HotFreeBooks.com
Craftsmanship in Teaching
by William Chandler Bagley
1  2  3  4     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

CRAFTSMANSHIP IN TEACHING

by

WILLIAM CHANDLER BAGLEY

Author Of "The Educative Process," "Classroom Management," "Educational Values," Etc.



New York The MacMillan Company 1912 All rights reserved Copyright, 1911, by the MacMillan Company. Set up and electrotyped. Published April, 1911. Reprinted June, October, 1911; May, 1912. Norwood Press J.S. Cushing Co.—Berwick & Smith Co. Norwood, Mass., U.S.A.



TO MY PARENTS



PREFACE

The following papers are published chiefly because they treat in a concrete and personal manner some of the principles which the writer has developed in two previously published books, The Educative Process and Classroom Management, and in a forthcoming volume, Educational Values. It is hoped that the more informal discussions presented in the following pages will, in some slight measure, supplement the theoretical and systematic treatment which necessarily characterizes the other books. In this connection, it should be stated that the materials of the first paper here presented were drawn upon in writing Chapter XVIII of Classroom Management, and that the second paper simply states in a different form the conclusions reached in Chapter I of The Educative Process.

The writer is indebted to his colleague, Professor L.F. Anderson, for many criticisms and suggestions and to Miss Bernice Harrison for invaluable aid in editing the papers for publication. But his heaviest debt, here as elsewhere, is to his wife, to whose encouraging sympathy and inspiration whatever may be valuable in this or in his other books must be largely attributed.

URBANA, ILLINOIS, March 1, 1911



CONTENTS

CHAPTER PAGE

I. CRAFTSMANSHIP IN TEACHING 1

II. OPTIMISM IN TEACHING 23

III. HOW MAY WE PROMOTE THE EFFICIENCY OF THE TEACHING FORCE? 43

IV. THE TEST OF EFFICIENCY IN SUPERVISION 63

V. THE SUPERVISOR AND THE TEACHER 77

VI. EDUCATION AND UTILITY 96

VII. THE SCIENTIFIC SPIRIT IN EDUCATION 123

VIII. THE POSSIBILITY OF TRAINING CHILDREN TO STUDY 144

IX. A PLEA FOR THE DEFINITE IN EDUCATION 164

X. SCIENCE AS RELATED TO THE TEACHING OF LITERATURE 191

XI. THE NEW ATTITUDE TOWARD DRILL 204

XII. THE IDEAL TEACHER 229



CRAFTSMANSHIP IN TEACHING

I

CRAFTSMANSHIP IN TEACHING[1]

I

"In the laboratory of life, each newcomer repeats the old experiments, and laughs and weeps for himself. We will be explorers, though all the highways have their guideposts and every bypath is mapped. Helen of Troy will not deter us, nor the wounds of Caesar frighten, nor the voice of the king crying 'Vanity!' from his throne dismay. What wonder that the stars that once sang for joy are dumb and the constellations go down in silence."—ARTHUR SHERBURNE HARDY: The Wind of Destiny.

We tend, I think, to look upon the advice that we give to young people as something that shall disillusionize them. The cynic of forty sneers at what he terms the platitudes of commencement addresses. He knows life. He has been behind the curtains. He has looked upon the other side of the scenery,—the side that is just framework and bare canvas. He has seen the ugly machinery that shifts the stage setting—the stage setting which appears so impressive when viewed from the front. He has seen the rouge on the cheeks that seem to blush with the bloom of youth and beauty and innocence, and has caught the cold glint in the eyes that, from the distance, seem to languish with tenderness and love. Why, he asks, should we create an illusion that must thus be rudely dispelled? Why revamp and refurbish the old platitudes and dole them out each succeeding year? Why not tell these young people the truth and let them be prepared for the fate that must come sooner or later?

But the cynic forgets that there are some people who never lose their illusions,—some men and women who are always young,—and, whatever may be the type of men and women that other callings and professions desire to enroll in their service, this is the type that education needs. The great problem of the teacher is to keep himself in this class, to keep himself young, to preserve the very things that the cynic pleases to call the illusions of his youth. And so much do I desire to impress these novitiates into our calling with the necessity for preserving their ideals that I shall ask them this evening to consider with me some things which would, I fear, strike the cynic as most illusionary and impractical. The initiation ceremonies that admitted the young man to the privileges and duties of knighthood included the taking of certain vows, the making of certain pledges of devotion and fidelity to the fundamental principles for which chivalry stood. And I should like this evening to imagine that these graduates are undergoing an analogous initiation into the privileges and duties of schoolcraft, and that these vows which I shall enumerate, embody some of the ideals that govern the work of that craft.

II

And the first of these vows I shall call, for want of a better term, the vow of "artistry,"—the pledge that the initiate takes to do the work that his hand finds to do in the best possible manner, without reference to the effort that it may cost or to the reward that it may or may not bring.

I call this the vow of artistry because it represents the essential attitude of the artist toward his work. The cynic tells us that ideals are illusions of youth, and yet, the other day I saw expressed in a middle-aged working-man a type of idealism that is not at all uncommon in this world. He was a house painter; his task was simply the prosaic job of painting a door; and yet, from the pains which he took with that work, an observer would have concluded that it was, to the painter, the most important task in the world. And that, after all, is the true test of craft artistry: to the true craftsman the work that he is doing must be the most important thing that can be done. One of the best teachers that I know is that kind of a craftsman in education. A student was once sent to observe his work. He was giving a lesson upon the "attribute complement" to an eighth-grade grammar class. I asked the student afterward what she had got from her visit. "Why," she replied, "that man taught as if the very greatest achievement in life would be to get his pupils to understand the attribute complement,—and when he had finished, they did understand it."

In a narrower sense, this vow of artistry carries with it an appreciation of the value of technique. From the very fact of their normal school training, these graduates already possess a certain measure of skill, a certain mastery of the technique of their craft. This initial mastery has been gained in actual contact with the problems of school work in their practice teaching. They have learned some of the rudiments; they have met and mastered some of the rougher, cruder difficulties. The finer skill, the delicate and intangible points of technique, they must acquire, as all beginners must acquire them, through the strenuous processes of self-discipline in the actual work of the years that are to come. This is a process that takes time, energy, constant and persistent application. All that this school or any school can do for its students in this respect is to start them upon the right track in the acquisition of skill. But do not make the mistake of assuming that this is a small and unimportant matter. If this school did nothing more than this, it would still repay tenfold the cost of its establishment and maintenance. Three fourths of the failures in a world that sometimes seems full of failures are due to nothing more nor less than a wrong start. In spite of the growth of professional training for teachers within the past fifty years, many of our lower schools are still filled with raw recruits, fresh from the high schools and even from the grades, who must learn every practical lesson of teaching through the medium of their own mistakes. Even if this were all, the process would involve a tremendous and uncalled-for waste. But this is not all; for, out of this multitude of untrained teachers, only a small proportion ever recognize the mistakes that they make and try to correct them.

To you who are beginning the work of life, the mastery of technique may seem a comparatively unimportant matter. You recognize its necessity, of course, but you think of it as something of a mechanical nature,—an integral part of the day's work, but uninviting in itself,—something to be reduced as rapidly as possible to the plane of automatism and dismissed from the mind. I believe that you will outgrow this notion. As you go on with your work, as you increase in skill, ever and ever the fascination of its technique will take a stronger and stronger hold upon you. This is the great saving principle of our workaday life. This is the factor that keeps the toiler free from the deadening effects of mechanical routine. It is the factor that keeps the farmer at his plow, the artisan at his bench, the lawyer at his desk, the artist at his palette.

I once worked for a man who had accumulated a large fortune. At the age of seventy-five he divided this fortune among his children, intending to retire; but he could find pleasure and comfort only in the routine of business. In six months he was back in his office. He borrowed twenty-five thousand dollars on his past reputation and started in to have some fun. I was his only employee at the time, and I sat across the big double desk from him, writing his letters and keeping his accounts. He would sit for hours, planning for the establishment of some industry or running out the lines that would entangle some old adversary. I did not stay with him very long, but before I left, he had a half-dozen thriving industries on his hands, and when he died three years later he had accumulated another fortune of over a million dollars.

That is an example of what I mean by the fascination that the technique of one's craft may come to possess. It is the joy of doing well the work that you know how to do. The finer points of technique,—those little things that seem so trivial in themselves and yet which mean everything to skill and efficiency,—what pride the competent artisan or the master artist takes in these! How he delights to revel in the jargon of his craft! How he prides himself in possessing the knowledge and the technical skill that are denied the layman!

