Harry Lloyd Miller.

Directing study; educating for mastery through creative thinking online

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ballads?" That made a difference. In about forty
minutes after starting to write, Eleanor read the bal-
lad as it appears above to her mother. It may be worth
while to talk about the particular metre and perhaps
use the conventional terms after the pupils have
worked into some creative self-expression. Suffice it
to say that the bare bones of definitions will assist no
one in writing anything.

Of course Eleanor's poem was the best in this class.
But the doubting Thomases should be reminded that
there is no reason why the standard of achievement
and qualities attained by a few individuals should
not become the average of the class. That is the
meaning of evolution: the individual exception becomes
the type of the race. Effective freedom is the ideal
toward which we should be striving. Only an infini-
tesimal fraction of human power has been applied to
the task of development. All that is hoped for in the


full release of every wholesome potentiality will not
come in a day; the process has been choked by self-
created obstacles and repressive measures of external
disciplines in home and school, and by far the larger
proportion of the progressive effort has been spent in
overcoming them. Huge sources of power await lib-
eration in every child. The real problem is the de-
velopment of a technic by which creative thinking
may be achieved.

Converting a Formal Recitation Procedure into a
Directed Challenge and a Co-operative Movement.
Let us take now an illustration of the formal recita-
tion mode under collective teaching and convert it
into a procedure a little bit more hopeful and more
productive than the usual question-and-answer meth-
od. The class was a first-year Latin section. The
teacher began in the usual manner, calling on pupils
to rise singly, give principal parts of a verb, sit down,
next, etc. After ten minutes, disorder began to dis-
turb the procedure. At this juncture a sympathetic
educational associate who was present suggested that
the pupils step to the blackboard. He asked the
teacher what the objective was in the lesson. After
some hesitation and confusion it was revealed that it
was concerned with a review of the principal parts of
Latin verbs. Very well. The pupils had written their
names on the board.

"Now [to the teacher], what are you going to do next
in this situation ? " It was well done. The pupils were
asked to write to 10 in a column under their names,
and then to write as rapidly as possible the principal
parts of any 10 verbs. In two minutes Jane was finish-
ing; John was coming along, nip and tuck. Jack over


there, who had been generously reminded in the first
part of the hour that he ought to study, etc., was about
to collect enough information out of the corner of his
eye to write the second one in his column of 10.

Again, the associate asked the teacher: "What are
you going to do next in this situation?" And it was
an interesting move on the new chess-board where
pupils and teacher were becoming reacting individuals
in a moving stream. This was the suggestion : "Carry
on; number on up; go as far as you can." Within
ten minutes Jane had written the principal parts of
48 verbs, John 40, and Jack had accumulated data
for a stab at 3. Other pupils ranged all the way from
12 to 37.

Again, "What are you going to do next in this situa-
tion ? " The next move, and it was the teacher's move,
was brilliant. It was: "Move one place to the right."
It happened that Jack was faced up against Jane's
array of 48 verbs. He was heard to remark: "Gosh!
What a girl Jane is!" And that makes a difference
too. The pupils checked any number in which there
was an error. Albert, in front of Jack's contribution
of 3 verbs, finished checking at a glance.

Again, it became the teacher's move. "What are
you going to do next in this situation?" An excellent
thing was suggested in having Albert hear Jack pro-
nounce the principal parts of the verbs in Jane's array.

The hour was soon over and there was work still
to be done. The pupils had been told in the checking
to use their books if they were still in doubt. Already
the turbulence of doubt and inquiry had appeared.
Any pupil finding a word in his work incorrectly
checked entered a vigorous protest. The book became


an authority and was used to settle the case in point.
Some doubtful forms were left for further investiga-

A Basis for a Moral Responsibility in Procedure.
How stupid it was to fuss with Jack before the class
as a whole in a recitation mode ! Think of those pupils
in the illustration just cited who were able to write
from 30 to 48 verbs with their principal parts. To
express it in the Greek idiom, under the old procedure:
" Having been cut off as to their heads, they died."
The teacher needed to be emancipated, to get above
the fragmentary unit of question and answer in terms
of isolated brute facts, and to see in some perspective
the large objectives.

