THE PHYSICAL BASIS OF EDUCATION
What a piece of work is man! how noble in reason! how infinite in faculty! in form and moving how express and admirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world! the paragon of animals! And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust? —Hamlet
The assumptions of sciences
Philosophers, as we know, have long been busy in the endeavour to arrive at a proper understanding of the relation between knowledge and existence. The profoundest question that can be offered for solution is the exact meaning of the words I Am, and I Know. But, like other special sciences, psychology begins, so to speak, lower down in the hierarchy of systematised knowledge. It takes things for granted which on the strictest grounds of philosophy have to be proved. As a natural science, it assumes that matter exists quite outside of and independent of the mind that perceives it. The science of physics has its own assumptions, and chemistry and physiology theirs in their turn, the one accepting the data supplied by others. Psychology assumes the existence of thoughts and feelings, and assumes that by means of these thoughts and feelings, or states of consciousness, we can know other things.
Relations of mental and physical life
Now the psychologists show us that, as Professor James says, mental life exists primarily and at bottom for the sake of action that preserves the life of the organism. It is an endeavour to adjust our inner to our outer relations. There is no mental condition which is not accompanied or followed by some kind of bodily change obvious or concealed. If, then, teachers can get some sort of guidance in the endeavour to infer one from the other, to interpret bodily signs in their relation to mental activity, and to forecast in some measure the effects of mental activity on the body, it is clear that their task can be performed with a certitude otherwise unattainable. Of course the least experienced of us is accustomed to make some such inferences unhesitatingly; they are part of the common stock of every-day knowledge. We know well for instance the physical signs of Anger—the convulsed hand, the flushed face, the corrugated forehead, and so on; Fear, too, and the rest, bring with them equally unmistakeable signs. But the physical changes associated with most states of the mind are so complicated and so obscure, that the teacher must needs place himself in the hands of the physiologist, and do what he can to learn from physiology what it has to tell him about brain action. He may at all events by this means be able to interpret the signs of physical distress or defect so intelligently as to save himself useless labour and spare his pupil (or patient) useless pain; his judgements will be more accurate and therefore more humane.
The physiologist tells us that with every state of consciousness there is associated a change of some sort in the brain, and the brain is the centre or register of the “voluntary” nervous system. The teacher does well, therefore, to get some idea of the way in which the nervous system puts us in communication with the outer world.
Brain exercise is a condition of health
Let us note some of the practical uses to which the teacher can apply this kind of knowledge. First of all, taking it in its most general aspect, the hygiene of the effort to learn: why should the effort to acquire knowledge conduce to health? Why, indeed, is it necessary to health? The reason is this: that the brain does not grow except under the conditions of exercise; the stimulation of the nervous system, so long as it is not beyond the degree at which recuperation is possible, tends to make it strong, not to weaken it. When the nerve is quickened, something is “discharged,” a chemical change or some sort of “combustion” takes place in the nerve-cells. Under conditions of health, this something is replaced by some other thing like itself but of better quality. There is growth, as we say.
The best educated are the healthiest
The mere savage, however fine a fellow he may be physically, is not so truly healthy as a well-developed member of a society in a high state of civilisation; he lacks balance. He may have the acutest senses and a very powerfully developed frame, capable of resisting most forms of physical hardships surpassingly well. But he is still inferior to the more delicate civilised man in that the civilised man can resist a larger number of unfavourable influences and in greater complexity; he would remain sane and healthy where the savage would be lost. He is not so subject to the sudden outbursts of fury which are signs that a man’s inner life has ceased to be in safe relation to the world outside. It is a fact that there is more insanity amongst uncivilised peoples than amongst others, and that although the population of civilised Europe has grown so enormously, insanity has not, happily, maintained the same proportion even though there is a tendency to reckon as insanity smaller aberrations from the normal than heretofore. But more than this; there is less insanity among the educated classes, as they are called, than among the uneducated, less in town districts than in the country, less among persons who use the their brains well than among those who use them little. And all this is akin to the fact that the imperfectly educated human being cannot look so far ahead as the one who has been accustomed to investigate cause and effect farther, to follow out acts to their consequences and to provide against contingencies.
Education of the senses not enough
Again, if education stopped short with the senses, and if mankind were not driven by its desires and inquisitiveness to argue about and infer from sensations, we should be hardly better than acutely sensitive animals. Somebody has said that if we had had the fine olfactory sense of the dog, the keen sight of the eagle, and so on, we should not have felt the call to cultivate our apperceptive powers, to generalise our knowledge in due order; and we should have remained monkeys in stead of being related to the angels.
