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The study of the child cannot be accomplished by an "instantaneous" process; his characteristics can only be illustrated cinematographically.
"External means," organized in accordance with the needs of psychical life, are of fundamental importance; for how is it possible to judge of individual differences in the acquisition of internal order, in the ascent to abstraction, in the progressive stages of intellectual development, in the achievement of discipline, without the existence of pre-determined and unvarying external means which, like so many points of support, lead the child in process of formation towards his goal?
In order to determine individual differences logically, there must be a constant work or aim; and this is the external means on which each personality builds itself up. When the external support is the same, and corresponds in general to the psychical needs of a given age, a difference of internal construction is due to the individual himself. On the other hand, if the means were different, the variations in reaction might be attributed to differences in the means.
Finally, it is obvious that in all scientific research, the instrument of measurement must be fixed. But each thing to be measured requires a special instrument, and the constant instrument in psychical measurement should be "the method of education."
A series of formulae, such as the Binet-Simon tests, can neither measure anything, nor give even an approximate idea of intellectual levels of intelligence according to age; as to the children who respond, whence is their response derived? How far is this due to the intrinsic activity of the individual, and how far to the action of environment? And if the portion due to environment be ignored, who can determine what intrinsic psychical value should be given to the response?
In each personality we must recognize two parts: one is the individual, natural, spontaneous activity by means of which elements may be taken from the environment wherewith the personality may be elaborated internally, constructed and augmented, and hence characterized; another part is the external instrument with which all this may be done. For instance, a child who at the age of four can recognize sixty-four colors, shows that he possesses remarkable activity in the perception of colors, and in the arrangement of them in gradation in his mind, etc.; but he also shows that he has had the means to accomplish this achievement; he has had, for instance, sixty-four color-tablets, with which he has been able to practise at his leisure and undisturbed, as long as was necessary for such assimilation.
The psychical factor P is the sum of two factors, one internal, the other external:
P = I + E
of these the unknown, non-directly measurable factor I may be indicated by X:
P = X + E
If we were to compare two children, one of whom has had at his disposal the sixty-four colors in the conditions described above, and another who has been left to himself in poor surroundings, where gray and brown tints prevail, and who seems dull and unobservant, etc., we should find a very remarkable psychical difference. Such a difference is not, however, intrinsic; it might well be that, subjected to the same conditions as the first child, the second would recognize the sixty-four colors. The judgment we should give in such a case would be based upon an external factor, not upon internal potentialities. We should really be appraising two different environments, not two different individuals.
To enable us to judge of individual differences, it would be necessary for the two children to have had the same means of development. In this case, if at the same age they were not equally capable of distinguishing the sixty-four colors, but if, for instance, one of the two could recognize only thirty of these, a true individual psychical difference would be apparent. One of the tests proposed by one of the greatest authorities on experimental psychology in Italy, to determine the intellectual level of sub-normal (backward or deficient) children, was to make a child pick out the largest and the smallest cube in a series. This choice, in common with nearly all the tests proposed for the same purpose, we considered quite independently of the influence of culture and education; and it was appreciated as the expression of an intimate, personal activity of the intelligence itself. But if one of the deficient children I had educated on my method had been subjected to the test, he would, in virtue of a long sensory training, have chosen the largest and the smallest cube very much more easily than the children selected by the psychologist from his special schools; and my deficient child might even have been not only younger, but even more backward intellectually than the other. The test would therefore have measured the different methods of education, whereas the psychical differences between the two children, really existent by reason of age or of intellectual attainment, would have remained absolutely obscure.
Man is a fusion of personality and education, and education includes the series of experiences he undergoes during his life. The two things cannot be separated in the individual: intelligence without acquirement is an abstraction. That which holds good of all living beings: that the individual cannot be divorced from his environment, is more profoundly true in its application to psychical life, because the content of environment, constituting the means of auto-experience which evolves man, is an essential part of him, and, indeed, is the individual himself. Nevertheless, we all know that the psychical individual is not his environment, but a life in himself.
Given the formula
P = X + E
in which X is the internal and intrinsic part peculiar to the individual life, it may be said that every individual has his X. But in order to approach to direct knowledge of X, it is essential to know P and E.
He who carries out an examination, or supposes himself to be performing a "psychical measurement" by dwelling on psychical results, is in reality measuring a mixture of two unknown quantities, one of which, being external to the individual, nullifies the results of research.
Hence, to study individual differences in isolated activities, such as the perception of colors, musical sounds, the letters of the alphabet; or the capacity for observation of surroundings and the detection of errors; or coordination of movements, language, etc., it is essential to have first determined a constant element: the means of development offered by environment.
Here a simple and clearly defined difference between pedagogy and psychology manifests itself: pedagogy determines experimentally the means of development and the method of applying them while respecting the internal or personal liberty of the individual; psychology studies average reactions or individual reactions in the species or the individual. But the two things are two aspects of a single fact, which is the development of man; the individual and the environment are the two factors X and E of the same product: the psychical entity.
Isolated psychical researches of a moral order must also, if they are to be of any real value, be based upon prolonged observation, after the internal activities have become orderly; because it is easy to make errors of judgment in a chaos. In clinical psychiatry or in criminal pathology, when we speak of "keeping a subject under observation" for purposes of diagnosis, we mean placing him in special surroundings, under hygienic and disciplinary conditions, etc., and observing him for some time in such an environment. Such a process has a value still more extensive and profound in the case of normal individuals in process of evolution. In such a case it is necessary not only to offer orderly external surroundings, but to reduce the chaotic internal world of the child to order, and, after this, to observe him for a considerable time.
We may offer as an illustration the following observations made upon two of the most interesting children who attended our schools. They were admitted into the training school for teachers during my last International Course in Rome.
ASPECTS OF THE TWO CHILDREN
During the period they were retained as subjects for anthropological observation in the class-room for teachers
There was a considerable clamor among the students; some were talking, some laughing. In the center of the room stood a pedometer. The behavior of the two children was almost identical. They were sitting apart quietly, working at the lacing frames which they had gone spontaneously to fetch from a neighboring room; they did not look up at the noise, nor join in the laughter. Their attitude was that of persons at work and anxious not to lose any time. When invited by a single gesture to come and be measured, they obeyed in a wonderful manner, leaving off work at once, and moving with smiles, as if fascinated; they evidently felt pleasure in obeying, and an internal delight which came from the consciousness of being able to work, and of being ready to leave something that they liked doing, at a summons to something of a higher order. They arranged themselves very carefully on the pedometer to be measured; when any modification was necessary in the position of the body, it sufficed to murmur a word in their ears and the almost imperceptible movement required was made with the utmost exactitude; they could control their voluntary movements and direct them; they were able to translate the words they heard into actions: this enabled them to obey, and this constituted for them a fascinating internal conquest. When the measuring was over, nothing was said; they waited expectantly for a moment, then gave an intelligent glance and a smile, which was, as it were, their greeting; they had understood, and they returned voluntarily to their corner to take up their frames and resume their work. Presently they were wanted again, and the same actions were repeated.
When we think that children of their age (about four and a half), when left to themselves, will roam about, upsetting objects almost unconsciously, and requiring either some one to submit to their caprices, or to call them roughly to order, we shall recognize the internal perfection achieved in these two little ones, who have arrived at that stage of development in which work has become a habit, and obedience a fascinating acquisition.
The anthropometric measurements had shown that one of the children, O, was normal in measurement (weight, stature, length of torso) and the other, A, below the normal measurements.
Here are some notes made by the teacher on the conduct of these two children when they were in the state of disorder, or undisciplined:
O: violent, turbulent, spiteful to his companions, never applies to anything, but looks on at what the others are doing and then interrupts them; or listens to the individual lessons given by the teacher with a scornful and cynical expression. The father of the child says that at home he is violent, overbearing, and intractable.
A: is quiet. But he has almost a mania for spying on his companions, and pointing out to the teacher every little action that might be considered wrong or incorrect.
Both of the children are very poor. O is almost entirely neglected by his family.
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Later judgment the teacher was enabled to form of these two children after they had reduced themselves to order by means of work:
O: all the turbulence shown by O in his home resolved itself into a struggle for bread; the father, who was very poor, but also neglectful, denied the child bread; the child did not resign himself, did not cry, but struggled constantly, with all the means at his disposal, in order to obtain his portion of bread. When the teacher asked the father why he denied the child bread, he replied: "Because, when he has eaten it, he asks for more."
