Ontario Normal School Manuals: Science of Education
by Ontario Ministry of Education
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

Value of Play: A. Physical.—Play is one of the most effective means for promoting the physical development of the child. This result follows naturally from the free character of the play activity. Since the impulse to act is found in the activity itself, the child always has a strong motive for carrying on the activity. On the other hand, when somewhat similar activities are carried on as a task set by others, the end is too remote from the child's present interests and tendencies to supply him with an immediate motive for the activity. Play, therefore, causes the young child to express himself physically to a degree that tasks set by others can never do, and thus aids him largely in securing control of bodily movements.

B. Intellectual and Moral.—In play, however, the child not only secures physical development and a control of bodily movements, but also exercises and develops other tendencies and powers. Many plays and games, for instance, involve the use of the senses. Whether the young child is shaking his rattle, rolling the ball, pounding with the spoon, piling up blocks and knocking them over, or playing his regular guessing games in the kindergarten, he is constantly stimulating his senses, and giving his sensory nerves their needed development. As imitation and imagination, by their co-operation, later enable the child to symbolize his play, such games as keeping store, playing carpenter, farmer, baker, etc., both enlarge the child's knowledge of his surroundings, and also awaken his interest and sympathy toward these occupations. Other games, such as beans-in-the-bag, involve counting, and thus furnish the child incidental lessons in number under most interesting conditions. In games involving co-operation and competition, as the bowing game, the windmill, fill the gap, chase ball in ring, etc., the social tendencies of the child are developed, and such individual instincts as rivalry, emulation, and combativeness are brought under proper control.


Assigning Play.—In adapting play to the formal education of the child, a difficulty seems at once to present itself. If the teacher endeavours to provide the child with games that possess an educative value, physical, intellectual, or moral, how can she give such games to the children, and at the same time avoid setting the game as a task? That such a result might follow is evident from our ordinary observation of young children. To the boy interested in a game of ball, the request to come and join his sister in playing housekeeping would, more than likely, be positive drudgery. May it not follow therefore, that a trade or guessing game given by the kindergarten director will fail to call forth the free activity of the child? One of the arguments of the advocates of the Montessori Method in favour of that system is, that the specially prepared apparatus of that system is itself suggestive of play exercises; and that, by having access to the apparatus, the child may choose the particular exercise which appeals to his free activity at the moment. This supposed superiority of the Montessori apparatus over the kindergarten games is, however, more apparent than real. What the skilful kindergarten teacher does is, through her knowledge of the interests and tendencies of the children, to suggest games that will be likely to appeal to their free activity, and at the same time have educative value along physical, intellectual, and moral lines. In this way, she does no more than children do among themselves, when one suggests a suitable game to his companions. In such a case, no one would argue, surely, that the leader is the only child to show free activity in the play.

Stages in Play.—In the selecting of games, plays, etc., it is to be noted that these may be divided into at least three classes, according as they appeal to children at different ages. The very young child prefers merely to play with somewhat simple objects that can make an appeal to his senses, as the rattle, the doll, the pail and shovel, hammer, crayon, etc. This preference depends, on the one hand, upon his early individualistic nature, which would object to share the play with another; and, on the other hand, upon the natural hunger of his senses for varied stimulations. At about five years of age, owing to the growth of the child's imagination, symbolism begins to enter largely into his games. At this age the children love to play church, school, soldier, scavenger man, hen and chickens, keeping store, etc. At from ten to twelve years of age, co-operative and competitive games are preferred; and with boys, those games especially which demand an amount of strength and skill. This preference is to be accounted for through the marked development of the social instincts at this age and, in the case of boys, through increase in strength and will power.

Limitations of Play.—Notwithstanding the value of play as an agent in education, it is evident that its application in the school-room is limited. Social efficiency demands that the child shall learn to appreciate the joy of work even more than the joy of play. Moreover, as noted in the early part of our work, the acquisition of race experience demands that its problems be presented to the child in definite and logical order. This can be accomplished only by having them presented to the pupil by an educative agent and therefore set as a problem or a task to be mastered. This, of course, does not deny that the teacher should strive to have the pupil express himself as freely as possible as he works at his school problem. It does necessitate, however, that the child should find in his lesson some conscious end, or aim, to be reached beyond the mere activity of the learning process. This in itself stamps the ordinary learning process of the school as more than mere play.



Nature of Habit.—When an action, whether performed under the full direction, or control, of attention and with a sense of effort, or merely as an instinctive or impulsive act, comes by repetition to be performed with such ease that consciousness may be largely diverted from the act itself and given to other matters, the action is said to have become habitual. For example, if a person attempts a new manner of putting on a tie, it is first necessary for him to stand before a glass and follow attentively every movement. In a short time, however, he finds himself able to perform the act easily and skilfully both without the use of a glass and almost without conscious direction. Moreover if the person should chance in his first efforts to hold his arms and head in a certain way in order to watch the process more easily in the glass, it is found that when later he does the act even without the use of a glass, he must still hold his arms and head in this manner.

Basis of Habits.—The ability of the organism to habituate an action, or make it a reflex is found to depend upon certain properties of nervous matter which have already been considered.

These facts are:

1. Nervous matter is composed of countless numbers of individual cells brought into relation with one another through their outgoing fibres.

2. This tissue is so plastic that whenever it reacts upon an impression a permanent modification is made in its structure.

3. Not only are such modifications retained permanently, but they give a tendency to repeat the act in the same way; while every such repetition makes the structural modification stronger, and this renders further repetition of the act both easier and more effective.

4. The connections between the various nervous centres thus become so permanent that the action may run its course with a minimum of resistance within the nervous system.

5. In time the movements are so fixed within the system that connections are formed between sensory and motor centres at points lower than the cortex—that is, the stimulus and response become reflex.

An Example.—When a child strives to acquire the movements necessary in making a new capital letter, his eye receives an impression of the letter which passes along the sensory system to the cortex and, usually with much effort, finds an outlet in a motor attempt to form the letter. Thus a permanent trace, or course, is established in the nervous system, which will be somewhat more easily taken on a future occasion. After a number of repetitions, the child, by giving his attention fully to the act, is able to form the letter with relative ease. As these movements are repeated, however, the nervous system, as already noted, may shorten the circuit between the point of sensory impression and motor discharge by establishing associations in centres lower than those situated in the cortex. Whenever any act is repeated a great number of times, therefore, these lower associations are established with a resulting diminution of the impression upward through the cortex of the brain. This results also in a lessening of the amount of attention given the movement, until finally the act can be performed in a perfectly regular way with practically no conscious, or attentive, effort.

Habit and Consciousness.—While saying that such habitual action may be performed with facility in the absence of conscious direction, it must not be understood that conscious attention is necessarily entirely absent during the performance of an habitual act. In many of these acts, as for instance, lacing and tieing a shoe, signing one's name, etc., conscious effort usually gives the first impulse to perform the act. There may be cases, however, in which one finds himself engaged in some customary act without any seeming initial conscious suggestion. This would be noted, for instance, where a person starts for the customary clothes closet, perhaps to obtain something from a pocket, and suddenly finds himself hanging on a hook the coat he has unconsciously removed from his shoulders. Here the initial movement for removing the coat may have been suggested by the sight of the customary closet, or by the movement involved in opening the closet door, these impressions being closely co-ordinated through past experiences with those of removing the coat. When, also, a woman is sewing or kneading bread, although she seems to be able to give her attention fully to the conversation in which she may be engaged, yet no doubt a slight trace of conscious control is still exercised over the other movements. This is seen in the fact that, whenever the conversation becomes so absorbing that it takes a very strong hold on the attention, the habitual movements may cease without the person being at first aware that she has ceased working.

Habit and Nervous Action.—The general flow of the nervous energy during such processes as the above, in which there is an interchange between conscious and habitual control, may be illustrated by the following figures. In these figures the heavy lines indicate the process actually going on, while the broken lines indicate that although such nerve courses are established, they are not being brought into active operation in the particular case.

The arrows in Figure 1 indicate the course of sensory stimulation and motor response during the first efforts to acquire skill in any movement. No connections are yet set up between lower centres and the acts are under conscious control.

The arrows in Figure 2 indicate the course of sensory stimulus and motor response in an ordinary habitual act, as when an expert fingers the piano keys or controls a bicycle while his mind is occupied with other matters.

The arrows in Figure 3 indicate how, even in performing what is ordinarily an habitual act, the mind may at any time assume control of the movement. This is illustrated in the case of a person who, when unconsciously directing his bicycle along the road, comes to a narrow plank over a culvert. Hereupon full attention may be given to the movements, that is, the acts may come under conscious control.


