EDUCATING FOR MASTERY THROUGH
HARRY LLOYD MILLER
Associate Professor of Education, Principal Wisconsin High School
University of Wisconsin
CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS
NEW YORK CHICAGO BOSTON
COPYRIGHT, 1922. BY
CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS
Printed in the United States of America
The aim of this book is to direct study toward mas-
tery through creative thinking. The following may
be looked upon as major aspects of the discussion: (i)
to present various illustrative procedures; (2) to pro-
vide a theory and a plan of organization of classroom
work in which this sense of mastery and power may be
gained by students; (3) to indicate ways of dealing with
individuals of varying achievements in the same group
so that each student instead of the class-group becomes
the educative unit; (4) to suggest shifts in emphasis
from the traditionally assigned lesson in which pupils
are asked to memorize or paraphrase and recite pas-
sively, to directed and controlled classroom activity
(study) in which all pupils are participating, reacting
agents all the time, and are moving forward, inspired by
the challenge of problem-setting situations; (5) to move
steadily from classified groups and group-mediocrity to
individual activity and the co-operating spirit; (6) to
propose as a guiding idea to all teachers that we give
boys and girls things to do in the doing of which they
will find out what we would like to have them know.
It is becoming increasingly evident that incalculable
sources of human power yet untapped await liberation
from repressions and inhibitions of traditional prac-
tices, and that we can confidently look for a new day
to dawn in education when we devise ways of reward-
ing students not for having brains but for using their
The point of departure, stated in the most recent
categories, is the proposition that, if one boy's I. Q.
(Intelligence Quotient) is 8/10, another 9/10, another
13/10, then it is the problem of education to develop
methods that will insure the full release of powers in
every individual. The boy with an index of 9/10
ought to be induced to do 9/10 of his algebra, language,
science (any study) with a real mastery. By the same
token, the girl with an index of 13/10 should be re-
warded for a corresponding achievement with nothing
short of 13/10 of her algebra, language, science, or any
other study. In spite of any assumptions about native
capacity, society will probably continue to reward the
individual who uses his "talent," be it one, two, or
I have had especially in mind upper-grade and high
school teaching in this discussion. Parents who par-
ticipate so generously in assisting their children in
getting the lessons assigned by teachers may well be
interested. The improvement of teaching is held to
be imperative in the inspiriting task of securing ade-
quate schooling for the youth of the nation. While
the discussion is centred about the problems of educa-
tion in the Junior and Senior High School, Normal
Schools and Colleges of Education will no doubt be
vitally interested in the issues presented and discussed.
Institutions for the training of teachers are now in a
strategic position to direct in productive ways the
movements for supervised study, co-operative learn-
ing, project-teaching, measurements of education, learn-
ing for mastery, and creativeness in thinking. All
these movements come to a focus in the habits of work
which boys and girls are developing.
The task of education, as I see it, is the production of
a people capable of thinking, and with a mental attitude
which is tolerant, fearlessly honest, expectant of change,
and creative. We need a mind capable of analyzing
problems in the light of facts. The High School age is
full of possibilities for the development of this proposi-
tion. In fact, if curiosity were not throttled, this view
might be accepted as thoroughly sound in every stage
We make the individual. Our public educational
institutions are not certifying agencies, maintained to
select the "called and chosen." The more hopeful
view is that democratic education is concerned with
the production of desirable changes and the prevention
of undesirable habits in all individuals. The great
teacher is the one able to stimulate curiosity, to foster
interest in the search for knowledge, and to develop
enthusiasm for the challenge of a problem. To guide
mental life is the supreme work of the real teacher.
Not the least significant factor in the development of
a new general method, if it is to be a major achieve-
ment, will be the removal of inhibitions to learning.
To a very large number of my colleagues and
other good teachers who have assisted me in working
out illustrative procedures and in developing many
phases of the thesis presented in this book I am under
lasting obligations. To Dr. F. M. McMurry, whose
book, "How to Study and Teaching How to Study,"
has been a constant challenge for more than a decade,
I am indebted in a very direct sense. He suggested
thinking periods, as a substitute for recitation periods.
