Micheal Vincent O'Shea.

Education as adjustment; educational theory viewed in the light of contemporary thought online

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experience that the more frequently an event occurs
with certain associations, the more strongly we expect I
^t to occur. 7 !
\Future events are in a sense but deferred present

1 Mind, new series, Vol. XV., p. 363, "The Evolution of In-
ductive Thought."


events ; in reacting to them they really become present
in an ideal way, and are dealt with as though they were
present in a concrete way. When I think of the sun
rising in the future, what does the content of conscious-
ness at the moment relate to? To the experiences I
have had with the sun, of course; and my attitude
will be just that which experience has developed
that is, I will believe the sun will rise next year or a
hundred years hence. I may, of course, be able to
see other events that will make the first one different
from what it was in times past; but even here I am
expecting these latter events to act as they previously
have done and to the same effect, which will modify the
former events. Or again, as I look forward, and am
conscious of a certain amount of time elapsing before
the event occurs, my fears and my desires tend to make
a particular view of the thing prominent. I will see it
happening or not happening according as my emo-
tional state makes this pr that mental complex supreme.
To be optimistic means that the things I see in the
future are reacted upon by complexes of experiences
that are associated with a predominantly pleasant
mood; to be pessimis'tic means that future events,
contemplated ideally, are reacted upon by complexes
of experience that have a predominantly unpleasant
mood; [but in any case what happens in inductive
reasoning is the taking of an attitude toward coming
events in the light of past experience.!


i. Exposition of the Doctrine.

157. The doctrine that particular experience gives
power of adjustment to particular situations only and
not to all sorts of situations has not in the past been
made the basis of educational theory to any great
extent; but rather one quite contrasted to it has been
employed. It has been held that it is possible to develop
by formal exercise a strength of mind, a power or
vigor or vitality, a sharpness or keenness which may
be put to good use in any emergency. Like the mus-
cles the mind as a whole grows and acquires strength
and capacity in every act it performs. Special kinds
of action, as solving problems in cube root, will develop
^ skill in dealing with every situation in which one is
placed, as in deciding the merits of the free-trade con-
troversy, for example. If a boy is to become a lawyer,
to illustrate, it is maintained that he will need to be
good at reasoning, for one thing; then in his preparatoiy
training this " faculty" must be disciplined by some
sort of material, it makes little difference what, only
so that the exercise is secured. The special offices
which men will fill in mature life, the special obliga-
tions which they will assume, are not to be taken
account of specially in the school. No matter what



they will be called upon severally to do they will stand
in need of efficient mental action ready perception,
faithful memory, accurate reason and they must be
practised in these ways upon whatever stuff can be
conveniently got "together for the purpose. Adaras
mentions 1 an old book on Algebra that the author
styled "The Whetstone of Witte," evidently believing
that this subject makes a very good grindstone for
sharpening the faculties, and almost every subject
of instruction has been and is lauded by its devotees
for a like reason.

158. This doctrine grows naturally out of the con-
ception of living things which people form in their
unreflective contact with the world. They see, as they
think, that muscles gain strength through vigorous
exercise; they cite the blacksmith's strong right arm
as evidence. And the reverse of this seems also to be
true: inactive muscles become puny and ineffective.
Moreover, muscular strength gained by work of anyi
sort may apparently be employed without loss in every
kind of muscular work, however different from that
in the doing of which the muscles were developed.
If I go into a gymnasium and tone up my biceps by
the use of dumb-bells, the strength I thus acquire
may be utilized in whatever way I choose in the affairs
of life in pitching hay, in batting a ball, or in pugil-
istic events. The body is thus a sort of reservoir of
energy; whenever and however any is generated it
flows into this reservoir and may be drawn upon for
every purpose.

