Popular Science Monthly/Volume 30/December 1886/Sully's Hand-Book of Psychology

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Popular Science Monthly Volume 30 December 1886  (1886) 
Sully's Hand-Book of Psychology
By Carveth Read


THE "Outlines of Psychology" was written, as the title-page showed, "with special reference to the theory of education," Sometimes in the midst of the text, but chiefly at the end of each chapter, abundant remarks and reflections were introduced, showing the bearing of the principles of mental science upon the training of faculty and character in the young. The work has been (as it deserved to be) very acceptable to the public—especially to students—and it would be a great mistake to suppose that the present "Hand-book" is intended to, or possibly can, supersede it. But it has been felt that the "Outlines," in spite of its modest title, is too long and detailed, and sometimes perhaps too abstruse and difficult, for many parents and teachers, who would gladly see their task in the light of science, but either have not much time to spare, or else lack the special training that is requisite for the more intricate questions of psychology. For them, accordingly, the present smaller volume has been produced.

The "Hand-book" begins with a discussion of the scope of education and of its relation to psychology. After this preliminary chapter the book is based upon and follows generally the course of the "Outlines," giving a succinct but luminous view of the best scientific doctrine with regard to the senses, perception, the higher intellectual powers, the emotions, and volition. But the applications of the science to the problems of education are no longer, as in the larger work, separated from the exposition of the science itself by any difference of type or arrangement. Doctrine and precept are fused into a continuous whole, which, assisted by an openly printed page and an effective style, becomes, I must say, extremely readable, considering the nature of the subject. Upon each branch of the subject enough is said concerning the principles of psychology to serve the ordinary purposes of the educator; and everything is said so simply that no one, however unaccustomed to such inquiries, can fail to follow and understand it. There is no attempt to enter into subtile disquisitions or vexed controversies. The bog-fires of metaphysic, hardly seen to glimmer on the borders of the demesne, can tempt no wayfarer to go astray. Every sentence is subordinated to the single end of clearing up the problem how best to train the minds and characters of the young. And the inferences drawn step by step as the book advances, and the suggestions made upon this most important of all subjects, are an admirable example of the application of science to life. Who can help wishing to have been born later, and to share the more enlightened instruction that awaits the next generation?

If I were to take exception to anything in the scientific aspect of this book, it would be chiefly to the treatment of conception, judgment, and reasoning, which seems to me too much under the influence of ordinary logic. But even here what seems to me questionable lies more in the expression than in the thought; and there is, after all, in this part of the exposition some advantage in availing one's self of the terms and distinctions of logic: since many readers will partly understand them to begin with, and will thereby be more readily familiarized with the abstruser ideas of psychology. Still, this advantage may be bought too dear. In the practical aspect of the book, I am inclined to say that it lays too much stress upon the importance of authority in moral training. But probably few of those for whom the book is intended will think the author's doctrine of discipline overstrict. His treatment of the emotions and sentiments in relation to education, a particularly difficult and important part of the work, seems to me especially good.

It is a striking fact, the sudden turning of so many first-rate minds to the subject of education; and a great revolution in scholastic affairs, however gradual, will certainly result from it. No subject ought to be so universally interesting. If none seem so tedious to us, it may be because our own education was so bad; or that we have reflected so little about it that new suggestions find in our minds no soil to strike root in; or that the complexity and practical difficulties of it paralyze our faculties: in any case, the more reason for spurring ourselves to the study. There is no subject more beset with popular errors, none in which science is more useful, explanatory, and suggestive. Not only every professional educator, but every father and mother (amateur educators!), ought to have some acquaintance with psychology. However absurd this seems, I defend it on the ground that nothing else enables one to interpret the faint and fragmentary recollections of having been one's self a child: without which how can other children be known, and, if unknown, how trained? At school I often used to wonder whether the masters had ever been to school, they knew so little of what we boys were thinking, feeling, and about to do. I have heard an educated woman say of her baby, squalling of course at six months old, "I believe he knows he's doing wrong." Heautomorphism, in default of science, is ever the first resource of explanation; i. e., we judge of others by ourselves. Discipline without knowledge, and therefore without sympathy, an outside wooden machinery, hampering and crushing, is the same in schools, in homes, and in prisons.

Science is certainly useful; yet it may be perverted by an ingenious mind. It has been urged that, according to the theory of evolution, education must with each generation become less necessary: I suppose, because the amount of inherited faculty grows greater. But this inheritance is only potential: its realization depends partly on education; and the more of it there is, the more education is requisite. The truth which the above opinion has mistaken is, that the power of education is limited both for good and evil by the nature of a child. But this truth the world did not wait for the theory of evolution to reveal. The notion that character and understanding depend wholly on the experience and training of the individual was never adopted by common sense. It is everywhere recognized that no education, however good, can insure against taking one of the by-paths of the Pilgrim's Progress that man who has some deep ancestral taint—"a bad avidge" one calls it in Cornwall (however that word should be spelled). On the other hand, the first rule for a successful educator is to get a good pupil. But this does not conflict with the further truth that the greater natural potency of development which accompanies civilization, makes the teacher's task not less necessary, but (as far as it goes) more exacting, requiring greater care and skill; since, first, the subject to be trained becomes more complex and delicate; secondly, the time during which it requires supervision increases; thirdly, the changes occurring in it during that time are more numerous and less predictable; and, lastly (not to seek further reasons), the world to which it is to be adapted grows far more complex and exigent. How rapidly the world has changed in the last three hundred years, and how little scholastic education has tried to keep pace with it! So much the more desirable is it that the changes now inevitable should be made in the light of scientific criticism.

To the scientific criticism of education Mr. Sully brings every requisite. A wide reputation as a psychologist guarantees the competence of his theoretical knowledge. A deep and varied culture in science, literature, and art enables him to survey the whole field of labor. He has for a long time studied education as a science, and in so doing has availed himself of all the work of his predecessors and contemporaries both at home and abroad. Whoever wishes to make an exhaustive study of the subject will find in the appendices to his chapters a sort of index to educational literature. Mr. Sully has, moreover, direct experience of the difficulties of education both in its earliest and most advanced stages. Many of the anecdotes that enliven his book bear the stamp of personal observation. And a humane and serious spirit everywhere dispenses wisdom as well as knowledge.

In this "Hand-book" education is, of course, treated in a broad and general way, covering both the early years of training at home and the later periods at school. But there would be manifest advantages in treating these ages and conditions separately with more specific detail. Again, while a work of this sort begins with psychological principles and then proceeds to apply them to education, teachers might be more readily interested by the method of beginning with the particular problems and difficulties of their art, and then exhibiting the principles involved in them; or of beginning with the rules of education that have been empirically collected and handed down, and then testing and evaluating these by scientific analysis. One great difficulty of education is how to deal with the various classes into which pupils fall as to their powers and groups of powers. The same treatment can not be good for all alike; but how to adapt it to each? We want an ethology of the school-room, somewhat more discriminative than that ethology of the assembly that Aristotle gives in his "Rhetoric." After that would come the question, What studies and combinations were suited to each type? But the field of suggestion is wide and the labor therein light.—Mind.

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  1. The Teacher's Hand-Book of Psychology. On the Basis of the "Outlines of Psychology." New York: D. Appleton & Co. 1886.