The Parents' Review
A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture
"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
The Position of Play in a System of Rational Education, Parts 1, 2 and 3
by J. Strachan, Esq., M.D.
I fear that the title which I have given to this lecture may appear to some of you somewhat of a contradiction, as it is usually considered that play and education are antithetical, and altogether outside and apart from one another. It may be thought, therefore, that play can have no place in an educational system, although it may be allowed to stand alongside of it. Most persons admit that there ought to be play as well as education, at all events for boys, as--
"All work and no play
(there is no mention of Jill in this connection), but the usual motto is "work first and play afterwards,"--
"Work while you work, play while you play
My object, however, is to shew that there is no such antithesis as is here assumed-that, on the contrary, the two are, according to nature, very intimately associated and cannot be properly dealt with separately. To enable us to realize this it is necessary that we first consider the question of what is-
The plain English meaning of the term is, of course, a system founded upon and conducted with reason and judgment, to the exclusion of all arbitrary and conventional procedure.
Such would, probably, be claimed with regard to most systems, but a consideration of the grounds upon which this reason and judgment must be based will, I think, considerably limit its applicability. By the educational basis, we must understand the organic and vital means by which we may attain to the educational object we have in view; or, in other words, the machinery and motive power we have got to work with in obtaining the required educational product. It is evident that this must be a primary consideration; and that all procedure with a view to obtaining an educational result, whether pure mental culture or simply to passing examinations, must be based upon and be in harmony with the structure and mode of action of the mechanism in question. It is certain that in any process of human manufacture, this would be looked upon as the only rational position to take up; and the adjective has exactly the same signification and limitation when applied to the organic mechanism concerned in education.
With the actual machinery of mind--the brain structure, which is the source of all mental power--we do not require to concern ourselves. It is sufficient for us to know that it has come from and, in the case of the child, is still, so to speak, in the hands of the most perfect artificer, and that it is worked from within by an intelligence fully acquainted with every detail of structure and requirement. What we have to do with is the resulting activity which it is the province of the educator to turn to the best account in view of the coming life.
We have first, then, to recognize the fact that education of the young is no modern invention, and is, indeed, no pedagogic imposition. It came into being when first there appeared upon this earth a race of creatures endowed with a brain organization capable of knowing, thinking, reasoning, and speaking. Such endowment would have become altogether thrown away and been lost to the world in the hour of its inception, had it not been accompanied by an inherent system of education tending to bring organization into relation with external conditions, and to furnish and develop the mental powers. A special instinctive prompting is an essential accompaniment of all organization depending for action upon external relations. The wing of the bird would be entirely useless without such instruction as to its action in flight; the digestive powers of the stomach would be inoperative but for the corresponding system of feeding which prompts and regulates the supply of appropriate food; and the mental powers of the brain must have remained in abeyance had they not been prompted from within to all action necessary to their development. At all times and all stages of his existence, man has imbibed food and drink according to his requirements, so, also, he has fed and exercised his mind according to his abilities and opportunities. By virtue of this instinctive educational activity, the human mind attained to very high power of thought thousands of years before lesson-books, as we understand them, were invented. All the ancient and mediaeval heroes and makers of history, and not a few of the world's greatest benefactors of modern times, up even to the time of Board Schools, owed their intellectual pre-eminence entirely to this natural and spontaneous education. Not only so, but by far the larger part of the knowledge and intellectual powers of each and all of us we owe to the spontaneous activity of our receptive faculties imbibing and assimilating from all means of information by which we are and have been surrounded. We cannot doubt, then, that our Maker, in providing us with a brain organization capable of high mental development, has provided also a natural means of ensuring, in all respect, that development up to the highest limits of potentiality. We are not, therefore, required to invent or construct an educational system, but only to study, guide and minister to one in full operation in every healthy child. Such I hold to be the only possible basis for the application of reason and judgment with regard to education in the young. I have already referred to the stomach in this connection, and at the risk of offending your sense of the fitness of things, I shall now draw the parallel between feeding the stomach and feeding or instructing the mind. There is a natural repugnance to placing these in any way upon the same level, the one being common to all animals, and the other dealing with the highest attribute of man. But, as has been wisely said, "Analogy is the guide of life." Nature is no respecter of organs, being as solicitous for the well-being of the human brain as for that of the digestive apparatus of man or of the meanest creature. All organs alike are created self-acting and self-regulating according to conditions which we have no power to gauge, far less to control. There being this important analogy between the stomach and the receptive mental faculty, that each is directly dependent for its action upon pabulum received from without; there is the further analogy that each is, of necessity, guided in the reception of pabulum by instinctive promptings, specially designed to regulate, according to organic condition, the kind and quantity suitable at any particular time. In this respect the action of the two run upon parallel lines, and the reasoning applicable in the one case applies equally in the other. In the case of the stomach, these promptings are called taste and appetite; in that of the mind they are interest and attention. Every animal is guided by the sense of taste or, which is much the same, smell, as to the kinds of food suitable to its digestive and assimilative powers; and it is directed by appetite when and how much to eat. So, in the case of the mind, suitable pabulum or knowledge presented in suitable form, is more or less interesting, and attention naturally turns to it when and so long as the action is salutary. In each case, action so prompted is accompanied, especially in the young, by a feeling of pleasure which ceases when a sufficiency, for the time, has been received. These are absolutely the only indications as to what is suitable in the way of pabulum, and the only rational ground upon which we can judge in administering it.
