Micheal Vincent O'Shea.

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

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Mill is unquestionably right when he says that logic
develops a tendency to search out the exact dictionary
denotation of words, and analyze propositions to dis-
cover whether they belong to this or that class, or
violate this or that canon. But there is a difference
between dealing effectively with words and proposi-
tions according to the rules of the game of logic, and
dealing effectively with the world of real things. For-
mal logic never aided one to see straight into the heart
of man or nature; it does not give insight into psy-
chology or physics or .medicine or teaching. The
prominence of formal logic in mediaeval times did
not lead men to truth in any field, but rather hindered
its votaries from perceiving things as they really were,
as Locke said over and over again. "Non vitce sed
scholce distimua" furnished Locke a text for much of
his educational writing. 1 The disputations of the
mediaeval logicians were fruitless enough in real life. 2

1 See Quick, Locke on Education, especially pp. 69-77.

1 " Bacon has given us a picture of a body of men with pow-
erful minds but with little substantial knowledge. He found
himself, at Cambridge, England, /amid men of sharp and strong
wits, and abundance of leisure, and small variety of reading,
their wits being shut up in the cells of a few authors, chiefly



Formal logic is not so different in principle from
chess or backgammon; it has rules of its own, and
works well enough in its own territory, but it does
not point a way to clear thinking in other fields. One
who could deal with the world of realities only accord-
ing to the method of formal logic would be helpless
indeed, for the insight which this study gives relates
not to things but to words and propositions on the
verbal and formal side merely. The mind reacting
upon its environments can without doubt get to appre-
hend it only by pursuing logical processes; but the
point is that it cannot acquire this power by formal
training but only by dealing directly with the phe-
nomena to be understood. Every subject has its own
j logic, and it is always a logic of fact, and not of terms
' and phrases. A man may be ever so keen N in formal
] logic and a crass blunderer in educational or political
or scientific thinking. When formal logic was at its
best in an earlier day, superstition and error were also
at their best. It was not until men abandoned the
"hootings of scholasticism" and came face to face
with things and ascertained by actual experience how
to deal with them that any progress was made in the
discovery of truth. The test of correct logical think-
ing must always be the result upon adjustment, and
this criterion is largely lacking in formal logic.

Aristotle, their dictator, as their persons were shut up in the
cells of monasteries and colleges; and who, knowing little his-
tory, either of nature or time, did, out of no great quantity of
matter, and infinite agitation of wit, spin cobwebs of learn-
ing, admirable for the fineness of thread and work, but of no
substance or profit.' " Cramer, Talks to Students on the Art of
Study, p. 68.


3. The Establishment of Mental Habits by Formal

169. Finally, it is maintained by the Disciplinarians
that usefuHiabjits may be developed in one line of study
and employed T:o advantage in all studies whatsoever;
and habits in this sense are regarded as something
different from method in one's thinking. They have
in view habits of perseverance, attention, industry,
and the like, which, of course, will be serviceable in
whatever position one may be placed in life. Suc-
cessful adaptation to any new and complex situation
requires persistent attention in order to discover its
essential characteristics. The question now is whether
the linguist, for instance, who acquires these habits in
the study of grammar can employ them at their face
value in whatever tasks he may have to perform in
after-life. Will his attention serve him as effectively
in the investigation of political questions as in the
pursuit of linguistics? Could the linguist apply him-
self as concentratedly to the study of physics as of

- We have evidence enough in the things we behold
about us, it seems, to answer the question with some
degree of assurance. Do we not find that the gram-
marian can attend more faithfully to the facts in his
particular field than to those in other fields with which
he is less familiar? And why? Upon what do such
habits depend? The principle is illustrated in the
ordinary habits of every-day life. One gets into the
habit of going to bed, we will say, at ten o'clock. When
the clock strikes that hour it sets off motor processes


which eventually lead him to bed. A well-known
actor has testified that when the clock strikes eight at
night his heart jumps forward, and he feels a thrill
throughout his whole being. That particular stimulus
had for many years been associated with the raising
of the stage curtain, which was formerly the occasion
always of a good deal of emotional excitement, and
now this stimulus automatically reproduces these feel-
ings. And this is what habit requires the correla-
tion of particular stimulations with particular activities
so that the former will produce the latter without
conscious effort on the individual's part.

