How To Study and Teaching How To Study
by F. M. McMurry
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

This exceptional caution must become habitual with the student if he is to study effectively. He must look for the principal thought until he finds it; and, having found it, he must nurse it by recalling it every few minutes, while using it as a basis for determination of values.

Rapid reading and its method among scholars.

That various rates of reading are desirable, even to the point of skipping over much matter, is indicated by the way in which some eminent men have studied. For instance, Joseph Cook in his Hints for Home Reading remarks, "It is said that Carlyle reads on an average a dozen books a day. Of course he examines them chiefly with his fingers, and after long practice is able to find at once the jugular vein and carotid artery of any author." Likewise, "John Quincy Adams was said to have 'a carnivorous instinct for the jugular vein' of an argument." [Footnote: Page 80.] "Rapid reading," says Koopman, [Footnote: Koopman, The Mastery of Books, p. 47.] "is the... difficult art of skipping needless words and sentences. To recognize them as needless without reading them, is a feat that would be thought impossible, if scholars everywhere did not daily perform it. With the turning of a few leaves to pluck out the heart of a book's mystery—this is the high art of reading, the crowning proof that the reader has attained the mastery of books." The fact that the first and last parts of both paragraphs and chapters very often reveal their leading thought, is of course a great aid in such rapid reading.

Is the spirit of induction here opposed?

It is pertinent to ask whether this method of study does not oppose the spirit of induction. Men like Carlyle seem to ignore that spirit when they turn quickly to the central ideas or a book and, after reading these, cast the work aside. It should be remembered, however, that the minds of such men are so well stocked with information that most, and sometimes all, of the author's details may be unnecessary to them; they are already prepared for the generalization.

The ordinary student, proceeding more slowly, can also be on the watch at the start for the main issues, without offending against induction. In so doing he is not necessarily attempting to master the abstractions first; he may be merely trying to find out what the main questions are, in order to supply himself with a guide.

Many an author states his principal problem near the beginning of his treatment, and then it is easy for the reader or listener to view all the details in its light. But when this is not the case, the student must go in quest of it in order to get the setting for all the statements, rather than in order to assimilate it. He must see the whole in some perspective before he can study the parts intelligently. The worth of specific purposes as discussed in pp. 31-60 is clearly seen in this connection.

Relation of such neglect to thoroughness. 1. A common conception of thoroughness and its influence on practice.

It is of vital importance further to inquire what relation such neglect bears to thoroughness in study.

The answer depends upon the meaning attached to the word thorough. We often hear it said that "Trifles make perfection, and perfection is no trifle"; also that "thoroughness has to do with details." Again, as a warning against carelessness in little matters, we are told that—

For the want of a nail the shoe was lost. For the want of a shoe the horse was lost. For the want of the horse the rider was lost. For the want of the rider the battle was lost. For the loss of the battle the kingdom was lost.

There is certainly a valuable truth in these maxims, and some people, therefore, accept them at their face value. Calling to mind that many of the greatest discoveries have hinged on seemingly insignificant facts, and that the world-renowned German scientists are distinguished by infinite pains in regard to details, they conceive that the student is primarily concerned with trifles. Knowing that the dollars will take care of themselves if the dimes are carefully saved, they reason that knowledge is properly mastered if the little things receive close attention. It becomes their ambition, therefore, to let nothing that is little escape them. In this spirit the conscientious student, largely identifying conscientiousness with thoroughness, keeps a special watch for little things, feeling that the smaller an item is the more fully it tests his thoroughness, and the more meritorious he is if he attends to it.

The influence of this notion of thoroughness upon practice has been marked in some schools. And since spelling furnishes excellent material for testing care for details, that subject has often been given high rank partly for that special reason. I have known one large training school for teachers in which for twenty years and more probably more time and energy on the part of both faculty and students were expended on spelling than on any other single subject. It was unpardonable not to cross the t or dot the i, not to insert the hyphen or the period. Having written a word in spelling, it was a heinous offense to change it after second thought, and a dozen misspelled words per term seriously endangered one's diploma at the end of the three-year course.

No one can deny great merit to such strenuousness. So definite an aim, applied to all subjects and relentlessly pursued by a whole faculty,—as was the case in this school,—compelled students to work till they overworked, and the school was therefore regarded as excellent. Yet this conception makes thoroughness a purely quantitative matter; it accepts thoroughness as meaning throughness or completeness, signifying the inclusion of everything from "beginning to end," or from "cover to cover."

2. The correct notion of thoroughness.

This notion of thoroughness, however, is certainly wrong in opposing all neglect; and the above-quoted maxims show themselves, in their disregard for relative values, to be only half truths, In the school just mentioned there was small emphasis of relative worths and of the use of judgment in the choice of objects to receive one's attention. As thoroughness consisted in attention to details, little things became per se worthy of study, and comparative worth was on that account overlooked.

But, as we have seen, there is no hope of mastering all the ideas connected with any topic, so that the student must be reconciled to the exercise of judgment in making selection. This choice must be exercised, too, among the details themselves; it is not confined to a selection of the large thoughts in distinction from the details. Details vary infinitely among themselves in value; some, like the horseshoe nail, easily bear a vital relation to large results; others, like the use of a hyphen in a word, in all probability bear no important relation to anything. Those that have this vital relation are essential and need careful attention; the others are non-essential and deserve for that reason to be neglected. In other words, thoroughness is a qualitative rather than a quantitative matter; it is qualitative because it involves careful selection in accordance with the nature and relation of the details. The student, to whom thoroughness is a question of allness needs mental endurance as a chief virtue; the real student, on the other hand, requires constant exercise of judgment. In brief, the proper kind of thoroughness calls for a good degree of good sense.

The thoroughness that is here advocated implies no underestimate of little things; it only condemns want of discrimination among them. Even the painstaking German scientist is no devotee to all things that are little. Carrying on his investigation with reference to some definite problem, he is concerned only with such details as are closely related to it. If he is uncertain just what so-called little things do relate to it,—as has been the case, for instance, in the investigation of the cause of yellow fever,—he carefully investigates one thing after another. But in so doing he discriminates very sharply among details, throwing many aside without hesitation, briefly examining some, and finally settling on certain ones for exhaustive study.

It is only those little things that are thus related to something of real value that deserve attention. The mathematician is a stickler for little things. He insists that figures should be plainly made, and that 1 + 1 should never be allowed to equal 3. He is wholly in the right, because the slightest error in reading a number, in placing a decimal point, or in finding a sum must vitiate the whole result. Little things of that sort are called little, but they are in reality big.

It is unfortunate that such matters are often called trifles, for a trifle is usually supposed to be something that is of very little account; the name thus misleads. Such details are essential; other details are non-essential. It would be well if people would more generally divide details into these two classes, and apply the term trifles only to the latter sort. By neglecting non-essentials one could find more time for the details that are essential. Neglect of some things, therefore, instead of being opposed to thoroughness, is a direct and necessary means to it.

One cannot deny that this notion of thoroughness has its dangers, for it places the responsibility upon the student of using his own judgment. That is always dangerous. If the student lacks earnestness, or insight, or balance, he is bound to make mistakes. He is likely to make them anyway; and he may merely pick and choose according to comfort or whim, and do the most desultory, careless studying. It would be easier for him to "look out for all the little things" than to discriminate among them, for intelligent selection requires more real thinking.

The dangers in these conceptions, and the conclusion. 1. The danger in this conception of thoroughness.

On the other hand, it should be remembered that neglect of details in general has not been advocated; it is only a judicious selection among them. And such selection calls for no more energy or ability than selection among larger facts. If we can trust students at all to distinguish values among the larger thoughts—as every one knows that we must—there is the same reason for trusting them to distinguish the relative worths of details.

2. The danger in the alternative plan.

The dangers of the alternative plan should also be borne in mind. Suppose that a capable student is taught to let no trifles escape him. The danger then is that, to the extent that he is earnest, he will fall in love with little things, until his vision for larger things becomes clouded. He may always be intending to pass beyond these to the larger issues; but he is in danger of failing so regularly that he will come in time to value details in themselves, not for what they lead to; the details become the large things, and the really large matters are forgotten.