The warning against excessive exercise of function
The physiological bearing of brain action conveys another warning to the teacher. We have seen that exercise is indispensable to growth, and indeed to existence; we know what is meant by the maxim that practice makes perfect. Up to a certain point the repetition of the functional activities of the nerve makes other similar activities easier. But this may be overdone. The discharge of energy may be so persistent that no time is given for repair, for the replacement of those materials in the tissues which, combined with oxygen from the air, are the source of this energy; or incessant repetition may make the loss of energy automatic and therefore involuntary. We must not therefore expect good results from too long and strong a dose of the same study. Moreover, physiology teaches us that the store of mental energy available is strictly limited, and that it can be exhausted not only by excessive persistence in the same study, but also by excess in a variety of studies.
Within limits, of course, a change of study, by setting up different combinations, is really a kind of rest. But the operations of mental combinations, the result of movement, of sensation, and so forth, all take place in the same continuous brain cortex. You cannot play any game, athletic or other, without associating mental effort with movements; and the consequent inference on which the teacher must take action is this—that if pupils are having a great deal of violent exercise we must not expect from them strictly intellectual work of the best quality or in great quantity. A long run is a severe strain, not on the heart alone, but on the brain; and there should be a very substantial interval of rest between such an effort and any kind of severe brain work; it is rest that repairs. In schools this form of error is less likely to cause distress among the younger pupils than among the older ones. Young children are not usually so emulous as their elders; they certainly do not look as far ahead and are not therefore so ready to postpone present comfort for future gain. They more readily give way to the sleepiness and lassitude by which nature calls upon them to allow their nerves the rest that is needed for their recuperation. But in the upper forms of schools and in the universities the mischief is very considerable, and there is some risk of its spreading from men to women. Many a fine fellow has acted on the presumption that a candle can be safely burnt at both ends; and in not a few of such cases the penalty has been exacted years after the offences have been committed. Men have got into their thirties, perhaps forties, as scholars and athletes, and have then become confirmed invalids.
But all these considerations having been duly weighed, it is still true that exercise of all the powers, intellectual as well as bodily, is necessary for health. It remains however, for the teacher to note and make sure of the signs of distress and defect.
The observation of distress and defect
The apparatus needed for this purpose can be as elaborate as the observer may choose to make it. But, undoubtedly, the simpler it is, the better able will the teacher be to take his pupil unawares and therefore in the best position for giving useful indications of his real condition. At this point we will deal solely with such observations as any teacher may make with the least ostentation, not with the view of discovering general laws of development, but of detecting nervous incapacity, temporary or permanent, in individuals.
It is much to be wished that every school weighed and measured its pupils three or four times each year, or even at the beginning and end of each term. The loss of weight in relation to size would at once give the teacher a hint that his pupil was suffering from defective nutrition in some form or another, and he would ask himself whether there was any thing in the school work or the boy’s work out of school to account for the unhealthy condition. In a boarding-school, the school doctor would be consulted; in the case of a day-school boy, the parents would be notified and warned; and the teacher himself should “go easy” with the case. In any circumstances it is certain that when disproportion of age, weight, and size is noticed, a pupil may be suffering either from some constitutional weakness (which would need special and continuous treatment) or from insanitary surroundings, from overwork, or work ill-distributed, from insufficient sleep, from underfeeding, or from too rapid development.
One of the most systematic and patient of observers and one of the most helpful of writers in the study of children is Dr. Francis Warner, whose book The Study of Children, contains a short schedule of heads under which a teacher may usefully group his notes on each pupil. His classification does not exclude other schemes, but it is particularly valuable to the young teacher because facts of connexion have already been ascertained showing how the phenomena, familiar to the physiologist, can be turned to immediate account in the class-room and in the management of pupils by the teacher. And these established physiological facts are far more important to the young teacher than any inferences he may himself be tempted to make on the grounds of a limited experience and comparatively untrained observation. He should certainly first learn to base his observations on ascertained physiological truths.
It is especially important to remark that the changing conditions of brain action under stimulus are infallibly indicated by movements of various parts of the body. Our scales and our measuring-tape, our more or less exact views of facial and general bodily symmetry, may give us a good beginning on which we can enter deliberately, at our pleasure. But above all things we are to bear in mind that it is by the rapid and exact observations of movements that we can determine the modes of defective mental action under our eyes; and under the general term “movements” we are to include all changes of posture, balance, gestures, and so on. Furthermore it its to be expected that the inferences will be easier to make in dealing with childhood than they can be in dealing with adolescent or adult life, for the obvious reason that young children are less self-conscious, less likely to control abnormal movements by spontaneous effort.
