How To Study and Teaching How To Study
by F. M. McMurry
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Professor of Elementary Education in Teachers College, Columbia University



Some seven or eight years ago the question, of how to teach children to study happened to be included in a list of topics that I hastily prepared for discussion with one of my classes. On my later examination of this problem I was much surprised, both at its difficulty and scope, and also at the extent to which it had been neglected by teachers. Ever since that time the two questions, How adults should study, and How children should be taught to study, have together been my chief hobby.

The following ideas are partly the result of reading; but since there is a meagre quantity of literature bearing on this general theme, they are largely the result of observation, experiment, and discussion with my students. Many of the latter will recognize their own contributions in these pages, for I have endeavored to preserve and use every good suggestion that came from them; and I am glad to acknowledge here my indebtedness to them.

In addition I must express my thanks for valuable criticisms to my colleague, Dr. George D. Strayer, and also to Dr. Lida B. Earhart, whose suggestive monograph on the same general subject has just preceded this publication.


Teachers College, May 6,1909.





















No doubt every one can recall peculiar methods of study that he or some one else has at some time followed. During my attendance at high school I often studied aloud at home, along with several other temporary or permanent members of the family. I remember becoming exasperated at times by one of my girl companions. She not only read her history aloud, but as she read she stopped to repeat each sentence five times with great vigor. Although the din interfered with my own work, I could not help but admire her endurance; for the physical labor of mastering a lesson was certainly equal to that of a good farm hand, for the same period of time.

This way of studying history seemed extremely ridiculous. But the method pursued by myself and several others in beginning algebra at about the same time was not greatly superior. Our text-book contained several long sets of problems which were the terror of the class, and scarcely one of which we were able to solve alone. We had several friends, however, who could solve them, and, by calling upon them for help, we obtained the "statement" for each one. All these statements I memorized, and in that way I was able to "pass off" the subject.

A few years later, when a school principal, I had a fifteen-year-old boy in my school who was intolerably lazy. His ambition was temporarily aroused, however, when he bought a new book and began the study of history. He happened to be the first one called upon, in the first recitation, and he started off finely. But soon he stopped, in the middle of a sentence, and sat down. When I asked him what was the matter, he simply replied that that was as far as he had got. Then, on glancing at the book, I saw that he had been reproducing the text verbatim, and the last word that he had uttered was the last word on the first page.

These few examples suggest the extremes to which young people may go in their methods of study. The first instance might illustrate the muscular method of learning history; the second, the memoriter method of reasoning in mathematics. I have never been able to imagine how the boy, in the third case, went about his task; hence, I can suggest no name for his method.

While these methods of study are ridiculous, I am not at all sure that they are in a high degree exceptional.

Collective examples of study

The most extensive investigation of this subject has been made by Dr. Lida B. Earhart,[Footnote: Systematic Study in the Elementary Schools. A popular form of this thesis, entitled Teaching Children to Study, is published in the Riverside Educational Monographs.] and the facts that she has collected reveal a woeful ignorance of the whole subject of study.

Among other tests, she assigned to eleven- and twelve-year-old children a short selection from a text-book in geography, with the following directions: "Here is a lesson from a book such as you use in class. Do whatever you think you ought to do in studying this lesson thoroughly, and then tell (write down) the different things you have done in studying it. Do not write anything else." [Footnote: Ibid., Chapter 4.]

Out of 842 children who took this test, only fourteen really found, or stated that they had found, the subject of the lesson. Two others said that they would find it. Eighty-eight really found, or stated that they had found, the most important parts of the lesson; twenty-one others, that they would find them. Four verified the statements in the text, and three others said that they would do that. Nine children did nothing; 158 "did not understand the requirements"; 100 gave irrelevant answers; 119 merely "thought," or "tried to understand the lesson," or "studied the lesson"; and 324 simply wrote the facts of the lesson. In other words, 710 out of the 842 sixth- and seventh- grade pupils who took the test gave indefinite and unsatisfactory answers. This number showed that they had no clear knowledge of the principal things to be done in mastering an ordinary text-book lesson in geography. Yet the schools to which they belonged were, beyond doubt, much above the average in the quality of their instruction.

In a later and different test, in which the children were asked to find the subject of a certain lesson that was given to them, 301 out of 828 stated the subject fairly well. The remaining 527 gave only partial, or indefinite, or irrelevant answers. Only 317 out of the 828 were able to discover the most important fact in the lesson. Yet determining the subject and the leading facts are among the main things that any one must do in mastering a topic. How they could have been intelligent in their study in the past, therefore, is difficult to comprehend.

Teachers' and parents complaints about methods of study.

It is, perhaps, unnecessary to collect proofs that young people do not learn how to study, because teachers admit the fact very generally. Indeed, it is one of the common subjects of complaint among teachers in the elementary school, in the high school, and in the college. All along the line teachers condole with one another over this evil, college professors placing the blame on the instructors in the high school, and the latter passing it down to teachers in the elementary school. Parents who supervise their children's studies, or who otherwise know about their habits of work, observe the same fact with sorrow. It is at least refreshing to find one matter, in the much- disputed field of education, on which teachers and parents are well agreed.

How about the methods of study among teachers themselves? Unless they have learned to study properly, young people cannot, of course, be expected to acquire proper habits from them. Method of study among teachers. The most enlightening single experience I have ever had on this question came several years ago in connection with a series of lectures on Primary Education. A course of such lectures had been arranged for me without my full knowledge, and I was unexpectedly called upon to begin it before a class of some seventy-five teachers. It was necessary to commence speaking without having definitely determined my first point. I had, however, a few notes which I was attempting to decipher and arrange, while talking as best I could, when I became conscious of a slight clatter from all parts of the room. On looking up I found that the noise came from the pencils of my audience, and they were writing down my first pointless remarks. Evidently discrimination in values was not in their program. They call to mind a certain theological student who had been very unsuccessful in taking notes from lectures. In order to prepare himself, he spent one entire summer studying stenography. Even after that, however, he was unsuccessful, because he could not write quite fast enough to take down all that was said.

Even more mature students often reveal very meager knowledge of methods of study. I once had a class of some thirty persons, most of whom were men twenty-five to thirty-five years of age, who were college graduates and experienced teachers. One day I asked them, "When has a book been read properly?" The first reply came from a state university graduate and school superintendent, in the words, "One has read a book properly when one understands what is in it." Most of the others assented to this answer. But when they were asked, "Is a person under any obligations to judge the worth of the thought?" they divided, some saying yes, others no. Then other questions arose, and the class as a whole soon appeared to be quite at sea as to the proper method of reading books. Perhaps the most interesting thing was the fact that they seemed never to have thought seriously about the matter. Fortunately Dr. Earhart has not overlooked teachers' methods of study in her investigations. In a questionnaire that was filled out by 165 teachers, the latter were requested to state the principal things that ought to be done in "thinking about a lesson." This was practically the same test as was given to the 842 children before mentioned. While at least twenty different things were named by these teachers, the most frequent one was, "Finding the most important points." [Footnote: Ibid., Chapter 5.] Yet only fifty-five out of the 165 included even this. Only twenty-five, as Dr. Earhart says, "felt, keenly enough to mention it, the necessity of finding the main thought or problem." Forty admitted that they memorized more often than they did anything else in their studying. Strange to say, a larger percentage of children than of teachers mentioned finding the main thought, and finding the more important facts, as two factors in mastering a lesson. Water sometimes appears to rise higher than its source.

About two-thirds of these 165 teachers [Footnote: Ibid., Chapter 5.] declared that they had never received any systematic instruction about how to study, and more than half of the remainder stated that they were taught to memorize in studying. The number who had given any careful instruction on proper methods of study to their own pupils was insignificant. Yet these 165 teachers had had unusual training on the whole, and most of them had taught several years in elementary schools. If teachers are so poorly informed, and if they are doing so little to instruct their pupils on this subject, how can the latter be expected to know how to study?

The prevailing definition of study.

The prevailing definition of study gives further proof of a very meager notion in regard to it. Frequently during the last few years I have obtained from students in college, as well as from teachers, brief statements of their idea of study. Fully nine out of every ten have given memorizing as its nearest synonym.