It is evident from the nature of the structure and properties of the nervous system, that man cannot possibly avoid the formation of habits. Any act once performed will not only leave an indelible trace within the nervous system, but will also set up in the system a tendency to repeat the act. It is this fact that always makes the first false step exceedingly dangerous. Moreover, every repetition further breaks down the present resistance and, therefore, in a sense further enslaves the individual to that mode of action. The word poorly articulated for the first time, the letter incorrectly formed, the impatient shrug of the shoulder—these set up their various tracks, create a tendency, and soon, through the establishment of lower connections, become unconscious habits. Thus it is that every one soon becomes a bundle of habits.

Precautions to be Taken.—A most important problem in relation to the life of the young child is that he should at the outset form right habits. This includes not only doing the right thing, but also doing it in the right way. For this he must have the right impression, make the right response, and continue this response until the proper paths are established in the nervous system, or, in other words, until practically all resistance within the system is overcome. It is here that teachers are often very lax in dealing with the pupil in his various forms of expressive work. They may indeed give the child the proper impression, for example, the correct form of the letter, the correct pronunciation of the new word, the correct position for the pen and the body, but too often they do not exercise the vigilance necessary to have the first responses develop into well-fixed habits. But it must be remembered that the child's first response is necessarily crude; for as already seen, there is always at first a certain resistance to the co-ordinated movements, on account of the tracks within the nervous system not yet being surely established. The result is that during the time this resistance is being overcome, there is constant danger of variations creeping into the child's responses. Unless, therefore, he is constantly watched during this practice period, his response may fall much below the model, or standard, set by the teacher. Take, for instance, the child's mode of forming a letter. At the outset he is given the correct forms for g and m, but on account of the resistance met in performing these movements he may, if left without proper supervision, soon fall into such movements as [symbol] and [symbol]. The chief value of the Montessori sandpaper letters consists in the fact that they enable the child to continue a correct movement without variation until all resistance within the nervous organism has been overcome. Two facts should, therefore, be kept prominently in view by the teacher concerning the child's efforts to secure skill. First, the learner's early attempts must be necessarily crude, both through the resistance at first offered by the nervous system on account of the proper paths not being laid in the system, and also through the image of the movement not being clearly conceived. Secondly, there is constant danger of variations from the proper standard establishing themselves during this period of resistance.


Habits Promote Efficiency.—But notwithstanding the dangers which seem to attend the formation of habits, it is only through this inevitable reduction of his more customary acts to unconscious habit that man attains to proficiency. Only by relieving conscious attention from the ordinary mechanical processes in any occupation, is the artist able to attend to the special features of the work. Unless, for instance, the scholar possesses as an unconscious habit the ability to hold the pen and form and join the various letters, he could never devote his attention to evolving the thoughts composing his essay. In like manner, without an habitual control of the chisel, the carver could not possibly give an absorbing attention to the delicate outlines of the particular model. It is only because the rider has habituated himself to the control of the handles, etc., that he can give his attention to the street traffic before him and guide the bicycle or automobile through the ever varying passages. The first condition of efficiency, therefore, in any pursuit, is to reduce any general movements involved in the process to unconscious habits, and thus leave the conscious judgment free to deal with the changeable features of the work.

Habit Conserves Energy.—Another advantage of habit is that it adds to the individual's capacity for work. When any movements are novel and require our full attention, a greater nervous resistance is met on account of the laying down of new paths in the nerve centres. Moreover longer nervous currents are produced through the cortex of the brain, because conscious attention is being called into play. These conditions necessarily consume a greater amount of nerve energy. The result is that man is able to continue for a longer time with less nervous exhaustion any series of activities after they have developed into habits. This can be seen by noting the ease with which one can perform any physical exercise after habituating himself to the movements, compared with the evident strain experienced when the exercise is first undertaken.

Makes the Disagreeable Easy.—Another, though more incidental, advantage of the formation of habits, is that occupations in themselves uninteresting or even distasteful may, through habit, be performed at least without mental revulsion. This results largely from the fact that the growth of habit decreases the resistance, and thus lessens or destroys the disagreeable feeling. Moreover, when such acts are reduced to mechanical habits, the mind is largely free to consider other things. In this way the individual, even in the midst of his drudgery, may enjoy the pleasures of memory or imagination. Although, therefore, in going through some customary act, one may still dislike the occupation, the fact that he can do much of it habitually, leaves him free to enjoy a certain amount of mental pleasure in other ways.

Aids Morality.—The formation of habits also has an important bearing on the moral life. By habituating ourselves to right forms of action, we no doubt make in a sense moral machines of ourselves, since the right action is the one that will meet the least nervous resistance, while the doing of the wrong action would necessitate the establishing of new co-ordinations in the nervous system. It is no doubt partly owing to this, that one whose habits are formed can so easily resist temptations; for to ask him to act other than in the old way is to ask him to make, not the easy, but the hard reaction. While this is true, however, it must not be supposed that in such cases the choice of the right thing involves only a question of customary nervous reaction. When we choose to do our duty, we make a conscious choice, and although earlier right action has set up certain nerve co-ordinations which render it now easy to choose the right, yet it must be remembered that conscious judgment is also involved. In such cases man does the right mainly because his judgment tells him that it is right. If, therefore, he is in a situation where he must act in a totally different way from what is customary, as when a quiet, peace-loving man sees a ruffian assaulting a helpless person, a moral man does not hesitate to change his habitual modes of physical action.


To Eliminate a Habit.—From what has been learned concerning the permanency of our habits, it is evident that only special effort will enable us to make any change in an habitual mode of reaction. In at least two cases, however, changes may be necessary. The fact that many of our early habits are formed either unconsciously, or in ignorance of their evil character, finds us, perhaps, as we come to years of discretion, in possession of certain habits from which we would gladly be freed. Such habits may range from relatively unimportant personal peculiarities to impolite and even immoral modes of conduct. In attempting to free ourselves from such acts, we must bear in mind what has been noted concerning the basis of retention. To repeat an act at frequent intervals is an important condition of retaining it as a habit. On the other hand, the absence of such repetition is almost sure, in due time, to obliterate the nervous tendency to repeat the act. To free one's self from an undesirable habit, therefore, the great essential is to avoid resolutely, for a reasonable time, any recurrence of the banned habit. While this can be accomplished only by conscious effort and watchfulness, yet each day passed without the repetition of the act weakens by so much the old nerve co-ordinations. To attempt to break an old habit, gradually, however, as some would prefer, can result only in still keeping the habitual tendency relatively strong.

To Modify a Habit.—At other times, however, we may desire not to eliminate an habitual co-ordination in toto, but rather to modify only certain phases of the reaction. In writing, for instance, a pupil may be holding his pen correctly and also using the proper muscular movements, but may have developed a habit of forming certain letters incorrectly, as [symbol] and [symbol]. In any attempt to correct such forms, a special difficulty is met in the fact that the incorrect movements are now closely co-ordinated with a number of correct movements, which must necessarily be retained while the other portions of the process are being modified. To effect such a modification, it is necessary for attention to focus itself upon the incorrect elements, and form a clear idea of the changes desired. With this idea as a conscious aim, the pupil must have abundant practice in writing the new forms, and avoid any recurrence of the old incorrect movements. This fact emphasizes the importance of attending to the beginning of any habit. In teaching writing, for instance, the teacher might first give attention only to the form of the letter and then later seek to have the child acquire the muscular movement. In the meantime, however, the child, while learning to form the letters, may have been allowed to acquire the finger movement, and to break this habit both teacher and pupil find much difficulty. By limiting the child to the use of a black-board or a large pencil and tablet, and having him make only relatively large letters while he is learning to form them, the teacher could have the pupil avoid this early formation of the habit of writing with the finger movement.

Limitations of Habit.—From what has here been learned concerning the formation of physical habits, it becomes evident that there are limitations to these as forms of reaction. Since any habit is largely an unconscious reaction to a particular situation, its value will be conditional upon the nature of the circumstances which call forth the reaction. These circumstances must occur quite often under almost identical conditions, otherwise the habit can have no value in directing our social conduct. On the contrary, it may seriously interfere with successful effort. For the player to habituate his hands to fingering the violin is very important, because this is a case where such constant conditions are to be met. For a salesman to habituate himself to one mode of presenting goods to his customers would be fatal, since both the character and the needs of the customers are so varied that no permanent form of approach could be effective in all cases. To habituate ourselves to some narrow automatic line of action and follow it even under varying circumstances, therefore, might prevent the mind from properly weighing these varying conditions, and thus deaden initiative. It is for this reason that experience is so valuable in directing life action. By the use of past experience, the mind is able to analyse each situation calling for reaction and, by noting any unusual circumstances it presents, may adapt even our habitual reactions to the particular conditions.

The relation of habit to interest and attention is treated in Chapter XXIV.



