topic sentences and the other salient features. Personally, I am sure from my own experience that the assignment is all-important here, and that study questions and problems which can be answered or solved by reference to the text will help matters very much; but care must, of course, be taken that the continued use of such questions does not preclude the pupil's own mastery of the art of study. To eliminate this danger, it is well that the pupils be requested frequently to make out their own lists of questions, and, as speedily as possible, both the questions made by the pupil and those made by the teacher, should be replaced by topical outlines. By taking care that the questions are logically arranged,—that is, that a general question refer to the topic of the paragraph, and other subordinate questions to the subordinate details of the paragraph,—the transition from the questions to the topical outline may be readily made. Simultaneously with this will go the transition in recitation from the question-and-answer type to the topical type; and when you have trained a class into the habit of topical recitation,—when each pupil can talk right through a topic (not around it or underneath it or above it) without the use of "pumping" questions by the teacher,—you have gone a long way toward developing the art of study.

The transfer of this training, however, is quite another matter. There are pupils who can work up excellent topical recitations from their school text-books but who are utterly at sea in getting a grasp on a subject treated in other books. Here again the problem lies in getting the pupil to see the method apart from its content, and to show him that it really brings results that are worth while. If, in our training in the topical method, we are too formal and didactic, the art of study will begin and end right there. It is here that the factor of motivation is of supreme importance. When real problems are raised which require for their solution intelligent reading, the general worth of the method of study can be clearly shown. I do not go so far as to say that the pupil should never be required to study unless he has a real problem that he wishes to solve. In fact, I think that we still have a large place for the formal, systematic mastery of texts by every pupil in our schools. I do contend, however, that the frequent introduction of real problems will give us an opportunity to show the pupil that the method that he has utilized in his more formal school work is adequate and essential to do the thing that appeals to him as worth while. Only in this way, I believe, can we insure that transfer of training which is the important factor from our present standpoint.

And I ought also to say, parenthetically, that we should not interpret too narrowly this word "motivation." Let us remember that what may appeal to the adult as an effective motive does not always appeal to the child as such. Economic motives are the most effective, probably, in our own adult lives, and probably very effective with high-school pupils, but economic motives are not always strong in young children, nor should we wish them to be. It is not always true that the child will approach a school task sympathetically when he knows that the task is an essential preparation for the life that is going on about him. He may work harder at a task in order to get ahead of his fellow-pupils than he would if the motive were to fit him to enter a shop or a factory. Motive is largely a matter of instinct with the child, and he may, indeed, be perfectly satisfied with a school task just as it stands. For example, we all know that children enjoy the right kind of drill. Repetition, especially rhythmic repetition, is instinctive,—it satisfies an inborn need. Where such a condition exists, it is an obvious waste of time to search about for more indirect motives. The economical thing to do is to turn the ready energy of the child into the channel that is already open to it, so long as this procedure fits in with the results that we must secure. I feel like emphasizing this fact, inasmuch as the terms "problem interest" and "motivation" seem most commonly to be associated in the minds of teachers with what we adults term "real" or economic situations. To learn a lesson well may often be a sufficient motive,—may often constitute a "real" situation to the child,—and if it does, it will serve very effectively our purposes in this other task,—namely, getting the pupil to see the worth of the method that we ask him to employ.


There are one or two points of a general nature in connection with the art of study that should be emphasized. In the first place, the upper-grade and high-school pupils are, I believe, mature enough to appreciate in some degree what knowledge really means. One of the fallacies of which I was possessed on completing my work in the lower schools was the belief that there are some men who know everything. I naturally concluded that the superintendent of schools was one of these men; the family physician was another; the leading man in my town was a third; and any one who ever wrote a book was put, ex officio so to speak, into this class without further inquiry. One of the most astounding revelations of my later education was to learn that, after all, the amount of real knowledge in this world, voluminous though it seems, is after all pitiably small. Of opinion and speculation we have a surplus, but of real, downright, hard fact, our capital is still most insignificant. And I wonder if something could not be done in the high school to teach pupils the difference between fact and opinion, and something also of the slow, laborious process through which real facts are accumulated. How many mistakes of life are due to the lack of the judicial attitude right here. What mistakes we all make when we try to evaluate writings outside of our own special field of knowledge or activity. Nothing depresses me to-day quite so much as the readiness with which laymen mistake opinion for fact in the field of psychology and education,—and I suppose that my own hasty acceptance of statements in other fields would have a similar effect upon the specialists of those fields.