It is true that teachers now and then insist that studying should consist of thinking. They even send children to their seats with the direction to "think, think hard." But that does not usually signify much. A certain college student, when urged to spend not less than an hour and a half on each lesson, replied, "What would I do after the first twenty minutes?" His idea evidently was that he could read each lesson through and memorize its substance in that time. What more remained to be done? Very few teachers, I find, are fluent in answering his question. In practice, memorizing constitutes much the greater part of study.

The very name recitation suggests this fact. If the school periods are to be spent in reciting, or reproducing, what has been learned, the work of preparation very naturally consists in storing the memory with the facts that are to be required. Thinking periods, as a substitute name for recitation periods, suggests a radical change, both in our employment of school time and in our method of preparing lessons. We are not yet prepared for any such change of name.

The literature dealing with method of study.

Consider finally the literature treating of study. Certainly there has never been a period when there was a more general interest in education than during the last twenty years, and the progress that has been made in that time is remarkable. Our study of the social view- point, of child nature, of apperception, interest, induction, deduction, correlation, etc., has been rapidly revolutionizing the school, securing a much more sympathetic government of young people, a new curriculum, and far more effective methods of instruction. In consequence, the injuries inflicted by the school are fewer and less often fatal than formerly, while the benefits are more numerous and more vital. But, in the vast quantity of valuable educational literature that has been published, careful searching reveals only two books in English, and none in German, on the "Art of Study." Even these two are ordinary books on teaching, with an extraordinary title.

The subject of memorizing has been well treated in some of our psychologies, and has received attention in a few of the more recent works on method. Various other problems pertaining to study have also, of course, been considered more or less, in the past, in books on method, in rhetorics, and in discussions of selection of reading matter. In addition, there are a few short but notable essays on study. There have been practically, however, only two books that treat mainly of this subject,—the two small volumes by Dr. Earhart, already mentioned, which have been very recently published. In the main, the thoughts on this general subject that have got into print have found expression merely as incidents in the treatment of other themes—coming, strange to say, largely from men outside the teaching profession—and are contained in scattered and forgotten sources.

Thus it is evident not only that children and teachers are little acquainted with proper methods of study, but that even sources of information on the subject are strangely lacking.

The seriousness of such neglect is not to be overestimated. Wrong methods of study, involving much unnecessary friction, prevent enjoyment of school. This want of enjoyment results in much dawdling of time, a meager quantity of knowledge, and a desire to quit school at the first opportunity. The girl who adopted the muscular method of learning history was reasonably bright. But she had to study very "hard"; the results achieved in the way of marks often brought tears; and, although she attended the high school several years, she never finished the course. It should not be forgotten that most of those who stop school in the elementary grades leave simply because they want to, not because they must.

Want of enjoyment of school is likely to result, further, in distaste for intellectual employment in general. Yet we know that any person who amounts to much must do considerable thinking, and must even take pleasure in it. Bad methods of study, therefore, easily become a serious factor in adult life, acting as a great barrier to one's growth and general usefulness.



Our physical movements ordinarily take place in response to a need of some sort. For instance, a person wishing to reach a certain point, to play a certain game, or to lay the foundations for a house, makes such movements as are necessary to accomplish the purpose desired. Even mere physical exercise grows out of a more or less specific feeling of need.

The mental activity called study is likewise called forth in response to specific needs. The Eskimo, for example, compelled to find shelter and having only blocks of ice with which to build, ingeniously contrives an ice hut. For the sake of obtaining raw materials he studies the habits of the few wild animals about him, and out of these materials he manages by much invention to secure food, clothing, and implements.

We ourselves, having a vastly greater variety of materials at hand, and also vastly more ideas and ideals, are much more dependent upon thinking and study. But, as in the case of the Eskimo, this thinking and study arises out of actual conditions, and from specific wants. It may be that we must contrive ways of earning more money; or that the arguments for protective tariff seem too inconsistent for comfort; or that the reports about some of our friends alarm us. The occasions that call forth thought are infinite in number and kind. But the essential fact is that study does not normally take place except under the stimulus or spur of particular conditions, and of conditions, too, that are unsatisfactory.

It does not take place even then unless we become conscious of the strained situation, of the want of harmony between what is and what might be. For ages malarial fever was accepted as a visitation by Divine Providence, or as a natural inconvenience, like bad weather. People were not disturbed by lack of harmony between what actually was and what might be, because they did not conceive the possibility of preventing the disease. Accordingly they took it as a matter of course, and made no study of its cause. Very recently, on the other hand, people have become conscious of the possibility of exterminating malaria. The imagined state has made the real one more and more intolerable; and, as this feeling of dissatisfaction has grown more acute, study of the cause of the disease has grown more intense, until it has finally been discovered. Thus a lively consciousness of the unsatisfactoriness of a situation is the necessary prerequisite to its investigation; it furnishes the motive for it.

It has ever been so in the history of evolution. Study has not taken place without stimulus or motive. It has always had the practical task of lifting us out of our difficulties, either material or spiritual, and placing us on our feet. In this way it has been merely an instrument—though a most important one—in securing our proper adjustment or adaptation to our environment.[Footnote: For discussion of this subject, see Studies in Logical Theory, by John Dewey. See, also, Systematic Study in Elementary Schools, by Dr. Lida B. Earhart, Chapters 1 and 2.]

The variety of response to the demand for study

After we have become acutely conscious of a misfit somewhere in our experience, the actual study done to right it varies indefinitely with the individual. The savage follows a hit-and-miss method of investigation, and really makes his advances by happy guesses rather than by close application. Charles Lamb's Dissertation on Roast Pig furnishes a typical example of such accidents.

The average civilized man of the present does only a little better. How seldom, for instance, is the diet prescribed for a dyspeptic—whether by himself or by a physician—the result of any intelligent study! The true scientist, however, goes at his task in a careful and systematic way. Recall, for instance, how the cause of yellow fever has been discovered. For years people had attributed the disease to invisible particles which they called "fomites." These were supposed to be given off by the sick, and spread by means of their clothing and other articles used by them. Investigation caused this theory to be abandoned. Then, since Dr. J. C. Nott of Mobile had suggested, in 1848, that the fever might be carried by the mosquito, and Dr. C. J. Finlay of Havana had declared, in 1881, that a mosquito of a certain kind would carry the fever from one patient to another, this variety of mosquito was assumed by Dr. Walter Reed, in 1900, to be the source of the disease, and was subjected to very close investigation by him. Several men voluntarily received its bite and contracted the fever. Soon, enough cases were collected to establish the probable correctness of the assumption. The remedy suggested—the utter destruction of this particular kind of mosquito, including its eggs and larvae—was so efficacious in combating the disease in Havana in 1901, and in New Orleans in 1905, that the theory is now considered established. Thus systematic study has relieved us of one of the most dreaded diseases to which mankind has been subject.

The principal factors in study

An extensive study, like this investigation, into the cause of yellow fever employs induction very plainly. It also employs deduction extensively, inasmuch as hypotheses that have been reached more or less inductively have to be widely applied and tested, and further conclusions have to be drawn from them. Such a study, therefore, involving both induction and deduction and their numerous short cuts, contains the essential factors common to the investigation of other topics, or to study in general; for different subjects cannot vary greatly when it comes to the general method of their attack. An analysis, therefore, which reveals the principal factors in this study is likely to bring to light the main factors of study in general.

1. The finding of specific purposes, as one factor in study

If the search for the cause of yellow fever were traced more fully, one striking feature discovered would be the fact that the investigation was never aimless. The need of unraveling the mystery was often very pressing, for we have had three great epidemics of yellow fever in our own country since 1790, and scientists have been eager to apply themselves to the problem. Yet a specific purpose, in the form of a definite hypothesis of some sort, was felt to be necessary before the study could proceed intelligently.

Thus, during the epidemic of 1793, the contagiousness of the disease was debated. Then the theory of "fomites" arose, and underwent investigation. Finally, the spread of the disease through the mosquito was proposed for the solution. And while books of reference were examined and new observations were collected in great number, such work was not undertaken by the investigators primarily for the sake of increasing their general knowledge, but with reference to the particular issue at hand.