A former professor in a large normal school illustrated this tendency exactly. At sixty years of age he was an unusually well-informed, cultured man, but he had developed a mania for little things. He had charge of the practice department, and each fall term it was customary to receive applications from about two hundred students for the practice teaching for that term. Each applicant filled out a blank, giving his name, age, preferred study to teach, preferred age of children, and experience in teaching. These papers had to be briefly examined; then at four o'clock in the afternoon of the same first day all these applicants were to be called together in one group for instructions about their teaching. By this arrangement the practice teaching could be started off very promptly.

On one occasion in the writer's knowledge, however, this gentleman could not resist the temptation to blue-pencil every mistake in spelling, punctuation, grammar, etc., that he could find in this entire set of papers, which must have occupied nearly two hours. Meanwhile, this task was so hugely absorbing, he entirely forgot to notify the two hundred applicants that they were wanted at four o'clock, and thus one day out of a year of less than two hundred was largely lost for the practice teaching.

The main fault of half of the good teachers in the elementary schools to-day is over-conscientiousness about little things. Believing that every mistake in written work should be corrected, that the blackboard should be kept thoroughly clean, that each day's lessons should be carefully planned, that, in short, every little duty should be well performed, they putter away at such tasks until there is no time left for much larger duties, such as physical exercise, sociability, and general reading. As a result they become habitually tired, unsympathetic, and narrow, and therefore schoolish. It is a strange commentary on education when conscientiousness means particular care for little things, as it very often does among teachers. It is desirable that a teacher prepare each day's lessons in full, and that she do a hundred other things each day, as well. But when she cannot do all these—and she never can—it is highly important that she apportion her time according to relative values; for instance, it is far better that she omit some of her preparation of lessons for the sake of recreation, if recreation would otherwise be omitted. People are unfitted for the work of life until they view it in fair perspective. One of the important objects of abundant and broad educational theory for teachers is to help them preserve the proper balance between large and small things; and, owing to the common tendency to neglect the larger things for the smaller, one of the prominent duties of school principals and supervisors is to remind both teachers and students of the larger values in life in general and in study in particular.

3. The conclusion.

It is evident that grave dangers are at hand, whether one slights some details or attempts to master them all. But no matter what the dangers are, there is one right thing for the student to do, that is, to develop the habit of weighing worths, of sensing the relative values of the facts that he meets. Good judgment consists largely in the proper appreciation of relative values; and since that is one of the very prominent factors in successful living, as well as in study, it is one of the most important abilities for the student to cultivate.

Not only the equal valuation of all details, but the treatment of various rules and virtues as absolute, is likewise directly hostile to this habit of mind. Young people who are taught to be always economical, or always punctual, or always regular, are thereby tempted to substitute thoughtless obedience for exercise of judgment. It is not always wise to be saving. A certain college boy owned three pairs of gloves; one pair was so old and soiled that it was suitable only for use in the care of the furnace; the other two pairs were quite new. However, having been taught to be always saving, he wore the old pair to college during much of his senior year, and saved the other two. He was true to his early teaching at the expense of good sense.

There are few circumstances in life that can be properly treated by rule of thumb. Good judgment is called for at every turn; and the habit of considering relative values in regard to all affairs is one that the student should constantly cultivate, no matter what dangers have to be encountered.


This ability is so intimately related to the ability that is necessary in grouping related facts that the one can hardly exist without the other. Yet it is well to observe what a demand there is for neglect in ordinary school work, and how this demand is met by children. Mistakes in beginning reading are very common, such as saying a for an, the for thu, not pausing for a comma, leaving out a word, putting in a word, etc. When fairy tales are related, slight omissions, mistakes in grammar, too frequent use of and, etc. are to be expected. In the pupil's board work, penmanship, and written composition minor errors are innumerable. What is to be done with all these? Certainly many of them must be entirely passed over, or more important things will never be reached.

In their literature and in their reference books many little difficulties are met with that must likewise be overlooked. Take for instance the following typical paragraph from Hawthorne's Gorgon's Head:

"Well, then," continued the king, still with a cunning smile on his lips, "I have a little adventure to propose to you; and, as you are a brave and enterprising youth, you will doubtless look upon it as a great piece of good luck to have so rare an opportunity of distinguishing yourself. You must know, my good Perseus, I think of getting married to the beautiful Princess Hippodamia; and it is customary, on these occasions, to make the bride a present of some far-fetched and elegant curiosity. I have been a little perplexed, I must honestly confess, where to obtain anything likely to please a princess of her exquisite taste. But, this morning, I flatter myself, I have thought of precisely the article."

Here is an adult's vocabulary, as well as an adult's ideas, with perhaps a dozen new words, and anything like mathematical thoroughness in the study of this paragraph would destroy its attractiveness. It is well for teachers to consider what would be a thorough treatment of such a section. Encyclopedias and other reference works also present many strange words and difficult paragraphs that children cannot stop to examine with care. In their ordinary school work, therefore, children find many details that must be overlooked; the more important things cannot be accomplished unless these less important ones are ignored.

It would be strange if children were quite incapable of doing what is so plainly required of them. It is true that they can be taught to reach the extreme of foolishness in the insignificance of the details that they mention. But it is also true that a fair amount of wise guidance will lead them to exercise good judgment in their selection. In other words, thoroughness as a relative and qualitative matter, rather than only quantitative, can be appreciated by them. Any teacher who has tested them carefully in this respect is likely to agree to this assertion. It is as natural for a lot of children to condemn the mention of useless detail, because of its waste of time, as it is for them to condemn selfish or immoral conduct.


1. Placing responsibility upon children.

The responsibility of deciding what shall be neglected should very often be left with the children, no matter how many mistakes and how much loss of time it may temporarily cause. Criticisms and suggestions from the teacher would be in place later. Many parents as well as teachers refuse to place this responsibility upon children for fear of the mistakes that they will make. On account of this fear they make it as nearly as possible unnecessary for children to judge freely, by giving them arbitrary rules to follow, or by directing them exactly what they shall do each moment. This cultivates poor judgment by depriving children of the very practice that will make their judgments reliable; it prevents the school requirements from corresponding to those in life outside.

Confidence in the general and growing good sense of children is a presupposition in the sensible parent and teacher. Having such confidence, their mission is to let these young people alone much of the time; to direct, not to control the selections that they make, assuming the role of advisers and critics but not dictators.

This training toward independent judgment should begin even in the first year of school. If Johnny raises his hand in beginning reading to state that Mary said a for the, the teacher need not either accept or reject the criticism. She may merely turn to the whole class and ask whether that is a helpful correction to make. A similar course may be pursued with many corrections and suggestions in later years. In this way a class sense of what is fitting or valuable in the way of neglect can be developed.

It should be remembered, however, that children cannot judge the worth of details without a basis of some sort. Unless, therefore, they helplessly rely upon the direction of the teacher in each case, they must be taught what the reading or other subject is for. They must gradually get a fair idea, for instance, of what good reading is, and realize that it includes pleasant tones, a careful grouping of words, much inflection of voice, and clear enunciation of final consonants. As they become acquainted with this standard in reading, they will readily learn to overlook such details as have little to do with its attainment.

It is true that it saves much time for the teacher herself to determine what shall or shall not receive attention, or at least for her to accept or reject a child's suggestion dogmatically, rather than to allow him or the whole class to pass upon its worth. Also, the constant demand for "more facts" tempts teachers to save time in this way. But again, it behooves the teacher as well as the pupil to use judgment, and not sacrifice one of the main objects of an education in order to save some time.

2. Class study of printed articles.

Children who use reference works might now and then study an encyclopedic article together merely to see what parts should be slighted. When looking for a certain fact they will discover, from the way the paragraphs begin, that one paragraph after another can be discarded without being read in full. In the same spirit newspapers might be studied by the older children, to determine from the headings what articles need not be read at all, what ones in a cursory manner, and what ones carefully, if any. Similar study of some magazines might be in place. It is a duty of the school thus to accustom pupils to proper methods of reading common kinds of printed matter.

