How To Study and Teaching How To Study
by F. M. McMurry
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Many persons have the feeling that it is a moral duty, after having begun a book, to read it through. Here is the recommendation that our reading for a time "converge to one point"; that we find, for example, what several psychologies have to say on one topic, such as memory, rather than read one psychology from cover to cover. The value of comparison for thoroughness has already been emphasized. Its value from the view-point of memory is great, not only because it insures more lasting impressions due to increased interest, as just suggested, but also because each new comparison, while reviewing, also establishes new and closer associations among old ideas.

Memorizing of Kipling's "Seal Lullaby."

According to the above, we can best memorize by establishing whatever associations seem interesting and reasonable. Take, for instance, Kipling's Seal Lullaby:—

Oh! Hush thee, my baby, the night is behind us, And black are the waters that sparkled so green. The moon, o'er the combers, looks downward to find us At rest in the hollows that rustle between.

Where billow meets billow, there soft be thy pillow; Ah, weary wee flipperling, curl at thy ease! The storm shall not wake thee, nor shark overtake thee, Asleep in the arms of the slow-swinging seas.

The music of the rhythm leads one to read it aloud from time to time. The first two lines are an announcement of bedtime; the next three tell where the resting place is, and the last three give assurance of safety—that is the outline. Any one has often observed how black the waters become as night approaches, and the picture is vividly recalled as the first couplet is read. "Combers" is almost a strange word, but its use makes its meaning reasonably clear. Is there a cradle of some sort? And a good pillow, too? Is there any tenderness indicated on the part of the mother? Any pet names applied? What dangers might cause uneasiness? Which is the most beautiful part? What lullabies of our childhood does this recall? How does this one compare in beauty with "Rock-a-bye-baby"? Let us sing each, in order to judge. What marked contrast is there between the two, in the latter part?

I first ran across this lullaby in company with two friends, to each of whom it was entirely new. It appealed to us so strongly that we read it aloud several times and talked it over. We considered some questions such as the above, and compared it with "Rock-a-bye-baby," disagreeing somewhat in our opinions. When we left it, each of us nearly or quite knew it by heart, although we had scarcely thought of trying to memorize it. In this way the association of ideas with one another, particularly with things that have been long cherished, is a very valuable aid to memory.

Where the fault in cramming lies.

To some persons this method of memorizing through association of ideas will seem very slow. It must be acknowledged that there is a more rapid way, called cramming. Every mature student has found that, under great pressure, he can commit to memory the substance of thought, and even the words, for an astonishing amount of matter. The difficulty is, however, that it will hold only up to a certain hour, the hour after examination, for example; then it goes so rapidly that one can fairly feel it slipping away. Such rapid memorizing is a witness to the value of very close attention in study; but the rapid escape is testimony to the necessity of a closer association of facts. Owing to undue haste the ideas are crowded into the memory without becoming intimately related, or tied together, in numerous ways. Then, when some part is forgotten, as is sure to happen, the other parts, being unrelated to it, offer no cue for its reproduction. Thus one part after another is lost; and, even though the ideas are closely related by nature, the lack of appreciation of such relationship on the part of the student allows the whole to escape as rapidly as mere lists of facts. To be firmly remembered, either a great amount of drill is necessary, or else the ideas must be assimilated, and assimilation cannot be hurried in this manner.

The principal means of making mechanical memorization less prominent.

The ordinary plan of study, by which memorizing precedes thinking, results, as we have seen, in crowding out thinking by leaving little time and energy for it. Memorizing thus becomes a substitute for thinking, and makes study an extremely dull task. This is an inversion, however, of the true order. If thinking is made to precede conscious attempts to memorize, the nourishing character of study is assured, and direct attempts at memorizing become largely unnecessary, because most of the memorizing has already been accomplished unconsciously. In other words, memorizing then becomes a by-product of thinking, instead of a substitute for it. We often regret the prominence of memorizing in study, and here is probably the principal means of reducing it. There will be less of it, to the extent that we do more thinking; and there will be far more thinking if we put thinking first in time, thereby making it first in importance.

I once saw Kipling's Seal Lullaby presented to seven-year-old children. The teacher read it aloud from the blackboard, then the class read it. Then the class set to work to memorize it, a line or two at a time. This was a good example of bad method, for adults as well as for children. If they had planned first to enjoy the poem by trying to read it several times aloud with expression, by talking it over, illustrating it and singing it, the memorizing would have taken care of itself. As it was, their teacher's haste to have it learned, amounted to a direct advocacy of the principle of cramming; for they were attempting to memorize through force rather than through association of ideas. One reason older students practice cramming to such an extent is that they have never been fully taught a better method; the schools have never fully stood for a better method of memorizing.

So long as memorizing is put first in time, and therefore in importance, those persons who have quick memories will be held up as the ideal students, whether they have higher abilities or not. Quick memories, however, are poor educators indeed unless they are coupled with unusual earnestness and energy. With all classes of students, therefore, the thinking should habitually precede attempts to memorize.

Examples of improvement in memory through closer attention and better method.

From all that has been said, it is plain that how to memorize is closely bound up with the question when to memorize. We are now ready to appreciate the statement that good memorizing is really good thinking, and that improvement in memory is mainly improvement in attention and in method of thinking.

This is in general true, even in spite of some opinions to the contrary. Thurlow Weed, the journalist and politician, for example, greatly increased his ability to remember, and attributed the improvement to an increase in his general power of memory, due to its exercise. He relates his experience in the following words:—

My memory was a sieve. I could remember nothing. Dates, names, appointments, faces—everything escaped me. I said to my wife, "Catherine, I shall never make a successful politician, for I cannot remember, and that is a prime necessity of politicians."

My wife told me I must train my memory. So, when I came home that night, I sat down and spent fifteen minutes trying silently to recall with accuracy the principal events of the day. I could remember but little at first; now I remember that I could not then recall what I had for breakfast. After a few days' practice I found I could recall more. Events came back to me more minutely, more accurately, and more vividly than at first. After a fortnight or so of this, Catherine said, "Why don't you relate to me the events of the day, instead of recalling them to yourself? It would be interesting, and my interest in it would be a stimulus to you."

Having great respect for my wife's opinion, I began a habit of oral confession, as it were, which was continued for almost fifty years. Every night, the last thing before retiring, I told her everything I could remember that had happened to me, or about me, during the day, I generally recalled the dishes I had had for breakfast, dinner, and tea; the people I had seen, and what they had said; the editorials I had written for my paper, giving her a brief abstract of them. I mentioned all the letters I had sent and received, and the very language used, as nearly as possible; when I had walked or ridden—I told her everything that had come within my observation.

I found I could say my lessons better and better every year, and instead of the practice growing irksome, it became a pleasure to go over again the events of the day. I am indebted to this discipline for a memory of somewhat unusual tenacity, and I recommend the practice to all who wish to store up facts, or expect to have much to do with influencing men. [Footnote: Quoted by James, Psychology, Vol. I, p. 665.]

Professor James comments on this experience as follows:—

I do not doubt that Mr. Weed's practical command of his past experiences was much greater after fifty years of this heroic drill than it would have been without it. Expecting to give his account in the evening, he attended better to each incident of the day, named and conceived it differently, set his mind upon it, and in the evening went over it again. He did more thinking about it, and it stayed with him in consequence. But I venture to affirm pretty confidently... that the same matter, casually attended to and not thought about, would have stuck in his memory no better at the end than at the beginning of his years of heroic self-discipline. He had acquired a better method of noting and recording his experiences, but his physiological retentiveness was probably not a bit improved. [Footnote: James, Psychology, Vol. I, p. 666.]

Again, as to the memorizing of facts by actors, Professor James says:—

What it has done for them is to improve their power of studying a part systematically. Their mind is now full of precedents in the way of intonation, emphasis, gesticulation; the new words awaken distinct suggestions and decisions; are caught up, in fact, into a preexisting network, like the merchant's prices or the athlete's store of records, and are recollected easier, although the mere native tenacity is not a whit improved, and is usually, in fact, impaired by age.

