Popular Science Monthly/Volume 14/November 1878/Education as a Science VI

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
EDUCATION AS A SCIENCE.
By ALEXANDER BAIN, LL.D.,
PROFESSOR IN THE UNIVERSITY OF ABERDEEN.

VI.—THE EMOTIONS IN EDUCATION (continued).

I NOW proceed with the review of the Emotions as motives in education.

Play of the Emotions of Activity.—Nothing is more frequently prescribed in education than to foster the pupils' own activity, to put them in the way of discovering facts and principles for themselves. This position needs to be carefully surveyed.

There is, in the human system, a certain spontaneity of action, the result of central energy, independent of any feelings that may accompany the exercise. It is great in children; and it marks special individuals, who are said to possess the active temperament. It distinguishes races and nationalities of human beings, and is illustrated in the differences among the animal tribes; it also varies with general bodily vigor. This activity would burst out and discharge itself in some form of exertion, whether useful or useless, even if the result were perfectly indifferent as regards pleasure or pain. We usually endeavor to turn it to account by giving it a profitable direction, instead of letting it run to waste or something worse. It expends itself in a longer or shorter time, but while any portion remains, exertion is not burdensome.

Although the spontaneous flow of activity is best displayed and most intelligible in the department of muscular exercise, it applies also to the senses and the nerves, and comprises mental action as well as bodily. The intellectual strain of attention, of volition, of memory, and of thought, proceeds to a certain length by mere fullness of power, after rest and renovation; and may be counted on to this extent as involving nothing essentially toilsome. Here, too, a good direction is all that is wanted to make a profitable result.

The activity thus assumed as independent of feeling is nevertheless accompanied with feeling, and that feeling is essentially pleasurable: the pleasure being greatest at first. The presence of pleasure is the standing motive to action; and all the natural activity of the system—whether muscular or nervous—brings an effluence of pleasure, until a certain point of depletion is arrived at.

If, further, our activity is employed productively, or in yielding any gratification beyond the mere exercise, this is so much added to the pleasures of action. If, besides the delight of intellectual exercise, we obtain for ourselves the gratification of fresh knowledge, we seem to attain the full pleasure due to the employment of the intellect.

Much more, however, is meant by the gratification of the self-activity of the learner. That expression points to the acquiring of knowledge, as little as possible by direct communication, and as much as possible by the mind's own exertion in working it out from the raw materials. We are to place the pupil as nearly as may be in the track of the first discoverer, and thus impart the stimulus of invention, with the accompanying outburst of self-gratulation and triumph. This bold fiction is sometimes put forward as one of the regular arts of the teacher; but I should prefer to consider it as an extraordinary device admissible only on peculiar occasions.

It is an obvious defect in teaching to keep continually lecturing pupils, without asking them in turn to reproduce and apply what is said. This is no doubt a sin against the pupil's self-activity, but rather in the manner than in the fact. Listening and imbibing constitute a mode of activity; only it may be overdone in being out of proportion to the other exercises requisite for fixing our knowledge. When these other activities are fairly plied, the pupil may have a certain complacent satisfaction in his or her own efficiency as a learner, and this is a fair and legitimate reward to an apt pupil. It does not assume any independent self-sufficiency; it merely supposes an adequate comprehension and a faithful reproduction of the knowledge communicated. The praise or approbation of the master, and of others interested, is a superadded reward.

Notwithstanding, there still remains, if we could command it, a tenfold power in the feeling of origination, invention, or creation; but as this can hardly ever be actual, the suggestion is to give it in fiction or imagination. Now, it is one of the delicate arts of an accomplished instructor to lay before his pupils a set of facts pointing to a conclusion, and leave them to draw the conclusion for themselves. Exactly to hit the mean between a leap too small to have any merit, and one too wide for the ordinary pupil, is a fine adjustment and a great success. All this, however, belongs to the occasional luxuries, the bonbons, of teaching, and cannot be included under the daily routine.