This does not mean, however, that none should be given for which, in its crude state, the stomach or the mind has no natural liking, as much may be done in the way of adaptation in either case. Raw potatoes are very unpalatable, because indigestible; but, by cooking and flavouring, potatoes may be rendered very acceptable. So certain subjects of study as presented in the school book are, no doubt, most uninteresting, and no child can really give the attention to them. But these same subjects may be so presented by the living voice of the teacher, aided by pictorial and other illustrations, as to be extremely interesting, and so to attract and rivet the attention. In such adaptation, along with a due regard to times and quantities as indicated by attention, consist the science and the art of rational teaching.
If the mere reception of pabulum were sufficient for our purpose, we might, both in feeding and in teaching, get along in a laborious way by coercive means, without troubling ourselves about adaptation. It would not be very difficult, with the aid of punishments and prizes, to induce children to swallow raw potatoes; and, in like manner, we may compel them, through the will, to look and to listen, and so to receive certain verbal formulae into the sense record or memory. We cannot command the appetite or the attention, but we may thus give the appearance of feeding and of teaching without them. There, however, in each case, all power of compulsion ends. We cannot compel the stomach to digest raw potatoes, and we cannot compel the mind to assimilate uninteresting matter. Without such power, cramming the stomach or the memory is far worse than useless, as it interferes seriously with true nutrition and learning. In this connection I may state here my opinion, although I do not wish to appear to dictate in this matter, that, in no case, is the printed form the most suitable for presenting knowledge to the young mind. It is the visual symbol of spoken language, and, with adults, has, by long practice, become as familiar as its prototype. With the child, however, reading is a comparatively recent acquisition, and still requires, more or less, a process of translation before it can be understood. This, at best, is an unnecessary and burdensome hindrance to the process of learning. In very many cases the child does not attempt, or is incapable of, any translation, and is content--the teacher being content--with a mere reception or committal to memory of the word sounds. This is the explanation of the absurd mistakes so often made by school children, and with which teachers sometimes amuse their friends and the public, oblivious, apparently, of how they reflect upon their method of teaching. A good example of this came under my own observation at a school examination last June. A boy, on being told to repeat a certain text of scripture, gave it as--"Watch and pray, lest ye enter into the kingdom of Heaven." This was received with laughter, and as showing the strange perversity of the child's mind. But will any one say what is the educational value of phrases so learned, whether or not they be correctly repeated? Could such a mistake possibly have occurred from the oral teaching, in appropriate language, of the meaning of that text? I am strongly of opinion that all lesson-books, except those for the practice of reading, should be kept exclusively for the use of the teacher, the contents, properly cooked and flavoured, so to speak, being conveyed by his living voice to the pupil
Even suitable pabulum can be administered, with advantage, only in limited quantities and with proper intervals. We cannot go on stuffing food into the child continuously for hours together and expect it to be digested. We must consider the capacity of the stomach and its powers of digestion at the time of the food being taken, and our only possible guide in this respect is the appetite. When that is satisfied, sufficient has been taken for the time, according to digestive power, and we must, perforce, wait till the stomach is ready for another meal as indicated by a return of appetite; except that custom, founded upon this fact, has fixed the meal hours at appropriate intervals. So it is with the receptive powers of the mind. They cannot, any more than the stomach, go on continuously taking in fresh pabulum. Just as the appetite palls when as much food has been taken as can be properly dealt with, so attention flags when a sufficient diet of mental pabulum, in the form of fresh knowledge and ideas, has been imbibed. As with appetite, so with attention, it is the only possible guide as to what constitutes a sufficient diet according to organic condition at the time. We can stimulate appetite by rendering food very savoury; and so, no doubt, the degree of attention will be according to the interest of the subject as taught. Still, in the one case as in the other, satiety means that sufficient has been received of the kind presented. The child has no more control over attention than he has over appetite, each being regulated by organic conditions in relation to pabulum quite apart from the will.