It is a case of better remembering by better thinking. Similarly when schoolboys improve by practice in ease of learning by heart, the improvement will, I am sure, be always found to reside in the mode of study of the particular piece (due to the greater interest, the greater suggestiveness, the generic similarity with other pieces, the more sustained attention, etc., etc.) and not at all to any enhancement of the brute retentive power. [Footnote: Ibid., p. 664.]

The prominence of drill.

It still remains to consider the extent to which mere repetition or drill should be prominent. Some help toward an answer may be found in certain recent investigations into the value of drill, and in certain recent improvements in method.

Spelling, arithmetic, and language being the subjects that have required the largest amount of drill, these will be the principal studies here considered.

Dr. O. P. Cornman in his Spelling in the Elementary School recounts some very interesting investigations into the value of drill in that subject. In two schools, each containing the usual eight grades, the use of the spelling book and home lessons in the subject were abandoned for a period of three years. At the same time the period which had been devoted to studying and reciting in spelling in school was omitted from the school program, making the mastery of spelling entirely an incidental matter. The results thus obtained were then compared with the results previously obtained in spelling in those two schools, and also in a number of other schools that devoted from ten to fifty minutes daily to spelling. The conclusion reached was that "the spelling drill as at present administered throughout the country adds little or nothing to the effectiveness of the mere incidental teaching of spelling"; [Footnote: Cornman, Spelling in the Elementary School, p. 66.] or, again, that it "is of so little importance as to be practically negligible." [Footnote: Ibid., p. 65.] This result may have been due to a considerable extent to poor texts in spelling and to the ineffective methods of drilling used.

A large portion of the time spent on arithmetic in the first six grades is usually occupied with drill. Some schools devote a full fifth of their time to this study, thus making the drill in arithmetic very prominent. It is commonly supposed that so much repetition greatly improves the results. Yet, according to investigations undertaken by Dr. C. W. Stone, "a large amount of time spent on arithmetic is no guarantee of a high degree of efficiency. If one were to choose at random among the schools with more than the median time given to arithmetic, the chances are that he would get a school with an inferior product; and, conversely, if one were to choose among the schools with less than the median time cost, the chances are about equal that he would get a school with a superior product in arithmetic." [Footnote: Stone, Arithmetical Abilities: Some Factors Determining Them, p. 62.]

Such conclusions as these give ground for suspicion of any very large amount of drill, even in these drill subjects; it involves too much waste. One important reason for the waste is the fact that drills usually are uninteresting or lack motive, and on that account attention lags, until one learns slowly or not at all. It is true that one can and ought to will to do certain necessary things. But even adults are so made that an act of will insures close attention for only a moment at a time, then attention lags again; sustained attention is assured only when the work undertaken is subordinated to some real interest, so that attention is involuntary.

Recent advances in method of studying language offer further suggestions in regard to the advisable prominence of drill. In the study of modern languages, for example, it used to be the custom to depend largely upon drill for the mastery of a vocabulary, and of the forms of the verbs, nouns, and other parts of speech. Likewise in teaching children to read English it was customary for much drill on new words to precede the actual use of such words in reading. Now much more rapid progress is effected both in modern languages and in our vernacular by greatly increasing the amount of matter read and decreasing, correspondingly, the quantity of drill. The suggestion, therefore, is here made that not only the extensive drills of former times involve much waste, but also that they are probably unnecessary. Further than that, since a closer and more abundant association of facts has already eliminated a large amount of drill, it may be expected that the good work of elimination will go on much farther. Very extensive drills in the future, therefore, do not promise to be a recommendation for the teacher who is responsible for employing them; they will be the resort of those persons who lack the energy or ability to do a higher kind of work, that is, to think.

We need not congratulate ourselves, however, that drills will ever disappear entirely; some drill, like some punishments for children, will probably always be in place, and a considerable amount is still necessary. We must expect a fair amount because we shall probably never be bright enough to make the associations of ideas fully take the place of review by drill. In particular it must be remembered that those portions of our knowledge that we expect to use daily must become second nature to us, or be reduced to habit; that means that many facts must become familiar enough to be reproduced instantly without effort. That is the case, for example, with the multiplication table. Thoughtful association is only a good beginning in the formation of habits; repetition also has a very important place, which must be continued until the knowledge stands at our command "without thinking."


The crucial question.

No one doubts the ability of children to memorize; that is the one thing that they have always been known to be able to do. One argument for teaching them foreign languages as well as many things unintelligible to them now, but possibly useful later, is that they can learn them so easily. That is the ground also, on which much verbatim memorizing of literature and Scripture, that they could not hope soon to appreciate, has been required of them.

The crucial question in this connection, therefore, is not, "Can children memorize?" but rather, "Are they capable of more than mechanical memorizing, or learning by rote? Can they think well enough to memorize largely through association of ideas, like older persons?"

Children's ability to memorize by thinking.

The answer to this question has already been practically given. It has been shown that children can conceive specific purposes; can supplement the thought of authors; can measure the relative importance of facts well enough to establish fair organization among them; and can judge the soundness and general worth of statements. They not only can do these things, but they normally do do them; their present daily lives constantly call for these several kinds of mental activity.

These several factors, however, largely compose the activity of associating ideas with one another, or of thinking. Children can, therefore, memorize through thinking, just as naturally as adults can.

The desirable prominence of such memorizing in childhood.

While very extensive drills are perhaps generally recognized as questionable in the case of adult students, there is a tendency to regard them as entirely proper in childhood. And the helplessness of children—in spite of frequent little rebellions on their part—prevents the establishment of a contrary conviction. We admit that a considerable amount of drill is guaranteed to children through the three R's and spelling, whether any one approves of it or not. But what about much beyond this minimum? Shall the teacher willingly increase the amount by neglecting possible associations within those four subjects, and also by requiring much memorizing of literature and facts in other subjects that cannot be appreciated at the time? Or shall she regard the close association of ideas as the normal activity of children and a great quantity of drill and rote learning as at least verging on the abnormal and the unhealthy? These are questions of great importance in the instruction of children.

It seems safe to affirm that, in general, there are the same reasons for regarding drill and thoughtless memorizing as an evil—though to some extent a necessary one—in childhood as in adult life. Indeed, if there be any difference, the evil is probably greater in childhood, for drill furnishes no nourishment to childhood, while that is peculiarly the period of growth, when abundance of nourishment is most important.

Granted that the ability of children to memorize things that do not brighten the eye is striking, it must be remembered that their mental and moral growth in numerous directions is also striking. It is far more important that their spiritual welfare as a whole be provided for—as live ideas lying within their sphere of experience can be made to provide for it—than that they starve themselves now for the sake of storing up material for the future. The latter plan shows a very low estimate of child-nature, and a misapprehension of the relation of the present to the future.

Aside from this, it is in the elementary school that children must mainly acquire their permanent habits of study; the methods of work there acquired will not be made over on entering the high school or college. If they there become accustomed to beginning their lessons by memorizing, and to memorizing words without appreciating their import, the chances are good that they will have the same habits later. Why not, if there is anything in habit? At least, they will have much to overcome if they reform. On the other hand, if they there begin the mastery of lessons by studying the thought, and memorize largely through the association of ideas, they are likely to continue that plan later. By thus becoming thoughtful in regard to childish matters, they give best promise of being thoughtful on larger subjects later.

In all these remarks there is no intention of making philosophers out of children; but there is a feeling of the necessity of preserving and developing their live-mindedness. Opposition to this feeling indicates that children are not expected to do much thinking even in their own sphere of experience.


Other things being equal, the depth and hence the permanence of impressions varies as the degree of attention varies. For example, if a child's whole attention is given to a name, or a date, or the spelling of a word, he may retain it in memory after having heard it only once; otherwise it may have to be repeated several times.

1. Need of concentration of attention, and method of securing it.

Children, however, easily fall into the securing it. habit of dividing their attention between work and play, so that half of their time is wasted; yet they labor under the impression that there is much virtue merely in spending time on lessons.

Divided attention is not confined to children, either. It is frequently observed that announcements made before large schools are never understood rightly by all, simply because there are always some who are thinking partly of something else. A certain professor of English in one of our large universities has for years been in the habit of dictating the following directions, with illustrations, to his students beginning composition: "Fold the paper lengthwise from right to left, leaving the single edge to your right hand. Endorse on the first three lines. Do not use abbreviations in writing the date. Omit all punctuation, or, if you punctuate, use commas at ends of lines and after date of month." In classes ranging from forty to seventy-five persons, as many as 90 per cent have failed to follow these directions. What better proof is needed of common laxness of attention?