Nature of Attention.—In our study of the principles of general method, it was noted that the mind is able to set up and hold before itself as a problem any partially realized experience. From what has been said concerning nervous stimulation and the passing inward of sensuous impression, it might be thought that the mind is for the most part a somewhat passive recipient of conscious states as they chance to arise through the stimulations of the particular moment. Further consideration will show, however, that, at least after very early childhood, the mind usually exercises a strong selective control over what shall occupy consciousness at any particular time. In the case of a student striving to unravel the mazes of his mathematical problem, countless impressions of sight, sound, touch, etc., may be stimulating him from all sides, yet he refuses in a sense to attend to any of them. The singing of the maid, the chilliness of the room as the fire dies out, even the pain in the limb, all fail to make themselves known in consciousness, until such time as the successful solution causes the person to direct his attention from the work in hand. In like manner, the traveller at the busy station, when intent upon catching his train, is perhaps totally unconscious of the impressions being received from the passing throngs, the calling newsboys, the shunting engines, and the malodorous cattle cars. This ability of the mind to focus itself upon certain experiences to the exclusion of other possible experiences is known as attention.

Degree of Attention.—Mention has already been made of states of consciousness in which the mind seems in a passive state of reverie. Although the mind, even in such sub-conscious states, would seem to exercise some slight attention, it is yet evident that it does not exercise a definite selective control during such passive states of consciousness. Attention proper, on the other hand, may be described as a state in which the mind focuses itself upon some particular impression, and thus makes it stand out more clearly in consciousness as a definite experience. From this standpoint it may be assumed that, in a state of waking reverie, the attention is so scattered that no impression is made to stand out clearly in consciousness. On the other hand, as soon as the mind focuses itself on a certain impression, for example, the report of a gun, the relation of two angles, or the image of a centaur, this stands out so clearly that it occupies the whole foreground of consciousness, while all other impressions hide themselves in the background. This single focal state of consciousness is, therefore, pre-eminently a state of attention while the former state of reverie, on account of its diffuse character, may be said to be relatively devoid of attention.

Physical Illustrations of Attention.—To furnish a physical illustration of the working of attention, some writers describe the stream of our conscious life as presenting a series of waves, the successive waves representing the impressions or ideas upon which attention is focused at successive moments. When attention is in a diffuse state, consciousness is likened to a comparatively level stream. The focusing of attention upon particular impressions and thus making them stand out as distinct states of consciousness is said to break the surface of the stream into waves. This may be illustrated as follows:

By others, consciousness is described as a field of vision, in which the centre of vision represents the focal point of attention. For instance, if the student intent upon his problem in analysis does not notice the flickering light, the playing of the piano, or the smell of the burning meat breaking in upon him, it is because this problem occupies the centre of the attentive field. The other impressions, on the contrary, lie so far on the outside of the field that they fail to stand out in consciousness. This may be represented by the following diagram:

It must be understood, however, that these are merely mechanical devices to illustrate the fact that when the mind selects, or attends to, any impression, this impression is made to stand out clearly as an object in consciousness; or, in other words, the particular impression becomes a clear-cut and definite experience.

Neural Basis of Attention.—The neural conditions under which the mind exercises such active attention seem to be that during the attentive state the nervous energy concentrates itself upon the paths and centres involved in the particular experience, the resistance being decreased in the paths connecting the cells traversed by the impulse. Moreover, any nervous energy tending to escape in other channels is checked and the movements hindered, thus shutting off attention from other possible experiences. For instance, a person with little interest in horticulture might pass a flowering shrub, the colour, form, and scent making only a faint impression upon him. If, however, his companion should say, "What a lovely colour," his attention will direct itself to this quality, with the result that the colour stands out much more clearly in consciousness, and the other features practically escape his notice. Here the suggestion of the companion focuses attention upon the colour, this being accompanied with a lessening of the resistance between the centres involved in interpreting the colour sensations. At the same time resistance in the arcs involving form and smell is increased, and the energy diverted from these arcs into that of colour.


Attention and Interest.—At this point a question naturally arises why the mind, since it is continually subject to the influence of impressions from without and of reviving ideas from within, should select and focus attention upon certain of these to the exclusion of others. The answer usually given is that the mind feels in each case, at least vaguely, a personal interest in some change or adjustment to be wrought either in or through the impression which it makes an object of attention. When, for instance, the reader diverts his attention from the interesting story to the loud talking outside the window, he evidently desires to adjust his understanding more fully to the new and strange impression. So, also, when the spectator rivets his attention upon the flying ball, it is because he associates with this the interesting possibility of a change in the score. In like manner, the student in geometry fixes his attention upon the line joining the points of bisection of the sides, because he desires to change his present mental state of uncertainty as to its parallelism with the base into one of certainty. He further fixes his attention upon the qualities of certain bases and triangles, because through attending to these, he hopes to gain the desired experience concerning the parallelism of the two lines.

Attention and the Question.—The general conditions for determining the course of attention will be further understood by a reference to two facts already established in connection with general method. It has been seen that the question and answer method is usually a successful mode of conducting the learning process. The reason for this is that the question is a most effective means of directing a selective act of attention. For instance, in an elementary science lesson on the candle flame, although the child, if left to himself, might observe the flame, he would not, in all probability, notice particularly the luminous part. Or again, if a dry glass is simply held over the flame and then removed by the demonstrator, although the pupil may have watched the experiment in a general way, it is doubtful whether he would notice particularly the moisture deposited upon the glass. A question from the demonstrator, however, awakens interest, causes the mind to focus in a special direction, and banishes from consciousness features which might otherwise occupy attention. This is because the question suggests a problem, and thus awakens an expectant or unsatisfied state of mind, which is likely to be satisfied only by attending to what the question suggests as an object of attention.

Attention and Motive.—It has already been noted that any process of learning is likely to be more effective when the child realizes a distinct problem, or aim, in the lesson, or feels a need for going through the learning process. The cause of this is that the aim, by awaking curiosity, etc., is an effective means of securing attention. When, for example, the pupil, in learning that 3 x 4 = 12, begins with the problem of finding out how many threes are contained in his twelve blocks, his curiosity can be satisfied only by grasping certain significant relations. In approaching the lesson, therefore, with such an actual problem before him, the child feels a desire to change, or alter, his present mental relation to the problem. In other words, he wishes to gain something involved in the problem which he does not now know or is not yet able to do. His desire to bring about this change or to reach this end not only holds his attention upon the problem, but also adjusts it to whatever ideas are likely to assist in solving the problem. When, therefore, pupils approach a lesson with an interesting problem in mind, the teacher finds it much easier to centre their attention upon those factors which make for the acquisition of the new experience.


Nature of Involuntary Attention.—Attention is met in its simplest form when the mind spontaneously focuses itself upon any strong stimulus received through the senses, as a flashing light, a loud crash, a bitter taste, or a violent pressure. As already noted, the significance of this type of attention lies in the fact that the mind seeks to adjust itself intelligently to a new condition in its surroundings which has been suggested to it through the violent stimulus. The ability to attend to such stimuli is evidently an inherited capacity, and is possessed by animals as well as by children. It is also the only form of attention exercised by very young children, and for some time the child seems to have little choice but to attend to the ever varying stimuli, the attention being drawn now to a bright light, now to a loud voice, according to the violence of the impressions. On account of the apparent lack of control over the direction of attention, this type is spoken of as spontaneous, or involuntary, attention.

Place and Value.—It is only, however, during his very early years that man lacks a reasonable control even over relatively strong stimulations. As noted above, the mind acquires an ability to concentrate itself upon a single problem in the midst of relatively violent stimulations. Moreover, in the midst of various strong stimulations, it is able to select the one which it desires, to the exclusion of all others. At a relatively early age, for instance, the youth is able, in his games, to focus his attention upon the ball, and pays little attention to the shouts and movements of the spectators. On the other hand, however, it is also true that man never loses this characteristic of attending in an involuntary, or reflex, way to any strong stimulus. Indeed, without the possession of this hereditary tendency, it is hard to see how he could escape any dangers with which his body might be threatened while his attention is strongly engaged an another problem.

Educational Precautions.—That young children naturally tend to give their attention to strong stimuli, is a matter of considerable moment to the primary teacher. It is for this cause, among others, that reasonable quiet and order should prevail in the class-room during the recitation. When the pupil is endeavouring to fix his attention upon a selected problem, say the relation of the square foot to the square yard, any undue stimulation of his senses from the school-room environment could not fail to distract his attention from the problem before him. For the same reason, the external conditions should be such as are not likely to furnish unusual stimulations, as will be the case if the class-room is on a busy street and must be ventilated by means of open windows. Finally, in the use of illustrative materials, the teacher should see that the concrete matter will not stimulate the child unduly in ways foreign to the lesson topic. For example, in teaching a nature lesson on the crow, the teacher would find great difficulty in keeping the children's attention on the various topics of the lesson, if he had before the class a live crow that kept cawing throughout the whole lesson period. Nor would it seem a very effective method of attracting attention to the problem of a lesson, if the teacher were continually shouting and waving his arms at the pupils.