The discipline of movements
And there is another and most valuable reflection arising from this fact; and that is, that the discipline of movements, or as we may say, of dexterities, is of the highest value not merely as indicating but as stimulating corresponding mental action. While the mind is most plastic, most easily biassed, as it is in youth, the senses and reactions in movement should be cultivated so as to work harmoniously and develop as fully as possible, not for their own sake merely, nor for the products of their activity, but because up to a certain point it is demonstrable that their development is connected with brain development, and their healthy condition is indispensable to health of brain, just as inability to perform certain movements correctly is at all ages a test of specific mental defect. Those who are familiar with the work of Froebel, will remember that Froebel lays it down that children should actually handle the geometrical and other objects which are placed before them. It is not enough that they should use their eyes alone. The senses must be co-ordinated, and co-ordination is effected, an adjustment is made, in the brain acting as the “clearing-house” or central receiver and transmitter for the messages brought by hand and eye. The sensation of touch pure and simple without what is called the muscular sense, which is really an inference, is of little use to us, so children must touch and see and handle at the same moment if the circle of co-ordination is to be made completed and their knowledge is to be made serviceable.
The manual dexterities and co-ordination of brain and limbs
The manual dexterities, as we can see without much trouble, involve more than the exercise of themselves. The single movement or single series of movements, however accurate, does not rise to its proper complexity as a means of intellectual education until many senses are involved and until the adaptation of means to ends is a process involving a multitude of steps. The little chicken which almost from birth can co-ordinate its motions so accurately as to snatch up unerringly a morsel of food at one peck has reached a state of development relatively much farther on than the child of six months which with difficulty finds its way to it own mouth; for the human being struggles towards the power of co-ordinating movements at every stage by complicated intellectual processes, although at later stages of development he may provide for contingencies so far off as to be almost inconceivable. So the systematic teacher of little children keeps her eye on the simultaneous cultivation of as many senses as can be compassed in one exercise.
We may be sure, then, that in carefully cultivating the powers of children to do things with their hands we are also increasing their powers of thinking; it is not a purely mechanical capacity with which we are enabling them to endow themselves, but we are stimulating capacity to grow. Let us look at it again. The healthy child must be doing something. There are no such things as idle hands attached to a well-developed young human being, and the mischief that Satan is said to provide is merely misdirection of healthy, that is holy, energy. The young body, with blood bounding in every artery and life exuberant in every nerve, cannot keep still. The endeavour to repress activity of this kind altogether is in truth a violent upsetting of the whole life-system. But activity can be most usefully directed, and this is done by sympathetic co-ordination. By all means, let the child Do, but let him, as Froebel puts it, Learn by doing.
With this inborn activity a young child possesses also large powers of imitation. “Make-believe” is a very large part of every little one’s life. Play, said Froebel, is positively the child’s highest development, and Robert Louis Stevenson was strictly accurate, and a Froebelian of the deepest dye, in regarding it as the real part of the child’s life; it is at all events the freest exertion of all his powers. It is not, we must note, the mere mimicry practised by the monkey; for the human being not only imitates, but is, for the time, the thing he imitates. This is exactly illustrated by Professor Bain’s statement that whenever a person shows “spontaneous and unprompted facility” he will also in the same respect be “imitative or acquisitive”.
It is difficult to believe that there ever existed a prejudice against play as a waste of time, a degradation of a human being meant for better things. No particular school of pedagogy however has had a monopoly of this view. Repression and silence have too often been the guiding principles of teachers who have otherwise laid mankind under very great obligations. Take for instance, the Constitutions of the Monastery of Port Royal, a typical case. On every page of the regulations the reader is struck by the constant injunction of silence. And a truly great and good English clergyman at the end of the eighteenth century would spend hours on his knees, they tell us, because his little pupils, do what he would, continued to sin by playing.
We cannot doubt that the right view of play was that which was propounded to teachers and to the world first of all by Froebel. He taught that in childhood play is the highest manifestation of human development; the child cannot possibly do better than play well. Play is, in fact, to him what the work of art is to the grown man. In play, his capabilities find freest and happiest and consequently highest expression. It is therefore the duty of teacher and parent to watch and guide the child, with as little ostentation as possible, at least no less in this than in other forms of activity.
Every living creature, we may be sure, has its play, its delighted exercise of the powers which it possesses in finest condition; but the child differs from other animals in being much slower in development, and therefore in power of co-ordination. He is helpless for a much longer time, having regard to the vigilance and knowledge necessary to save him from harm. It is therefore the duty of the teacher (or educator) to provide above all things the freedom, and then the protection and guidance, which are indispensable for the development of youth.