So much for the mere reception of pabulum by the stomach and by the mind, but the analogy does not end here. In either case the pabulum is in the form of raw material, which, before it can be made any use of, must be elaborated and vitalized by a process totally beyond our power to control in any way. If there could be degrees of the impossible the assimilative mental process might be held to be even further beyond the region of our interference than the analogous digestion and assimilation of food, in the sense that it is further removed from the sphere of our knowledge and understanding. We do know something of the mechanism and the process of digestion,-of the conversion of dead food into living blood; but we are utterly and completely in the dark regarding the action of the brain cells in the assimilation and exercise of ideas. We can judge of this only from its manifestation in the talk and conduct of the child. In that, however, we have ample evidence of spontaneous activity, tending to the permanent location of the new ideas, as living and active items in the physical brain power. I cannot better illustrate this and other points than by a short extract from M. [Francois] Gouin's book,--The Art of Teaching and Studying Languages (p. 37):--
"One day the mother said to the child, 'Would you like to come along with me? I am going to the mill; you have never seen a mill, it will amuse you.' I was present; I heard the proposition; and the words 'you have never seen a mill,' recalled my watchword to me.
"The little lad went along with his mother. He went over the mill from top to bottom. He wanted to see everything, to hear the name of everything, to understand about everything. Everything had to be explained to him. He went up everywhere, went into every corner, stopped before the tick-tack, listening long in mute astonishment. He curiously examined the bolters, the millstones, the hoppers. He made the men open the flour-store; he pulled back the curtain of the bran room, admired the turning of the pans and belts, gazed with a sort of dread at the rotation of the shafting, and the gearing of the cog-wheels, watched the action of the levers, the pulleys, the cranes lifting through space the sacks stuffed full of wheat. All the time his eyes eagerly followed the millers, whitened with flour, moving about here and there, loading and unloading sacks, emptying some, filling others, stopping the motion of the wheels, silencing one clattering wheel, and then starting another."
"Finally the child was led to the great water-wheels outside. He lingered long in ecstacy before these indefatigable workers, and before the mighty, splashing column of water, which, issuing from the mill-pond, already full to overflowing, rushed white with foam along the mill-race, fell in roaring torrents into the floats of the water-wheel, setting and keeping in motion with thunderous roar the giant wheels, with all this immense and marvelous mechanism turning at full speed beneath their impulsion, driving, devouring the work with a bewildering rapidity."
"He came away deafened, stunned, astounded, and went back home absorbed in thought. He pondered continually over what he had seen, striving to digest this vast and prolonged perception. I kept my eyes upon him, wondering what could be passing within him, what use he was going to make of this newly acquired knowledge, and, above all, how he was going to express it."
"In the child the intellectual digestion, like the physical digestion, operates rapidly. This is doubtless owing to the fact that it never overloads its imagination any more than its digestive organs."
"At the end of an hour he had shaken off his burden. Speech returned. He manifested an immense desire to recount to everybody what he had seen. So he told his story, and told it again and again ten times over, always with variants, forgetting some of the details, returning on his track to repair his forgetfulness, and passing from fact to fact, from phrase to phrase, by the same familiar transition, ". . . and then . . .' He was still digesting, but now it was on his own account; I mean, he did not stay to think any further over his perception, he was conceiving it, putting it in order, moulding it into a conception of his own."
"After the discourse came the action; after Saying came Doing. He tormented his mother till she had made him half a dozen little sacks; he tormented his uncle till he had built him a mill. He led the way to a tiny streamlet of water near by, and here, whether I would or no, I had to dig a mill-race, make a waterfall, drive in two supports, smooth two flat pieces of wood, find a branch of willow, cut two clefts in it, stick two pallets in these clefts; in short, manufacture a simulacrum of a large wheel, and then, lastly, place this wheel beneath the waterfall, and arrange it so that it would turn and the mill would work."
"The uncle lent himself with great willingness to all these fantasies, and acquitted himself in the enterprise as well as he could. During all the time, I watched each movement of the importunate little fellow attentively. I noted each of his words, each of his reflections, striving to read the interior thought through the work or the external preoccupation."
"When the mill was definitely mounted and set agoing, the little miller filled his sacks with sand, loaded them on his shoulder with a simulated effort accompanied with a grimace; then, bent and grunting beneath the weight, carried his grain to the mill, shot it out and ground it, so reproducing the scene of the real mill--not as he had seen it, but as he had afterwards 'conceived' it to himself, as he had 'generalised' it."