It is to be borne in mind that although the pride of origination is a motive of extraordinary power, and in some minds surpasses every other motive, and has a great charm even in a fictitious example, yet it is not in all minds the only extraneous motive that may aid the teacher. There is a counter-motive of sympathy, affection, and admiration, for superior wisdom, that operates in the other direction; giving a zest in receiving and imbibing to the letter what is imparted, and jealously restraining any independent exercise of judgment such as would share the credit with the instructor. This tendency is no doubt liable to run into slavishness, and to favor the perpetuation of error and the stagnation of the human mind; but a certain measure of it is only becoming the attitude of a learner. It accompanies a proper sense of what is the fact, namely, that the learner is a learner, and not a teacher or a discoverer, and has to receive a great deal with mere passive acquiescence, before venturing to suggest any improvements. Unreasoning blind faith is indispensable in beginning any art or science; the pupil has to lay up a stock of notions before having any materials for discovery or origination. There is a right moment for relaxing this attitude, and assuming the exercise of independence; but it has scarcely arrived while the schoolmaster is still at work. Even in the higher walks of university teaching, independence is premature, unless in some exceptional minds, and the attempt to proceed upon it, and to invite the free criticism of pupils, does not appear ever to have been very fruitful.[1]

Play of the Emotions op Fine Art.—This is necessarily a wide subject, but for our purpose a few select points will be enough. The proper and principal end of art is enjoyment; now, whatever is able to contribute on the great scale to our pleasure, is a power over all that we do. The bearings on education are to be seen.

The art-emotions are seldom looked upon as a mere source of enjoyment. They are apt to be regarded in preference as a moral power, and an aid to education at every point. Nevertheless, we should commence with recognizing in them a means of pleasure as such, a pure hedonic factor, in which capacity they are a final end. Their function in intellectual education is the function of all pleasure when not too great, namely, to cheer, refresh, and encourage us in our work.

There are certain general effects of art that come in well at the very beginning. Such are symmetry, order, rhythm, and simple design and proportion; which are the adjuncts of the school, just as they should be the adjuncts of home-life. Proportion, simple design, a certain amount of color, are the suitable elements of the school interior; to which are added tidiness, neatness, and arrangement, among the pupils themselves; only this must not be worrying and oppressive.

In the exercise suited to infants, time and rhythm are largely employed.

Of all the fine arts, the most available, universal, and influential, is music. This is perhaps the most unexceptionable as well as the cheapest of human pleasures. It has been seized upon with avidity by the human race in all times; so much so that we wonder how life could ever have been passed without it. In the earlier stages it was united with poetry, and the poetical element was of equal power with the musical accompaniment, if not of greater. As the ethical instructors of mankind have always disavowed the pursuit of pleasure as such, and allowed it only as subsidiary to morality and social duty, the question with legislators has been what form of music is best calculated to educe the moral virtues and the nobler characteristics of the mind. It was this view that entered into the speculative social constructions of Plato and Aristotle. Now, undoubtedly the various modes of music operate very differently on the mind: every one knows the extremes of martial and ecclesiastical music; and fancy can insert many intermediate grades.[2]

For the moment, a musical strain exerts immense power over the mind, to animate, to encourage, to soothe, and to console. But the facts do not bear us out in attributing to it any permanent moral influence; nothing is more fugitive than the excitement of a musical performance. Excepting its value as a substantive contribution to the enjoyment of life, I am not able to affirm that it has any influence on education, whether moral or intellectual. Certainly, if it has any effect in the moral sphere, it has none that I can trace in the sphere of intellect. As a recreative variety in the midst of toil, it deserves every encomium. In those exercises that are half recreative, half educational, as drill and gymnastic, the accompaniment of a band is most stimulating. In the Kindergarten it is well brought in, as the wind-up to the morning's work. But music during ordinary lessons, or any sort of intellectual work, is mere distraction, as every one knows from the experience of street bands and organs.

Excess in the pleasures of music, like every other excess, is unfavorable to mental culture. But some of the most intellectual men that ever lived have been devotees of music. In the case of Luther it seems to have been incorporated with his whole being; Milton invoked it as an aid in poetic inspiration. These were men whose genius largely involved their emotions. But the musical enthusiasm of Jeremy Bentham could have no bearing on his work, further than as so much enjoyment.

Poetry is music and a great deal more. Its bearings are more numerous and complicated. In the ruder stages of music, when it accompanied poetry, the main effects lay in the poetry. The poetic form—the rhythm and the metre—impresses the ear, and is an aid to memory; whence it has been transferred from the proper themes of poetry to very prosaic subjects by way of a mnemonic device. The subject matter of poetry comprises the stirring narrative, which is an enormous power in human life, and the earliest intellectual stimulus in education.

Play of the Ethical Emotion's.—The feelings called ethical, or moral, from their very meaning, are the support of all good and right conduct. The other emotions may be made to point to this end, but they may also work in the opposite direction.

When the educator describes these in more precise and equivalent phraseology, he generally singles out regard to pleasure and displeasure of parents and superiors, together with habits or dispositions toward obedience; all of which is the result of culture and growth.

