Harry Lloyd Miller.

Directing study; educating for mastery through creative thinking online

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velopment and the progress of the individual, we start
with physiological tendencies and work up through
habituation, we ought to be impressed with the high
potentiality for uprise and downslide conditioned by
circumstance and opportunity. The possibilities for
progress can hardly be overestimated when normally
constituted children and youth are stimulated and
guided in both early home training and schooling along
productive lines of habit building. All through our
theme behavioristic psychology is emphasized. We
speak of habits of all sorts : habits of expression, habits
of attention, habits of application, habits of thinking,
and so on. The common way of saying, "That per-
son is a creature of habits," expresses the significance
we attach to habits. The urge to excellence is per-
haps mainly an organization of habits in terms of
some particular mode of achievement. The formation
of habits, the production of good habits, and the pre-
vention of bad habits, both the positive and the nega-
tive side of habituation all these imply a possibility
of control and direction. In the attempt to analyze
initiative, creativeness, intelligence, we find ourselves


working definitely into explanations and discussions
of ways or habits of thinking. The pupil who is given
to passivity, never taking responsibility for a forward
drive into a new situation unless specifically prodded
on, is a pupil with a definite organization of habits
the habits of passivity and docility. On the other
hand, the student who is alert to new situations, who
drives ahead on his own account, he, too, is exhibiting
a system of habits effective habits of initiative. We
may not be able to teach pupils how to study before
they are able to study, just as we may not be able to
teach a boy to swim prior to his own swimming; but
we maintain the proposition that teaching in terms of
directing activity does warrant the view that we may
bring about improvement in habits of study. To be
sure, our adaptive experience is expressed in terms of
habit; inventive intelligence makes use of habits under
the stimulus of problems to be solved.

Directing study may be partially defined as a technic
of building economical and productive habits of think-
ing. It is maintained that deliberate provision should
be constantly made for the development and exercise
of the pupils' originality, initiative, responsibility, and
creativeness as well as the assimilative and conservative
activities. These qualities may escape direct methods
of development. The futility of commanding pupils
to think is obvious. To be content with external forms
of attention or concentration betrays an easy and
uncritical acceptance of pedagogical dogma. Unless
pupils are gaining in capacity to apply their powers
to real tasks the school is not performing its proper
function; unless there is a growing sense of respon-
sibility, a developing must-be from within, the pupil


may actually be deteriorating while making a super-
ficial progress in the school. An effective direction of
habits of work would seem to be an important factor
in the development of these high qualities of the mind.
It is not enough any longer to point with pride to those
who have passed through the schools, attributing their
successes indiscriminately to the schools and the sub-
jects pursued. Other factors have their weight. The
rather daring programme is being urged that a more
deliberate emphasis shall be given to the development
of the thinking man than has appeared in the tradi-
tional school.

Many other aspects of the problem of directing
study are cited in preceding discussions. These few
tentative statements are presented for the purpose of
re-emphasizing lines of departure in an attempt to work
into a new general methodology.

Fixing Responsibility. After all, the most important
thing in education is to have boys and girls wanting
to learn. For the ultimate veto lies in the pupil. If he
refuses to respond, the best teaching is of no avail.
Any teacher able to devise procedures in which con-
spicuously large numbers of pupils really want to mas-
ter their studies transcends accredited "methods"
and grips essential values in stimulating and guiding
mental life. The desire and the ability to lay hold
of a difficult task and see it through are invaluable
traits. This position is maintained in spite of the con-
troversy on "mental training." It is indeed a "soft
pedagogy" that encourages any relinquishment of
effort; we need a new emphasis on continued effort in
our schools to-day. This concession is frankly made to
the schoolmaster who is prone to indulge to the full


his inveterate penchant for formalism. "Accuracy
and exactness of thought and mind" may turn out to
be a fiction in so far as general powers are concerned.
There may be no priceless power gained in conquering
difficulties as such. The ability to stare ox-like a tough,
disagreeable task out of countenance may smack of a
Puritanism long since outgrown. Nevertheless, until
the exponents of progressive education find a technic
by which direct values are assured, the old shibboleths
of the formalist will still be found serviceable and in
a sense practical.