Here we have the whole process of rational instruction and of spontaneous assimilation and exercise graphically detailed. The visit to the mill may be regarded as an object lesson on rather a large scale,--evidently of a thoroughly interesting kind to the boy, and occupying, probably, about half-an-hour. To all that was shown and explained to him the attention was keenly directed. All his senses were brought actively to bear, conveying their impressions separately to the memory, where each remains as a picture or exact representation, but in a conjoined stream of ideas to the mind, forming a combined concept of the whole, and all to an accompaniment of keen delight. The same information presented in printed form, a la the lesson-book, would have been, of a certainty, rejected, or, under compulsion, laboriously committed to memory without ever reaching the mind at all, and nothing more would have been heard of it. On the other hand grammar, geography, mathematics, and all other school subjects, if presented in a similar way to the above lesson by the living voice of the teacher, supplemented by all available sense aids, as pictures, models, maps, etc., would be received with equal avidity.
But all that is, as it were, the mere planting of the seed. Like the seed, the idea or concept must take root and grow before resulting thought can be expected from it. Had the lad been immediately hurried off to another and different kind of mill, and then to another, and another, and another, for some five or six consecutive hours, all that he had seen and been told in the first would, probably, have passed from his mind leaving no permanent result. But what do we find? After the lesson there is a period of incubation, during which the brain cells are busy with the new ideas which have been planted amongst them, and which are there taking root and sprouting into life. After an hour, these are in vigorous action, working themselves into place along with allied ideas already existing, and finding expression, as with all childish thought, in talk and prattle. Such talk, spontaneous and almost irrepressible, is the sure sign of the knowledge, sought to be implanted, having actually taken root, and so become a permanent, living and active psychical entity. Of ideas so formed and arising from the many objects and events which come under the observation and attract the attention, either casually, in the course of life and conversation, or of set purpose in the way of educational instruction, is the mind composed; beginning as the earliest dawn of intellect, when the whole thinking power may consist of one or two ideas,--as of an object falling to the ground, the production of sound by the rattle or the ticking of a watch,--and accumulating by slow but steady process, till soon they swarm in the brain like bees in a hive, not mere dead pictures of what has been seen and heard, as in the memory, to be reproduced in set form when required, but living, active, busy bees, each capable of looking after its own well-being, but all working together harmoniously under the control of the various faculties in the production of thought.
(To be continued.)
The Position of Play in a System of Rational Education, Part II pgs 105-111
Viewing the mind now from the point at which we have arrived, of ideas or physical units fully organised in the brain, we must shift our analogy from the action of the stomach to that of the muscles. As the stomach and the receptive mental faculties are each directly dependent for their action upon pabulum received from without, and are thus instinctively endowed upon similar lines, so the muscles and the mind are the parts of the organism which require, so-called, voluntary exercise for development. In this case, as in the other, we find analogous provision in the instinctive promptings of the child. With the muscles and the mind, activity in the young is not, as with the other organs, essential to the maintenance and carrying on of life. So far as the mere working of the animal machine is concerned, food and other requirements being provided by the parents, the muscles and the mind might remain entirely quiescent, in which case there could be no development. I need not point out to you how very far this is from being the case; that, on the contrary, both muscles and mind, and especially the latter, are in continual action during the whole waking time of the child, urged thereto by instinctive promptings specially designed to meet the requirements of development. Under the influence of these promptings, the muscles of the child, as in the young of all the higher animals, pull and twist the body into all manner of contortions, quite irrespective of any outward object to be gained, but with the result, in every instance where health and freedom are maintained, of securing the most complete muscular exercise and the most perfect bodily development. In like manner, the young mind, urged by an entirely analogous instinctive impulse, is in a continual ferment of activity, not only every faculty, but every single idea seeking eagerly for the means of exercise; and here also we have abundant evidence, as already pointed out, to prove that this spontaneous activity is amply sufficient for the highest development.