I am aware that I am somewhat unorthodox in urging this view of your work upon you. Teachers have been encouraged to believe that details are not only unimportant but stultifying,—that teaching ability is a function of personality, and not a product of a technique that must be acquired through the strenuous discipline of experience. One of the most skillful teachers of my acquaintance is a woman down in the grades. I have watched her work for days at a time, striving to learn its secret. I can find nothing there that is due to genius,—unless we accept George Eliot's definition of genius as an infinite capacity for receiving discipline. That teacher's success, by her own statement, is due to a mastery of technique, gained through successive years of growth checked by a rigid responsibility for results. She has found out by repeated trial how to do her work in the best way; she has discovered the attitude toward her pupils that will get the best work from them,—the clearest methods of presenting subject matter; the most effective ways in which to drill; how to use text-books and make study periods issue in something besides mischief; and, more than all else, how to do these things without losing sight of the true end of education. Very frequently I have taken visiting school men to see this teacher's work. Invariably after leaving her room they have turned to me with such expressions as these: "A born teacher!" "What interest!" "What a personality!" "What a voice!"—everything, in fact, except this,—which would have been the truth: "What a tribute to years of effort and struggle and self-discipline!"

I have a theory which I have never exploited very seriously, but I will give it to you for what it is worth. It is this: elementary education especially needs a literary interpretation. It needs a literary artist who will portray to the public in the form of fiction the real life of the elementary school,—who will idealize the technique of teaching as Kipling idealized the technique of the marine engineer, as Balzac idealized the technique of the journalist, as Du Maurier and a hundred other novelists have idealized the technique of the artist. We need some one to exploit our shop-talk on the reading public, and to show up our work as you and I know it, not as you and I have been told by laymen that it ought to be,—a literature of the elementary school with the cant and the platitudes and the goody-goodyism left out, and in their place something of the virility, of the serious study, of the manful effort to solve difficult problems, of the real and vital achievements that are characteristic of thousands of elementary schools throughout the country to-day.

At first you will be fascinated by the novelty of your work. But that soon passes away. Then comes the struggle,—then comes the period, be it long or short, when you will work with your eyes upon the clock, when you will count the weeks, the days, the hours, the minutes that lie between you and vacation time. Then will be the need for all the strength and all the energy that you can summon to your aid. Fail here, and your fate is decided once and for all. If, in your work, you never get beyond this stage, you will never become the true craftsman. You will never taste the joy that is vouchsafed the expert, the efficient craftsman.

The length of this period varies with different individuals. Some teachers "find themselves" quickly. They seem to settle at once into the teaching attitude. With others is a long, uphill fight. But it is safe to say that if, at the end of three years, your eyes still habitually seek the clock,—if, at the end of that time, your chief reward is the check that comes at the end of every fourth week,—then your doom is sealed.

III

And the second vow that I should urge these graduates to take is the vow of fidelity to the spirit of their calling. We have heard a great deal in recent years about making education a profession. I do not like that term myself. Education is not a profession in the sense that medicine and law are professions. It is rather a craft, for its duty is to produce, to mold, to fashion, to transform a certain raw material into a useful product. And, like all crafts, education must possess the craft spirit. It must have a certain code of craft ethics; it must have certain standards of craft excellence and efficiency. And in these the normal school must instruct its students, and to these it should secure their pledge of loyalty and fidelity and devotion.

A true conception of this craft spirit in education is one of the most priceless possessions of the young teacher, for it will fortify him against every criticism to which his calling is subjected. It is revealing no secret to tell you that the teacher's work is not held in the highest regard by the vast majority of men and women in other walks of life. I shall not stop to inquire why this is so, but the fact cannot be doubted, and every now and again some incident of life, trifling perhaps in itself, will bring it to your notice; but most of all, perhaps you will be vexed and incensed by the very thing that is meant to put you at your ease—the patronizing attitude which your friends in other walks of life will assume toward you and toward your work.

When will the good public cease to insult the teacher's calling with empty flattery? When will men who would never for a moment encourage their own sons to enter the work of the public schools, cease to tell us that education is the greatest and noblest of all human callings? Education does not need these compliments. The teacher does not need them. If he is a master of his craft, he knows what education means,—he knows this far better than any layman can tell him. And what boots it to him, if, with all this cant and hypocrisy about the dignity and worth of his calling, he can sometimes hold his position only at the sacrifice of his self-respect?

But what is the relation of the craft spirit to these facts? Simply this: the true craftsman, by the very fact that he is a true craftsman, is immune to these influences. What does the true artist care for the plaudits or the sneers of the crowd? True, he seeks commendation and welcomes applause, for your real artist is usually extremely human; but he seeks this commendation from another source—from a source that metes it out less lavishly and yet with unconditioned candor. He seeks the commendation of his fellow-workmen, the applause of "those who know, and always will know, and always will understand." He plays to the pit and not to the gallery, for he knows that when the pit really approves the gallery will often echo and reecho the applause, albeit it has not the slightest conception of what the whole thing is about.

What education stands in need of to-day is just this: a stimulating and pervasive craft spirit. If a human calling would win the world's respect, it must first respect itself; and the more thoroughly it respects itself, the greater will be the measure of homage that the world accords it. In one of the educational journals a few years ago, the editors ran a series of articles under the general caption, "Why I am a teacher." It reminded me of the spirited discussion that one of the Sunday papers started some years since on the world-old query, "Is marriage a failure?" And some of the articles were fully as sickening in their harrowing details as were some of the whining matrimonial confessions of the latter series. But the point that I wish to make is this: your true craftsman in education never stops to ask himself such questions. There are some men to whom schoolcraft is a mistress. They love it, and their devotion is no make-believe, fashioned out of sentiment, and donned for the purpose of hiding inefficiency or native indolence. They love it as some men love Art, and others Business, and others War. They do not stop to ask the reason why, to count the cost, or to care a fig what people think. They are properly jealous of their special knowledge, gained through years of special study; they are justly jealous of their special skill gained through years of discipline and training. They resent the interference of laymen in matters purely professional. They resent such interference as would a reputable physician, a reputable lawyer, a reputable engineer. They resent officious patronage and "fussy" meddling. They resent all these things manfully, vigorously. But your true craftsman will not whine. If the conditions under which he works do not suit him, he will fight for their betterment, but he will not whine.

IV

And yet this vow of fidelity and devotion to the spirit of schoolcraft would be an empty form without the two complementary vows that give it worth and meaning. These are the vow of poverty and the vow of service. It is through these that the true craft spirit must find its most vigorous expression and its only justification. The very corner stone of schoolcraft is service, and one fundamental lesson that the tyro in schoolcraft must learn, especially in this materialistic age, is that the value of service is not to be measured in dollars and cents. In this respect, teaching resembles art, music, literature, discovery, invention, and pure science; for, if all the workers in all of these branches of human activity got together and demanded of the world the real fruits of their self-sacrifice and labor,—if they demanded all the riches and comforts and amenities of life that have flowed directly or indirectly from their efforts,—there would be little left for the rest of mankind. Each of these activities is represented by a craft spirit that recognizes this great truth. The artist or the scientist who has an itching palm, who prostitutes his craft for the sake of worldly gain, is quickly relegated to the oblivion that he deserves. He loses caste, and the caste of craft is more precious to your true craftsman than all the gold of the modern Midas.

You may think that this is all very well to talk about, but that it bears little agreement to the real conditions. Let me tell you that you are mistaken. Go ask Roentgen why he did not keep the X-rays a secret to be exploited for his own personal gain. Ask the shade of the great Helmholtz why he did not patent the ophthalmoscope. Go to the University of Wisconsin and ask Professor Babcock why he gave to the world without money and without price the Babcock test—an invention which is estimated to mean more than one million dollars every year to the farmers and dairymen of that state alone. Ask the men on the geological survey who laid bare the great gold deposits of Alaska why they did not leave a thankless and ill-paid service to acquire the wealth that lay at their feet. Because commercialized ideals govern the world that we know, we think that all men's eyes are jaundiced, and that all men's vision is circumscribed by the milled rim of the almighty dollar. But we are sadly, miserably mistaken.

Do you think that these ideals of service from which every taint of self-seeking and commercialism have been eliminated—do you think that these are mere figments of the impractical imagination? Go ask Perry Holden out in Iowa. Go ask Luther Burbank out in California. Go to any agricultural college in this broad land and ask the scientists who are doing more than all other forces combined to increase the wealth of the people. Go to the scientific departments at Washington where men of genius are toiling for a pittance. Ask them how much of the wealth for which they are responsible they propose to put into their own pockets. What will be their answer? They will tell you that all they ask is a living wage, a chance to work, and the just recognition of their services by those who know and appreciate and understand.

But let me hasten to add that these men claim no especial merit for their altruism and unselfishness. They do not pose before the world as philanthropists. They do not strut about and preen themselves as who would say: "See what a noble man am I! See how I sacrifice myself for the welfare of society!" The attitude of cant and pose is entirely alien to the spirit of true service. Their delight is in doing, in serving, in producing. But beyond this, they have the faults and frailties of their kind,—save one,—the sin of covetousness. And again, all that they ask of the world is a living wage, and the privilege to serve.