Can general education help us out at all in this matter? I have only one or two suggestions to make, and even these may not be worth a great deal. In the recent Polar controversy, the sympathies of the general public were, I think, at the outset with Cook. This was perhaps, natural, and yet the trained mind ought to have withheld judgment for one reason if for no other,—and that one reason was Peary's long Arctic service, his unquestioned mastery of the technique of polar travel, his general reputation for honesty and caution in advancing opinions. By all the lessons that history teaches, Peary's word should have had precedence over Cook's, for Peary was a specialist, while Cook was only an amateur. And yet the general public discounted entirely those lessons, and trusted rather the novice, with what results it is now unnecessary to review,—and in nine cases out of ten, the results will be the same.

Could we not, as part of our work in training pupils to study, also teach them to give some sort of an evaluation to the authorities that they consult? Could we not teach them that, in nine cases out of ten, at least, the man who has the message most worth listening to is the man who has worked the hardest and the longest in his field, and who enjoys the best reputation among his fellow-workers? Sometimes, I admit, the rule does not work, and especially with men whose reputations as authorities have outlived their period of productivity, but even this mistake could be guarded against. Certainly high-school pupils ought distinctly to understand that the authors of their text-books are not always the most learned men or the greatest authorities in the fields that they treat. The use of biographical dictionaries, of the books that are appearing in various fields giving brief biographies and often some authoritative estimate of the workers in these fields, is important in this connection.

McMurry recommends that pupils be encouraged to take a critical attitude toward the principles they are set to master,—to judge, as he says, the soundness and worth of the statements that they learn. This is certainly good advice, and wherever the pupil can intelligently deal with real sources, it is well frequently to have him check up the statements of secondary sources. But, after all, this is the age of the specialist, and to trust one's untrained judgment in a field remote from one's knowledge and experience is likely to lead to unfortunate results. We have all sorts of illustrations from the ignorant man who will not trust the physician or the health official in matters of sanitation; because he lacks the proper perspective, he jumps to the conclusion that the specialist is a fraud. Would it not be well to supplement McMurry's suggestion by the one that I have just made,—that is, that we train pupils how to evaluate authorities as well as facts,—how to protect themselves from the quack and the faker who live like parasites upon the ignorance of laymen, both in medicine, in education, and in Arctic exploration?

And I believe that there is a place, also, in the high school, especially in connection with the work in science and history, for giving pupils some idea of how knowledge is really gained. I should not teach science exclusively by the laboratory method, nor history exclusively by the source method, but I should certainly take frequent opportunity to let pupils work through some simple problems from the beginnings, struggling with the conditions somewhat as the discoverers themselves struggled; following up "blind leads" and toilsomely returning for a fresh start; meeting with discouragement; and finally feeling, perhaps, some of the joy that comes with success after struggle; and all in order that they may know better and appreciate more fully the cost and the worth of that intellectual heritage which the master-minds of the world have bequeathed to the present and the future. And along with this, as they master the principles of science, let them learn also the human side of science,—the story of Newton, withholding his great discovery for years until he could be absolutely certain that it was a law; until he could get the very commonplace but obstreperous moon into harmony with his law of falling bodies;—the story of Darwin, with his twenty-odd years of the most patient and persistent kind of toil; delving into the most unpromising materials, reading the driest books, always on the lookout for the facts that would point the way to the explanation of species;—the story of Morse and his bitter struggle against poverty, and sickness, and innumerable disappointments up to the time when, in advancing years, success crowned his efforts.

All this may seem very remote from the prosaic task of teaching pupils how to study; and yet it will lend its influence toward the attainment of that end. For, after all, we must lead our pupils to see that some books, in spite of their formidable difficulties and their apparent abstractions, are still close to life, and that the truth which lies in books, and which we wish them to assimilate, has been wrought out of human experience, and not brought down miraculously from some remote storehouse of wisdom that is accessible only to the elect. We poke a good deal of fun at book learning nowadays, and there is a pedantic type of book learning that certainly deserves all the ridicule that can be heaped upon it. But it is not wise to carry satire and ridicule too far in any direction, and especially when it may mean creating in young minds a distrust of the force that, more than any other single factor, has operated to raise man above the savage.