This developmental activity, or Exercise in the sense in which I would have you understand the word, has, in every instance, a certain limit according to organic condition, at the time, of the part concerned. Within this limit, which is much short of actual power, action is readily undertaken, and is attended with a feeling of enjoyment; beyond it, action ceases to be productive of healthy development, becomes irksome or painful, and enters upon the region of strain. To put the position otherwise, there is, at the command of the various mental powers and voluntary muscles, individually and collectively, a certain amount of vital energy available for exercise, the expenditure of which is attended with pleasure. At the back of this, so to speak, there is a further supply required to carry on the process of growth. In case of urgent need, to prevent injury, this latter may be applied to action--which is no longer exercise--but under protest from the instinctive or ruling powers of nature, as being an interference with the work which has been arranged for. The former may be compared to the legitimate expenditure of income upon the requirements of the time; the latter to drain upon capital to meet an immediate necessity, with the effect of future impoverishment. The only possible indication as to this all-important limit is to be found in instinctive prompting with its attendant enjoyment so characteristic of healthy action in the young. Here, therefore, no less than with feeding and instruction, coercive measures are entirely out of place and attended with much danger. With salutary exercise there is no more need of coercion than with savoury food; while, under compulsion, there is no guarantee for action being salutary either in kind or in quantity. Under fear of punishment or hope of prizes or rewards, a child may be led to go counter to natural inclination, which indeed is the only object and effect of such stimulus. What is then to regulate action or draw the line between exercise and strain? And what object has the educator in going beyond what nature has provided for? The position of the coercionist may be stated in the language of Canon Scott Holland. In an article in the May number of the Parents' Review, explaining the use of "Goads in Education," the Canon, after stating that "Education should be pure joy, for freedom is joy, and souls that find their powers arrive should laugh and sing for growth is natural, and to be natural is to be oneself, and to be oneself is to be glad," puts the questions, "Why then should there be any need of goads to bully or to frighten, or to thrust or to drive? Why are our poor chicks to find themselves cooped up, pinned down to weary tasks, grinding at hated jobs? Why are there pains and penalties, black looks, forced efforts, compulsion or menace or tears?" and he gives for answer, "The child has to bring up his capacities to the line where the race now stands. Enormous efforts are required to do this, but the child has to go through it . . . . We all have to do in a few years what it has taken the race thousands of years to accomplish." Could we apply such reasoning to any other natural process? Suppose that civilization required an increase, say, of a foot or of an inch or of a hair-breadth upon natural stature, and that we attempted, by any coercive means, to force growth to that extent! Should we not be laughed at? Can we, by such means, force the growth of a single hair or of any cell or fibre of our frame? But, says the coercionist, the mind is very different from the body. No one is more ready to grant this than I am; but is the difference such as to render coercive measures more warrantable? Can we, who cannot force the growth or alter the color of a single hair, force the growth or the development of the brain cells? Or does he propose to produce mind apart from these? In the former case, our impotence is tangible and apparent to every one; in the latter, all is hidden and mysterious, and it is thus open to unconscious quackery to profess a power which there is no visible means of refuting--although it may well be asked whether the capacities of the race have been increased by the coercion of hundreds or thousands of years, which Roger Ascham protested against in the 16th century, and Homer complained of in his day. Are even the greatest men of this generation so much superior to Homer and Socrates and Shakespeare, Bacon and Milton? It may be asked, too, whether the high pressure of the last twenty years is tending to raise the mental capacity of the race, when we see year after year from the lunacy statistics, that mental breakdown is increasing amongst us by leaps and bounds. A true and just appreciation of the difference between body and mind ought to make us more especially careful in the latter to keep closely by natural indications since we are totally without other knowledge or guidance in the matter. We can bring up the child's capacities only by favouring, as in all true culture, the natural process of development, in which goads have no place.
Assuming, then, a limited amount of developmental activity available for the day's exercise, the question is, what shall we do with it? Here M. Gouin's little story helps to a fine principle. The most recently acquired ideas are always, after they have fairly taken root, the most urgent in their demand for exercise, showing a special need, in their case, with a view to their being fully established in the mind, and brought into due relation with existing ideas. "He tormented his mother till she made him half-a-dozen little sacks; he tormented his uncle till he had built him a mill, etc." Such is the manifestation of activity going on amongst the freshly acquired ideas in the brain, and, along with this, we have the educational aid and guidance by the uncle. But mark the expression, "the uncle lent himself with great willingness to all these fantasies." Such must every be the attitude of the true educator who, at the highest, is but the assistant of the Great Master Educator, the God Who made us and is making the child into the fully developed and fully equipped adult.
If this, as we may call it, initial exercise is to be regarded as Play, as the keen zest and hearty enjoyment with which it is undertaken would suggest, its place in a system of Rational Education is very evident. It ought to follow in appropriate form upon every lesson, or diet of mental pabulum, as, in the true sense of the word, an exercise on that lesson. It is for the teacher, however, not to impose and enforce exercises upon the lessons which have been taught, but simply to afford facilities, aid, and guidance, to the flow of activity which comes as a necessary sequel to true teaching, and is the only indication by which we can judge of this. In such activity, although we may have various bodily movements in imitations of, and abundant verbal reference to what has actually been seen and heard, which remains as a vivid picture upon the memory and is there is seen, so to speak, by the mind's eye, we need not look for any exact reproduction of knowledge at this stage. Had the uncle, instead of lending himself as a guide and help to spontaneous activity, set himself to examine the boy as to his knowledge of the mill, he would have received very little satisfaction; and an exercise prescribed in set form upon the bolters, the millstones, the hoppers, etc., would have procured an equally poor result. As well might we expect ripe fruit as a direct result from planting a seed in the ground as look for a fully formulated reproduction from ideas freshly planted in the brain. With the seed we must be content to wait for, and attend upon, the natural course of development--the seed leaf, the tender shoot, the delicate leaves and the fragile flower, before the fruit can be fully formed. So must the idea be allowed to work out its own development, with such aid and guidance as we can afford. The resulting psychical organism actively evolving living thought is of infinitely greater value, educationally, than any number of dead verbal formulae imprinted on the memory.