To remedy this evil among children teachers would do well to refer much less to the time spent in study and much more to the kind of attention given. More than that can be done. Children are often directed to "pay close attention," or to "concentrate their attention fully," sometimes without comprehending the meaning of the command, and more often without knowing what steps to take in order to obey. Both difficulties can be partially overcome by fixing time limits to tasks, even in the lower grades. For example, two minutes can be announced as the limit for reading a half page in the second reader. Under that stimulus the children will do their best; and when they have undergone several such tests successfully, reference to these tests will explain what is meant by close attention; reference to their successes also will instill confidence that they know how to give close attention, for they can do again what they have already frequently done. The dawdling that is so common among children is partly due to lack of an ideal, and such time limits should be resorted to somewhat frequently in order to keep the ideal fresh in mind, as well as to cultivate confidence that the ideal can be realized. Military governments often obtain undivided attention to a remarkable degree, showing that attention is a thing that can be cultivated in some directions. Similar determination to secure it should be exercised in the school, only the pressure applied should be of a different kind.

2. Danger of cramming and its avoidance.

College students are not the only ones who gulp down facts, hold them undigested for a few hours, and then disgorge them. Many children study largely in this way in preparation for their daily recitations, as is shown by the fact that they retain facts a very short time, even though they seem to know each day's lessons. It is true in spelling, for example, and in geography and history. It is true likewise in verbatim memorizing of poetry and Bible verses on Sunday mornings.

The general remedy for this evil is found in the requirement that ideas be associated, and as far as possible enjoyed, before any special attempt is made to memorize. This is most difficult in spelling; but some associations are possible there, as suggested (p. 168). It is comparatively easy in geography and history, after children have received some instruction as to method. It is impossible in verbatim memorizing of literature, if selections are made that are far beyond children's appreciation. But there is no need of such selections; there are plenty of poems and Bible verses that can be at least partly understood and really enjoyed by very young people, and it is that kind that should be chosen.

Naturally the thinking that is thus required cannot be expected in large amount from the younger children, for they will feel and enjoy much more than they can analyze. Also, it should, perhaps, be expected very little in memorizing that is entirely voluntary, as when a poem is learned by some child simply because he likes it. But memorizing that is a part of school work, and therefore a part of serious study, should be undertaken in this way, because it is the right way. The number of associations, too, is not so important as the method of study that the child gradually adopts.

3. Ways of leading children to memorize through thinking in study periods.

How children study in preparation for the recitation will depend upon how the recitation itself is conducted, upon what is first called for there and what is most emphasized. The reason that memorizing constitutes the main part of study, not only in the elementary school, but in the high school and the college, is that reproduction has been the principal thing required in the recitations all along the line. It is the character of the recitation, therefore, that must first be changed.

The questions that are considered in the recitation are the factor of greatest influence. If the children find that the teacher's questions usually begin with what, or where, or when, thereby merely calling for direct reproduction of the substance of text, she may talk ever so much about right methods of study, but they will memorize before thinking and without thinking.

Very many of the questions should test not so much knowledge of the text as the pupil's way of treating the text. The spirit of the teacher's usual general question should be, How have you associated or related these facts? And some of her detailed questions might well be: What object do you see in studying this topic? What statements here need filling out, and how have you done it? What are the most important ideas here? Or the most beautiful? How do these statements remind you of others that you already know? Have you found any of these statements questionable? And, if so, how? Thus the conduct of the recitation will show the kinds of questions that must be expected. Gradually the teacher should refrain from putting the questions herself and leave that to the pupils. That becomes very important as they mature; for how otherwise will they learn to study alone?

The questions should include higher forms of comparison far more than is customary. Much of the study of geography, for example, should consist of the comparison of countries with one another. Poems should be compared and grouped. The Children's Hour, Snow-Bound, Evangeline, and the parable of the Prodigal Son taken together reveal a conception of home life that is not obtained by the study of literary selections in an isolated way. So Burke's three addresses, On Taxation, in 1774, On Conciliation, in 1775, and Letters to the Sheriffs of Bristol, in 1777, throw light on one another and form a unit. Such comparisons continually review original facts, and in that way eliminate much customary drill. Preparation for such comparison in the study period properly puts mere memorizing far in the background.

The cross lights that different studies throw upon one another through careful correlation—as when literature and history deal with the same topic—are valuable in a similar manner and should be included in the questions that are considered.

Finally, when the text is so intolerably dull that it discourages reflection, instead of stimulating it,—as is not seldom the case,—it very often lies within the teacher's power to accomplish her objects mainly by the use of other books that are supplementary and for reference. This she should do without hesitation. Much routine drill on geography text, for instance, can be avoided by using geographical readers. Pointed questions, of course, would be in control here as in other cases.

These various thought questions, coming from teacher and pupils, should not be reserved until toward the close of the recitation, to be put then if any time is left. That defeats their object. They should occupy the time from the beginning of the period; it is the memory questions that should follow, if there is time and if they are needed. The order in time for the thinking and the special attempt to memorize is one of the most vital matters, and it is highly important that the recitation itself stand for the order that is expected in private study.

4. Conditions for the best kind of drill.

While it is the sign of a weak mind to give great prominence to drill, some drill is unavoidable. There are two conditions that must be fulfilled in order to secure the best kind. One is that sufficient motive be provided to secure very close attention. The use of motor activity may be an important aid in this direction, as when children are allowed to walk about and point in locating places in geography, to dramatize in reproducing literature, and to use sand and clay in representation of various kinds.

Emulation is a powerful motive, but has so many dangers that it should be used sparingly. The cooperative spirit is the kind that the school should cultivate, and heated competition does not readily lead to cooperation. There is, however, much profit and no danger in making comparisons among one's own products.

The teacher herself may be one of the most potent factors securing close attention. If she has force and has cultivated the friendship of her pupils until they are anxious to please her, her appeals to their own wills will not be in vain. If, in addition, her skill in handling a class inspires confidence, she can do much toward conducting her class through drills without waste of time. Very many drills are failures mainly because the teacher is a poor manager, not knowing how to distribute materials quietly and quickly and to assign and supervise work so that all are kept busy. The strong personality, however, has its dangers, also, for it may carry children through drills instead of letting them carry themselves. In the main, unless children furnish their own steam when they work with a teacher, they will have little steam to do work when left to themselves.

The healthiest provision for motive in drills is found in the recognition of a given drill as a necessary step toward the accomplishment of some already greatly desired end. A child will willingly practice mixing colors in order to obtain a certain shade, if he is much interested in painting a certain kind of calendar. And he will gladly drill upon the rendering of a poem, if he is anxious to surprise his mother with it on her birthday. Such subordination of uninteresting tasks to larger purposes is highly educative, and no one has found the limit to which it can be carried.

The second condition of successful drills is that they be short. Even under the most favorable circumstances children cannot long remain alert on subject-matter that lacks intrinsic interest. In brief, therefore, drills to be effective must be made sharp by the presence of motive, and must be short.



The indefiniteness of the endpoint of study.

The student has accomplished much when he has discovered some of the closer relations that a topic bears to life; when he has supplemented the thought of the author; when he has determined the relative importance of different parts and given them a corresponding organization; when he has passed judgment on their soundness and general worth; and when, finally, he has gone through whatever drill is necessary to fix the ideas firmly in his memory. Is he then through with a topic, or is more work to be done? Digestion of food is likewise a long process, the food having to be acted upon in various ways in the mouth, the stomach, and the intestines. But with food there is always a certain end to be reached, called assimilation, which is the actual changing of its nutriment into the solids and liquids of our bodies. Is there a similarly definite end to be reached in the study process?