The important question now is, Is this, in general, the way in which the ordinary student should work? Of course, he is much less mature than the scientist, and the results that he achieves may have no social value, in comparison. Yet, should his method be the same? At least, should his study likewise be under the guidance of specific purposes, so that these would direct and limit his reading, observation, and independent thinking? Or would that be too narrow, indeed, exactly the wrong way? And, instead of limiting himself to a collection of such facts as help to answer the few problems that he might be able to set up, should he be unmindful of particular problems? Should he rather be a collector of facts at large, endeavoring to develop an interest in whatever is true, simply because it is true? Here are two quite different methods of study suggested. Probably the latter is by far the more common one among immature students. Yet the former is the one that, in the main, will be advocated in this book as a factor of serious study.

2. The supplementing of thought as a second factor in study.

Dr. Reed in this case went far beyond the discoveries of previous investigators. Not only did he conceive new tests for old hypotheses, but he posited new hypotheses, as well as collected the data that would prove or disprove them. Thus, while he no doubt made much use of previous facts, he went far beyond that and succeeded in enlarging the confines of knowledge. That is a task that can be accomplished only by the most mature and gifted of men.

The ordinary scholar must also be a collector of facts. But he must be content to be a receiver rather than a contributor of knowledge; that is, he must occupy himself mainly with the ideas of other persons, as presented in books or lectures or conversation. Even when he takes up the study of nature, or any other field, at first hand, he is generally under the guidance of a teacher or some text.

Now, how much, if anything, must he add to what is directly presented to him by others? To what extent must he be a producer in that sense? Are authors, at the best, capable only of suggesting their thought, leaving much that is incomplete and even hidden from view? And must the student do much supplementing, even much digging, or severe thinking of his own, in order to get at their meaning? Or, do authors—at least the greatest of them—say most, or all, that they wish, and make their meaning plain? And is it, accordingly, the duty of the student merely to follow their presentation without enlarging upon it greatly?

The view will hereafter be maintained that any good author leaves much of such work for the student to do. Any poor author certainly leaves much more.

3. The organization of facts collected, as a third factor in study.

The scientist would easily lose his way among the many facts that he gathers for examination, did he not carefully select and bring them into order. He arranges them in groups according to their relations, recognizing a few as having supreme importance, subordinating many others to these, and casting aside many more because of their insignificance. This all constitutes a large part of his study.

What duty has the less mature student in regard to organization? Should the statements that he receives be put into order by him? Are some to be selected as vital, others to be grouped under these, and still others to be slighted or even entirely omitted from consideration, because of their insignificance? And is he to determine all this for himself, remembering that thorough study requires the neglect of some things as well as the emphasis of others? Or do all facts have much the same value, so that they should receive about equal attention, as is the case with the multiplication tables? And, instead of being grouped according to relations and relative values, should they be studied, one at a time, in the order in which they are presented, with the idea that a topic is mastered when each single statement upon it is understood? Or, if not this, has the reliable author at least already attended to this whole matter, making the various relations of facts to one another and their relative values so clear that the student has little work to do but to follow the printed statement? Is it even highly unsafe for the latter to assume the responsibility of judging relative values? And would the neglect or skipping of many supposedly little things be more likely to result in careless, slipshod work than in thoroughness?

4. The judging of the worth of statements, as a fourth factor in study

The scientist in charge of the above-mentioned investigation was, no doubt, a modest man. Yet he saw fit to question the old assumption that yellow fever was spread by invisible particles called "fomites." Indeed, he had the boldness to disprove it. Then he disproved, also, the assumption that the fever was contagious by contact. After that he set out to test a hypothesis of his own. His attitude toward the results of former investigations was thus skeptically critical. Every proposition was to be questioned, and the evidence of facts, rather than personal authority or the authority of time, was the sole final test of validity.

What should be the attitude of the young student toward the authorities that he studies? Certainly authors are, as a rule, more mature and far better informed upon the subjects that they discuss than he, otherwise he would not be pursuing them. Are they still so prone to error that he should be critical toward them? At any rate, should he set himself up as their judge; at times condemning some of their statements outright, or accepting them only in part,—and thus maintain independent views? Or would that be the height of presumption on his part? While it is true that all authors are liable to error, are they much less liable to it in their chosen fields than he, and can he more safely trust them than himself? And should he, therefore, being a learner, adopt a docile, passive attitude, and accept whatever statements are presented? Or, finally, is neither of these attitudes correct? Instead of either condemning or accepting authors, is it his duty merely to understand and remember what they say?

5. Memorizing, as a fifth factor in study

The scientist is greatly dependent upon his memory. So is every one else, including the young student. What suggestions, if any, can be made about the retaining of facts?

In particular, how prominent in study should be the effort to memorize? Should memorizing constitute the main part of study—as it so often does—or only a minor part? It is often contrasted with thinking. Is such a contrast justified? If so, should the effort to memorize usually precede the thinking—as is often the order in learning poetry and Bible verses—or should it follow the thinking? And why? Can one greatly strengthen the memory by special exercises for that purpose? Finally, since there are some astonishingly poor ways of memorizing—as was shown in chapter one—there must be some better ways. What, then, are the best, and why?

6. The using of ideas, as a sixth factor in study

Does all knowledge, like this of the scientist, require contact with the world as its endpoint or goal? And is it the duty of the student to pursue any topic, whether it be a principle of physics, or a moral idea, or a simple story, until it proves of benefit to some one? In that case, enough repetition might be necessary to approximate habits—habits of mind and habits of action—for the skill necessary for the successful use of some knowledge cannot otherwise be attained. How, then, can habits become best established? Or is knowledge something apart from the active world, ending rather in self?

Would it be narrowly utilitarian and even foolish to expect that one's learning shall necessarily function in practical life? And should the student rather rest content to acquire knowledge for its own sake, not bothering—for the present, at any rate—about actually bringing it to account in any way?

The use to which his ideas had to be put gave Dr. Reed an excellent test of their reliability. No doubt he passed through many stages of doubt as he investigated one theory after another. And he could not feel reasonably sure that he was right and had mastered his problem until his final hypothesis had been shown to hold good under varying actual conditions.

What test has the ordinary student for knowing when he knows a thing well enough to leave it? He may set up specific purposes to be accomplished, as has been suggested. Yet even these may be only ideas; what means has he for knowing when they have been attained? It is a long distance from the first approach to an important thought, to its final assimilation, and nothing is easier than to stop too soon. If there are any waymarks along the road, indicating the different stages reached; particularly, if there is a recognizable endpoint assuring mastery, one might avoid many dangerous headers by knowing the fact. Or is that particularly what recitations and marks are for? And instead of expecting an independent way of determining when he has mastered a subject, should the student simply rely upon his teacher to acquaint him with that fact?

7. The tentative attitude as a seventh factor in study

Investigators of the source of yellow fever previous to Dr. Reed reached conclusions as well as he. But, in the light of later discovery, they appear hasty and foolish, to the extent that they were insisted upon as correct. A large percentage of the so-called discoveries that are made, even by laboratory experiment, are later disproved. Even in regard to this very valuable work of Dr. Reed and his associates, one may feel too sure. It is quite possible that future study will materially supplement and modify our present knowledge of the subject. The scientist, therefore, may well assume an attitude of doubt toward all the results that he achieves.

Does the same hold for the young student? Is all our knowledge more or less doubtful, so that we should hold ourselves ready to modify our ideas at any time? And, remembering the common tendency to become dogmatic and unprogressive on that account, should the young student, in particular, regard some degree of uncertainty about his facts as the ideal state of mind for him to reach? Or would such uncertainty too easily undermine his self-confidence and render him vacillating in action? And should firmly fixed ideas, rather than those that are somewhat uncertain, be regarded as his goal, so that the extent to which he feels sure of his knowledge may be taken as one measure of his progress? Or can it be that there are two kinds of knowledge? That some facts are true for all time, and can be learned as absolutely true; and that others are only probabilities and must be treated as such? In that case, which is of the former kind, and which is of the latter?

8. Provision for individuality as an eighth factor in study

The scientific investigator must determine upon his own hypotheses; he must collect and organize his data, must judge their soundness and trace their consequences; and he must finally decide for himself when he has finished a task. All this requires a high degree of intellectual independence, which is possible only through a healthy development of individuality, or of the native self.