3. Reduction of reproductions.

Pupils might occasionally be asked to reproduce a story or any other line of thought as fully as they wish. Suppose that it occupies six pages. Then they might be requested to reduce it to three pages, and perhaps, finally, to one page, eliminating each time what is of least importance. Such an exercise compels a very careful study of relative values.

4. Holding and carrying a point.

Having decided upon a definite problem for consideration, all grades of learners might be held responsible for detecting beginning wanderings of thought. They might accustom themselves to the responsibility of rising to a point of order at such times, stating the main question and asking the suspected person to show the relevancy of his remarks. There is no reason why the teacher should carry this responsibility alone; indeed, it is an imposition on the children, checking their growth in judgment and power of initiative.

Again, at times students in all grades might be allowed full freedom, in order to show how quickly they will engage in discussion, and even become excited, with no definite question before them. They may not realize their error, however, until asked to state what they are considering. It should be remembered that the question at issue may be as much neglected in the reading of books as in participation in discussion; on this account the method of reading might be tested in a similar manner.

5. Encouragement of different rates of reading.

Finally, varying rates of reading should be encouraged, according to the nature of the subject matter. While some books should be perused very slowly and thoughtfully, others should be covered as rapidly as possible. In the case of many novels, for instance, the ideas are so simple that they can be comprehended as rapidly as the words can be scanned.

Many persons, however, can read only as fast as they can pronounce the words. They follow an established series of associations: first, the word is observed; this image calls up its sound; the sound then recalls the meaning. Thus the order is sight, sound, meaning. That is a roundabout way of arriving at the meaning of a page and is usually learned in childhood. It explains why many an educated adult can read very little faster silently than aloud.

Some adults read fast simply by skimming over the less important parts, which is often justified. Some, however, save time by associating the form of a word directly with its meaning, leaving the sound out of consideration. Then by running the eye along rapidly they double and treble the ordinary rate of advance. It is said that Lord Macaulay read silently about as rapidly as a person ordinarily thumbs the pages; and he must have seen the individual words, because his remarkable memory often enabled him to reproduce the text verbatim. The slow-reading adult can, by practice, learn to take in a whole line or more almost at a glance, in place of three or four words, and can thus increase his rate of advance. But habit is so powerful that the rapid eye-movement necessary in rapid reading, together with the direct association of the form of a word with its meaning, should be learned in childhood. To this end, children should often be timed in their reading, being allowed only a few seconds or minutes to cover a certain amount. Some exercises might be given them, too, so as to accustom them to taking in a considerable number of words at a glance.

Meanwhile, however, pains should be taken to avoid the impression that rapid reading is always in place. Matter that requires much reflection, like the Bible for example, may well be read slowly. It is not merely rapid reading, but varying rates according to need, that the teacher should encourage.

There is no expectation that children will learn to handle books as Carlyle did. But they should be guided by the same general principles, and should form practical acquaintance with these principles while in school. Ordinarily there is a striking contrast between the use of books in school and outside, and the different rates of reading in the two places afford a striking illustration. Text in school is taken up in a gingerly fashion, scarcely enough of it being assigned for one lesson to get the child interested. Then this is reviewed over and over until any interest that may originally have been excited is long since destroyed. Thoroughness is aimed at, at the expense of life. In independent reading outside of school the opposite course is pursued. In the reaction from the school influence children revel in their freedom to do the things that their teachers forbid, and they accordingly go racing through their volumes.

Both methods are at fault. The school handling of books is intolerably slow; that outside is likely to be too rapid. In general, the method of using books in school should more closely resemble that desired elsewhere. The school method is the first to be reformed. It is seldom wise to be so thorough in the treatment of a text as to kill it for the learner. As a rule longer textbook lessons should be assigned in the elementary school, and less attention should be given to the minor facts. Then, if necessary, the same general field should be covered from another point of view, through another text. This change of method is already largely realized in our beginning reading, and partly realized in several other subjects.



We have already seen that proper study places much responsibility upon the student. Instead of allowing him to be an aimless collector of facts, it requires him to discover specific purposes that the facts may serve. With such purposes in mind he must supplement authors' statements in numerous ways, and also pass judgment on their relative values. This all requires much aggressiveness.

The problem here.

A problem now confronts us that suggests even greater aggressiveness. The statements that one hears or finds in print are often somewhat exaggerated, or distorted, or grossly incorrect, or they may be entirely true. Who is to pass judgment upon their quality? Has the young student any proper basis for carrying that responsibility?

Pressing nature of this problem. 1. In reading newspapers and magazines.

This problem is forced upon one when reading newspapers, particularly during political campaigns. One paper lauds a candidate as a great administrator, while another condemns him as a doctrinaire. One advocates protective tariff and the gold standard, while another urges revenue tariff only and free silver. Among the news columns one article predicts war, while another discerns signs of peace. Russia is at one time pictured as moving fast toward complete anarchy, while at another time she is shown to be making important political advances. The Japanese are praised for their high standards of life, and are again condemned for their immorality. Magazine articles show disagreements just as striking. Public men, political policies, corporations, and religious beliefs are approved or condemned according to the individual writer. What, then, is the proper attitude for the reader? Is he to regard one authority as about as good as another, or is he himself to distinguish among them and judge each according to the evidence that is offered?

2. In the use of books.

D'Aubigne's History of the Reformation is an extremely interesting work; but it treats the Reformation from the Protestant view-point, and is on that account unacceptable to Catholics. The history of our Civil War presents one series of facts when written by a northerner; a very different series when written by a southerner; and a still different one when written by an Englishman. Shall the student of either of these periods adopt the views of the author that he happens to be reading? Or shall he assume a view-point of his own? Or shall he do neither?

Carlyle and Ruskin indulge in much exaggeration, relying on striking statements for increased effect. Shakespeare possibly intended to present an exaggerated type of the Jew in the character of Shylock. Shall the student recognize exaggeration as such? Or shall he take all statements literally? Or shall he avoid doing either, preserving an inactive mind?

In his work on Education, Herbert Spencer states that "acquirement of every kind has two values—value as knowledge and value as discipline. Besides its use for guidance in conduct, the acquisition of each order of facts has also its use as mental exercise." Many students of education would assert that one very important value of knowledge is here overlooked, i. e., its power to inspire and energize, a value that literature possesses to a high degree. Assuming that they are correct, dare the young student pass such a criticism? Or would such a critical attitude on his part toward a high authority be impertinent?

The first paragraph in Rousseau's Emile runs as follows: "Coming from the hand of the Author of all things, everything is good; in the hands of man everything degenerates. Man obliges one soil to nourish the productions of another, one tree to bear the fruits of another; he mingles and confounds climates, elements, seasons; he mutilates his dog, his horse, his slave. He overturns everything, disfigures everything; he loves deformity, monsters; he desires that nothing should be as Nature made it, not even man himself. To please him man must be broken in like a horse; man must be adapted to man's own fashion, like a tree in his garden."

At the bottom of the first page of the translation of Emile by Miss Worthington is a note by Jules Steeg, Depute, Paris, bearing on the above first paragraph and running as follows: "It is useless to enlarge upon the absurdity of this theory, and upon the flagrant contradiction into which Rousseau allows himself to fall. If he is right, man ought to be left without education, and the earth without cultivation. This would not be even the savage state. But want of space forbids us to pause at each like statement of our author, who at once busies himself in nullifying it." Opposing statements like these are certainly enough to place the student in a dilemma.

Proper attitude of the student toward authorities.

Here are contradictions in political and religious beliefs and news items; very different interpretations of historical events; exaggerations bordering on misrepresentations; and evident omissions and absurdities on the part of educational philosophers. The weather bureau represents Old Reliability herself, in comparison with authors. What attitude shall the adult student assume toward such contradictory and faulty statements? Shall he regard himself as only a follower, taking each presentation of thought at its face value, sitting humbly at the feet of supposed specialists, and carefully preserving in memory as many of their principal opinions and conclusions as possible? Shall he assume the position of a mere receiver and collector?

That is manifestly impossible, for that would mean an ego divided a thousand times. It would prevent the final using of knowledge by the learner, instead of directing its use wisely; for the many opposing ideas and cross purposes would nullify one another. Besides that, wise application requires far more than a good memory as a guide, since memory takes no account of the adaptations always required by new conditions.