And that is all that the true craftsman in education asks. The man or woman with the itching palm has no place in the schoolroom,—no place in any craft whose keynote is service. It is true that the teacher does not receive to-day, in all parts of our country, a living wage; and it is equally true that society at large is the greatest sufferer because of its penurious policy in this regard. I should applaud and support every movement that has for its purpose the raising of teachers' salaries to the level of those paid in other branches of professional service. Society should do this for its own benefit and in its own defense, not as a matter of charity to the men and women who, among all public servants, should be the last to be accused of feeding gratuitously at the public crib. I should approve all honest efforts of school men and school women toward this much-desired end. But whenever men and women enter schoolcraft because of the material rewards that it offers, the virtue will have gone out of our calling,—just as the virtue went out of the Church when, during the Middle Ages, the Church attracted men, not because of the opportunities that it offered for social service, but because of the opportunities that it offered for the acquisition of wealth and temporal power,—just as the virtue has gone out of certain other once-noble professions that have commercialized their standards and tarnished their ideals.

This is not to say that one condemns the man who devotes his life to the accumulation of property. The tremendous strides that our country has made in material civilization have been conditioned in part by this type of genius. Creative genius must always compel our admiration and our respect. It may create a world epic, a matchless symphony of tones or pigments, a scientific theory of tremendous grasp and limitless scope; or it may create a vast industrial system, a commercial enterprise of gigantic proportions, a powerful organization of capital. Genius is pretty much the same wherever we find it, and everywhere we of the common clay must recognize its worth.

The grave defect in our American life is not that we are hero worshipers, but rather that we worship but one type of hero; we recognize but one type of achievement; we see but one sort of genius. For two generations our youth have been led to believe that there is only one ambition that is worth while,—the ambition of property. Success at any price is the ideal that has been held up before our boys and girls. And to-day we are reaping the rewards of this distorted and unjust view of life.

I recently met a man who had lived for some years in the neighborhood of St. Paul and Minneapolis,—a section that is peopled, as you know, very largely by Scandinavian immigrants and their descendants. This man told me that he had been particularly impressed by the high idealism of the Norwegian people. His business brought him in contact with Norwegian immigrants in what are called the lower walks of life,—with workingmen and servant girls,—and he made it a point to ask each of these young men and young women the same question. "Tell me," he would say, "who are the great men of your country? Who are the men toward whom the youth of your land are led to look for inspiration? Who are the men whom your boys are led to imitate and emulate and admire?" And he said that he almost always received the same answer to this question: the great names of the Norwegian nation that had been burned upon the minds even of these workingmen and servant girls were just four in number: Ole Bull, Bjoernson, Ibsen, Nansen. Over and over again he asked that same question; over and over again he received the same answer: Ole Bull, Bjoernson, Ibsen, Nansen. A great musician, a great novelist, a great dramatist, a great scientist.

And I conjectured as I heard of this incident, What would be the answer if the youth of our land were asked that question: "Who are the great men of your country? What type of achievement have you been led to imitate and emulate and admire?" How many of our boys and girls have even heard of our great men in the world of culture,—unless, indeed, such men lived a half century ago and have got into the school readers by this time? How many of our boys and girls have ever heard of MacDowell, or James, or Whistler, or Sargent?

I have said that the teacher must take the vow of service. What does this imply except that the opportunity for service, the privilege of serving, should be the opportunity that one seeks, and that the achievements toward which one aspires should be the achievements of serving? The keynote of service lies in self-sacrifice,—in self-forgetfulness, rather,—in merging one's own life in the lives of others. The attitude of the true teacher in this respect is very similar to the attitude of the true parent. In so far as the parent feels himself responsible for the character of his children, in so far as he holds himself culpable for their shortcomings and instrumental in shaping their virtues, he loses himself in his children. What we term parental affection is, I believe, in part an outgrowth of this feeling of responsibility. The situation is precisely the same with the teacher. It is when the teacher begins to feel himself responsible for the growth and development of his pupils that he begins to find himself in the work of teaching. It is then that the effective devotion to his pupils has its birth. The affection that comes prior to this is, I think, very likely to be of the sentimental and transitory sort.

In education, as in life, we play altogether too carelessly with the word "love." The test of true devotion is self-forgetfulness. Until the teacher reaches that point, he is conscious of two distinct elements in his work,—himself and his pupils. When that time comes, his own ego drops from view, and he lives in and for his pupils. The young teacher's tendency is always to ask himself, "Do my pupils like me?" Let me say that this is beside the question. It is not, from his standpoint, a matter of the pupils liking their teacher, but of the teacher liking his pupils. That, I take it, must be constantly the point of view. If you ask the other question first, you will be tempted to gain your end by means that are almost certain to prove fatal,—to bribe and pet and cajole and flatter, to resort to the dangerous expedient of playing to the gallery; but the liking that you get in this way is not worth the price that you pay for it. I should caution young teachers against the short-sighted educational theories that are in the air to-day, and that definitely recommend this attitude. They may sound sweet, but they are soft and sticky in practice. Better be guided by instinct than by "half-baked" theory. I have no disposition to criticize the attempts that have been made to rationalize educational practice, but a great deal of contemporary theory starts at the wrong end. It has failed to go to the sources of actual experience for its data. I know a father and mother who have brought up ten children successfully, and I may say that you could learn more about managing boys and girls from observing their methods than from a half-dozen prominent books on educational theory that I could name.

And so I repeat that the true test of the teacher's fidelity to this vow of service is the degree in which he loses himself in his pupils,—the degree in which he lives and toils and sacrifices for them just for the pure joy that it brings him. Once you have tasted this joy, no carping sneer of the cynic can cause you to lose faith in your calling. Material rewards sink into insignificance. You no longer work with your eyes upon the clock. The hours are all too short for the work that you would do. You are as light-hearted and as happy as a child,—for you have lost yourself to find yourself, and you have found yourself to lose yourself.



V

And the final vow that I would have these graduates take is the vow of idealism,—the pledge of fidelity and devotion to certain fundamental principles of life which it is the business of education carefully to cherish and nourish and transmit untarnished to each succeeding generation. These but formulate in another way what the vows that I have already discussed mean by implication. One is the ideal of social service, upon which education must, in the last analysis, rest its case. The second is the ideal of science,—the pledge of devotion to that persistent unwearying search after truth, of loyalty to the great principles of unbiased observation and unprejudiced experiment, of willingness to accept the truth and be governed by it, no matter how disagreeable it may be, no matter how roughly it may trample down our pet doctrines and our preconceived theories. The nineteenth century left us a glorious heritage in the great discoveries and inventions that science has established. These must not be lost to posterity; but far better lose them than lose the spirit of free inquiry, the spirit of untrammeled investigation, the noble devotion to truth for its own sake that made these discoveries and inventions possible.

It is these ideals that education must perpetuate, and if education is successfully to perpetuate them, the teacher must himself be filled with a spirit of devotion to the things that they represent. Science has triumphed over superstition and fraud and error. It is the teacher's duty to see to it that this triumph is permanent, that mankind does not again fall back into the black pit of ignorance and superstition.

And so it is the teacher's province to hold aloft the torch, to stand against the materialistic tendencies that would reduce all human standards to the common denominator of the dollar, to insist at all times and at all places that this nation of ours was founded upon idealism, and that, whatever may be the prevailing tendencies of the time, its children shall still learn to live "among the sunlit peaks." And if the teacher is imbued with this idealism, although his work may take him very close to Mother Earth, he may still lift his head above the fog and look the morning sun squarely in the face.

FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote 1: An address to the graduating class of the Oswego, New York, State Normal School, February, 1907.]



II

OPTIMISM IN TEACHING[2]

Although the month is March and not November, it is never unseasonable to count up the blessings for which it is well to be thankful. In fact, from the standpoint of education, the spring is perhaps the appropriate time to perform this very pleasant function. As if still further to emphasize the fact that education, like civilization, is an artificial thing, we have reversed the operations of Mother Nature: we sow our seed in the fall and cultivate our crops during the winter and reap our harvests in the spring. I may be pardoned, therefore, for making the theme of my discussion a brief review of the elements of growth and victory for which the educator of to-day may justly be grateful, with, perhaps, a few suggestions of what the next few years may reasonably be expected to bring forth.