People then pass on in their speculations from things
physical to things mental, and say that the mind grows

l Op. tit., p. 110.


as the muscles do; that it accumulates force in the
same way, and expends it on the same principles. Men-
tal work of any kind develops a fund of mental power,
skill, keenness, force, or whatever it should be called,
that may be utilized for the performance of any task.
Fouille'e voices the current opinion of the Disciplinari-
ans when he says, 1 '^We can learn to build a railway
by rule of thumb, but those who invented railways did
\ so by the force of the intellectual power they had received;
it is therefore intellectual force that we must aim at
developing." 2 This author lays great stress in all his
educational theorizing upon the development of the
form or method of mental action! It is not the con-
tent of the mind that should concern us but its form
He does not wish to give the pupil in the school experi-
ence with the special things with which he must deal
in real life. He cares for the mode of procedure , the
way of attacking things which can be attained, he thinks,
by a regimen of formal training.

2. The Doctrine in the Light of Every-day

159. The physiological principle upon which the
doctrine of formal discipline is based is seen upon
examination not to be quite true as it is generally
stated. Muscular activity which is concerned with
particular employments and undertakings does riot
beget a power that can be expended without loss in
the accomplishment of any task whatsoever. The
oarsman cannot turn all the energy he develops in

1 Op. tit., p. 38.

2 The italics are mine.



rowing to good account in pitching hay or pulling
beans or shoeing a horse or carrying a hod on his shoul-
der. The pugilist cannot employ without loss in
another form of occupation the brawn gained in his
training. No particular form of muscular activity,
in short, can be made to yield power that can be util-
ized in other ways without some waste. And why?
Because rowing, for example, calls into play in defi-
nite combinations muscles and their energizing nerve
centres which are not co-ordinated in precisely this
way in any different activity. 1 Besides, looking at
the matter neurologically, the cerebral processes
behind every action become ever more facile with
repetition. Paths .of discharge are established, and
energy passes along them ever more readily, so that
less and less escapes by the way into channels not in
the system. 2 And the outcome is that this special

1 Students who have passed much of their lives out of doors
in manual labor on a farm in a flat prairie country often come
to the University of Wisconsin, where they are compelled to
climb a hill to attend their classes, and it takes a considerable
period for their lungs and muscles to become adapted to
the changed conditions. Recently I spent one month in the
mountains of Utah, tramping with men who had always been
climbing mountains. In outward appearance I would be
thought the hardiest of any of the group, but any one of them
would "walk me off my legs" in twp hotfrs. Running around
all day on flat ground after a golf ball,-t5r a plough even, will not
put one in perfect condition for mountaineering.

2 Cf . the following : Baldwin, Mental Development, Methods
and Processes, chap. 5; Bair, Development of Voluntary Con-
trol, Psychological Review, Vol. VIII., p. 474, September,
1901; Bain, Emotions and Will, pp. 304 et. seq.; Spencer,
Psychology, Vol. I., pp. 496 et. seq.; Sully, The Human Mind,
Vol. IL, pp. 189 et. seq.; Kirkpatrick, Development of Vol-
untary Movement, Psychological Review, Vol. VL


activity becomes easier with practice and more and
more can be accomplished through it as time goes on.
Practice of a special kind gives increase of power of a
special kind, that is to say. But now, a new art or
dexterity demanding a new set of muscular co-ordina-
tions, and requiring the development of new cerebral
correlations and processes, cannot profit greatly by
the skill gained in the first activity, for it cannot make
use of the mechanisms by means of which the former
art, strength, and facility were obtained. Particular
forms of exercise in this view, then, are seen to have
special and not general value except in a limited sense;
to give power only in the special fields in which the
exercise has been gained, and not in all fields indiffer-
ently except without great loss.

|rhe point is that the standard of efficiency in mus-
cular action is not so much one of brute strength as
of precise correlation, wjhich achieves any task with
the least wear and tear. ] And every performance has
its characteristic complex of co-ordinations, muscu-
lar and neural, which gets established so that it can
function in an automatic way only upon continual
repetition in precisely the same manner every time.
So that the skill which one develops in drilling on a
certain activity is apt to prove of relatively little ad-
vant^ige in emergencies requiring new correlations.
Of course, mere brawn, as people use the term, is a sort
of substrate of all muscular pursuits, and it can always
be utilized in a certain measure, no matter from what
source it is derived. So rowing increases lung capac-
ity, among other things, and a sprinter stands much
in need of wind, so that if an oarsman should take to
the track his experience on the water would be of some


assistance; but still, and this is the crux of the matter,
the policy of developing skill in running by practice
in boating would be exceedingly bad economy. There
are a few physiological effects of any form of exercise
that would come in handy in any other; but again
there are some results from using the oars, for instance,
that would contribute nothing of value in sprinting
or boxing.