The whole situation was changed. The teacher
realized that a detailed plan-book was a handicap.
A log-book in those uncharted seas might be kept with
profit. This teacher began to grow when she recog-
nized the significance of putting to herself the ques-
tion: "What shall I do next in this situation?" This
question, projected constantly into a progressive series
of developing situations, fosters a continuous moral
analysis. It is a dynamic in the development of a
keen sense of responsibility.

Teaching and Learning, an Integration of Actions.
A suggestive hint comes from the modern concep-
tion of economics in the matter of buying and selling.
In the old school these aspects of trade were consid-
ered as two separate actions. The pernicious effects
of this old doctrine are felt to-day in the complex and
agonizing problems of capital and labor. Now, in
theory at least, it is recognized that it is not a trans-
action between buyer and seller but rather an inter-


action. My selling is your buying looked at from my
point of view; your buying is my selling looked at from
your point of view. So it is in the educative process.
My teaching is your learning looked at from my angle ;
your learning is my teaching looked at from your side
of the shield. Teaching and learning are, in this view,
the front and reverse sides of the same sterling coin.
It is not a transaction between two parties, but an
interaction of mind upon mind.

The practice of conceiving teaching and learning
as two separate actions which make the transaction
by a mechanical addition, and the notion that each
of these actions can be subjected to a moral evaluation
in its own right, must be regarded in any social inter-
pretation of education as a possible source of a whole
progeny of pernicious mistakes. Just so long as status
exists, and teacher-mind is contrasted with pupil-
mind, there can be no fruitful application of the social
principle to educational practice. Separate these
functions of teaching and learning, and nobody is re-
sponsible for results. Really the language is highly
figurative and still misleading. The teacher who is
not learning, who is not being rejuvenated in this inter-
action of social life with his students, is in grave dan-
ger of becoming a pedagogue and a pedant.

Indeterminate Character of New Procedure. It
will be remembered that the formations in the class
above were constantly shifting. The new situations,
the "deeds to be done," cannot be predetermined.
The nub of the whole matter is that this class was
converted from a state of passivity to a working group.
The work spirit was created. There was a wholesome
contagion of work developed through the interaction


of mind upon mind in a spirited challenge. When the
bell rang it was not a signal for a sigh of relief but an
expression of surprise that the time was up so soon.
Every individual became a reacting agent. No upper
limit was set for any one. The challenge was not
finished as a job is finished. The dry bones of mini-
mum-essential content were not being rattled about
after the pupils were geared up into action. Minimum
essentials always become maximum necessities, and tend
to suggest strongly to both pupils and teacher the notion
that things in education can be completed and set aside
and practically dismissed from the mind as piece-work
is finished and checked off in the factory.

True Sportsmanship in a Co-operative Undertaking.
The procedure toward which the illustration on the
principal parts of verbs points is a procedure of re-
acting partnerships. The teacher actually plays the
game as one of the players. The exact move cannot
be predicted in advance of the experiment.

Even on the chess-board no one commits to memory
some 33,000 possible formations, and plays the game
by carrying in cold storage all these possible combina-
tions and permutations.

The expert chess-player, playing thirty games simul-
taneously, does not carry in his memory the positions
of the pieces on the several boards as he walks around
in the group from board to board. He sizes up the
situation at a glance and makes the next move.

Any art or profession always requires just that sort
of creative ability. It is perfectly futile to attempt
to store up in the rag-bag of memory 33,000 possible
combinations and permutations in which inert chess-
men may be placed, and then in the game dig down


into this rag-bag of memory and pull out an old movie
film to be used in the new formation resulting from
the preceding move of the opposing player. Actually
a new movie film must be created for the new situation,
if it is a life situation. The intelligent mind meets a
fresh difficulty by a creative synthesis, not by a mere
copy formulated in advance.