And this course is all the more necessary because, I believe, the teaching profession is unduly prone to pessimism. One might think at first glance that the contrary would be true. We are surrounded on every side by youth. Youth is the material with which we constantly deal. Youth is buoyant, hopeful, exuberant; and yet, with this material constantly surrounding us, we frequently find the task wearisome and apparently hopeless. The reason is not far to seek. Youth is not only buoyant, it is unsophisticated, it is inexperienced, in many important particulars it is crude. Some of its tastes must necessarily, in our judgment, hark back to the primitive, to the barbaric. Ours is continually the task to civilize, to sophisticate, to refine this raw material. But, unfortunately for us, the effort that we put forth does not always bring results that we can see and weigh and measure. The hopefulness of our material is overshadowed not infrequently by its crudeness. We take each generation as it comes to us. We strive to lift it to the plane that civilized society has reached. We do our best and pass it on, mindful of the many inadequacies, perhaps of the many failures, in our work. We turn to the new generation that takes its place. We hope for better materials, but we find no improvement.

And so you and I reflect in our occasional moments of pessimism that generic situation which inheres in the very work that we do. The constantly accelerated progress of civilization lays constantly increasing burdens upon us. In some way or another we must accomplish the task. In some way or another we must lift the child to the level of society, and, as society is reaching a continually higher and higher level, so the distance through which the child must be raised is ever increased. We would like to think that all this progress in the race would come to mean that we should be able to take the child at a higher level; but you who deal with children know from experience the principle for which the biologist Weismann stands sponsor—the principle, namely, that acquired characteristics are not inherited; that whatever changes may be wrought during life in the brains and nerves and muscles of the present generation cannot be passed on to its successor save through the same laborious process of acquisition and training; that, however far the civilization of the race may progress, education, whose duty it is to conserve and transmit this civilization, must always begin with the "same old child."

This, I take it, is the deep-lying cause of the schoolmaster's pessimism. In our work we are constantly struggling against that same inertia which held the race in bondage for how many millenniums only the evolutionist can approximate a guess,—that inertia of the primitive, untutored mind which we to-day know as the mind of childhood, but which, for thousands of generations, was the only kind of a mind that man possessed. This inertia has been conquered at various times in the course of recorded history,—in Egypt and China and India, in Chaldea and Assyria, in Greece and Rome,—conquered only again to reassert itself and drive man back into barbarism. Now we of the Western world have conquered it, let us hope, for all time; for we of the Western world have discovered an effective method of holding it in abeyance, and this method is universal public education.

Let Germany close her public schools, and in two generations she will lapse back into the semi-darkness of medievalism; let her close both her public schools and her universities, and three generations will fetch her face to face with the Dark Ages; let her destroy her libraries and break into ruin all of her works of art, all of her existing triumphs of technical knowledge and skill, from which a few, self-tutored, might glean the wisdom that is every one's to-day, and Germany will soon become the home of a savage race, as it was in the days of Tacitus and Caesar. Let Italy close her public schools, and Italy will become the same discordant jumble of petty states that it was a century ago,—again to await, this time perhaps for centuries or millenniums, another Garibaldi and Victor Emmanuel to work her regeneration. Let Japan close her public schools, and Japan in two generations will be a barbaric kingdom of the Shoguns, shorn of every vestige of power and prestige,—the easy victim of the machinations of Western diplomats. Let our country cease in its work of education, and these United States must needs pass through the reverse stages of their growth until another race of savages shall roam through the unbroken forest, now and then to reach the shores of ocean and gaze through the centuries, eastward, to catch a glimpse of the new Columbus. Like the moving pictures of the kinetoscope when the reels are reversed, is the picture that imagination can unroll if we grant the possibility of a lapse from civilization to savagery.

And so when we take the broader view, we quickly see that, in spite of our pessimism, we are doing something in the world. We are part of that machine which civilization has invented and is slowly perfecting to preserve itself. We may be a very small part, but, so long as the responsibility for a single child rests upon us, we are not an unimportant part. Society must reckon with you and me perhaps in an infinitesimal degree, but it must reckon with the institution which we represent as it reckons with no other institution that it has reared to subserve its needs.

In a certain sense these statements are platitudes. We have repeated them over and over again until the words have lost their tremendous significance. And it behooves us now and again to revive the old substance in a new form,—to come afresh to a self-consciousness of our function. It is not good for any man to hold a debased and inferior opinion of himself or of his work, and in the field of schoolcraft it is easy to fall into this self-depreciating habit of thought. We cannot hope that the general public will ever come to view our work in the true perspective that I have very briefly outlined. It would probably not be wise to promulgate publicly so pronounced an affirmation of our function and of our worth. The popular mind must think in concrete details rather than in comprehensive principles, when the subject of thought is a specialized vocation. You and I have crude ideas, no doubt, of the lawyer's function, of the physician's function, of the clergyman's function. Not less crude are their ideas of our function. Even when they patronize us by saying that our work is the noblest that any man or woman would engage in, they have but a vague and shadowy perception of its real significance. I doubt not that, with the majority of those who thus pat us verbally upon the back, the words that they use are words only. They do not envy us our privileges,—unless it is our summer vacations,—nor do they encourage their sons to enter service in our craft. The popular mind—the nontechnical mind,—must work in the concrete;—it must have visible evidences of power and influence before it pays homage to a man or to an institution.

Throughout the German empire the traveler is brought constantly face to face with the memorials that have been erected by a grateful people to the genius of the Iron Chancellor. Bismarck richly deserves the tribute that is paid to his memory, but a man to be honored in this way must exert a tangible and an obvious influence.

And yet, in a broader sense, the preeminence of Germany is due in far greater measure to two men whose names are not so frequently to be found inscribed upon towers and monuments. In the very midst of the havoc and devastation wrought by the Napoleon wars,—at the very moment when the German people seemed hopelessly crushed and defeated,—an intellect more penetrating than that of Bismarck grasped the logic of the situation. With the inspiration that comes with true insight, the philosopher Fichte issued his famous Addresses to the German people. With clear-cut argument couched in white-hot words, he drove home the great principle that lies at the basis of United Germany and upon the results of which Bismarck and Von Moltke and the first Emperor erected the splendid structure that to-day commands the admiration of the world. Fichte told the German people that their only hope lay in universal, public education. And the kingdom of Prussia—impoverished, bankrupt, war-ridden, and war-devastated—heard the plea. A great scheme that comprehended such an education was already at hand. It had fallen almost stillborn from the only kind of a mind that could have produced it,—a mind that was suffused with an overwhelming love for humanity and incomparably rich with the practical experiences of a primary schoolmaster. It had fallen from the mind of Pestalozzi, the Swiss reformer, who thus stands with Fichte as one of the vital factors in the development of Germany's educational supremacy.

The people's schools of Prussia, imbued with the enthusiasm of Fichte and Pestalozzi,[3] gave to Germany the tremendous advantage that enabled it so easily to overcome its hereditary foe, when, two generations later, the Franco-Prussian War was fought; for the Volksschule gave to Germany something that no other nation of that time possessed; namely, an educated proletariat, an intelligent common people. Bismarck knew this when he laid his cunning plans for the unification of German states that was to crown the brilliant series of victories beginning at Sedan and ending within the walls of Paris. William of Prussia knew it when, in the royal palace at Versailles, he accepted the crown that made him the first Emperor of United Germany. Von Moltke knew it when, at the capitulation of Paris, he was asked to whom the credit of the victory was due, and he replied, in the frank simplicity of the true soldier and the true hero, "The schoolmaster did it."

And yet Bismarck and Von Moltke and the Emperor are the heroes of Germany, and if Fichte and Pestalozzi are not forgotten, at least their memories are not cherished as are the memories of the more tangible and obvious heroes. Instinct lies deeply embedded in human nature and it is instinctive to think in the concrete. And so I repeat that we cannot expect the general public to share in the respect and veneration which you and I feel for our calling, for you and I are technicians in education, and we can see the process as a comprehensive whole. But our fellow men and women have their own interests and their own departments of technical knowledge and skill; they see the schoolhouse and the pupils' desks and the books and other various material symbols of our work,—they see these things and call them education; just as we see a freight train thundering across the viaduct or a steamer swinging out in the lake and call these things commerce. In both cases, the nontechnical mind associates the word with something concrete and tangible; in both cases, the technical mind associates the same word with an abstract process, comprehending a movement of vast proportions.

To compress such a movement—whether it be commerce or government or education—in a single conception requires a multitude of experiences involving actual adjustments with the materials involved; involving constant reflection upon hidden meanings, painful investigations into hidden causes, and mastery of a vast body of specialized knowledge which it takes years of study to digest and assimilate.

It is not every stevedore upon the docks, nor every stoker upon the steamers, nor every brakeman upon the railroads, who comprehends what commerce really means. It is not every banker's clerk who knows the meaning of business. It is not every petty holder of public office who knows what government really means. But this, at least, is true: in proportion as the worker knows the meaning of the work that he does,—in proportion as he sees it in its largest relations to society and to life,—his work is no longer the drudgery of routine toil. It becomes instead an intelligent process directed toward a definite goal. It has acquired that touch of artistry which, so far as human testimony goes, is the only pure and uncontaminated source of human happiness.