People who know little of the real bearing of organised education as a preparation for life find it easy to make merry at the expense of Kindergarten methods, and it is true enough that for various reasons, not always under the control of the teachers, we too often find the shell without the kernel, we see the procedure of the Kindergarten “system” without the inspiration of its founder, aimless mechanical drill and chatter, alternating with romps. But the principle and the main practice too are sound because they are based upon demonstrable facts of human development.
Here of course we are dealing with play and games only; but it may be observed in passing that in a reasonably organised Kindergarten, progress, as measured by ordinary standards of attainment, may be apparently slow; but afterwards, in the higher classes, the children who have passed through the Froebelian course, sometimes after an awkward pause, occasionally move most markedly in advance of those of their comrades who have had no such advantages.
The dangers of Kindergarten
There is some foundation, however, for the complaints made against the Kindergarten, to the effect that progress is often slower than it need be. For the formalist teacher iterates and reiterates the teaching steps, works with unintelligent rigidity through the prescribed stages, and displays an undue fondness for such mere machinery, not necessarily devised by Froebel, as answers in “complete sentences,” and the like. Any whole “system” should be taken as a type, not as an iron prescription. Froebel was a teacher, not a policeman.
The special dangers of what are understood to be Kindergarten methods lie, at all events with English children, in excessive interference and governance. It is sometimes forgotten that Froebel and his most eager followers have dealt with racial, social, and political conditions materially different from those with which their English and American disciples have to reckon. The little English or American child is not quite the same as the little German. He does not live in such an atmosphere of regulation, of police. Personal freedom is more surely bred in his bones; he is a more restless animal generally, and is less amenable to uniformed restraint. There is such a thing as a national or racial character, and the Anglo-Saxon character is not marked by patience under methodical external coercion, however brought to bear. The little German quite naturally passes from the drill and direction of the Infant School to the military organisation of which he is henceforth a part, and he finds his place the more unhesitatingly and uncomplainingly in the military machine if he is already well drilled and bent in a well-defined direction. But the little English or American boy, passing from his first school, finds himself not in another sort of well-ordered though more extensive garden, but rather in a sort of bracing wilderness through which from the very first he is required to make a good deal of his path for himself. The rigid Kindergarten training therefore may make him figure too often amongst his less methodically trained comrades as a little “prig”. Examples have not been wanting.
Of course Kindergarteners will not admit that this is a necessary or even a common result of the close application of the methods of Froebel; but it is certainly a common result of the too rigid practice of teachers who take Froebelian prescriptions as an inspired gospel from which no jot or tittle can be safely omitted. The remedy, of course, is to cultivate Froebel’s teaching in the spirit rather than in the letter; to regard the cycle of “gifts,” “occupations,” and so forth, as variable according to the teacher’s own conviction of their sequence, adaptability, and propriety. And the young teacher especially should be sent to the fountain-head, to the great archetypal books, —Rousseau’s, Froebel’s, Locke’s, Plato’s—for inspiration; on the understanding that the reasoning and reflections and enthusiasm of the famous reformers are of far more value as inspiration and direction than any of their formulas, or systems, or prescriptions.
The play of older pupils and the morale of games
We return to the consideration of play. We must not forget there are other young people besides the little child from three years of age to twelve, which seems to be the period of life exclusively regarded as educable by some writers on education. Yet without doubt it is easier to theorise with profit about the younger than it is about the older pupil, because the mental and moral problems become more complicated with increasing age. We can speak with much more certainty about the body-action and brain-action of the less sophisticated child. Problems of applied psychology are simpler in such cases, and results are more immediately manifest. For this reason, if for no other, a teacher in any grade, from the infant school to the university, would do well to begin his practice with young children.
As young people grow they organise games for themselves, and the wise teacher encourages as much as possible any initiative that may discover itself. If a boy or girl can invent a game, by all means let the game be invented. On the other hand if a game is played on a recognised plan, let the rules be followed with the greatest scruple, the observer interposing only with due regard to the age of the pupils. It is obviously necessary to deal with very young boys or girls more directly, but after they grow older, to leave the exercise of coercive influence and the imposition of penalties to the young people themselves, that is, to public opinion. For it is in wisely ordered school games that the teacher finds his opportunity to cultivate a respect for fairness and a reasonable sensitiveness to public censure of injustice.
