Spontaneous Activity in Education
by Maria Montessori
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

The objection is based on a prejudice analogous to that which at one time made good fathers of families say: "Children should be accustomed to eat everything." In just the same way, moral training is put outside its rightful sphere—a fatal confusion. When ideas of this order, now happily obsolete, obtained, fathers would allow their children to fast all day, if they refused a dish they disliked at the mid-day meal, forbidding them anything but the rejected portion, which became ever colder and more disgusting, until at last hunger weakened the child's will and destroyed his caprice, and the plateful of cold food was swallowed. Thus, argued such a father, in the various circumstances in which he may be placed throughout his life, my son will be ready to eat whatever comes to hand, and will not be greedy and capricious. In those days also, sweets were forbidden to children (whose organisms require sugar, because the muscles consume a great deal of this during growth), in order to teach them to overcome greediness, and an easy and convenient method of correcting naughty children was to "send them to bed without any supper."

Very similar methods are now adopted by those who insist that children should pay attention to things they dislike, in order to accustom them to the necessities of life. But as in the case of psychical nourishment hunger is never brought to bear upon the "cold and distasteful viands," the indigestible and heavy food weakens and poisons the unwilling recipient.

Not thus shall we prepare the robust spirit, ready for all the difficult eventualities of life. The boy who swallowed the cold soup and went fasting to bed was the one whose body developed badly, who was too weak to resist infection when he encountered it, and fell ill; and morally it was he who, having a store of unsatisfied appetites within him, looked upon it as the greatest joy of his liberty, when he became an adult, to eat and drink to excess. How unlike was he to the boy of to-day, who, rationally fed and made robust of body, becomes the abstemious man, who eats to live in health, and combats alcoholism and excessive and injurious feeding; the modern man, who can defend himself by so many means against infectious diseases, and who is so ready for effort that, without any compulsion, he braves the arduous exertion of sport, and attempts and carries out great enterprises, such as the discovery of the Poles and the ascent of lofty mountains.

So, too, the man capable of braving the icy wastes of moral conflict, of undertaking spiritual ascents, will be he whose will is strong, whose spirit is well balanced, whose decisions are prompt and stedfast.

And the more a man's inner life shall have grown normally, organizing itself in accordance with the provident laws of nature, and forming an individuality, the more richly will he be endowed with a strong will and a well-balanced mind. To be ready for a struggle, it is not necessary to have struggled from one's birth, but it is necessary to be strong. He who is strong is ready; no hero was a hero before he had performed his heroic deed. The trials life has in store for us are unforeseen, unexpected; no one can prepare us directly to meet them; it is only a vigorous soul that can be prepared for everything.

When a living being is in process of evolution, it is essential to provide for the special requirements of the moment, in order to ensure its normal development. The foetus must be nourished with blood; the new-born infant with milk. If during its intra-uterine life the foetus should lack blood rich in albuminous substances and oxygen, or if poisonous substances should be introduced into its tissues, the living being will not develop normally, and no after-care will strengthen the man evolved from this impoverished source. Should the infant lack sufficient milk, the mal-nutrition of the initial stage of life condemns him to a permanent state of inferiority. The suckling "prepares himself to walk" by lying stretched out, and spending long, quiet hours in sleep. It is by sucking that the babe begins his teething. So, too, the fledgling in the nest does not prepare for flight by flying, but remains motionless in the little warm shell where its food is provided. The preparations for life are indirect.

The prelude to such phenomena of Nature as the majestic flight of birds, the ferocity of wild beasts, the song of the nightingale, the variegated beauty of the butterfly's wings, is the preparation in the secret places of a nest or a den, or in the motionless intimacy of the cocoon. Omnipotent Nature asks only peace for the creature in process of formation. All the rest she gives herself.

Then the childish spirit should also find a warm nest where its nutrition is secure, and after this we should await the revelations of its development.

It is essential, therefore, to offer objects which correspond to its formative tendencies, in order to obtain the result which education makes its goal: the development of the latent forces in man with the minimum of strain and all possible fulness.



When the child chooses from among a considerable number of objects the one he prefers, when he moves to go and take it from the sideboard, and then replaces it, or consents to give it up to a companion; when he waits until one of the pieces of the apparatus he wishes to use is laid aside by the child who has it in his hand at the moment; when he persists for a long time and with earnest attention in the same exercise, correcting the mistakes which the didactic material reveals to him; when, in the silence-exercise, he retains all his impulses, all his movements, and then, rising when his name is called, controls these movements carefully to avoid making a noise with his feet or knocking against the furniture, he performs so many acts of the "will." It may be said that in him the exercise of the will is continuous; nay, that the factor which really acts and persists among his aptitudes is the will, which is built up on the internal fundamental fact of a prolonged attention.

Let us analyze some of the co-efficients of will.

The whole external expression of the will is contained in movement: whatever action man performs, whether he walks, works, speaks or writes, opens his eyes to look, or closes them to shut out a scene, he acts by "motion." An act of the will may also be directed to the restriction of movement: to restrain the disorderly movements of anger; not to give way to the impulse which urges us to snatch a desirable object from the hand of another, are voluntary actions. Therefore the will is not a simple impulse towards movement, but the intelligent direction of movements.

There can be no manifestation of the will without completed action; he who thinks of performing a good action, but leaves it undone; he who desires to atone for an offense, but takes no step to do so; he who proposes to go out, to pay a call, or to write a letter, but goes no farther in the matter, does not accomplish an exercise of the will. To think and to wish is not enough. It is action which counts. "The way to Hell is paved with good intentions."

The life of volition is the life of action. Now all our actions represent a resultant of the forces of impulse and inhibition, and by constant repetition of actions this resultant may become almost habitual and unconscious. Such is the case, for instance, with regard to all those customary actions, the sum of which constitute "the behavior of a well-bred person." Our impulse might be to pay a certain visit, but we know that we might disturb our friend, that it is not her day for receiving, and we refrain; we may be comfortably seated in a corner of the drawing-room, but a venerable person enters, and we rise to our feet; we are not much attracted by this lady, but nevertheless we also bow or shake her hand; the sweetmeat to which our neighbor helps herself is just the one we desired, but we are careful to give no sign of this. All the movements of our body are not merely those dictated by impulse or weariness; they are the correct expression of what we consider decorous. Without impulses we could take no part in social life; on the other hand, without inhibitions we could not correct, direct, and utilize our impulses.

This reciprocal equilibrium between opposite motor forces is the result of prolonged exercises, of ancient habits within us; we no longer have any sense of effort in performing these, we no longer require the support of reason and knowledge to accomplish them; these acts have almost become reflex. And yet the acts in question are by no means reflex actions; it is not Nature but habit which produces all this. We know well how the person who has not been brought up to observe certain rules, but has been hastily instructed in the knowledge of them, will too often be guilty of blunders and lapses, because he is obliged to "perform" there and then all the necessary coordination of voluntary acts, and there and then direct them under the vigilant and immediate control of the consciousness; and such a perpetual effort cannot certainly compete with the "habit" of distinguished manners. The will stores up its prolonged efforts outside the consciousness, or at its extreme margin, and leaves the consciousness itself unencumbered to make new acquisitions and further efforts. Thus we cease to consider as evidences of will those habits in which we nevertheless see the consciousness, as it were, hanging over and watchful of each act, that it may accord with the perfect rule of an external code of manners. An educated man who acts thus is merely a man in himself, merely a man of "healthy mind."

It is, in fact, only disease which can disintegrate the personality organized upon its adaptations, and induce a man of society to cease to act in a becoming manner; it is well known that a neurasthenic subject who begins to show the first symptoms of paranoia, may at first seem to be merely one who fails in good breeding.

But he, on the other hand, who remains within the limits of good breeding, is nothing more than a normal man. We will not venture to call him "a man of will"; the consciousness of such a man is always being put to the test, and the mechanisms stored up in the margin of consciousness no longer possess a "volitive value."

But the child is making his first trial of arms, and his personality is a very different thing from that just described. In comparison with the adult, he is an unbalanced creature, almost invariably the prey of his own impulses and sometimes subject to the most obstinate inhibitions. The two opposite activities of the will have not yet combined to form the new personality. The psychical embryo has still the two elements separate. The great essential is that this "combination," this "adaptation," should take place and establish itself as a supporting girdle at the margin of consciousness. Hence it is necessary to induce active exercise as soon as possible, since this is essential to such a degree of development. The aim in view is not to make the child a little precocious "gentleman," but to induce him to exercise his powers of volition, and to bring about as soon as possible the reciprocal contact of impulses with inhibitions. It is this "construction" itself which is necessary, not the result which may be achieved externally by means of this construction.