Nature of Non-voluntary Attention.—On account of the part played by interest in the focusing of attention, it is possible to distinguish a second type of spontaneous attention in which the mind seems directly attracted to an object of thought because of a natural satisfaction gained from contemplating the subject. The lover, apparently without any determination, and without any external stimulus to suggest the topic, finds his attention ever centring itself upon the image of his fair lady. The young lad, also, without any apparent cause, turns his thoughts constantly to his favourite game. Here the impulse to attend is evidently from within, rather than from without, and arises from the interest that the mind has in the particular experience. This type of attention is especially manifest when trains of ideas pass through the mind without any apparent end in view, one idea suggesting another in accordance with the prevailing mood. The mind, in a half passive state, thinks of last evening, then of the house of a friend, then of the persons met there, then of the game played, etc. In the same way the attention of the student turns without effort to his favourite school subject, and its various aspects may pass in view before him without any effort or determination on his part. Because in this type of attention the different thoughts stand out in consciousness without any apparent choice, or selection, on the part of the mind, it is described as non-voluntary attention.


Nature of Voluntary Attention.—The most important form of attention, however, is that in which the mind focuses itself upon an idea, not as a result of outside stimulation, but with some further purpose in view. For instance, when a person enters a room in which a strange object seems to be giving out musical notes automatically, he may at first give spontaneous attention to the sounds coming from the instrument. When, however, he approaches the object later with a desire to discover the nature of its mechanism, his attention is focused upon the object with a more remote aim, or end, in view, to discover where the music comes from. So also, when the lad mentioned in Chapter II fixed his attention on the lost coin, he set this object before his attention with a further end in view—how to regain it. Because the person here determines to attend to, or think about, a certain problem, in order that he may reach a certain consciously set end, this form of attention is described as voluntary, or active, attention.

Near and Remote Ends.—It is to be noted, however, that the interesting end toward which the mind strives in voluntary attention may be relatively near or remote. A child examining an automatic toy does it for the sake of discovering what is in the toy itself; an adult in order to see whether it is likely to interest his child. A student gives attention to the problem of the length of the hypotenuse because he is interested in the mathematical problem itself, the contractor because he desires to know how much material will be necessary for the roof of the building. One child may apply himself to mastering a reading lesson because the subject itself is interesting to him, another because he desires to take home a perfect report at the end of the week, and a third because a sense of obligation tells him that teacher and parents will expect him to study it.

How we Attend to a Problem.—Since voluntary attention implies mental movement directed to the attainment of some end, the mind does not simply keep itself focused on the particular problem. For instance, in attempting to solve the problem that the exterior angle of a triangle equals the sum of the two interior and opposite angles, no progress toward the attainment of the end in view could be made by merely holding before the mind the idea of their equality. It is, in fact, impossible for the attention to be held for any length of time on a single topic. This will be readily seen if one tries to hold his attention continuously upon, say, the tip of a pencil. When this is attempted, other ideas constantly crowd out the selected idea. The only sense, therefore, in which one holds his attention upon the problem in an act of voluntary attention is, that his attention passes forward and back between the problem and ideas felt to be associated with it. Voluntary attention is, therefore, a mental process in which the mind shifts from one idea to another in attaining to a desired end, or problem. In this shifting, or movement, of voluntary attention, however, two significant features manifest themselves. First, in working forward and back from the problem as a controlling centre, attention brings into consciousness ideas more or less relevant to the problem. Secondly, it selects and adjusts to the problem those that actually make for its solution, and banishes from consciousness whatever is felt to be foreign to obtaining the desired end.

Example of Controlled Attention.—To exemplify a process of voluntary attention we may notice the action of the mind in solving such a problem as:

Two trains started at the same moment from Toronto and Hamilton respectively, one going at the rate of thirty miles an hour and the other at the rate of forty miles an hour. Supposing the distance between Toronto and Hamilton to be forty miles, in how many minutes will the trains meet?

Here the pupil must first fix his attention upon the problem—the number of minutes before the trains will meet. This at once forms both a centre and a standard for measuring other related ideas. In this way his attention passes to the respective rates of the two trains, thirty and forty miles per hour. Then perhaps he fixes attention on the thought that one goes a mile in two minutes and the other a mile in 1-1/2 minutes. But as he recognizes that this is leading him away from the problem, resistance is offered to the flow of attention in this direction, and he passes to the thought that in a minute the former goes 1/2 mile and the later 2/3 of a mile. From this he passes to the thought that in one minute they together go 1-1/6 miles. Hereupon perhaps the idea comes to his mind to see how many miles they would go in an hour. This, however, is soon felt to be foreign to the problem, and resistance being set up in this direction, the attention turns to consider in what time the two together cover 40 miles. Now by dividing 40 miles by 1-1/6, he obtains the number 34-2/7 and is satisfied that his answer is 34-2/7 minutes. The process by which the attention here selected and adjusted the proper ideas to the problem might be illustrated by the following Figure:

Here "P" represents the problem; a, b, c, d, and e, ideas accepted as relevant to the problem; and b', d' ideas suggested by b and d, but rejected as not adjustable to the problem.

Factors in Process.—The above facts demonstrate, however, that the mind can take this attitude toward any problem only if it has a certain store of old knowledge relative to it. Two important conditions of voluntary attention are therefore, first, that the mind should have the necessary ideas, or knowledge, with which to attend and, secondly, that it would select and adjust these to the purpose in view. Here the intimate connection of voluntary attention to the normal learning process is apparent. The step of preparation, for instance, is merely putting the mind in the proper attitude to attend voluntarily to an end in view, namely the lesson problem; while the so-called analytic-synthetic process of learning involves the selecting and adjusting movements of voluntary attention.

Spontaneous and Voluntary Attention Distinguished.—In describing voluntary attention as an active form of attention, psychologists assume that since the mind here wills, or resolves, to attend, in order to gain a certain end in view; therefore voluntary attention must imply a much greater degree of effort, or strain, than other types. That such is always the case, however, is at times not very apparent. If one may judge by the straining of eye or ear, the poise of the body, the holding of the breath, etc., when a person gives involuntary attention to any sudden impression, as a strange noise at night, it is evident that the difference of effort, or strain, in attending to this and some selected problem may not, during the time it continues, be very marked.

It is of course true that in voluntary attention the mind must choose its own object of attention as an end, or aim, while in the involuntary type the problem seems thrust upon us. This certainly does imply a deliberate choice in the former, and to that extent may be said to involve an effort not found in the latter. In like manner, when seeking to attain the end which has been set up, the mind must select the related ideas which will solve its problem. This in turn may demand the grasping of a number of complex relations. To say, however, that all striving to attain an end is lacking in a case of involuntary attention would evidently be fallacious. When the mind is startled by a strange noise, the mind evidently does go out, though in a less formal way, to interpret a problem involuntarily thrust upon it. When, for instance, we receive the violent impression, the mind may be said to ask itself, "What strange impression is this?" and to that extent, even here, faces a selected problem. The distinguishing feature of voluntary attention, therefore, is the presence of a consciously conceived end, or aim, upon which the mind deliberately sets its attention as something to be thought about.


Voluntary Attention and Learning.—From what has been seen, it is evident that, when a pupil in his school approaches any particular problem, the learning process will represent a process of voluntary attention. This form of attention is, therefore, one of special significance to the teacher, since a knowledge of the process will cast additional light upon the learning process. The first condition of voluntary attention is the power to select some idea as an end, or problem, for attention. It was seen, however, that the focusing of attention upon any problem depends upon some form of desirable change to be effected in and through the set problem. For instance, unless the recovery of the coin is conceived as producing a desirable change, it would not become a deliberately set problem for attention. It is essential, therefore, that the end which the child is to choose as an object of attention should be one conceived as demanding a desired change, or adjustment. For instance, to ask a child to focus his attention upon two pieces of wood merely as pieces of wood is not likely to call forth an active effort of attention. To direct his attention to them to find out how many times the one is contained in the other, on the other hand, focuses his attention more strongly upon them; since the end to be reached will awaken his curiosity and set an interesting problem.