It is difficult to differentiate play from work in the child, as, according to nature, play simply is child's work--the work or exercise of body and mind required to prepare for the coming life. There are not two kinds of exercise, a natural kind of play and a different kind for school, any more than there are two kinds of feeding, one for pleasure and another for nutrition. Exercise can only be exercise, and must possess the same characteristics whether entirely spontaneous or utilised for school work. Such is the only guarantee we can have for school work being according to nature, and, therefore, truly promotive of development and future strength. But as I cannot here enter further into the question of school exercises, I shall confine my use of the term Play to such spontaneous activity as is undertaken by the young over and above that dictated by the school, or otherwise.
If the Educator could be supposed to have a complete and accurate knowledge of all the parts to be exercised, we might conceive of a system in which no place would be required for play-in which every muscle of the body and every part and faculty of the mind would, by virtue of inherent tendency and according to a complete method, be duly exercise every day, so as to bring the whole to the highest development. But who is there that can put forward the slightest pretention to such complete knowledge? Who even can have such knowledge of the hundreds of muscles of the body as would enable him to contrive a system which would ensure for each and all the exact amount of daily exercise required? And if this cannot be done with the muscles, where the size and action of each is within the range of anatomical knowledge, who will attempt it with the mind, where all is obscurity and mystery, where it is utterly beyond our power even to identify the organic centre of any single faculty or psychical entity, or to differentiate these in their mental manifestation with any approach to accuracy?
Of correspondingly modest proportions should be the claim of the teacher upon the time and the available energy of his pupils. On school subjects and school lessons it is his province to lead, guide, and assist exercise by all means in his power, in such a way as to train the mind in desirable habits of application; but to limit exercise to these--and we must reckon this from day to day without reference to holidays--is to limit development to what cannot but be regarded as the very narrow bounds of school work. It should be ever present to the teacher's mind that his lessons are only supplemental, and in a comparatively small degree, to those which are being constantly taught in the great school of life; and that exercise required upon many subjects outside his curriculum. As the child at play goes through bodily contortions which would never occur to the gymnast, bringing into action muscles and groups of muscles of which he may know nothing, so, also, mental powers of the greatest value, but which find no place in the school regimen, are exercised and developed in the spontaneous activity of Play. The early life histories of great men show that, in almost every case, the special powers which distinguished them above their fellows were exercised and thus developed, not by compulsory school work, but by the voluntary pursuits and amusements to which they were impelled by a power stronger, even, than the pains and penalties of the school-master. Thus it is told of Sir Isaac Newton that he gave great trouble to his teachers, both by his own inattention to lessons and by distracting the attention of his class-fellows with the many little mechanical contrivances which so greatly occupied his mind. Sir David Brewster says, "It is very probable that Newton's idleness arose from the occupation of his mind with subjects in which he took a deeper interest." The same authority says further, "The toy which amuses the boy will instruct the sage, and many an eminent discoverer and inventor can trace the pursuits which immortalize them to some experiment or instrument which amused them at school." (History of the Stereoscope. [Sir David Brewster])
Sir Walter Scott, while known at school as the Greek dunce, was known also as a marvellous story-teller. According to Lockhart, "He attained greatness by obeying nothing but the strong breath of native inclination." His greatest delight, when very young, was, he himself tell us, to listen to the tales of "an aged hind," of Border fights and Highland raids; and he thus describes the way in which his imagination worked upon the pabulum thus acquired:--
"While stretched at length upon the floor
I need not point out the bearing which such Play had upon the great work which came after.
Is the Education worthy of the name of Rational which leaves out of account such a powerful agency and excludes from the field of mental development all which is not embraced in school lessons? Such, if strictly enforced, as is the tendency of the "educational" (?) high pressure of the day, is not to draw out, but to cabin, crib and confine the mind within the narrowest limits, and to prevent the development of genius and of special intellectual powers for the future. A true estimate of the wonderful complexity and multiformity of the mind, and of the full evolutionary power which we know it possesses, should lead to (1st) as large a portion of the child's time as possible being left free for spontaneous activity, and (2nd) all available means being employed to aid and guide such activity in the most desirable channels.
(To be continued.)