Any primitive feelings conspiring toward good conduct must be of the nature of the sympathies or social yearnings; which are called into exercise in definite ways, well known to all students of human nature. By far the most powerful stimulus to acts of goodness toward others is good conduct on their side; whoever can resist this is a fit subject for the government of fear and nothing else. The law says, "Do unto others as ye would that they should do unto you." The lower ground of practice is, "Do unto others as they do unto you." This is as far as the very young can reach in moral virtue.

It is too much to expect in early years generous and disinterested impulses, unreciprocated. The young have little to call their own; they have no means. Their fortune is their free, unrestrained vivacity, their elation, and their hopes. If they freely give up any part of this, it is in consideration of equivalent benefits. They are susceptible of being worked up to moments of self-renunciation, in which they may commit their future irrevocably, without knowing what they are about. But they cannot be counted on for daily, persistent self-restraint, willingly encountered, unless there be some seen reward, present or in the distance. It takes a good deal to bring any one even up to the point of fair and full reciprocity of services in all things.

The Feelings as appealed to in Discipline.—The survey that has now been made of the sensibilities of the human mind available as motives, prepares for the consideration of discipline in teaching. The instructor finds that, in school moments and for school purposes, he has to restrain all the unruly impulses and to overbear the sluggishness of the youthful nature. To succeed in this requirement, many arts are employed, corresponding to the wide compass of sensations and emotions that agitate the human breast.

The question how to maintain discipline among masses of human beings is of very wide application, and is therefore the subject of a great variety of experiments. In the wide field of moral control, it includes a principal function of government, namely, the repression of crime—a department that has lately received much attention. To collect the lights furnished in each of the spheres where moral control has to be exercised, is to contribute to the illumination of each. There has, undoubtedly, in former times been very great mismanagement in almost every one of the regions of repressive authority—in the state, in the family, and in the school, in all which an excess of human misery is habitually engendered by badness in the manner of exercising control. It is perhaps in the family that the mischief is most widely spread and most baneful.

By degrees we have become aware of various errors that ran through the former methods of discipline, in the several institutions of the state, as well as in the family. We have discovered the evil of working by fear alone, and still more by fear of coarse, painful, and degrading inflictions. We have discovered that occasions of offense can be avoided by a variety of salutary arrangements, such as to check the very disposition to unruly conduct. We consider that a great discovery has been made in regard to punishments, by the enunciation of the maxim that certainty is more important than severity; to which should be added, proportion to the offense. We also consider that by a suitable training, or education, the dispositions that lead to disorder and crime can be checked in the bud; and that, until there has been room for such training to operate, the mind should not be exposed to temptation. We have become accustomed to lay more stress in cultivating the amicable relations of human beings, all which tend to abridge the sphere of injurious conduct on the part of individuals.

The consideration of discipline in education supposes the relation of a teacher to a class, one man or woman exercising over a body of pupils the authority requisite for the work in hand. Nevertheless, it is not lost time to advert, in the first instance, to the maxims pertaining to authority in general.

Authority, government, power over others, is not an end in itself; it is but a means. Further, its operation is an evil; it seriously abates human happiness. The restraint upon free agency, the infliction of pain on individuals, the setting up a reign of terror—all this is justified solely by the prevention of evils out of all proportion to the misery that it inflicts. This might seem self-evident, but is not so. The deep seated malevolence and lust of domination in the human mind makes the necessity of government a pretext for excesses in severity and repression; to which must be added the opportunity of preying upon the substance of the governed.

Mankind have had their eyes gradually opened to this state of things; the philosophy of society now endeavors to formulate the limits to authority, and to the employment of repressive severities. Not only is it restricted to the mildest penalties that will answer its purpose, but its very existence has to be justified in each case.

Authority is not necessary to every teaching relation. A willing pupil, coming up to a master to be taught, is not entering into a relationship of authority; it is a mere voluntary compact, terminable at the pleasure of each. There is no more authority over the assemblies of grown men to hear lectures than over the worshipers at church or the frequenters of the play. There is nothing but the observance of mutual toleration and forbearance so far as requisite to the common good; if this were grossly violated, there would be an exercise of power either by the collective mass themselves, or by summoning the constable to their aid. No authority is lodged in the lecturer, preacher, or performer, to repress disturbances.

Authority first appears in the family, and is thence transferred with modifications to the school. It is between these two institutions that the comparison is most suggestive. The parent's authority is associated with sustenance, and has an almost unlimited range; it is tempered by affection, but this depends upon mutuality of pleasure-giving, and supposes a limited number. The teacher's authority has nothing to do with sustenance; his is a duty undertaken for payment; it is subsidiary to the single object of teaching a definite amount of knowledge; it wants the requisites of affection; the numbers are too great, and the mutual concern too restricted. But affection is not wholly excluded, and in certain well-marked cases it may play a part.