And the chief blessing for which you and I should be thankful to-day is that this larger view of our calling has been vouchsafed to us as it has been vouchsafed no former generation of teachers. Education as the conventional prerogative of the rich,—as the garment which separated the higher from the lower classes of society,—this could scarcely be looked upon as a fascinating and uplifting ideal from which to derive hope and inspiration in the day's work; and yet this was the commonly accepted function of education for thousands of years, and the teachers who did the actual work of instruction could not but reflect in their attitude and bearing the servile character of the task that they performed. Education to fit the child to earn a better living, to command a higher wage,—this myopic view of the function of the school could do but little to make the work of teaching anything but drudgery; and yet it is this narrow and materialistic view that has dominated our educational system to within a comparatively few years.

So silently and yet so insistently have our craft ideals been transformed in the last two decades that you and I are scarcely aware that our point of view has been changed and that we are looking upon our work from a much higher point of vantage and in a light entirely new. And yet this is the change that has been wrought. That education, in its widest meaning, is the sole conservator and transmitter of civilization to successive generations found expression as far back as Aristotle and Plato, and has been vaguely voiced at intervals down through the centuries; but its complete establishment came only as an indirect issue of the great scientific discoveries of the nineteenth century, and its application to the problems of practical schoolcraft and its dissemination through the rank and file of teachers awaited the dawn of the twentieth century. To-day we see expressions and indications of the new outlook upon every hand, in the greatly increased professional zeal that animates the teacher's calling; in the widespread movement among all civilized countries to raise the standards of teachers, to eliminate those candidates for service who have not subjected themselves to the discipline of special preparation; in the increased endowments and appropriations for schools and seminaries that prepare teachers; and, perhaps most strikingly at the present moment, in that concerted movement to organize into institutions of formal education, all of those branches of training which have, for years, been left to the chance operation of economic needs working through the crude and unorganized though often effective apprentice system. The contemporary fervor for industrial education is only one expression of this new view that, in the last analysis, the school must stand sponsor for the conservation and transmission of every valuable item of experience, every usable fact or principle, every tiniest perfected bit of technical skill, every significant ideal or prejudice, that the race has acquired at the cost of so much struggle and suffering and effort.

I repeat that this new vantage point from which to gain a comprehensive view of our calling has been attained only as an indirect result of the scientific investigations of the nineteenth century. We are wont to study the history of education from the work and writings of a few great reformers, and it is true that much that is valuable in our present educational system can be understood and appreciated only when viewed in the perspective of such sources. Aristotle and Quintilian, Abelard and St. Thomas Aquinas, Sturm and Philip Melanchthon, Comenius, Pestalozzi, Rousseau, Herbart, and Froebel still live in the schools of to-day. Their genius speaks to us through the organization of subject-matter, through the art of questioning, through the developmental methods of teaching, through the use of pictures, through objective instruction, and in a thousand other forms. But this dominant ideal of education to which I have referred and which is so rapidly transforming our outlook and vitalizing our organization and inspiring us to new efforts, is not to be drawn from these sources. The new histories of education must account for this new ideal, and to do this they must turn to the masters in science who made the middle part of the nineteenth century the period of the most profound changes that the history of human thought records.[4]

With the illuminating principle of evolution came a new and generously rich conception of human growth and development. The panorama of evolution carried man back far beyond the limits of recorded human history and indicated an origin as lowly as the succeeding uplift has been sublime. The old depressing and fatalistic notion that the human race was on the downward path, and that the march of civilization must sooner or later end in a cul-de-sac (a view which found frequent expression in the French writers of the eighteenth century and which dominated the skepticism of the dark hours preceding the Revolution)—this fatalistic view met its death-blow in the principle of evolution. A vista of hope entirely undreamed of stretched out before the race. If the tremendous leverage of the untold millenniums of brute and savage ancestry could be overcome, even in slight measure, by a few short centuries of intelligence and reason, what might not happen in a few more centuries of constantly increasing light? In short, the principle of evolution supplied the perspective that was necessary to an adequate evaluation of human progress.

But this inspiriting outlook which was perhaps the most comprehensive result of Darwin's work had indirect consequences that were vitally significant to education. It is with mental and not with physical development that education is primarily concerned, and yet mental development is now known to depend fundamentally upon physical forces. The same decade that witnessed the publication of the Origin of Species also witnessed the birth of another great book, little known except to the specialist, and yet destined to achieve immortality. This book is the Elements of Psychophysics, the work of the German scientist Fechner. The intimate relation between mental life and physical and physiological forces was here first clearly demonstrated, and the way was open for a science of psychology which should cast aside the old and threadbare raiment of mystery and speculation and metaphysic, and stand forth naked and unashamed.

But all this was only preparatory to the epoch-making discoveries that have had so much to do with our present attitude toward education. The Darwinian hypothesis led to violent controversy, not only between the opponents and supporters of the theory, but also among the various camps of the evolutionists themselves. Among these controversies was that which concerned itself with the inheritance of acquired characteristics, and the outcome of that conflict has a direct significance to present educational theory. The principle, now almost conclusively established,[5] that the characteristics acquired by an organism during its lifetime are not transmitted by physical heredity to its offspring, must certainly stand as the basic principle of education; for everything that we identify as human as contrasted with that which is brutal must look to education for its preservation and support. It has been stated by competent authorities that, during the past ten thousand years, there has been no significant change in man's physical constitution. This simply means that Nature finished her work as far as man is concerned far beyond the remotest period that human history records; that, for all that we can say to-day, there must have existed in the very distant past human beings who were just as well adapted by nature to the lives that we are leading as we are to-day adapted; that what they lacked and what we possess is simply a mass of traditions, of habits, of ideals, and prejudices which have been slowly accumulated through the ages and which are passed on from generation to generation by imitation and instruction and training and discipline; and that the child of to-day, left to his own devices and operated upon in no way by the products of civilization, would develop into a savage undistinguishable in all significant qualities from other savages.

The possibilities that follow from such a conception are almost overwhelming even at first glance, and yet the theory is borne out by adequate experiments. The transformation of the Japanese people through two generations of education in Western civilization is a complete upsetting of the old theory that as far as race is concerned, there is anything significantly important in blood, and confirms the view that all that is racially significant depends upon the influences that surround the young of the race during the formative years. The complete assimilation of foreign ingredients into our own national stock through the instrumentality of the public school is another demonstration that the factors which form the significant characteristics in the lower animals possess but a minimum of significance to man,—that color, race, stature, and even brain weight and the shape of the cranium, have very little to do with human worth or human efficiency save in extremely abnormal cases.

And so we have at last a fundamental principle with which to illumine the field of our work and from which to derive not only light but inspiration. Unite this with John Fiske's penetrating induction that the possibilities of progress through education are correlated directly with the length of the period of growth or immaturity,—that is, that the races having the longest growth before maturity are capable of the highest degree of civilization,—and we have a pair of principles the influence of which we see reflected all about us in the great activity for education and especially in the increased sense of pride and responsibility and respect for his calling that is animating the modern teacher.

And what will be the result of this new point of view? First and foremost, an increased general respect for the work. Until a profession respects itself, it cannot very well ask for the world's respect, and until it can respect itself on the basis of scientific principles indubitably established, its respect for itself will be little more than the irritating self-esteem of the goody-goody order which is so often associated with our craft.

With our own respect for our calling, based upon this incontrovertible principle, will come, sooner or later, increased compensation for the work and increased prestige in the community. I repeat that these things can only come after we have established a true craft spirit. If we are ashamed of our calling, if we regret openly and publicly that we are not lawyers or physicians or dentists or bricklayers or farmers or anything rather than teachers, the public will have little respect for the teacher's calling. As long as we criticize each other before laymen and make light of each other's honest efforts, the public will question our professional standing on the ground that we have no organized code of professional ethics,—a prerequisite for any profession.

I started out to tell you something that we ought to be thankful for,—something that ought to counteract in a measure the inevitable tendencies toward pessimism and discouragement. The hopeful thing about our present status is that we have an established principle upon which to work. A writer in a recent periodical stoutly maintained that education was in the position just now that medicine was in during the Middle Ages. The statement is hardly fair, either to medicine or to education. If one were to attempt a parallel, one might say that education stands to-day where medicine stood about the middle of the nineteenth century. The analogy might be more closely drawn by comparing our present conception of education with the conception of medicine just prior to the application of the experimental method to a solution of its problems. Education has still a long road to travel before it reaches the point of development that medicine has to-day attained. It has still to develop principles that are comparable to the doctrine of lymph therapy or to that latest triumph of investigation in the field of medicine,—the theory of opsonins,—which almost makes one believe that in a few years violent accident and old age will be the only sources of death in the human race.