The chessmen have no will of their own. They stay
put. The boy moves. He is not a lock-step man in
the making. And in the intellectual game, as well as
in the chess game, the expert player will not be bent
on checkmating the learner, the beginner, so much as
setting up new situations which keep open a gradual,
progressive experimentation with emphasis on trial
and success and growth in the direction of successful
experiment. To be sure, the amateur ought to be check-
mated, now and again, both to demonstrate expert
ability and to give pith and point to good sportsman-
ship. The converse of this proposition may be demon-
strated with profit. "A sportsman is one who takes
his chance when he ought, not when he can," and who-
ever can define sportsmanship can define that which
animates and differentiates English education. "The
sportsman shall not aim at the sitting bird nor strike
the fallen boxer nor quench the smoking flax. True
sportsmanship sweetens the competition of life, is
long-suffering in action, and is not puffed up in reminis-
cence." *

" The Boy Moved." The delightful story is related
of a great thinker who was fond of golf. His difficulty
was an inability to find the ball or to orient himself
to the general direction of it in his drive. A fellow

* Shane Leslie, The End of a Chapter, p. 159.


philosopher suggested to him that he ought to sight
by some object when he took his position for his drive.
"A good idea," he said. But there was a repetition
of his old difficulty. He sighted by a single object.
When asked if he sighted by an object, he replied that
he did: "I sighted by a boy," said he, "but the boy

The school too generally prepares itself to meet an
abstract average boy. It is not enough to know the
boy's name. It is rather difficult to make a state-
ment of what one really knows about a boy in his nat-
ural state. The artificial schoolboy can be defined;
the real boy eludes definition. The fact is we must
see the boy in novel circumstances in order to discover
how he behaves. He does not carry, as baggage, an
assortment of original traits which appear, as such, in
the processes of his changing, growing life.

The boy, moving up into the canyon, prospecting
in geometry, this hour, is a new boy; he is in the
process of becoming what he otherwise would not be.
A change is being effected in his life. So it is in every
part of the curriculum which is actually being incor-
porated into his thinking.

This boy, measuring angles, that boy actually pro-
ducing and creating his own Robinson Crusoe, this
girl fabricating the ballad or story, that girl pursuing
the multiplication tables all such situations are novel,
no matter how many different individuals have faced
similar problems or how often the same individual
has ventured to think the same problem.

It is a changing world, not a fixed and final world
in which the individual moves. The teacher needs to
think of the boy and his first adventure in a new study,


or, for that, any study or any part of it, as constituting
a new situation demanding a reconstruction of experi-
ence as the only possible attitude of mind. Any situa-
tion that can be met without it involves no vital
difficulty or real problem, and when that is lacking
for either teacher or pupil, what is done is of no con-
sequence, and it were even better if it were not done
at all. The experimental method carries with it a
tremendous responsibility; without it, the validity
and value of what is done should be challenged.

Activity with a Sense of Direction. In passing,
therefore, from the primacy of subject-matter, as such,
and accredited methods, as such, over to the primacy
of boys and girls at work we must be prepared for ever
new formations. The general direction must be sensed
by the teacher. As pupils and teacher advance, or-
ganized as a real prospecting party, they find them-
selves at the fork of the road with every new adventure.
They must choose a way and take the consequences of
the choice. In a real sense it is the city that determines
the general direction of the road; the road does not
determine the direction of the city. With the city in
mind the building of the road is given a direction. To
strain the analogy for what it will bear the building
of the road is never completed. Economy of trans-
portation requires radical changes in the old road-
bed. What seemed to be insuperable obstacles in
pioneer construction are now met with courage and
determination. The tools and method of modern
science have made possicle improvements surpassing
the wildest dreams of the early builders.