Whether he likes it or not, the student cannot escape the responsibility of determining for himself the fairness and general reliability of the newspapers and magazines that he reads; he must expect bias in historians, and must measure the extent of it as well as he can by studying their biographies and by observing their care in regard to data and logic; he must scrutinize very critically the ideas of the world's greatest essayists and dramatists. If a philosopher, like Rousseau, offers brilliant truths on one page, and equally brilliant perversions of truth on the next page, the student must ponder often and long in order to keep his bearings; and if footnotes attempt to point out some of these absurdities, he must decide for himself whether Rousseau or the commentator shows the superior wisdom. "Above all," says Koopman, "he [the student] must make sure how far he can trust the author." [Footnote: Koopman, The Mastery of Books, p. 47.]

"Read not to contradict and confute, nor to believe and take for granted, nor to find talk and discourse, but to weigh and consider," says Bacon. [Footnote: Bacon's Essays Of Studies.]

Every book we read may be made a round in the ever-lengthening ladder by which we climb to knowledge and to that temperance and serenity of mind which, as it is the ripest fruit of wisdom, is also the sweetest. But this can only be if we read such books as make us think, and read them in such a way as helps them to do so, that is, by endeavoring to judge them, and thus to make them an exercise rather than a relaxation of the mind. Desultory reading except as conscious pastime, hebetates the brain and slackens the bow string of Will. [Footnote: Lowell, Books and Libraries.]

The student, therefore, must set himself up as judge of whatever ideas appear before him. They are up for trial on their soundness and worth; he must uncover their merits and defects, and pass judgment on their general value. If he is hasty and careless, he suffers the penalty of bad judgment; and if he refrains from judging at all, he becomes one who "does not know his own mind," a weakling.

Who reads Incessantly, and to his reading brings not A spirit and judgment equal or superior Uncertain and unsettled still remains, Deep versed in books and shallow in himself. [Footnote: Milton, Paradise Regained, Book 4, line 322.]

The necessity of this attitude in the acceptance as well as in the rejection of ideas.

The need of such an attitude may be granted when the rejection of ideas is necessary. But there are many works that have been tried for ages and found undoubtedly excellent. There are many men, also, who are acknowledged authorities in their specialties. In the case of such books and men, where little if any negative criticism is to be expected, cannot the student set out merely to enjoy the merits and not bother about the defects? Can he not, therefore, abandon the critical attitude and accept outright what is offered?

That depends on how much is involved in real acceptance. A wise young woman who rejects a suitor does so for reasons of some sort; her reasons should certainly not be less clear if she accepts him; on the contrary, they are more likely to have been investigated with care. The rejection of a lover is, then, no more positive thing, involves no more intelligence and emotion, than his acceptance.

Again, a competent supervisor of instruction who accepts as good some recitation that he has observed, does so on the basis of specific points of merit that he has seen. Otherwise his acceptance is only flattery and is unacceptable to an earnest teacher. So, in general, the acceptance of any line of thought or action presupposes a consciousness of certain merits. Intelligent acceptance is thoughtful or critical.

There is a common idea that acceptance is far more easy and far less aggressive than negative criticism. The contrary, however, is probably true. The former idea is due to the fact that much acceptance, as of political and religious doctrine, for example, is only nominal or verbal; it is not intelligent or critical enough to be genuine. Any one can find fault, it is often declared; but the recognition of merit requires special insight. Rejection, therefore, is no more aggressive or positive than acceptance; and if one of these calls for a more critical attitude and more mental energy than the other, it is probably the latter.

Relation of the critical attitude to sympathy and respect.

What is the relation of this critical attitude to sympathy for an author? One of the essential conditions in the proper study of a book is that it be approached with an open, sympathetic mind. One must look at the world through the author's eyes in order to understand and appreciate what he says, and that is possible only when one feels high respect for him and is in close sympathy with him. To this end, it may be well at times for the student to annihilate his own personality, as Ruskin advises, so as to lose himself in another's thought.

If the critical attitude were incompatible with such respect and sympathy, its value might well be questioned. But that is not the case. A sensible parent who is in closest sympathy with a child finds no great difficulty in seeing its defects and even in administering punishment for them. There are parents and teachers who cannot thus combine real sympathy with the critical attitude; but they are too weak and foolish to rear children. Helpful friendships among adults, also, are not based upon blind admiration; they presuppose ability to discern faults and even courage now and then to mention them.

One cannot be a true scholar without making a similar combination. The unquestioning frame of mind that allows a sympathetic approach to an author marks one stage in study; but this must be followed by the critical attitude before the study is complete. That the two attitudes are not incompatible is well stated by Porter in the following words: "We should read with an independent judgment and a critical spirit. It does not follow, because we should treat an author with confidence and respect, that we are to accept all his opinions and may not revise his conclusions and arguments by our own. Indeed, we shall best evince our respect for his thoughts by subjecting them to our own revision." [Footnote: Noah Porter, Books and Reading, p. 52.]

How daily life requires similar independence of judgment.

While the demand thus made upon the scholar seems great, there is nothing surprising about it; for the scholar's relation to an author is substantially the same as that of any adult to other persons with whom he has dealings. If you go to a store to purchase a pair of rubbers, you cannot surrender yourself complacently to any clerk who happens to wait upon you. He is very likely to be satisfied to sell you rubbers that are too long or too short, too wide or too narrow, or at least not of the shape of your shoes. Or he may want to sell you storm rubbers when you prefer low ones. Unless, therefore, you carry a standard in mind and reject whatever fails to meet it, you are very likely to buy rubbers that won't be satisfactory. The same is true if you go to a tailor for clothing; unless you know him to be unusually reliable, it is not enough for him to tell you that a coat fits; you must test the statement by your own observation.

Some years ago a house that I occupied in New York City became infested with rats, and, wanting to reach the kitchen from the cellar, they gnawed an inch hole through a lead drain pipe from the laundry tubs, that lay in their way. The hole was behind a cupboard in the kitchen, very close to the wall, and not easy to reach. If clean clothing was to be had, the pipe had to be fixed; but when a plumber was called in, he stated that a carpenter would be needed to remove the cupboard, and again to replace it after the work was completed. The pipe having the hole, he added, would need to be taken out, and, as it was one arm of a larger pipe that had two other branches, the pipe with the three arms would have to be removed and another put in its place. The entire work was estimated to cost about fifteen dollars.

As that seemed a large amount to invest in a rat hole, another plumber was consulted; but he made substantially the same report. Still not being satisfied, I went to a hardware store and asked, "Have you a man who can solder a thin metal plate over a small hole in a lead pipe? The hole is about an inch in diameter and somewhat difficult to reach; but the work can be done by any one who knows his business." The merchant said that he had such a man. The man was sent over; he did the work in a few minutes, and the bill was seventy-five cents.

Plumbers are probably as honest and capable in their lines as most classes of workmen; but many persons have learned to their sorrow not to place themselves as clay in their hands.

A man who builds a house should keep more than half an eye on his architect, otherwise the house is likely to cause numerous lifelong regrets. Even one's physician is not to be implicitly obeyed on all occasions. If a patient knows that quinine acts as a poison upon him, as it does upon some persons, he must refuse to take it. Also, if a physician gives too much medicine, as physicians have been known to do, one must discover the fact for himself, or his alimentary canal may suffer. Such men are merely types of the many persons who surround us and help us to live; we must be judges of the conduct of each of them toward us, if we wish to be healthy and happy.

Must we, then, pass upon everything; and is no person to be fully trusted? How can any one find time for the exercise of so much wisdom? And what are specialists for?

Certainly many, many things must be taken for granted. When you board a train, you cannot make sure that the trainmen are all qualified for their positions and that all parts of the train and of the track are in proper condition. If, however, you choose a poorly managed road, in place of a well-managed one, you are more likely to be killed on the journey. In other words, while many things must be assumed, the responsibility of determining what they shall be rests with you, and you suffer the penalty of any bad selection. Your own judgment is still your guide.