In school, this child ran from group to group, from lesson to lesson, disturbing the others and passing over everything, because he was struggling to win his spiritual food after the same fashion.
He is a child who has an overpowering will to live: self-preservation seems to be his most strongly developed tendency.
When his life was assured, the child became not only gentle, but remarkable for his sweetness and delicacy of feeling. He was the child who, in his joy when he had learned or completed some task, looked round lovingly at his companions, and blew little kisses to them from his fingers. Whereas for the other children who had entered into the phase of order or discipline, the teacher's note is: "work," for O the note is: "work and kindness."
Before the daily hot meal was instituted, the children used to bring their own luncheons, which varied very much; two or three of the children were very generously provided, and had meat, fruit, etc. O was seated next to one of these. The table was set, and O had nothing to put upon his plate but the piece of bread he had so strenuously acquired; he glanced at his neighbor as if to regulate himself by the time the latter would take over his meal, but with no trace of envy; on the contrary, with great dignity he tried to eat his piece of bread very slowly, in order that he might not finish before the other, and thus make it evident that he had nothing more to eat while the other was still busy. He nibbled his bread slowly and seriously.
What a sense of his own dignity—subduing the desires of an appetite exposed to temptation—existed in this child, together with his sense of the fundamental needs of his own life, by which he was impelled to struggle and to conquer what was "necessary." And there was further that exquisite sensibility, which manifested itself in the affectionate expression of his mobile face, and in the effusion of a general tenderness which looked for no return.
A very remarkable thing was that this child, whom we might have expected to find ill-nourished, gave normal anthropological measurements and weight for his age. Born in poverty and neglect, he had defended himself; the normality of his body was due to an heroic effort.
A: this child was always calm and quiet; he very soon entered upon the phase of active, ordered, willing and thorough work. He applied himself with intense earnestness and perseverance. He would be the type of the clever, well-behaved child of the ordinary school. Very often he came to school without any food. His goodness had a positive character which became a mortal danger to himself; he accepted mal-nutrition without revolt; he profited greatly by the means of psychical life that were offered him, but he would never have been able to conquer them for himself. His goodness continued to be of the same type after as before the period of order; he showed neither agitation nor expansion. His anthropological measurements, which were below the normal, already indicated that he had started on life's pilgrimage with the gait of the victim; he belonged to the company of those "who must be saved by others."
The characteristic moral trait was "espionage." The teacher, when observing him, noticed that the child did not work simply like the others, but came to her very frequently to know if what he was doing was well or ill done. And this not only during his work with the materials, but also in reference to every act of a moral nature he accomplished; his great preoccupation seemed to be to know whether he was doing right or wrong. Then he endeavored to do right with the most scrupulous exactitude. With regard to his spying tendencies, the teacher noted the child never showed any animosity towards his companions; he watched them attentively, and then proceeded to say of them as he would say of himself: So and so did this; was it right or wrong? The child was then careful to avoid what had been pronounced "wrong" in others.
What appeared to be his spying proclivities were, in fact, a manifestation of the problem that dominated his childish conscience: the problem of right and wrong. The limited experience of his own life did not suffice him; he wanted to benefit by the experience of all the others in order to learn what things were right and what were wrong; almost as if the one feeling that absorbed him was the desire to do right and avoid wrong, and as if this were his sole aspiration. The case of this child recalls a popular superstition expressed in such terms as "too good to live." The child A seemed destined for the fate thus suggested. The needs of the body did not greatly concern him, and he seemed equally indifferent to those of the mind; goodness was the mainspring of his being. If society does not note such dispositions, and assume the special protection of such frail lives, children of this type go forward to premature death like angels gazing heavenwards.
These two accounts, due to Signorina Maccheroni's observation, correct a superficial judgment which, in an ordinary school, would have become a permanent record of character: the one child would have been branded as violent, the other as a spy.
If we call that science which led to the translation of these words into hero and angel, and touched so many hearts in the vicinity of these two children, when they had been interpreted by their wonderful instructress, we shall be able to assert that "the judgment of love is the judgment of knowledge." The mercy of Christ in judging is here illustrated.
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"Psychical action," then, starts from a principle which may be translated thus: "that the child lives." All the rest comes as a consequence.
This action of fundamental life manifests itself as a polarization of the internal personality: almost at a point of crystallization, around which, provided there be homogeneous material and an undisturbed environment, the definitive form composes itself.
This initial action is a task repeated with a special intensity of attention.
In my "biographical chart," therefore, I do not give a long formula of analytical studies, but I give a "guide to psychological observations," founded upon the synthetical conception which I have sought to illustrate. Those who have not been initiated into this method of observation will gain no light from such a guide, which lies entirely outside the conceptions of psychological study now obtaining in connection with the observation of pupils. But those who have been initiated will understand it without the aid of illustration.
Our teachers have also a terminology by means of which they understand each other, without having recourse to the ordinary expressions, which do not convey an exact idea of the action they see in process of development. Thus they never say: The child is developing, or progressing, the child is good or naughty, etc. The only phraseology they use is: The child is becoming disciplined or is not becoming disciplined. It is internal order that they await; and on this principle of being or not being, all or nothing depends.
This evokes a much deeper conception than that of "growth." To say that a living creature grows is to make a very superficial statement, seeing that he grows indeed, but in virtue of the fact that, within, an orderly and regular disposition of substances is in progress.
When, for instance, the embryo of an animal is formed, it grows; but any one who has observed it internally must have been struck by a fact much more marvelous than that of the visible external "growth." A wonderful internal grouping of the cells takes place; some form, as it were, a leaf which folds over and makes the intestines, others separate to form the nervous system, one group isolates and specializes itself to make the liver, and thus an organization of parts, more and more pronounced, together with a minute differentiation of each individual arrangement of the cells, is carried on. The future functions of the body all depend upon the possibility of the cells so establishing themselves.
The important point is, not that the embryo grows, but that it coordinates. "Growth" comes through and by order, which also makes life possible. An embryo which grows without coordinating its internal organs is not vital. Here we have not only the impulse, but the mystery of life. The evolution of internal order is the essential condition for the realization of vital existence in a life which possesses the impulse to exist.
Now the sum of the phenomena indicated in the "guide to psychological observation" actually represents the evolution of spiritual order in the child.
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Guide to psychological observation. WORK.—Note when a child begins to occupy himself for any length of time upon a task.
What the task is and how long he continues working at it (slowness in completing it and repetition of the same exercise).
His individual peculiarities in applying himself to particular tasks.
To what tasks he applies himself during the same day, and with how much perseverance.
If he has periods of spontaneous industry, and for how many days these periods continue.
How he manifests a desire to progress.
What tasks he chooses in their sequence, working at them steadily.
Persistence in a task in spite of stimuli in his environment which would tend to distract his attention.
If after deliberate interruption he resumes the task from which his attention was distracted.
CONDUCT.—Note the state of order or disorder in the acts of the child.
His disorderly actions.
Note if changes of behavior take place during the development of the phenomena of work.
Note whether during the establishment of ordered actions there are:
crises of joy; intervals of serenity; manifestations of affection.
The part the child takes in the development of his companions.
OBEDIENCE.—Note if the child responds to the summons when he is called.
Note if and when the child begins to take part in the work of others with an intelligent effort.
Note when obedience to a summons becomes regular.
Note when obedience to orders becomes established.
Note when the child obeys eagerly and joyously.
Note the relation of the various phenomena of obedience in their degrees
(a) to the development of work; (b) to changes of conduct.
THE PREPARATION OF THE TEACHER
The possibility of observing the developments of the psychical life of the child as natural phenomena and experimental reactions transforms the school itself in action into a kind of scientific laboratory for the psycho-genetic study of man. It will become—perhaps in the near future—the experimental field par excellence of the psychologist. To prepare such a school as perfectly as possible, is therefore not only to prepare "a better method for the education of children," but also to prepare the materials for a renovated science. Every one now knows that students of natural science require in their laboratories an organization directed to the preparation of the material to be observed. To observe a simple cell in movement, it is necessary to have a hollow glass slide with cavity for the hanging drop; to have ready "fresh solutions" in which the living cells may be immersed, to ensure their continued vitality; to have ready soils for cultures, etc. For all these ends there are special avocations, those of the so-called "preparers," who are not the assistants or helpers of the professor, but employes who were at one time upper servants, and then become superior workmen. At the present day they are, however, nearly always themselves scientific graduates. For, indeed, their task is a most delicate one; they must possess biological, physical, and chemical knowledge, and the more thoroughly they are "prepared" by a culture analogous to that of the masters of research themselves, the more rapid and secure is the march of science.