Applying the analogy in one direction the slogan
would be to assimilate in the shortest possible time,


with the least effort, the greatest quantity of the most
important matter. Such is the suggestion of big busi-
ness an excellent idea, provided assimilation does not
become the end of education. Merely to be active in
building or improving the road under the immediate
and constant direction of the foreman reduces the
performance to the level of a job in which artificial
stimuli must be employed to induce the worker to go
forward. Or, to put it another way: suppose a person
had all the facts, and nothing but the facts, what would
he do with them?

The city, the ideal, the goal must be an objective
toward which all are striving, and the humblest worker
should be given an opportunity to gain an appreciative
understanding of the co-operative drive toward real

The pupil, in other words, is not to be carried, with-
out effort, swiftly over a beaten path toward his rich
social heritage. Each individual must build for him-
self his world, and express the values of life through
the achievement of his personality. He is not com-
mitted to a world fordone in which his chief task is
to become adjusted to what is in a world of absolutes,
but rather to become the responsible agent in dealing
with a world of changes by directing and controlling
forces under the driving power of the will to progress.
This, the will to progress, is more important than the
will to live.

Dewey's expressive figure, "At the fork of the road,"
suggests the moral hazard in teaching. What to do
next, if education begins at the point of crisis, cannot
be reduced to blue-prints and plan-books. Confronted
with new situations, responsibility for the exercise of


initiative in choosing some productive next move rests
definitely upon the teacher a responsibility, however,
which may be shared by the pupils.

Opportunity for Self-Expression in the New and the
Old Procedure. Returning to the redirected class,
wrestling with Latin verbs, all pupils were given full
opportunity for self-expression. The teacher working
into a half-dozen major suggestions for some next steps,
instead of agonizing along with 100 or more choppy
questions or commands directed at some individual,
became at once a guide, a consulting expert, a director
of activities. Each individual had a chance to do his
best. No one was held back on account of a slower
one, or one who was duck-backing an education. The
opportunity was offered, too, for the development of
partnerships. All sorts of groupings are immediately
possible in the expansion of the procedure initiated.

Norman MacMunn, a teacher of French, has very
pertinently pointed out that the average time given
to oral expression in the recitation system does not
exceed one and one-half minutes daily for each pupil.

The actual loss of speaking-time enjoyed by each boy under
the old [collective teaching] as compared with the new system
[partnership teaching] is simply immense. I suppose most
masters have realized that in a French class of twenty, if they
themselves speak half of each hour, a boy has only one minute
and a half in which to express himself ! Is it any wonder that
even after seven years of exiguous practice he is frequently at a
loss to frame the simplest sentence? I am surprised that he
speaks as well as he does, considering that his actual conver-
sational practice in those seven years has probably amounted
to something like twenty-four hours.*

* MacMunn, Norman, A Path to Freedom in the School, p. 38.


With thirty pupils and a teacher who talks exces-
sively it would be difficult to find one minute for each

Doubtless nine out of ten of us who have studied
geometry and, incidentally, have thanked God that
we are done with that, memorized the theorem and in
the proof reproduced the steps by which some one else
the author, the teacher, father, or mother, or fellow
pupil had come to his conclusion. For most of us a
triangle suggests a definition running something like a
plane surface bounded by three straight lines, accom-
panied by a survival of a few dim visual patterns de-
picted some years ago out there on the blackboard or
in the book, remembered, if at all, as a mere copy.

The boy who defined his triangle as a thing to think
with was about to escape intellectual paralysis, and
actually to gain a functional meaning of his mathe-

A refreshing point of view is gained in working out
" Education as World Building," * e. g. :

I study Euclid's geometry. It is simply an occasion for me
to make my own geometry. / must conceive a point, a line, a
plane, a solid. 7 must feel the necessity of regarding the sum
of the angles of a triangle as two right angles.