We ought to be prepared now for the change.
H. L. M.
I. A MANUAL or SUGGESTIVE PROCEDURES . . i
II. ADMINISTRATION OF DIRECTING STUDY . . 59
III. THE LEARNING PROCESS ...... 90
IV. ORGANIZING PRINCIPLES AND DIFFERENTIALS 144
V. THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE WORK SPIRIT . 173
VI. APPLICATION OF THE SOCIAL PRINCIPLE . . 214
VII. INITIATIVE AND AUTHORITY 247
VIII. SUCCESSES AND FAILURES IN SCHOOL WORK . 281
IX. A SHIFT OF EMPHASIS 308
SUGGESTIVE HELPS AND PROBLEMS FOR TEACH-
ERS IN USING THIS BOOK 353
DEFINITION AND USE OF TERMS .... 367
A MANUAL OF SUGGESTIVE PROCEDURES
Most parents send their children to school in the
expectation that the teacher is in possession of some-
thing which is to be passed on or over to the pupils.
The majority of students attend lectures with the
same notion, and go to books to get what the author has
to say. The emphasis in the use of text-books is too
often along these same lines of absorption of subject-
matter. School architecture betrays a philosophy of
education; the furniture is arranged with a view to
instillation. The devotion to "learning" as the ac-
ceptance of facts is remarkable in this age of scientific
questing. The learner is almost universally regarded
as a recipient. Communicated facts, all along the
line in mere telling, in reading the book, in listening
to explanation, in sitting before the moving-picture
constitute the essential basis of "learning."
In the proposed procedure, not less, but vastly
greater, use will be made of communicated facts. The
situation to be avoided is a mass of unleavened dough.
What we need to do is to see to it that the salt has not
lost its savor. Enough should be done in the field of
self-discovered facts to hold in solution the great mass
of communicated material; enough work in self-dis-
2 DIRECTING STUDY
covery to create a genuine taste for analysis and to
develop appreciation of man's task in building our
A taught me mathematics [or any other thing for that] too
often means that A instilled into me some of the knowledge
he possessed, that he inoculated me with it. Surely that is
superficial and erroneous. The fundamental truth is that he
put me en rapport with mathematical processes, and such
success as was attained is properly described as my adjustment
to this quantitative aspect of reality and that of it to me. The
adjustment was not of me and him, but of me and this depart-
ment of truth. And the issue is vital. For we all know that
A is sometimes so imbued with the conception of instillation
that he is a positive hindrance to adjustment, well meaning
and enthusiastic though he may be.*
Montessori has made an invaluable contribution to
procedure for creative thinking. The child is brought
into vital relations with his problem. The form-
board, for example, is the subject-matter. The prisms
and cylinders of different sizes and the arrangement of
moulds into which these may be fitted constitute a
major part of the controlled environment. The child
faces his problem with something to do. If he places
the blocks in their respective moulds without difficulty,
then there is no challenge to thinking. Or, to put it
in another way, if there is no "fumbling and success,"
no thinking will be initiated. With Dewey, mind is
the instrument by which we overcome obstacles and
thinking takes place only when action is checked. If the
child comes to the placement of the last block
prism or cylinder and finds the form into which he
tries to place it too small, he is at once confronted
* Adamson, The Individual and the Environment, p. 28.
A MANUAL OF SUGGESTIVE PROCEDURES 3
with a real problem. What has been done must be
reconsidered. He may see at a glance that some
piece has been placed in a form too large for it; he may
have "to throw down the type," as it were, and start
all over, not once, but many times. In this situation
the business of the teacher is to watch with an Emer-
But the old education is impatient with watching.