It is, in fact, merely a means to an end: and the end is that the child should act together with other children, and practise the gymnastics of the will in the daily habits of life. The child who is absorbed in some task, inhibits all movements which do not conduce to the accomplishment of this work; he makes a selection among the muscular coordinations of which he is capable, persists in them, and thus begins to make such coordinations permanent. This is a very different matter to the disorderly movements of a child giving way to uncoordinated impulses. When he begins to respect the work of others; when he waits patiently for the object he desires instead of snatching it from the hand of another; when he can walk about without knocking against his companions, without stamping on their feet, without overturning the table—then he is organizing his powers of volition, and bringing impulses and inhibitions into equilibrium. Such an attitude prepares the way for the habits of social life. It would be impossible to bring about such a result by keeping children motionless, seated side by side; under such conditions "relations between children" cannot be established, and infantile social life does not develop.

It is by means of free intercourse, of real practise which obliges each one to adapt his own limits to the limits of others, that social "habits" may be established. Dissertations on what ought to be done will never bring about the construction of the will; to make a child acquire graceful movements, it will not suffice to inculcate "ideas of politeness" and of "rights and duties." If this were so, it would suffice to give a minute description of the movements of the hand necessary in playing the piano, to enable an attentive pupil to execute a sonata by Beethoven. In all such matters the "formation" is the essential factor; the powers of will are established by exercise.

In education, it is of very great value to organize all the mechanism useful in the production of personality at an early stage. Just as movement, the gymnastics of children, is necessary, because, as is well known, muscles which are not exercised become incapable of performing the variety of movements of which the muscular system is capable, so an analogous system of gymnastics is necessary to maintain the activity of the psychical life.

The uneducated organism may be easily directed towards subsequent deficiencies; he who is weak of muscle is inclined to remain motionless, and so to perish, when an action is necessary to overcome danger. Thus the child who is weak of will, who is "hypobulic" or "abulic," will readily adapt himself to a school where all the children are kept seated and motionless, listening, or pretending to listen. Many children of this kind, however, end in the hospital for nervous disorders and have the following notes on their school reports: "Conduct excellent; no progress in studies." Of such children some teachers confine themselves to such a remark as: "They are so good," and by this they tend to protect them from any intervention, and leave them to sink undisturbed into the weakness which threatens to engulf them like a quicksand. Other children, whose natural impulses are strong, are noted merely as creators of disorder, and are set down as "naughty." If we enquire into the nature of their naughtiness, we shall be told almost invariably that "they will never keep still." These turbulent spirits are further stigmatized as "aggressive to their companions," and their aggressions are nearly always of this kind: they try by every possible means to rouse their companions from their quiescence, and draw them into an association. There are also children in whom the inhibitory powers are dominant; their timidity is extreme: they sometimes seem as if they cannot make up their minds to answer a question; they will do so after some external stimulus, but in a very low voice, and will then burst into tears.

The necessary gymnastic in all these three cases is free action. The constant and interesting movement of others is the best of incitements to the abulic; motion directed into the channel of orderly exercise develops the inhibitory powers of the too impulsive child, and the child who is too much in subjection to his inhibitory powers, when liberated from the bondage of surveillance, and free to act privately on his own initiative—in other words, when he is removed from all external inducements to exercise inhibition, is able to find an equilibrium between the two opposite volitional forces. This is indeed the way of salvation for all men: that wherein the weak gain strength that wherein the strong attain perfection.

The want of balance as between impulse and inhibition is not only a familiar and interesting fact in pathology; it is further met with, though in a minor degree, among normal persons, just as frequently as deficiencies of education are to be met with in the external social sphere.

Impulse leads criminals to commit evil actions against other men; but how often normal persons have to regret thoughtless acts and nervous outbursts which have sad consequences to themselves! For the most part the normal impulsive person harms himself only, compromises his career, and is unable to bring his talents to fruition; he suffers from a conscious servitude, as from a misfortune from which he might perhaps have been saved.

He who is pathologically the victim of his own powers of inhibition is certainly the more unhappy sufferer; he remains immobile and silent; but internally he longs to move. A thousand impulses which can find no outlet torture the soul which aspires to art, to work; and eloquent speech on his own misfortunes would fain flow from his lips to implore help from a physician, or comfort from some lofty soul; but his lips are sealed. He feels the horrible oppression of one buried alive. But how many normal persons suffer from something of the same kind! On some propitious occasion in their lives they ought to have come forward and shown their worth, but they were unable to do so. A thousand times they have thought that a sincere expression of feeling might have straightened out a difficult situation; but the heart has closed and the lips have remained mute. How passionately they have longed to speak to some noble soul who would have understood them, illuminated and comforted them! But when they have been face to face with this person, they have been unable to speak a word. The longed-for individual encouraged them, questioned them, urged them to express themselves, but the sole response to the invitation was an internal anguish. Speak! Speak! said impulse in the depths of their consciousness; but inhibition was inexorable as a resistless material force.

It is in the education of the will by means of free exercises wherein the impulses balance the inhibitions that the cure of such subjects might be found, provided such a cure could be undertaken at the age when the will is in process of formation.

* * * * *

Such an equilibrium established as a mechanism at the margin of consciousness, which makes a man of the world "correct" in his conduct, is by no means that which constitutes the "person of will." It has been said above that the consciousness remains free for other voluntary requirements. The most refined and aristocratic lady might nevertheless be a person "without will" and "without character," although she might have acquired the most rigorous mechanisms productive of a mechanical will directed solely to external objects.

There is a voluntary fundamental quality upon which not only are the superficial relations between man and man based, but on which the very edifice of society is erected. This quality is known as "continuity." The social structure is founded upon the fact that men can work steadily and produce within certain average limits on which the economic equilibrium of a people is constructed. The social relations which are the basis of the reproduction of the species are founded upon the continuous union of parents in marriage. The family and productive work: these are the two pivots of society; they rest upon the greatest volitive quality: constancy, or persistence.

This quality is really the exponent of the uninterrupted concord of the inner personality. Without it, a life would be a series of episodes, a chaos; it would be like a body disintegrated into its cells, rather than an organism which persists throughout the mutations of its own material. This fundamental quality, when it embraces the sentiment of the individual and the direction of his ideation, that is to say, his whole personality, is what we have called character. The man of character is the persistent man, the man who is faithful to his own word, his own convictions, his own affections.

Now the sum of these various manifestations of constancy has an exponent of immense social value: persistence in work.

The degenerate, even before he gave way to criminal impulse, before he betrayed the inconstancy of his affections, before he broke his word, before he made havoc of all the convictions that ennoble the soul of man, had a certain stigma which marked him as one lost and disintegrated: this was laziness, incapacity to persist in work. Directly an honest and well-behaved man begins to suffer from brain-disease, before he shows any violent impulses, disorder in conduct, or signs of delirium, he has a premonitory symptom: he can no longer apply himself to work. Among the masses, it is justly thought that a girl will make a good wife when she is industrious, and a man is said to be an honest fellow and one who can offer good prospects to the girl who is to be his wife, when he is a good workman. This goodness is not a matter of ability; it implies steadiness, perseverance. For instance, a pseudo-artist of great skill in producing small artistic objects, but lacking the will to work, would not be considered a good match. Every one knows that he is not only incapable of economic production, but that he is a suspicious and dangerous character, that he might become a bad husband, a bad father, a bad citizen. On the other hand, the humblest artisan who "works" undoubtedly contains within himself all the elements which make for happiness and security in life. This unquestionably was the meaning of the great Roman encomium: "She stayed indoors and spun the wool," that is to say, she was a woman of character, a worthy companion for the conquerors of the world.

Now the little child who manifests perseverance in his work as the first constructive act of his psychical life, and upon this act builds up internal order, equilibrium, and the growth of personality, demonstrates, almost as in a splendid revelation, the true manner in which man renders himself valuable to the community. The little child who persists in his exercises, concentrated and absorbed, is obviously elaborating the constant man, the man of character, the man who will find in himself all human values, crowning that unique fundamental manifestation: persistence in work. Whatever task the child may choose it will be all the same, provided he persists in it. For what is valuable is not the work itself, but the work as a means for the construction of the psychic man.