It is strange to think that among all these laboratories of natural science, only that of "experimental psychology" has judged it possible to dispense with an organization for the preparation of the subjects to be observed. If to-day a psychologist were told to arrange the work of his preparer, he would take this to mean the preparation of his "instruments," thus adopting more or less the standard of laboratories of physics.
But the idea of preparing the living being which produces the phenomenon would not enter his mind; and yet, if merely to observe a cell, a living microbe, the scientist needs a "preparer," how much greater must be the necessity for such an assistant when the subject to be observed is man!
Psychologists consider that they can prepare their "subjects" by arresting their attention with a word, and explaining to them how they are to proceed in order to respond to the experiment; any unknown person met by chance in the laboratory will serve their purpose. In short, the psychologist of to-day behaves somewhat like the child who catches a butterfly in flight, observes it for a second and then lets it fly away again; not like the biologist who takes care that his preparations are properly carried out in a scientific laboratory.
On the other hand, the picture of psychological development, even though it be incomplete, which is shown to us in our experiments, demonstrates the subtlety with which it is necessary to present to the child the means of his development and, above all, to respect his liberty; conditions which are essential to ensure that psychical phenomena be revealed and may constitute a true "material for observation"; all this demands a special environment, and the preparation of a practical staff, forming a whole infinitely superior in complexity and in organization to the ordinary natural science laboratories. Such a laboratory can only be the most perfect school, organized according to scientific methods, where the teacher is a person answering to the "preparer" graduate.
True, all schools would not achieve this lofty scientific ideal. But it is indisputable that schools and teachers should all be directing their efforts towards the domain of the experimental sciences. The psychical salvation of children is based upon the means and the liberty to live, and these should become another of the "natural rights" accorded to the new generations; established as a social and philosophic conception, it should supersede the present "obligation to provide instruction," which is a burden not only on State economy but also on the vigor of posterity. If the psychical phenomena of the children in the national schools do not tend to enrich psychology, they become ends in themselves, just as the beauty of Nature is an end in itself.
The new school, indeed, must not be created for the service of a science, but for the service of living humanity; and teachers will be able to rejoice in the contemplation of lives unfolding under their eyes, without sharing the spectacle with science, wrapped in a holy egoism which will exalt their spirits as does every intimate contact with living souls.
It is unquestionable that with this method of education the preparation of the teacher must be made ex novo, and that the personality and social importance of the instructress will be transformed thereby.
Even after the first desultory experiments hitherto made, a new type of mistress has been evolved; instead of facility in speech, she has to acquire the power of silence; instead of teaching, she has to observe; instead of the proud dignity of one who claims to be infallible, she assumes the vesture of humility.
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This transformation has a parallel in that undergone by the university professor, when the positive sciences began to play their part in the world. What a difference between the dignified old-world professor, draped in a robe often ermine-trimmed, seated on his high chair as on a throne, and speaking so authoritatively that students were not only bound to believe all he said, but to swear in verbo magistri, and the professor of to-day, who leaves the high places to the students that they may be able to see, reserving for himself the lowest station, on the bare floor; while the students are all seated, he alone stands, often clad in a gray linen blouse like a workman.
The students know that they will be on the way to the highest degree of progress when they are capable of "verifying" the theses of the professor—nay, more, of giving a further impetus to science, and inscribing their own names among those quoted as having contributed to its wealth or having discovered new truths.
Dignity and hierarchy in these schools have been superseded by interest in the chemical or physical or natural phenomena to be produced; and in presence of this all the rest disappears. The whole arrangement of the laboratory is subject to the same purpose; if the phenomenon requires light, all the walls are of glass; if darkness be necessary, the laboratory is so constructed that it may be transformed into a camera obscura. The one thing of importance is the production of the phenomenon, be this a bad smell or a perfume, an electric spark or the colors of Geissler's tubes, a resonance with Helmholtz's reverberators, or the geometrical arrangement of fine dust on a metallic plate in vibration; the shape of a leaf or the contraction of a frog's muscle; the study of the blind spot in the eye or the rhythm of cardiac pulsation; all is equal and all is included; the eager and absorbing quest is the quest of truth. It is this which the new generation demands from science, not the oratorical art of the professor, the noble gesture, the quip that lightens the weight of the discourse, the lively peroration of the carefully elaborated harangue, and all those expedients which were once developed by a special art for the express purpose of capturing the attention. It is passion for knowledge rather than attention which now animates our young people, who often come out of university halls remembering neither the voice nor the appearance of their professor.
But this does not connote the absence of love and respect for the master. Only, the veneration a modern student feels in the depths of his heart for the great scientist and benefactor of humanity, who stands before him unassumingly dressed in a linen blouse, differs essentially from the fear tempered by ridicule which the gown and wig once inspired.
The transformation of schools and teachers must now proceed on the same lines.
When in a school everything revolves around a fundamental fact, and this fact is a natural phenomenon, the school will have entered the orbit of science. Then the teacher must assume those "characteristics" which are necessary in the presence of science.
Among its devotees we find "characteristics" independent of the content of thought; in short, physicists, chemists, astronomers, botanists, and zoologists, though their content of knowledge is entirely different, are nevertheless all students of the positive sciences, and have characteristics which differentiate them from the metaphysicians of the past. These characteristics are related, not to the content, but to the method of the sciences. If, therefore, pedagogy is to take its place among the sciences, it must be characterized by its method; and the teacher must prepare herself, not by means of the content, but by means of the method.
In short, she should be distinguished by quality even more than by culture.
The fundamental quality is the capacity for "observation"; a quality so important that the positive sciences were also called "sciences of observation," a term which was changed into "experimental sciences" for those in which observation is combined with experiment. Now it is obvious that the possession of senses and of knowledge is not sufficient to enable a person to observe; it is a habit which must be developed by practise. When an attempt is made to show untrained persons stellar phenomena by means of the telescope, or the details of a cell under the microscope, however much the demonstrator may try to explain by word of mouth what ought to be seen, the layman cannot see it. When persons who are convinced of the great discovery made by De Vries go to his laboratory to observe the mutations in the varied minute plants of the Aenothera, he often explains in vain the infinitesimal yet essential differences, denoting, indeed, a new species, among seedlings which have hardly germinated. It is well known that when a new discovery is to be explained to the public, it is necessary to set forth the coarser details; the uninitiated cannot take in those minute details which constituted the real essence of the discovery. And this, because they are unable to observe.
To observe it is necessary to be "trained," and this is the true way of approach to science. For if phenomena cannot be seen it is as if they did not exist, while, on the other hand, the soul of the scientist is entirely possessed by a passionate interest in what he sees. He who has been "trained" to see, begins to feel interest, and such interest is the motive-power which creates the spirit of the scientist. As in the little child internal coordination is the point of crystallization round which the entire psychical form will coalesce, so in the teacher interest in the phenomenon observed will be the center round which her complete new personality will form spontaneously.
The quality of observation comprises various minor qualities, such as patience. In comparison with the scientist, the untrained person not only appears to be a blind man who can see neither with the naked eye nor with the help of lenses; he appears as an "impatient" person.
If the astronomer has not already got his telescope in focus, the layman cannot wait until he has done so; while the scientist would be performing this task without even perceiving that he was carrying out a long and patient process, the layman would be fuming, and thinking, in great perturbation: "What am I doing here? I cannot waste time like this." When microscopists expect visits from a lay public, they prepare a long row of microscopes already in focus, because they know that their visitors will wish to see "at once" and "quickly," and that they will wish to see "a great deal."