To teach the child the art of study means, then, that we take every possible occasion to impress upon his mind the value of study as a means of solving real and vital problems, and that, with this as an incentive, we gradually and persistently and systematically lead him to grasp the method of study as a method,—that is, slowly and gradually to abstract the method from the particular cases to which he applies it and to emotionalize it,—to make it an ideal. Only in this way, so far as we may know, can the art be so generalized as to find ready application in his later life. To this end, it is essential that the steps be taken repeatedly,—not begun to-day and never thought of again until next year,—but daily, even hourly, insuring a little growth. This means, too, not only that the teacher must possess a high degree of patience,—that first principle of pedagogic skill,—but also that he have a comprehensive grasp of the problem, and the ability to separate the woods from the trees, so that, to him at least, the chief aim will never be lost to view.

But, even at its best, the task is a severe one, and we need, here as elsewhere in education, carefully controlled tests and experiments, that will enable us to get at the facts. Above all, let me protest against the incidental theory of teaching pupils how to study. To adopt the incidental policy in any field of education,—whether in arithmetic, or spelling, or reading; whether in developing the power of reasoning or the memory, or the art of study,—is to throw wide open the doors that lead to the lines of least resistance, to lax methods, to easy honors, to weakened mental fiber, and to scamped work. Just as the pernicious doctrine of the subconscious is the first and last refuge of the psycho-faker, so incidental learning is the first and last refuge of soft pedagogy. And I mean by incidental learning, going at a teaching task in an indolent, unreflective, hit-or-miss fashion in the hope that somehow or other from this process will emerge the very definite results that we desire.


[Footnote 14: A paper read before the Superintendents' Section of the Illinois State Teachers' Association, December 29, 1910.]




One way to be definite in education is to formulate as clearly as we can the aims that we hope to realize in every stage of our work. The task of teaching is so complex that, unless we strive earnestly and persistently to reduce it to the simplest possible terms, we are bound to work blindly and ineffectively.

It is only one phase of this topic that I wish to discuss with you this morning. My plea for the definite in education will be limited not only to the field of educational aims and values, but to a small corner of that field. Your morning's program has dealt with the problem of teaching history in the elementary school. I should like, if you are willing, to confine my remarks to this topic, and to attack the specific question, What is the history that we teach in the grades to do for the pupil? I wish to make this limitation, not only because what I have to say will be related to the other topics on the program, but also because this very subject of history is one which the lack of a definite standard of educational value has been keenly felt.

I should admit at the outset that my interest in history is purely educational. I have had no special training in historical research. As you may perhaps infer from my discussion, my acquaintance with historical facts is very far from comprehensive. I speak as a layman in history,—and I do it openly and, perhaps, a little defiantly, for I believe that the last person to pass adequate judgment upon the general educational value of a given department of knowledge is a man who has made the department a life study. I have little faith in what the mathematician has to say regarding the educational value of mathematics for the average elementary pupil, because he is a special pleader and his conclusions cannot escape the coloring of his prejudice. I once knew an enthusiastic brain specialist who maintained that, in every grade of the elementary school, instruction should be required in the anatomy of the human brain. That man was an expert in his own line. He knew more about the structure of the brain than any other living man. But knowing more about brain morphology also implied that he knew less about many other things, and among the things that he knew little about were the needs and capacities of children in the elementary school. He was a special pleader; he had been dealing with his special subject so long that it had assumed a disproportionate value in his eyes. Brain morphology had given him fame, honor, and worldly emoluments. Naturally he would have an exaggerated notion of its value.

It is the same with any other specialist. As specialists in education, you and I are likely to overemphasize the importance of the common school in the scheme of creation. Personally I am convinced that the work of elementary education is the most profoundly significant work in the world; and yet I can realize that I should be no fit person to make comparisons if the welfare of a number of other professions and callings were at stake. I should let an unbiased judge make the final determination.


The first question for which we should seek an answer in connection with the value of any school subject is this: How does it influence conduct? Let me insist at the outset that we cannot be definite by saying simply that we teach history in order to impart instruction. If there is one thing upon which we are all agreed to-day it is this: that it is what our pupils do that counts, not what they know. The knowledge that they may possess has value only in so far as it may directly or indirectly be turned over into action.

Let us not be mistaken upon this point. Knowledge is of the utmost importance, but it is important only as a means to an end—and the end is conduct. If my pupils act in no way more efficiently after they have received my instruction than they would have acted had they never come under my influence, then my work as a teacher is a failure. If their conduct is less efficient, then my work is not only a failure,—it is a catastrophe. The knowledge that I impart may be absolutely true; the interest that I arouse may be intense; the affection that my pupils have for me may be genuine; but all these are but means to an end, and if the end is not attained, the means have been futile.