He who interrupts the children in their occupations in order to make them learn some pre-determined thing; he who makes them cease the study of arithmetic to pass on to that of geography and the like, thinking it is important to direct their culture, confuses the means with the end and destroys the man for a vanity. That which it is necessary to direct is not the culture of man, but the man himself.

* * * * *

If persistence be the true foundation of the will, we nevertheless recognize decision as the act of the will par excellence. In order to accomplish any conscious act whatever, it is necessary that we should decide. Now a decision is always the result of a choice. If we have several hats, we must decide which one we will put on when we go out; it may not in the least matter whether it be the brown hat or the gray, but we must choose one of them. For such a choice we must have our motives, whether they be in favor of the gray or the brown; but finally one of the motives will prevail and the choice will be made. Obviously, the habit of taking a hat and going out will facilitate our choice; we are almost unconscious which of the motives stirred and struggled within us. It is the question of a minute and leaves no impression of effort. Our knowledge as to which hat will be suitable for the morning or the afternoon, for the theater or for sport, saves us from any mental conflict.

But this will not be the case if, for instance, we are about to spend a certain sum of money on a present. What shall we buy among the various objects from which it will be possible to choose? If we have no very definite knowledge of the things, our task may become an anxiety. We should like to choose something artistic, but we do not know much about art, and we fear to be deceived and so to cut a sorry figure; we know not what is customary and have no idea whether a piece of lace or a silver bowl would be suitable. We then feel the need of some one to enlighten us as to all these unknown details, and we go to ask advice. It does not, however, follow that we shall take the advice we receive. To tell the truth, the advice was to deal with our ignorance; we required an aid to knowledge rather than an incitement to an effort of the will. Volition is something which we jealously reserve for ourselves, and is a very different matter from the knowledge indispensable to a decision. The choice which we make after the advice of one or more persons will bear our own impress, it will be the decision of our ego.

The choice which the mistress of a house will make to prepare a dinner for guests is of the same nature; but there she has a perfect knowledge of the subject, and good taste, and the decision will be made with pleasure and without any extraneous aid.

But who does not know that in every case this making a decision is an internal labor, a genuine effort; so much so that persons of feeble will try to avoid it, as a thing irksome to them. If possible, the mistress of the house will leave the decisions to the cook, and to a dressmaker all the arguments necessary to make one of the many motives that come into play in the choice of a gown prevail over the rest; the dressmaker, seeing that a decision will only be reached after long hesitation, will say at a certain moment: Choose this which suits you so well, and the lady will agree, more to evade the effort of a decision than because the garment pleases her. Our entire life is a continual exercise of decisions. When we go out of the house after having locked the door, we have a clear consciousness of this act, a certainty that the house is well protected, and we decide to step out and walk away from it.

The stronger we are in such exercises, the more independent we shall be of others. Clarity of ideas, the mechanism of the habit of decision, give us a sense of liberty. The heaviest chain, which may bind us in a humiliating form of slavery, is an incapacity to make our own decisions, and the consequent need to refer to others; the fear of making "a mistake," the sense of groping in the dark, of having to bear the consequences of an error we are not certain to recognize, makes us run behind another person like a dog on a chain. Finally, we shall fall into an extremity of dependence; we shall no longer be able to despatch a letter or buy a pocket-handkerchief without asking advice.

But when an actual conflict arises in such a consciousness, and the decision has to be instantaneous, irresolution is the portion of one whose weakness has placed him in subjection to another stronger will, and then we behold a subjection which has almost imperceptibly become an incubus: the victim has taken the first step towards an abyss where the feeble in will run the risk of perdition. Thus the more the young are placed in subjection, without power to exercise their own wills, the more easily do they fall a prey to the perils of which the world is full.

That which gives strength to resist is not the moral vision, it is the exercise of will-power; and this exercise is to be found in the routine of life itself. The mother of a family, much occupied in her mission of domestic work, and accustomed to decide in all matters pertaining to the daily round, is more likely to gain the victory in the event of moral conflict than a childless woman who lives in an enervating atmosphere of domestic idleness, and has accustomed herself to accept her husband's will as her own. Yet both of these women might have the same moral vision. The first-mentioned, if left a widow, might make herself conversant with business and carry on the undertaking managed by her husband; but the second in like circumstances would require tutelage, and would run every risk of disaster. To ensure moral salvation, it is primarily necessary to depend on oneself, because in the moment of peril we are alone. And strength is not to be acquired instantaneously. He who knows that he will have to fight, prepares himself for boxing and dueling by strength and skill; he does not sit still with folded hands, because he knows that he will then either be lost or he will have to depend, like the shadow of a body, on some one to protect him step by step throughout his life, which in practise is impossible.

One single moment served to conquer us,

says Francesca, in Dante's Inferno.

Temptation, if it is not to conquer, must not fall like a bomb against another bomb of instantaneous moral explosions, but against the strong walls of an impregnable fortress strongly built up, stone by stone, beginning at that distant day when the foundations were first laid. Persistent work, clarity of ideas, the habit of sifting conflicting motives in the consciousness, even in the minutest actions of life, decisions taken every moment on the smallest things, the gradual master over one's actions, the power of self-direction increasing by degrees in the sum of successively repeated acts, these are the stout little stones on which the strong structure of personality is built up. This may then be inhabited by morality, as by a princess who lives among the embattled towers and moats of a medieval fortress that is in a perpetual state of defense, always under arms, but with every probability of remaining the "lady," the "chatelaine." If to "build up the house" which morality will inhabit, some mastery of the body is also necessary, such as abstinence from alcohol, which is the chief example of poison taken from without and tending to weaken, and movement in the open air, which facilitates material recuperation by freeing us from the poisons which we ourselves manufacture and which weaken us, how much more essential must be the continual exercise of the will as a vivifying means of psychical recuperation?

Our little children are constructing their own wills when, by a process of self-education, they put in motion complex internal activities of comparison and judgment, and in this wise make their intellectual acquisitions with order and clarity; this is a kind of "knowledge" capable of preparing children to form their own decisions, and one which makes them independent of the suggestions of others; they can then decide in every act of their daily life; they decide to take or not to take; they decide to accompany the rhythm of a song with movement; they decide to check every motor impulse when they desire silence. The constant work which builds up their personality is all set in motion by decisions; and this takes the place of the primitive state of chaos, in which, on the other hand, actions were the outcome of impulses. A voluntary life develops gradually within them; and doubt and timidity disappear, together with the darkness of the primitive mental confusion.

Such a development of the will would be impossible if, instead of allowing order and clarity to mature in the mind, we should seek to encumber it with chaotic ideas, or with stores of lessons learnt by heart, and then prevent children from making decisions by deciding everything for them. Teachers who adopt these methods are justified in saying that "a child ought not to have a will of his own," and in teaching him that "there is no such plant as 'I will.'" Indeed, they prevent the infantine will from developing. Under such conditions children are conscious of a power which inhibits all their actions; they become timid, and have no courage to undertake anything without the help and consent of the person on whom they depend entirely. "What color are these cherries?" a lady once asked a child, who knew quite well that they were red. But the timid, nervous child, doubtful as to whether it would be right or wrong to answer, murmured: "I will ask my teacher."

The volitive mechanism which prepares for decision is one of the most important mechanisms of the will; it is valuable in itself, and should be established and strengthened in itself. Pathology illustrates it for us apart from the other factor of the will, and thus places it before our eyes as a pillar of the great vault which supports the human personality. The so-called "mania of doubt" is one of the most frequent phases in the degenerative forms of psychopathy, and sometimes precedes certain obsessions, which urge the sufferer on irresistibly to the commission of immoral or harmful acts. But there may also be a mania of doubt simple and genuine, which is confined to the impossibility of taking a decision, and which produces a serious state of distress, though it induces no moral lapses, and may even arise from a moral scruple. In a hospital for nervous disorders I once encountered a characteristic case of the "mania of doubt" which had a moral basis. The patient was a man whose business it was to go round to houses collecting refuse; he was seized with misgivings lest some useful object should have accidentally fallen into the rubbish-baskets, and that he would be suspected of appropriating it. Hereupon the unhappy man, just when he was about to go off with his load, climbed all the stairs again, and knocked again at all the doors, asking whether something valuable might not perhaps have chanced to be in the baskets. Going away after assurances to the contrary, he would return and knock again, and so on. In vain he applied to the doctor for some means of strengthening his will. We told him repeatedly that there was nothing of any value in the baskets, that he might be quite easy on this point, and carry on his business without any preoccupations. Then a gleam of hope shone in his eyes. "I may be quite easy!" he repeated, going away. In a minute he was back again. "Then I may really be easy?" In vain we reassured him. "Yes, indeed, quite easy." His wife led him away, but from the window we saw the man stop at a certain point in the street, struggle with her, and come back in great agitation. Once more he appeared at the door to ask: "I may be quite easy then?"