We can easily imagine a scientist whose contributions to the work of the laboratory are of the highest order, who holds chairs and possesses civil dignities and honors of every sort, amiably consenting to show a lady a cellular tissue under the microscope. As if it were the most natural thing in the world, he would proceed as follows, with solemn and serene gravity. He would cut off a minute portion of a piece of tissue preserved in spirit, and would carefully clean the slide on which the subject was to be placed and the slide that was to cover it; he would clean again the lenses of the microscope, focus the preparation, and make ready to explain. But undoubtedly the lady all this time will have been on the point of saying a hundred times: "Excuse me, Professor, but really ... I have an engagement ... I have a great deal to do...." When she has looked without seeing anything, her lamentations are bitter: "What a lot of time I have wasted!" And yet she has nothing to do, and fritters away all her time! What she lacks is not time but patience. He who is impatient cannot appraise things properly; he can only appreciate his own impulses and his own satisfactions. He reckons time solely by his own activity. That which satisfies him may be absolutely empty, valueless, nugatory; no matter, its value lies in the satisfaction it gives him; and if it gives him satisfaction, it cannot be said to be a waste of time. But what he cannot endure, and what impresses him as a loss of time is a tension of the nerves, a moment of self-control, an interval of waiting without an immediate result There is, indeed, a popular Italian proverb: aspettare e non venire e una cosa da morire (to wait for what does not come is a killing business). These impatient persons are like those busybodies who always make off when there is really work to be done.
A thorough education is indeed necessary to overcome this attitude; we must master and control our own wills, if we would bring ourselves into relation with the external world and appreciate its values. Without this preparation we cannot give due weight to the minute things from which science draws its conclusions.
The capacity for sustained and accurate application to a task the object of which is apparently of very small importance, is indeed a most valuable asset to him who hopes to advance in science. Let us call to mind what a physicist does to place an instrument absolutely level; how patiently he turns first one screw and then another, tries again and again, slowly and carefully: and to what end? to procure an absolutely horizontal direction for a surface. When this measure of comparison is established in hard metal, how carefully it must be preserved to ensure that the oscillations of temperature shall not modify the length even in the most infinitesimal degree; for this would be fatal to the scientific use of the instrument in measuring horizontals. And yet how slight a thing in itself is involved! the preservation of a measure! When the great chemist wishes to find out whether traces of a substance can give a reaction he seems to be playing with his phials like a little boy; he takes a retort and fills it with the substance he wishes to study, and then empties it; afterwards he fills it with water, and watches for the reaction; the reaction takes place; then again he empties the retort, fills it anew with water, and sees whether there is a further reaction. Thus he establishes the degree of dilution in which the substance will leave traces. In this case the minimum is the important thing; it was to find this imperceptible, negligible minimum that the great man acted like a child.
This attitude of humility is an element of patience. In all things the scientist is humble: from the external action of descending from his professional throne to work standing at a little table, from the taking off of his robes to don the workman's blouse, from having laid aside the dignity of one who states an authoritative and indisputable truth to assume the position of one who is seeking the truth together with his pupils, and inviting them to verify it, to the end not that they should learn a doctrine but that they should be spurred to activity by the truth—from all this, down to the tasks he carries out in his laboratory. He considers nothing too small to absorb all his powers, to claim his entire attention, to occupy all his time. Even when social honors are heaped upon him, he maintains the same attitude, which is to him the only true honor, the real source of his greatness. A microbe, an excretion, anything, may interest the man of science, even though he be a senator or a Minister of State. The example of Cincinnatus is not to be compared with that of the modern scientist, for these workers surpass Cincinnatus immeasurably, in their power of bringing glory and salvation to humanity.
But the highest form of humility in men of science is their ready self-abnegation, not only in externals, but even in spiritual things, such as a cherished ideal, convictions that have germinated in their minds. Confronted with truth, the man of science has no pre-conceptions; he is ready to renounce all those cherished ideas of his own that may diverge therefrom. Thus, gradually, he purifies himself from error, and keeps his mind always fresh, always clear, naked as the Truth with which he desires to blend in a sublime union.
Is not this, perhaps, the reason why the specialist in infantile diseases has at present a social dignity and authority far superior to those of a schoolmaster? Yet the specialist merely seeks for truth among the excretions of the child's diseased body; but the master veils its soul with errors.
But how would it be if the master should seek the truth in the soul of the child? What an incomparable dignity would be his! To raise himself to this height, however, he would have to be initiated into the ways of humility, of self-abnegation, of patience; and to destroy the pride which is built on the void of vanity. After this he, too, might put on the spiritual vesture of the scientist, saying to the people: What did you see in the other true sciences? Reeds shaken by the wind? Men clothed in soft raiment? No, you saw prophets; but I am more than a prophet; I am he who crieth in the wilderness: prepare ye the way of the Lord, make His paths straight.
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More, indeed, than the other men of science; for they must always remain extraneous to the object of their study: electric energy, chemical energy, the life of microbes, the stars, are all things diverse and remote from the scientist. But the object of the schoolmaster is man himself; the psychical manifestations of children evoke something more in him than interest in the phenomenon; he obtains from them the revelation of himself, and his emotions vibrate at the contact of other souls like his own. All life may be his portion, not merely a part of life. Then those virtues, such as humility and patience, which spring up in the man of science within the limitations of the external aims he has fixed for himself, may here enfold the entire soul. Then it will no longer be a question of the "patience of the man of science," or the "humility of the man of science," but of the virtues of man in all their plenitude.
That spiritual expansion of the man of science which is, as it were, compressed into a tube, like rays of light passing through the cylinders of the telescope, may here be diffused on the horizon like the dazzling splendor of the sun. The so-called virtues are the necessary means, the methods of existence by which we attain to truth; but the delight of the scientist in his work must vary in proportion as this truth is manifested in a physical force, a protozoan, or the soul of man. The one name seems scarcely suitable for the two forms. We understand at once that, in comparison with the schoolmaster, the scientist must be to some extent a limited and arid being. The nobility of his spirit is lofty as man, but its dimensions are those of a brute force or an inferior life.
The spiritual life of man may blend with the virtues of the man of science only when the student and the subject of study can be fused together. Then science may become a wellspring of wisdom, and true positive science may become one with the true knowledge of the saints. There is a real mechanism of correspondence between the virtues of the man of science and the virtues of the saints; it is by means of humility and patience that the scientist puts himself in contact with material nature; and it is by means of humility and patience that the saint puts himself in contact with the spiritual nature of things, and as a consequence, mainly with man. The scientist is virtuous only within the limits of his material contacts; the saint is "all compact" of such virtue; his sacrifices and his enjoyments are alike illimitable. The scientist is a seer within the limits of his field of observation; the saint is a spiritual seer, but he also sees material things and their laws more clearly than other men, and invests them with spirit.
The modern scientist knows that every living thing is marvelous, and that the simplest and most primitive most readily reveal natural laws which help us to interpret the most complicated beings. St. Francis indeed knew this: "Come closer, O my sister," he said to the grasshopper chirping beneath the fig-tree near the window of his cell; "the smaller the creature the more perfectly does it reveal the power and goodness of the Creator."
Each tiny thing is worthy of the scientist's minute attention; he counts the articulations which make up the claws of an insect, and knows the veinings of its most delicate wings; he finds interesting details where the ordinary eye would not linger for a moment. St. Francis also observed these things, but they awoke in him a feeling of spiritual joy and called forth a hymn of praise: "Who, who gave me these little fairy feet, furnished with healthy and flexible little bones, to enable me to spring swiftly from branch to branch, from twig to twig? Who further gave me eyes, crystal globes that revolve and see before and behind, to spy out all my enemies, the predatory kite, the black crow, the greedy goose? And he gave me wings, delicate tissues of gold and green and blue, which reflect the color of the skies and of my trees."
The vision of the teacher should be at once precise like that of the scientist, and spiritual like that of the saint. The preparation for science and the preparation for sanctity should form a new soul, for the attitude of the teacher should be at once positive, scientific, and spiritual.
Positive and scientific, because she has an exact task to perform, and it is necessary that she should put herself into immediate relation with the truth, by means of rigorous observation, that she should strip off all illusions, all the idle creations of the fancy, that she should distinguish truth from falsehood unerringly, that, in fact, she should follow the example of the scientist, who takes account of every minute particle of matter, every elementary and embryonic form of life, but eliminates all optical delusions, all the confusion which impurities and foreign substances might introduce into the search for truth. To achieve such an attitude long practise is necessary, and a wide observation of life under the guidance of the biological sciences.
Spiritual, because it is to man that his powers of observation are to be applied, and because the characteristics of the creature who is to be his particular subject of observation are spiritual.
