Chapter III: Education as Direction - 4. Some Applications to Education

Why does a savage group perpetuate savagery, and a civilized group civilization? Doubtless the first answer to occur to mind is because savages are savages; beings of low-grade intelligence and perhaps defective moral sense. But careful study has made it doubtful whether their native capacities are appreciably inferior to those of civilized man. It has made it certain that native differences are not sufficient to account for the difference in culture. In a sense the mind of savage peoples is an effect, rather than a cause, of their backward institutions. Their social activities are such as to restrict their objects of attention and interest, and hence to limit the stimuli to mental development. Even as regards the objects that come within the scope of attention, primitive social customs tend to arrest observation and imagination upon qualities which do not fructify in the mind. Lack of control of natural forces means that a scant number of natural objects enter into associated behavior. Only a small number of natural resources are utilized and they are not worked for what they are worth. The advance of civilization means that a larger number of natural forces and objects have been transformed into instrumentalities of action, into means for securing ends. We start not so much with superior capacities as with superior stimuli for evocation and direction of our capacities. The savage deals largely with crude stimuli; we have weighted stimuli.

Prior human efforts have made over natural conditions. As they originally existed they were indifferent to human endeavors. Every domesticated plant and animal, every tool, every utensil, every appliance, every manufactured article, every æsthetic decoration, every work of art means a transformation of conditions once hostile or indifferent to characteristic human activities into friendly and favoring conditions. Because the activities of children to-day are controlled by these selected and charged stimuli, children are able to traverse in a short lifetime what the race has needed slow, tortured ages to attain. The dice have been loaded by all the successes which have preceded.

Stimuli conducive to economical and effective response, such as our system of roads and means of transportation, our ready command of heat, light, and electricity, our readymade machines and apparatus for every purpose, do not, by themselves or in their aggregate, constitute a civilization. But the uses to which they are put are civilization, and without the things the uses would be impossible. Time otherwise necessarily devoted to wresting a livelihood from a grudging environment and securing a precarious protection against its inclemencies is freed. A body of knowledge is transmitted, the legitimacy of which is guaranteed by the fact that the physical equipment in which it is incarnated leads to results that square with the other facts of nature. Thus these appliances of art supply a protection, perhaps our chief protection, against a recrudescence of these superstitious beliefs, those fanciful myths and infertile imaginings about nature in which so much of the best intellectual power of the past has been spent. If we add one other factor, namely, that such appliances be not only used, but used in the interests of a truly shared or associated life, then the appliances become the positive resources of civilization. If Greece, with a scant tithe of our material resources, achieved a worthy and noble intellectual and artistic career, it is because Greece operated for social ends such resources as it had.

But whatever the situation, whether one of barbarism or civilization, whether one of stinted control of physical forces, or of partial enslavement to a mechanism not yet made tributary to a shared experience, things as they enter into action furnish the educative conditions of daily life and direct the formation of mental and moral disposition.

Intentional education signifies, as we have already seen, a specially selected environment, the selection being made on the basis of materials and method specifically promoting growth in the desired direction. Since language represents the physical conditions that have been subjected to the maximum transformation in the interests of social life—physical things which have lost their original quality in becoming social tools—it is appropriate that language should play a large part compared with other appliances. By it we are led to share vicariously in past human experience, thus widening and enriching the experience of the present. We are enabled, symbolically and imaginatively, to anticipate situations. In countless ways, language condenses meanings that record social outcomes and presage social outlooks. So significant is it of a liberal share in what is worth while in life that unlettered and uneducated have become almost synonymous.

The emphasis in school upon this particular tool has, however, its dangers:—dangers which are not theoretical but exhibited in practice. Why is it, in spite of the fact that teaching by pouring in, learning by a passive absorption, are universally condemned, that they are still so intrenched in practice? That education is not an affair of 'telling' and being told, but an active and constructive process, is a principle almost as generally violated in practice as conceded in theory. Is not this deplorable situation due to the fact that the doctrine is itself merely told? It is preached; it is lectured; it is written about. But its enactment into practice requires that the school environment be equipped with agencies for doing, with tools and physical materials, to an extent rarely attained. It requires that methods of instruction and administration be modified to allow and to secure direct and continuous occupations with things. Not that the use of language as an educational resource should lessen; but that its use should be more vital and fruitful by having its normal connection with shared activities. "These things ought ye to have done, and not to have left the others undone." And for the school "these things" mean equipment with the instrumentalities of coöperative or joint activity.

For when the schools depart from the educational conditions effective in the out-of-school environment, they necessarily substitute a bookish, a pseudo-intellectual spirit for a social spirit. Children doubtless go to school to learn, but it has yet to be proved that learning occurs most adequately when it is made a separate conscious business. When treating it as a business of this sort tends to preclude the social sense which comes from sharing in an activity of common concern and value, the effort at isolated intellectual learning contradicts its own aim. We may secure motor activity and sensory excitation by keeping an individual by himself, but we cannot thereby get him to understand the meaning which things have in the life of which he is a part. We may secure technical specialized ability in algebra, Latin, or botany, but not the kind of intelligence which directs ability to useful ends. Only by engaging in a joint activity, where one person's use of material and tools is consciously referred to the use other persons are making of their capacities and appliances, is a social direction of disposition attained.