But how often normal persons harbor in their minds the germs of such a mania! Here, for instance, is a person who is going out; he locks the door and shakes it; but when he has gone a few steps he is assailed by doubt: did he fasten the door? He knows that he did, he perfectly remembers having shaken it, but an irresistible impulse makes him go back to see if the door is really fastened. There are children who, before getting into bed at night, always look under it to see if there are any animals there—cats, for instance; they see there are none, and quite understand there are none. Nevertheless, after a while they get out again "to see if there is anything." These germs are carried about enclosed like tubercular bacilli in some tiny lymphatic gland; the whole organism is weak. But the mischief is hidden and causes no uneasiness, just as the pallor of the face may be concealed for a time by rouge.

If we consider that the will must manifest itself in actions which the body must carry out effectively, we shall understand that a formative exercise is necessary to develop it by means of its mechanisms.

There is a perfect parallel between the formation of the will and the coordination of movement of its physiological structure, the striated muscles. It is evident that exercise is necessary to establish precision in our movements. We know that we cannot learn to dance without preliminary exercises, that we cannot play the piano without practising the movements of the hand; but prior to this, the fundamental coordination of movements, that is to say, ambulation and prehension, must have already been established from infancy. It is not yet so evident to us that similar gradual preparations are necessary to develop the will.

In the purely physiological functions of the muscular apparatus, our voluntary muscles do not all act in the same manner, but rather in two opposite senses; some, for instance, serve to thrust the arm out from the body, others to draw it near; some serve to bend, others to straighten the knee; they are, that is to say, "antagonistic" in their action. Every movement of the body is the result of a combination between antagonistic muscles, in which now one, now the other prevails in a kind of collaboration by which the greatest diversity of movements is made possible to us: movements energetic, graceful, elegant. It is thus we are enabled to establish not only a noble attitude of the body, but a delightful motor correspondence with musical rhythm.

To bring about this intimate combination between antagonistic forces, all that is necessary is exercise in movement. True, we can educate movement; but this only after the natural coordination has already taken place; then we can "provoke" special movements as in sporting games, dances, etc., which movements must, however, be repeatedly executed by the performer himself in order to produce in him the possibility of new combinations of movement. Not only in the case of movements of grace and agility, but also in those of strength, it is necessary that the performer himself should act repeatedly. The will certainly comes into play here: the performer wishes to devote himself to sport, or to dancing, or to the arts of self-defense, to compete in matches, etc.... but in order to will this it is necessary that he should have practised continually, thus making ready the apparatus on which the volitive act will finally depend, and to which it will issue its commands. Movement is always voluntary, both when the first movements established by "muscular coordination" take place, and when exercises designed to produce fresh combinations of movements (skill) follow each other—as, in short, when the will acts like a commander whose orders are carried out by a well organized, disciplined, and highly skilled army. Voluntary action, in respect of its "powers," increases in degree as its dependent muscles perfect themselves and so achieve the necessary conditions for seconding its efforts.

It would certainly never occur to any one that in order to educate the voluntary motility of a child, it would be well first of all to keep it absolutely motionless, covering its limbs with cement (I will not say fracturing them!) until the muscles become atrophied and almost paralyzed; and then, when this result had been attained, that it would suffice to read to the child wonderful stories of clowns, acrobats and champion boxers and wrestlers, to fire him by such examples, and to inspire in him an ardent desire to emulate them. It is obvious that such a proceeding would be an inconceivable absurdity.

And yet we do something of the same kind when, in order to educate the child's "will," we first of all attempt to annihilate it, or, as we say, "break" it, and thus hamper the development of every factor of the will, substituting ourselves for the child in everything. It is by our will that we keep him motionless, or make him act; it is we who choose and decide for him. And after all this we are content to teach him that "to will is to do" (volere e potere). And we present to his fancy, in the guise of fabulous tales, stories of heroic men, giants of will, under the illusion that by committing their deeds to memory a vigorous feeling of emulation will be aroused and will complete the miracle.

When I was a child, attending the first classes of the elementary schools, there was a kind teacher who was very fond of us. Of course, she kept us captive and motionless on our seats, and talked incessantly herself, though she looked pale and exhausted. Her fixed idea was to make us learn by heart the lives of famous women, and more especially "heroines," in order to incite us to imitate them; she made us study an immense number of biographies; in order to demonstrate to us all the possibilities of becoming illustrious and also to convince us that it was not beyond our powers to be heroines, since these were so numerous. The exhortation which accompanied these narratives was always the same: "You, too, should try to become famous; would not you, too, like to be famous?" "Oh, no!" I answered one day, drily; "I shall never do so. I care too much for the children of the future to add yet another biography to the list."

* * * * *

The unanimous reports of the educationists from all parts of the world who attended the last pedagogic and psychological international congresses lamented the "lack of character" in the young as constituting a great danger to the race. But it is not that character is lacking in the race; it is that school distorts the body and weakens the spirit. All that is needed is an act of liberation; and the latent forces of man will then develop.

The manner in which we are to make use of our strong will is a higher question, which, however, can rest only upon one basis: that the will exists—that is, has been developed, and has become strong. One of the examples usually given to our children, to teach them to admire strength of will, is that of Vittorio Alfieri, who began to educate himself late in life, overcoming the drudgery of the rudiments by a great effort. He, who had hitherto been a man of the world, set to work to study the Latin grammar, and persevered until he became a man of letters, and, in virtue of his ardent genius, one of our greatest poets. The phrase by which he explained his transformation is just the phrase every child in Italy has heard quoted by his teachers: "I willed, perpetually I willed, with all my strength I willed."

Now, before he made the great "decision," Vittorio Alfieri was the victim of a capricious society lady whom he loved. Alfieri felt that he was ruining himself by remaining the slave of his passion; an internal impulse urged him to raise himself; he felt the great man latent within him, full of powers not yet developed, but potential and expansive; he would fain have turned them to account, responded to their inner call, and dedicated himself to them; but then a scented note from the lady would summon him to join her in her box at the play, and the evening would be wasted. The power this lady exercised over him overcame his own will, which would gladly have resisted. Nevertheless, the rage and weariness he endured as he sat through the silly performances at the theater caused him such acute suffering that at last he felt that he hated the fascinating lady.

His determination took a material form: he resolved to create an insurmountable obstacle between himself and her; he accordingly cut off the thick plait of hair which adorned his head, the badge of gentle birth, without which he would have been ashamed to leave the house; then he had himself bound with ropes to his armchair, where he spent several days in such agitation that he was unable even to read a line; it was only the material impossibility of moving, and the thought of cutting a ridiculous figure, which kept him there, in spite of the impulse to hasten to the beloved one.

It was thus that he "willed, willed perpetually, with all his strength," and so left the man within him free to expand; it was thus he saved himself from futility and perdition and worked for his own immortality.

And it is something of the same sort that we desire to bring about in our children by the education of the will; we wish them to learn to save themselves from the vanities that destroy man, and concentrate on work which causes the inner life to expand, and leads to great undertakings; we wish them to work for their own immortality.

This loving and anxious desire inclines us to draw them along shielded by us. But is there not within the child himself a power which enables him to save himself? The child loves us with all his heart and follows us with all the devotion of which his little soul is capable; nevertheless he has something within himself which governs his inner life: it is the force of his own expansion. It is this force, for instance, which leads him to touch things in order to become acquainted with them, and we say to him, "Do not touch"; he moves about to establish his equilibrium, and we tell him to "keep still"; he questions us to acquire knowledge, and we reply, "Do not be tiresome." We relegate him to a place at our side, vanquished and subdued, with a few tiresome playthings, like an Alfieri in the box at the theater. He might well think: Why does she, whom I love so dearly, want to annihilate me? Why does she wish to oppress me with her caprices? It is caprice which makes her prevent me from developing the expansive forces within me, and relegate me to a place among vain and wearisome things, merely because I love her.

Thus, to save himself, the child should be a strong spirit, like Vittorio Alfieri; but too often he cannot.

We do not perceive that the child is a victim and that we are annihilating him; and then we demand everything from his nullity by a fiat, by an act of our omnipotence. We want the adult man, but without allowing him to grow.