The Position of Play in a System of Rational Education, Part III pgs 382-387
Without attempting to adjudicate as between the respective values of school work and of what George Combe refers to as "my education in practical matters," or professing to have made any careful calculation as to the claims of each upon the child's time, I am convinced that half of each day, say from one o'clock onward, might with very great advantage, be left free for the latter. If we eliminate from school work the learning and repetition of lessons from the book, which I believe to be altogether worthless as compared with oral teaching, the four hours, or, let us say, eight half hours, would be found amply sufficient to embrace all school subjects, and to give, probably, better results than we are accustomed to. Then, with Rational teaching such as I have endeavoured to explain, there would be less need, and, on the part of the pupils, little if any desire for whole holidays from mental any more than from physical feeding. These might therefore be considerably curtailed. Saturdays might be as other days, and the Christmas and Midsummer holidays reduced to one week and one month respectively. This would add seventy days to the school session and go far to balance the loss of two hours to the length of the school day.
Some may think that the holidays now given--the whole of every Saturday, with the Christmas, Easter, and Midsummer vacations, amounting to about three months in the year--afford time for a good allowance of play. They are, certainly, a considerable slice out of the time available for school, and, in that sense, may be called even extravagant; but, in regard to play, a very important point has here to be considered. This is that full development requires daily exercise, in sufficient amount, and the loss of even one day can never afterwards be made up. Then any prolonged period of inaction means far more to development than the actual loss of such time, for this reason, that functional power, which prompts to and determines exercise, diminishes with each day of inaction, so that not only is there the loss of so many days' exercise, but there is a corresponding reduction of capacity for exercise on the days immediately following. Thus after, say, one week of inaction, it may require another week to bring functional power up to its former standard, and during the whole of that time, development must suffer more or less. This fact is well known with regard to the muscles. A boy who had been kept still in bed during the rest of the week would not be chosen to play in a football match on the Saturday, and would have, then, little inclination for vigorous exercises. A fortnight of it and he would, on first getting up, be scarcely able to walk. In the same way, if certain parts of the mind are kept in a state of inaction for six days of the week they have little inclination for exercise on the seventh. Thus it is that children often scarcely know what to do with themselves on the Saturday, and it takes some days of their holidays before they begin to play heartily. I have frequently heard teachers complain of the holidays that they unsettle the pupils, and it always takes some days before they settle quietly down to lessons again. The meaning of this is that faculties, not concerned in school work, have, during the holidays, been brought into action, and attained to some degree of functional vigor, inclining them to activity. It then requires some days of suppression to bring them again into the quiescent condition consistent with the brain monopoly of the school. With the wider view of educational procedure which I venture to advocate, instead of suppressing, we should seek, by all means, to promote daily exercise of these faculties, and so to develop and strengthen the mind in all its parts. If we are to suppose that certain faculties are dependent upon school work for exercise, then two months of continuous inaction must be a very serious loss to development and a great waste of precious time. With the arrangement of school time which I have suggested, the non-school faculties and ideas, which are many and important, would have opportunity for daily exercise. The mind would then return day after day to its favourite amusement, while faculties of exceptional strength would have freedom for exercise they demand, and be thus enabled to fulfil their high density. With true educational work--oral teaching and enjoyable exercise--in the forenoon, and the means and opportunity for spontaneous activity during the rest of the day the pupil would, I believe, go as readily and with as much pleasure to the one as to the other, and a full and harmonious physical and mental development might be carried on during the whole period set apart by nature for the purpose.
With regard to the assistance to be afforded to Play, I would have this activity recognized as a very important part of the educational process, and dealt with accordingly. When we look around us and see the effect of Play in many of its aspects in preparing for the actual work of life, we must see to what an extent it may be utilized with that object. As matters are, it is, to a very great extent, allowed to run to waste. In the absence of any dominating faculty, it makes little difference to the enjoyment of the child what form Play may take, and, apart from stereotyped games, this is, as a rule, determined by what most attracts the attention in the surrounding conditions of life. Such may be of value as fitting the mind for future work, but far more frequently, this activity, which under favourable conditions has had, and may have, such grand results, is frittered away and dissipated over aimless amusements, tending, it is true, to mental development, but upon no definite or useful lines. Now, I hold that money and labour may be as profitably bestowed upon this part of the educational process as upon that embraced by the school. Muscular exercise and physical development are, perhaps, sufficiently recognized, at least, in boys' schools, and there is no lack of assistance being given and money spent in promoting athletic games, sports and exercises. I would here urge that girls should be as liberally dealt with as boys in this respect. There is the same advantage and the same need, only perhaps more so, with a view to counteract conventional and "Mother Grundy" notions as to what is lady-like. I would also urge that the invaluable element of spontaneity be, in all cases, retained as the only trustworthy guiding influence. Enforced games and gymnastic exercise are altogether out of place, and much more apt to do harm than good. For healthy development, the more general the exercise the better, and the internal prompting of nature is the only reliable guide in regulating this. Its complete efficacy, and I may add safety, are absolutely proved in all cases where it has free scope.