Habits of perseverance, attention, and the like are,
of course, of a more general character than those that
have been indicated, but they depend upon the same
fundamental principle the establishment of certain
reactive processes in response to ' characteristic stimuli.
These are the modes of attack which are of greatest
worth in securing adjustment to the situations in ques-
tion, and so they have been selected and preserved.
But being general in character they are applicable to a
great variety of situations. One who has got into the
habit of sticking to his grammatical book when it is
before him until he masters the task set him will be
more likely to stick to any book to which he applies
himself than one who has not had his experience.
But still this habit cannot be transferred without loss.
The grammatical stimuli will in themselves have some
influence in keeping the individual at his task; there
will be a certain amount of compelling power in them.
As a test, substitute algebra for grammar and see
whether the man will persevere in trying to find out
what the stuff before him means. If he is not apperceiv-


ing the algebraic facts as he does those of grammar,
how can he attend? Attention is just the mental 1
side of adaptation, and when there is no adaptation \
there can be no attention. 1 When the boy sees nothing
in the proposition before him his mind wanders off
on to other topics; just as when a merchant attends a
lecture on epistemology he is absent in thought every
moment. In the event though that the grammarian
can work his way through the algebra he will doubtless
be benefited by his discipline in grammar, for in past
experience attention and perseverance under such
circumstances have brought success, and he feels
they will do so now; and this sort of thing is more or
less general in its application.

But the formalists make a mistake in assuming
that some one branch of study possesses peculiar quali-
ties in developing these general habits. They maintain,
naively enough, that perseverance and attention
acquired in the pursuit of grammar and arithmetic,
for instance, will prove generally useful, while these
same habits developed by the study of history and
literature and botany and psychology will not be so
valuable. When you ask the Disciplinarian why
grammar and arithmetic are so superior to other
studies, he will respond by saying that these subjects

1 Cf. Baldwin, Mental Development, Methods and Processes,
chap. 15. Speer (op. cit. y p. 3) quotes Maudsley as follows:
"How, indeed, can there be a response within to the impres-
sion from without when there is nothing within that is in
relation of congenial vibation with that which is without.
Inattention in such case is insusceptibility; and if this be
complete, then to demand attention is very much like de-
manding of the eye that it should attend to sound-waves,
and of the ear that it should attend to light- waves."


V i develop such fine habits; and he apparently forgets

/ ^ altogether that no one study has a monopoly of

/ habit-developing power. Faithfulness, perseverance,

/ diligence, and the rest, however established, become,

in a measure, of general utility, although, as has been

pointed out, they cannot be transferred from one field

to another without some loss.

170. Again, nn the more strictly emotional activities
there ar^ habitual attitudes or expressions of a general
character\ that when established by one kind of exer-
cise may pe of assistance in situations similar in respect
of the kind of reaction demanded, but not so much so
perhaps in respect of the content reacted upon. Fear
developed in the classroom will tend to manifest
itself on many occasions outside; the pupil will be
timid in the presence of people wherever he is. It is
maintained by the authorities at West Point that
courage developed in the training there will stand
the soldier in good stead when he is on the field of
battle. James speaking of the matter says 1 that,
" Pride and pugnacity have often been considered
unworthy passions to appeal to in the young. But
in their more refined and noble forms they play a great
part in the schoolroom and in education generally,
being in some characters most potent spurs to effort.
Pugnacity need not be thought of merely in the form
of physical combativeness. It can be taken in the
sense of a general unwillingness to be beaten by any
kind of difficulty. It is what makes us feel 'stumped'
and challenged by arduous achievements, and is essen-
tial to a spirited and enterprising character. The

1 Talks to Teachers on Psychology and to Students on Some
of Life's Ideals, pp. 54, 55.


fighting impulses must often be appealed to. Make
the pupil feel ashamed of being scared at fractions,
of being 'downed' by the law of falling bodies; rouse
his pugnacity and pride, and he will rush at the diffi-
cult places with a sort of inner wrath at himself that
is one of his best moral faculties. A victory scored
under such conditions becomes a turning point and
crisis of character. It represents the high-water
mark of his powers, and serves thereafter as an ideal i
pattern for his self-imitation. The teacher who never
rouses this sort of pugnacious excitement in his pupils
falls short of one of his best forms of usefulness."

But courage and pride and every good emotion can
be aroused as readily and effectively by the pupil's
study of nature as of grammar, of Shakespeare or
Tennyson, as of cube root or the subjunctive mood.
And, moreover, an emotion aroused with reference to
a particular situation, as~ when a pupil is frightened
when he has a conference with his school principal,
will be more active in just that situation than in differ-
ent ones; the pupil will in the future be frightened
more readily by his principal than by the pastor or
family doctor. A lawyer might be very much ashamed
to be "downed" by a case in law, but yet take easily
enough a defeat in whist or golf or billiards, while it
would be just the other way round with the gambler
or athlete. Professors in the university may have a
spirited and enterprising attitude enough with refer-
ence to the things in their special fields, but they often
exult in not knowing or caring anything about the
things in the territory of their colleagues. The law
holds here as everywhere else in mental functioning;
the attitudes and activities that have been frequently


repeated in reaction upon a situation become ever
more ready in recurrence in that situation, but under
different circumstances they will be reinstated only
in part or not at all. So that to make pride and pug-
nacity and shame the most effective governors of life
they must be stimulated during the preparatory period
in the sort of situations they will need to be active
in regard to in later years. 1