Non-voluntary Attention in Education.—On account of the ease with which attention seems to centre itself upon its object in non-voluntary attention, it is sometimes erroneously claimed that this is the type of attention to be aimed at in the educative process, especially with young children. Such a view is, however, a fallacious one, and results from a false notion of the real character of both non-voluntary and voluntary attention. In a clear example of non-voluntary attention, the mind dwells upon the ideas merely on account of their inherent attractiveness, and passes from one idea to its associated idea without any purposeful end in view. This at once shows its ineffectiveness as a process of learning. When the young lover's thoughts revert in a non-voluntary way to the fair one, he perhaps passes into a state of mere reminiscence, or at best of idle fancy. Even the student whose thoughts run on in a purposeless manner over his favourite subject, will merely revive old associations, or at best make a chance discovery of some new knowledge. In the same way, the child who delights in musical sounds may be satisfied to drum the piano by the hour, but this is likely to give little real advance, unless definite problems are set up and their attainment striven for in a purposeful way.

Voluntary Attention and Interest.—A corollary of the fallacy mentioned above is the assumption that voluntary attention necessarily implies some conflict with the mind's present desire or interest. It is sometimes said, for instance, that in voluntary attention, we compel our mind to attend, while our interest would naturally direct our attention elsewhere. But without a desire to effect some change in or through the problem being attended to, the mind would not voluntarily make it an object of attention. The misconception as to the relation of voluntary attention to interest is seen in an illustration often given as an example of non-voluntary attention. It is said, rightly enough, that if a child is reading an interesting story, and is just at the point where the plot is about to unravel itself, there will be difficulty in diverting his attention to other matters. This, it is claimed, furnishes a good example of the power of non-voluntary attention. But quite the opposite may be the case. When called upon, say by his parent, to lay aside the book and attend to some other problem, the child, it is true, shows a desire to continue reading. But this may be because he has a definite aim of his own in view—to find out the fate of his hero. This is a strongly felt need on his part, and his mind refuses to be satisfied until, by further attention to the problem before him, he has attained to this end. The only element of truth in the illustration is that the child's attention is strongly reinforced through the intense feeling tone associated with the selected, or determined, aim—the fate of his hero. The fact is, therefore, that a process of voluntary attention may have associated with its problem as strong an interest as is found in the non-voluntary type.

Voluntary Attention Depends on Problem.—It is evident from the foregoing that the characteristic of voluntary attention is not the absence or the presence of any special degree of interest, but rather the conception of some end, or purpose, to be reached in and through the attentive process. In other words, voluntary attention is a state of mind in which the mental movements are not drifting without a chart, but are seeking to reach a set haven. A person who is greatly interested in automobiles, for instance, on seeing a new machine, may allow his attention to run now to this part of the machine, now to that, as each attracts him in turn. Here no fixed purpose is being served by the attentive process, and attention may pass from part to part in a non-voluntary way, the person's general interest in automobiles being sufficient to keep the attention upon the subject. Suddenly, however, he may notice something apparently new in the mechanism of the machine, and a desire arises to understand its significance. This at once becomes an end to which the mind desires to attain, and voluntary attention proceeds to direct the mental movements toward its attainment. To suppose, however, that the interest, manifest in the former mental movements, is now absent, would evidently be fallacious. The difference lies in this, that at first the attention seemed fixed on the object through a general interest only, and drifted from point to point in a purposeless way, while in the second case an interesting end, or purpose, controlled the mental movements, and therefore made each movement significant in relation to the whole conscious process.

Attention and Knowledge.—Mention has already been made of the relation of attention to interest. It should be noted, further, that the difference in our attention under different circumstances is largely dependent upon our knowledge. The stonecutter, as he passes the fine mansion, gives attention to the fretted cornice; the glazier, to the beautiful windows; the gardener, to the well-kept lawn and beds. Even the present content of the mind has its influence upon attention. The student on his way to school, if busy with his spelling lesson, is attracted to the words and letters on posters and signs. If he is reviewing his botany, he notes especially the weeds along the walk; if carrying to his art teacher, with a feeling of pride, the finished landscape drawing, his attention goes out to the shade and colour of field and sky. That such a connection must exist between knowledge and attention is apparent from what has been already noted concerning the working of the law of apperception.

Physical Conditions of Attention.—From what was learned above regarding the relation of nervous energy to active attention, it is evident that the ability to attend to a problem at any given time will depend in part upon the physical condition of the organism. If, therefore, the nervous energy is lowered through fatigue or sickness, the attention will be weakened. For this reason the teaching of subjects, such as arithmetic, grammar, etc., which present difficult problems, and therefore make large demands upon the attention of the scholars, should not be undertaken when the pupils' energy is likely to be at a minimum. Similarly, unsatisfactory conditions in the school-room, such as poor ventilation, uncomfortable seats, excessive heat or cold, all tend to lower the nervous energy and thus prevent a proper concentration of attention upon the regular school work.

Precautions Relating to Voluntary Attention.—Although voluntary attention is evidently the form of attention possessing real educational value, certain precautions would seem necessary concerning its use. With very young children the aim for attending should evidently not be too remote. In other words, the problem should involve matter in which the children have a direct interest. For this reason it is sometimes said that young children should set their own problems. This is of course a paradox so far as the regular school work is concerned, though it does apply to the pre-school period, and also justifies the claim that with young children the lesson problem should be closely connected with some vital interest. It would be useless, for instance, to try to interest young children in the British North America Act by telling them that the knowledge will be useful when they come to write on their entrance examinations. The story of Sir Isaac Brock, on the other hand, wins attention for itself through the child's patriotism and love of story. Again, the problem demanding attention should not, in the case of young children, be too long or complex. For example, a young child might easily attend to the separate problems of finding out, (1) how many marbles he must have to give four to James and three to William; (2) how many times seven can be taken from twenty-eight; (3) how many marbles James would have if he received four marbles four times; and (4) how many James would have if he received three marbles three times. But if given the problem "to divide twenty-eight marbles between James and William, giving James four every time he gives William three," the problem may be too complex for his present power of attention. A young child has not the control over his knowledge necessary to continue any long process of selecting attention. A relatively short period of attention to any problem, therefore, exhausts the nervous energy in the centres connected with a particular set of experiences. It is for this reason that the lessons in primary classes should be short and varied. One of the objections, therefore, to a narrow curriculum is that attention would not obtain needed variety, and that a narrowness in interest and application may result. On the other hand, it is well to note that the child must in time learn to concentrate his attention for longer periods and upon topics possessing only remote, or indirect, interest.



Nature of Feeling.—Feeling has already been described (Chapter XIX) as the pleasurable or painful side of any state of consciousness. We may recall how it was there found that any conscious state, or experience, for instance, being conscious of the prick of a pin, of success at an examination, or of the loss of a friend, is not merely a state of knowledge, or awareness, but is also a state of feeling. It is a state of feeling because it affects us, that is, because being a state of our consciousness, it appeals to us pleasurably or painfully in a way that it can to no one else.

Neural Conditions of Feeling.—It has been seen that every conscious state, or experience, has its affective, or feeling, tone, and also that every experience involves the transmission of nervous energy through a number of connected brain cells. On this basis it is thought that the feeling side of any conscious state is conditioned by the degree of the resistance encountered as the nervous energy is transmitted. If the centres involved in the experience are not yet properly organized, or if the stimulation is strong, the resistance is greater and the feeling more intense. A new movement of the limbs in physical training, for example, may at first prove intensely painful, because the centres involved in the exercise are not yet organized. So also, because a very bright light stimulates the nerves violently, it causes a painful feeling. That morphine deadens pain is to be explained on the assumption that it decreases nervous energy, and thus lessens the resistance being encountered between the nervous centres affected at the time.

Feeling and Habit.—That the intensity of a feeling is conditioned by the amount of the resistance seems evident, if we note the relation of feeling to habit. The first time the nurse-in-training attends a wounded patient, the experience is marked by intense feeling. After a number of such experiences, however, this feeling becomes much less. In like manner, the child who at first finds the physical exercise painful, as he becomes accustomed to the movements, finds the pain becoming less and less intense. In such cases it is evident that practice, by organizing the centres involved in the experience, decreases the resistance between them, and thus gradually decreases the intensity of the feeling. When finally the act becomes habitual, the nervous impulse traverses only lower centres, and therefore all feeling and indeed all consciousness will disappear, as happens in the habitual movements of the limbs in walking and of the arms during walking.


Sensuous Feeling.—As already noted, while feelings vary in intensity according to the strength of the resistance, they also differ in kind according to the arcs traversed by the impulse. Experiencing a burn on the hand would involve nervous impulses, or currents, other than those involved in hearing of the death of a friend. The one experience also differs in feeling from the other. Our feeling states are thus able to be divided into certain important classes with more or less distinct characteristics for each. In one class are placed those feelings which accompany sensory impulses. The sensations arising from the stimulations of the sense organs, as a sweet or bitter taste, a strong smell, the touch of a hot, sharp, rough, or smooth object, etc., all present an affective, or feeling, side. So also feeling enters into the general or organic sensations arising from the conditions of the bodily organs; as breathing, the circulation of the blood, digestion, the tension of the muscles, hunger, thirst, etc. The feeling which thus enters as a factor into any sensation is known as sensuous feeling.