It must be admitted that while we can define this end somewhat sharply in words, it is very difficult to know when it has been actually reached. Many a business man has felt convinced that he understood a certain business project perfectly, until the outcome has proved the contrary. Business failures are largely due to such deception. Even highly educated men are often surprised at their want of mastery of questions that they had supposed to be fully within their grasp. Socrates spent much of his time bringing such surprises to the promising but overconfident young men of Athens. Robert Y. Hayne, the distinguished champion of nullification, no doubt experienced such a surprise when Webster delivered his great speech on that subject. The actual mastery of subjects is perhaps never complete; it is only relative. Even a child may have as good a grasp of one subject as a philosopher has of another, and each may be deceived in regard to the extent of his understanding.

The common ignorance as to how much study is necessary for the mastery of knowledge is suggested by the common ignorance as to how much work is necessary for the assimilation of food. It takes from three to five hours for food that has been eaten to get beyond the stomach, and people ordinarily assume that the assimilative process is pretty well completed by that time. The fact is, however, that it is then only well begun; for it requires from ten to twelve hours to dispose fully of a meal, and most of the work of digestion takes place after the food leaves the stomach. While the assimilation of knowledge is what the student is supposed to aim at, how much that involves is even less understood.

Importance of as great definiteness in the endpoint as possible.

In the digestion of food our organisms provide for themselves, so that we do not need to worry greatly over some ignorance of the process. But our responsibility in the assimilation of knowledge is much greater, for that does not go on uninterruptedly even while we sleep; it will be carried only so far as we have the energy and insight to take it.

That being the case, it is very easy for one to stop too soon in the study of a topic. For instance, when a lesson in history has been only memorized, the digestive process has been carried little further than physical digestion has been taken when food reaches the stomach. That is, it is barely begun. Yet very many young people stop near this point, and they sometimes even take credit to themselves for getting so far.

We might add comprehension of the thought to the work of memorizing and still be far from the end. We can have comprehended and memorized the Beatitudes, for example, and be as free from any effect from them as the proverbial duck's back is from the effect of water. We can pass good examinations in psychology and logic with the same absence of influence. That certainly does not signify assimilation. Assimilation means the spiritual nourishment that is received by making new thought homogeneous with one's own thought, by making it an integral part of one's self.

Remembering how young people generally study, it seems probable that many of them spend a large part of their time providing for nourishment that they never get. They do a lot of hard work collecting the raw materials of knowledge without working them over so as to reap either the pleasure or the profit intended. Here is where some of the waste in education lies.

It is highly important, therefore, that the student reach as definite as possible a conception of the endpoint to be attained in study. Although the meaning of assimilation may not be perfectly clear, a few of its characteristics at least may be distinguished, so that we can feel some certainty as to how far we have got in the process, and have some notion as to how much more must be done in order to reach the approximate goal.

The endpoint accepted in mastery of the useful arts.

Study of the useful arts, such as the various trades, consists of two distinct parts. On the one hand, facts must be mastered that pertain to the nature of materials, to methods of using implements or tools, and to plans tor construction. In cabinet-making, for example, the qualities of woods and paints, the rules for using the saw, plane, and chisel, and the various ideas governing designs for household furniture must all receive attention. In other words, a considerable body of theory must be acquired.

On the other hand, this theory must find application under particular conditions; a table must be made out of certain materials, with certain tools, according to a certain design. This also involves much thinking; but, in addition to all that, there is execution of theory, called doing or practice.

There is, further, a definite relation between these two parts, for the theory is merely a means to an end. What is wanted is a good product, and the theory is valuable to the extent that it affects the product. The useful arts, as studies, stand, therefore, both for theory and for the application or use of theory, and the latter is the goal. No one thinks of pursuing any one of the trades without including the use of his knowledge in practice as the culminating part of his work.

To what extent should other branches of knowledge resemble the useful arts in their combination of knowledge with the use of knowledge? Should the use of ideas be their goal? The answer must depend upon one's conception of the purpose of life in general and, therefore, of education.

The endpoint in the study of other subjects.

Abilities of various kinds in the animal world find their purpose not in themselves but in adaptation to environment. Fear on the part of the rabbit, for instance, increases its speed in running, and in that way protects its life. The bear's strength aids in repelling its enemies, and the intelligence of both animals finds its purpose both in protection against enemies and in finding food. Living, in the case of animals, thus means getting on, and any ability, whether physical or intellectual, is of importance to the extent that it makes such getting on successful. The endpoint among animals, then, is the use of their powers in effecting adaptation to their environment.

Man's environment is far broader than that of animals, being moral and spiritual as well as physical. But his relation to it is substantially the same; for his success is likewise measured by the degree of adaptation accomplished. Human abilities are not mainly valuable in themselves, but rather as means in securing fuller adaptation, "complete living"; that is, they are valuable for their use.

The end to be attained in education is in full harmony with this idea. The object of education most emphasized in recent years is efficiency, which means power to accomplish. It presupposes a good degree of intelligence, the more the better, but it goes beyond that; for an efficient person is one who does things. Knowledge without the ability to apply or use it leaves one theoretical, which, is a term of reproach.

The various subjects of instruction recognize the necessity of use very plainly. Painting and music, for example, contain, each, a large body of theory. They also include an abundance of practice, a practice, too, that centers in the betterment of man's condition. Literature deals largely with ideals, presenting the theory of living. But this theory is valuable chiefly as a guide to conduct. The student of literature who professes admiration for its ideas without applying them to himself has derived only a small part of the benefit from it that he should. Literature is like religion in this respect. The latter emphasizes the worth of insight into divine truth and of faith in God; but both this insight and faith are to find their fruitage in conduct. "Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this," says the apostle, "to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world." [Footnote: James 1, 27.] Similarly, a study of philosophy that does not end in affecting our own philosophy of life, and thereby our conduct, has been unsuccessful, even though examinations have been successfully passed.

Pure science is knowledge that has been proved and properly organized; and it is highly desirable that specialists devote their lives to its further development. The main reason, however, is that its applications may finally be more abundant; and science used for the purpose of education must recognize the relation of such knowledge to man as one of its integral and prominent parts. So long as efficiency is the recognized purpose of education, there is little excuse for a young person's studying science apart from its applications, or pure science. There is some profit in it, but there is more profit in something better. That kind of study should be left to the specialist.

Much has been said in times past about art for art's sake, science for the sake of science, and knowledge for the sake of knowledge; but these are vague expressions that will excite little interest so long as the worth of a man is determined by what comes out of him, by the service he renders, rather than by what enters in. Other branches of knowledge used for educative purposes, therefore, resemble the useful arts in the recognition of their bearings on man, their actual use as the goal in their study.

Why the using of knowledge as an endpoint in study needs emphasis.

It might be unnecessary to emphasize this matter were it not that this conception of study has been reached only after long development and is still actively opposed. The old Greeks stood for a very different idea. To Plato, the use of the intellect for practical purposes was subordinate and almost disgraceful. The summation of existence was to be found in reflection, and the ambition of the educated man was to escape from the concrete world, in order to live in the world of abstract truth. Many of the monks of the Middle Ages resembled the ancient Greeks in this regard, desiring to separate themselves as completely as possible from society for the sake of the contemplation of spiritual matters. Reflection, contemplation, was thus not a means to an end but an end in itself, and the thinker or dreamer, rather than the efficient man, was the ideally educated person.

That goal is now condemned for its extreme selfishness; we want men and women as citizens who are glad to identify themselves with their fellow beings and ambitious for efficient service among them, not those who conscientiously ignore the world. Yet there are still plain tendencies in this direction, as is seen in the fact that an education that is liberal and cultural is often contrasted with one that is useful as being of a higher order. "That alone is liberal education," says Cardinal Newman, "which stands on its own pretensions, which is independent of sequel, expects no complement, refuses to be informed (as it is called) by any end or absorbed into any art, in order duly to present itself to our contemplation." [Footnote: Scope and Nature of University Education, p. 135.] Liberal education is something which "is desirable, though nothing come of it"; "worth possessing for what it is, and not merely for what it does." Art for art's sake, rather than art for man's sake, would thus represent the true spirit of a liberal college course, in the estimation of this author; the admission of service to mankind as a prominent purpose, particularly as its goal, would deprive it of its liberal character, and in the same degree expose it to condemnation.