A normal self giving a certain degree of independence and even a touch of originality to all of his thoughts and actions is essential to the student's proper advance, as to the work of the scientist. Should the student, therefore, be taught to believe in and trust himself, holding his own powers and tendencies in high esteem? Should he learn even to ascribe whatever merit he may possess to the qualities that are peculiar to him? And should he, accordingly, look upon the ideas and influences of other persons merely as a means—though most valuable—for the development of this self that he holds so sacred? Or should he learn to depreciate himself, to deplore those qualities that distinguish him from others? And should he, in consequence, regard the ideas and influences of others as a valuable means of suppressing, or escaping from, his native self and of making him like other persons?

Here are two very different directions in which one may develop. In which direction does human nature most tend? In which direction do educational institutions, in particular, exert their influence? Does the average student, for example, subordinate his teachers and the ideas he acquires to himself? Or does he become subordinated to these, even submerged by them? This is the most important of all the problems concerning study; indeed, it is the one in which all the others culminate.

The ability of children to study

The above constitute the principal factors in study. But two other problems are of vital importance for the elementary school.

Studying is evidently a complex and taxing kind of work. Even though the above discussions reveal the main factors in the study of adults, what light does it throw upon the work of children? Is their study to contain these factors also? The first of these two questions, therefore, is, Can children from six to fourteen years of age really be expected to study?

It is not the custom in German elementary schools to include independent study periods in the daily program. More than that, the German language does not even permit children to be spoken of as studying. Children are recognized as being able to learn (lernen); but the foreigner, who, in learning German, happens to use the word studiren (study) in reference to them, is corrected with a smile and informed that "children can learn but they cannot study." Studiren is a term applicable only to a more mature kind of mental work.

This may be only a peculiarity of language. But such suggestions should at least lead us to consider this question seriously. If children really cannot study, what an excuse their teachers have for innumerable failures in this direction! And what sins they have committed in demanding study! But, then, when is the proper age for study reached? Certainly college students sometimes seem to have failed to attain it. If, however, children can study, to what extent can they do it, and at how early an age should they begin to try?

The method of teaching children how to study

The second of these two questions relates to the method of teaching children how to study. Granted that there are numerous very important factors in study, what should be done about them? Particularly, assuming that children have some power to study, what definite instruction can teachers give to them in regard to any one or all of these factors?

Can it be that, on account of their youth, no direct instruction about method of study would be advisable, that teachers should set a good example of study by their treatment of lessons in class, and rely only upon the imitative tendency of children for some effect on their habits of work? Or should extensive instruction be imparted to them, as well as to adults, on this subject?

The leading problems in study that have been mentioned will be successively discussed in the chapters following. These two questions, however, Can children study? and If so, how can they be taught to do it? will not be treated in chapters separate from the others. Each will be dealt with in connection with the above factors, their consideration immediately following the discussion of each of those factors. While the proper method of study for adults will lead, much emphasis will fall, throughout, upon suggestions for teaching children how to study.

Some limitations of the term study

The nature of study cannot be known in full until the character of its component parts has been clearly shown. Yet a working definition of the term and some further limitations of it may be in place here.

Study, in general, is the work that is necessary in the assimilation of ideas. Much of this work consists in thinking. But study is not synonymous with thinking, for it also includes other activities, as mechanical drill, for example. Such drill is often necessary in the mastery of thought.

Not just any thinking and any drill, however, may be counted as study. At least only such thinking and such drill are here included within the term as are integral parts of the mental work that is necessary in the accomplishment of valuable purposes. Thinking that is done at random, and drills that have no object beyond acquaintance with dead facts, as those upon dates, lists of words, and location of places, for instance, are unworthy of being considered a part of study.

Day-dreaming, giving way to reverie and to casual fancy, too, is not to be regarded as study. Not because it is not well to indulge in such activity at times, but because it is not serious enough to be called work. Study is systematic work, and not play. Reading for recreation, further, is not study. It is certainly very desirable and even necessary, just as play is. It even partakes of many of the characteristics of true study, and reaps many of its benefits. No doubt, too, the extensive reading that children and youth now do might well partake more fully of the nature of study. It would result in more good and less harm; for, beyond a doubt, much careless reading is injurious to habits of serious study. Yet it would be intolerable to attempt to convert pleasure-reading fully into real study. That would mean that we had become too serious.

On the whole, then, the term study as here used has largely the meaning that is given to it in ordinary speech. Yet it is not entirely the same; the term signifies a purposive and systematic, and therefore a more limited, kind of work than much that goes under that name.





The habit among eminent men of setting up specific purposes of study.

The scientific investigator habitually sets up hypotheses of some sort as guides in his investigations. Many distinguished men who are not scientists follow and recommend a somewhat similar method of study.

For example, John Morley, M.P., in his Aspects of Modern Study, [Footnote: Page 71.] says, "Some great men,—Gibbon was one and Daniel Webster was another and the great Lord Strafford was a third,—always, before reading a book, made a short, rough analysis of the questions which they expected to be answered in it, the additions to be made to their knowledge, and whither it would take them. I have sometimes tried that way of studying, and guiding attention; I have never done so without advantage, and I commend it to you." Says Gibbon [Footnote: Dr. Smith's Gibbon, p. 64.], "After glancing my eye over the design and order of a new book, I suspended the perusal until I had finished the task of self-examination; till I had resolved, in a solitary walk, all that I knew or believed or had thought on the subject of the whole work or of some particular chapter; I was then qualified to discern how much the author added to my original stock; and, if I was sometimes satisfied with the agreement, I was sometimes armed by the opposition of our ideas."

President James Angell emphasizes a similar thought in the following words:—

I would like to recommend to my young friends who desire to profit by the use of this library, the habit of reading with some system, and of making brief notes upon the contents of the books they read. If, for instance, you are studying the history of some period, ascertain what works you need to study, and find such parts of them as concern your theme. Do not feel obliged to read the whole of a large treatise, but select such chapters as touch on the subject in hand and omit the rest for the time.

Young students often get swamped and lose their way in the Serbonian bogs of learning, when they need to explore only a simple and plain pathway to a specific destination. Have a purpose and a plan, and adhere to it in spite of alluring temptations to turn aside into attractive fields that are remote from your subject.[Footnote: Address at Dedication of Ryerson Public Library Building, Grand Rapids, Mich., Oct. 5, 1904.]

Noah Porter expresses himself even more pointedly in these words:—

In reading we do well to propose to ourselves definite ends and purposes. The distinct consciousness of some object at present before us, imparts a manifold greater interest to the contents of any volume. It imparts to the reader an appropriative power, a force of affinity, by which he insensibly and unconsciously attracts to himself all that has a near or even a remote relation to the end for which he reads. Anyone is conscious of this who reads a story with the purpose of repeating it to an absent friend; or an essay or a report, with the design of using the facts or arguments in a debate; or a poem, with the design of reviving its imagery and reciting its finest passages. Indeed, one never learns to read effectively until he learns to read in such a spirit—not always, indeed, for a definite end, yet always with a mind attent to appropriate and retain and turn to the uses of culture, if not to a more direct application. The private history of every self-made man, from Franklin onwards, attests that they all were uniformly, not only earnest but select, in their reading, and that they selected their books with distinct reference to the purposes for which they used them. Indeed, the reason why self-trained men so often surpass men who are trained by others in the effectiveness and success of their reading, is that they know for what they read and study, and have definite aims and wishes in all their dealings with books. [Footnote: Noah Porter, Books and Reading, pp. 41-42.]

Examples of specific purposes

It is evident from the above that the practice of setting up specific aims for study is not uncommon. Some actual examples of such purposes, however, may help to make their character plainer. Following are a number of examples of a very simple kind: (1) To examine the catalogues of several colleges to determine what college one will attend; (2) to read a newspaper with the purpose of telling the news of the day to some friend; (3) to study Norse myths in order to relate them to children; (4) to investigate the English sparrow to find out whether it is a nuisance, or a valuable friend, to man; (5) to acquaint one's self with the art and geography of Italy, so as to select the most desirable parts for a visit; (6) to learn about Paris in order to find whether it is fitly called the most beautiful of cities; (7) to study psychology with the object of discovering how to improve one's memory, or how to overcome certain bad habits; (8) to read Pestalozzi's biography for the sake of finding what were the main factors that led to his greatness; (9) to examine Lincoln's Gettysburg speech with the purpose of convincing others of its excellence.