171. Perhaps there is demanded a word of qualifica-
tion of these general propositions regarding formal
discipline as they should be practically interpreted
to guide education. From what has gone before it
might be inferred by some that one group of persons
will be required in their daily lives to adjust them-
selves only to the psychological side of their environ-
ment, and so will need to be equipped only with psy-
chological facts; others will need only mathematical
facts; still others only zoological facts, and so on.
But one would certainly be as much in error in think-
ing that this real world with which -we must all deal
constantly is thus divided 1 up into psychological and
mathematical and linguistic and legal strata or sec-
tions, each marked off rigidly from the others, and
every man living his little day in one or the other of
these without ever crossing over into neighboring
regions-^one would go as far astray in acting on such
an assumption as the formalists have in conceiving
that if one can conduct himself aright in one field of

1 1 have seen men who would face any danger on the foot-
ball field break down utterly in trying to make a public ad-
dress. Again, I have known men who would be thoroughly
honest in their sports who would not hesitate to lie and cheat
in an examination. Cf. Briggs, School, College, and Char-
acter, Essay on College Honor.


formal materials and relations he can do so in all fields
whatsoever. ") There is danger that we may not fully
appreciate tne organic character of the environments
to which every individual must adjust himself. The
environment which history describes is most intimately
correlated with the environments ' which mathematics
psychology and biology and all the rest describe.

he world is not partitioned off into departments in
any such sense as the titles of studies in the schools
might suggest!; and one person's environment is shot
through in a most complex and intricate way with phe-
nomena described by history and physics and spelling
and literature and other studies.

Especially must we not lose sight of the fact that
the people about one constitute the most important
phase of his environment. Their interests, their social
ideals, the thoughts which engage their attention,
their opinions of culture, their traditions everything
which goes to make up their daily lives must be adapted
to by each individual. He must come to understand
all these things and organize his understanding into
conduct; so that even if a particular study exercised
no influence upon one's relations toward nature or
toward his fellow-men in the more serious ethical
sense, it might nevertheless confer upon him the most
desirable power of being able to participate in the
mental life about him. So we cannot think of a person
of any degree of development reacting upon his envi-
ronment in a civilized community, even if narrowly
limited, who would not find of service some arithmeti-
cal and geometrical and historical and linguistic and
botanical and other sorts of knowledge. To say then
that any certain study will be of no account in the


life of a person is going too far ; but to say, on the other
hand, that some formal study will, in the best way
possible, make one ready for all adjustments ,is much
worse. [It is a relative matter here as it has been at
all points in our discussion; everything wil'l doubtless
be of some use, but many things will be of compara-
tively little account, while others will be of great util-
ity in the life of every individual?)

172. Consider, again, that in a social organism one
member must have faith in the serviceableness of an-
other whose work is essential to the welfare of the whole,
and he must be willing to tolerate him and assist in
providing conditions necessary for his greatest effi-
ciency. Especially is this true in our country, where
members deliberately determine whether or not one
of their number shall be allowed to continue in his
work. Shall the state support investigators in agri-
culture? in medicine? in education? Shall there be
specialists to look after the hygienic and other interests
of the community? In order to settle such problems
wisely citizens must have some knowledge of the ques-'
tions at issue, at least enough to appreciate the impor-
tance of the matters involved. L A man's estimation of
values depends upon his acquaintance with the things
under consideration. What he knows nothing about
he esteems lightly; it does not apparently enter into
his life, and he cannot conceive that it enters into
any one else's life. A highly developed community
of pure specialists would be impossible, since one
would not harmonize with or in any way favor another.
In a faculty of professors one who has never pursued a
given study will see little or nothing of value in it.
And the university as we know it could never have been


developed if the various professors had not had a broad
general training in which they were put en rapport
with the principal departments of human activity.
/ So, considered from this standpoint too, we must in fit-
ting the child out for membership in civilized society,
prepare him for broad and varied instead of narrow
and non-social experiences. )


173. IT will be in place now, perhaps, before taking
leave of our subject, to get a bird's-eye view of the
course over which we have travelled. Our inquiry
relating to the extent and boundaries of our field, the
peculiar composition and character of the soil, and the
most effective method of cultivating it have led us
to the conclusion that while our province is far from
exactly and definitely bounded, still there are certain
regions which are occupied by no one else, and which
every one acknowledges belong properly to the edu-
cationist. It has become apparent that on account of
the great complexities presented in our field, greater
than those found elsewhere, it is extremely difficult to
determine how best to work it. Our survey of the meth-
ods which have been employed in times past in treating
education has revealed the obstacles and uncertainties
which exist therein; and as a consequence widely
different doctrines have been preached at one time or
another throughout human history, and great names
are found ranged on opposite sides of the most vital
questions of teaching.