160. Those who profess to believe in the virtues of
formal mental discipline are still not willing to carry
it to its logical conclusions. They will not say that
any particular sort of mental activity will benefit the
mind on every side. They maintain rather that the
training of perception in any direction improves the
power of perception, in every direction, but not the
power of reason^ or memory, or imagination. Here
the theory that all possible mental functions are bene-
fited in the same degree by any variety of experience is
abandoned, and jit is implied that there are various
departments, as 'it were, to the mind, from each of
which may be produced special articles of mental
merchandise according to the needs of the moment I
We cannot draft the power developed by exercising
the perceiving faculty, for instance, into the service
of the remembering faculty; nor can power of memory
be utilized in carrying forward reason or imagination.
And the development of the intellectual faculties
does not exert great influence upon the emotional life.
Love increases only by being called freely into action;
reasoning in geometry will notstimulate it. Indeed
one often hears the Disciplinariaiis'sayThat the undue
exercise of the intellectual parts of the mind dwarfs the
emotional and spiritual powers. Instead, then, of


particular experience giving strength to every faculty
it often has exactly the opposite effect it weakens
certain powers. Love for all things though is culti-
vated by love expressed for some particular thing,
say the formalists; but loving much does not nourish
hope or reverence, or courage; much less anger or
envy or pride. These different aspects of the soul
must be developed by special and appropriate kinds
of experience. The formalist cannot fail to see in
concrete life that in a given situation the mind func-
tions in a way appropriate thereto in perceiving or
reasoning or remembering or loving or hating, while
under other circumstances it conducts itself in a differ-
ent manner according to the needs of the organism.
And no matter how much training one has had in deal-
ing with a special kind of situation, as in mastering
Greek grammar, he is not helped much, if any, by vir-
tue of this experience alone when he is called upon
to decide how a dependent wife or child or parent
shall be cared for. 1

|In the affairs of daily life people have always ob-
served that competency in one field does not assure
keenness in all fields.l There comes to mind j^kwrtassic

1 Since the above was written I have read an article by
Thorndyke and Wood worth (Psychological Review, Vol. VIII.,
p. 247, May, 1901), giving the results of experiments to de-
termine the " Influence of Improvement in One Mental Func-
tion upon the Efficiency of Other Functions," and they fully
indorse the principle set forth above. I quote this significant
sentence, "The Mind is ... on its dynamic side a machine
for making particular reactions to particular situations."

2 If the theory were true that perceiving in one field makes
observation keener for everything, then the study of ps}^chol-
ogy, requiring such sharp vision, c ught to result in filling one's


example of Napoleon discharging La Place from his
cabinet on account of inefficiency, although the emi-
nent mathematician possessed one of the " strongest "
minds of his age. Hinsdale quotes 1 Macaulay on the
possibility of turning legal acumen to account in hand-
ling even closely related subjects. In speaking of
lawyers, he says that, "Their legal arguments are
intellectual prodigies, abounding with the happiest
analogies and most refined distinctions. The princi-
ples of their arbitrary science being once admitted,
the statute-book and the reports being assumed as
the foundations of reasoning, these men must be al-
lowed to be perfect masters of logic. But if a ques-
tion arises as IP the postulates on which their whole
logic rests, if they are calle"6T^pbn to vindicate the
fundamental maxims of that system which they have