Their value as discipline and “recreation”
Games are play organised, and are probably best when they permit entire freedom of individual action within such well-defined larger limits as are necessary to secure common action. Drill and gymnastics are not so useful for purposes of “recreation” as football or cricket, because the movements in the former are strictly prescribed and allow exceedingly little scope for individuality, whereas football and cricket throw ample responsibility on the individual for personal initiative unrestrained by any considerations beyond “playing the game,” obedience to a limited set of regulations, not more than are indispensable for successful co-operation. It is a great general gain to the nervous system, and thence to the whole bodily and mental constitution, that uniform currents should be disturbed, that mechanical habit should be broken, that the power to co-ordinate brain and limb by sudden decision should be kept alive, active, alert.
The games as ends in themselves. Order in Disorder
Games are therefore not mere “exercise” or gymnastics; they fulfil a far wider function. It is greatly in their favour that they have no conscious hygienic or utilitarian purpose; if they acquire this, they begin to lose their real value. They should be an end in themselves.
Victory is properly rewarded by a crown of parsley; as soon as virtus, the quality of manliness, begins to be rewarded more substantially, it begins to be corrupted. The very essence of a game is its detachment from any motive beyond the mere winning. Again, “exercise” as gymnastics, may, and generally must, limit its beneficial operations to particular muscles or powers; games develop all and any. The very element of apparent disorderliness, which has worried those foreigners who see nothing but the haphazard and random surface of our national games, is exactly that part which is most useful, for it cultivates the habit of rapid concentration of purpose and co-ordination of movements to secure an immediate end.
To sum up then, good games should refresh or “recreate,” should develop as many bodily powers as possible, should train muscles to rapid voluntary movements in no invariable order, should have no conscious utilitarian purpose while in progress.
An honest organised or combined game is the basis of a good working barbarian conception of duty; of selfish achievement vigorously and pleasurably sacrificed to the community; for an advantage which is not material, but merely for the delight of living vigorously and healthily.
“Exercise” and gymnastics in the second place; the uses of gymnastics
“Exercise” and gymnastics have their places, but they are formal, hygienic, curative, corrective, regulative; and useful as they must be, have a distinctly smaller moral value, and are therefore of less importance in education than games. Some training in gymnastics and drill is undoubtedly good for all; it is certainly profitable to teach people, old and young, how to move together at the word of command, and in a school it is almost indispensable for good order. Gymnastics should be devised and supervised by qualified persons, and should be directed to correct bodily defects pointed out by medical examination. But great harm has very often been done leaving young men and young women to use the gymnasium and its appliances at their own indiscretion. A gymnasium which is not properly watched may do far more harm than good. Boys and girls will strain themselves, will persist in a difficult exercise till they become “silly”; they will proceed directly to gymnastics after heavy meal, and in other ways turn to their permanent loss what is meant for their benefit.
Gymnastics under proper conditions may be said to be directly useful to the teacher in three chief ways; first as affording opportunity for observing and discovering certain physical defects and even defects of character; secondly, as a means of ensuring symmetrical development; thirdly—a point of special importance in dealing with women—as a practical protest and protection against the fashionable crazes which encase people within garments that cramp natural activity and lower vitality.
Games for girls
Distinctions must of course, be made between the games played by girls and those played by boys. To begin with, we must not forget that there are fundamental differences of physical formation; thus a blow from a hard cricket ball on the chest is a far more serious matter with a girl than a boy. There are differences of physical capacity and endurance; boys bear up more easily than girls against a prolonged strain. Moreover, girls “make-believe” at a heavier cost than boys; their intentness more easily passes into anxiety and excessive vehemence; they take the loss of a game more to heart. This last is, indeed, a defect which the passing of time may do something to cure. When the “race of women” has acquired an older tradition of corporate activity, they will learn to care more for the game and less for the result as it affects themselves. Girls’ games should, for these reasons, be lively and spirited and short. If there are necessary differences between the games of boys and girls respectively, the questions involved are of even greater importance to the latter than to the former, for they have a long lee-way of tradition to make up, they are less well trained to associated or corporate action, they tend more to become victims of excessive sensibility, and they are in more imperative need of protection against monstrous fashions.
Teachers and games
To what extent teachers shall take part in games is a question that hardly admits of a satisfactory general answer. The quality and extent of interference must be determined chiefly by the age of the boys and girls concerned; the younger the pupils, the safer interference will be. But at all times it is pretty certain that the teacher should leave as much as possible of the organisation and administration of games to the boys or girls themselves; he should remain behind in such matters, as a court of final appeal and an occasional discreet monitor. Ostentatious supervision is always undesirable; it debilitates pupils and it adds quite unnecessarily to the duties and responsibilities of the teacher. But the lively interest of the master or mistress in school games is a most healthy influence. It shows the teacher to be human, it affords him a fine field for supplementary observation, it stimulates “loafers,” and is a security for fairness. For all these reasons a teacher may take part in games, regard of course being had to the maintenance of a proper balance of weight in contests.