On the other hand, the family and the school have some important agreements. They both deal with immature minds, for whom certain kinds of motives are unsuitable. Neither can employ motives that are applicable only to grown men and women; they cannot appeal to consequences in the distant and unknown future. Children do not realize a remote effect, and they fail even to conceive many things that will one day have great power over their conduct. To talk to them about riches, honors, and a good conscience, is in vain. A half-holiday is more to them than the prospect of becoming the head of a business.

The position of immaturity is attended with another peculiarity, namely, that the reasons of a rule cannot always be made apparent. Sometimes they can, if not to the younger, at least to the older children. This is a highly-prized aid to obedience in every department of government.

There are many important points of agreement in the exercise of authority in every sphere—the family, the school, the relation of master and servant, ruler and subject, whether in the state at large or in any subordinate societies. For example:

1. Restraints should be as few as the situation admits of: the multiplication of grounds of offense is a great evil, and yet exceedingly natural.

2. Duties and offenses should be definitely expressed, so as to be clearly understood. This may not always be possible to the full extent, but should be always aimed at.

3. Offenses should be graduated according to their degree of heinousness. This too needs clearness of discrimination and definite language.

4. The application of punishment is regulated according to certain principles, first clearly pointed out by Bentham.

5. Voluntary dispositions are to be trusted as far as they can go.

6. By organization and arrangement the occasions of disorder are avoided. Quarrels are obviated by not permitting crowds, jostling, and collisions. Dishonesty is checked by want of opportunity; remissness, by the watchful eye and by definite tests of performance.

7. The awe and influence of authority are maintained by a certain formality and state. Forms and ritual are adapted to all the operations of law: persons in authority are clothed with dignity and inviolability. The greater the necessity of enforcing obedience, the more stern and imposing is the ritual of authority. The Romans, the greatest lawgiving people, were the most stately in their official rites. A small portion of formality should accompany the slightest forms of authority,

8. It is understood that authority, with all its appurtenances, exists for the benefit of the governed, and not as a perquisite of the ruler.

9. The operation of mere vindictiveness should be curtailed to the uttermost.

10. So far as circumstances allow, every one in authority should assume a benign character, seeking the benefit of those under him, using instruction and moral suasion so as to stave off the necessity of force. The effect of this attitude is at its utmost when its limits are clearly discerned and never passed.

11. The reasons for repression and discipline should, as far as possible, be made intelligible to those concerned; and should be referable solely to the general good. This involves, as a part of national education, a knowledge of the structure of society, as being a regulated reciprocity among all its members, for the good of each and of all.

The points of comparison and contrast between the school and family have been noted. The more special distinction of the school, as compared with relations of authority in general, is resolvable into its main object—instruction, for which the condition that needs to be imposed is attention and application of mind, with a view to permanent intellectual and other impressions. To evoke, charm, cajole, compel this attitude, is the first aim in all teaching. The hostile influences to be overcome are such as physical inability and exhaustion, irksomeness in the work, diversions and distractions from other tastes, with the natural rebelliousness of human beings under authority.

The arts of proceeding are not the same for a single pupil, and for a class. For the single pupil, individuality may be studied and appealed to; for the class, individualities are not considered. The element of number is an essential feature; carrying with it both obstructions and aids, and demanding a very special manipulation.

It is in dealing with numbers that the teacher stands distinguished from the parent, and allied to the wider authorities of the state; exercising larger control, encountering greater risks, and requiring a more steady hand. With an individual pupil, we need only such motives as are personal to himself; with numbers, we are under the harsh necessity of punishing for example.

Good physical surroundings are known to be half the battle. A spacious and airy building; room for the classes to come together and depart without confusion or collision—these are prime facilities and aids to discipline. Next is organization, or method and orderly arrangement in all the movements; whereby each pupil is always found in the proper place, and the entire mass comprehended under the master's glance. To this follow the due alternation and remission of work, avoiding fatigue and maintaining the spirits and the energies while the teaching lasts.

After the externals and arrangements come the methods and arts of teaching, considered as imparting lucidity to the explanations, and easing the necessary intellectual labor of comprehension. If to this prime quality can be added extraneous interest or charm, so much the better; but not to be at the expense of clearness, the first condition of getting through the subject.