Ideal Feeling.—Other feelings enter into our ideas and thoughts. The perception or imagination of an accident is accompanied with a painful feeling, the memory or anticipation of success with a feeling of joy, the thought of some particular person with a thrill of love. Such feelings are known as ideal feelings. When a child tears his flesh on a nail, he experiences sensuous feeling, when he shrinks away, as he perceives the teeth of a snarling dog, he experiences an ideal feeling, known as the emotion of fear.

Interest.—A third type of feeling especially accompanies an active process of attention. In our study of attention, it was seen that any process of attention is accompanied by a concentration of nervous energy upon the paths or centres involved in the experience, thus organizing the paths more completely and thereby decreasing the resistance. The impulse to attend to any experience is, therefore, accompanied with a desirable feeling, because a new adjustment between nerve centres is taking place and resistance being overcome. This affective, or feeling, tone which accompanies a process of attention is known as the feeling of interest.

Interest and Attention.—In discussions upon educational method, it is usually affirmed that the attention will focus upon a problem to the extent to which the mind is interested. While this statement may be accepted in ordinary language, it is not psychologically true that I first become interested in a strange presentation, and then attend to it afterwards. In such a case it is no more true to say that I attend because I am interested, than to say that I am interested because I attend. In other words, interest and attention are not successive but simultaneous, or, as sometimes stated, they are back and front of the same mental state. This becomes evident by noting the nervous conditions which must accompany interest and attention. When one is attending to any strange phenomenon, say a botanist to the structure of a rare plant, it is evident that there are not only new groupings of ideas in the mind, but also new adjustments being set up between the brain centres. This implies in turn a lessening of resistance between the cells, and therefore the presence of the feeling tone known as interest.

Interest, Attention, and Habit.—Since the impulse to attend to a presentation is conditioned by a process of adjustment, or organization, between brain centres, it is evident that, while the novel presentations call forth interest and attention, repetition, by habituating the nervous arcs, will tend to deaden interest and attention. For this reason the story, first heard with interest and attention, becomes stale by too much repetition. The new toy fails to interest the child after the novelty has worn off. It must be noted, however, that while repetition usually lessens interest, yet when any set of experiences are repeated many times, instead of lessening interest the repetition may develop a new interest known as the interest of custom. Thus it is that by repeating the experience the man is finally compelled to visit his club every evening, and the boy to play his favourite game every day. This secondary interest of custom arises because repetition has finally established such strong associations within the nervous system that they now have become a part of our nature and are thus able to make a new demand upon interest and attention.


Uses of Term: A. Subjective; B. Objective.—That the educator describes interest as something that causes the mind to give attention to what is before it, when in fact interest and attention are psychologically merely two sides of a single process, is accounted for by the fact that the term "interest" may be used with two quite different meanings. Psychologically, interest is evidently a feeling state, that is, it represents a phase of consciousness. My interest in football, for instance, represents the feeling of worth which accompanies attention to such experiences. In this sense interest and attention are but two sides of the single experience, interest representing the feeling, and attention the effort side of the experience. As thus applied, the term interest is said to be used subjectively. More, often, however, the term is applied rather to the thing toward which the mind directs its attention, the object being said to possess interest for the person. In this sense the rattle is said to have interest for the babe; baseball, for the young boy; and the latest fashions, for the young lady. Since the interest is here assumed to reside in the object, it seems reasonable to say that our attention is attracted through interest, that is, through an interesting presentation. As thus applied, the term interest is said to be used objectively.

Types of Objective Interest.—The interest which various objects and occupations thus possess for the mind may be of two somewhat different types. In some cases the object possesses a direct, or intrinsic, interest for the mind. The young child, for instance, is spontaneously attracted to bright colours, the boy to stories of adventure, and the sentimental youth or maiden to the romance. In the case of any such direct interests, however, the feeling with which the mind contemplates the object may transfer itself at least partly to other objects associated more or less closely with the direct object of interest. It is thus that the child becomes interested in the cup from which his food is taken, and the lover in the lap dog which his fair one fondles. As opposed to the direct interest which an object may have for the mind, this transferred type is known as indirect interest.

Importance of Transference of Interest.—The ability of the mind thus to transfer its interests to associated objects is often of great pedagogical value. Abstract forms of knowledge become more interesting to young children through being associated with something possessing natural interest. A pupil who seems to take little interest in arithmetic may take great delight in manual training. By associating various mathematical problems with his constructive exercises, the teacher can frequently cause the pupil to transfer in some degree his primary interest in manual training to the associated work in arithmetic. In the same way the child in the primary grade may take more delight in the alphabet when he is able to make the letters in sand or by stick-laying. It may be said, in fact, that much of man's effort is a result of indirect interest. What is called doing a thing from a sense of duty is often a case of applying ourselves to a certain thing because we are interested in avoiding the disapproval of others. The child also often applies himself to his tasks, not so much because he takes a direct interest in them, but because he wishes to gain the approval and avoid the censure of teacher and parents.

Native and Acquired Interest.—Interest may also be distinguished on the basis of its origin. As noted above, certain impressions seem to demand a spontaneous interest from the individual. For this cause the child finds his attention going out immediately to bright colours, to objects which give pleasure, such as candy, etc., or to that which causes personal pain. On the other hand, objects and occupations which at first seem devoid of interest may, after a certain amount of experience has been gained, become important centres of interest. A young child may at first show no interest in insects unless it be a feeling of revulsion. Through the visit of an entomologist to his home, however, he may gain some knowledge of insects. This knowledge, by arousing an apperceptive tendency in the direction of insect study, gradually develops in him a new interest which lasts throughout his whole life. It is in this way that the various school subjects widen the narrow interests of the child. By giving him an insight into various phases of his social environment, the school curriculum awakens in him different centres of interest, and thus causes him to become in the truest sense a part of the social life about him. This fact is one of the strongest arguments, also, against a narrow public school course of study in a society which is itself a complex of diversified interests.

Interest versus Interests.—On account of the evident connection of interest and attention, the teacher may easily err in dealing with the young pupil. It is allowable, as pointed out above, that the teacher should take advantage of any native interest to secure the attention and effort of the child in his school work. This does not mean, however, that children are to be given only problems in which they are naturally interested. It must be remembered, as seen in a former paragraph, that, according to the interest of custom, any line of school work, when intelligently followed, may soon build up a centre of interest for itself. For this reason a proper study of arithmetic should develop an interest in arithmetic; a study of history, an interest in history; and a study of geography, an interest in geography. The saying that school work should follow a child's interest might, therefore, be better expressed by saying that the child's interests should follow the school work. It is only, in fact, as any one becomes directly interested in his pursuits, that the highest achievement can be reached. It is not the workman who is always looking forward to pay-day, who develops into an artist, or the teacher who is waiting for the summer holiday, who is a real inspiration to her pupils. In like manner, it is only as the child forms centres of interest in connection with his school work, that his life and character are likely to be affected permanently thereby.

Development of Interests.—The problem for the educator is, therefore, not so much to follow the interest of the child, as it is to develop in him permanent centres of interest. For this reason the following facts concerning the origin and development of interests should be understood by the practical educator. First among these is the fact that certain instinctive tendencies of early childhood may be made a starting-point for the development of permanent valuable interest. The young child has a tendency to collect or an instinct of ownership, which may be taken advantage of in directing him to make collections of insects, plants, coins, stamps, and thus prove of permanent educative value. His constructive tendencies, or desire to do with what comes into his hand, as well as his imitative instincts, may be turned to account in building up an interest in various occupations. His social instinct, also, provides a means for developing permanent emotional interests as sympathy, etc. In like manner, the character of the child's surroundings tends to create in him various centres of interest. The young child, for instance, who is surrounded with beautiful objects, is almost sure to develop an interest in works of art, while the child who is early provided with fable and story will develop an interest in history.

When to Develop Interests.—It is to be noted further concerning many of these forms of interest, that youth is the special period for their development. The child who does not, during his early years, have an opportunity to develop his social tendencies, is not likely later in life to acquire an interest in his fellow-men. In the same manner, if youth is spent in surroundings void of aesthetic elements, manhood will be lacking in artistic interests. It is in youth also that our intellectual interests, such as love of reading, of the study of nature, of mathematics, must be laid.

Interests Must be Limited.—While emphasizing the importance of establishing a wide range of interests when educating a child, the teacher must remember that there is danger in a child acquiring too wide a range. This can result only in a dissipation of effort over many fields. While this prevents narrowness of vision and gives versatility of disposition, it may prevent the attainment of efficiency in any department, and make of the youth the proverbial "Jack-of-all-trades."