What games shall be preferred?
If there arises any question as to the kind of games that are to be preferred for school use, it will probably be found wise to consider principally three conditions; which games can be played in the open air; which can include the largest number of actual players; which cultivate the largest number of physical dexterities.
Let us remind ourselves that every free harmless movement having no conscious utilitarian object is play. Everyone must have noticed the habitually loud voice of the healthy child; this is a natural and necessary gymnastic, and when it has to be controlled and coerced in the schoolroom into dove-like gentleness, something is lost which must be compensated in the playground. The play of the young has its exact counterpart in the work of art of the grown man; the child’s play has no conscious end, the greatest works of art have no formulable “moral”. And yet both play and works of art are the finest expressions of self or personality of child and man each in his sphere; and unless they conduce to healthiness, that is holiness, in its simplest and original sense, they are not merely unmoral but vicious. We may well, then, think equally seriously about our children’s play and the things that delight ourselves in our maturity.
Play should be varied
We have seen that there can be too much imitation; perpetual repetition relaxes the power of control over the mechanism of nerve discharge; every now and then, therefore, processes must be varied and the capacity for initiation must be called upon to assert itself. Left to themselves, individual children should be constantly devising new play for themselves. The teacher’s interference is wanted chiefly to suggest games in common, and to see that these are played fairly.
Inquisitiveness and Interest
Besides the spontaneity of action in the child and his tendency to imitation, both mechanical and imaginative or “make-believe,” the wise teacher of the young will recognise also the child’s desire to know, his inquisitiveness. The mischievousness that Satan is supposed to suggest is often truly the prompting of this most profitable of human instincts. It may be merely a variety of the inclination to get possession of things, to make them one’s own. But in any case it is very distinctly serviceable. The teacher of children remarks furthermore that the individual child exhibits the tendency noticed amongst primitive or child-like people to be attracted by striking colours rather than to be interested in forms. Every one knows how the infant turns to the light and, later on, grasps at bright-coloured things; this preference for colour is a valuable indication to the teacher as to the earliest means of interesting children and inducing them to reason. Colour is less abstract than form, and therefore it is an instrument of education available at an earlier stage.
It would be improper to conclude this part of our subject without some consideration of the place of manual training in school above the kindergarten age. Such instruction is warmly advocated by high authorities on several grounds, some of great importance.
The close relation of manual dexterity to early development is established beyond a doubt, and for young children of all grades and every status “sloyd” or the like seems to be essential. By its help not only does the brain develop better, but much is also gained by accustoming hands and eyes to work together merely as a preparation for those everyday duties in which an awkward man or woman is at a clear disadvantage. Furthermore, many a lad who would be helpless before the excessive bookishness of our school curriculum, who would pass and be classed as a dull fellow on his merits in relation to the ordinary work, discovers capacity and develops self-respect as soon as he is set to work in which his hands and his eyes have liberty of expression. For the best thing that education does is to give us the power of expressing ourselves.
Nor is it a small matter that prestige is given to manual work by inclusion in a Time Table, for this plants a respect for it in a boy’s mind which no mere preaching of the dignity of labour can ever produce. The achievements which the actual experience of early life shows us to be difficult and honourable we appraise most truly when we are old. The contempt for physical labour is a kind of “priggishness” from which nothing but contact with labour will ever cure us; for the true mark of the “prig” is an inordinate and exclusive respect for the narrow range of things within his own experience and capacity. From the practical and industrial point of view this consideration is of great moment; for, as it is, we tend to attract people more and more from the manual to the clerkly arts, a profound misfortune for crafts and professions alike.
On the other hand, it should not be forgotten that manual training is of far more consequence for the primary and higher primary than for the secondary school; for those more certainly destined to industrial pursuits than for those who are to be organisers of industries and members of professions; for those whose games are few and rough and practised only for a short period and at rare intervals than for those whose training in skilled games is elaborate and continuous. Manual training seems to be essential to a proper primary course, and to be very useful as part of the curriculum of a secondary school.
The problem of interest which passes beyond the simple consideration of the use of the hands and eyes in early youth, is properly considered as discipline in instruction. Here we must be content with the proof that the training of the senses and the consequent employment of the tendencies to spontaneous activity are indispensable conditions for health, not merely bodily health, but mental and even moral health. And if we once make this point clear to ourselves, it will be easier for us to understand and to admit that the pupil, and therefore his education, must be considered as a whole. We get here into touch, not for the first time, with the doctrine of concentration or connectedness in education.