If Shakespeare shares his meaning with us, why do some
say Hamlet was mad and others that he was not mad? To
Shakespeare he must have been mad, or not mad, or both to-
gether, and if we simply take Shakespeare's meaning (or the
teacher's or some one else's) it must be only one of these that
we can hold, and Hamlet should mean the same definite per-
sonality to us that he meant to Shakespeare. There would be
no room for scholars' quarrels if truth were handed down in that
way. The far greater service that he has rendered, the service

* Moore, E. C., What is Education, chap. IV, and particularly p. 131 /.


of every artist, inventor, lawgiver, and teacher renders, is just
the one that my friend renders when he converses with me;
namely, that of providing materials of experience for me to in-

The Beginnings of Co-operative Teaching. So one
may go on urging the proposition that the pupil must
learn his French, his English, his science, his history,
etc., just as he learns to lace his shoes, and that way
is by lacing his shoes. He grows along the line of suc-
cessful experiment. It occurred to MacMunn that his
boys could not learn to speak French by a vicarious
method. They needed to hear him speak it correctly;
that is granted without dissenting opinion. But, just
as pupils in English classes gain practically nothing
by listening to desultory essays and exhortations on
correct style, so in a foreign language pupils do not
learn to speak it if the teacher does all the speaking.

The suggestion has already been made in the pro-
cedure discussed in the redirected Latin class that
productive partnership teaching could be inaugurated
without having a "Wild West show" or a "bear gar-
den." Any intelligent person will draw a valid distinc-
tion between the normal wish to "paddle one's own
canoe" and a neurotic craving for relief from any form
of restraint. A joyous contentment in a real, not a
fictitious, freedom should be diligently sought. The
development of courage, initiative, originality, whole-
some self-assertiveness is possible after the "consti-
tution is adopted." Vital education in a democracy
finds no insuperable paradox in Authority and Freedom.
Obviously groupings can be productively worked out
with the caution that groupings are tentative and
that a so-called socialized recitation which is not at every


stage within the immediate grip of the teacher is an edu-
cational tragedy.

Illustrations of procedure in which opportunities are
offered for partnership teaching have been suggested.
The application of the conception of emerging leader-
ships, the recognition of emerging power and capacity
through gradual and progressive experimentation, will
enable the new teacher to introduce the sound prin-
ciples and practices of a shared life.

Albert was perfectly competent to hear Jack pro-
nounce the principal parts of the verbs in Jane's con-
tribution (see page 190). Jane was ready to take re-
sponsibility with a group of four pupils over in the
corner of the room to practice with them in giving
each other the principal parts of verbs. The first acid
test of a vital class period is the work spirit. The dust
of industry is a good sign. The teacher is included in
this test. The practice of setting a uniform task and
devoting a part of the class period to a uniform study
of it, to be followed by a recitation of a set lesson, is
the surest possible method of producing an idle, super-
vising teacher whose primary business is to perform
police duty.

The daily set-lesson assignment must give way to
the indeterminate, yet very definite, challenge. Let us
go back to the boy on the farm who was willing to do
all the work if somebody else would do the chores.
Give a real, aggressive boy daily assignments in pulling
little weeds and he will leave the farm, and despise it
the rest of his days. Give him a fifty-acre realization
with a full co-operating share in the responsibility for
its management, a real challenge and an indeterminate
assignment, and "it's dogged that does it" with a chal-


lenge In which he appreciates the necessity of hard
work, and, if that boy leaves the farm for profession
or business, he will always cherish a desire to return
to it.

In the one case he must be driven to his chores,
heckled about his habits of work. It becomes a mo-
notonous routine, a tiresome repetition. To be as-
signed little jobs, daily, kills initiative in the worker.
There is no vision in isolated, set tasks. In the other
situation, a man's job makes its appeal to the adoles-
cent. A challenge does not deal with perpetual rest
cures. The field is to be ploughed and prepared for
the crops; the crops are to be cultivated, harvested,
and marketed. A chain of purposive activities runs
through it all. There is a Unking up in the mind, a
series of progressive concretes which enter into the
total achievement. It is the spirit of challenge, the
dynamic of a big, worth-while realization that appeals
to youth.

The daily grind resulting from superimposed tasks

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Online LibraryHarry Lloyd MillerDirecting study; educating for mastery through creative thinking → online text (page 15 of 28)