I would therefore initiate teachers into the observation of the most simple forms of living things, with all those aids which science gives; I would make them microscopists; I would give them a knowledge of the cultivation of plants and train them to observe their physiology; I would direct their observation to insects, and would make them study the general laws of biology. And I would not have them concerned with theory alone, but would encourage them to work independently in laboratories and in the bosom of free Nature.
This complex program of observation must not exclude the physical aspects of the child. Thus the direct and immediate preparation for a higher task should be the knowledge of the physical needs of the child, from birth to the age when psychical life is beginning to develop in his organization and becomes susceptible to treatment. By this I do not mean merely a theoretical course of anatomy, physiology, and hygiene; but a "practise" among little children, which aims at following their development closely, and foresees all their physical needs. The teacher, in other words, should prepare herself according to the methods of the biological sciences, entering with simplicity and objectivity into the very domain in which students of the natural sciences and of medicine are initiated, when they make their first experiments in the laboratory, before penetrating into the more profound problems of life related to their special study. In like manner those young men, who in our universities are destined to study vast and complex sciences, must in the beginning undertake the quiet and restful work of preparing an infusion, or the section of a rose-stalk, and thus experience, as they observe through the microscope, that emotion born of wonder, which awakens the consciousness and attracts it to the mysteries of life with a passionate enthusiasm. It was thus that we, accustomed hitherto to read in school only ponderous and arid printed books, felt that the book of Nature was opening before our spirit, infinite in its possibilities of creation and of miracle, and responding to all our latent and uncomprehended aspirations.
This should also be the book of the new teacher, the primer that should mold her for her mission of directing infant life. Such a preparation should generate in her consciousness a conception of life capable of transforming her, of calling forth in her a special "activity," an "aptitude" which shall make her efficient for her task. She should become a providential "force," a maternal "force."
But all this is but a part of the "preparation." The teacher must not remain thus on the threshold of life, like those scientists who are destined to observe plants and animals, and who are accordingly satisfied with what morphology and physiology can offer. Nor is it her mission to remain intent upon "derangements in the functions of the body," like the medical specialist in infantile disease, who is content with pathology. She must recognize that the methods of those sciences are limited. When she chants her introit and sets foot upon those steps which in the temple of life ascend to the spiritual tabernacle, she should look upwards, and feel that among the adoring host in the vast temple of science, she is a priestess.
Her sphere is to be vaster and more splendid; she is about to observe "the inner life of man." The arid field which is limited to the marvels of organic matter will not suffice for her; all the spiritual fruits of the history of humanity and of religion will be necessary for her nourishment. The lofty manifestations of art, of love, of holiness, are the characteristic manifestations of that life which she is not only about to observe but to serve, and which is her "own life"; not a thing strange to her, and therefore cold and arid; but the intimate life she has in common with all men, the true and only real life of Man.
The scientific laboratory, the field of Nature where the teacher will be initiated into "the observation of the phenomena of the inner life" should be the school in which free children develop with the help of material designed to bring about development. When she feels herself, aflame with interest, "seeing" the spiritual phenomena of the child, and experiences a serene joy and an insatiable eagerness in observing them, then she will know that she is "initiated."
Then she will begin to become a "teacher."
Not only must the teacher be transformed, but the school environment must be changed. The introduction of the "material of development" into an ordinary school cannot constitute the entire external renovation. The school should become the place where the child may live in freedom, and this freedom must not be solely the intimate, spiritual liberty of internal growth. The entire organism of the child, from his physiological, vegetative part to his motor activity, ought to find in school "the best conditions for development." This includes all that physical hygiene has already put forward as aids to the life of the child. No place would be better adapted than these schools to establish and popularize reform in the clothing of children, which should meet the requirements of cleanliness and of a simplicity facilitating freedom of movement, while it should be so made as to enable children to dress themselves. No better place could be found to carry out and popularize infant hygiene in its relation to nutrition. It would be a work of social regeneration to convince the public of the economy they might effect by such practises, to show them that elegance and propriety in themselves cost nothing—nay, more, that they demand simplicity and moderation, and therefore exclude all that superfluity which is so expensive.
The above applies more especially to schools which, like the original "Children's Houses," might be instituted in the very buildings inhabited by the parents of the pupils.
Certain special requirements must be recognized in the rooms of a free school: psychical hygiene must play its part here as physical hygiene has already done. The great increase in the dimensions of modern class-rooms was dictated by physical hygiene; the ambient air space is measured by "cubature" in relation to the physical needs of respiration; and for the same reason, lavatories were multiplied, and bathrooms were installed; physical hygiene further decreed the introduction of concrete floors and washable dadoes, of central heating, and in many cases of meals, while gardens or broad terraces are already looked upon as essentials for the physical well-being of the child. Wide windows already admit the light freely, and gymnasia with spacious halls and a variety of complex and costly apparatus were established. Finally, the most complicated desks, sometimes veritable machines of wood and iron, with foot-rests, seats, and desks revolving automatically, in order to preclude alike the movements of the child and the distortions arising from immobility, are the economically disastrous contribution of a false principle of "school-hygiene." In the modern school, the uniform whiteness and the washable quality of every object denote the triumph of an epoch in which the campaign against microbes would seem to be the sole key to human life.
Psychical hygiene now presents itself on the threshold of the school with its new precepts, precepts which economically are certainly no more onerous than those entailed by the first triumphant entry of physical hygiene.
They require, however, that schoolrooms be enlarged, not in deference to the laws of respiration, for central heating, which makes it possible to keep windows open, renders calculations based on cubic measure negligible; but because space is necessary for the liberty of movement which should be allowed to the child. However, as the child's walking exercise will not be taken indoors, this increase of space will be sufficient if it permits free movement among the furniture. Still, if an ideal perfection is to be achieved, we may say that the "psychical" class-room should be twice as large as the "physical" class-room. We all know the sense of comfort of which we are conscious when a good half of the floor space in a room is unencumbered; this seems to offer us the agreeable possibility of moving about freely. This sensation of well-being is more intimate than the possibility of breathing offered to us in a room of medium size crowded with furniture.
Scantiness of furniture is certainly a powerful factor in hygiene; here physical and psychical hygiene are at one. In our schools we recommend the use of "light" furniture, which is correspondingly simple, and economical in the extreme. If it be washable, so much the better, especially as the children will then "learn to wash it," thus performing a pleasing and very instructive exercise. But what is above all essential is, that it should be "artistically beautiful." In this case beauty is not produced by superfluity or luxury, but by grace and harmony of line and color, combined with that absolute simplicity necessitated by the lightness of the furniture. Just as the modern dress of children is more elegant than that of the past, and at the same time infinitely simpler and more economical, so is this furniture.
In a "Children's House" in the country, at Palidano, built to commemorate the Marchese Carlo Guerrieri Gonzaga, we initiated the study of "artistic" furnishing. It is well known that every little corner of Italy is a storehouse of local art, and there is no province which in bygone times did not contain graceful and convenient objects, due to a combination of practical sense and artistic instinct. Nearly all these treasures are now being dispersed, and the very memory of them is dying out, under the tyranny of the stupid and uniform "hygienic" fashions of our day. It was therefore a delightful undertaking on the part of Maria Maraini to make careful inquiries into the rustic local art of the past, and to give it new life by reproducing, in the furniture of the "Children's Houses," the forms and colors of tables, chairs, sideboards, and pottery, the designs of textiles and the characteristic decorative motives to be met with in old country-houses. This revival of rustic art will bring back into use objects used by the poor in ages less wealthy than ours, and meanwhile may be a revelation in "economy." If, instead of school benches, such simple and graceful objects were manufactured, even this school furniture would show how beauty may be evolved from ugliness by eliminating superfluous material; for beauty is a question, not of material, but of inspiration. Hence we must not look to richness of material, but to refinement of spirit for these practical reforms.
If similar studies should be made some day upon the rustic art of all the Italian provinces, each of which has its special artistic traditions, "types of furniture" might arise which would in themselves do much to elevate the taste and refine the habits. They would bring to the enlightenment of the world an "educational mode," because the time-honored artistic feeling of a people with a very ancient civilization would breathe new life into those moderns who seemed to be suffocating under the obsession of physical hygiene, and to be actuated solely by a despairing effort to combat disease.