The teacher uses movements to cultivate mental capacities
For the teacher must recognise in his pupil the co-existence and the need for the co-ordination of those three chief states of the mind which have already claimed some of our attention—feeling, knowing, and willing. The end of feeling is that we are something or in some desired condition. The end of the impulse to know is an understanding of the real relations between things; the truth, as we say. The end of willing is to do, or to make something.
Now in furtherance of the pupil’s health the good teacher uses these possibilities of the mind in conjunction with the unrestrainable impulses to movement in such a way as to make them all work together to a good result. Feelings are successively stimulated and regulated or repressed so as to induce the pupil to feel, find out, and to act in accordance with right reason. The child is to learn that he can be what he likes, know what he likes, and make what he likes—if he will only find out the way.
Psychological observation and difficulties
There has of late been a very great increase in the interest taken in the close and detailed study of childhood, and that on what are probably very good grounds. Psychology suffers the serious disadvantage of being in the main an introspective study. We learn about the operations of mind in general mostly by watching the operations of our own minds, and we may, of course, be systematically making observations that are vitiated from the first by our own inability to see ourselves without some sort of predispositions or prejudices. We see too often what we expect to see. One of us must think differently from everyone and any one else, for the simple reason that he is himself and no one else. We may use precisely the same words, but the same words may have, nay, they must have, a different meaning to each several mind. It is possible, on the other hand, for me to learn a good deal by observing other people, and by comparing what I see in other people with what I know to be in my own mind; and by comparing notes again with others making similar observations, I can get some sort of rough agreement. But there are still difficulties. The normal man or woman or any child above infancy becomes self-conscious as soon as we begin our operations, and even at ordinary times the adult is a bundle of reserves and concealments. There are however many observations and experiments partly physical, partly psychological, that can be made without exciting excessive or irrelevant responsiveness on the part of those whom we are observing. We can, for instance, measure the extent of a man’s responsiveness to touch or to sound by arranging with him standards and means, though even here the tension of self-consciousness may seriously interfere with the justness of our conclusions.
Medical men very often draw their most valuable lessons from unusual or abnormal cases. They can judge best of the tendency of a disease by examining a case in which its operations have been unchecked. So the experimenter in psychology may learn most valuable facts from the observations of persons who are imperfect or undeveloped. It is not possible nor perhaps desirable for all of us to make investigations into cases of arrested or diseased development—imbeciles or idiots—but we have the developing man and woman with us eternally in the persons of the pupils in our schools. We can make observations on them because we have them with us for considerable periods and under circumstances that present them to us with reasonably frequent opportunities of finding them off their guard, and of making proper allowances for vigilant self-consciousness.
Observations are one thing, experiments another. To perform experiments safely and unerringly we must know a good deal by way of preliminary about the action of the nervous system, or we must at all events have the word of the physiologist for the justification of the inference that we are drawing. In the meantime the individual teacher can profitably make careful observations in detail. Remembering what has been said about the prior claim of observations tending to illustrate and confirm the relations which physiologists have proved to exist between physical and mental development, the young teacher gives himself excellent original practice by setting aside a page or two in a book to record the doings and inferred characteristics of each member of the class he meets regularly. By taking these preparatory steps he learns at least what are the facts that first strike himself as noteworthy, and he will forthwith endeavour to tabulate and explain them. He may then proceed to organise his investigations more systematically, perhaps adopting some of the schemes which have been propounded by such authorities as Dr. Warner or Professor G. Stanley Hall or Professor Sully.
For after the success of one’s first endeavours to work out something for oneself, time is saved and rapid progress is made by finding out, from some one who has gone before, what to look for.
Professor Sully’s list
Professor Sully once made an appeal for information as to specific errors in teaching, compiled, we may presume, by the teachers themselves. How good it would be for us (if we had the time) to record our own failures under such heads as he suggests:—“Misjudgments as to children’s previous knowledge and mental capacity, as seen in springing the unknown upon unprepared minds, assigning too easy or too difficult tasks, etc., (b) failure to recognise the natural forces and tendencies of the childish mind, as seen in their characteristic ways of imagining and reasoning, (c) inadequate recognition of the special lines of the children’s interest and curiosity, and more generally errors arising from imperfect sympathy with child nature, (d) errors having their source in a slovenly and unintelligent handling of language, talking over children’s heads, and so forth; (e) errors connected with questioning, such as telling children what might be brought out by questioning, and the converse error—putting unsuitable questions—and so forth; (f) errors dealing with the feelings of children, including mistaken appeals to them and equally mistaken neglect of them; (g) faults of government, discipline, mistaken attempts to correct and influence them”.