mind with accurate percepts of all tEThgs with which he has daily
intercourse. Adams expresses (op. cit., p. 136) his view of the mat-
ter in the following fashion: "A whole class of students of psy-
chology has been reduced to the most shamefaced confusion
when suddenly asked to write down, without time for investi-
gation, the answer to the question: 'How many buttons have
you on your waistcoat?' This state of matters is greatly
to be deplored, and a certain section of practical educationists
give us many opportunities to grieve over it. When a class
in school has been floored by some such simple question as,
'With which foot do you usually begin to walk?' or, 'At which
end does a recumbent cow begin to rise?' those practical edu-
cationalists turn to the teacher, and, with a deprecatory
smile, ask if it would not be better to pay a little more atten-
tion to the 'observing faculties' of the pupils. (It is to be
noted that the term 'practical' is used here in a peculiar
sense.) " Cf. Bolton, Training in Observation, Journal of Peda-
gogy, Jan., 1901, pp. 227-237; also Thorndyke and Woodworth,
op. cit., p. 249.

1 Studies in Education, p. 53.


passed their lives in studying, these very men often
talk the language of savages or of children."

16 1.1 Keenness then is a special matter; it can be
put to good use only in the special situations in which
it is developed The mathematician will be keen in
his way but not of necessity in every way! Practi-
cally speaking, he can see keenly in a present ^situation
provided he has had much luminous experience with
similar situations ; he can remember well things that are
concerned with this special kind of activity, because
they are essential to the continuance thereqf ; they are
used in the adaptive process. He can discern accu-
rately the relations between things in this field because
his mind has operated in this way heretofore while he
was becoming a mathematician. It has become
organized with reference to this phase of the environ-
ment, where peculiar relations must be perceived in
order that adjustment may occur at all.

The principle is well illustrated in the training of
the lawyer (to mention him again) who is disciplined
in weighing circumstantial evidence of a certain special
character, "an artificial thing created by legislation
or custom, with the object of preventing the minds
of the jury presumably a body of untrained and
unlearned men from being confused or led astray.
Moreover, they are only familiar with its use in one
very narrow field human conduct under one set of
social conditions. For example, a lawyer might be a-
very good judge of circumstantial evidence in America,
and a very poor one in India or China; he might have
a keen eye for the probable or improbable in a New
England village, and none at all in a Prussian bar-
rack. A wild Indian will, owing to prolonged obser-


vation and great acuteness of all the senses, tell by a
simple inspection of grass or leaf-covered ground, on
which a scholar will perceive nothing unusual what-
ever, that a man has recently passed over it. He
will tell whether he was walking or running, whether
he carried a burden, whether he was young or old,
and how long ago and at what hour of the day he went
by. He reaches all his conclusions by circumstantial
evidence of practically the same character as that
used by the geologist, though he knows nothing about
formal logic or the process of induction." l

This principle is seen to be at the bottom of much
of the phenomena of our daily lives. Put out into
the world a ^ammariarL qf great attainments in his
own specialty, and observe his reactions upon it;
what does he see keenly? Not the aesthetic values of

1 Hinsdale, op. cit., pp. 53, 54.

The experiences of "Sherlock Holmes" as a detective show
that ability here depends upon special kind of knowledge in-
stead of formal reasoning power. "It was not," Adams says,
"because Holmes could reason backwards that he beat the
ordinary Scotland Yard detectives. When one of them, Les-
trade, saw the letters R-A-C-H-E- traced in blood upon the
wall, the only idea that rose above the threshold of his con-
sciousness was the word Rachel, and he at once came to the
conclusion that a woman of that name had something to do
with the crime, and proceeded to make a hypothesis that
would fit into this fact. He reasoned backwards as easily and
as accurately as Holmes himself, the only difference being
that Holmes's apperception mass contained the German word
Rache, which means revenge. Holmes was right, Lestrade
was wrong; but it was not a matter of knowledge. Like
Bain's wild beast, Lestrade sprang upon Rachel, because
Rache did not present itself." The Herbartian Psychology
Applied to Education, pp. 149, 150.


objects which the artist would detect; not charac-
teristics in a plant which would attract the botanist;
not the activities of human beings which the psycholo-
gist would perceive; not the happenings in trade
circles which the merchant would have in mind; not
the evidences of disease which would engage the atten-
tion of the physician. No, he would be quite indif-
ferent to all these phenomena, and they might almost
as well be non-existent so far as he is concerned.