We have faith that the materials which we pour in at the hopper of sense impression will come out sooner or later at the spout of reaction, transformed by some mysterious process into efficient conduct. While the machinery of the process, like the mills of the gods, certainly grinds slowly, it is some consolation to believe that, at any rate, it does grind; and we are perhaps fain to believe that the exceeding fineness of the grist is responsible for our failure to detect at the spout all of the elements that we have been so careful to pour in at the hopper. What I should like to do is to examine this grinding process rather carefully,—to gain, if possible, some definite notion of the kind of grist we should like to produce, and then to see how the machinery may be made to produce this grist, and in what proportions we must mix the material that we pour into the hopper in order to gain the desired result.

I have said that we must ask of every subject that we teach, How does it influence conduct? Now when we ask this question concerning history a variety of answers are at once proposed. One group of people will assert that the facts of history have value because they can be directly applied to the needs of contemporary life. History, they will tell us, records the experiences of the race, and if we are to act intelligently we must act upon the basis of this experience. History informs us of the mistakes that former generations have made in adjusting themselves to the world. If we know history, we can avoid these mistakes. This type of reasoning may be said to ascribe a utilitarian value to the study of history. It assumes that historical knowledge is directly and immediately applicable to vital problems of the present day.

Now the difficulty with this value, as with many others that seem to have the sanction of reason, is that it does not possess the sanction of practical test. While knowledge doubtless affects in some way the present policy of our own government, it would be very hard to prove that the influence is in any way a direct influence. It is extremely doubtful whether the knowledge that the voters have of the history of their country will be recalled and applied at the ballot box next November. I do not say that the study of history that has been going on in the common schools for a generation will be entirely without effect upon the coming election. I simply maintain that this influence will be indirect,—but I believe that it will be none the less profound. One's vote at the next election will be determined largely by immediate and present conditions. But the way in which one interprets these conditions cannot help being profoundly influenced by one's historical study or lack of such study.

If it is clear, then, that the study of history cannot be justified upon a purely utilitarian basis, we may pass to the consideration of other values that have been proposed. The specialist in history, whose right to legislate upon this matter I have just called into question, will probably emphasize the disciplinary value of this study. Specialists are commonly enthusiastic over the disciplinary value of their special subjects. Their own minds have been so well developed by the pursuit of their special branches that they are impelled to recommend the same discipline for all minds. Again, we must not blame the specialist in history, for you and I think the same about our own special type of activity.

From the disciplinary point of view, the study of history is supposed to give one the mastery of a special method of reasoning. Historical method involves, above all else, the careful sifting of evidence, the minutest scrutiny of sources in order to judge whether or not the records are authentic, and the utmost care in coming to conclusions. Now it will be generally agreed that these are desirable types of skill to possess whether one is an historian or a lawyer or a teacher or a man of business. And yet, as in all types of discipline, the difficulty lies, not so much in acquiring the specific skill, as in transferring the skill thus acquired to other fields of activity. Skill of any sort is made up of a multitude of little specific habits, and it is a current theory that habit functions effectively only in the specific situation in which it has been built up, or in situations closely similar. But whether this is true or not it is obvious that the teaching of elementary history provides very few opportunities for this type of training.

A third view of the way in which historical knowledge is thought to work into action may be discussed under the head of the cultural value. History, like literature, is commonly assumed to give to the individual who studies it, a certain amount of that commodity which the world calls culture. Precisely what culture consists in, no one, apparently, is ready to tell us, but we all admit that it is real, if not tangible and definable, nor can we deny that the individual who possesses culture conducts himself, as a rule, differently from the individual who does not possess it. In other words, culture is a practical thing, for the only things that are practical are the things that modify or control human action.

It is doubtless true that the study of history does add to this intangible something that we call "culture," but the difficulty with this value lies in the fact that, even after we have accepted it as valid, we are in no way better off regarding our methods. Like many other theories, its truth is not to be denied, but its truth gives us no inkling of a solution of our problem. What we need is an educational value of history, the recognition of which will enable us to formulate a method for realizing the value.


The unsatisfactory character of these three values that have been proposed for history—the utilitarian, the disciplinary, and the cultural—is typical of the values that have been proposed for other subjects. Unless the aim of teaching any given subject can be stated in definite terms, the teacher must work very largely in the dark; his efforts must be largely of the "hit-or-miss" order. The desired value may be realized under these conditions, but, if it is realized, it is manifestly through accident, not through intelligent design. It is needless to point out the waste that such a blundering and haphazard adjustment entails. We all know how much of our teaching fails to hit the mark, even when we are clear concerning the result that we desire; we can only conjecture how much of the remainder fails of effect because we are hazy and obscure concerning its purpose.