Education, we admit, has a long road to travel before it reaches so advanced a point of development. But there is no immediate cause for pessimism or despair. We need especially, now that the purpose of education is adequately defined, an adequate doctrine of educational values and a rich and vital infusion of the spirit of experimental science. For efficiency in the work of instruction and training, we need to know the influence of different types of experience in controlling human conduct,—we need to know just what degree of efficiency is exerted by our arithmetic and literature, our geography and history, our drawing and manual training, our Latin and Greek, our ethics and psychology. It is the lack of definite ideas and criteria in these fields that constitutes the greatest single source of waste in our educational system to-day.

And yet even here the outlook is extremely hopeful. The new movement toward industrial education is placing greater and greater emphasis upon those subjects of instruction and those types of methods whose efficiency can be tested and determined in an accurate fashion. The intimate relation between the classroom, on the one hand, and the machine shop, the experimental farm, the hospital ward and operating room, and the practice school, on the other hand, indicates a source of accurate knowledge with regard to the way in which our teachings really affect the conduct and adjustment of our pupils that cannot fail within a short time to serve as the basis for some illuminating principle of educational values. This, I believe, will be the next great step in the development of our profession.

There has been no intention in what I have said to minimize the disadvantages and discouragements under which we are to-day doing our work. My only plea is for the hopeful and optimistic outlook which, I maintain, is richly justified by the progress that has already been made and by the virile character of the forces that are operating in the present situation.

On the whole, I can see no reason why I should not encourage young men to enter the service of schoolcraft. I cannot say to them that they will attain to great wealth, but I can safely promise them that, if they give to the work of preparation the same attention and time that they would give to their education and training for medicine or law or engineering, their services will be in large demand and their rewards not to be sneered at. Their incomes will not enable them to compete with the captains of industry, but they will permit as full an enjoyment of the comforts of life as it is good for any young man to command. But the ambitious teacher must pay the price to reap these rewards,—the price of time and energy and labor,—the price that he would have to pay for success in any other human calling. What I cannot promise him in education is the opportunity for wide popular adulation, but this, after all, is a matter of taste. Some men crave it and they should go into those vocations that will give it to them. Others are better satisfied with the discriminating recognition and praise of their own fellow-craftsmen.

FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote 2: An address before the Oswego, New York, County Council of Education, March 28, 1908.]

[Footnote 3: It should be added that the movement toward universal education in Germany owed much to the work of pre-Pestalozzian reformers,—especially Francke and Basedow.]

[Footnote 4: While the years from 1840 to 1870 mark the period of intellectual revolution, it should not be inferred that the education of this period reflected these fundamental changes of outlook. On the contrary, these years were in general marked by educational stagnation.]

[Footnote 5: The writer here accepts the conclusions of J.A. Thomson (Heredity New York, 1908, ch. vii).]



III

HOW MAY WE PROMOTE THE EFFICIENCY OF THE TEACHING FORCE?[6]

I

Efficiency seems to be a word to conjure with in these days. Popular speech has taken it in its present connotation from the technical vocabulary of engineering, and the term has brought with it a very refreshing sense of accuracy and practicality. It suggests blueprints and T-squares and mathematical formulae. A faint and rather pleasant odor of lubricating oil and cotton waste seems to hover about it. The efficiency of a steam engine or a dynamo is a definitely determinable and measurable factor, and when we use the term "efficiency" in popular speech we convey through the word somewhat of this quality of certainty and exactitude.

An efficient man, very obviously, is a man who "makes good," who surmounts obstacles, overcomes difficulties, and "gets results." Rowan, the man who achieved immortality on account of a certain message that he carried to Garcia, is the contemporary standard of human efficiency. He was given a task to do, and he did it. He did not stop to inquire whether it was interesting, or whether it was easy, or whether it would be remunerative, or whether Garcia was a pleasant man to meet. He simply took the message and brought back the answer. Here we have efficiency in human endeavor reduced to its lowest terms: to take a message and to bring back an answer; to do the work that is laid out for one to do without shirking or "soldiering" or whining; and to "make good," to get results.

Now if we are to improve the efficiency of the teacher, the first thing to do is to see that the conditions of efficiency are fulfilled as far as possible at the outset. In other words, efficiency is impossible unless one is set a certain task to accomplish. Rowan was told to carry a message to Garcia. He was to carry it to Garcia, not to Queen Victoria or Li Hung Chang or J. Pierpont Morgan, or any one else whom he may have felt inclined to choose as its recipient. And that is just where Rowan had a decided advantage over many teachers who have every ambition to be just as efficient as he was. To expect a young teacher not only to get results, but also to determine the results that should be obtained, multiplies his chances of failure, not by two, as one might assume at first thought, but almost by infinity.

Let me give an example of what I mean. A young man graduated from college during the hard times of the middle nineties. It was imperative that he secure some sort of a remunerative employment, but places were very scarce and he had to seek a long time before he found anything to which he could turn his hand. The position that he finally secured was that of teacher in an ungraded school in a remote settlement. School-teaching was far from his thoughts and still farther from his ambitions, but forty dollars a month looked too good to be true, especially as he had come to the point where his allowance of food consisted of one plate of soup each day, with the small supply of crackers that went with it. He accepted the position most gratefully.

He taught this school for two years. He had no supervision. He read various books on the science and art of teaching and upon a certain subject that went by the name of psychology, but he could see no connection between what these books told him and the tasks that he had to face. Finally he bought a book that was advertised as indispensable to young teachers. The first words of the opening paragraph were these: "Teacher, if you know it all, don't read this book." The young man threw the volume in the fire. He had no desire to profit by the teaching of an author who began his instruction with an insult. From that time until he left the school, he never opened a book on educational theory.

His first year passed off with what appeared to be the most encouraging success. He talked to his pupils on science and literature and history. They were very good children, and they listened attentively. When he tired of talking, he set the pupils to writing in their copy books, while he thought of more things to talk about. He covered a great deal of ground that first year. Scarcely a field of human knowledge was left untouched. His pupils were duly informed about the plants and rocks and trees, about the planets and constellations, about atoms and molecules and the laws of motion, about digestion and respiration and the wonders of the nervous system, about Shakespeare and Dickens and George Eliot. And his pupils were very much interested in it all. Their faces had that glow of interest, that look of wonderment and absorption, that you get sometimes when you tell a little four-year-old the story of the three bears. He never had any troubles of discipline, because he never asked his pupils to do anything that they did not wish to do. There were six pupils in his "chart class." They were anxious to learn to read, and three of them did learn. Their mothers taught them at home. The other three were still learning at the end of the second year. He concluded that they had been "born short," but he liked them and they liked him. He did not teach his pupils spelling or writing. If they learned these things they learned them without his aid, and it is safe to say that they did not learn them in any significant measure. He did not like arithmetic, and so he just touched on it now and then for the sake of appearances.

This teacher was elected for the following year at a handsome increase of salary. He took this to mean a hearty indorsement of his methods; consequently he followed the same general plan the next year. He had told his pupils about everything that he knew, so he started over again, much to their delight. He left at the close of the year, amidst general lamentation. School-teaching was a delightful occupation, but he had mastered the art, and now he wished to attack something that was really difficult. He would study law. It is no part of the story that he did not. Neither is it part of the story that his successor had a very hard time getting that school straightened out; in fact, I believe it required three or four successive successors to make even an impression.

Now that man's work was a failure, and the saddest kind of a failure, for he did not realize that he had failed until years afterward. He failed, not because he lacked ambition and enthusiasm; he had a large measure of both these indispensable qualities. He failed, not because he lacked education and a certain measure of what the world calls culture; from the standpoint of education, he was better qualified than most teachers in schools of that type. He failed, not because he lacked social spirit and the ability to cooeperate with the church and the home; he mingled with the other members of the community, lived their life and thought their thoughts and enjoyed their social diversions. The community liked him and respected him. His pupils liked him and respected him; and yet what he fears most of all to-day is that he may come suddenly face to face with one of those pupils and be forced to listen to a first-hand account of his sins of omission.

This man failed simply because he did not do what the elementary teacher must do if he is to be efficient as an elementary teacher. He did not train his pupils in the habits that are essential to one who is to live the social life. He gave them a miscellaneous lot of interesting information which held their attention while it lasted, but which was never mastered in any real sense of the term, and which could have but the most superficial influence upon their future conduct. But, worst of all, he permitted bad and inadequate habits to be developed at the most critical and plastic period of life. His pupils had followed the lines of least effort, just as he had followed the lines of least effort. The result was a well-established prejudice against everything that was not superficially attractive and intrinsically interesting.