Many will think, when they read the story of Vittorio Alfieri, that they would have wished something more in their sons; they would have wished it to be unnecessary to set up material obstacles against temptation, such as the cutting off of the hair and the binding to the armchair with ropes; and would have hoped that a spiritual force would have sufficed to resist it. Like one of our great poets who, singing of the Roman Lucrezia, reproves her for having killed herself; since she ought to have died of grief at the outrage, had she been even more virtuous than she was.

Now that father with the spiritual ideals would not, in all probability, ask himself what he himself had done to enable his son to become strong and rise to the level of spiritual aid. Very likely he is a father who did his utmost to break the will of his son and make him submissive to his own will. No earthly father can make the spirit rise to such heights; this can only be accomplished by the mysterious voice which speaks within the heart of the man in the silence. A voice which is strident because it is raised against the laws of Nature, like the voice of the father who wishes to subdue another creature to himself, disturbs that "silence" where, in peace and liberty, the divine works are being accomplished. Without the "strong man" all is vain.

It is recorded that a priest once presented to Saint Teresa a young girl who wished to become a Carmelite nun, and who, according to him, had angelic qualities. Saint Teresa, accepting the neophyte, replied: "See, my father, our Lord has given this maiden devotion, but she has no judgment, and never will have any; and she will always be a burden to us."

One of the greatest of contemporary theologians, who during the proceedings to obtain the canonisation of Joan of Arc had made a profound study of her personality, says, in reference to the suggestion that she was simply the instrument of divine inspiration: "Let no one deceive himself. Joan of Arc was no blind and passive instrument of a supernatural power. The liberator of France had entire command of her personality; she gave proof of this by her independent action, both in decisions and in deeds."

I believe that the work of the educator consists primarily in protecting the powers and directing them without disturbing them in their expansion; and in the bringing of man into contact with the spirit which is within him and which should operate through him.



Let us pause a moment to consider what is the "key" by means of which we may bring about the realization of the liberty of the child; that key which sets in motion the mechanisms essential to education.

The child who is "free to move about," and who perfects himself by so doing, is he who has an "intelligent object" in his movements; the child who is free to develop his inner personality, who perseveres in a task for a considerable time, and organizes himself upon such a fundamental phenomenon, is sustained and guided by an intelligent purpose. Without this his persistence in work, his inner formation, and his progress would not be possible. When we refrain from guiding the subjugated child step by step, when, liberating the child from our personal influence, we place him in an environment suited to him and in contact with the means of development, we leave him confidently to "his own intelligence." His motor activity will then direct itself to definite actions: he will wash his hands and face, sweep the room, dust the furniture, change his clothes, spread the rugs, lay the table, cultivate plants, and take care of animals. He will choose the tasks conducive to his development and persist in them, attracted and guided by his interest towards a sensory material which leads him to distinguish one thing from another, to select, to reason, to correct himself; and the acquirements thus made are not only "a cause of internal growth" but a strong propulsive force to further progress. Thus, passing from simple objects to objects of ever increasing complexity, he becomes possessed of a culture; moreover, he organizes his character by means of the internal order which forms itself within him, and by the skill which he acquires.

Therefore, when we leave the child to himself, we leave him to his intelligence, not, as is commonly supposed, "to his instincts," meaning by the word "instincts" those designated as animal instincts. We are so accustomed to; treat children like dogs and other domestic animals, that a "free child" makes us think of a dog, barking, jumping, and stealing dainties. And so accustomed are we to regard as manifestations of evil instincts the rebellions of the child treated as a beast, his obscure protests and desperations, or the protective devices he has to invent to save himself from such a humiliating situation, that, by way of elevating him, we first compare him to plants and flowers, and then actually try to keep him as far as possible in the state of physical immobility of vegetables, subjecting him to the same sensations, reducing him to slavery. But he never becomes the "plant with angelic perfume" we would fain believe him to be; rather do signs of corruption gradually manifest themselves as his "human substance" mortifies and dies.

But when we leave the child "free as a man" in the palestra of his own intelligence, his type changes entirely. It is of this type we must form new conceptions in discussing the question of "liberty."

That of intelligence should also, I believe, be the key to the problem of the social liberty of man. We have heard much talk of late years, of a very superficial kind, concerning "liberty of thought." The issue being obscured by prejudices akin to those prevalent concerning children, it has been supposed that man would be "liberated" were he "abandoned" to his own thoughts. But was he capable of "thinking"? Was not the epoch of such "freedom" also that of cerebral neurasthenia? Was it not also that epoch when laws for extending social rights to illiterates were under discussion?

Now let us take an example: if we told a sick person to choose between disease and health, would this make him free to do so? If we offer an uneducated peasant good and bad paper money, leaving him "free to choose" which he will take, and he chooses the bad notes, he is not free, he is cheated; if he chooses the good, he is not free, he is lucky. He will be free when he has sufficient knowledge not only to distinguish the good from the bad, but to understand the social utility of each. It is the giving of this "internal formation" which makes a man free, irrespective of a "social sanction" which is merely an external conquest of liberty. If the liberty of man were such a simple problem, we should only need to pass a law, enabling the blind to see and the deaf to hear, in order to restore "poor humanity" to health.

Our honesty ought to make us recognize one day that the fundamental rights of man are those of his own "formation," free from obstacles, free from slavery, and free to draw from his environment the means required for his development. In short, it is in education that we shall find the fundamental solution of the social problems connected with "personality."

Deeply instructive is the revelation made to us by the children, that "the intelligence" is the key which reveals the secrets of their formation, and is the actual means of their internal construction.

The hygiene of the intelligence thus assumes cardinal importance. When intelligence is recognized as the means of formation, the pivot of life itself, it can no longer be exhausted for dubious ends, or oppressed and suffocated without discernment.

At a not-far-distant day, the intelligence of children must become the object of treatment much wiser and more elaborate than that which we now bestow on their bodies, to adjuncts of which, such as teeth, nails, and hair, we devote costly and laborious processes. When we reflect that a mother who is perfectly conscious of the dangers and remedies connected with the hair of her child, can oppress and enslave his intelligence quite unknowingly, we are at once obliged to admit that the new road leading to civilization must needs be a long one, if such contrasts in our attitude to the superfluities and the essentials of life are still possible at the present day.

* * * * *

What is intelligence? Without rising to the heights of the definitions given by the philosophers, we may, for the moment, consider the sum of those reflex and associative or reproductive activities which enable the mind to construct itself, putting it into relation with the environment. According to Bain, the consciousness of difference is the beginning of every intellectual exercise; the first step of the mind is appreciation of "distinction." The bases of its perceptive functions towards the external world are the "sensations." To collect facts and distinguish between them is the initial process in intellectual construction.

Let us try to infuse a little more precision and clarity into the analysis of intelligence.

The first characteristic which presents itself to us as an indication of intellectual development is related to time. The masses are so much alive to this primitive characteristic, that the popular expression "quick" is synonymous with intelligent. To be rapid in reacting to a stimulus, in the association of ideas, in the capacity of formulating a judgment—this is the most obvious external manifestation of intelligence. This "quickness" is certainly related to the capacity for receiving impressions from the environment, elaborating images, and externalizing the internal results. All these activities may be developed by means of an exercise comparable to a system of mental "gymnastics" to collect numerous sensations, to put them constantly in relation one with another, to deduce judgments therefrom, to acquire the habit of manifesting these freely, all this ought, as the psychologists would say, to render the conductive channels and the associative channels more and more permeable, and the "period of reaction" ever briefer. As in intelligent muscular movement, the repetition of the act not only renders it more perfect in itself, but more rapid in execution. An intelligent child at school is not only one who understands, but one who understands quickly. On the other hand, one who learns the same things, but who takes a longer time in so doing, say two years instead of one, is slow. Of a "quick" child, the people say that "nothing escapes him"; his attention is always on the alert, and he is ready to receive every kind of stimulus: as a sensitive scale will show the slightest variation in weight, so the sensitive brain will respond to the slightest appeal. It is Equally rapid in its associative processes: "He understands in a flash" is a familiar saying to indicate accurate conception.

Now an exercise which "puts in motion" the intellectual mechanisms can only be an "auto-exercise." It is impossible that another person, exercising himself in our stead, should make us acquire skill.