Many persons must likewise be trusted. But who shall they be, and to what extent? The objects of choice have now been merely shifted from things to human beings, and independent judgment must still be exercised the same as before. The difficulty is fully as great, too. Says Holmes, "We have all to assume a standard of judgment in our own minds, either of things or persons. A man who is willing to take another's opinion has to exercise his judgment in the choice of whom to follow, which is often as nice a matter as to judge of things for one's self." [Footnote: Holmes, Autocrat of the Breakfast Table.]

Reasons for the use of independent judgment may be found in lack of knowledge on the part of others, or of skill, or of judgment, or of energy, or of honesty. But there is a more fundamental reason than either incompetence or dishonesty, and it is found in the peculiar circumstances of each person. The point of view of an architect is not the same as that of the owner of a house. Every one hundred dollars added to the cost of a building rejoices the architect's heart because it increases his income. On the other hand, every hundred dollars thus added tends to produce depression in the owner's mind. Similarly, the point of view of any specialist or friend is different from yours; it can never be fully your own. Just because no one can look at your affairs from your own point of view, no one is fully qualified to judge them for you, and you must rely upon yourself.

The people with whom we trade, therefore, the specialists and friends to whom we go, like the authors that the student consults, are all related to us merely as advisers. No one of them is fitted to tell us exactly what to do, and the proper attitude toward them all is that of friendly suspicion.

Greatness of each person's responsibility for judging.

This conception of each person's relation to ideas and to the world at large places his judgment on a high plane. Whether he will or not, every man is intellectually a sovereign whose own judgment in the decision of all his affairs is his court of last resort. This is a grave responsibility, indeed; and it is no wonder that many shrink from it. Yet what better state can be conceived? This responsibility proves the dignity of manhood; it is the price of being a man. Fairly good judgment, exercised independently of everybody, is one essential condition of self-direction and of leadership of others. The importance of good judgment is often emphasized; and the reason for it is here evident, since it must guide us at every turn. The reason for education of judgment is also evident. Every person is bound to make many mistakes; but he will make far fewer when his ability to judge has been properly trained. The utter inadequacy of instruction that aims mainly at acquisition of facts is likewise evident; for the exercise of judgment involves the use or adaptation of knowledge to particular conditions, and the mere possession of facts bears little relation to this ability.

The basis that every student has for judging worth.

It may seem presumptuous for a young student of education to pass judgment upon the greatest writers on education that the world has produced, such as Spencer and Rousseau. Certainly the opinions of such great men are far more valuable and reliable, on the whole, than those of an immature student. The architect's knowledge of building, likewise, is superior to that or a novice in that line. Granted, therefore, that no one person is in a position to judge for another, what right, what basis has this other, particularly the inexperienced person, to judge any and every sort of affairs for himself? He has basis enough. Speaking of the value of expert knowledge, Aristotle says: "Moreover, there are some artists whose works are judged of solely, or in the best manner, not by themselves but by those who do not possess the art; for example, the knowledge of the house is not limited to the builder; the user, or, in other words, the master of the house will even be a better judge than the builder, just as the pilot will judge better of a rudder than the carpenter, and the guest will judge better of a feast than the cook." [Footnote: Aristotle, Politics (Jowett), p. 88.] The reason that the non-expert can thus sometimes even surpass the expert himself in judging of the latter's work is found in the fact that the non-expert as well as the specialist has had much valuable experience bearing on the specialist's line.

A very important truth is here suggested concerning the student. Nothing that one is fitted to study is wholly new or strange to him. Any person must have had experiences that parallel an author's thought in order to understand that author. For, according to the principle of apperception, intimately related past experience is the sole basis for the comprehension of new facts.

Values are no newer or stranger to the student than other phases of experience. The student's related past, therefore, furnishes as good a basis for judging soundness or worth as it does for getting at meanings. When, for instance, he reads Spencer's statement that "acquisition of every kind has two values,—value as knowledge and value as discipline"—he can verify each use out of his own life. He can determine for himself that the assertion holds. On the other hand, he can quite likely recall how he has sometimes been aroused and stirred to new effort by things that he has read; and he may, in consequence, question whether Spencer has not here overlooked one great value of knowledge. Again, when the student is told by Rousseau that "in the hands of man everything degenerates," he can, no doubt, justify the assertion to some extent by recalling observed instances of such degeneration. But, in addition, when he recalls what he has observed and read about the wonderful advance made by man toward a higher civilization, and realizes that Rousseau is denying that there has been an advance, he is in a position to consider whether Rousseau is mainly in the right or mainly in the wrong.

It is true that the student may be wrong in his conclusions; also that, even though he be often right, he may become a confirmed fault- finder. But that is not discouraging, for he is surrounded with dangers. The essential fact remains that, just as his past related experience furnishes a fair basis for understanding the meaning of what he hears and reads, so, also, it furnishes a fair basis for estimating its value.


A conception of child nature that denies such ability.

Many persons who agree to the necessity of independent judgment on the part of adults may demur at the idea of placing similar responsibility upon children. Are not children normally uncritical and imitative or passive? they say. And if we teach them to judge and criticise freely, are they not very likely to develop priggishness that will result in immodesty and disrespect for others? "Memory," says John Henry Newman, "is one of the first developed of the mental faculties; a boy's business, when he goes to school, is to learn, that is, to store up things in his memory. For some years his intellect is little more than an instrument for taking in facts, or a receptacle for storing them; he welcomes them as fast as they come to him; he lives on what is without; he has his eyes ever about him; he has a lively susceptibility of impressions; he imbibes information of every kind; and little does he make his own in the true sense of the word, living rather upon his neighbors all around him. He has opinions, religious, political, literary, and, for a boy, is very positive in them and sure about them; but he gets them from his schoolfellows, or his masters, or his parents, as the case may be. Such as he is in his other relations, such also is he in his school exercises; his mind is observant, sharp, ready, retentive; he is almost passive in the acquisition of knowledge. I say this is no disparagement of the idea of a clever boy. Geography, chronology, history, language, natural history, he heaps up the matter of these studies as treasures for a future day. It is the seven years of plenty with him; he gathers in by handfuls, like the Egyptians, without counting; and though, as time goes on, there is exercise for his argumentative powers in the elements of mathematics, and for his taste in the poets and orators, still while at school, or at least till quite the last years of his time, he acquires and little more; and when he is leaving for the university he is mainly the creature of foreign influences and circumstances, and made up of accidents, homogeneous or not as the case may be." [Footnote: John Henry Newman, Scope and Nature of University Education, Discourse V.]

This view of childhood is somewhat common; and according to it children are almost exclusively receptive, any active exercise of judgment scarcely beginning before college entrance.

Extent of such ability. 1. as evidenced by individual examples of children's judgments.

Let us see to what extent this view holds when examined in the light of children's actual conduct. A first-grade pupil who had attended the kindergarten the previous year remarked to his former kindergarten teacher, "I wish I was back in the kindergarten." "Why?" said the kindergartner. "Because," said he, "we did hard things in the kindergarten last year." Then he added confidentially, "You know our teacher was in the fourth grade last year. She used to come in to see us when we were playing, and she thinks we can't do anything else. Why, the things she gives us to do are dead easy." His teacher herself afterward admitted that his criticism was just.

A small boy, being asked if he went to Sunday school, replied "Yes." "Have you a good teacher?" was the next question; to which came the response, "Yes, pretty good; good for a Sunday school. She would not be much good for day school." Wasn't he probably right?

A five-year-old boy was taken to Sunday school for the first time by his nurse. There the chief topic of instruction happened to be eternal punishment. On the way home he was not altogether good, and the nurse, in the spirit of the day's lesson, assured him that he would go to the bad place when he died, and would burn there always. When he entered the house he hurried, sobbing, to his mother and declared vehemently: "Nurse says I'll go to the bad place when I die, and that I'll burn there always. I won't burn always; I know I won't! I may burn a little bit. But I'm bad only part of the time; I am good part of the time; and I know I won't burn always." His reasoning on theology was as sound as that of many a preacher.

I was standing near a second-year class in reading one day when I overheard a boy say "Nonsense!" to himself, after reading a section. I agreed with him too fully to offer any reproof.