Of course no grammarian would be utterly uncon-
scious of these other things, because no one could be
just a grammarian and nothing else; his early train-
ing, the exigencies of daily life, his contact with people
who have different interests, these even if he had no
explicit training in other directions would make him
something more than a mere specialist. But the more
his experience'has been limited to grammatical situations
the more will he ignore other aspects of the world;
and the principle holds for the specialist in every sub-
ject. The minister sees things in his way, "the teacher
in his way, the anarchist in his way, and' the king in
his way. Each may be marvellously keen in his
special line, but be blind as a bat in apprehending
truths which other men see clearly enough. .

3. The Development of Force by Formal Discipline.

162. The ambition of formalists always is to "de-
velop mental force." But what is mental force?
and how is it generated? It may be regarded from
one standpoint as referring to endurance in labor,
to long-sustained effort. In this view we think of
the capacity to do much work without injury, the


ability to continue at a task for a long period without
fatigue; and this matter relates to the production
and economic expenditure of neural energy in the
support of the perceiving, remembering, reasoning,
and other mental processes. From another standpoint
mental force may be considered as referring to the
efficiency of the mind as an instrument of adaptation,
to its readiness and keenness and trustworthiness in
dealing with the things which are presented to it,
the reliability of memory, the accuracy and subtlety
of reason, the freedom of imagination, the vigor of
will, the buoyancy of hope, the faithfulness of con-
science. Still again, we may think of mental power
as denoting^ a body of habits which should be mani-
fested in the varied activities of daily living habits
of persistence in the performance of duty, of attention
to uninteresting tasks, of critical study of all situa-
tions before reacting upon them, of suspended judg-
ment until all the evidence is in, those habits which
we all feel are requisite for anything like success in
the business of life.

Can these ends, all of which are of the utmost conse-
quence in education, be attained by formal training?
<|Can power in any sense in which the term may be
understood be generated in doing one thing and em-
ployed with equal success and advantage in doing
something different n It is well understood now that
al activity utilizes cerebral energy ^ and when the
y is reduced beyond a certain point fatigue ensues,
lachine runs down, 1 so that it is of vital impor-
: that a good stock of nervous force be kept always
p for the support of vigorous mental action.

1 See my Aspects of Mental Economy, chap. 1.


But how is cerebral energy generated? The neu-
rologist tells us that it is produced through the exercise
of cerebral cells, 1 which increases both the anabolic
and catabolic processes from which force is derived.
But it must be remembered that, for the most part
at any rate, particular mental activities occur in par-
ticular departments of the cerebral cortex, 2 so that

1 Cf. Donaldson, op. cit., chap, on Education of the Central
Nervous System. See my Bulletin, op. cit., for a detailed
treatment of the subject.

2 The doctrine of Localization of Function is accepted, I
think, by all scientists. The literature of the subject is very
extensive, but see Donaldson, op. cit., chap, on Localization
of Function, for a statement of the modern view; also Flech-
sig, op. cit. Munk, Ferrier, Horsley, Schafer, and others have
contributed experimental evidence corroborating the theory
in its fundamental features at any rate. Just to what extent
and in what regions the higher mental activities are localized
are .matters of dispute, hut pathological evidence seems to
show that linguistic, musical, mathematical and certain other
functions are localized in special areas. Cases, as the cele-
brated Blind Tom, are on record where individuals were prac-
tically idiots in everything but musical ability. Baldwin
(Mental Development, Methods and Processes, p. 440) gives
some suggestive facts bearing upon this general topic, and so
does Grant Allen, Vol. III., p. 157. Wyllie (on the Faculty
of Speech, part 3) and Bateman (Aphasia and the Locali-
zation of the Cerebral Speech Mechanism), have shown that

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Online LibraryMicheal Vincent O'SheaEducation as adjustment; educational theory viewed in the light of contemporary thought → online text (page 18 of 23)