The school loafer is a menace to free education. The
increasing cost of high-school and higher public edu-
cation is becoming a serious problem. The principle
should be clearly recognized that education is free
only in the sense that it is offered to those boys and
girls and young men and women who are willing to
respond and to take their full share of responsibility
in seeing to it that, in so far as they are concerned,
their obligation to develop themselves to the full mea-
sure of their possibilities is fully met. This does not
mean a denial of educational opportunity to any seri-
ous-minded individual. It does not mean a prede-
termined selection of ability under any insidious form
of aristocracy. Any student prepared to enter upon
any administrative unit of the public system of edu-
cation should be given an opportunity to try his powers.
At the same time, it would seem to be necessary and
fitting to remind the student of his obligation. Edu-
cation should be made free to those who put forth
effort commensurate with their developing powers.
Public opinion, and particularly school public opinion,
should be educated in the appreciation of the cor-


relative nature of rights and duties. Youth of high-
school age ought to be able to understand the full
significance of this proposition and induced to act
accordingly. Doubtless far more than has been ac-
complished heretofore could be done to help pupils
develop a keen sense of personal responsibility for the
realization of their own possibilities through education.

This is one side of the shield. The other side is
necessarily such revaluation and readjustment of edu-
cational practices as will make it clearly possible for
each individual to grow into the full measure of his
possibility. It ought to be evident that the pupil
should not bear the entire responsibility in the dis-
agreement between himself and the school. All sys-
tems, theories, principles, "methods" gain a new sig-
nificance with every application to life; they become
fluid in their use. Rigid, arbitrary, and dogmatic
fixities can be applied to inanimate bodies or mere
automatons. The spirit of the experimental method
suggests change and adaptability. Fruitful modifica-
tions of method are to be expected in any attempt to
adjust education to the needs of pupils.

The science which is applied to inanimate objects
is not the kind of science to be applied to the art of
teaching. The science which enables one to predict
exact outcomes is not the kind of science which can
be utilized by the teacher in his essential problem of
stimulating and guiding mental life. Just what to do
next in the educative process never falls within cut-and-
dried formulas. Even Spencer's evolutionary laws fail
us as a guide if we provide any place in our philosophy
for the exercise of creative ability, initiative, inventive-
ness. Self-conscious beings find little comfort in rid-


ing on the back of some mechanically driven evolu-
tionary Pegasus. The issue of democracy is that man
has a share in building his world and that he is not a
mere creature of an external law the same yester-
day, to-day, and forever.

It is idle to talk about history repeating itself in a
world of changes. The indolent formalist who holds
tenaciously to the status quo and the mores is not as-
sisting the potential citizens of the coming generation
to cope with the problems of the new age. It is in-
conceivable that any one educated to think in terms
of the modern-science outlook should any longer main-
tain the dogmas that "Whatever is, is right"; that
"It is; therefore it ought to be"; that "Human na-
ture cannot be changed "; or that "Since we have al-
ways had war, we always will." The persistence of
such determined ignorance can be explained only by
uncritical acceptance of an old philosophy unsuited
to the requirements of modern life. The dogma of
acceptance, blind reliance upon authority, resignation
are terms and attitudes which are incompatible with
the theory of development and growth, and a world
that must be improved by human effort. When Mar-
garet Fuller announced that "she accepted the Uni-
verse," Carlyle answered: "Gad, she'd better." A
more modern thinker answered her by saying: "Gad,
she'd better not." A lip-service to knowledge is a poor
and an inadequate preparation to meet the exigencies
of modern life. Henry Adams saw the difficulty with
the current practice when in one cryptic sentence in
his "Education" he remarked, "Nothing in education
is so astonishing as the amount of ignorance it accumu-
lates in the form of inert facts."