We should witness the humanization of art, rising amidst the ugliness and darkness of those who have accustomed themselves to think only of death. Indeed, the "hygienic houses" of to-day, with their bare walls, and white washable furniture, look like hospitals; while the schools seem veritable tombs, with their desks ranged in rows like black catafalques—black, merely because they have to be of the same color as ink to hide the stains which are looked upon as a necessity, just as certain sins and certain crimes are still considered to be inevitable in the world; the alternative of avoiding them has never occurred to any one. Class-rooms have black desks, and bare, gray walls, more devoid of ornament than those of a mortuary chamber; this is to the end that the starved and famishing spirit of the child may "accept" the indigestible intellectual food which the teacher bestows upon it. In other words, every distracting element has to be removed from the environment, so that the teacher, by his oratorical art, and with the help of his laborious expedients, may succeed in fixing the rebellious attention of his pupils on himself. On the other hand, the spiritual school puts no limits to the beauty of its environment, save economical limits. No ornament can distract a child really absorbed in his task; on the contrary, beauty both promotes concentration of thought and offers refreshment to the tired spirit. Indeed, the churches, which are par excellence places of meditation and of repose for the life of the soul, have called upon the highest inspirations of genius to gather every beauty within their precincts.
Such words may seem strange; but if we wish to keep in touch with the principles of science, we may say that the place best adapted to the life of man is an artistic environment; and that, therefore, if we want the school to become "a laboratory for the observation of human life," we must gather within it things of beauty, just as the laboratory of the bacteriologist must be furnished with stoves and soils for the culture of bacilli.
Furniture for children, their tables and chairs, should be light, not only that they may be easily carried about by childish arms, but because their very fragility is of educational value. The same consideration leads us to give children china plates and glass drinking-vessels, for these objects become the denouncers of rough, disorderly, and undisciplined movements. Thus the child is led to correct himself, and he accordingly trains himself not to knock against, overturn, and break things; softening his movements more and more, he gradually becomes their perfectly free and self-possessed director. In the same way the child will accustom himself to do his utmost not to soil the gay and pretty things which enliven his surroundings. Thus he makes progress in his own perfection, or, in other words, it is thus he achieves the perfect coordination of his voluntary movements. It is the same process by which, having enjoyed silence and music, he will do all in his power to avoid discordant noises, which have become unpleasant to his educated ear.
On the other hand, when a child comes into collision a hundred times with an enormously heavy iron-bound desk, which a porter would have difficulty in moving; when he makes thousands of invisible ink-stains on a black bench; when he lets a metal plate fall to the ground a hundred times without breaking it, he remains immersed in his sea of defects without perceiving them; his environment meanwhile is so constructed as to hide and therefore to encourage his errors, with Mephistophelean hypocrisy.
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Free movement.—It is now a hygienic principle universally accepted that children require movement. Thus, when we speak of "free children," we generally imply that they are free to move, that is, to run and jump. No mother nowadays fails to agree with the children's doctor that her child should go into parks and meadows, and move about freely in the open air.
When we talk of liberty for children in school, some such conception of physical liberty as this rises at once in the mind. We imagine the free child making perilous leaps over the desks, or dashing madly against the walls; his "liberty of movement" seems necessarily to imply the idea of "a wide space," and accordingly we suppose that, if confined to the narrow limits of a room, it would inevitably become a conflict between violence and obstacles, a disorder incompatible with discipline and work.
But in the laws of "psychical hygiene," "liberty of movement" is not limited to a conception so primitive as that of merely "animated bodily liberty." We might, indeed, say of a puppy or a kitten what we say of children: that they should be free to run and jump, and that they should be able to do so, as in fact they often do, in a park or a field, with and like the children. If, however, we wish to apply the same conception of motor liberty to our treatment of a bird, we should make certain arrangements for it; we should place within its reach the branch of a tree, or crossed sticks which would afford foothold for its claws, since these are not designed to be spread out on the ground like the feet of creeping things, but are adapted to gripping a stick. We know that a bird "left free to move" over a vast, illimitable plain would be miserable.
How then is it that we never think thus: if it be necessary to prepare different environments for a bird and a reptile in order to ensure their liberty of movement, must it not be a mistake to provide the same form of liberty for our children as that proper to cats and dogs? Children, indeed, when left to themselves to take exercise, show impatience, and are prone to quarrel and cry; older children feel it necessary to invent something whereby they may conceal from themselves the intolerable boredom and humiliation of walking for walking's sake, and running for running's sake. They try to find some object for their exertions; the younger children play pranks. The activity of children thus left to themselves has rarely a good result; it does not aid development, save as regards the physical advantage of general nutrition, that is, of the vegetative life. Their movements become ungraceful; they invent unseemly capers, walk with a staggering gait, fall easily, and break things. They are evidently quite unlike the free kitten, so full of grace, so fascinating in its movements, tending to perfect its action by the light jumping and running which are natural to it. In the motor instinct of the child there appears to be no grace, no natural impulse towards perfection. Hence we must conclude that the movement which suffices for the cat does not suffice for the child, and that if the nature of the child is different, his path of liberty must also be different.
If the child has no "intelligent aim" in his movements, he is without internal guidance, thus movement tires him. Many men feel the dreadful emptiness of being compelled to "move without an object." One of the cruel punishments invented for the chastisement of slaves was to make them dig deep holes in the earth and fill them up again repeatedly, in other words, to make them work without an object.
Experiments on fatigue have shown that work with an intelligent object is far less fatiguing than an equal quantity of aimless work. So much so, that the psychiatrists of to-day recommend, not "exercise in the open air," but "work in the open air," to restore the individuality of the neurasthenic.
"Reconstructive" work—work, that is to say, which is not the product of a "mental effort," but tends to the coordination of the psycho-muscular organism. Such are the activities which are not directed to the production of objects, but to their preservation, as, for instance, dusting or washing a little table, sweeping the floor, laying or clearing the table, cleaning shoes, spreading out a carpet. These are the tasks performed by a servant to preserve the objects belonging to his master, work of a very different order to that of the artificer, who, on the other hand, produced those objects by an intelligent effort. The two classes of work are profoundly different. The one is simple; it is a coordinated activity scarcely higher in degree than the activity required for walking or jumping; for it merely gives purpose to those simple movements, whereas productive work entails a preliminary intellectual work of preparation, and comprises a series of very complicated motor movements, together with an application of sensory exercises.
The first is the work suitable for little children, who must "exercise themselves in order to learn to coordinate their movements."
It consists of the so-called exercises of practical life which correspond to the psychical principle of "liberty of movement." For this it will be sufficient to prepare "a suitable environment," just as we should place the branch of a tree in an aviary, and then to leave the children to follow their instincts of activity and imitation. The surrounding objects should be proportioned to the size and strength of the child: light furniture that he can carry about; low dressers within reach of his arms; locks that he can easily manipulate; chests that run on castors; light doors that he can open and shut readily; clothes-pegs fixed on the walls at a height convenient for him; brushes his little hand can grasp; pieces of soap that can lie in the hollow of such a hand; basins so small that the child is strong enough to empty them; brooms with short, smooth, light handles; clothes he can easily put on and take off himself; these are surroundings which invite activity, and among which the child will gradually perfect his movements without fatigue, acquiring human grace and dexterity, just as the little kitten acquires its graceful movement and feline dexterity solely under the guidance of instinct.
The field thus opened to the free activity of the child will enable him to exercise himself and to form himself as a man. It is not movement for its own sake that he will derive from these exercises, but a powerful co-efficient in the complex formation of his personality. His social sentiments in the relations he forms with other free and active children, his collaborators in a kind of household designed to protect and aid their development; the sense of dignity acquired by the child who learns to satisfy himself in surroundings he himself preserves and dominates—these are the co-efficients of humanity which accompany "liberty of movement." From his consciousness of this development of his personality the child derives the impulse to persist in these tasks, the industry to perform them, the intelligent joy he shows in their completion. In such an environment he undoubtedly works himself and fortifies his spiritual being, just as when his body is bathed in fresh air and his limbs move freely in the meadows, he works at the growth of his physical organism and strengthens it.