The teacher or the book steps in and tells the child
just what to do, or actually does it for him. The
institutional teacher rearranges the pieces on the child's
form-board and shows the child how easy it is (for him
the schoolmaster). As hopefully expect the child to
learn to lace his own shoes by doing it for him everlast-
ingly, as to expect mastery and creative thinking as a
positive outcome of our conventional practices. Even
the questions (so-called) , intended to guide the pupil in
a learning situation, are so framed as to disclose the
answers, thereby destroying the basis for creative think-
The exponents of efficiency in education will urge
the necessity of economy and "results." It will be
shown that we do not have time to wait on the child's
procedure of "fumbling and success." Perhaps all
we need to say in this connection now is to suggest
that any move on the part of a teacher in the pupil's
dilemma in a learning situation should not check-
mate the pupil. In the interests of economy a par-
ticular stumbling-block may be removed. The aim
should be to assist the learner to further effort in the
solution of his problem. We shall attempt to indicate
in these illustrative procedures that where there is no
problem there is no thinking.
4 DIRECTING STUDY
For the past five years a class in Plant Life (gth and
loth grade Agriculture) in the University of Wisconsin
High School has been conducted under geared-up
Montessori principles and in accord with the procedure
suggested in Exercise I, page 6. The materials of the
course were set out in concrete forms and the question
as a factor of control was used with rare skill.
In every subject the materials of instruction should
be so fabricated as to enable the pupil to check up his
thinking. The objective means of checking up one's
work will not be so evident in all subject-matter as is the
case in the form-board; yet there are unrealized possi-
bilities of organization of both subject-matter and
procedure to this end. Much of the lack of intelli-
gence in school and college is due to lack of necessity
for rigid intellectual discipline and a definite responsi-
bility for whatever thinking goes on. The professions
of education and medicine may yield to the profession
of engineering in the following vivid and rather severe,
perhaps unfair, contrast:
Fortunately for us, most diseases are self-eliminating. But
it is natural for the physician to turn this dispensation of nature
to his adrantage and to intimate that he has cured John Smith,
when actually Nature has done the trick. On the contrary,
should John Smith die, the good doctor can assume a pious
expression and suggest that, despite his own incredible skill
and tremendous effort, it was God's (or Nature's) will that
John should pass beyond. Now the engineer is open to no such
temptation. He builds a bridge or erects a building, and dis-
aster is sure to follow any misstep in calculation or fault of
construction. Should such a calamity occur, he is presently
discredited and disappears from view. Thus he is held up to
a high mark of intellectual rigor and discipline that is utterly
unknown in the world the doctor [or the teacher] inhabits.
(Civilization in the United States, p. 455.)
A MANUAL OF SUGGESTIVE PROCEDURES 5
It is maintained that engineers head the list in in-
telligence, being rated 60 per cent higher than doctors.
The rating of doctors above (or below) teachers is not
disclosed, nor is it to be assumed that the work of
teachers can be checked up with such exactness as
that of the engineer. Nevertheless, the position is
maintained that the profession of teaching may be
made a challenge to intellectual rigor and discipline
comparable to the challenge that comes to the engi-
neer. This high ground is not to be reached by me-
chanical methods, by dismissing John Smith from the
class or school, by burying curiosity alive, nor by any
presuppositions about God's (or Nature's) will to the
effect that John can't learn it. With the engineer we
need to cultivate the courage and develop the tech-
nic to build bridges in the face of self-created obstacles.
It is perfectly possible to become so obsessed by the
instruments of education as to inhibit vital learning.
The specialist and the j^dant are both open to this
danger. The former tends to lead the pupil who is not
so tall as a rule into the narrow channel of speciali-
zation or within high protective tariff (pedagogical)
boundaries, and too often suffocates him among the
dust of detail, for the specialist is still able to see be-
yond the narrow margins of detail and catch some-
thing of the meaning of making the detail a witness
to a great and universal significance. The pedant, on
the other hand, too often superimposes subject-matter,
method, problem, "project," leaving the pupil an ever-
lasting minor. All of this is a disregard of the demo-
cratic ideal in procedure. The consent of the governed
is denied. We want to indicate in these suggestive
procedures a life basis, a plan of participation, a means
6 DIRECTING STUDY
of a shared life, a kind of mutuality in which the pupil
becomes a partner in a developing subject and in a
self-realizing, self-originating plan. The hope is that
even greater levy on facts, information, and data (ac-
credited subject-matter) will be made than is possible
in the recitation system or the lecture method.
Many suggestions in directing procedure for creative
thinking have been incorporated in the discussion.