Direction of Activity as Education. Turning from the
more or less pessimistic observations upon education
and teaching, the conception of education as direction
of activity becomes wholesome and inspiring. Ex-
perience, knowledge, theory, absolutes of every con-
ceivable variety, must be continuously reconstructed
at the point of the crisis or difficulty in solving the
problems of life. Intelligence lays hold of the past,
organizes it, and reconstructs it for the purpose of
furnishing the will a point from which to embark in
doing the next thing in a changing order. In a sense,
the future toward which we, as teachers, are constantly
working is a Plutonian wilderness. Intelligence work-
ing at the point of difficulty furnishes the only search-
light available for guidance in the solution of a problem.
Plan and purpose are not predetermined; they are
evolving factors in a changing, growing order self-
originating, self-directing, immanent.

Without a problem there is no creative thinking, expresses
the central principle in this new procedure. For the
high school it might well become a motto toward which
all activities lead and the guiding influence in project-
ing the curriculum into increasing areas. The teacher
who turns from the primacy of subject-matter to the
problem of directing mental life at the point of diffi-
culty faces a new and far-reaching task. The thrill
of adventure and the stirring of the challenge appeal
to constructive minds and give a zest to life. The
programme presupposes both a disposition to study
pupils at work and also a tremendous responsibility
in devising controls that will insure productive effort.
We entertain no illusion about understanding boys
and girls. Our ignorance of how children are drawn


toward increased social efficiency or any other ob-
jective is appalling. One can easily agree with Dr.
Thorndike when he says: "The psychology of a ten-
year-old boy would probably involve as much subject-
matter for investigation as the astronomy of a solar
system or the geology of a continent."

Some player of consummate skill may allege that
he knows all the possible moves in the game, and that
no matter how the novice proceeds he, the perfect
player, is doomed to win. All that, however, belongs to
a world made perfect, but not to the world as we know
it. In a world of change moral hazards must be taken
when venturing on the uncharted seas of human con-
duct. To think of providing the will with a point of
departure; to appreciate the significance of systems,
formulas, principles, and theories which are ever turn-
ing fluid when applied to life situations; to be able to
reconstruct experience in meeting ever-new situations
in the spirit of the experimental scientist such a gen-
eral attitude of mind is essential in working out the
thesis of directing study as conceived in this presenta-




Almost any one problem selected from the list below
might prove an adequate basis for a profitable study or
essay for any group of teachers. The object in these
suggestive helps is to find out not whether the book has
been read; to ascertain not whether the reader knows
what the book says on page so and so, but rather to
stimulate creative thinking and to develop a problem-
solving attitude toward teaching. These questions
with their settings are challenges. Agreement is not
sought. Identity of opinion is ordinarily quite stupid
indeed. The true educator suffers the pain of honest
doubt; he rarely enjoys poor pedagogical health. The
hope is that thought-provoking discussions may be pro-
moted in a co-operative study of these questions among
teachers and their professional associates. Parents,
social workers, and others vitally interested in schools
and public welfare may be invited to join study groups.
It is suggested that a study group be formed and that
debates and discussions be arranged among teachers
and supervisors, using any part of the material sug-
gested below that appears to be inviting and potent.
Perhaps a chapter or a question in this list would fur-
nish a basis for such a study group for a month or a



year. One of the most profitable procedures would be
to conduct an experiment along the lines suggested in
Chapters I and III and make the experiment the basis
of discussion in the study group.


1. Out of the statement of aims formulate in your own way
a constructive analysis of educational practice as you know it
and suggest modifications for improvement. Take a school you
are familiar with ; describe what goes on in the classroom, evalu-
ate what you see, and present a real system of vital education
as you conceive it ought to be.