An eight-year-old girl said to her mother, "May I iron my apron? I ironed a pillowcase." "Did Sarah [the maid] say that you ironed it well?" asked the mother. "No, she didn't say anything," was the response. "But I know that I ironed it well." Is that an entirely passive attitude?

Rebecca had spent six years in the public schools of two large cities when she entered the seventh grade of the State Normal School. She had been called a "quiet child," "nervous" and "timid," by different teachers. After a very few days in the new school, however, she volunteered this expression of her thoughts: "I didn't think the Normal School would be anything like that. It's very different from the public schools. There only the teacher has opinions and she does all the talking; but in the Normal School the children can have opinions, and they can express them, and I like it."

Any one who has had close contact with children knows that they have a remarkably keen sense of the justice or injustice of punishments inflicted upon them. As a rule, I would rather trust their judgment of their teachers than their parents' judgment, although it is true that parents form such judgment largely from hearing remarks from their children. Children are reasonably reliable, also, in judging one another's conduct, which they are prone to do.

Such facts as these indicate that it is quite natural for children—even very young ones—to pass judgment of some kind on things about them, and that their judgments are fairly sound. They are hardly to be called merely passive receivers of ideas, mildly agreeing with the people about them.

2. As evidenced by the requirements of the school.

The school plainly assumes the presence of this ability by the requirements that it makes of children. One of the common questions in the combination of forms and colors, even in the kindergarten, is, "How do you like that?" In instruction in fine art throughout the grades their judgment as to what is most beautiful is continually appealed to.

The judging of one another's compositions and other school products is a common task for pupils. In connection with fairy tales six-year-olds are frequently asked what they think of the story. Many say, "It is beautiful"; but now and then a bold spirit declares, "I don't like it."

Children are expected to judge the quality of literature, distinguishing with ease between what is literal and what is imaginative, or figurative, or humorous. When they read that the rope with which the powerful Fenris-Wolf was bound was "made out of such things as the sound of a cat's footsteps, the roots of the mountains, the breath of a fish and the sinews of a bear, and nothing could break it," [Footnote: Hamilton Mabie's Norse Myths, p. 166.] they are not deceived; they only smile. Now and then they make mistakes; but in general such stories as Through the Looking-Glass and the "Uncle Remus" stories do not overtax their power to interpret conditions.

What literature or history is there for children that omits the passing of moral judgments? Cinderella is approved of for her goodness, William Tell for his independence, Columbus for his boldness; Cinderella's sisters are condemned for their selfishness, and Gessler for his meanness. Without such exercise of judgment these two studies would miss one of their main benefits. The data that must be collected in nature study and history for the proof of statements give much practice in the weighing of evidence; and the self- government that is now so common, in various degrees, in good schools is supposed to be based upon a reasonable ability to weigh out justice. Thus the method both of instruction and of government in our better schools presupposes the ability on the part of pupils to judge worth; and the better teachers have considered it so important that they have constantly striven to develop it through instruction, just as sensible parents have placed upon their children some of the responsibility of buying their own clothing, doing the marketing, and planning work at home, in order to cultivate the power to make wise choice. If the ability to judge were really wanting in children, our supposedly best methods of teaching and governing them would need to be abandoned.

3. As evidenced by requirements of child life.

The best proof that children possess this ability is that they can scarcely get on without it. Several years ago, when I reached Indianapolis on a journey, I gave my bag to a boy ten or eleven years of age to carry to my hotel. While we were walking along together another boy stopped him and drew him to one side. I observed that they were having a serious conversation, and when we soon proceeded further I inquired what the trouble was. "That boy," said he, "wants me to divvy up with him." "What do you mean by that?" said I. "He wants me to give him half of the money that I am to get from you for carrying this bag," was the reply. "But," I responded indignantly, "he has not helped you at all. Why, then, should he receive anything?" "He shouldn't," came the answer; "but he belongs to a crowd of fellows, and he told me that if I didn't divvy up with them they would pound the life out of me." I pondered for some time, but I gave no advice. What advice should have been given?

This is a striking ease; but it only illustrates very forcibly that children are not merely sleeping, and eating what is given to them, like cattle and sheep. Like adults they are surrounded with human beings and are leading moral lives. At home, in school, on the street, a hundred times a day they must "size up" people and situations and decide what is best to do. If they are weak in such decisions, they are regarded as weak in general; and if very weak, other persons must assume responsibility for them and "tote" them through life. On the other hand, if they are strong, they are classed as sensible persons, and they "get on" well. Children distinguish themselves as balanced and sensible, just as adults do, simply because they are wise in measuring values.

Those persons who regard childhood as almost solely a period for receiving knowledge, seem to think that active life really begins only when one becomes of age. The fact is, it begins from eighteen to twenty-one years sooner than that; and throughout all those earlier years one has nearly as great a variety of trials, and trials usually of greater intensity for the moment, than adults have. In the midst of so much need, it would be strange, indeed, if one were endowed with no power, called judgment, to cope with difficult situations, if one had only the power to collect facts. That would leave us too helpless; it certainly would not be adaptation to environment, or normal evolution.

In conclusion, therefore, those who deny a fair degree of sound judgment to children deny what seems a marked natural tendency of childhood; they pass a sweeping criticism upon what is now supposed to be the best method of instructing and governing children; and, finally, they deny to the child the one power that can make his knowledge usable and insure his adaptation to his environment. Self- reliance, which parents and teachers strive for so much, becomes then impossible among children, for self-reliance is nothing more than independent direction of self, made possible by power to judge conditions. Certainly most persons are unwilling to take this position in regard to the nature of childhood. They will agree that a twelve- year-old boy, sitting for an hour in the presence of the President of the United States and hearing him converse freely, without forming judgments about him, and many fairly accurate ones too, would be an abnormality.

Danger of priggishness.

What about the threatened priggishness and related evils that may result when the responsibility for passing judgment frequently is laid upon children? Certainly a modest sense of one's own merit and proper respect for others are highly desirable qualities. These qualities, however, are not greatly endangered by the exercise of intellectual independence, for it is little related to immodesty and impertinence.

A few years ago when many distinguished scientists celebrated in Berlin the discovery of the Roentgen rays, Mr. Roentgen himself was not present. Although he had possessed boldness enough to enlarge the confines of knowledge, he lacked the courage to face the men who had met to do him honor, and he telegraphed his regrets. St. Paul, Erasmus, and Melanchthon were, intellectually, among the most independent of men; but St. Paul possessed the humility of the true Christian, and both Erasmus and Melanchthon were extremely modest. Pestalozzi was once sent by his government as a member of a commission to interview Napoleon. On his return from Paris he was asked whether he saw Napoleon. "No," said he, "I did not see Napoleon, and Napoleon did not see me." Recognizing the greatness of a real educator, he took away the breath of his friends by ranking himself alongside Napoleon as a truly great man. Yet he was one of the most modest, childlike men that the world has ever known. These examples show that the keenest, boldest of analysts and critics may yet be the humblest of men.

Self-reliance is the more common name for similar independence among children; and it is no more nearly related to priggishness in their case than in the case of adults. The five-year-old child will often reject statements from his parents, even though he have the greatest respect and love for them. It is only natural for him to do so when assertions that he hears do not tally with his own experience; and he will retain such boldness throughout life unless made subservient by bad education.

There is some danger, however, that the cultivation of this independence may make one a chronic fault-finder. It should not be forgotten, therefore, that judging means approving as well as condemning, and in case of children probably much more of the former than of the latter. In addition, care should be taken that children shall pass judgment only on matters lying fairly within their experience, and shall recognize the need, too, of giving good reasons for their conclusions. If these precautions be taken, the danger of priggishness is reduced to the minimum. What danger remains can afford to be risked; for independent judgment is the very basis of scholarship among adults, and mental submissiveness in childhood is not the best preparation for it.


1. Placing responsibility upon children at school.

Responsibilities that require exercise of judgment should be placed upon children throughout the school, from the kindergarten on. Scarcely a recitation need pass without opportunities of this kind. For example, children can determine the correctness of answers to questions put in class, can weigh the relative merits and the efficiency of tasks performed, can propose suitable ways of illustrating topics, such as lumbering, irrigation, mining, etc. The wisdom of plans for preserving order in the school, for decorating the building, and for improving the school in other respects can also be submitted to their judgment. It is by the exercise of judgment in many ways that young people will become judicious in numerous directions. It is not difficult for any teacher to do some work of this kind, but it is difficult to be consistent in it. Many teachers who are zealous in cultivating independent judgment a part of the time, undermine this influence at other times by arbitrary decisions or by a personality so overpowering that it allows no free scope to the child's personality.