Let us return to our original basic principle and see what light it may throw upon our problem. We have said that the efficiency of teaching must always be measured by the degree in which the pupil's conduct is modified. Taking conduct as our base, then, let us reason back and see what factors control conduct, and, if possible, how these "controls" may be influenced by the processes of education working through the lesson in history.

I shall start with a very simple and apparently trivial example. When I was living in the Far West, I came to know something of the Chinese, who are largely engaged, as you know, in domestic service in that part of the country. Most of the Chinese servants that I met corresponded very closely with what we read concerning Chinese character. We have all heard of the Chinese servant's unswerving adherence to a routine that he has once established. They say in the West that when a housewife gives her Chinese servant an object lesson in the preparation of a certain dish, she must always be very careful to make her demonstration perfect the first time. If, inadvertently, she adds one egg too many, she will find that, in spite of her protestations, the superfluous egg will always go into that preparation forever afterward. From what I know of the typical Oriental, I am sure that this warning is not overdrawn.

Now here is a bit of conduct, a bit of adjustment, that characterizes the Chinese cook. Not only that, but, in a general way, it is peculiar to all Chinese, and hence may be called a national trait. We might call it a vigorous national prejudice in favor of precedent. But whatever we call it, it is a very dominant force in Chinese life. It is the trait that, perhaps more than any other, distinguishes Chinese conduct from European or American conduct. Now one might think this trait to be instinctive,—to be bred in the bone rather than acquired,—but this I am convinced is not altogether true. At least one Chinese whom I knew did not possess it at all. He was born on a western ranch and his parents died soon after his birth. He was brought up with the children of the ranch owner, and is now a prosperous rancher himself. He lacks every characteristic that we commonly associate with the Chinese, save only the physical features. His hair is straight, his skin is saffron, his eyes are slightly aslant,—but that is all. As far as his conduct goes,—and that is the essential thing,—he is an American. In other words, his traits, his tendencies to action, are American and not Chinese. His life represents the triumph of environment over heredity.

When you visit England you find yourselves among a people who speak the same language that you speak,—or, perhaps it would be better to say, somewhat the same; at least you can understand each other. In a great many respects, the Englishman and the American are similar in their traits, but in a great many other respects they differ radically. You cannot, from your knowledge of American traits, judge what an Englishman's conduct will be upon every occasion. If you happened on Piccadilly of a rainy morning, for example, you would see the English clerks and storekeepers and professional men riding to their work on the omnibuses that thread their way slowly through the crowded thoroughfare. No matter how rainy the morning, these men would be seated on the tops of the omnibuses, although the interior seats might be quite unoccupied. No matter how rainy the morning, many of these men would be faultlessly attired in top hats and frock coats, and there they would sit through the drizzling rain, protecting themselves most inadequately with their opened umbrellas. Now there is a bit of conduct that you cannot find duplicated in any American city. It is a national habit,—or, perhaps, it would be better to say, it is an expression of a national trait,—and that national trait is a prejudice in favor of convention. It is the thing to do, and the typical Englishman does it, just as, when he is sent as civil governor to some lonely outpost in India, with no companions except scantily clad native servants, he always dresses conscientiously for dinner and sits down to his solitary meal clad in the conventional swallow-tail coat of civilization.

Now the way in which a Chinese cook prepares a custard, or the way in which an English merchant rides in an omnibus, may be trivial and unimportant matters in themselves, and yet, like the straw that shows which way the wind blows, they are indicative of vast and profound currents. The conservatism of the Chinese empire is only a larger and more comprehensive expression of the same trait or prejudice that leads the cook to copy literally his model. The present educational situation in England is only another expression of that same prejudice in favor of the established order, which finds expression in the merchant on the Piccadilly omnibus.

Whenever you pass from one country to another you will find this difference in tendencies to action. In Germany, for example, you will find something that amounts almost to a national fervor for economy and frugality. You will find it expressing itself in the care with which the German housewife does her marketing. You will find it expressing itself in the intensive methods of agriculture, through which scarcely a square inch of arable land is permitted to lie fallow,—through which, for example, even the shade trees by the roadside furnish fruit as well as shade, and are annually rented for their fruit value to industrious members of the community,—and it is said in one section of Germany that the only people known to steal fruit from these trees along the lonely country roads are American tourists, who, you will see, also have their peculiar standards of conduct. You will find this same fervor for frugality and economy expressing itself most extensively in that splendid forest policy by means of which the German states have conserved their magnificent timber resources.