2. The index, intelligence quotient, I. Q., is the ratio between
mental age and chronological age. If the child is 8 years old and
tests the same age mentally, the I. Q. is 100. If the mental
age is 10 and the chronological age is 8 (2 is ^4 of 8), add 25, and
the I. Q. is 125. If mental age is 6 and chronological age is 8
(2 is Y$ of 8), subtract 25, and the I. Q. is 75. These ratios are
worked out in terms of retardation and acceleration. Do you
think a child's I. Q. (this index) is likely to remain permanent
from 5 to 14 years of age? Are differences in the intelligence
quotients due to differences in native mentality or circumstances,
such as health, nutrition, vitality, temperament, education ? Is
there such a thing as arrested development or a waking up to the
fine points of the game?

3. Study the purpose of education. What kind of minds
are being made in the schools you know ? Is it true that accep-
tance of beliefs or conclusions has characterized education?
Give examples. Try the experiment of asking your neighbor
why he is a Methodist or Seventh Day Adventist, a republican
or democrat in party politics, and then challenge the reasons
given. Does he fly passionately to a defense of his belief, or does
he calmly examine the question in the light of the facts?

4. What is the effect of having students learn lessons as they
do ordinarily, and of hearing them said in the traditional way ?
Is the practice a vital improvement on rote learning ? Does the
acceptance of ready-made conclusions promote creative think-


ing or develop minds expectant of change ? Indicate a procedure
in which a problem may be analyzed in the light of facts.

5. Do you hold that facts (accredited knowledge) must be
had before thinking can be carried on? How do you account
for the questions of the little child before entering school ? Do
we first gather facts and then do some thinking? How do we
think ? Did you ever watch a beetle with his load trying to sur-
mount an obstacle in its path ? Study some such situation and
note the " trial and error" method, and relate it to the method of
"fumbling and success" illustrated in the laboratory by the
inventor or scientist. Do you recall the way your mind worked
as you solved a difficult exercise in geometry or grammar ? Did
the beetle think? Did you think in that difficult problem?

6. Keep the new aim of education in mind in attacking these
exercises. Describe the educated man. What are his char-
acteristics and what is the task of education in making the indi-
vidual ?


1. What is the function of the teacher in this threefold re-
lationship : pupil, subject, teacher ? Can a person impart informa-
tion? A piece of pie can be passed over; a brick can be hurled
at a person. Is the pupil "a hedge to be trimmed, or a torrent
to be confined"? Do "we" mould the child in school or does
man create himself by his own activity?

2. "Only when an effect which you wish to produce depends
upon a fraction or preposition are such things humanly worth
knowing." Is this a sound, valid, and valuable guide in dealing
with the materials of instruction ? We used to teach the alpha-
bet, learned a mass of combinations, as ab, og, im, and then ad-
vanced to simple words as cat, at, am, dog. Big words were
taboo. The little minds had to march along in a lock-step, regi-
mental uniformity from the "simple to the complex." Did
they learn to read ? Yes, in spite of the system ! Should we
teach the multiplication tables as such, or conjugations of verbs
as such? Justify some conventional practice in the light of
these facts on the use of data, and the way reading is taught to-

3. "Give the child something to do which he cannot do


without finding out what you would like to have him know."
Study the suggestive exercises in Chapter I and work out a pro-
jected challenge in some original way, selecting any subject or
topic with which you are fairly familiar. Try a word list, work-
ing it up co-operatively for a spelling contest. What would you
do with the prescribed course of study which sets a minimum
word list for each grade? Would you follow it literally, or in-
clude that minimum with your free list? Try a nature-study
problem or a general-science problem. Rainfall maps and
forestry maps might be used. Are you sure pupils in the upper
grades could come to any independent judgments in the use of
such materials ? High school teachers could set up problems in
their special fields. Distinguish between capacity to assimilate
the printed page in a regurgitation of lessons and a productive,
creative use of materials in the pursuit of a problem.