The phenomenon to be expected from the little child, when he is placed in an environment favorable to his spiritual growth, is this: that suddenly the child will fix his attention upon an object, will use it for the purpose for which it was constructed, and will continue to repeat the same exercise indefinitely. One will repeat an exercise twenty times, another forty times, and yet another two hundred times; but this is the first phenomenon to be expected, as initiatory to those acts with which spiritual growth is bound up.
That which moves the child to this manifestation of activity is evidently a primitive internal impulse, almost a vague sense of spiritual hunger; and it is the impulse to satisfy this hunger which then actually directs the consciousness of the child to the determined object and leads it gradually to a primordial, but complex and repeated exercise of the intelligence in comparing, judging, deciding upon an act, and correcting an error. When the child, occupied with the solid insets, places and displaces the ten little cylinders in their respective places thirty or forty times consecutively; and, having made a mistake, sets himself a problem and solves it, he becomes more and more interested, and tries the experiment again and again; he prolongs a complex exercise of his psychical activities which makes way for an internal development.
It is probably the internal perception of this development which makes the exercise pleasing, and induces prolonged application to the same task. To quench thirst, it is not sufficient to see or to sip water; the thirsty man must drink his fill: that is to say, must take in the quantity his organism requires; so, to satisfy this kind of psychical hunger and thirst, it is not sufficient to see things cursorily, much less "to hear them described"; it is necessary to possess them and to use them to the full for the satisfaction of the needs of the inner life.
This fact stands revealed as the basis of all psychical construction, and the sole secret of education. The external object is the gymnasium on which the spirit exercises itself, and such "internal" exercises are primarily "in themselves" the end and aim of action. Hence the solid insets are not intended to give the child a knowledge of dimensions, nor are the plane insets designed to give him a conception of forms; the purpose of these, as of all the other objects, is to make the child exercise his activities. The fact that the child really acquires by these means definite knowledge, the recollection of which is vivid in proportion to the fixity and intensity of his attention, is a necessary result; and, indeed, it is precisely the sensory knowledge of dimensions, forms and colors, etc., thus acquired, which makes the continuation of such internal exercises in fields progressively vaster and higher, a possible achievement.
Hitherto, all psychologists have agreed that instability of attention is the characteristic of little children of three or four years old; attracted by everything they see, they pass from object to object, unable to concentrate on any; and generally the difficulty of fixing the attention of children is the stumbling-block of their education, William James speaks of "that extreme mobility of the attention with which we are all familiar in children, and which makes their first lessons such rough affairs.... The reflex and passive character of the attention ... which makes the child seem to belong less to himself than to every object which happens to catch his notice, is the first thing which the teacher must overcome.... The faculty of voluntarily bringing back a wandering attention, over and over again is the very root of judgment, character and will.... An education which should improve this faculty would be the education par excellence."
Thus man, acting by himself alone, never successfully arrests and fixes that inquiring attention which wanders from object to object.
In fact, in our experiment the attention of the little child was not artificially maintained by a teacher; it was an object which fixed that attention, as if it corresponded to some internal impulse; an impulse which evidently was directed solely to the things "necessary" for its development. In the same manner, those complex coordinated movements achieved by a new-born infant in the act of sucking, are limited to the first and unconscious need of nutrition; they are not a conscious acquisition directed to a purpose.
Indeed, the conscious acquisition directed to a definite purpose would be impossible in the movements of a new-born infant's mouth, as also in the first movements of the child's spirit.
Therefore it is essential that the external stimulus which first presents itself should be verily the breast and the milk of the spirit, and then only shall we behold that surprising phenomenon of a little face concentrated in an intensity of attention.
Behold a child of three years old capable of repeating the same exercise fifty times in succession; many persons are moving about beside him; some one is playing the piano; children are singing in chorus; but nothing distracts the little child from his profound concentration. Just so does the suckling keep hold of the mother's breast, uninterrupted by external incidents, and desists only when he is satisfied.
Only Nature accomplishes such miracles.
If, then, psychical manifestations have their root in Nature, it was necessary, in order to understand and help Nature, to study it in its initial periods, those which are the simplest, and the only ones capable of revealing truths which would serve as guides for the interpretation of later and more complex manifestations. This, indeed, many psychologists have done; but, applying the analytical methods of experimental psychology, they did not start from that point whence the biological sciences derive their knowledge of life: that is, the liberty of the living creatures they desire to observe. If Fabre had not made use of insects, while leaving them free to carry out their natural manifestations, and observing them without allowing his presence to interfere in any way with their functions; if he had caught insects, had taken them into his study, and subjected them to experiment, he would not have been able to reveal the marvels of insect life.
If bacteriologists had not instituted, as a method of research, an environment similar to that which is natural to microbes, both as regards nutritive substances and conditions of temperature, etc., to the end that they "might live freely" and thus manifest their characteristics; if they had confined themselves to fixing the germs of a disease under the microscope, the science which to-day saves the lives of innumerable men and protects whole nations from epidemics would not exist.
Freedom to live is the true basis for every method of observation applied to living creatures.
Liberty is the experimental condition for studying the phenomena of the child's attention. It will be enough to remember that the stimuli of infant attention, being mainly sensory, have a powerful physiological concomitant of "accommodation" in the organs of sense; an accommodation, physiologically incomplete in the young child, which requires to develop itself according to Nature. An object not adapted to become a useful stimulus to the powers of accommodation in process of development would not only be incapable of sustaining attention as a psychical fact, but would also, as a physiological fact, weary or actually injure the organs of accommodation such as the eye and ear. But the child who chooses the objects, and perseveres in their use with the utmost intensity of attention, as shown in the muscular contractions which give mimetic expression to his face, evidently experiences pleasure, and pleasure is an indication of healthy functional activity; it always accompanies exercises which are useful to the organs of the body.
Attention also requires a preparation of the ideative centers in relation to the external object for which it is to be demanded: in other words, an internal, psychical "adaptation." The cerebral centers should be excited in their turn by an internal process, when an external stimulus acts. Thus, for instance, any one who is expecting a person, sees him arriving from a considerable distance; not only because the person presents himself to the senses, but because he was "expected." The distant figure claimed attention because the cerebral centers were already excited to that end. By means of similar activities a hunter is conscious of the slightest sound made by game in woods. In short, two forces act upon the cerebral cell, as upon a closed door: the external sensory force which knocks, and the internal force which says: Open. If the internal force does not open, it is in vain that the external stimulus knocks at the door. And then the strongest stimuli may pass unheeded. The absent-minded man may step into a chasm. The man who is absorbed in a task may be deaf to a band playing in the street.
The central action that constitutes attention is the factor of the greatest psychological and philosophic value, and the one which has always represented the maximum among the practical values in pedagogy. The whole art of teachers has consisted, in substance, in preparing the attention of the child to make it expectant of their instruction, and in securing the cooperation of those internal forces which should "open the door" when they "knock." And as the thing which is quite unknown, or that which is inaccessible to the understanding, can awaken no interest, the fundamentals of the art of teaching were to go gradually from the known to the unknown, from the easy to the difficult. It is the preexistent "known" which excites expectation and opens the door to the novel "unknown"; and it is the already present "easy work" which opens new ways for penetration, and puts the attention into a state of expectation.
Thus, according to the conceptions of pedagogy, it should be possible to "prepare good offices for oneself," the cooperation of the psychical concomitants of the attention. Everything would depend on skilful manipulation between the known and the unknown and similar things: the clever teacher would be like the great military strategist, who prepares the plan of a battle upon a table; and man would be able to direct man, leading him wheresoever he pleases.
This, moreover, has long been the materialistic principle which governs psychology. According to Herbert Spencer, the mind is at first, as it were, an indifferent day, on which external impressions "rain," leaving traces more or less profound. "Experiences" are, according to him and the English empiricists, the constructive factors of the mind even in its highest activities. Man is what experience has made him; hence, in education, by preparing a suitable structure of experiences, it is possible to build up the man. A conception not less materialistic than that which presented itself for a moment before the marvelous progress of organic chemistry, when the series of syntheses succeeded that of analyses. It was then believed that a species of albumen might be manufactured synthetically, and as albumen is the organic basis of the cells, and as the human ovum is nothing but a cell, man himself might one day be manufactured on the chemist's table. The conception of man as the creator of man was quickly discredited in the material domain; but the psychical homunculus still persists among the practical conceptions of pedagogy.