But, whatever its expression, it is the same trait,—a trait born of generations of struggle with an unyielding soil, and yet a trait which, combined with the German fervor for science and education, has made possible the marvelous progress that Germany has made within the last half century.

What do we mean by national traits? Simply this: prejudices or tendencies toward certain typical forms of conduct, common to a given people. It is this community of conduct that constitutes a nation. A country whose people have different standards of action must be a divided country, as our own American history sufficiently demonstrates. Unless upon the vital questions of human adjustment, men are able to agree, they cannot live together in peace. If we are a distinctive and unique nation,—if we hold a distinctive and unique place among the nations of the globe,—it is because you and I and the other inhabitants of our country have developed distinctive and unique ideals and prejudices and standards, all of which unite to produce a community of conduct. And once granting that our national characteristics are worth while, that they constitute a distinct advance over the characteristics of the other nations of the earth, it becomes the manifest duty of the school to do its share in perpetuating these ideals and prejudices and standards. Once let these atrophy through disuse, once let them fail of transmission because of the decay of the home, or the decay of the school, or the decay of the social institutions that typify and express them, and our country must go the way of Greece and Rome, and, although our blood may thereafter continue pure and unmixed, and our physical characteristics may be passed on from generation to generation unchanged in form, our nation will be only a memory, and its history ancient history. Some of the Greeks of to-day are the lineal descendants of the Athenians and Spartans, but the ancient Greek standards of conduct, the Greek ideals, died twenty centuries ago, to be resurrected, it is true, by the renaissance, and to enjoy the glorious privilege of a new and wider sphere of life,—but among an alien people, and under a northern sun.

And so the true aim of the study of history in the elementary school is not the realization of its utilitarian, its cultural, or its disciplinary value. It is not a mere assimilation of facts concerning historical events, nor the memorizing of dates, nor the picturing of battles, nor the learning of lists of presidents,—although each of these factors has its place in fulfilling the function of historical study. The true function of national history in our elementary schools is to establish in the pupils' minds those ideals and standards of action which differentiate the American people from the rest of the world, and especially to fortify these ideals and standards by a description of the events and conditions through which they developed. It is not the facts of history that are to be applied to the problems of life; it is rather the emotional attitude, the point of view, that comes not from memorizing, but from appreciating, the facts. A mere fact has never yet had a profound influence over human conduct. A principle that is accepted by the head and not by the heart has never yet stained a battle field nor turned the tide of a popular election. Men act, not as they think, but as they feel, and it is not the idea, but the ideal, that is important in history.


But what are the specific ideals and standards for which our nation stands and which distinguish, in a very broad but yet explicit manner, our conduct from the conduct of other peoples? If we were to ask this question of an older country, we could more easily obtain an answer, for in the older countries the national ideals have, in many cases, reached an advanced point of self-consciousness. The educational machinery of the German empire, for example, turns upon this problem of impressing the national ideals. It is one aim of the official courses of study, for instance, that history shall be so taught that the pupils will gain an overweening reverence for the reigning house of Hohenzollern. Nor is that newer ideal of national unity which had its seed sown in the Franco-Prussian War in any danger of neglect by the watchful eye of the government. Not only must the teacher impress it upon every occasion, but every attempt is also made to bring it daily fresh to the minds of the people through great monuments and memorials. Scarcely a hamlet is so small that it does not possess its Bismarck Denkmal, often situated upon some commanding hill, telling to each generation, in the sublime poetry of form, the greatness of the man who made German unity a reality instead of a dream.

But in our country, we do not thus consciously formulate and express our national ideals. We recognize them rather with averted face as the adolescent boy recognizes any virtue that he may possess, as if half-ashamed of his weakness. We have monuments to our heroes, it is true, but they are often inaccessible, and as often they fail to convey in any adequate manner, the greatness of the lessons which the lives of these heroes represent. Where Germany has a hundred or more impressive memorials to the genius of Bismarck, we have but one adequate memorial to the genius of Washington, while for Lincoln, who represents the typical American standards of life and conduct more faithfully than any other one character in our history, we have no memorial that is at all adequate,—and we should have a thousand. Some day our people will awake to the possibilities that inhere in these palpable expressions of the impalpable things for which our country stands. We shall come to recognize the vast educative importance of perpetuating, in every possible way, the deep truths that have been established at the cost of so much blood and treasure.