The reader may loop them up in this connection as he
For point of departure. (This exercise is of inesti-
mable value for all teachers, including parents, from
the kindergarten to the graduate school.) The build-
ing (creation) of any story will serve the purpose here.
. The aim is to furnish the mind with something to work
on with a real question in front of some potential answer.
Bill (seven or eight years of age). "One time there
was a man left on an island all alone." (More data
may be furnished if the experiment calls for further
facts, such as: in this man's home there was a picture
of a ship, or this man's father was a captain, etc.)
Now, raise the question. "How did this man come to
be left on the island?" Bill will find a solution.
Bear in mind, the old education would have the
learner read the story and reproduce it, or the learner
would be told the story (answer) and asked to repeat
it. In the quest for creative thinking the child works
out his own story, recreates the story within a con-
trolled environment. The new teacher furnishes the
mind with something to think -with.
Bill (further on in the challenge). "One day your
A MANUAL OF SUGGESTIVE PROCEDURES 7
Robinson Crusoe got sick. What could you do in your
own home that your Robinson Crusoe could not do?
What would your Robinson Crusoe do?" Bill will
work it out.
The text of Defoe's Robinson Crusoe may be used
after raising productive questions in the minds of our
boys and girls. The teacher knows the standard story.
His task is to think it in terms of challenges, and
then to set forth data which will stimulate curiosity,
and cunningly put a question which the data suggest.
All of the text material may be aligned ("covered")
in this procedure after the challenging questions are
raised, and the creative genius of the boys and girls is
given a chance to express itself.
The leit-motif of all history is suggested in this plan
of approach. The time may come when history up
through the high school will be studied with a view to
building minds capable of analyzing problems in the
light of facts.
SOCIAL STUDIES AND SCIENCE
For any year of the junior or senior high school. (The
college needs it.) Data. Radio work. Wave-lengths
(bands) in the air. Broadcasting news. A committee
of radio experts of many nations sitting in Paris.
The experts proposed that specific wave-lengths of high
frequency be allocated (assigned) to each nation.
Questions. Why? Any bearing on a League of
Procedure. Pupils (including girls) do not need to
be assigned readings in order to answer intelligently
8 DIRECTING STUDY
these questions. They may be presented the data and
at once try their wings on the questions. First, dis-
cussion in terms of experience and broadcasted knowledge
among youngsters to-day and then readings followed
by a productively written chapter on "The Relation
of Science to Modern Life," or "The Development
This experiment was carried out in a large class of
loth-grade pupils and incidentally tried out on a half-
dozen college seniors (men) . The latter failed ignomini-
ously. They appeared dazed. They had been cor-
rupted to the very roots under the doctrine of "learn-
ing" as the acceptance of facts, and before the data
and questions they appeared helpless. They could
have taken notes on a lecture or read assignments, and
they could, no doubt, have reproduced and recited with
rare brilliancy. The boys and girls were alert to the
questions in the light of the data presented. One little
girl said: "The nations will have to agree on a distribu-
tion of wave-lengths, or else all news will be broad-
casted, and then there would be no secrets. Nations
would have to behave." A boy said: "The fact of
getting together and agreeing to assign each nation
a particular set of wave-lengths would mean unity."
Another with a free mind at work said: "Each govern-
ment would have a machine tuned for each nation and
would catch any messages sent from one to another,
but the governments would agree not to broadcast
each other's private affairs," etc. (The discussion
would have been illuminating to our statesmen.)
A MANUAL OF SUGGESTIVE PROCEDURES
FOR ANY GRADE ABOVE ;TH AND BELOW THE
For "substance of doctrine" as well as a realizable
procedure in any school.
Problem (or challenge). The development of a scientific
(experimental} attitude. Data. Two characters repre-
(a) The "Old World"
Key. "Old World" is dosed.
Things are fixed.
"Nobody ever did it, there-
fore it can't be done."
(6) The "New World"
"New World" is open, ex-
pectant of change, crea-
"So he buckled in with a bit
of a grin at what could not
be done, and he did it."