Now this man's teaching fell short simply because he did not know what results he ought to obtain. He had been given a message to deliver, but he did not know to whom he should deliver it. Consequently he brought the answer, not from Garcia, but from a host of other personages with whom he was better acquainted, whose language he could speak and understand, and from whom he was certain of a warm welcome. In other words, having no definite results for which he would be held responsible, he did the kind of teaching that he liked to do. That might, under certain conditions, have been the best kind of teaching for his pupils. But these conditions did not happen to operate at that time. The answer that he brought did not happen to be the answer that was needed. That it pleased his employers does not in the least mitigate the failure. That a teacher pleases the community in which he works is not always evidence of his success. It is dangerous to make a statement like this, for some are sure to jump to the opposite conclusion and assume that one who is unpopular in the community is the most successful. Needless to say, the reasoning is fallacious. The matter of popularity is a secondary criterion, not a primary criterion of the efficiency of teaching. One may be successful and popular or successful and unpopular; unsuccessful and popular or unsuccessful and unpopular. The question of popularity is beside the question of efficiency, although it may enter into specific cases as a factor.

II

And so the first step to take in getting more efficient work from young teachers, and especially from inexperienced and untrained teachers fresh from the high school or the college, is to make sure that they know what is expected of them. Now this looks to be a very simple precaution that no one would be unwise enough to omit. As a matter of fact, a great many superintendents and principals are not explicit and definite about the results that they desire. Very frequently all that is asked of a teacher is that he or she keep things running smoothly, keep pupils and parents good-natured. Let me assert again that this ought to be done, but that it is no measure of a teacher's efficiency, simply because it can be done and often is done by means that defeat the purpose of the school. As a young principal in a city system, I learned some vital lessons in supervision from a very skillful teacher. She would come to me week after week with this statement: "Tell me what you want done, and I will do it." It took me some time to realize that that was just what I was being paid to do,—telling teachers what should be accomplished and then seeing that they accomplished the task that was set. When I finally awoke to my duties, I found myself utterly at a loss to make prescriptions. I then learned that there was a certain document known as the course of study, which mapped out the general line of work and indicated the minimal requirements. I had seen this course of study, but its function had never impressed itself upon me. I had thought that it was one of those documents that officials publish as a matter of form but which no one is ever expected to read. But I soon discovered that a principal had something to do besides passing from room to room, looking wisely at the work going on, and patting little boys and girls on the head.

Now a definite course of study is very hard to construct,—a course that will tell explicitly what the pupils of each grade should acquire each term or half-term in the way of habits, knowledge, ideals, attitudes, and prejudices. But such a course of study is the first requisite to efficiency in teaching. The system that goes by hit or miss, letting each teacher work out his own salvation in any way that he may see fit, is just an aggregation of such schools as that which I have described.

It is true that reformers have very strenuously criticized the policy of restricting teachers to a definite course of study. They have maintained that it curtails individual initiative and crushes enthusiasm. It does this in a certain measure. Every prescription is in a sense a restriction. The fact that the steamship captain must head his ship for Liverpool instead of wherever he may choose to go is a restriction, and the captain's individuality is doubtless crushed and his initiative limited. But this result seems to be inevitable and he generally manages to survive the blow. The course of study must be to the teacher what the sailing orders are to the captain of the ship, what the stated course is to the wheelsman and the officer on the bridge, what the time-table is to the locomotive engineer, what Garcia and the message and the answer were to Rowan. One may decry organization and prescription in our educational system. One may say that these things tend inevitably toward mechanism and formalism and the stultifying of initiative. But the fact remains that, whenever prescription is abandoned, efficiency in general is at an end.

And so I maintain that every teacher has a right to know what he is to be held responsible for, what is expected of him, and that this information be just as definite and unequivocal as it can be made. It is under the stress of definite responsibility that growth is most rapid and certain. The more uncertain and intangible the end to be gained, the less keenly will one feel the responsibility for gaining that end. Unhappily we cannot say to a teacher: "Here is a message. Take it to Garcia. Bring the answer." But we may make our work far more definite and tangible than it is now. The courses of study are becoming more and more explicit each year. Vague and general prescriptions are giving place to definite and specific prescriptions. The teachers know what they are expected to do, and knowing this, they have some measure for testing the efficiency of their own efforts.

III

But to make more definite requirements is, after all, only the first step in improving efficiency. It is not sufficient that one know what results are wanted; one must also know how these results may be obtained. Improvement in method means improvement in efficiency, and a crying need in education to-day is a scientific investigation of methods of teaching. Teachers should be made acquainted with the methods that are most economical and efficient. As a matter of fact, whatever is done in that direction at the present time must be almost entirely confined to suggestions and hints.

Our discussions of methods of teaching may be divided into three classes: (1) Dogmatic assertions that such and such a method is right and that all others are wrong—assertions based entirely upon a priori reasoning. For example, the assertion that children must never be permitted to learn their lessons "by heart" is based upon the general principle that words are only symbols of ideas and that, if one has ideas, one can find words of his own in which to formulate them. (2) A second class of discussions of method comprises descriptions of devices that have proved successful in certain instances and with certain teachers. (3) Of a third class of discussions there are very few representative examples. I refer to methods that have been established on the basis of experiments in which irrelevant factors have been eliminated. In fact, I know of no clearly defined report or discussion of this sort. An approach to a scientific solution of a definite problem of method is to be found in Browne's monograph, The Psychology of Simple Arithmetical Processes. Another example is represented by the experiments of Miss Steffens, Marx Lobsien, and others, regarding the best methods of memorizing, and proving beyond much doubt that the complete repetition is more economical than the partial repetition. But these conclusions have, of course, only a limited field of application to practical teaching. We stand in great need of a definite experimental investigation of the detailed problems of teaching upon which there is wide divergence of opinion. A very good illustration is the controversy between the how and the why in primary arithmetic. In this case, there is a vast amount of "opinion," but there are no clearly defined conclusions drawn from accurate tests. It would seem possible to do work of this sort concerning the details of method in the teaching of arithmetic, spelling, grammar, penmanship, and geography.

IV

Lacking this accurate type of data regarding methods, the next recourse is to the actual teaching of those teachers who are recognized as efficient. Wherever such a teacher may be found, his or her work is well worth the most careful sort of study. Success, of course, may be due to other factors than the methods employed,—to personality, for example. But, in every case of recognized efficiency in teaching that I have observed, I have found that the methods employed have, in the main, been productive of good results when used by others. The experienced teacher comes, through a process of trial and error, to select, perhaps unconsciously, the methods that work best. Sometimes these are not always to be identified with the methods that theoretical pedagogy had worked out from a priori bases. For example, the type of lesson which I call the "deductive development" lesson[7] is one that is not included in the older discussions of method; yet it accurately describes one of the methods employed by a very successful teacher whose work I observed.

One way, then, to improve the efficiency of young teachers, in so far as improvement in methods leads to improved efficiency, is to encourage the observation of expert teaching. The plan of giving teachers visiting days often brings excellent results, especially if the teacher looks upon the privilege in the proper light. The hyper-critical spirit is fatal to growth under any condition. Whenever a teacher has come to the conclusion that he or she has nothing to learn from studying the work of others, anabolism has ceased and katabolism has set in. The self-sufficiency of our craft is one of its weakest characteristics. It is the factor that more than any other discounts it in the minds of laymen. Fortunately it is less frequently a professional characteristic than in former years, but it still persists in some quarters. I recently met a "pedagogue" who impressed me as the most "knowing" individual that it had ever been my privilege to become acquainted with. An enthusiastic friend of his, in dilating upon this man's virtues, used these words: "When you propose a subject of conversation in whatever field you may choose, you will find that he has mastered it to bed rock. He will go over it once and you think that he is wise. He starts at the beginning and goes over it again, and you realize that he is deep. Once more he traverses the same ground, but he is so far down now that you cannot follow him, and then you are aware that he is profound." That sort of profundity is still not rare in the field of general education. The person who has all possible knowledge pigeonholed and classified is still in our midst. The pedant still does the cause of education incalculable injury.

Of the use to which reading circles may be put in improving the efficiency of teaching, it is necessary to say but little. Such organizations, under wise leadership, may doubtless be made to serve a good purpose in promoting professional enthusiasm. The difficulty with using them to promote immediate and direct efficiency lies in the paucity of the literature that is at our disposal. Most of our present-day works upon education are very general in their nature. They are not without their value, but this value is general and indirect rather than immediate and specific. A book like Miss Winterburn's Methods of Teaching, or Chubb's Teaching of English[8] is especially valuable for young teachers who are looking for first-hand helps. But books like this are all too rare in our literature.