4. Work out a statement of what our civilization would be
if the alphabet and printing were suddenly obliterated. What
kind of world would we have? Try to divide 3245.65 by 248.5,
using the Roman notation. A Greek mathematician stepping
into our modern world would be amazed to find everybody doing
long division. Indicate the extent to which human powers of
abstraction (thinking) have been liberated by the introduction
of the arabic notation. Did it ever occur to you that our
arithmetic, as well as our modern science, came from the Sara-
cenic world, but was delayed some four or five centuries because
of bigotry and prejudice? The "heathen dogs" could not give
the Christian world anything! We still think of the "Renais-
sance" as the revival of learning; perhaps it was the revival of
the "palsy of a doting age". Take the 26 letters of the alpha-
bet and multiply i by 2, that product by 3, and the new product
by 4, and so on until you have multiplied by every number up
to 26. The final product will give you a startling conception of
the possibilities of forming new combinations out of simple ele-
ments. The final product indicates the number of permutations
these 26 elements can be fashioned into. The printer throws
down the type and creates a new page by recombining these
simple elements. The copy mind tries to collect a glorified bag
of tricks to live on; the alphabetical mind throws down the type
and creates a new movie film to meet the new situation. "Fire,
cattle-herding, weaving, pottery, tillage, horse-taming, the go-


ing down to sea in ships of men with hearts of treble brass,"
the alphabet, the arabic notation, electromagnetism (radio) are
all world-shaking events and discoveries which have "commoved
a bewildered humanity which found itself (with each discovery)
raised one giddy step above the brute." The modern machine
(printing-press, automobile, locomotive, dynamo) has been made
possible by arithmetic, the quadratic equation, etc. The differ-
ence between a howling savage back among the cavemen and a
twentieth-century man in civilized America is not so much a dif-
ference in physiological structure as a difference in the humanity
(social organization) into which each is born. Take the alpha-
bet or the arabic notation and work out a statement showing how
man's powers have been liberated by these epoch-making dis-
coveries. What do you think of any child's potentiality for
further development after capacity to deal with words in new
combinations and capacity to carry on computation processes
in the fundamental operations have been acquired?

5. Have you ever had the thrill of being a victim of such
judges of manual righteousness as the square, the level, and the
plumb-bob? Try to use your opinions, your powers of per-
suasion, your theories on a machine that refuses to go. The ma-
chine is an "irreclaimable rationalist." Working in cement
suggests a certain sanity in fashioning materials; the "Village
Blacksmith" yields a solidity of character. The Greeks dealt
with ideas; the Saracenic world (gth to i2th centuries) dealt
with facts; the "Renaissance" was engaged with words, often
with empty verbalisms and hollow presentment of ideas. Out
of the last of these three stages we have had "imitation, more
imitation, and more strict imitation." What has been the effect
upon education of this long period of excessive imitation of the
past ? What has happened in the material world during the past
300 years and notably in the past 50 years, by working with
facts and ideas, by analyzing problems in the light of facts?
What in your judgment is the value to a teacher of working out
some tangible, objective (concrete) project a bit of constructive
art work such as the making of a real design to work by or the
building of a real hat, dress, table, or wheel in a machine?

6. What do you say when the boy fails? Do you say he
can't learn it, or that he has not learned it yet? What is the
effect of telling a boy he is "no good"? Do you think a boy


labelled incompetent is likely to prove that he is "no good"?
Are we prone to measure (judge) others in terms of our par-
ticular modes of excellence (erudition perhaps) and fail to ap-
praise special merit in other lines? Illustrate. Do teachers
and educators mother the curriculum ? Are special ways of edu-
cational salvation charted and jealously guarded? The high
churchman of England, on being interrogated as to whether one
might be saved by any other route, replied after a bit of agoniz-
ing: "Well, I would not like to say there is no other way, but
[after a lucid interval] no gentleman would seek any other way,
don't you know?" Suggest a definite classroom procedure in
which you can give scope to individuality. Remember the
American is not a lock-step man in the making; he asks to set
energies free in order to release values; he suffers himself to be
convinced, not to be commanded; he demands a regulated free-
dom, liberty armed with the law. The American movement
does not follow a road already made; the road is traced as the

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Online LibraryHarry Lloyd MillerDirecting study; educating for mastery through creative thinking → online text (page 26 of 28)