A study of the feeling of interest has been made at this stage on account of its close connection with the problem of attention, and in fact with the whole learning process. An examination of the other classes of feeling will be made at a later stage in the course.



Sensation and Perception Distinguished.—Sensation and perception are two terms applied usually without much distinction of meaning to our recognition of the world of objects. When, for instance, a man draws near to a stove, he may say that it gives him a sensation of heat, or perhaps that he perceives it to be hot. In psychology, however, the term sensation has been used in two somewhat different meanings. By some the term is used to signify a state of consciousness conditioned merely upon the stimulation of a sense organ, as the eye, ear, etc., by its appropriate stimulus. To others, however, sensation signifies rather a mental image experienced by the mind as it reacts upon and interprets any sensory impression. Perception, on the other hand, signifies the recognition of an external object as presented to the mind here and now.

Sensation Implies Externality.—When, however, a sensory image, such as smooth, yellow, cold, etc., arises in consciousness as a result of the mind reacting when an external stimulus is applied to some sense organ, it is evident that, at least after very early infancy, one never has the image without at once referring it to some external cause. If, for instance, a person is but half awake and receives a sound sensation, he does not ask himself, "What mental state is this?" but rather, "What is that?" This shows an evident tendency to refer our sensations at once to an external cause, or indicates that our sensations always carry with them an implicit reference to an external object. Leaving, therefore, to the scientific psychologist to consider whether it is possible to have a pure sensation, we shall treat sensation as the recognition of a quality which is at least vaguely referred to an external object. In other words, sensation is a medium by which we are brought into relation with real things existing independently of our sensations.

Perception Involves Sensation Element.—Moreover, an object is perceived as present here and now only because it is revealed to us through one or more of the senses. When, for instance, I reach out my hand in the dark room and receive a sensation of touch, I perceive the table as present before me. When I receive a sensation of sound as I pass by the church, I perceive that the organ is being played. When I receive a colour sensation from the store window, I say that I perceive oranges. Perception, therefore, involves the referring of the sensuous state, or image, to an external thing, while in adult life sensation is never accepted by our attention as satisfactory unless it is referred to something we regard as immediately presenting itself to us by means of the sensation. It is on account of this evident interrelation of the two that we speak of a process of sense perception.

Perception an Acquired Power.—On the other hand, however, investigation will show that this power to recognize explicitly the existence of an external object through the presentation of a sensation, was not at first possessed by the mind. The ability thus to perceive objects represents, therefore, an acquirement on the part of the individual. If a person, although receiving merely sensations of colour and light, is able to say, "Yonder is an orange," he is evidently interpreting, or giving meaning to, the present sensations largely through past experience; for the images of colour and light are accepted by the mind as an indication of the presence of an external thing from which could be derived other images of taste, smell, etc., all of which go to make up the idea "orange." An ordinary act of perception, therefore, must involve not merely sensation, but also an interpretation of sensation through past experience. It is, in fact, because the recognition of an external object involves this conscious interpretation of the sensuous impressions, that people often suffer delusion. When the traveller passing by a lone graveyard interprets the tall and slender shrub laden with white blossoms as a swaying ghost, the misconception does not arise from any fault of mere vision, but from the type of former knowledge which the other surroundings of the moment call up, these evidently giving the mind a certain bias in its interpretation of the sensuous, or colour, impressions.

Perception in Adult Life.—In our study of general method, sense perception was referred to as the most common mode of acquiring particular knowledge. A description of the development of this power to perceive objects through the senses should, therefore, prove of pedagogical value. But to understand how an individual acquires the ability to perceive objects, it is well to notice first what takes place in an ordinary adult act of perception, as for instance, when a man receives and interprets a colour stimulus and says that he perceives an orange. If we analyse the person's idea of an orange we find that it is made up of a number of different quality images—colour, taste, smell, touch, etc., organized into a single experience, or idea, and accepted as a mental representation of an object existing in space. When, therefore, the person referred to above says that he perceives an orange, what really happens is that he accepts the immediate colour and light sensation as a sign of the whole group of qualities which make up his notion of the external object, orange, the other qualities essential to the notion coming back from past experience to unite with the presented qualities. Owing to this fact, any ordinary act of perception is said to contain both presentative and representative elements. In the above example, for instance, the colour would be spoken of as a presentative element, because it is immediately presented to the mind in sensuous terms, or through the senses. Anything beyond this which goes to make up the individual's notion orange, and is revived from past experience, is spoken of as representative. For the same reason, the sensuous elements involved in an ordinary act of perception are often spoken of as immediate, and the others as mediate elements of knowledge.

Genesis of Perception.—To trace the development of this ability to mingle both presentative and representative elements of knowledge into a mental representation, or idea, of an external object, it is necessary to recall what has been noted regarding the relation of the nervous system to our conscious acts. When the young child first comes in contact with the world of strange objects with which he is surrounded, the impressions he receives therefrom will not at first have either the definite quality or the relation to an external thing which they later secure. As a being, however, whose first tendencies are those of movement, he grasps, bites, strokes, smells, etc., and thus goes out to meet whatever his surroundings thrust upon him. Gradually he finds himself expand to take in the existence of a something external to himself, and is finally able, as the necessary paths are laid down in his nervous system, to differentiate various quality images one from the other; as, touch, weight, temperature, light, sound, etc. This will at once involve, however, a corresponding relating, or synthetic, attitude of mind, in which different quality images, when experienced together as qualities of some vaguely felt thing, will be organized into a more or less definite knowledge, or idea, of that object, as illustrated in the figure below. As the child in time gains the ability to attend to the sensuous presentations which come to him, and to discriminate one sensation from another, he discovers in the vaguely known thing the images of touch, colour, taste, smell, etc., and finally associates them into the idea of a better known object, orange.

Control of Sensory Image as Sign.—Since the various sense impressions are carried to the higher centres of the brain, they will not only be interpreted as sensory images and organized into a knowledge of external objects, but, owing to the retentive power of the nervous tissue, will also be subject to recall. As the child thus gains more and more the ability to organize and relate various sensory images into mental representations, or ideas, of external objects, he soon acquires such control over these organized groups, that when any particular sensation image out of a group is presented to the mind, it will be sufficient to call up the other qualities, or will be accepted as a sign of the presence of the object. When this stage of perceptual power is reached, an odour coming from the oven enables a person to perceive that a certain kind of meat is within, or a noise proceeding from the tower is sufficient to make known the presence of a bell. To possess the ability thus to refer one's sensations to an external object is to be able to perceive objects.

Fulness of Perception Based on Sensation.—From the foregoing account of the development of our perception of the external world, it becomes evident that our immediate knowledge, or idea, of an individual object will consist only of the images our senses have been able to discover either in that or other similar objects. To the person born without the sense of sight, for instance, the flower-bed can never be known as an object of tints and colours. To the person born deaf, the violin cannot really be known as a musical instrument. Moreover, only the person whose senses distinguish adequately variations in colour, sound, form, etc., is able to perceive fully the objects which present themselves to his senses. Even when the physical senses seem equally perfect, one man, through greater power of discrimination, perceives in the world of objects much that totally escapes the observation of another. The result is that few of us enter as fully as we might into the rich world of sights, sounds, etc., with which we are surrounded, because we fail to gain the abundant images that we might through certain of our senses.


Passing to a consideration of the senses as organs through which the mind is made aware of the concrete world, it is to be noted that a number of factors precede the image, or mental interpretation, of the impression. When, for instance, the mind becomes cognizant of a musical note, an analysis of the whole process reveals the following factors:

1. The concrete object, as the vibrating string of a violin.

2. Sound waves proceeding from the vibrating object to the sense organ.

3. The organ of sense—the ear.

4. The nerves—cells and fibres involved in receiving and conveying the sense stimulus.

5. The interpreting cells.

6. The reacting mind, which interprets the impression as an image of sound.

The different factors are somewhat arbitrarily illustrated in the accompanying diagram, the arrows indicating the physical stimulation and the conscious response:

Of the six factors involved in the sensation, 1 and 2 are purely physical and belong to the science of acoustics; 3, 4, and 5 are physiological; 6 is conscious, or psychological. It is because they always involve the immediate presence of some physical object, that the sensation elements involved in ordinary perception are spoken of as immediate, or presentative, elements of knowledge.


Our various sensations are usually divided into three classes as follows:

1. Sensations of the special senses, including: sight, sound, touch (including temperature), taste, and smell.

2. Motor, or muscular, sensations.

3. Organic sensations.

Sensations of the Special Senses.—As a study of the five special senses has been made by the student-teacher under the heading of physiology, no attempt will be made to explain the structure of these organs. It must be noted, however, that not all senses are equally capable of distinguishing differences in quality. For example, it seems quite beyond our power to recall the tastes and odours of the various dishes of which we may have partaken at a banquet, while on the other hand we may recall distinctly the visual appearance of the room and the table. It is worthy of note, also, that in the case of smell, animals are usually much more discriminative than man. Certain of our senses are, therefore, much more intellectual than others. By this is meant that for purposes of distinguishing the objects themselves, and for providing the mind with available images as materials for further thought, our senses are by no means equally effective. Under this heading the special senses are classified as follows:

Higher Intellectual Senses: sight, hearing, touch.