It is clear that we may gain very distinct advantage out of such general and systematised study. We may at least accumulate facts which sooner or later will be the basis of useful generalisation. Indeed some discoveries have already been made. For instance, we have learnt not only to detect great fatigue, but its early and otherwise unnoticed beginning. The tests of Dr. Warner are strictly of this character, though some call for a considerable knowledge of the nervous system before certitude can be attained.
We might, perhaps, roughly divide the subject matter of our investigations into observations of conditions displaying themselves in clear bodily manifestations and observations of the more obscure phenomena not so obviously connected with the bodily health. Under the first head we can test children’s touch, sight, hearing, breathing power, power of movement, general nerve power. The study of the power of touch, of skin sensibility, is of course often indispensable in the investigation of general defect of nerve power, and is one of the forms of observation that require, for great exactness, a considerable knowledge of physiology, delicate apparatus, and great acuteness and experience in the observer, but there are certain rough tests that any teacher may himself apply, as Dr. Bryan has shown in the United States Education reports of 1893-4.
For instance without any apparatus, we may secure useful results in this particular by touching a part of the child which he cannot see (the back of the head is suggested usually), and then requiring him in turn to touch the same spot. We may be able by this or other such tests combined with ordinary schoolroom experience to find out whether those whose sensitiveness of skin is least are also different from their comrades in other particulars.
After Touch, take Sight. We cannot of course, unless we are trained oculists, arrive at a knowledge of the cause and extent of visual imperfection in our pupils; but we can, by systematic tests, get valuable information and warning. Any one can learn to use a test-card in order to discover whether a pupil’s vision is sufficiently near the normal to need no special attention in the arrangement of school work, places, and the like. There is always the black-board if we have no test-card.
Hearing in its turn can be judged by ordinary, we may say domestic, experiments, the ticking of a watch, or a whisper, the pupil of course being blindfolded and the watch being held nearer to one ear than to the other.
The Breathing tests help us often to the first hint as to general defect not of body only, but of mind. Perfect health requires that breath should usually be taken through the nose and that the inhalation should not stir the breast muscles alone. Any departure from the standard type, especially in young children, should at once put the parent and teacher on the watch. The Motor Test, or tests as to power of movement, include also observations on Balance and Postures. We begin by separating the obviously ill-balanced and defective-looking from the symmetrical; for when two sides of the body do not move alike, the difference is commonly due to the diminished force or energy of brain. We note what children are slower than others in obeying the word of command; we may even note, in examining individuals, the interval between command and obedience. Signs of brain action, says Dr. Warner, are best noticed in the movements of the digits rather than in the larger parts of the body; or in the behaviour of the mouth, the forehead, the eye-balls, the eyelids, and so on. The mouth should not twitch, the forehead should not corrugate or twitch spasmodically, the iris of the eye should contract when the eyes are exposed to sudden light; the eye should move easily (the head being rigid) in pursuit of a travelling object. If we can associate these points with observations in the same cases of inattentiveness, poor memory, weak power of reasoning, small will power (or wilfulness), violence of temper, and the like, we shall have made observations of the highest value, both to ourselves and our pupils. It is entirely true, as has been said already, that it is in young children that nerve-signs can be detected most frequently; there is less concealment about the very young, and, besides, the nervously unfit are to some degrees weeded out before they can come into schools for older children. But no teacher should be without some sort of physiological guidance to enable him to interpret the commoner signs of distress and defect. Every teacher should be able to recognise the point at which his pupils are physically incapable of benefiting by work in the schoolroom, when allowances should be made, and what conditions of food, warmth, light, sleep, air, and rest, are necessary for mental health and healthy effort. He may not be able to control all these, but he must do what he can, and he may always find it in his power to mitigate the evil effects of pernicious circumstances which he cannot entirely alter.
For reference:— Prof. James’s Principles of Psychology; younger students will find his briefer Text-Book more convenient. Dr. Warner’s The Study of Children. Dr. Gowers in the Journal of Education, 1896, p.408. Froebel’s Education of Man. Herford’s Froebel, vol. i. H. Courthope Bowen’s Froebel. Dr. Dukes and Miss Welldon in Teaching and Organisation. Miss Dove in Work and Play in Girls’ Schools. Prof. Sully in The Journal of Education of Feb. 1895. Miss Louch in the same volume. Dr. W. L. Bryan in U.S. Reports, vol i., 1893-4. Oppenheim’s The Development of the Child. Butler’s Meaning of Education. Harris’s Psychologic Foundations of Education. Prof. Lloyd Morgan’s Psychology for Teachers. Baroness von Marenholz Bulow’s Child and Child Nature in Miss Christie’s translation. Mark’s Individuality and the Moral Aim in Education.