To embody our national ideals in the personages of the great figures of history who did so much to establish them is the most elementary method of insuring their conservation and transmission. We are beginning to appreciate the value of this method in our introductory courses of history in the intermediate and lower grammar grades. The historical study outlined for these grades in most of our state and city school programs includes mainly biographical materials. As long as the purpose of this study is kept steadily in view by the teacher, its value may be very richly realized. The danger lies in an obscure conception of the purpose. We are always too prone to teach history didactically, and to teach biographical history didactically is to miss the mark entirely. The aim here is not primarily instruction, but inspiration; not merely learning, but also appreciation. To tell the story of Lincoln's life in such a way that its true value will be realized requires first upon the part of the teacher a sincere appreciation of the great lesson of Lincoln's life. Lincoln typifies the most significant and representative of American ideals. His career stands for and illustrates the greatest of our national principles,—the principle of equality,—not the equality of birth, not the equality of social station, but the equality of opportunity. That a child of the lowliest birth, reared under conditions apparently the most unfavorable for rich development, limited by the sternest poverty, by lack of formal education, by lack of family pride and traditions, by lack of an environment of culture, by the hard necessity of earning his own livelihood almost from earliest childhood,—that such a man should attain to the highest station in the land and the proudest eminence in its history, and should have acquired from the apparently unfavorable environment of his early life the very qualities that made him so efficient in that station and so permanent in that eminence,—this is a miracle that only America could produce. It is this conception that the teacher must have, and this he must, in some measure, impress upon his pupils.


In the teaching of history in the elementary school, the biographical treatment is followed in the later grammar grades by a systematic study of the main events of American history. Here the method is different, but the purpose is the same. This purpose is, I take it, to show how our ideals and standards have developed, through what struggles and conflicts they have become firmly established; and the aim must be to have our pupils relive, as vividly as possible, the pain and the struggles and the striving and the triumph, to the end that they may appreciate, however feebly, the heritage that is theirs.

Here again it is not the facts as such that are important, but the emotional appreciation of the facts, and to this end, the coloring must be rich, the pictures vivid, the contrasts sharply drawn. The successful teacher of history has the gift of making real the past. His pupils struggle with Columbus against a frightened, ignorant, mutinous crew; they toil with the Pilgrim fathers to conquer the wilderness; they follow the bloody trail of the Deerfield victims through the forest to Canada; they too resist the encroachments of the Mother Country upon their rights as English citizens; they suffer through the long winter at Valley Forge and join with Washington in his midnight vigils; they rejoice at Yorktown; they dream with Jefferson and plead with Webster; their hearts are fired with the news of Sumter; they clinch their teeth at Bull Run; they gather hope at Donelson, but they shudder at Shiloh; they struggle through the Wilderness with Grant; tired but triumphant, they march home from Appomattox; and through it all, in virtue of the limitless capacities of vicarious experience, they have shared the agonies of Lincoln.

Professor Mace, in his essay on Method in History, tells us that there are two distinct phases to every historical event. These are the event itself and the human feeling that brought it forth. It has seemed to me that there are three phases,—the event itself, the feeling that brought it forth, and the feeling to which it gave birth; for no event is historically important unless it has transformed in some way the ideals and standards of the people,—unless it has shifted, in some way, their point of view, and made them act differently from the way in which they would have acted had the event never occurred. One leading purpose in the teaching of history is to show how ideals have been transformed, how we have come to have standards different from those that were once held.

Many of our national ideals have their roots deep down in English history. Not long ago I heard a seventh-grade class discussing the Magna Charta. It was a class in American history, and yet the events that the pupils had been studying occurred three centuries before the discovery of America. They had become familiar with the long list of abuses that led to the granting of the charter. They could tell very glibly what this great document did for the English people. They traced in detail the subsequent events that led to the establishment of the House of Commons. All this was American history just as truly as if the events described had occurred on American soil. They were gaining an appreciation of one of the most fundamental of our national ideals,—the ideal of popular government. And not only that, but they were studying popular government in its simplest form, uncomplicated by the innumerable details and the elaborate organizations which characterize popular government to-day.