No chemical synthesis could put into the cell, apparently nothing more than a simple clot of nucleated protoplasm, that activity sine matter, that potential vital force, that mysterious factor which causes a cell to develop into man.
And the elusive attention of children would seem to tell us that the psychical man is subject to analogous laws of auto-creation.
The most modern school of spiritualistic psychologists, to which William James belonged, recognized, in the concomitant of attention, a fact bound up with the nature of the subject, a "spiritual force," one of the "mysterious factors of life."
"... From whence his intellect Deduced its primal notices of thought, Man therefore knows not; or his appetites Their first affection; such In you as zeal In bees to gather honey."
(Carey's translation, Dante's Purgatorio, Canto XVIII.)
There is in man a special attitude to external things, which forms part of his nature, and determines its character. The internal activities act as cause; they do not react and exist as the effect of external factors. Our attention is not arrested by all things indifferently, but by those which are congenial to our tastes. The things which are useful to our inner life are those which arouse our interest. Our internal world is created upon a selection from the external world, acquired for and in harmony with our internal activities. The painter will see a preponderance of colors in the world, the musician will be attracted by sounds. It is the quality of our attention which reveals ourselves, and we manifest ourselves externally by our aptitudes; it is not our attention which creates us. The individual character, the internal form, the difference between one man and another, are also obvious among men who have lived in the same environment, but who from that environment have taken only what was necessary for each. The "experiences" with which each constructs his ego in relation to the external world do not form a chaos, but are directed by his intimate individual aptitudes.
If there were any doubt as to the natural force which directs psychical formation, our experiences with little children would furnish a decisive proof. No teacher could procure such phenomena of attention by any artifices; they have evidently an internal origin. The power of concentration shown by little children from three to four years old have no counterpart save in the annals of genius. These little ones seem to reproduce the infancy of men possessing an extraordinary power of attention, such as Archimedes, who was slain while bending over his circles, from which rumors of the taking of Syracuse had failed to distract him; or Newton, who, absorbed in his studies, forgot to eat; or Vittorio Alfieri, who, when writing a poem, heard nothing of the noisy wedding procession which was passing with shouts and clamor before his windows.
Now, these characteristics of the attention of genius could not be evoked by an "interesting" teacher, however subtle his art; nor could any accumulation of passive experiences become such an accumulator of psychical energies.
If there be a spiritual force working within the child, by which he may open the door of his attention, the problem which necessarily presents itself is a problem of liberty, rather than a problem of pedagogic art effecting the construction of his mind. The bestowal of the nourishment suitable to psychical needs, by means of the external objects, and readiness to respect liberty of development in the most perfect manner possible, are the foundations which, from a logical point of view, should be laid down for the construction of a new pedagogy.
It is no longer a question of attempting to create the homunculus, like the chemists of the nineteenth century; but rather of taking the lantern of Diogenes and going in search of the man. A science should establish by means of experiments what is necessary to the primordial psychical requirements of the child; and then we shall witness the development of complex vital phenomena, in which the intelligence, the will, and the character develop together, just as the brain, the stomach, and the muscles of the rationally nourished child develop together.
Together with the first psychical exercises, the first coordinated cognitions will be fixed in the child's mind, and the known will begin to exist in him, providing the first germs of an intellectual interest, supplementing his instinctive interest. When this takes place, a state of things begins to establish itself which has some analogy with that mechanism of attention which the pedagogists of to-day take as the basis of the art of teaching. The transition from the known to the unknown, from the simple to the complex, from the easy to the difficult, is reproduced, from a certain point of view; but with special characteristics.
The progression from the known to the unknown does not proceed from object to object, as would be assumed by the master who does not bring about the development of ideas from a center, but merely unites them in a chain, without any definite object, allowing the mind to wander aimlessly, though bound to himself. Here, on the other hand, the known establishes itself in the child as a complex system of ideas, which system was actively constructed by the child himself during a series of psychical processes, representing in themselves an internal formation, a psychical growth.
To bring about such a progress we must offer the child a systematic, complex material, corresponding to his natural instincts. Thus, for instance, by means of our sensory apparatus we offer the child a series of objects capable of drawing his instinctive attention to colors, forms, and sounds, to tactile and baric qualities, etc., and the child, by means of the characteristically prolonged exercises with each object, begins to organize his psychical personality, but at the same time acquires a clear and orderly knowledge of things.
Thenceforth all external objects, for the reason that they have forms, dimensions, colors, qualities of smoothness, weight, hardness, etc., are no longer foreign to the mind. There is something in the consciousness of the child which prepares him to expect these things, and invites him to receive them with interest.
When the child has added a cognition to the primitive impulse which directs his attention to external things, he has acquired other relations with the world, other forms of interest; these are no longer merely those primitive ones which are bound up with a species of primordial instinct, but have become a discerning interest, based upon the conquests of the intelligence.
It is true that all these new conquests are fundamentally and profoundly based upon the psychical needs of the individual; but the intellectual element has now been added, transforming an impulse into a conscious and voluntary quest.
The old pedagogic conception, which assumed that to call the attention of the child to the unknown it is necessary to connect it with the known, because it is thus that his interest may be won for the new knowledge to be imparted, grasped but a single detail of the complex phenomenon we now witness after our experiments.
If the known is to represent a new source of interest directed towards the unknown, it is essential that it should itself have been acquired in accordance with the tendency of nature; then preceding knowledge will lend interest to objects of ever-increasing complexity and of lofty significance. The culture thus created ensures the possibility of an indefinite continuation in the successive evolution of such formative phenomena.
Moreover, this culture itself creates order in the mind: when the teacher, giving her plain and simple lesson, says: This is long, this is short, this is red, this is yellow, etc., she fixes with a single word the clearly marked order of the sensations, classifies, and "catalogues" them. And each impression is perfectly distinct from the other, and has its own determined place in the mind, which may be recalled by a word; thenceforth, new acquisitions will not be thrown aside or mixed together chaotically, but will be duly deposited in their proper places, side by side with previous acquisitions of the same kind, like books in a well-arranged library.
Thus the mind not only has within itself the propulsive force required to increase its knowledge, but also an established order, which will be steadily maintained throughout its successive and illimitable enrichment by new material; and as it grows and gains strength, it retains its "equilibrium." These continual exercises in comparison, judgment, and choice carried out among the objects, further tend to place the internal acquisitions so logically into relation one with another, that the results are a singular facility and accuracy of reasoning power, and a remarkable quickness of comprehension: the law of "the minimum of effort" is truly carried out as it is everywhere where order and activity reign.
The internal coordination, like physiological adaptation, establishes itself as a result of the spontaneity of the exercises; the free development of a personality which grows and organizes itself is that which determines such an internal condition, just as in the body of the embryo the heart, in process of development, makes a place for itself in the space of the diastinum between the lungs, and the diaphragm assumes its arched form as a result of pulmonary dilation.
The teacher directs these phenomena; but, in so doing, she is careful to avoid calling the child's attention to herself, since the whole future depends upon his concentration. Her art consists in understanding and in avoiding interference with natural phenomena.
That which has been clearly demonstrated as regards the nutrition of the new-born infant and the first coordinated activities of the spirit will be repeated at every period of life, with the necessary modifications induced by the increased complexity of the phenomena.
Continuing the parallel with physical nutrition, let us consider the growing infant which has cut its teeth, developed its gastric juice, and so gradually requires a more complicated diet, until we come to the adult man, nourishing himself by means of all the complications of modern kitchen and table; to keep himself in health, he should eat only the things which correspond to the intimate needs of his organism; and if he introduces over-rich or unusual, unsuitable or poisonous substances, the result will be impoverishment, self-poisoning, a "malady." Now it was the study of the child's nutrition during the period of suckling and during the first years of life which created alimentary hygiene, not only for the child but for the adult, and pointed out the perils to which all were alike exposed during the epoch when infantile hygiene was unknown.
There is a singular parallel in psychical life: the man will have an infinitely more complex life than the child; but for him, too, there should always be a correspondence between the needs of his nature and the manner in which his spirit is nourished. A rule of internal life will always promote the health of the man.
Turning to attention, the primitive fact of correspondence between nature and stimulus which is the fundamental of life should prevail, however modified, when dealing with older children, and should remain the basis of education.
I am prepared for the objections of "experts." Children must be accustomed to pay attention to everything, even to things which are distasteful to them, because practical life demands such efforts.