The personality of the teacher may be in favor of his influence: a likeable exterior, a winning voice and manner, a friendly expression, when relaxing the sternness of authority. This is the side of allurement or attraction; the other side is the stately, imposing, and dignified bearing, by which the master can impersonate authority and be a standing memento to the evil-disposed of the flock. It is seldom given to one man or woman to display both attitudes in their highest force; but wherever, and to whatever extent, they can be assumed, they constitute a barrier to disaffection and remissness.

Any prominent displays of swagger and self-conceit operate against the teacher's influence, and incite efforts to take him down. It is possible to temper authority with an unassuming demeanor.

Much, of course, depends upon tact: meaning by that a lively and wakeful sense of everything that is going on. Disorder is the sure sequel of the teacher's failure in sight or in hearing; but, even with the senses good, there may be absent the watchful employment of them. This is itself a natural incapacity for the work of teaching; just as an orator is sure to fail if he is slow to discern the signs of the effect that he produces on his audience. A teacher must not merely be sensitive to incipient and marked disorder; he must read the result of his teaching in the pupils' eyes.

That quietness of manner that comes not of feebleness, but of restraint and collectedness, passing easily into energy when required, is a valuable adjunct to discipline. To be fussy and flurried is to infect the class with the same qualities; unfavorable alike to repression and to learning.

Any mistake, miscarriage, or false step, on the part of a teacher, is for the moment fatal to his ascendency. Such things will happen and they render undue assumption all the more perilous.

The stress of the teacher's difficulty lies in the heavings of a mass or multitude. The working of human beings collectively is wholly distinct from their individual action; a new set of forces and influences are generated. One man against a multitude is always in the post of danger. As units in a mass, every individual displays entirely new characters. The anti-social or malevolent passion—the delight in gaining a triumph—which is suppressed in the individual as against a more powerful individual, is reignited and inflamed in company with others. Whenever a simultaneous charge is possible, the authority of a single person is as naught in the balance.

It is often said that the teacher should get the collective opinion on his side—should, in short, create a good class-opinion. It is easier to deserve success in this than to command it. The fear is that, till the end of time, the sympathy of numbers will continue to manifest itself against authority in the school. There will be occasions when the infection of the mass is a stronghold of order, as when the majority are bent on attending to the work, and are thwarted by a few disturbers of the peace; or when they have a general sympathy with their teacher, and merely indulge themselves in rare and exceptional outbursts. While a teacher's merits may gain for him this position of advantage, more or less, he is never above the risks of an outbreak, and must be ready for the final resort of repression by discipline or penalties. He may still work by soothing applications, gentle and kindly remonstrance; he may check the spread of disaffection by watchful tactics, and by showing that he has the ringleaders in his eye; but in the end he must punish.

It is this position of constant preparedness for disorder, sometimes in isolated individuals and sometimes in the mass, that demands an air and manner betokening authority, and carrying with it a certain hauteur and distance; the necessity for which is the stronger, as the warring elements are more rife.

The discipline of numbers is impeded by two sorts of pupils: those that have no natural liking for the subject, and those that are too far behind to understand the teaching. In a perfectly-arranged school both sorts would be excluded from a class.—Author's advance- sheets.

  1. It would lead us too far, although it might not be uninstructive, to reflect upon the evil side of this fondness for giving a new and self-suggested cast to all received knowledge. It introduces change for the mere sake of change, and never lets well alone. It multiplies variations of form and phraseology for expressing the same facts, and so renders all subjects more perplexed than they need be; not to speak of controverting what is established, because it is established, and allowing nothing ever to settle. Owing to a dread of the feverish love of change, certain works that have accidentally received an ascendency, such as the "Elements" of Euclid, are retained notwithstanding their imperfections. The acquiescent multitude of minds regard this as a less evil than letting loose the men of action and revolution to vie with each other in distracting alterations, while there is no judicial power to hold the balance. It is a received maxim in the tactics of legislation that no scheme, however well matured, can pass a popular body without amendment; it is not in collective human nature to accept anything simpliciter, without having a finger in the pie.
  2. Plato, in the "Republic," wishing to train a vigorous and hardy race, interdicted not simply the unfavorable musical strains, but the instruments most adapted to these. He permits only the lyre and the harp, with the Pan's pipe for shepherds attending their flocks; forbidding both the flute and all complicated stringed instruments. Disallowing the lugubrious, passionate, soft, and convivial modes of music, he tolerates none but the Dorian and the Phrygian, suitable to a sober, resolute, courageous frame of mind; to which also the rhythm and movement of the body are to be adapted (Grote's "Plato," iii., 196).