And when these pupils come to the time when this ideal of self-government was transplanted to American soil, they will be ready to trace with intelligence the changes that it took on. They will appreciate the marked influence which geographical conditions exert in shaping national standards of action. How richly American history reveals and illustrates this influence we are only just now beginning to appreciate. The French and the English colonists developed different types of national character partly because they were placed under different geographical conditions. The St. Lawrence and the Great Lakes gave the French an easy means of access into the vast interior of the continent, and provided innumerable temptations to exploitation rather than a few incentives to development. Where the French influence was dispersed over a wide territory, the English influence was concentrated. As a consequence, the English energy went to the development of resources that were none too abundant, and to the establishment of permanent institutions that would conserve these resources. The barrier of the Appalachians hemmed them in,—three hundred miles of alternate ridge and valley kept them from the West until they were numerically able to settle rather than to exploit this country. Not a little credit for the ultimate English domination of the continent must be given to these geographical conditions.

But geography does not tell the whole story. The French colonists differed from the English colonists from the outset in standards of conduct. They had brought with them the principle of paternalism, and, in time of trouble, they looked to France for support. The English colonists brought with them the principle of self-reliance and, in time of trouble, they looked only to themselves. And so the old English ideals had a new birth and a broader field of application on American soil. There is nothing finer in our country's history than the attitude of the New England colonists during the intercolonial wars. Their northern frontier covering two hundred miles of unprotected territory was constantly open to the incursions of the French from Canada and their Indian allies, to appease whom the French organized their raids. And yet, so deeply implanted was this ideal of self-reliance that New England scarcely thought of asking aid of the mother country and would have protested to the last against the permanent establishment of a military garrison within her limits. For a period extending over fifty years, New England protected her own borders. She felt the terrors of savage warfare in its most sanguinary forms. And yet, uncomplaining, she taxed herself to repel the invaders. The people loved their own independence too much to part with it, even for the sake of peace, prosperity, and security. At a later date, unknown to the mother country, they raised and equipped from their own young men and at their own expense, the punitive expedition that, in the face of seemingly certain defeat, captured the French fortress at Louisburg, and gave to English military annals one of its most brilliant victories. To get the pupil to live through these struggles, to feel the impetus of idealism upon conduct, to appreciate what that almost forgotten half-century of conflict meant to the development of our national character, would be to realize the greatest value that colonial history can have for its students. It lays bare the source of that strength which made New England preeminent in the Revolution, and which has placed the mint mark of New England idealism upon the coin of American character. Could a pupil who has lived vicariously through such experiences as these easily forsake principle for policy?

A newspaper cartoon published a year or so ago, gives some notion of the danger that we are now facing of losing that idealism upon which our country was founded. The cartoon represents the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The worthies are standing about the table dressed in the knee breeches and flowing coats of the day, with wigs conventionally powdered and that stately bearing which characterizes the typical historical painting. John Hancock is seated at the table prepared to make his name immortal. A figure, however, has just appeared in the doorway. It is the cartoonist's conventional conception of the modern Captain of Industry. His silk hat is on the back of his head as if he had just come from his office as fast as his forty-horse-power automobile could carry him. His portly form shows evidences of intense excitement. He is holding his hand aloft to stay the proceedings, while from his lips comes the stage whisper: "Gentlemen, stop! You will hurt business!" What would those old New England fathers think, could they know that such a conception may be taken as representing a well-recognized tendency of the present day? And remember, too, that those old heroes had something of a passion for trade themselves.

But when we seek for the source of our most important national ideal,—the ideal that we have called equality of opportunity,—we must look to another part of the country. The typical Americanism that is represented by Lincoln owes its origin, I believe, very largely to geographical factors. It could have been developed only under certain conditions and these conditions the Middle West alone provided. The settling of the Middle West in the latter part of the eighteenth and the early part of the nineteenth centuries was part and parcel of a rigid logic of events. As Miss Semple so clearly points out in her work on the geographic conditions of American history, the Atlantic seaboard sloped toward the sea and its people held their faces eastward. They were never cut off from easy communication with the Old World, and consequently they were never quite freed from the Old World prejudices and standards. But the movement across the mountains gave rise to a new condition. The faces of the people were turned westward, and cut off from easy communication with the Old World, they developed a new set of ideals and standards under the stress of new conditions. Chief among these conditions was the immensity and richness of the territory that they were settling. The vastness of their outlook and the wealth of their resources confirmed and extended the ideals of self-reliance that they had brought with them from the seaboard. But on the seaboard, the Old World notion of social classes, the prestige of family and station, still held sway. The development of the Middle West would have been impossible under so severe a handicap. With resources so great, every stimulus must be given to individual achievement. Nothing must be permitted to stand in its way. The man who could do things, the man who could most effectively turn the forces of nature to serve the needs of society, was the man who was selected for preferment, no matter what his birth, no matter what the station of his family.

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