(In this experiment a pupil
in the class found a poem and
boiled it down to this. He was
stimulated by the Old World
(a) Now let Aristotle and Sophocles debate with
Burbank and Edison. (St. Augustine and Luther
might be induced to debate with Bacon and Darwin.
A dramatized debate for adolescents is usually a spirited
event and elicits the best in the debaters.) The pupils
(loth grade or later) will be able to write (create) a
play in which these men are the leading characters.
They may summon other characters to speak. This
was done. The "New World" may have a slave out
of the Old World to portray his life; a woman may also
be summoned to relate her lot. One girl in working
up such a play proposed that she be a fairy and have the
boy of the class interested in science become a wizard.
(The fairy played the part of "Looking Backward"
from 1950. The play as well as the debate has proved
valuable and interesting.)
An enormous amount of "accredited" subject-matter
can be looped up in both the production of the debate
and the creation of the play.
(b) Data for another part of
The "Old World" says:
"The acorn can grow only into
"Wild oats can grow only into
"The boy grows up into the
man, and the boy can
become only what his
heredity makes him."
(c) Data (once more)
The genius is born, not made,
says the "Old World."
Talent is donated. Hence
there must always be
"those who" can and
"those who" can't do it.
The "New World" answers:
"New species can be developed
by man." Burbank tells
us a lot of interesting
(The pupils work this out.)
Mr. Edison, what is your an-
swer to the "Old World"
here, when "they say":
"We have always had
candles and they make the
best light ever"?
(Let the pupils -work all this
out. It can be done in dis-
cussion, through reading and
discussion, through film and
written reactions, through de-
bate, through dramatic repre-
sentation, through writing a
chapter in a creative book
made by the pupils them-
How is the "New World" going
to answer now?
(Any live class will be ready
for a thrilling debate. If so,
let it be negotiated.)
Do we make the individual in
the "New World"? How?
What is the purpose of educa-
A MANUAL OF SUGGESTIVE PROCEDURES 11
Do you think the "Old
World" has a name-and-
(e) The "Old World" says:
"We have always had
war and we always will."
Are arts, science, music, archi-
tecture, literature nation-
ally bounded any longer?
Do you think there are any
" folks" living in the 2oth
century who really have
minds and entertain ideas
belonging to the $th, i^th,
or 17 th century?
What is the "New World's"
(A good time to examine the
history of international agree-
ments and co-operations in
exhibitions, congresses, Postal
Union, Red Cross work, and
League of Nations.)
(/) For pupils in the senior high school (and the
college) the possibilities and unifying effects of inter-
national insurance and the world-wide extension and
application of the Federal Reserve Bank may be dis-
cussed and worked up into original (creative) chapters.
It is wholly superfluous to add that an infinitely greater
amount of information will be required in this problem-
procedure than is possible under the cut-and-dried
lecture system and lesson-assigning, lesson-hearing
school where all march in regimental uniformity.
The time to be allotted to this exercise (III) is
left to the discretion of the school and its new teacher.
There is easily a whole semester's work suggested here
for a class in Social Science. Many transmissions ahead
are possible in problems of this kind. One week spent
in experimental questing along lines suggested in this
exercise has proved a profitable venture, not only in
senior high-school science and social studies, but also
for students (college seniors) preparing to teach. In
12 DIRECTING STUDY
any case it is well to have the students construct a
chapter on some such topic as the "Development of
FOR 6xH OR 7TH GRADE
Challenge. The fraction operating in the equation.
(One of a few outstanding principles to be mastered.)
Exercise. %, or %, or %, or # 3 , or #1, or %, or %, or K / 6 of
my money is $100. How much have I in each case ?
Procedure. (Intended to clarify the principle in-
Working Materials. (If the first day of school, let
the teacher be provided with a pocketful of pencils
and plenty of scratch paper prepared to start work
s.t once; keep every youngster so busy that no time is
available for "fooling.")
If four dogs cost $100, what will five dogs cost?
(Work it out orally, rinding cost of one dog first and
then five dogs.)
Now express it thus:
- = of $100 = $25
= 5 X $25 = $125
Again. If four-fifths of my money, etc., i. e. } substi-