2. Study of responsibilities borne at home.

Some study of the responsibilities that different children bear at home may prove very profitable. While some carry much responsibility there, others are given no option as to when they shall start to school each day, or how they shall dress, or who shall buy their clothes, or how they shall spend money. Thus they are allowed no opportunity to decide things for themselves or to develop independent judgment. Interviews with individual parents, and parents' meetings, may prove very fruitful along this line.

3. Consideration of the use to be made of advice.

In order to teach the nature of self-reliance and the scope of its exercise, the use to be made of the advice of friends should be a topic for occasional discussion. Many a young man and woman hesitates to ask the advice of others for fear that they may be offended if the advice given is not followed. They are justified, too, for many persons are offended in this way. The propriety of rejecting advice should be far more generally understood than it is. Then children, as well as young men and women, would seek it much oftener, to their lasting benefit.

4. Examples of combinations of modesty with independence.

Since modesty should be cultivated along with independent judgment, examples of distinguished men and women who have combined these two qualities should now and then be considered.

5. Observation of habits of pupils in use of judgment.

It is well to mark out for special attention such pupils as seem to be untrue to their own experience in judging, or such as seem to lack the energy to use it as a basis of judgment. For example, many eleven- and twelve-year-old children in their study of Excelsior feel that the young man very rashly exposed himself and merited his death. Yet some of these will suppress this judgment, and even praise him as a noble youth, in order to please their teacher, or because they think that that is what they ought to say. They lack the boldness to be honest with themselves.

Again, very many young people fail to think far enough to "weigh and consider." They stop short with the concrete narrative, failing to judge whether the story is reasonable, whether the characters are representative, whether the moral is sound, etc. Thus they omit a portion of the thinking that should be expected of them. Whether they are wanting in mental energy or do not realize that this is one of the important parts of study, they should be taken in hand. Right habits of mind are even more important than knowledge.

6. Reports of merits of printed matter, with discussion.

As one means of overcoming the defect just mentioned, different children, or different committees of a class, might examine the same newspapers, magazines, articles in reference books, etc., and then report on their merits independently of one another, giving their reasons. The discussions that would be likely to follow as the result of disagreements would be of the highest value.



"All the intellectual value for us of a state of mind depends on our after-memory of it," says Professor James. [Footnote: William James's Psychology, Vol. I, p. 644.]

Importance of memory.

In other words, there would be little object importance in reading, or reflection, or travel, or in experience in general, if such experience could not later be recalled so as to be further enjoyed and used. Want of reference thus far to memory does not, therefore, signify any lack of appreciation of its worth. No time is likely to come when a low estimate will be placed upon memory.

Usual prominence of memorizing as a factor in study, and the result.

How prominent memorizing should be, however, is a question of great importance.

The four factors of study that have now been considered are the finding of specific aims, the supplementing of the thought of authors, the organizing of ideas, and the judging of their general worth. These four activities together constitute a large part of what is called thinking. Memorizing—meaning thereby, in contrast to thinking, the conscious effort to impress ideas upon the mind so that they can be reproduced—has usually been a more prominent part of study than all these four combined. The Jesuits, for example, who were leaders in education for two hundred years, made repetition "the mother of studies," and it is still so prominent, even among adults, that the average student regards memorizing as the nearest synonym for the term studying. Repetition, or drill, however, is far from an inspiring kind of employment. It involves nothing new or refreshing; it is mere hammering, that makes no claim upon involuntary attention. When it is so prominent, therefore, it stultifies the mind, starving and discouraging the student and defeating the main purpose of study.

Reasons for such prominence.

If the work of memorizing is so uninteresting and even injurious, why is it made so prominent? There are probably numerous reasons; but only three will here be considered.

In the first place, memorizing is more superficial than real thinking, and people generally prefer to be somewhat superficial and mechanical. It takes energy to dig into things, and, being rather lazy, we are very often content to remain on the outside of them. Children show in many little ways how natural it is to be mechanical. For instance, rather than think the ideas adverb and present active participle, they will recognize words ending in ly as adverbs, and those ending in ing as present active participles. They will class words as prepositions or conjunctions by memorizing the entire list of each, rather than by thinking the relations that these parts of speech express. Young men and women, likewise, will memorize demonstrations in geometry rather than reason them out, and will memorize other people's opinions rather than attempt to think for themselves. Even though it is often really easier to rely upon one's own power to think than upon memory, it takes some depth of nature to recognize the fact and act accordingly.

Teachers show this tendency as plainly as students. In preparing lesson plans, for example, very few will get beyond what is mechanical and formal. The reason that recitations are so largely memory tests, too, is that teachers put mere memory questions more easily than they put questions that provoke thought. It is, therefore, a well- established natural trait that is back of so much mechanical memorizing.

A second reason for the prominence of memorizing is found in the desire to strengthen the memory through its exercise. We know that the arm may be developed by the lifting of weights, so that it will be stronger for lifting anything that comes in its way. So it has long been a common belief that memory, as a faculty of the mind, could be developed by any kind of exercise so as to be stronger for all kinds of recall. Many words in spelling, many dates in history, many places in geography, many facts in grammar and even in the more advanced studies, have been learned rather because they were supposed to develop memory than for any other reason. Thus the desire of strengthening memory has considerably increased the amount of memorizing.

The belief that memorizing normally precedes thinking rather than follows it, is a third very important reason for the prominence of memorizing. "The most important part of every Mussulman's training," says Batzel, "is to learn the Koran, by which must be understood learning it by heart, for it would be wrong to wish to understand the Koran till one knew it by heart." [Footnote: Batzel, The History of Mankind, Vol. III, p. 218.] We hold no conscientious scruples against understanding statements before attempting to memorize them; but one might think that we did, for our practice in memorizing Scripture generally corresponds to that of the Mussulman in learning the Koran. I venture to affirm, also, that the average student habitually begins the study of his lessons by memorizing, with the expectation of doing whatever thinking is necessary later. The average teacher conducts recitations in the same manner. There is the defense for this practice, too, in the fact that it seems logical to get the raw materials for reflection into our possession before trying to reflect upon them. The result, however, is that a surprisingly small amount of thinking is done; for the memorizing requires so much time and energy that, in spite of good intentions, the thinking is postponed for a more convenient season until it constitutes an insignificant part of study, while memorizing, the drudgery of study becomes its main factor.

How this prominence may be reduced.

If it is possible to reduce the prominence of mechanical memorizing, it is highly desirable to do so, for it is unreasonable to defeat the ends of education in the attempt to educate. Let us see how this may be accomplished.

1. By providing more motivation.

There is no complete cure for our tendency toward the superficial and mechanical, due to mental laziness; the defect is too deep. Yet to the extent that we increase our motive for effort a cure is found. Live purposes give force; they make one earnest enough to fix the whole attention upon a task, and to determine to get at the heart of it; they deepen one's nature. Full concentration of attention, due to interest and exercise of will power, is one of the chief conditions of rapid memorizing. Some of the ways in which such purposes may be supplied have already been discussed in Chapter III.

2. By abandoning attempts to strengthen the general power of memory.

In the second place, we can afford to abandon all attempts to develop the general power of memory. The power of various crude materials to retain impressions that are made upon them varies greatly according to their nature. Jelly, for instance, has little such power; sand has little more; clay possesses it in a higher degree, and stone in a far higher still. But whatever persistence of impressions a given lot of any one of these materials may possess, it can never be changed, it is a fixed quantity.