That is strange doctrine indeed. Liberal is originally a term opposed to narrow and restricted, and a liberal education might properly be contrasted with the very narrow bread-and-butter kind that aims at the mastery of art without theory. But how the restriction caused by the presence of worthy specific purposes of a thousand kinds is inimical to the broadening effects of study and to its general value is difficult to comprehend. The hypothesis guiding a scientific investigation narrows the work only enough to give it point, and a well-chosen particular aim will have the same effect on any study.

Further than that, the consciousness in advance that any conclusions reached must be tested by actual conditions has only a good influence by nerving us to do our best; and the actual test is of value in informing us as to the degree of soundness of our ideas. All persons must be shocked by the misfit between what they supposed to be true and what they find by trial to be fact, before they will waken up and do their best thinking. The superabundance of advice that bachelor uncles and maiden aunts offer in regard to the rearing of children is due to the fact that their theory has not been refined by practice. It is the direct contact with the world in the use of knowledge that reveals the latter's real significance and that converts it into experience; and it is only the knowledge that becomes experience that really counts in education.

Again, in arguing the question of allowing normal schools to grant degrees, a certain well-known educator declares: "Where ability to exercise a practical art is concerned, degrees are or should be valueless. They should be restricted merely to the position of evidences of culture. For this reason normal schools should not grant degrees." [Footnote: Year Book of National Society for Scientific Study of Education, 1905, p. 93.] Our better normal schools—which are the only kind that might be expected to grant degrees—give instruction in literature, history, geography, fine art, etc., the same as the degree-conferring colleges. To these subjects the normal school adds the history of education and the principles of education, which are presumably harmless so long as they are not applied, and they usually are not. There remain then the subjects that involve practice, such as special method courses, applied psychology and practice teaching; these must be the baneful studies. The good four- year normal school course presumably requires as much thinking and other strenuous work as that of the college. But the presence of the last group of subjects signifies that this study is to culminate in the use of knowledge; and there's the rub. It is this latter fact that vitiates the course and precludes the cultural effect that a college course insures.

If this is a proper interpretation, it is, indeed, strange doctrine. One can understand how carpentry might not have as great a cultural effect as literature; but one would think that, if the untested and therefore half-digested thoughts of literature have a certain cultural effect, the same thoughts might have a fuller refining influence if their meaning and force were more fully realized in the way their use in life might secure their realization; and one would think that the same might hold in regard to any subject.

The difficulty is that there are two opposing notions of culture. On the one hand there are persons who conceive culture to be a refinement that is directly endangered by contact with the realities of life, for instance by participation in local politics and other social contests, and by such practice of charity as must be accompanied by physical exertion and bad smells. Culture is, to them, the name for that serenity and loftiness of mind that can be attained and preserved only by keeping a safe distance from the madding crowd; and the cultured man is pictured by them as sitting in a comfortable chair, preferably with a book in his hand, and rapt in meditation on lofty themes.

On the other hand there are those who conceive that culture—if more than a veneer—is a refinement that can be attained only by direct participation in social life. Such contact with the world may bring embarrassment, temptation, and failure, as well as their opposites; but all of these, instead of debasing, are the very experiences that purify and make gentle; they are the fire without which the refining process could not take place. Culture means to these people the ennobling effect of such actual struggles upon a person's whole outlook on life and upon his way in general of conducting himself; and the cultured man is pictured by them as in action, even with his sleeves rolled up, engaged in the accomplishment of high purposes.

Culture is so valuable a quality that each person must determine for himself which of these two conceptions of it is sound, before he can decide whether the using of knowledge is worthy of being made the goal in study or not.

Breadth of meaning of the term "use."

In declaring that the using of knowledge is the proper endpoint in study, it is important that the breadth of meaning of the term use be held in mind. The application of knowledge in earning a livelihood covers only a small part of what is included. A man is using his knowledge when he is getting inspiration from poetry that he has memorized, or drawing new conclusions from previously acquired facts. He is using it, further, when he entertains his family with it, or by its means makes himself otherwise agreeable to them. He is using it when it is made to count in the rearing of children, or in the performance of the manifold duties of membership in a community, or in worshiping God. In short, it is being used when its content is turned to account in the accomplishment of purposes, whatever they be, or is made to function in one's daily adaptation to physical, moral, and religious environment.

States in the assimilation of knowledge.

The student should continually carry in mind the fact that facility in the use of knowledge is the end of his study, and the only reliable proof of mental assimilation. It is a long road, however, to this goal, and any clearly marked stages that must be passed through in reaching it should be well known, since they will help the student greatly to keep his bearings and preserve his courage. Here are given a few such stages.

1. Collection of crude materials.

First, under the influence of as full a sympathy with the author as possible, one obtains a fair comprehension of the thought. Much supplementing may be necessary to this end, as well as careful consideration of relative values. This may require one or several perusals of the thought, according to the difficulty of the subject and to individual ability. Proof of comprehension may be given by the expression of the thought in one's own words, either from memory or with the book open. Such study is a comparatively passive kind of work, calling for subordination of the student to the author, and amounts to little more than a collection of the crude materials of knowledge. The corresponding stage in the assimilation of food would be, perhaps, its preparation and mastication.

2. Selection and reorganization of the profitable portion of these materials.

"What am I getting from this author?" or "What profit is this material bringing me?" is the principal consideration in the second stage. With the thought of profit uppermost in mind, the student recalls or further defines any specific purposes of the study that may have occurred to him; under their guidance he casts aside as non-essential much of what is presented, and centers his attention on those ideas that seem to have real value for him.

These he further re-words, in order to determine their very essence, and also carefully weighs. In addition he reorganizes them, unless their original organization appears to him peculiarly fitting. The self must enter so fully, in true assimilation, that neither the author's wording nor his organization is likely to prove satisfying. One will seldom quote another's words or follow his order of treatment when presenting a topic that has been really digested. Not seldom the last point made by an author will become the first in the student's mind, showing how radical the reorganization may be.

This step, requiring much discrimination and exercise of judgment from the learner's own view-point—-thereby entirely subordinating the author to the student—requires a high degree of independence. It might be called the profit-drawing stage, or the stage in which the part that promises profit is extracted. The corresponding step in the assimilation of food is what is technically called digestion, which is the separation of the nutritious from the waste elements, or the conversion of food into chyme, preparatory to assimilation.

3. Translation of this portion into experience.

Even after a person has determined what portion of the crude materials can be of value to him and has reorganized it in a satisfactory manner, it may still seem somewhat strange to him,-another person's thought rather than his own. This is an indication that more work must be done, for assimilation of knowledge, like assimilation of food, requires the full identity of the nourishing matter with the self. "A thought is not a thought," says Dr. Dewey, "unless it is one's own." [Footnote: School and Society, p. 66.]

The student may thus far have reached nothing more than a consciousness of facts by themselves, while consciousness of them as a part of the self is a much more advanced stage. In order to reach this last point the student may find it necessary to review the thought a number of times in various ways, stating the pertinent questions and their answers. He may also practice making the main points with force, using them either under imagined or under actual conditions. In such a manner they are tossed about, overhauled, and restated, until a much closer and more abundant association of the ideas with one another and with the past experience of the learner is secured; he warms up to them until he welds them to himself.

As a result a sense of ownership of the knowledge is finally established, a condition in which one largely loses consciousness of the original wording and, perhaps, even of the original source of the thought. The ideas now seem simple and their control easy, and one enjoys the feeling of increased strength due to real nourishment received. The feeling of ownership is fully justified, too, for, no matter where the thought may have originated, it has been worked over until it has been given a new color and has received one's own stamp, the stamp of self. This is the step in which the profitable matter extracted from the crude materials is translated into the learner's own experience; it corresponds to that part of food assimilation in which the nutritious portion of our food, secured through digestion, is made over into the bone, tissue, and muscle of the body.

4. Formation of habit.

While these steps overlap more or less, each represents a distinct advance. Study of many topics may be allowed to stop at this point, although it should be understood that assimilation is perhaps never complete, and that the appreciation of a great thought, together with the ability to use it, may continue to grow from year to year. On that account one should expect to review from time to time, by use and otherwise, the valuable experiences that have already been "mastered" through study.

Certain portions of knowledge, however, cannot be left as properly under our control when they have been translated into experience as described. Study has thus far brought the student only to the ability to use his knowledge with fair ease consciously, and extensive portions of knowledge have to be used quite unconsciously; they must not only become truly ours but they must become second nature to us. In all the trades, for example, the many facts about the use of materials and tools, etc., must be applied "without thinking" before skill is attained. The same holds in the fine arts. In grammar, knowledge of the rules must be carried over into habit before one's speech is safely grammatical. Knowledge of the political and moral truths contained in history and literature must likewise be converted into habit before proper conduct is assured. In learning how to study one must fall into the habit of associating ideas, weighing values, and carrying points, unconsciously, before the subject is properly mastered. "Ninety-nine hundredths, or, possibly, nine hundred and ninety-nine thousandths of our activity is purely automatic and habitual," says Professor James, "from our rising in the morning to our lying down each night. Our dressing and undressing, our eating and drinking, our greetings and partings, our hat-raisings and giving way for ladies to precede, nay, even most of the forms of our common speech, are things of a type so fixed by repetition as almost to be classed as reflex actions." [Footnote: James, Talks to Teachers, p. 65.] Professor James is here referring mainly to motor activity; but habit is evidently a large factor in all phases of life; and, while many of the valuable thoughts assimilated by study probably do not need to be applied unconsciously, it is safe to say that prominent portions of most branches of knowledge must be converted into habit, or become second nature, before we can be said to have reached the desirable endpoint in their pursuit.

The extent of this last advance, in which experience becomes habit, is indicated by the wide difference that exists between using a correct form of speech consciously and using it unconsciously, for even years of trial may intervene between the two. Repetition by use, under as nearly natural conditions as possible, must be the principal means of getting through this fourth step. But such practice should be influenced by certain very important precautions stated by Professor James. He has in mind primarily the formation of moral habits in his suggestions, but they apply in large measure also to the formation of other habits.

1. "In the acquisition of a new habit, or the leaving off of an old one, we must take care to launch ourselves with as strong and decided an initiative as possible. Accumulate all the possible circumstances which shall reinforce the right motives; put yourself assiduously in conditions that encourage the new way; make engagements incompatible with the old; take a public pledge, if the case allows; in short, envelop your resolution with every aid you know."

2. "Never suffer an exception to occur till the new habit is securely rooted in your life. Each lapse is like the letting fall of a ball of string which one is carefully winding up; a single slip undoes more than a great many turns will wind again."

3. "Seize the very first possible opportunity to act on every resolution you make, and on every emotional prompting you may experience in the direction of the habits you aspire to gain. It is not in the moment of their forming but in the moment of their producing motor effects, that resolves and aspirations communicate the new 'set' to the brain." [Footnote: James, Talks to Teachers, pp. 67-70. See also James, Psychology, Vol. I, Chapter IV, "Habit."]

The time and labor necessary in real assimilation of knowledge.

It is evident that real assimilation of knowledge is a very complex process, requiring a great amount of time and labor. "And be assured, also," says Ruskin, "if the author is worth anything, you will not get at his meaning all at once—nay, that at his whole meaning you will not for a long time arrive, in any wise." [Footnote: Ruskin, Sesame and Lilies.] Ruskin is here doubtless referring mainly to insight into the thought; but, as has been shown, a point is not assimilated when one merely sees it clearly; insight into an idea usually precedes experience or ownership of it by a long interval; and the latter generally precedes habit by another long period.

We are familiar with these facts as applied to mechanical subject- matter, such as the multiplication tables and forms of discourse. We recognize that we must come back to these over and over again if we are to obtain automatic control over them. Yet we act as though there was ground for assuming that the more fertile ideas, which are to be reduced to habits of thought and conduct, require less energy and patience. There is no justification for any such assumption; it would seem more reasonable to expect to devote more time to the latter, rather than less.

Probably not much knowledge acquired either in school or college is carried through the three or four stages named above; but it is also true that comparatively little of that knowledge becomes a source of power, and it is safe to assume that the one fact is at least part explanation of the other. It is highly important, therefore, that the student become early reconciled to the fact that the real mastery of knowledge is a long and laborious process.


The natural tendency to carry ideas into execution.

One of the most attractive baits that can be offered to a discontented, restless child is to propose that he do something; and having received such a proposal, his impatience over delay in its execution shows how closely his nature links doing with thinking and planning. The games of children call for comparatively little study; yet children's desire to be acting is so dominant that they can scarcely wait to learn the rules before beginning to play. An eight- year-old girl who had been studying at home with her mother complained to a friend, "Mother doesn't have me do anything! She has had me read and spell and learn arithmetic, and that's all." It is partly because we have come to appreciate, in recent years, this pressing need of doing, that we have been reforming the elementary school by introducing manual training, cooking, and sewing. One of the early surprises and disappointments of children produced by adults is the failure of the latter to carry into practice plans that they have been heard to make, and ideals that they have professed to admire. Having set up specific aims, such as were suggested in Chapter III, children expect to realize them in practice, because instinct tells them that the value of theory is found in its application. That is the reason that they so often inquire, "What is the use of it?" in connection with their study at school, and that they disapprove so heartily of any project that won't work.

Value of this tendency in education.

Living means substantially the same thing with children as with adults. They have the same general environment as adults; they study the same large fields of knowledge; and they likewise find the object of education in efficiency. There are the same reasons, therefore, as in the case of more mature students, for making the using of knowledge the aim of their study.

The prospect of applying knowledge is a source of motive for all grades of learners. I have never seen a class more attentive to every detail of its procedure than were a certain group of girls who felt under obligations to eat the strawberry jam that they were making at school. Furthermore, the actual doing of the things imagined is a great clarifier of thought for children, as is shown in the very extensive use that the school makes of motor activity in numerous studies, and particularly of dramatizing in literature and history. It is also the most natural test of the practicability of the plans of children, and on that account a means of developing their soundness of judgment. This is well illustrated by a certain six-year-old girl who was making a doll's dress. After working in a very absorbed way for a time she impatiently exclaimed, "I won't have any lace in my sleeves!" "Why not?" asked one of her playmates. "'Cause I can't see any way to put it on," was the reply. One of the chief reasons why the experience of children outside of school is so educative is the fact that their ideas and plans are thus continually corrected by trial.

Briefly, therefore, it is normal for children to carry ideas into execution, and there is the same need of it as in the case of adults. It might be added that the peculiar ease with which children form habits furnishes a special reason why the conversion of ideas into habits should constitute a very important part of their study.


1. Special recognition of those facts that should be translated into habit.

While all of one's knowledge should become familiar enough to form experience, some of it should be worked over until it is translated into habit. Facts of this latter kind should be clearly distinguished from others, in order that they may receive the special attention due them. The moral truths of literature and history belong plainly to this group. But there are many others, such, for instance, as the picturing of places upon the earth's surface rather than upon maps; the association of places with their latitudes; in the case of such a live problem as protective tariff, the association of the main facts in its history; the association of our leading transportation routes with the progress of our country; looking to the evidence in considering the value of statements; and the accurate and pointed wording of questions and answers.

The habits that should be insisted upon in arithmetic are pretty well agreed upon, such as neatness of written work, accuracy of oral and written statements, the statement of a problem in one's own words, in case the meaning is at all doubtful, and the use of the approximate answer as a guide in finding the exact answer. But only when the great importance of such procedures is definitely recognized are they likely to receive the attention necessary to convert them into habits. If accuracy of statement were recognized as one of the very valuable habits to be acquired in literature and geography, as well as in arithmetic, much more effort would probably be put forth to establish that habit in those studies. Rules for thinking and for the expression of thought that should result in habits, like the rules of grammar, pervade all the studies, but until this fact is better established, and until the principal habits to be expected from each study are more clearly defined, somewhat as in arithmetic, there will be much wasted effort in study because important parts of the work will not be carried to completion.

2. Studying for one's own benefit.

The average "good" student scarcely gets beyond the first of the four stages of study outlined, i. e., the collection of the crude materials of knowledge. One very important reason tor this is that he fixes his eyes too intently upon his teacher in the preparation of his lessons; he studies to satisfy her rather than himself, as though somehow the school was established for her benefit. This subordination to the teacher is shown in the attitude toward marks; many a college student, even, waits helplessly until he can learn his mark before he knows whether or not he has done well; he seems to lack any conviction of his own about the matter. The student who feels responsibility primarily to himself, and therefore bothers little about marks, is rare.

Yet the selection of that portion of the subject-matter that promises profit, and its conversion into experience, presuppose the ability to subordinate both author and teacher to the self, indeed to forget about both. No teacher can direct a student just what to select, or inform him when it has become experience with him; the real student must have a self big enough to carry that responsibility alone. Weakness in this respect manifests itself very early. Many a child is so absorbed in his teacher as not to know when he knows a thing until the teacher's approval is given. In some schools probably half of the pupils ten to twelve years of age fall into such a halting, apologetic frame of mind, that they would scarcely risk a meal on the accuracy of any statement that they make. In comparison, the boy who won't study, who plays hookey on warm spring days in spite of his teacher's warnings, and who otherwise defies his teacher, is to be admired; he is preserving his individuality, his most important possession.

It is largely the teacher's fault if children show no power to discriminate the values of facts to themselves, and to determine when they know a thing. They will not always show wisdom in their selections, and will not always be right when they feel sure. A good degree of reliability in these respects is something that has to be acquired by long training. But the spirit of self-reliance is a child's birthright, and if it is lacking in his study it is because his nature has been undermined. Teachers, therefore, should take great pains to avoid a dogmatic manner toward children; they should impress upon them the fact that they are primarily responsible to themselves in their study, and that teachers are only advisers or assistants in intellectual matters, and not masters. No doubt many a college student finds it next to impossible to accomplish the second and third stages in study here outlined, simply because he finds no individual self within him to satisfy; it has been so long and so fully subordinated to others that it has become dwarfed, or has lost its native power to react; on that account independent selection is difficult and the sense of ownership is weak.

3. Means of influencing pupils to use their knowledge. (1). "The recitation."

The principal means on which the teacher must rely for influencing children to include the using of knowledge as a part of their study, is the recitation. Since at least most of the recitation period is necessarily spent in talking, it might at first seem that it could accomplish little in the way of applying what one learns. But when it is remembered that perhaps the main use of knowledge is found in conversation and discussion, the situation need not seem so hopeless.

The great thing, then, is to see that the talk of the class room takes place under as natural conditions as serious conversation and discussion elsewhere, thus duplicating real life. We know that children may spell words correctly in lists that they will miss in writing letters, and that they can solve problems in arithmetic correctly in school that seem quite beyond them when accidentally met as actual problems outside. Such facts emphasize the truth that only actual life secures a full and normal test of knowledge, and, therefore, that the recitation secures it only to the extent that it duplicates life.

Here is seen a fundamental weakness of the customary recitation. It tests only the presence of facts in the minds of pupils, while the outside world tests their ability to use these facts, which is another and far more difficult matter, requiring true assimilation. Not merely that; but the customary recitation makes a sympathetic teacher the center of activity, she putting most of the questions, interpreting the answers, foreknowing what the children are trying to say, and deciding all issues. The children are not expected to offer ideas that are new to any one present, and they even acknowledge responsibility only to the teacher, looking toward her, addressing their statements to her, and usually endeavoring only to make her hear. All this holds largely in college recitations as well as elsewhere,—in case the students have the privilege of doing anything beyond listening to teachers there. This is an extremely unnatural situation and an inadequate test, as is indicated by the fact that the replies to the teacher's questions seldom convey clear meaning to strangers present. Such recitations secure far less individuality of thought and far less directness and force in its expression than is acceptable anywhere outside of the academic atmosphere.

The special importance of having the school periods duplicate life conditions is seen in the fact that the character of the recitation determines the character of the preparation for it. Both the child and the more mature student will ordinarily go only so far in preparation as is necessary in order to meet the demands made upon them in class. If, therefore, the recitation does nothing more than give a weak test of the presence of facts, the preparation will include little selection and reorganization of facts and little effort to translate them into experience.

How, then, should the customary recitation be modified? Let the young people come together much of the time for the same purpose that they have in serious conversation outside; i.e., not to rehearse or recite, but to talk over earnestly points that are worth talking over. With an assigned topic for a lesson, and with a teacher present as adviser and critic, let them compare their conceptions of what seem to them the principal facts, supplementing, rejecting, and selecting what seems to them fit. The relationship that they would bear toward one another might be the same as in any social gathering; but since it would be real work and not entertainment that they were attempting, attention would be centered on a definite subject and remarks would be more pointed. While the teacher would preserve order in the usual fashion, and might often come to their aid by correcting and advising, responsibility for taking the initiative and for making fair progress would rest primarily upon the children, so that they would be adopting an attitude and a method that could be directly transferred to the home and elsewhere. This is the ideal that Dr. Dewey urges in his School and Society when he says: "The recitation becomes a social meeting place; it is to the school what the spontaneous conversation is at home, except that it is more organized, following definite lines. The recitation becomes the social clearing house, where experiences and ideas are exchanged and subjected to criticism, where misconceptions are corrected, and new lines of thought and inquiry are set up." [Footnote: Dr. John Dewey, School and Society, p. 65.] The recitation then becomes a period where children talk before the teacher rather than to her; and in questioning and answering one another in a natural way they not only learn pointedness in thinking, but they increase and test their knowledge by using it. Thus they give witness to the truth of Bacon's words: "Whosoever hath his mind fraught with many thoughts, his wits and understanding do clarify and break up in the communicating and discoursing with another; he tosseth his thoughts more easily; he marshalleth them more orderly; he seeth how they look when they are turned into words; finally, he waxeth wiser than himself; and that more by an hour's discourse than by a day's meditation....A man were better relate himself to a statue or picture, than to suffer his thoughts to pass in smother." [Footnote: Bacon's Essays, Of Friendship.] When many of the school periods are occupied in this way, the lessons are not likely to be prepared with the teacher first in mind; what the others will say, what they will accept and reject and enjoy, as well as what one can one's self present and maintain, will chiefly occupy the attention. The child will then be selective in his study, having a view-point of his own; and he may even practice the forcible presentation of his ideas in the privacy of his study—before "a statue or picture" if need be. Moreover, with the use of his knowledge in prospect, he will cease to rely weakly upon his teacher to tell him whether or not he knows, because he will carry his own standard.

There is no reason for assuming that all recitations should be spent in this manner, nor, perhaps, half of them; and they would not prove highly successful without training on the part of both teachers and pupils. But such a method of procedure should be common, and it should be fundamental to other study. In fact, it has succeeded admirably where tried by intelligent teachers.

(2). The school and home life of the pupil.

While the recitation can furnish occasion, in the way described, for the first use of knowledge, its use must be carried much further before a fair degree of assimilation can be assured. For this purpose the community life of the school, including the conduct of the children toward one another in the schoolroom and on the playground, may be of great value. A teacher of six-year-old children can, by close observation, find many ways in which the morals contained in fairy tales that she tells will apply to their daily lives, and with skill she can draw their attention to the fact in a helpful manner. So, any teacher who is earnest and observant of the thought, speech, and general conduct of her pupils can find numerous needs for the ideas that have been presented in class. The community life of a school is not very much narrower than that of any ordinary social community, such as a village; and certainly in a village the uses of knowledge are without limit, if one will only find them.

If, in addition to a close watch of the school life, the teacher finds energy to study the home life of her pupils, even to visit them in their homes, so as to become acquainted with their parents and their home conditions, she can gather many more suggestions for the application of school knowledge. If she then makes mention of such uses at fitting times, and also as a part of examinations calls upon pupils to report on uses actually made of facts learned, she can both secure much real use of knowledge acquired at school and at the same time cultivate responsibility for its further use.



A fixed attitude toward facts and conclusions is harmful in several ways. The following incidents suggest how greatly it interferes with the usefulness of knowledge.

Reasons why a fixed attitude toward ideas is undesirable. 1. It interferes with the usefulness of knowledge.

A certain man living in one of the suburbs of Greater New York was commissioned by his wife to buy some flannel for her at one of the large department stores in the city. She knew exactly what she wanted, for she had already purchased some of the goods at this store. So she gave her husband a sample, with the explicit directions, emphasized, that the new piece should be of exactly the same quality, with white edges, and one yard wide.

On arriving at the right counter, the man delivered his sample and gave his order. But, after some searching, the clerk said, "The exact thing that you want has all been sold; but I have here just the right piece," throwing down a bolt, "except that it is slightly coarser. Could you take that?" Recalling his wife's instructions, the man replied, "No," somewhat doubtfully.

After more searching the clerk said, "Well, I have here a piece of just the desired quality, and one yard wide, only it has red edges. Could you not use that?" and he threw another bolt down on the counter. Again, remembering the emphasis on the directions received, the man responded weakly, "No, I think not."

Finally, after further search, the clerk produced a third bolt, with the remark, "This will probably suit you. It is the exact quality that you want, and has white edges. The only objection is that it is not quite a yard wide. Can you not take it?" When for a third time the hesitating response came, "I think not," the clerk turned away with an expression of disgust for his customer, mingled with sorrow and pity.

Although the man had done his best, he did not feel sure of his wife's approval on his return home. When she asked for his purchase he stated that he had failed to make it, and explained the circumstances. "Well," she replied, "but why didn't you use your own judgment and take one of the other pieces?" To which he responded, "I understood that I was not expected to use any judgment. You strongly emphasized the fact that you wanted material exactly like the sample, with white edges and just one yard wide. You told me nothing about what was to be made out of the goods. How, then, was I in a position to do anything more than to follow your exact directions?" That ended the discussion; but the need of less fixedness in instructions given was strongly impressed upon the husband, and a similar need in the following of instructions was equally impressed upon the wife. They were thus agreed as to the desirableness of some adaptability in one's ideas.

A certain class of girls was learning to make French cream candy, and the recipe for the same, namely,

1 cup of sugar, 1/3 cup of water, 1 salt-spoon of cream of tartar.

was placed on the board for them to follow. After reading the recipe and listening to some directions from the teacher, including special emphasis on accuracy of measurements, the class set to work and produced some candy that even the visitors were glad to eat.

The recipe seemed so simple that one of the visitors a few days later proposed to his little daughter that they make some French cream candy at home. They measured out a cup of sugar and one-third of a cup of water; but there was a halt when it was discovered that there was no salt-spoon in the house. The man's wife came to their rescue, however, by giving them some idea of the size of such a spoon. Then it was found that they had no cream of tartar. On further consultation with the wife it was learned for the first time that the object of cream of tartar was to prevent too quick granulation, and that probably some other acid-like substance, such as vinegar or lemon juice, might do just as well. So a small amount of vinegar was used instead, and reasonably good candy was produced.

In a later attempt the exact amount of water necessary to a cup of sugar had been forgotten, and too much water was used; but by boiling the mixture longer, excellent candy was made. As a result of these experiments it was found that only enough water was needed to dissolve the sugar, and that any one of several other things would do as well as cream of tartar to prevent granulation. Without this knowledge there would be many a family which, either on account of bad memory of proportions or of want of certain materials, could make no use of the recipe. Such knowledge secured some adaptability or flexibility in the directions, thereby greatly extending their use.

One of the common objections to preparing lesson plans for teaching is that they can seldom be followed. More than that, it is declared, children have such a disappointing way of doing and saying the unexpected, that a carefully memorized lesson plan is likely to hinder the teacher in adapting herself to her pupils, and on that account may do more harm than good.

These objections contain much truth; and if preparing a lesson plan means mapping out only one fixed procedure, they may be entirely valid. That is not, however, what such preparation should signify. One of the principal objects of making one plan is to think out others, that may be followed or not as occasion demands. That kind of preparation, instead of tying a teacher's hands, keeps her superior to any fixed course and gives freedom to deal skillfully with almost any kind of response.

These examples may be sufficient to show that a fixed attitude toward directions and plans, or toward knowledge in general, is a serious barrier to its application. The conditions are always changing, and one's ideas must be capable of corresponding modification if their full use is to be enjoyed.

2. It is opposed to progress.

Our attitude toward knowledge is intimately related also to the progress that we make; a fixed state of mind precludes reflection about one's course by precluding a feeling of its need. Men frequently show blindness to new truth. Boss politicians count upon from eighty to eighty-five per cent of all voters "standing pat" and voting according to party, no matter what facts may be discovered against one candidate and in favor of another. This fact is what gives the bosses their security. It was thought to be a wonderful sign of progress a few years ago when sixty thousand out of six hundred thousand voters in a certain election in Massachusetts ignored party lines and voted according to the merits of the candidate. One reason that we have so many mediaeval educational institutions is that persons in control have so many fixed ideas. There are few colleges and universities to- day, for instance, in which courses that prepare young women for home- keeping, such as domestic science and domestic art, receive credit toward a degree. Progressive changes in any line are conditioned upon sensitiveness toward changing circumstances and new ideas, and a fixed attitude is directly opposed to such responsiveness.

3. It is opposed to peace and happiness.

History is full of instances of the extent to which intolerance resulting from fixed convictions may carry people. Innumerable murders and many wars, entailing untold suffering, have found their principal cause in religious bigotry. Educational and political bigotry are likewise sources of much bad feeling and unhappiness. Family disputes, as between father and son, are in large measure due to too great fixedness of views and opinions; and much of the discontent of old age is found in the inability of old people to abandon their old-fashioned notions, so as to adjust themselves to new conditions and enjoy them. A fixed attitude toward ideas is, therefore, far from an unmixed virtue; it seriously limits the usefulness of knowledge; it greatly checks progress; and it strongly opposes peace and happiness.

4. It finds little justification in the nature of knowledge.

Finally, a fixed attitude toward ideas finds little justification in the nature of knowledge. If supposed facts were always true, and if they were always truly understood, a fixed state of mind toward them might still find justification; but that is far from the case. Probably some things are true for all time, such, for example, as the facts of the multiplication table, propositions in geometry, and some of the laws of physics. But perfect reliability is attached to very little of our knowledge. Some of the fundamental propositions in the exact sciences of physics and chemistry are only hypotheses, that have undergone extensive modification in recent years. Political opinions are subject to constant change. Sixty years ago the secret ballot was feared as one of the worst of evils, lest voters might then wreak awful vengeance upon those in authority; now its desirability is unquestioned.

So many new ideas have become established in recent years about the nature of childhood, the aims of the school, and even the use of school buildings, that education is a radically different field from what it was only twenty years ago. In the same way, facts in all lines are ever undergoing modification, and evolution prophesies such modification through all time to come. Even our statements of scientific law, instead of being final, only express man's interpretation of unvarying phenomena of nature, and are subject to error, like all other work of man. Huxley declares that "the day-fly has better grounds for calling a thunder storm supernatural than has man, with his experience of an infinitesimal fraction of duration, to say that the most astonishing event that can be imagined is beyond the scope of natural causes." [Footnote: T. H. Huxley, Life of Hume, p. 132.] Even within the field of science, therefore, we can never feel sure that the last word has been said, and the best established conclusions may have to submit to correction.

Turning from the better established fields of knowledge to such other facts as influence daily life, we find them to be remarkably uncertain. The facts about the weather, that guide the farmer, for instance, are only beginning to be fully known, and consequent miscalculations in the planning and the care of crops are without limit. In ordering goods only six months in advance, the merchant must be controlled by probabilities, many of which are only narrowly distinguishable from guesses. The facts that establish friendships are frequently still less tangible, blind feelings of affinity and faith alone being not seldom the basis of the attraction. Thus our so-called knowledge ranges all the way from ideas that possess a very high degree of probability to those that are a product of faith and hope, the greater portion of them approaching the latter. More than that, even in cases where the statements of principles, as in physics and ethics, seem thoroughly reliable, the variety of their application is so great and any individual's horizon is so narrow, that errors in their application to concrete cases must be very common. Correct theory about any matter by no means carries with it the correct application of that theory, as every one finds out sooner or later. It follows, then, that the highest wisdom represents only a rough approximation to the truth, and that ordinary facts are more nearly hypotheses than certainties. Since, therefore, so few ideas are fully reliable and unalterably fixed, a settled attitude toward them is undesirable, not only because it is opposed to utility, growth, and happiness, but because it finds no warrant in the real nature of knowledge.

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