The sensory exercises arouse and intensify the central activities in our children. When, sense and stimulus duly isolated, the child has clear perceptions in his consciousness; when sensations of heat, cold, roughness, smoothness, weight, and lightness, when a sound, an isolated noise, are perceived by him, when, in almost complete silence, he closes his eyes and waits for a voice to murmur a word, it is as if the external world had knocked at the door of his soul, awakening its activities. And further, when the multitudinous sensations are all contained in the richness of the environment, the two react harmoniously one upon the other, intensifying the activities that have been awakened: this is exemplified in the case of the child absorbed in coloring his designs, who will choose the most beautiful tints while music is being played, or in that of another who, contemplating the gay and gracious environment of the school and the flowering plants, will sing his song to perfection.

The first characteristic which manifests itself in our children, after their process of auto-education has been initiated, is that their reactions become ever more ready and more rapid: a sensory stimulus which might before have passed unobserved or might have roused a languid interest, is vividly perceived. The relation between things is easily recognized, and thus errors in their use are quickly detected, judged, and corrected. By means of the sensory gymnastics the child carries out just this primordial and fundamental exercise of the intelligence, which awakens and sets in motion the central nervous mechanisms.

When we see these external manifestations of our quick and active children—sensitive to the slightest call, ready to run swiftly towards us without relaxing the attention they give to their own movements and to all the external objects they encounter—and compare them with the torpid children in the ordinary schools—clumsy in their movements, indifferent to stimuli, incapable of spontaneous association of ideas—we are led to think of the civilization of our own days as compared with that of olden times. The civil environment of bygone years, as compared with our own, was more leisurely: we have learnt how to save time. The stage-coach was once the means of transport, whereas now we travel in motor-cars and even in aeroplanes; the voice was the medium of speech from a distance, whereas now we speak through the telephone; men killed each other one by one, whereas now they kill each other en masse. All this makes us realize that our civilization is not based upon "respect for life" and "respect for the soul," but rather is it based upon "respect for time." It is solely in an external sense that civilization has pursued its course. It has become more rapid, it has set in motion machinery.

But man has not had the same preparation to keep up with it: individuals have not accelerated themselves methodically; the children of this bewildering environment are not new men, more active, readier, more intelligent. The transformed human personality has not yet arisen ready to meet all eventualities and to utilize for his own benefit the external conquests of his environment. Torpid man saves time and money in this civilization; but his soul remains defrauded and oppressed.

If he does not rise to the task of reforming himself in harmony with the new world he has created, he runs the risk of being some day overthrown and crushed by it.

* * * * *

The swift reactions occurring among our children are not merely an external manifestation of the intelligence. They are related not only to the exercise, but also to the order which has been established within: and it is this intimate work of rearrangement which is in itself a more exact indication of intellectual formation.

Order is, in short, the true key to rapidity of reaction. In a chaotic mind, the recognition of a sensation is no less difficult than the elaboration of a reasoned discourse. In all things, social as well as others, it is organization and order which make it possible to proceed rapidly.

"To be able to distinguish" is the characteristic sign of intelligence: to distinguish is to arrange and also, in life, it is to prepare for "creation."

Creation finds its expansion in order. We find this conception in the Genesis of Scripture. God did not begin to create without preparation; and this preparation was the introduction of order into chaos. "And God divided the light from the darkness. And he said: Let the waters be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear." The consciousness may possess a rich and varied content; but when there is mental confusion, the intelligence does not appear. Its appearance is exactly like the kindling of a light which makes it possible to distinguish things clearly: "Let there be light."

Thus we may justly say that to help the development of the intelligence is to help to put the images of the consciousness in order.

We ought to think of the mental state of the little child of three years old, who has already looked upon a world. How often he has fallen asleep utterly weary from having seen so many things. It has not occurred to any one that for him to walk is, in fact, to work; that seeing and hearing, when the organs are not as yet accommodated, so that he is obliged to be perpetually correcting the errors of his senses, and verifying with his hand what he cannot as yet appraise correctly with his eye, is a great exertion. Hence the little one who is over-taxed by stimuli, in places where these abound, cries or falls asleep.

The little child of three years old carries within him a heavy chaos.

He is like a man who has accumulated an immense quantity of books, piled up without any order, and who asks himself "What shall I do with them?" When will he be able to arrange them in such fashion as to enable him to say: "I possess a library"?

By means of our so-called "sensory exercises" we make it possible for the child to distinguish and to classify. Our sensory material, in fact, analyses and represents the attributes of things: dimensions, forms, colors, smoothness or roughness of surface, weight, temperature, flavor, noise, sounds. It is the qualities of the objects, not the objects themselves which are important; although these qualities, isolated one from the other, are themselves represented by objects. For the attributes long, short, thick, thin, large, small, red, yellow, green, hot, cold, heavy, light, rough, smooth, scented, noisy, resonant, we have a like number of corresponding "objects" arranged in graduated series. This gradation is important for the establishment of order; indeed, the attributes of the objects differ not only in quality, but also in quantity. They may be more or less high or more or less low, more or less thick or more or less thin; the sounds have various tones; the colors have various degrees of intensity; the shapes may resemble each other in varying degrees; the states of roughness and smoothness are by no means absolute.

The material for the education of the senses lends itself to the purpose of distinguishing between these things. First of all it enables the child to ascertain the identity of two stimuli by means of numerous exercises in matching and fitting. Afterwards difference is appreciated when the lessons direct the child's attention to the external objects of a series: light, dark, long, short.

At last he begins to distinguish the degrees of the various attributes, arranging a series of objects in gradation, such as the tablets which show the various degrees of intensity of the same chromatic tone; the bells which produce the notes of an octave, the objects which represent length in decimal proportions, or thickness in centimetric proportions, etc.

These exercises, which are so attractive to children, are, as we have seen, repeated by them indefinitely. The teacher puts the seal upon each acquisition with a word; thus the classification is complete, and finally has its schedule: that is, it becomes possible to recall the attribute and its image by a name.

Now as we have no possible means of distinguishing things other than by their attributes, the classification of these entails a fundamental order of arrangement comprehending everything. Henceforth the world is no longer a chaos for the child; his mind bears some resemblance to the orderly shelves of a library or a rich museum; each object is in its place, in its proper category. And each acquisition he makes will be no longer merely "stored," but duly "allocated." This primitive order will never be disturbed, but only enriched by fresh material.

Thus the child, having acquired the power of distinguishing one thing from another, has laid the foundations of the intelligence. It is unnecessary to repeat what an internal impulse the acquired order contributes towards the seeking after objects in the environment; henceforth the child "recognizes" the objects which surround him. When he discovers with so much emotion that the sky is blue, that his hand is smooth, that the window is rectangular, he does not in reality discover sky, nor hand, nor window, but he discovers their position in the order of his mind by arrangement of his ideas. And this determines a stable equilibrium in the internal personality, which produces calm, strength, and the possibility of fresh conquests, just as the muscles which have coordinated their functions enable the body to maintain its equilibrium, and to acquire that stability and security which facilitate all movements. This order conduces to an economy of time and strength; like a well-arranged museum, it saves the time and strength of inquirers. The child can therefore perform a greater quantity of work without fatigue, and can react to stimuli in a briefer space of time.

* * * * *

To be able to distinguish, classify, and catalogue external things on the basis of a secure order already established in the mind—this is at once intelligence and culture. This is, indeed, the popular conception; when an educated person can recognize an author by his style, or the characteristics of the literary compositions of a period, he is pronounced "versed (intelligente) in literature." In the same way we say of one who can recognize a painter by the manner in which he lays his colors on the canvas, or fix the period of a sculptor from the fragment of a bas-relief, that he is "versed (intelligente) in art." The scientist is of the same type. He is able to observe things, and to give due value even to their minutest details; hence the differences between the characteristics of things are clearly perceived and classified. The scientist distinguishes objects in accordance with the orderly content of his mind. A seedling, a microbe, an animal or the remains of an animal, are not enigmas to him, though in themselves they may be strange to him. We may say the same of the chemist, the physicist, the geologist, the archaeologist.

It is not the accumulation of a direct knowledge of things which forms the man of letters, the scientist, and the connoisseur; it is the prepared order established in the mind which is to receive such knowledge. On the other hand, the uncultivated person has only the direct knowledge of objects; such a person may be a lady who spends a great part of the night reading books, or a gardener who spends his life making material distinctions between the plants in his garden. The knowledge of such uncultured minds is not only disorderly, but it is confined to the objects with which it comes into direct contact, whereas the knowledge of the scientist is infinite, because, possessing the power of classifying the attributes of things, he can recognize them all, and determine now the class, now the relationships, now the origins of each; facts much more profound than the actual things could of themselves reveal.

Now our children, after the manner of the connoisseur of art and the man of science, recognize objects in the external world by means of their attributes and classify them; hence they are sensitive to all objects; everything possesses a value for them. Uncultured children, on the other hand, pass blind and deaf close to things, just as an ignorant man passes by a work of art or listens to a performance of classical music without recognition or enjoyment.

The educational methods now in use proceed on lines exactly the reverse of ours; having first abolished spontaneous activity, they present objects with their accumulation of attributes directly to the child, calling attention to each attribute, and hoping that from all this mass the mind of the child will be able to abstract the attributes themselves, without any guidance or order. Thus they create in a passive being an artificial chaos, more limited than that which the natural world would offer.

The "objective" method now in use, which consists in presenting an object and noting all its attributes—that is, describing it, is nothing but a "sensory" variation on the customary mnemonic method; instead of describing an absent object, a present object is described; instead of the imagination alone working to effect its reconstruction, the senses intervene; this is done so that the distinctive qualities of the object itself should be better remembered. The passive mind receives images, which are limited to the objects presented; and which are "stored up" without any order. As a fact, every object may have infinite attributes; and if, as often happens in object-lessons, the origins and ultimate ends of the object itself are included among these attributes, the mind has literally to range throughout the universe. If, for instance, in an object lesson on coffee, which I heard given in a Kindergarten school, the object is described and the attention of the children directed to its size, its color, its shape, its aroma, its flavor, its temperature; and then if the teacher goes on to describe the plant and the manner in which the substance was brought to Europe across the ocean, and, finally, lighting a spirit-lamp, boils the water, grinds the berries and prepares the beverage, the mind has been led to wander in infinite spaces, but the subject has not been exhausted. For it would be possible to go on to describe the exciting effects of coffee, caffeine, which is extracted from the berry, and many other things. Such an analysis would spread like spilt oil until finally dispersed, and the outcome would be of no use in any way. If, indeed, we should ask a child so instructed: "What is coffee, then?" he might well reply: "It is such a long story that I cannot remember it." A notion so vague (I cannot certainly say so complete!) fatigues and encumbers the mind and can never transform itself into a dynamic excitation of similar associations. The efforts the child makes will be, at the most, efforts of memory to recall the history of coffee. If associations are formed in his mind, they will be inferior associations of contiguity: his mind will wander from the teacher who is speaking to the ocean that was traversed, to the dining-table at home on which coffee appears in cups every day; in other words, it will stray aimlessly as does the idle mind when it "allows itself" to wander from the continuity of its passive associations.

In this kind of reverie to which the minds of children give themselves up, there is no sign of internal activity, far less of any individual difference. Children subjected to the object-lesson system always remain purely receptive beings; or, if we prefer to put it so, storehouses in which new objects are continually deposited.

No activity is thus aroused and directed towards the object, in order to recognize its qualities in such a manner that the child himself forms an idea of it; nor can the possibility of connecting other objects with the first by their common characteristics arise in his mind. For in what particular does any object resemble the others? In its use?

When we associate the images of different objects by similarity, we should extract from the whole the qualities which the objects themselves have in common. If, for instance, we say that two rectangular tablets are alike, we have first extracted from the numerous qualities of these tablets such facts as that they are of wood, that they are polished, smooth, colored, of the same temperature, etc., the quality relating to their shape. They are alike in shape. This may suggest a long series of objects: the top of the table, the window, etc.; but before such a result as this can be achieved, it is necessary that the mind should first be capable of abstracting from the numerous attributes of these objects the quality of rectangular shape. The work of the mind in this quest must necessarily be active; it analyzes the object, extracts a determined attribute therefrom, and under the guidance of this determined attribute makes a synthesis associating many objects by the same medium of connection. If this capacity for the selecting of single attributes among all those proper to the object be not acquired, association by means of similarity, synthesis, and all the higher work of the intelligence becomes impossible. Moreover, this is intellectual work in reality, because the essential quality of the intelligence is not to "photograph" objects, and "keep them one upon the other" like the pages of an album, or juxtaposed like the stones in a pavement. Such a labor of mere "deposit" is an outrage on the intellectual nature. The intelligence, with its characteristic orderliness and power of discrimination, is capable of distinguishing and extracting the dominant characteristics of objects, and it is upon these that it proceeds to build up its internal structures.

Now our children, whose minds are thus ordered in relation to the classification of attributes by the pedagogic aid they have received, are led, not only to observe objects according to all the attributes they have analyzed, but also to distinguish identities, differences, and resemblances; and this work renders the extraction of one of the qualities corresponding to one of the sensory groups which have been considered apart, easy and spontaneous. That is to say, it will be easy for the child thus to recognize the various qualities of an object, to note, for instance, that certain objects are alike in form, or alike in color; because "forms" and "colors" have already been grouped into very distinctive categories, and they therefore recall series of objects by similarity. This classification of attributes is a kind of loadstone; it is an attractive force of a determined group of qualities; and the objects which have this quality are attracted thereto and united one with another; this is association by similitude, almost of a mechanical kind. Books are of the shape of prisms, one of our children might say; and such a pronouncement would be the conclusion arrived at by a very complex mental process, were it not that prismatic forms already existed as a well-defined series in his mind, attracting to itself all the surrounding objects which possess the same character. Thus the whiteness of sheets of paper, interrupted by dark signs, may be attracted, by the colors systematized in the mind, into a synthetic whole, which might make the child say: Books are sheets of white printed paper.

It is in this active work that individual differences may manifest themselves. What will be the group of attributes which will attract similar objects? And what will be the prevailing characteristic chosen for the purpose of association by similarity? One child will note that a curtain is light green; another that the same curtain is light in weight; one will be struck by the whiteness of a hand, another by the smoothness of its skin. For one child the window will be a rectangle; to another it is something through which the blue of the sky may be seen. The choice of prevailing characteristics made by children becomes a "natural selection" harmonizing with their own innate tendencies.

In like manner, a scientist will choose the characters most useful to his associations. An anthropologist may choose the shape of the head to distinguish the human races, and another might choose the cutaneous pigment—either will serve the purpose. Each anthropologist may have the most accurate knowledge of the external characteristics of men; but the important matter consists in finding a characteristic which will serve as a basis for classification: that is to say, a characteristic on which it will be possible to group numerous characteristics in the order of similitude. Purely practical persons would consider man from the utilitarian rather than from the scientific point of view; a maker of hats would single out the dimensions of the head from among other human characteristics; an orator would consider man from the point of view of his susceptibility to the spoken word. But selection is the fundamental necessity which enables us to realize things; to emerge from the vague into the practical, from aimless contemplation into the sphere of action.

Every created thing in existence is characterized by the fact that it has limitations. Our own psycho-sensory organization is founded upon a selection. What are the functions of the senses, but to respond to a determined series of vibrations and to no others? Thus the eye limits light and the ear sounds. In forming the contents of the mind the first step is, therefore, a selection, necessarily and materially limited. Nevertheless, the mind imposes still further limits on the selection possible to the senses, fashioning it upon the activity of internal choice. Thus attention is fixed upon determined objects and not upon all objects; and the volition chooses the actions which are really to be performed from among a multitude of possible actions.

It is in like fashion that the lofty work of the intelligence is accomplished; by an analogous action of attention and internal will, it abstracts the dominant characteristics of things, and thus succeeds in associating their images, and keeping them in the foreground of consciousness. It ceases to consider an immense amount of ballast which would render its context formless and confused. Every superior mind distinguishes the essential form from the superfluous, rejecting the latter, and thus it is enabled to achieve its characteristic, clear, delicate, and vital activities. It is capable of extracting that which is useful to its creative life, and thus finds in the cosmos the means of salvation. Without this characteristic activity, the intelligence cannot construct itself; it would be like an attention that wanders from thing to thing without ever fixing upon any one of them, and like a will that can never decide upon any definite action.

"It is possible to suppose," says James, "that a God could, without impairing his activity, simultaneously behold all the minutest portions of the world. But if our human attention should be thus dissipated, we should merely contemplate all things vacuously, without ever finding occasion to do any particular act."

It is one of the marvelous phenomena of life that it is impossible to realize anything, without determining limits; that mysterious law which ordains that every living being has its "form" and "stature," unlike the minerals, which are indefinite in form and dimensions, is repeated in the psychical life. Its development, its auto-creation, is nothing but a determination even more precise, a progressive "concentration"; it is thus that from the primitive chaos our internal characteristic form is gradually shaped and chiselled.

The capacity for forming a conception of a thing, for judging and reasoning, has always this foundation. When, after having noted the usual qualities of a column, we abstract the general truth that the column is a support, this synthetic idea is based upon a selected quality. Thus in the judgment we may pronounce: columns are cylindrical, we have abstracted one quality from among the many others we could have adduced, as, columns are cold, they are hard, they are a composition of carbonate of lime, etc. It is only the capacity for such a selection which makes reasoning possible. When, for example, in the demonstration of the theorem of Pythagoras, children handle the various pieces of the metal insets, they should start from the point at which they become aware that a rectangle is equal to the rhomb, and a square is equal to the same rhomb. It is the perception of this truth which makes it possible to go on to the following reasoning: therefore the square and the rectangle are equal to each other. If it had not been possible to determine this attribute, the mind could not have arrived at any conclusion. The mind has succeeded in discovering an attribute common to two dissimilar figures; and it is this discovery which may lead to a series of conclusions by means of which the theorem of Pythagoras will be finally demonstrated.

* * * * *

Now, as in the case of will, decision presupposes a methodical exercise of the impulsive and inhibitory forces, only to be performed by the individual himself, until habits have been established, so in case of the intelligence, the individual must exercise himself in his activities of association and selection, guided and aided by external means, until he has developed, by the definitive elimination of certain ideas and the choice of others, "mental habits" characteristic of the individual, characteristic of the "type." Because, underlying all the internal activities the mind can construct, there is, as the phenomena of attention show us, the individual tendency, the "nature."

There is, undoubtedly, a fundamental difference between understanding and learning the reasoning of others, and being able "to reason," between learning how an artist may see the external world according to his prevailing interest in color, harmony, and form, and actually seeing the external world about a fulcrum which sustains one's own aesthetical creation. In the mind of one who "learns the things of others" we may find, as in a sack of old clothes hanging over the shoulders of a hawker, solutions of the problems of Euclid, together with the images of Raphael's works, ideas of history and geography, and rules of style, huddled together with a like indifference and a like sensation of "weight." While, on the other hand, he who uses all these things for his own life, is like the person who is assisted in attaining his own welfare, his own relief, his own comfort by those same objects which are merely burdens when in the sack of the hawker. Such objects are, however, no longer huddled together without order and without purpose in a closed bag, but set out in the spacious rooms of a well-ordered house. The mind which constructs may contain a great deal more than that mind in which pieces of knowledge are heaped up as in the bag; and in that mind, as in the house, the objects are clearly divided one from another, harmoniously arranged, and distinctive in their uses.

Between "understanding" because another person seeks to impress upon us the explanation of a thing by speech, and "understanding" the thing of ourselves, there is an immeasurable distance; the two are comparable to the impression made in soft wax, which will subsequently be effaced and replaced by other impressions, and the form chiselled in the marble by an artist, as his creation. He who understands of himself has an unforeseen impression; he feels that his consciousness has been liberated, and something luminous shines forth within him. Understanding, then, is not a matter of indifference; it is the beginning of something; sometimes it is the beginning of a life which renews itself within us. Perhaps no emotion is more fruitful for man than the intellectual emotion. He who makes a discovery rich in results certainly enjoys the greatest of human felicities; but even he who merely "understands" gets a lofty enjoyment which will rise superior to and overcome the most acute suffering. Indeed, he who is oppressed by a misfortune, if he can be brought to differentiate his own case from that of another, or to see a reason for his affliction, experiences relief, and a "sense of salvation." Amidst the confused darkness in which he was plunged, a consoling ray of intellectual light has reached him. The difficult matter, indeed, is to find the way of escape in the hour of darkness. When we reflect that a dog may die of grief on the grave of his master, and that a mother can survive on the grave of her only son, we see at once that it is the light of reason which makes the difference between the two. The dog cannot reason on the matter; it may die because no light can penetrate the darkness of its intelligence to overcome the depression of its grief.

But the thought of a universal justice, the living memory of the lost one which remains to us, saves the human being. And by degrees, not forgetfulness, which alone can save the animal, but the connection which the intelligence establishes with the universe, restores calm to the suffering soul. Such comfort could never be derived from the dry lesson of a professor, from memorizing the theory of a savant who is not in sympathy with the state of our soul. When we say, "to give ourselves a reason," "to derive strength from a principle," we imply that the ever-inquiring intelligence should be left at liberty to perform its work of reconstruction and salvation.

Now if intelligence in "comprehending" may actually prove our salvation when in danger of death, what a source of enjoyment it should prove to man!

When we talk of "the opening of the mind," we mean a creative phenomenon, which is not the weak result of an impression violently made from without. The opening of the mind is the active comprehension which accompanies great emotions, and which is therefore felt as a spiritual event.

I once knew a motherless girl, who was so much depressed by the arid teaching of her school, that she had become almost incapable of study and even of understanding the things which were taught her. Her life of solitude, lacking in natural affection, was a further aggravation of her mental fatigue. Her father decided that she should live for a year or two in the open country like a little savage; he then brought her back to town, and placed her under the private direction of a number of "professors." The girl studied and learned, but remained passive and weary. Every now and then her father would say: "Is your mind opening again?" and the girl always replied: "I do not know. What do you mean?" Owing to a curious coincidence in my life, this girl was confided to my sole care; and it was thus that I, when I was still a medical student, made my first pedagogic experiment, upon which I cannot linger now, though it would be worthy of interest. One day we were together and when she was at work on organic chemistry, she broke off, and looking at me with beaming eyes, said: "Here it is now! I do understand!" She then got up and went away, calling out aloud: "Father, father! My mind has opened!" I, not then knowing the girl's history, was astonished and agitated. She had taken her father's hand, and was saying: "Now I can tell you, yes, yes; I did not know what it meant before; my mind has opened." The joy of father and daughter and their union at that moment made me think of the joys and wellsprings of life which we destroy by enslaving the intelligence.

Indeed, every intellectual conquest is a wellspring of joy to our free children. This is the "pleasure" to which they are now most susceptible, and which makes them scorn lower pleasures; it is after having tasted of this that; our little ones despise sweetmeats, toys, and vanities.

It is this which makes them sublime to the eyes of those who contemplate them.

Their pleasure is that lofty pleasure which distinguish man from the brute, and can save us even from the desolation of grief and darkness.

When it is made a reproach to our method that it seeks to promote the "pleasure" of the child, and that this is immoral, it is the child and not the method which is insulted. For the essence of this reproach is the calumny against the child, who is considered by all as on a level with the beasts, and whose "pleasure" is supposed to lie solely in gluttony and idleness, and worse. But none of these could keep the child's "pleasure" alive for hours and days and years. It is only when he has laid hold on "humane pleasure" that he persists in it, and lives with a joy which is comparable to that of the young girl who ran to her father to proclaim the end of the darkness in which she had languished for years.

May it not perhaps be that those "crises," which are to-day but the intellectual illuminations of genius when it discovers a truth, represent a natural phenomenon of psychical life? May not the manifestation of the genius be but the manifestation of a "vigorous life," saved from perils by its exceptional individuality, and therefore itself alone capable of revealing the true nature of man? His type would then be the common one, and all men, in a greater or less degree, would seem to be of the same "species." The paths the child follows in the active "construction" of his individuality are indeed identical with those followed by the genius. His characteristics are absorbed attention, a profound concentration which isolates him from all the stimuli of his environment, and corresponds in intensity and duration to the development of spiritual activities. As in genius, this concentration is not without results, but is the source of intellectual crises, of rapid internal developments, and, above all, of an "external activity" which expresses itself in work.

We may say, then, that the genius is the man who has burst his bonds asunder, who has maintained his liberty, and who has upheld before the eyes of the multitude the standard of the humanity conquered by him.

Nearly all the manifestations of those men who liberated themselves from the external bondage of their times are to be noted in our children. Such, for instance, is that sublime "spiritual obedience," at present still unknown to the majority of mankind, with the exception of monks, who, however, often recognize it only in theory, and contemplate it only in the examples given by the saints; such again are those means necessary to the construction of a strong internal life which form part of the preparation for the cloistered life in the methodical "meditations" of those about to enter upon it. No persons, with the exception of monks, practise meditation. We can hardly distinguish meditation from methods for "learning" intellectually. We know, for example, that to read a great number of books consecutively, dissipates our powers and our capacity for thought; and that to learn a piece of poetry by heart means to repeat it until it is engraven on our minds: and that all this is not "meditation."

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7     Next Part
Home - Random Browse