The character of these aims

Well-selected ends of this sort have two characteristics that are worthy of special note. The first pertains to their source. Their possible variety is without limit. Some may be or an intellectual nature, as numbers 6, 8, and 9 among those listed above; some may aim at utility for the individual, as numbers 1 and 7; and some may involve service to others, as numbers 2 and 3. But however much they vary, they find their source within the person concerned. They spring out of his own experience and appeal to him for that reason. One very important measure of their worth is the extent to which they represent an individual desire.

The second characteristic pertains to their narrowness and consequent definiteness. They call in each case for an investigation of a relatively small and definite topic. This can be further seen from the following topics in Biology: What household plants are most desirable? How can these plants be raised? What are their principal enemies, and how can these best be overcome? Whether we be working on one or more of such problems at a time, they are so specific that we need never be confused as to what we are attempting.

The nature of these aims in study can be made still clearer by contrasting them with others that are very common. The "harmonious development of all the faculties," or mental discipline, for instance, has long been lauded by educators as one chief purpose in study. Agassiz was one such educator, and in his desire to cultivate the power of observation, he is said to have set students at work upon the study of fishes without directions, to struggle as they might. Many teachers of science before and since his time have followed a similar method. Truth for truth's sake, or the idea that one should study merely for the sake of knowing, has often been associated with mental discipline as a worthy end. Culture is a third common purpose.

Each of these aims, instead of originating in the particular interests of the individual, is reached by consideration of life as a whole, and of the final purposes of education. They are too general in nature to recognize individual preferences, and they are also too general to cause much discrimination in the selection of topics and of particular facts within topics. Strange to say, however, they have discriminated against the one kind of knowledge that the aforementioned specific aims emphasize as especially desirable. Under their exclusive influence, for example, students of biology have generally made an extensive study of wild plants and have paid little attention to house plants. Such subjects as physics, fine art, and biology cannot help but impart much information that relates to man; but that relationship has generally been the last part reached in the treatment of each topic, and the part most neglected. Under the influence of these general aims any useful purpose, whether involving service to the individual or to society at large, has somehow been eschewed or thought too sordid to be worthy of the scholar.

The relation of specific purposes to those that are more general

Nevertheless, these two kinds of aims are not necessarily opposed to each other. If a person can increase his mental power, or his love of knowledge, or his culture, at the same time that he is accomplishing specific purposes, why should he not do so? The gain is so much the greater.

Not only are the two kinds not mutually opposed, but they are really necessary to each other. General purposes when rightly conceived are of the greatest importance as the final goals to be reached by study. But they are too remote of attainment to act as immediate guides. Others more detailed must perform that office and mark off the minor steps to be taken in the accomplishment of the larger purposes. Thus the narrower purposes are related to the larger ones as means to ends.

Ways in which specific purposes are valuable 1. As a source of motive power

Specific purposes are necessary in the first place, because they help to supply motive power both for study and for life in general. Proper study requires abundant energy, for it is hard work; and young people cannot be expected to engage in it heartily without good reason. In particular, it requires very close and sustained attention, which it is most difficult to give. Threats and punishments can, at the best, secure it only in part; for young people who thus suffer habitually reserve a portion of their energy to imagine the full meanness of their persecutors and, not seldom, to devise ways of getting even. Neither can direct exercise of will insure undivided attention. How often have all of us, conscious that we ought fully to concentrate attention upon some task, determined to do so in vain.

The best single guarantee of close and continuous attention is a deep, direct interest in the work in hand, an interest similar in kind to that which children have in play. Such interest serves the same purpose with man as steam does in manufacturing,—it is motive power, and it is as necessary to provide for it in the one case as in the other.

Broad, general aims cannot generate this interest, for abstractions do not arouse enthusiasm. It is the concrete, the detailed, that arouses interest, particularly that detail that is closely related to life. We all remember how, in the midst of listless reading, we have sometimes awakened with a start, when we realized that what we were reading bore directly upon some vital interest. Specific purposes of the kind described insure the interest, and therefore the energy, necessary for full and sustained attention. "For remember," says Lowell, "that there is nothing less profitable than scholarship for the mere sake of scholarship, nor anything more wearisome in the attainment. But the moment you have a definite aim, attention is quickened, the mother of memory, and all that you acquire groups and arranges itself in an order that is lucid, because everywhere and always it is in intelligent relation to a central object of constant and growing interest." [Footnote: Lowell, Books and Libraries.] If eminent scholars thus value and actually make use of concrete purposes, certainly immature students, whose attention is much less "trained," can follow their example with profit.

Life in general, as well as study, requires motive power. Energy to do many kinds of things is so important that one's worth depends as much upon it as upon knowledge. Indeed, if there must be some lack in one of these two, it were probably better that it be in knowledge.

A deep many-sided interest is a key also to this broader kind of energy. Yet how often is such interest lacking! This lack of interest is seen among high-school students in the selection of subjects for commencement essays; good subjects are difficult to find because interests are so rare. It is seen among college students in their choice of elective courses; for they often seem to have no strong interest beyond that of avoiding hard work. It is seen in many college graduates who are roundly developed only in the sense that they are about equally indifferent toward all things. And, finally, it is seen in the great number of men and women who, without ambition, drift aimlessly through life. Well-chosen specific purposes will help materially to remedy these evils, for there is no dividing line between good study-purposes and good life-purposes. The first must continually merge into the second; and the interest aroused by the former, with its consequent energy, gives assurance of interested and energetic pursuance of the latter.

The importance of being rich in unsolved problems is not likely to be overestimated. Most well-informed adults who have little "push" are not lazy by nature; they have merely failed to fall in love with worthy aims. That is often partly because education has been allowed to mean to them little more than the collecting of facts. If it had included the collection of interesting and valuable purposes as well, their devotion to proper aims in life might have grown as have their facts; then their energy might have kept pace with their knowledge.

If students, therefore, regularly occupy a portion of their study time in thinking out live questions that they hope to have answered by their further study, and interesting uses that they intend to make of their knowledge, they are equipping themselves with motive power both for study and for the broader work of life.

2. As a basis for the selection and organization of facts

One of the constant dangers in study is that facts will be collected without reference either to their values, as previously stated, or to their arrangement. Nature study frequently illustrates this danger. For instance, I once witnessed a recitation in which each member of a class of eleven-year-old children was supplied with a dead oak leaf and asked to write a description of it in detail. The entire period was occupied with the task, and following is a copy of one of the papers, without its figures.


Greatest length......... Length of the stem.... Greatest breadth........ Color of the stem..... Number of lobes......... Color of the leaf..... Number of indentations.. General shape.........

The other papers closely resembled this one. Consider the worth of such knowledge! This is one way in which time is wasted in school and college. Probably the main reason for the choice of this topic was the fact that the leaves could be easily obtained. But if the teacher had been in the habit of setting up specific aims, and therefore of asking how such matter would prove valuable in life, she would have never given this lesson—unless higher authorities had required it.

One of my classes of about seventy primary teachers in the study of education once undertook to plan subject-matter in nature study for six-year-old children in Brooklyn. They agreed that the common house cat would be a fitting topic. And on being asked to state what facts they might teach, they gave the following sub-topics in almost exactly this order and wording: the ears; food and how obtained; the tongue; paws, including cushions; whiskers; teeth; action of tail; sounds; sharp hearing; sense of smell; cleanliness; eyes; looseness of the skin; quick waking; size of mouth; manner of catching prey; claws; care of young; locomotion; kinds of prey; enemies; protection by society for the prevention of cruelty to animals,—twenty-two topics in all. When I inquired if they would teach the length of the tail, or the shape of the head and ears, or the length and shape of the legs, or the number of claws or of teeth, most of them said "no" with some hesitation, and some made no reply. When asked what more needed to be done with this list before presenting the subject to the children, some suggested that those facts pertaining to the head should be grouped together, likewise those pertaining to the body and those in regard to the extremities. Some rejected this suggestion, but offered no substitute. No general agreement to omit some of the topics in the list was reached, and most of the class saw no better plan than to present the subject, cat, under the twenty-two headings given.