The same holds in regard to the brain matter. Some men have brains that retain almost everything. Professor James tells, [Footnote: Psychology, Vol. I, p. 660.] for instance, of a Pennsylvania farmer who could remember the day of the week on which any date had fallen for forty-two years past, and also the kind of weather at the time. He tells further of an acquaintance who remembered the old addresses of numerous New York City friends, addresses that the friends had long since moved from and forgotten; nothing that this man had ever heard or read seemed to escape him. Other persons, on the other hand, possess little power to retain names, dates, quotations, and scattered facts; their desultory memory, as it is called, is very poor. But whatever native retentive power any particular brain happens to have, can never be altered. The general persistence of impressions of each person is a physiological or physical power depending on the nature of his brain matter, and it is invariable. "No amount of culture would seem capable of modifying a man's general retentiveness," [Footnote: Psychology, Vol. I, p. 663.] says James. Again, "There can be no improvement of the general or elementary faculty of memory." [Footnote: Talks to Teachers, p. 123.] Our desultory memories, in other words, are given to us once for all.

It is commonly supposed, on the contrary, that persons who memorize a great deal, such as actors, greatly strengthen their general memory in that way. "I have carefully questioned several mature actors on the point," says James, "and all have denied that the practice of learning parts has made any such difference as is alleged." [Footnote: Psychology, Vol. I, p. 664.] Actors certainly do increase their ability to memorize certain kinds of subject-matter. Any one who has much practice in learning lists of names, even, is likely to increase his ability for that and similar tasks, just as one who learns to play tennis well is aided thereby in playing baseball. The reason for such improvement, however, is found largely, if not wholly, in improvement in one's method of work, as will be made clear later, rather than in any increase in general retentive power.

While the question of improving the memory is somewhat in dispute, [Footnote: See Educational Review for June, 1908.] and some psychologists assert that any kind of memorizing will have some effect on all other kinds, it is safe to say that mere exercise of memory is, for all practical purposes, useless as a means of strengthening general memory. Only those things, therefore, should be memorized that are intrinsically worthy of being reproduced.

3. By improving the method of memorizing.

Even though a person's native retentive power cannot be improved, the skill with which he uses whatever power he has can be increased. Men who lift pianos find the work very difficult at first; but soon it becomes reasonably easy. The greater ease is not due to any marked increase in strength, but rather to increased skill in using strength. It is due to improvement in method; they learn how.

So it may be with memorizing. A large portion of such work is usually awkward, consisting of repetitions that consume much time and energy. But it is possible so to improve the method that memory tasks will occupy comparatively little time.

How facts are recalled.

Before discussing ways in which the method of memorizing can be improved, it is necessary to consider how facts are recalled.

Impressions are not stored away in the brain, and afterward recalled, in an isolated state, or independently of one another. On the contrary, they are more or less intimately related as they are learned, and recall always takes place through association of some sort. "Whatever appears in the mind must be introduced; and, when introduced, it is as the associate of something already there." [Footnote: James's Talks to Teachers, p. 118.]

The breakfast I ate this morning recalls the persons who sat around the table; memory of one of those persons reminds me of a task that I was to attend to to-day; that task suggests the fact that I must also go to the bank to get some money, etc. Thus every fact that is recalled is marshaled forth by the aid of some other that is connected with it, and which acts as the cue to it. This is so fully true that there is even the possibility of tracing our sequence of ideas backward step by step as far as we wish. "The laws of association govern, in fact, all the trains of our thinking which are not interrupted by sensations breaking on us from without," says James. [Footnote: Ibid.]

How method of memorizing may be improved.

Since any idea is recalled through its connection with other ideas, the greater the number and the closeness of such relations, the better chance it stands to be reproduced. Improvement in one's method of memorizing, in other words, must consist mainly in increasing the number and closeness of associations among facts. A list of unrelated words is extremely difficult to remember; every additional relation furnishes a new approach to any fact; and, the closer this relation, the more likely it is to cause the reproduction.

1. By more of less mechanical association.

Even the simplest associations, that are largely mechanical, may be important aids to memory. For example, it is much easier to learn the telephone number 1236 by remembering that the sum of the first three numbers forms the fourth than by memorizing each figure separately. Teacher is a word whose spelling often causes trouble; but when teach is associated with each, which is seldom misspelled, the difficulty is removed. There and their are two words whose spelling is a source of much confusion; but it is overcome when there is associated with where and here, and their with her, your, our, etc. Sight, site, and cite are still worse stumbling-blocks in spelling; but the difficulty is largely overcome when sight is firmly associated with light and night, site with situation, and cite with recite. The association of the sound of a word with its meaning is an important help in remembering the meanings of some words, as rasping, for example. Professor James, I believe, tells of some one who forgot his umbrella so often that he practiced associating umbrella with doorway until the two ideas were almost inseparable. Then, whenever he passed through a doorway on his way out of doors, he was reminded to take his umbrella along. While there might be some disadvantages in this particular association, it forcibly suggests the value of association in general.

The various mnemonic systems that have been so widely advertised have usually been nothing more than plans for the mechanical association of facts. Sometimes, to be sure, it has been more difficult to remember the system than to memorize the facts themselves; yet they, too, give witness to the value of association.

I once asked a thirteen-year-old girl, in a history class, when Eli Whitney lived. She gave the exact month and day, but failed to recall either the year or the part of the century, or even the century. Her answer showed plainly that her method of study was doubly wrong; for she not only offended against relative values in learning the month and day while forgetting the century, but she revealed no tendency to associate Whitney's invention with any particular period of history. Even cross-questioning brought no such tendency to light. She was depending on mere retentiveness to hold dates in mind. The habit of memorizing facts in this disconnected way is common among adults as well as children, and as a remedy against it the student should form the habit of frequently asking himself the question, "With what am I associating this fact or idea?"

In contrast with associations that are more or less mechanical, there are vital associations that are possible in all studies containing rich subject-matter.

2. By close thought association. (1) Through attention to the outline.

Early association of the principal ideas, or early recognition of the outline of thought, is perhaps the most important of these. One can proceed sentence by sentence, or "bit by bit," in memorizing as in thinking, adding one such fragment after another until the whole is learned. But the early recognition of the main ideas in their proper sequence is far superior. These essentials give peculiar control over the details by grouping them in an orderly manner and furnishing their cue so that the whole is more easily memorized. This is true even in the case of verbal memorizing, as is evidenced by a certain minister quoted by Professor James. "As for memory, mine has improved year by year, except when in ill-health, like a gymnast's muscle. Before twenty it took three or four days to commit an hour-long sermon; after twenty, two days, one day, one-half day, and now one slow analytic, very attentive or adhesive reading does it. But memory seems to me the most physical of intellectual powers. Bodily ease and freshness have much to do with it. Then there is great difference <of facility in method. I used to commit sentence by sentence. Now I take the idea of the whole, then its leading divisions, then its subdivisions, then its sentences." [Footnote: James, Psychology, Vol. I, p. 668.]

Thus early attention to organization is a large factor in memorizing, as in study that aims principally at comprehension of the thought. Where good organization is wanting,—as in tracing lessons in geography, and other mere tests of facts,—this aid to memorizing is lacking, and one must depend more upon brute memory power. On the other hand, where the portions of one's knowledge have become so closely interrelated and so well organized that they form a well-knit system of thought, one's ability to remember may be surprising. Spencer and Darwin were examples of men whose ideas were thus organized. Neither of them possessed phenomenal memories to start with; but their observations so generally found a group of close relations to sustain them, and these groups were associated with one another in such a close and orderly way, that the outline of the whole could be easily surveyed, and any fact could be quickly reproduced, just as any book can be speedily found in a well-organized library. Thus, as we grow older, if the organization of our knowledge is improving, the power of reproducing it will likewise be increasing.

(2) Through comparisons.

Comparisons are another means of establishing valuable thought connections. Study by topics, also, furnishes special opportunity for comparisons. "It is generally better," says James Baldwin, "to learn what different writers have thought and said concerning that matter of which you are making a special study. Not many books are to be read hastily through." [Footnote: James Baldwin, The Book Lover, p. 43.] Koopman likewise declares, "A single trial will prove to any student the superiority, in interest, of the topical and comparative over the chronological and consecutive method of studying history." [Footnote: Koopman, Mastery of Books, p. 43.] Again, "The student who has not known the pleasure of reading all the works of an author, as a study in personality, has a great source of enjoyment still before him." [Footnote: Ibid., p. 44.]

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse