HOW WE MAKE USE OF THE MIND
“We hold that the child’s mind is no mere sac to hold ideas but is rather, if the figure may be allowed, a ‘spiritual organism’ with an appetite for all knowledge. This is its proper diet with which it is prepared to deal and what it is able to digest and assimilate as the body does food-stuffs.
“Such a doctrine as the Herbartian, that the mind is a receptacle, lays the stress of education, the preparation of food in enticing morsels, duly ordered, upon the teacher. Children taught on this principle are in danger of receiving much teaching but little knowledge; the teacher’s axiom being ‘what a child learns matters less than how he learns it.’”
[Note: this is Charlotte’s sarcasm]
Herbart’s psychology is extraordinarily gratifying and attractive to teachers who are, like other people, eager to magnify their office; and here is a scheme which shows how every child is a new creation as he comes forth from the hands of his teacher. The teacher learns how to do it; he has but to draw together a mass of those ideas which themselves will combine in the mind into which they effect an entrance, and, behold, the thing is done: the teacher has done it; he has selected the ideas, shewn the correlation of each with the other and the work is complete! The ideas establish themselves, the most potent rule and gather force, and if these be good, the man is made.
A valuable introduction to Herbartian Principles,…
by way of example, “A Robinson Crusoe Concentration Scheme,” a series of lessons given to children
First we have nine lessons in literature and language, the subjects being such as ‘Robinson climbs a hill and finds he is on an island.’ Then, ten object lessons of which the first is,—The Sea, the second, A Ship from Foreign Parts, the sixth, A Life-Boat, the seventh, Shell-Fish, the tenth, A Cave. How these ‘objects’ are to be produced one does not see. The third series are drawing lessons, probably as many, a boat, a ship, an oar, an anchor and so on. Then follows a series on manual training, still built upon ‘Robinson’; the first, a model of the sea-shore; then, models of Robinson’s island, of Robinson’s house and Robinson’s pottery. The next course consists of reading, an indefinite number of lessons,—‘passages from The Child’s Robinson Crusoe and from a general Reader on the matters discussed in object lessons. Then follows a series of writing lessons, “simple composition on the subject of the lessons … the children framed the sentences which the teacher wrote on the blackboard and the class copied afterwards.” Here is one composition,—“Robinson spent his first night in a tree. In the morning he was hungry but he saw nothing round him but grass and trees without fruit. On the sea-shore he found some shell-fish which he ate.”
Arithmetic follows with, no doubt, as many lessons, “many mental examples and simple problems dealt with Robinson”; the eighth and last course was in singing and recitation,—‘I am monarch of all I survey,’ etc. “The lessons lasted about forty-five minutes each.
[sarcasm]One easily sees what a wealth of material there is in the further development of the story.” One does indeed! The whole thing must be highly amusing to the teacher, as ingenious amplifications self-produced always are: that the children too were entertained, one does not doubt. The teacher was probably at her best in getting by sheer force much out of little: she was, in fact, acting a part and the children were entertained as at a show, cinema or other; but of one thing we may be sure, an utter distaste, a loathing, on the part of the children ever after, not only for ‘Robinson Crusoe’ but for every one of the subjects lugged in to illustrate his adventures.
The conscientious, ingenious and laborious teachers who produce these ‘concentration series’ are little aware that each such lesson is an act of lèse majesté.* The children who are capable of and eager for a wide range of knowledge and literary expression are reduced to inanities; a lifelong ennui is set up; every approach to knowledge suggests avenues for boredom, and the children’s minds sicken and perish long before their school-days come to an end. I have pursued this subject at some length because we, too, believe in ideas as the
proper and only diet upon which children’s minds grow. We are more in the dark about Mind than about Mars! We can but judge by effects, and these appear to point to the conclusion that mind is a ‘spiritual organism.’
But we are slow to learn because we have set up a little tin god of efficiency in that niche within our private pantheon which should be occupied by personality. We trouble ourselves about the uses of the young person to society. As for his own use, what he should be in and for himself, why, what matter? Because, say we, if we fit him to earn his living we fit him also to be of service to the world and what better can we do for him personally? We forget that it is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God shall man live,—whether it be spoken in the way of some truth of religion, poem, picture, scientific discovery, or literary expression; by these things men live and in all such is the life of the spirit. The spiritual life requires the food of ideas for its daily bread.
I will close this part of my subject by quoting certain of Mr. Fisher’s words of wisdom:—
“Now let me say something about the content of education, about the things which should be actually taught in the schools,
and I am only going to talk in the very broadest possible way. In my afternoon’s reading I came upon another very apposite remark in the letters of John Stuart Mill. Let me read it to you:—
‘What the poor, as well as the rich, require is not to be taught other people’s opinions, but to be induced and enabled to think for themselves. It is not physical science that will do this, even if they could learn it much more thoroughly than they are able to do.’
“ The young people of this country are not to be regenerated by economic doctrine or economic history or physical science; they can only be elevated by ideas which act upon the imagination and act upon the character and influence the soul, and it is the function of all good teachers to bring those ideas before them.
“I have sometimes heard it said that you should not teach patriotism in the school. I dissent from that doctrine. I think that patriotism should be taught in the schools. I will tell you what I mean by patriotism. By patriotism I do not mean Jingoism, but what I mean by patriotism is an intelligent appreciation of all things noble in the romances, in the literature and in the history of one’s own country. Young people should be taught to admire what is great while they are at school. And remember that for the poor of this country the school is a far more important factor than it is for the rich people of this country. . . .
“I say that I want patriotism in the larger sense of the term taught in the schools. Of course there is a great deal to criticise in any country, and I should be the last person to suggest that the critical faculty should not be exercised and trained at school. But before we teach children to criticise the institutions of their country, before we teach them to be critical of what is bad, let us teach them to recognize and admire what is good. After all life is very short; we all of us have only one life to live, and during that life let us get into ourselves as much love, as much admiration, as much elevating pleasure as we can, and if we view education merely as discipline in critical bitterness, then we shall lose all the sweets of life and we shall make ourselves unnecessarily miserable. There is quite enough sorrow and hardship in this world as it is without introducing it prematurely to young people.” . . . . .
In these days of high wages it may well happen that parents will be willing to let their children remain at school until the end of their seventeenth year, in which case they will be able to go on with the ‘secondary education’ which they have begun at the age of six and we shall see a new thing in the world. Every man and woman will have received a liberal education; life will no longer discount the ideas and aims of the schoolroom, and, if according to the Platonic saying, “Knowledge is virtue,” knowledge informed by religion, we shall see even in our own day how righteousness exalteth a nation.
*lèse majesté = French. To do wrong to majesty, offence against the dignity of a monarch; criminal in ancient Rome
 Across the Bridges, by A. Paterson.