We have seen the necessity of employing methods
of precision in our investigation. We must adopt



modes of inquiry that will counteract certain ten-
dencies toward error in our thinking, which incline us
all to project out into the world what exists in our
own minds and hearts, and then conduct ourselves
toward this as though it were the external and truth-
ful order of things, k The way to overcome our diffi-
culties lies in the adoption of scientific method in all
our procedure, for this greatly assists the investigator
in restraining the element of prejudice in his inquiries.
We have found that a considerable body of educa-
tional doctrine has already been worked out according
to scientific method, and there is great interest at
present in this work. But still education is far behind
most of the other sciences. To supplement his own
investigations the educationist must seek help from
many sources, since he must deal with extremely com-
plex matters, which in their elements are dealt with
in various sciences. He must summon to his aid every
science which is concerned with the investigation and
description of human nature, either directly or indirectly;
and he must strive to interpret phenomena which are
yet unexplained in the light of principles presented
in biology, in psychology in its several departments, in
evolution, in jieurology, in ethics, and in sociology.
In proceeding in this way he may pursue strict scien-
tific method, since in every science certain funda-
mental generalizations constitute but hypotheses which
are applied to the explanation of occurrences which
cannot be directly investigated. So a principle of
human nature presented in psychology will become a
principle of education when it is employed in the inter-
pretation of phenomena which do not lie directly
'within the domain of pure psychology, but which are,


nevertheless, psychical phenomena; and the same is
true in substance of generalizations of biology, evolu-
tion, neurology, and the rest.

174\ We have seen that the end of all educational
endeavor must be to give the individual a mastery of

the worldl And when we come to define "the world"

> *

we see that it includes not only what people call ma-
terial things, but there is very much more to it which
conditions the well-being of the individual, and toward
which he must be led to take a right attitude. We find,
indeed, that man's social environment is the most real
and vital part of tKe world to him. In modern civil-
ized life one's happiness depends more upon the char-
acter of his relations to his fellows than to material
things, and education must seek primarily to adjust
him in the most harmonious way to society. Then
there is what we have called his intellectual relation to
the world; we have conceived tKat there are intellec-
tual needs that are as real and vital as physical needs.
One's welfare is determined largely by his ability to
comprehend the causes and rationale of the things
with which he has most frequent intercourse. All the
evidence points to the fact that the mind of man will
react in some way upon the phenomena presented to
his senses, and education must lead him to see the uni-
verse operating according to law rather than caprice;
it must supplant the natural animistic conception of
things by the scientific conception. Then again, man
sustains relations of an aesthetic character toward his
environment, and these are very profound and very
real. His well-being requires that he be led to an
appreciation of the beautiful in nature and in art, and
that there be developed in him the tendency and the


power to remodel his environments so as to minister
to his aesthetic needs.

175. Every human being bears these several rela-
tions to the world, and they must be perfected by educa-
tion; but we found that when men are banded to-
gether in a social organism they do not all sustain
these relations to the same extent and in the same
degree of complexity. In order that the social organ-
ism may be most prosperous some men need to be masters
of complex phases of the world of which others may be
wholly ignorant; just as in the somatic organism the
eye needs to be more sensitive, more responsive to the
environment, to deal with a much wider range of things,
than does the foot or the stomach. / So in working out
our educational regime we must regard a man as a
member of a community rather than as an isolated
individual and in consequence thereof we must pre-
pare him for his particular needs determined by the
particular offices he will fill in society. Some will
perform simple work and their adjustments and their
needs will be relatively simple; others will perform
very complex duties and they will require much more
elaborate preparation therefor. But all have certain
needs in common, and our educational machinery
must be run in view of this. The several "classes"
necessary in society as we know it will each be carried
along as far as the present organization of social forces
will admit of, or until they are fitted to discharge
their peculiar duties efficiently, and adjust themselves
in happy relations to every phase of the complex
world of men and things which conditions their wel-
fare. The physician must be fitted to do more than
mix drugs and administer them. In his contact with


his fellow-men he influences them not only physically
but intellectually, ethically, and aesthetically, and in
turn he is influenced by them in all these ways. And
what is true of the physician is equally true in princi-
ple of the lawyer, the teacher, the statesman, the

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Online LibraryMicheal Vincent O'SheaEducation as adjustment; educational theory viewed in the light of contemporary thought → online text (page 20 of 23)