Chapter V: Preparation, Unfolding, and Formal Discipline - 1. Education as Preparation

We have laid it down that the educative process is a continuous process of growth, having as its aim at every stage an added capacity of growth. This conception contrasts sharply with other ideas which have influenced practice. By making the contrast explicit, the meaning of the conception will be brought more clearly to light. The first contrast is with the idea that education is a process of preparation or getting ready. What is to be prepared for is, of course, the responsibilities and privileges of adult life. Children are not regarded as social members in full and regular standing. They are looked upon as candidates; they are placed on the waiting list. The conception is only carried a little farther when the life of adults is considered as not having meaning on its own account, but as a preparatory probation for "another life." The idea is but another form of the notion of the negative and privative character of growth already criticized; hence we shall not repeat the criticisms, but pass on to the evil consequences which flow from putting education on this basis.

In the first place, it involves loss of impetus. Motive power is not utilized. Children proverbially live in the present; that is not only a fact not to be evaded, but it is an excellence. The future just as future lacks urgency and body. To get ready for something, one knows not what nor why, is to throw away the leverage that exists, and to seek for motive power in a vague chance. Under such circumstances, there is, in the second place, a premium put on shillyshallying and procrastination. The future prepared for is a long way off; plenty of time will intervene before it becomes a present. Why be in a hurry about getting ready for it? The temptation to postpone is much increased because the present offers so many wonderful opportunities and proffers such invitations to adventure. Naturally attention and energy go to them; education accrues naturally as an outcome, but a lesser education than if the full stress of effort had been put upon making conditions as educative as possible. A third undesirable result is the substitution of a conventional average standard of expectation and requirement for a standard which concerns the specific powers of the individual under instruction. For a severe and definite judgment based upon the strong and weak points of the individual is substituted a vague and wavering opinion concerning what youth may be expected, upon the average, to become in some more or less remote future; say, at the end of the year, when promotions are to take place, or by the time they are ready to go to college or to enter upon what, in contrast with the probationary stage, is regarded as the serious business of life. It is impossible to overestimate the loss which results from the deflection of attention from the strategic point to a comparatively unproductive point. It fails most just where it thinks it is succeeding—in getting a preparation for the future.

Finally, the principle of preparation makes necessary recourse on a large scale to the use of adventitious motives of pleasure and pain. The future having no stimulating and directing power when severed from the possibilities of the present, something must be hitched on to it to make it work. Promises of reward and threats of pain are employed. Healthy work, done for present reasons and as a factor in living, is largely unconscious. The stimulus resides in the situation with which one is actually confronted. But when this situation is ignored, pupils have to be told that if they do not follow the prescribed course penalties will accrue; while if they do, they may expect, some time in the future, rewards for their present sacrifices. Everybody knows how largely systems of punishment have had to be resorted to by educational systems which neglect present possibilities in behalf of preparation for a future. Then, in disgust with the harshness and impotency of this method, the pendulum swings to the opposite extreme, and the dose of information required against some later day is sugar-coated, so that pupils may be fooled into taking something which they do not care for.

It is not of course a question whether education should prepare for the future. If education is growth, it must progressively realize present possibilities, and thus make individuals better fitted to cope with later requirements. Growing is not something which is completed in odd moments; it is a continuous leading into the future. If the environment, in school and out, supplies conditions which utilize adequately the present capacities of the immature, the future which grows out of the present is surely taken care of. The mistake is not in attaching importance to preparation for future need, but in making it the mainspring of present effort. Because the need of preparation for a continually developing life is great, it is imperative that every energy should be bent to making the present experience as rich and significant as possible. Then as the present merges insensibly into the future, the future is taken care of.