Although there were college graduates present, and many capable women, it was evident that they carried no standard for judging the value of facts or for organizing them. The setting up of specific purposes seemed to offer them the aid that they needed. Since this was in Brooklyn, where the main relation of cats to children is that of pets, we took up the study of the animal with the purpose of finding to what extent cats as pets can provide for themselves, and to what extent, therefore, they need to be taken care of, and how.

Under these headings the sub-topics given, with a few omissions and additions, might be arranged as follows:

Under first aim:—

I. Food (chief thing necessary).

/Birds 1. Kinds of prey...{ Mice Moles, etc. /Eyes, that see in dark; 2. How found..... { structure. { Sense of smell; keenness. Ears; keenness.

/ Approach; use of whiskers. Quietness of movements; how so quiet (padded feet, loose joints, manner of walking). Action of tail. 3. How caught.....{ Catching and holding; ability to spring; strength of hind legs. Fore paws; used like hands. Claws; shape, sharpness, and sheaths.

II. Shelter. Use of covering. Finding of warm place in coldest weather.

Under second aim:—

I. Food (when prey is wanting). Kinds and where obtained: milk; scraps from table; biscuit; catnip. Observe method of drinking.

II. Shelter. How provide shelter.

III. Cleanliness. Why washing unnecessary (cat's face washing; aversion to getting wet). Danger from dampness. Need of combing and brushing; method.

IV. Enemies. Kinds of insects; remedies. Dogs; boys and men. Proper treatment. Value of Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals; how to secure its aid.

Thus a definite purpose, that is simple, concrete, and close to the learner's experience, can be valuable as a basis for selecting and arranging subject-matter. Facts that bear no important relation to this aim, such as the length of the cat's tail and the shape of its ears, fall out; and those that are left, drop into a series in place of a mere list.

As a promise of some practical outcome of study in conduct

A manufacturer must do more than supply himself with motive power and manufacture a proper quality of goods; he must also provide for a market. Again, if he makes money, he is under obligations not to let it lie idle; if he hoards it, he is condemned as a miser. He is responsible for turning whatever goods or money he collects to some account.

The student, likewise, should not be merely a collector of knowledge. The object of study is not merely insight. As Frederick Harrison has said, "Man's business here is to know for the sake of living, not to live for the sake of knowing." "Religion that does not express itself in conduct socially useful is not true religion"; and, we may add, education that does not do the same is not true education.

It is part of one's work as a student, therefore, to plan to turn one's knowledge to some account; to plan not alone to sell it for money, but to use it in various ways in daily life. If, instead of this, one aims to do nothing but collect facts, no matter how ardently, he has the spirit of a bookworm at best and stands on the same plane as the miser. Or if, notwithstanding good intentions, he leaves the effect of his knowledge on life mainly to accident, he is grossly careless in regard to the chief object of study. Yet the average student regards himself as mainly a collector of facts, a storehouse of knowledge; and his teachers also regard him in that light. Planning to turn knowledge to some account is not thought to be essential to scholarship.

There are, no doubt, various reasons for this, but it is not because an effect on life is not finally desired. The explanation seems to be largely found in a very peculiar theory, namely, that the fewer bearings on life a student now concerns himself with, the more he will somehow ultimately realize; and if he aims at none in particular, he will very likely hit most of them. Thus aimlessness, so far as relations of study to life are concerned, is put at a premium, and students are directly encouraged to be omnivorous absorbers without further responsibility.

Meanwhile, sensible people are convinced of the unsoundness of this theory. How often, after having read a book from no particular point of view, one feels it necessary to reexamine it in order to know how it treats some particular topic! The former reading was too defective to meet a special need, because the very general aim caused the attitude to be general or non-selective. How often do young people who have been taught to have no particular aim in their reading, have no aim at all, beyond intellectual dissipation, the momentary tickle of the thought. Thus all particular needs are in danger of being left unsatisfied when no particular need is fixed upon as the object. It is the growing consciousness of the great waste in such study that has changed botany in many places into horticulture and agriculture, chemistry into the chemistry of the kitchen, and that has caused portions of many other studies to be approached from the human view- point.

This indicates the positive acceptance of specific purposes as guides in study. They are not by any means full guarantees of an outcome of knowledge in conduct, for they are only the plans by which the student hopes that his knowledge will function. Since plans often fail of accomplishment, these purposes may never be realized. But they give promise of some outcome and form one important step in a series of steps necessary for the fruition of knowledge.

By whom and when such purposes should be conceived

The aims set up by advanced scholars are necessarily an outgrowth of their individual experience and interests. Such aims must, therefore, vary greatly. For this reason such men must conceive their purposes for themselves; there is no one who can do it for them.

Younger students are in much the same situation, for their aims should also be individual to a large extent. Text-books might be of much help if their authors attempted this task with skill. But authors seldom attempt it at all; and, even if they do, they are under the disadvantage of writing for great numbers of persons living in widely different environments. Any aims that they propose must necessarily be of a very general character. Teachers might again be of much help; but many of them do not know how, and many more will not try. The task, therefore, falls mainly to the student himself.

As to the time of forming in mind these aims, the experimental scientist necessarily posits some sort of hypothesis in advance of his experiments; the eminent men before mentioned conceive the questions that they hope to have answered, in advance of their reading. It is natural that one should fix an aim before doing the work that is necessary for its accomplishment. If these aims are to furnish the motive for close attention and the basis for the selection and organization of facts, they certainly ought to be determined upon early. The earlier they come, too, the greater the likelihood of some practical outcome in conduct; for the want of such an outcome is very often due to their postponement.

On the other hand, the setting up of desirable ends requires mental vigor, as well as a wide and well-controlled experience. Gibbon's "solitary walk" (p. 31) Would hardly be a pleasure walk for most young people, even if they had his rich fund of knowledge to draw upon. While it is desirable, therefore, to determine early upon one's purposes, young students will often find it impossible to do this. In such cases they will have to begin studying without such aids. They can at least keep a sharp lookout for suitable purposes, and can gradually fix upon them as they proceed. In general it should be remembered that the sooner good aims are selected, the sooner their benefits will be enjoyed.


According to custom, young people are expected to acquire knowledge now and find its uses later. The preceding argument would reverse that order by having them discover their wants first and then study to satisfy them. This is the way in which man has progressed from the beginning—outside of educational institutions—and it seems the normal order.

To what extent shall this apply to children? If the fixing of aims is difficult for adult students, it can be expected to be even more difficult for children of the elementary school age. For their experience, from which the suggestions for specific purposes must be obtained, is narrow and their command of it slight. On the other hand, they are expected to have done a large amount of studying before entering the high school, much of it alone, too. And, after leaving the elementary school, people will take it for granted that they have already learned how to study. If, therefore, the finding of specific purposes is an important factor in proper study, responsibility for acquiring that ability will fall upon the elementary school.

Do children need the help of specific aims?

The first question to consider is, Do children seriously need the help of such aims? They certainly do in one respect, for they resemble their elders in being afflicted with inattention and unwillingness to exert themselves in study. These are the offenses for which they are most often scolded at school, and these are their chief faults when they attempt to study alone. There is no doubt also but that the main reason why children improve very little in oral reading during the last three years in the elementary school is their lack of incentive to improve. They feel no great need of enunciating distinctly and of reading with pleasant tones loud enough to be heard by all, when all present have the same text before them. Why should they?

Good aims make children alert, just as they do older persons. I remember hearing a New York teacher in a private school say to her thirteen-year-old children in composition, one spring day: "I expect to spend my vacation at some summer resort; but I have not yet decided what one it shall be. If you have a good place in mind, I should be glad to have you tell me why you like it. It may influence my choice." She was a very popular teacher, and each pupil longed to have her for a companion during the summer. I never saw a class undertake a composition with more eagerness. In a certain fifth-year class in geography a contest between the boys and girls for the best collection of articles manufactured out of flax resulted in the greatest enthusiasm. The reading or committing to memory of stories with the object of dramatizing them—such as The Children's Hour, in the second or third grade—seldom fails to arouse lively interest.