[Wikipedia says, "Mrs Grundy is a figurative name for an extremely conventional or priggish person,[ a personification of the tyranny of conventional propriety. A tendency to be overly fearful of what others might think is sometimes referred to as grundyism." ]
When we come to consider the purely mental side of Play--the spontaneous exercise and development of the mental powers--we find it, so far as the school is concerned, very shabbily treated or altogether ignored. Like the streams descending our mountain sides, and the ebb and flow of the tide upon our shores, it is a force of vast potentiality which has yet to be turned to account and applied to the practical work of life. The school affords no opportunity for exerting an influence upon it in any way, and for good or ill it runs its course without help or guidance to very important educational results. While holding that four hours is a sufficient allowance of time for school lessons, I by no means consider that this should be the limit of school or teacher's work. It is far from being the limit of the day's educational process, and I think the school may well devote part of its machinery and of its time to assisting and guiding what remains. Now the suggestion which I venture to bring before you is that provision should be made for this in connection with the school--that a room or covered playground, suitably arranged and supplied with toys, tools, models, bricks, clay, sand, and other appliances with which the young mind seeks to give form and expression to its imaginings and to work out its inventive fancies, should be provided, and the children encouraged to play there according to their inclination, the teachers or others being present to assist and guide, but not to coerce them in their amusements. Such a play-place would bring the stream of mental activity, ever flowing steadily and surely on its course of development, within reach of the guiding and helping hand which might turn it into the most useful and desirable channels, and enable it to surmount difficulties which would otherwise be a serious hindrance to its onward progress. There might many a lad find the bent of his mind, or line of greatest potentiality, and be enabled to follow it up to exceptional development, with corresponding distinction to himself and benefit to the nation, while others might have their interest concentrated upon some definite and useful line of work, and so attain to a high level of ability and success. There, too, might the girl follow out nature's training in the ways of housekeeping and the management of a family, the lack of which is so sadly felt in many a household. But why particularise? There might the young mind in all its phases and potentialities proceed on its course to development under the most favourable conditions, with a general result of fitness and intellectual capacity far beyond all past experience.
And is there not another side to proper education, which, although recognized in the "Code of Regulations and Instructions for the Guidance of Managers and Teacher," is practically shut out from the present school system, but might here find a most suitable field of operation? I refer to moral and social training, upon which personal happiness and social fitness will, in the future, so greatly depend. The social life of the young, which foreshadows and determines that of the adult, is not under the restraints and discipline of the class room, where the personal feelings which prompt to social conduct are in abeyance, and can scarcely be influenced one way or the other, but in the free and spontaneous intercourse of play. It is then that children may be led to have a due regard for the rights, the property, the feelings, and the well-being of others, which is the real basis of all social harmony. Now that intellectual education is imparted to all, it is surely time that steps were taken to ensure a desirable moral bias to guide aright increased intelligence, which, without it, may but mean increased injury or danger to society; and now that the ladder of learning, with which to ascend the social scale, is placed within the reach of all, it would surely be well that the clever and successful, of whatever class, be socially as well as intellectually fitted to take their place in the higher grades of society. By affording special facilities and attractive material for play, there would be no difficulty in bringing children together with all their social instincts and moral propensities in full operation, when, by judicious supervision, they might be guided and influenced in their conduct to one another, so as to train them in the ways of "good society."
While urging the foregoing consideration as, in the highest degree, in the interests of the community and of the nation, I would also put it to you parents of the Educational Union whether it is not, at the same time, a worthy object that, by following the lead and guidance of a beneficent Creator, we should preserve and realize that most beautiful feature of all creative designs, the brightness and happiness of youth. None can desire that "our poor chicks" should continue to be "pinned down to weary tasks, grinding at hated jobs," if a brighter and happier method will give equally good results; and few, I think, will maintain that the coercive method has been so generally and completely satisfactory in its results as to shut out the possibility of a change for the better. Long have we struggled in an uphill fight against nature, and the poor child has been torn and rent between the contending forces which have each been striving toward the same end. It will be no discredit to "own beat" in such a fight. Let us try a change of tactics by forming an alliance with nature, and availing ourselves of the educational forces which she, as first in the field, has had the inestimable advantage of implanting in the child, which are there for the very purpose we have in view, and which must ever be effective to pull with us or against us according as we may elect to adopt nature's plan, thus opening up a true science of education and reaping her reward of happiness; or to insist upon enforcing an empirical plan of our own with "pains and penalties, black looks, forced efforts, compulsion and menace and tears."
[More on J. Strachan at the bottom of this Parents' Review article, in a footnote.]
Proofread by LNL, July 2020
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