Lower Intellectual Senses: taste and smell.

Muscular Sensations.—Under motor, or muscular, sensations are included the feelings which accompany consciousness of muscular exertion, or movement. In distinction from the other sense organs, the muscles are stimulated by having nervous energy pass outward over the motor nerves to the muscles. As the muscles are thus stimulated to movement, sensory nerves in turn convey inward from the muscles sensory impressions resulting from these movements. The important sensations connected with muscular action are those of strain, force, and resistance, as in lifting or pushing. By means of these motor sensations, joined with the sense of touch, the individual is able to distinguish especially weight, position, and change of position. In connection with the muscular sense, may be recalled that portion of the Montessori apparatus known as the weight tablets. These wooden tablets, it will be noted, are designed to educate the muscular sense to distinguish slight differences in weight. The muscular sense is chiefly important, however, in that delicate distinctions of pressure, movement, and resistance must be made in many forms of manual expression. The interrelation between sensory impression and motor impulse within the nervous system, as illustrated in the figures on page 200, is already understood by the reader. For an adequate conscious control of movements, especially when one is engaged in delicate handwork, as painting, modelling, wood-work, etc., there must be an ability to perceive slight differences in strain, pressure, and movement. Moreover, the most effective means for developing the muscular sense is through the expressive exercises referred to above.

Organic Sensations.—The organic sensations are those states of consciousness that arise in connection with the processes going on within the organism, as circulation of the blood, digestion; breathing, or respiration; hunger; thirst; etc. The significance of these sensations lies in the fact that they reveal to consciousness any disturbances in connection with the vital processes, and thus enable the individual to provide for the preservation of the organism.


Importance.—When it is considered that our general knowledge must be based on a knowledge of individuals, it becomes apparent that children should, through sense observation, learn as fully as possible the various qualities of the concrete world. Only on this basis can they build their more general and abstract forms of knowledge. For this reason the child in his study of objects should, so far as safety permits, bring all of his senses to bear upon them and distinguish as clearly as possible all their properties. By this means only can he really know the attributes of the objects constituting his environment. Moreover, without such a full knowledge of the various properties and qualities of concrete objects, he is not in a position to turn them fully to his own service. It is by distinguishing the feeling of the flour, that the cook discovers whether it is suited for bread-making or pastry. It is by noting the texture of the wood, that the artisan can decide its suitability for the work in hand. In fine, it was only by noting the properties of various natural objects that man discovered their social uses.

How to be Effected.—One of the chief defects of primary education in the past has been a tendency to overlook the importance of giving the child an opportunity to exercise his senses in discovering the properties of the objects constituting his environment. The introduction of the kindergarten, objective methods of teaching, nature study, school gardening, and constructive occupations have done much, however, to remedy this defect. One of the chief claims in favour of the so-called Montessori Method is that it provides especially for an education of the senses. In doing this, however, it makes use of arbitrarily prepared materials instead of the ordinary objects constituting the child's natural environment. The one advantage in this is that it enables the teacher to grade the stimulations and thus exercise the child in making series of discriminations, for instance, a series of colours, sounds, weights, sizes, etc. Notwithstanding this advantage, however, it seems more pedagogical that the child should receive this needful exercise of the senses by being brought into contact with the actual objects constituting his environment, as is done in nature study, constructive exercises, art, etc.

Dangers of Neglecting the Senses.—The former neglect of an adequate exercise of the senses during the early education of the child was evidently unpedagogical for various reasons. As already noted, other forms of acquiring knowledge, such as constructive imagination, induction, and deduction, must rest primarily upon the acquisitions of sense perception. Moreover, it is during the early years of life that the plasticity and retentive power of the nervous system will enable the various sense impressions to be recorded for the future use of the mind. Further, the senses themselves during these early years show what may be termed a hunger for contact with the world of concrete objects, and a corresponding distaste for more abstract types of experience.

Learning Through all the Senses.—In recognizing that the process of sense perception constitutes a learning process, or is one of the modes by which man enters into new experience, the teacher should further understand that the same object may be interpreted through different senses. For example, when a child studies a new bird, he may note its form and colour through the eye, he may recognize the feeling and the outline through muscular and touch sensations, he may discover its song through the ear, and may give muscular expression to its form in painting or modelling. In the same way, in learning a figure or letter, he may see its form through the eye, hear its sound through the ear, make the sound and trace the form by calling various muscles into play, and thus secure a number of muscular sensations relative to the figure or letter. Since all these various experiences will be co-ordinated and retained within the nervous system, the child will not only know the object better, but will also be able to recall more easily any items of knowledge concerning it, on account of the larger number of connections established within the nervous system. One chief fact to be kept in mind by the teacher, therefore, in using the method of sense perception, is to have the pupil study the object through as many different senses as possible, and especially through those senses in which his power of discrimination and recall seems greatest.

Use of Different Images in Teaching.—The importance to the teacher of an intimate knowledge of different types of imagery and of a further acquaintance with the more prevailing images of particular pupils, is evident in various ways. In the first place, different school subjects may appeal more especially to different types of imagery. Thus a study of plants especially involves visual, or sight, images; a study of birds, visual and auditory images; oral reading and music, auditory images; physical training, motor images; constructive work, visual, tactile, and motor images; a knowledge of weights and measures, tactile and motor images. On account of a native difference in forming images, also, one pupil may best learn through the eye, another through the ear, a third through the muscles, etc. In learning the spelling of words, for example, one pupil may require especially to visualize the word, another to hear the letters repeated in their order, and a third to articulate the letters by the movement of the organs of speech, or to trace them in writing. In choosing illustrations, also, the teacher will find that one pupil best appreciates a visual illustration, a second an auditory illustration, etc. Some young pupils, for instance, might best appreciate a pathetic situation through an appeal to such sensory images as hunger and thirst.

An Illustration.—The wide difference in people's ability to interpret sensuous impressions is well exemplified in the case of sound stimuli. Every one whose ear is physically perfect seems able to interpret a sound so far as its mere quality and quantity are concerned. In the case of musical notes, however, the very greatest difference is found in the ability of different individuals to distinguish pitch. So also the distinguishing of distance and direction in relation to sound is an acquired ability, in which different people will greatly differ. Finally, to interpret the external relations involved in the sound, that is, whether the cry is that of an insect or a bird, or, if it is the former, from what kind of bird the sound is proceeding, this evidently is a phase of sense interpretation in which individuals differ very greatly. Yet an adequate development of the sense of hearing might be supposed to give the individual an ability to interpret his surroundings in all these ways.

Power of Sense Perception Limited: A. By Interest.—It should be noted, however, that so far as our actual life needs are concerned, there is no large demand for an all-round ability to interpret sensuous impressions. For practical purposes, men are interested in different objects in quite different ways. One is interested in the colour of a certain wood, another in its smoothness, a third in its ability to withstand strain, while a fourth may even be interested in more hidden relations, not visible to the ordinary sense. This will justify one in ignoring entirely qualities in the object which are of the utmost importance to others. From such a practical standpoint, it is evidently a decided gain that a person is not compelled to see everything in an object which its sensuous attributes might permit one to discover in it. In the case of the man with the so-called untrained sense, therefore, it is questionable whether the failure to see, hear, etc., is in many cases so much a lack of ability to use the particular sense, as it is a lack of practical interest in this phase of the objective world. In such processes as induction and deduction, also, it is often the external relations of objects rather than their sensory qualities that chiefly interest us. Indeed, it is sometimes claimed that an excessive amount of mere training in sense discrimination might interfere with a proper development of the higher mental processes.

B. By Knowledge.—From what has been discovered regarding the learning process, it is evident that the development of any sense, as sight, sound, touch, etc., is not brought about merely by exercising the particular organ. It has been learned, for instance, that the person who is able to observe readily the plant and animal life as he walks through the forest, possesses this skill, not because his physical eye, but because his mind, has been prepared to see these objects. In other words, it is because his knowledge is active along such lines that his eye beholds these particular things. The chief reason, therefore, why the exercise of any sense organ develops a power to perceive through that sense, is that the exercise tends to develop in the individual the knowledge and interest which will cause the mind to react easily and effectively on that particular class of impressions. A sense may be considered trained, therefore, to the extent to which the mind acquires knowledge of, and interest in, the objective elements.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7     Next Part
Home - Random Browse