For several years the members of the highest two classes in a certain school have collected many of the best cartoons and witticisms. They have also been in the habit of reading the magazines with the object of selecting such articles as might be of special interest to their own families at home, or to other classes in the school, or to their classmates, often defending their selections before the class. Their most valuable articles have been classified and catalogued for use in the school; and their joke-books, formed out of humorous collections, have circulated through the school. The effect of the plan in interesting pupils in current literature has been excellent.

A certain settlement worker in New York City in charge of a club of fourteen- to eighteen-year-old boys tried to arouse an interest in literature, using one plan after another without success. Finally the class undertook to read Julius Caesar with the object of selecting the best parts and acting them out in public. This plan succeeded; and while the acting was grotesque, this purpose led to what was probably the most earnest studying that those boys had ever done.

The value of definite aims for the conduct of the recitation is now often discussed and much appreciated by teachers. If such aims are so important in class, with the teacher present, they are surely not less needed when the child is studying alone.

The worth of specific aims for children as a source of energy in general is likewise great. It is a question whether children under three years of age are ever lazy. But certainly within a few years after that age—owing to the bad effect of civilization, Rousseau might say—many of them make great progress toward laziness of both body and mind.

The possibilities in this direction were once strikingly illustrated in an orphan asylum in New York City. The two hundred children in this asylum had been in the habit of marching to their meals in silence, eating in silence, and marching out in silence. They had been trained to the "lock step" discipline, until they were quiet and good to a high degree. The old superintendent having resigned on account of age, an experienced teacher, who was an enthusiast in education, succeeded him in that office. Feeling depressed by the lack of life among the children, the latter concluded, after a few weeks, to break the routine by taking thirty of the older boys and girls to a circus. But shortly before the appointed day one of these girls proved so refractory that she was told that she could not be allowed to go. To the new superintendent's astonishment, however, she did not seem disappointed or angered; she merely remarked that she had never seen a circus and did not care much to go anyway. Shortly afterward he fined several of the children for misconduct. Many of them had a few dollars of their own, received from relatives and other friends. But the fines did not worry them. They were not in the habit of spending money, having no occasion for it; all that they needed was food, clothing, and shelter, and these the institution was bound to give. Then he deprived certain unruly children of a share in the games. That again failed to cause acute sorrow. In the great city they had little room for play, and many had not become fond of games. It finally proved difficult to discover anything that they cared for greatly. Their discipline had accomplished its object, until they were usually "good" simply because they were too dull, too wanting in ideas and interests to be mischievous. Their energy in general was low. Here was a demand for specific purposes without limit.

One of the first aims that the new superintendent set up, after making this discovery, was to inculcate live interests in these children, a capacity to enjoy the circus, a love even of money, a love of games, of flowers, of reading, and of companionship. His means was the fixing of definite and interesting objects to be accomplished from day to day, and these gradually restored the children to their normal condition. Thus all children need the help of specific aims, and some need it sadly.

Is it normal to expect children to learn to set up specific aims for themselves?

There remains the very important question, Are children themselves capable of learning to set up such purposes? Or at least would such attempts seem to be normal for them? This question cannot receive a final answer at present, because children have not been sufficiently tested in this respect. It has so long been the habit in school to collect facts and leave their bearings on life to future accident, that the force of habit makes it difficult to measure the probabilities in regard to a very different procedure.

Yet there are some facts that are very encouraging. A large number of the tasks that children undertake outside of school are self imposed, many of these including much intellectual work. Largely as a result of such tasks, too, they probably learn at least as much outside of school as they learn in school, and they learn it better.

Further, when called upon in school to do this kind of thinking, they readily respond. A teacher one day remarked to her class, "I have a little girl friend living on the Hudson River, near Albany, who has been ill for many weeks. It occurred to me that you might like to write her some letters that would help her to pass the time more pleasantly. Could you do it?" "Yes, by all means," was the response. "Then what will you choose to write about?" said the teacher. One girl soon inquired, "Do you think that she would like to know how I am training my bird to sing?" Several other interesting topics were suggested. The finding of desirable purposes is not beyond children's abilities.

Individual examples, however, can hardly furnish the best answer to the question at present; the general nature of children must determine it. If children are leading lives that are rich enough intellectually and morally to furnish numerous occasions to turn their acquisitions to account, then it would certainly be reasonable to expect them to discover some of these occasions. If, on the other hand, their lives are comparatively barren, it might be unnatural to make such a demand upon them.

The feeling is rather common that human experience becomes rich only as the adult period is reached; that childhood is comparatively barren of needs, and valuable mainly as a period of storage of knowledge to meet wants that will arise later. Yet is this true? By the time the adult state is reached, one has passed through the principal kinds of experience; the period of struggle is largely over, and the results have registered themselves in habits. The adult is to a great extent a bundle of habits.

The child, and the youth in the adolescent age, on the other hand, are just going the round of experience for the first few times. They are just forming their judgments as to the values of things about them. Their intellectual life is abundant, as is shown by their innumerable questions. Their temptations—such as to become angry, to fight, to lie, to cheat, and to steal—are more numerous and probably more severe than they will usually be later; their opportunities to please and help others, or to offend and hinder, are without limit; and their joys and sorrows, though of briefer duration than later, are more numerous and often fully as acute. In other words, they are in the midst of growth, of habit formation, both intellectually and morally. Theirs is the time of life when, to a peculiar degree, they are experimentally related to their environment. Why, then, should they be taught to look past this period, to their distant future as the harvest time for their knowledge and powers? The occasions are abundant now for turning facts and abilities to account, and it is normal to expect them to see many of these opportunities. Proper development requires that they be trained to look for them, instead of looking past them.

Here is seen the need of one more reform in education. Children used to be regarded as lacking value in themselves; their worth lay in their promise of being men and women; and if, owing to ill health, this promise was very doubtful, they were put aside. For education they were given that mental pabulum that was considered valuable to the adult; and their tastes, habits, and manners were judged from the same viewpoint.

Very recently one radical improvement has been effected in this program. As illustrated in the doctrine of apperception, we have grown to respect the natures of children, even to accept their instincts, their native tendencies, and their experiences as the proper basis for their education. That is a wonderful advance. But we do not yet regard their present experience as furnishing the motive for their education. We need to take one more step and recognize their present lives as the field wherein the knowledge that they acquire shall function. We do this to some extent; but we lack faith in the abundance of their present experience, and are always impatiently looking forward to a time when their lives will be rich.

In feeding children we have our eyes primarily on the present; food is given them in order to be assimilated and used now to satisfy present needs; that is the best way of guaranteeing health for the future. Likewise in giving them mental and spiritual food, our attention should be directed primarily to its present value. It should be given with the purpose of present nourishment, of satisfying present needs; other more distant needs will thereby be best served.

A few years ago, when I was discussing this topic with a class at Teachers College, I happened to observe a recitation in the Horace Mann school in which a class of children was reading Silas Marner. They were frequently reproved for their unnaturally harsh voices, for their monotones, indistinct enunciation, and poor grouping of words. In the Speyer school, nine blocks north of this school, I had often observed the same defects.

At about that time one of my students, interested in the early history of New York, happened to call upon an old woman living in a shanty midway between these two schools. She was an old inhabitant, and one of the early roadways that the student was hunting had passed near her house. In conversation with the woman he learned that she had had five children, all of whom had been taken from her some years before, within a fortnight, by scarlet fever; and that since then she had been living alone. When he remarked that she must feel lonesome at times, tears came to her eyes, and she replied, "Sometimes." As he was leaving she thanked him for his call and remarked that she seldom had any visitors; she added that, if some one would drop in now and then, either to talk or to read to her, she would greatly appreciate it; her eyes had so failed that she could no longer read for herself.

Here was an excellent chance to improve the children's reading by enabling them to see that the better their reading the more pleasure could they give to those about them. This seems typical of the present relation between the school and its environing world. While the two need each other sadly, the school is isolated somewhat like the old- time monastery. The fixing of specific aims for study can aid materially in establishing the normal relation, and children can certainly contribute to this end by discovering some of these purposes themselves. That is one of the things that they should learn to do.