On the whole, I think that the improvement of teachers in the matter of methods is the most unsatisfactory part of our problem.[9] All that one can say is that the work of the best teachers should be observed carefully and faithfully, that the methods upon which there is little or no dispute should be given and accepted as standard, but that one should be very careful about giving young teachers an idea that there is any single form under which all teaching can be subsumed. I know of no term that is more thoroughly a misnomer in our technical vocabulary than the term "general method." I teach a subject that often goes by that name, but I always take care to explain that the name does not mean, in my class, what the words seem to signify. There are certain broad and general principles which describe very crudely and roughly and inadequately certain phases of certain processes that mind undergoes in organizing experience—perception, apperception, conception, induction, deduction, inference, generalization, and the like. But these terms have only a vague and general connotation; or, if their connotation is specific and definite, it has been made so by an artificial process of definition in which counsel is darkened by words without meaning. The only full-fledged law that I know of in the educative process is the law of habit building—(1) focalization, (2) attentive repetition at intervals of increasing length, (3) permitting no exception—and I am often told that this "law" is fallacious. It has differed from some other so-called laws, however, in this respect: it always works. Whenever a complex habit is adduced that has not been formed through the operation of this law, I am willing to give it up.

V

A third general method of improving the efficiency of teaching is to build up the notion of responsibility for results. The teacher must not only take the message and deliver it to Garcia, or to some other individual as definite and tangible, but he must also bring the answer. So far as I know there is no other way to insure a maximum of efficiency than to demand certain results and to hold the individual responsible for gaining these results. The present standards of the teaching craft are less rigorous than they should be in this respect. We need a craft spirit that will judge every man impartially by his work, not by secondary criteria. You remember Finlayson in Kipling's Bridge Builders, and the agony with which he watched the waters of the Ganges tearing away at the caissons of his new bridge. A vital question of Finlayson's life was to be answered by the success or failure of those caissons to resist the flood. If they should yield, it meant not only the wreck of the bridge, but the wreck of his career; for, as Kipling says, "Government might listen, perhaps, but his own kind would judge him by his bridge as that stood or fell."

President Hall has said that one of the last sentiments to be developed in human nature is "the sense of responsibility, which is one of the highest and most complex psychic qualities." How to develop this sentiment of responsibility is one of the most pressing problems of education. And the problem is especially pressing in those departments of education that train for social service. To engender in the young teacher an effective prejudice against scamped work, against the making of excuses, against the seductive allurements of ease and comfort and the lines of least resistance is one of the most important duties that is laid upon the normal school, the training school, and the teachers' college. To do well the work that has been set for him to do should be the highest ambition of every worker, the ambition to which all other ambitions and desires are secondary and subordinate. Pride in the mastery of the technique of one's calling is the most wholesome and helpful sort of pride that a man can indulge in. The joy of doing each day's work in the best possible manner is the keenest joy of life. But this pride and this joy do not come at the outset. Like all other good things of life, they come only as the result of effort and struggle and strenuous self-discipline and dogged perseverance. The emotional coloring which gives these things their subjective worth is a matter very largely of contrast. Success must stand out against a background of struggle, or the chief virtue of success—the consciousness of conquest—will be entirely missed. That sort of success means strength; for strength of mind is nothing more than the ability to "hew to the line," to follow a given course of effort to a successful conclusion, no matter how long and how tedious be the road that one must travel, no matter how disagreeable are the tasks involved, no matter how tempting are the insidious siren songs of momentary fancy.

What teachers need—what all workers need—is to be inspired with those ideals and prejudices that will enable them to work steadfastly and unremittingly toward the attainment of a stated end. What inspired Rowan with those ideals of efficiency that enabled him to carry his message and bring back the answer, I do not know, but if he was a soldier, I do not hesitate to hazard an opinion. Our regular army stands as the clearest type of efficient service which is available for our study and emulation. The work of Colonel Goethals on the Panama Canal bids fair to be the finest fruit of the training that we give to the officers of our army. If we wish to learn the fundamental virtues of that training, it is not sufficient to study the curriculum of the Military Academy. Technical knowledge and skill are essential to such results, but they are not the prime essentials. If you wish to know what the prime essentials are, let me refer you to a series of papers, entitled The Spirit of Old West Point, which ran through a recent volume of the Atlantic Monthly and which has since been published in book form. They constitute, to my mind, one of the most important educational documents of the present decade. The army service is efficient because it is inspired with effective ideals of service,—ideals in which every other desire and ambition is totally and completely subordinated to the ideal of duty. To those who maintain that close organization and definite prescription kill initiative and curtail efficiency, the record of West Point and the army service should be a silencing argument.

And yet education is more important than war; more important, even, than the building of the Panama Canal. We believe, and rightly, that no training is too good for our military and naval officers; that no discipline which will produce the appropriate habits and ideals and prejudices is too strenuous; that no individual sacrifice of comfort or ease is too costly. Equal or even commensurable efficiency in education can come only through a like process. From the times of the ancient Egyptians to the present day, one vital truth has been revealed in every forward movement; the homely truth that you cannot make bricks without straw; you cannot win success without effort; you cannot attain efficiency without undergoing the processes of discipline; and discipline means only this: doing things that you do not want to do, for the sake of reaching some end that ought to be attained.

The normal schools and the training schools and the teachers' colleges must be the nurseries of craft ideals and standards. The instruction that they offer must be upon a plane that will command respect. The intolerable pedantry and the hypocritical goody-goodyism must be banished forever. The crass sentimentalism by which we attempt to cover our paucity of craft ideals must also be eliminated. Those who are most strongly imbued with ideals are not those who cheapen the value of ideals by constant verbal reiteration. Ideals do not often come through explicitly imparted precepts. They come through more impalpable and hidden channels,—now through stately buildings with vine-covered towers from which the past speaks in the silence of great halls and cloistered retreats; now through the unwritten and scarcely spoken traditions that are expressed in the very bearing and attitude of those to whom youth looks for inspiration and guidance; now through a dominant and powerful personality, sometimes rough and crude, sometimes warm-hearted and lovable, but always sincere. Traditions and ideals are the most priceless part of a school's equipment, and the school that can give these things to its students in richest measure will have the greatest influence on the succeeding generations.

FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote 6: A paper read before the Normal and Training Teachers' Conference of the New York State Teachers' Association, December 27, 1907.]

[Footnote 7: See Educative Process, New York, 1910, Chapter XX.]

[Footnote 8: Rowe's Habit Formation (New York, 1909), Briggs and Coffman's Reading in Public Schools (Chicago, 1908), Foght's The American Rural School, Adams's Exposition and Illustration in Class Teaching (New York, 1910), and Perry's Problems of Elementary Education (New York, 1910) should certainly be added to this list.]

[Footnote 9: "It seems to me one of the most pressing problems in pedagogy to-day is that of method.... It is the subject in which teachers of pedagogy in Colleges and Universities are weakest to-day. Of what practical value is all our study of educational psychology or the history of education, our child study, our experimental pedagogy, if it does not finally result in the devising of better methods of teaching, and make the teacher more skillful and effective in his work."—T.M. BALLIET: "Undergraduate Instruction in Pedagogy," Pedagogical Seminary, vol. xvii, 1910, p. 67.]



IV

THE TEST OF EFFICIENCY IN SUPERVISION[10]

I

I know of no way in which I can better introduce my subject than to describe very briefly the work of a superintendent who once furnished me with an example of a definite and effective method of supervision. This man was a "long range" superintendent. It was impossible for him to visit his schools very frequently, and so he did the next best thing: he had the schools brought to him. When I first saw him he was poring over a pile of papers that had just come in from one of his schools. I soon discovered that these papers were arranged in sets, each set being made up of samples taken each week from the work of the pupils in the schools under his supervision. The papers of each pupil were arranged in chronological order, and by looking through the set, he could note the growth that the pupil in question had made since the beginning of the term. Upon these papers, the superintendent recorded his judgment of the amount of improvement shown both in form and in content.

I was particularly impressed by the character of his criticisms. There was nothing vague or intangible about them. Every annotation was clear and definite. If penmanship happened to be the point at issue, he would note that the lines were too close together; that the letters did not have sufficient individuality; that the spaces between the words were not sufficiently wide; that the indentation was inadequate; that the writing was cramped, showing that the pen had not been held properly; that the margin needed correction. If the papers were defective from the standpoint of language, the criticisms were equally clear and definite. One pupil had misspelled the same word in three successive papers. "Be sure that this word appears in the next spelling list," was the comment of the superintendent. Another pupil habitually used a bit of false syntax: "Place this upon the list of errors to be taken up and corrected." Still others were uncertain about paragraphing: "Devote a language lesson to the paragraph before the next written exercise." On the covers of each bundle of class papers, he wrote directions and suggestions of a more general nature; for example: "Improvement is not sufficiently marked; try for better results next time"; or: "I note that the pupils draw rather than write; look out for free movement." Often, too, there were words of well-merited praise: "I like the way in which your pupils have responded to their drill. This is good. Keep it up." And not infrequently suggestions were made as to content: "Tell this story in greater detail next time, and have it reproduced again"; or: "The form of these papers is good, but the nature study is poor; don't sacrifice thought to form."

1  2  3  4     Next Part
Home - Random Browse