1. Elimination of subject-matter that has little bearing on life

The elimination from the curriculum of such subject-matter as has no probable bearing on ordinary mortals is one important step to take in giving children definite aims in their study. There is much of this matter having little excuse for existence beyond the fact that it "exercises the mind"; for example: in arithmetic, the finding of the Greatest Common Divisor as a separate topic, the tables for Apothecaries' weight and Troy measure, Complex and Compound Fractions;[Footnote: For a more complete list of such topics, see Teachers College Record, Mathematics in the Elementary School, March, 1903, by David Eugene Smith and F. M. McMurry.] in geography, the location of many unimportant capes, bays, capitals and other towns, rivers and boundaries; in nature study, many classifications, the detailed study of leaves, and the study of many uncommon wild plants. The teaching of facts that cannot function in the lives of pupils directly encourages the mere collecting habit, and thus tends to defeat the purpose here proposed. Not that we do not wish children to collect facts; but while acquiring them we want children to carry the responsibility of discovering ways of turning them to account, and mere collecting tends to dull this sense of responsibility.

2. The example to be set by the teacher

By her own method of instruction the teacher can set an example of what she desires from her pupils in the way of concrete aims. For instance: (a) during recitation she can occasionally suggest opportunities for the application of knowledge and ability. "This is a story that you might tell to other children," she might say; or, "Here is something that you might dramatize." "You might talk with your father or mother about this." "Could you read this aloud to your family?" Again, (b) in the assignment of lessons she might set a definite problem that would bring the school work into direct touch with the outside world. In fine art, instead of having children make designs for borders, without any particular use for the design, she might suggest, "Find some object or wall surface that needs a border, and see if you can design one that will be suitable." As a task in arithmetic for a fifth-year class in a small town, she might assign the problem, "To find out as accurately as possible whether or not it pays to keep a cow." Finally, (c) as part of an examination, she can ask the class to recall purposes that they have kept in mind in the study of certain topics. By such means the teacher can make clear to a class what is meant by interesting or useful aims of study, and also impress them with the fact that she feels the need of studying under the guidance of such aims.

3. The responsibility the children should bear.

The teacher need not do a great amount of such work for her class. The children should learn to do it themselves, and they will not acquire the ability mainly by having some one else do it for them.

Therefore, after the children have come to understand the requirement fairly well, the teacher might occasionally assign a lesson by specifying only the quantity, as such and such pages, or such and such topics, in the geography or history, with the understanding that the class shall state in the next recitation one or more aims for the lesson; for example, if it is the geography of Russia, How it happens that we hear so often of famines in Russia, while we do not hear of them in other parts of Europe; or, if it is the history of Columbus, For what characteristic is Columbus to be most admired? Again, In what ways has his discovery of America proved of benefit to the world? The finding of such problems will then be a part of the study necessary in mastering the lesson.

Likewise, during the recitation and without any hint from the teacher, the children should show that they are carrying the responsibility of establishing relations of the subject-matter with life, by mentioning further bearings, or possible uses, that they discover.

Review lessons furnish excellent occasions for study of this kind. It is narrow to review lessons only from the point of view of the author. His view-point should be reviewed often enough to become well fixed, but there should be other view-points taken also.

John Fiske has admirably presented the history of the period immediately following the Revolution. The title of his book, The Critical Period of American History, makes us curious from the beginning to know how the period was so critical. This is a fine example of a specific aim governing a whole book. But other aims in review might be, Do we owe as much to Washington during this period as during the war just preceding? Or were other men equally or more prominent? How was the establishment of a firm Union made especially difficult by the want of certain modern inventions? The pupils themselves should develop the power to suggest such questions.

4. The sources to which children should look for suggestions

The teacher can teach the children where to look for suggestions in their search for specific purposes. During meals, three times a day, interesting topics of conversation are welcome; indeed, the dearth of conversation at such times, owing to lack of "something to say," is often depressing. There is often need of something to unite the family of evenings, such as a magazine article read aloud, or a good narrative, or a discussion of some timely topic. There are social gatherings where the people "don't know what to do"; there are recesses at school where there is the same difficulty; there are neighbors, brothers and sisters, and other friends who are more than ready to be entertained, or instructed, or helped. Yet children often dramatize stories at school, without ever thinking of doing the same for the entertainment of their family at home. They read good stories without expecting to tell them to any one. They collect good ideas about judging pictures, without planning to beautify their homes through them. Thus the children can be made conscious that there are wants on all sides of them, and by some study of their environment they can find many aims that will give purpose to their school work. Again, by a review of their past studies, their reading, and their experience of various kinds, they can be reminded of objects that they are desirous of accomplishing. It is, perhaps, needless to say that the teacher herself must likewise make a careful study of the home, street, and school life of her pupils, of their study and reading, if she is to guide them most effectually in their own search for desirable aims.

5. Stocking up with specific aims in advance

Finally, the teacher can lead her pupils to stock up with specific aims even in advance of their immediate needs. A teacher who visits another school with the desire of getting helpful suggestions would better write down beforehand the various things that she wishes to see. She can afford to spend considerable time and energy upon such a list of points. Otherwise, she is likely to overlook half of the things she was anxious to inquire about.

Likewise, children can be taught to jot down in a notebook various problems that they hope to solve, various wants observed in their environment that they may help to satisfy. Children who are much interested in reading, sometimes without outside suggestion make lists of good books that they have heard of and hope to read. And as they read some, they add others to their list. Keeping this list in mind, they are on the lookout for any of these books, and improve the opportunity to read one of them whenever it offers. A similar habit in regard to things one would like to know and do can be cultivated, so that one will have a rich stock of aims on hand in advance, and these will help greatly to give purpose to the work later required in the school.

6. The importance of moderation in demands made upon children.

In conclusion, it may be of importance to add that this kind of instruction can be easily overdone, and it is better to proceed too slowly than too rapidly. It is a healthy and permanent development that is wanted, and the teacher should rest satisfied if it is slow. It is by no means feasible to attempt to subordinate all study to specific aims; we cannot see our way to accomplish that now. But we can do something in that direction. Only occasional attempts with the younger children will be in place; more conscious efforts will be fitting among older pupils. By the time the elementary school is finished, a fair degree of success in discovering specific aims can be expected.

Yet, even if little more than a willingness to take time to try is established, the gain will be appreciable. When children become interested in a topic, they are impatient to "go on" and "to keep going on." This continual hurrying forward crowds out reflection. If they learn no more than to pause now and then in order to find some bearings on life, and thus do some independent thinking, they are paving the way for the invaluable habit of reflection.



The question here at issue

In the preceding chapter the importance of studying under the influence of specific purposes was urged. These are such purposes as the student really desires to accomplish by the study of text or of other matter placed before him. Since they are not usually included in such matter, but must be conceived by the student himself, they constitute a very important kind of supplement to whatever statements may be offered for study. The questions now arise, Are other kinds of supplementing also generally necessary? If so, what is their nature? Should they be prominent, or only a minor part of study? And is there any explanation of the fact that authors are not able to express themselves more fully and plainly?

Answers to these questions—1. As suggested by Bible study.

For answers to these questions, turn first to Bible study. Take for instance a minister's treatment of a Bible text. Selecting a verse or two as his Answers to theme for a sermon, he recalls the conditions that called forth the words; builds the concrete picture by the addition of reasonable detail; makes comparisons with corresponding views or customs of the present time; states and answers queries that may arise; calls attention to the peculiar beauty or force of certain expressions; draws inferences or corollaries suggested in the text; and, finally, interprets the thought or draws the practical lessons. The words in his text may number less than a dozen, while those that he utters reach thousands; and the thoughts that he expresses may be a hundred times the number directly visible in the text.

Leaving the minister, take the layman's study of the parable of the Prodigal Son. This is the story as related in Luke 15:11-32:

11. And he said, A certain man had two sons:

12. And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living.

13. And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living.

14. And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want.

15. And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine.

16. And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat; and no man gave unto him

17. And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father's have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!

18. I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee,

19. And am no more worthy to be called thy son; make me as one of thy hired servants.

20. And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.

21. And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.

22. But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet.

23. And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat and be merry.

24. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry.

25. Now his elder son was in the field; and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard music and dancing.

26. And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant.

27. And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound.

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