Chapter V: Preparation, Unfolding, and Formal Discipline - 2. Education as Unfolding
There is a conception of education which professes to be based upon the idea of development. But it takes back with one hand what it proffers with the other. Development is conceived not as continuous growing, but as the unfolding of latent powers toward a definite goal. The goal is conceived of as completion, perfection. Life at any stage short of attainment of this goal is merely an unfolding toward it. Logically the doctrine is only a variant of the preparation theory. Practically the two differ in that the adherents of the latter make much of the practical and professional duties for which one is preparing, while the developmental doctrine speaks of the ideal and spiritual qualities of the principle which is unfolding.
The conception that growth and progress are just approximations to a final unchanging goal is the last infirmity of the mind in its transition from a static to a dynamic understanding of life. It simulates the style of the latter. It pays the tribute of speaking much of development, process, progress. But all of these operations are conceived to be merely transitional; they lack meaning on their own account. They possess significance only as movements toward something away from what is now going on. Since growth is just a movement toward a completed being, the final ideal is immobile. An abstract and indefinite future is in control with all which that connotes in depreciation of present power and opportunity.
Since the goal of perfection, the standard of development, is very far away, it is so beyond us that, strictly speaking, it is unattainable. Consequently, in order to be available for present guidance it must be translated into something which stands for it. Otherwise we should be compelled to regard any and every manifestation of the child as an unfolding from within, and hence sacred. Unless we set up some definite criterion representing the ideal end by which to judge whether a given attitude or act is approximating or moving away, our sole alternative is to withdraw all influences of the environment lest they interfere with proper development. Since that is not practicable, a working substitute is set up. Usually, of course, this is some idea which an adult would like to have a child acquire. Consequently, by "suggestive questioning" or some other pedagogical device, the teacher proceeds to "draw out" from the pupil what is desired. If what is desired is obtained, that is evidence that the child is unfolding properly. But as the pupil generally has no initiative of his own in this direction, the result is a random groping after what is wanted, and the formation of habits of dependence upon the cues furnished by others. Just because such methods simulate a true principle and claim to have its sanction they may do more harm than would outright "telling," where, at least, it remains with the child how much will stick.
Within the sphere of philosophic thought there have been two typical attempts to provide a working representative of the absolute goal. Both start from the conception of a whole—an absolute—which is "immanent" in human life. The perfect or complete ideal is not a mere ideal; it is operative here and now. But it is present only implicitly, "potentially," or in an enfolded condition. What is termed development is the gradual making explicit and outward of what is thus wrapped up. Froebel and Hegel, the authors of the two philosophic schemes referred to, have different ideas of the path by which the progressive realization or manifestation of the complete principle is effected. According to Hegel, it is worked out through a series of historical institutions which embody the different factors in the Absolute. According to Froebel, the actuating force is the presentation of symbols, largely mathematical, corresponding to the essential traits of the Absolute. When these are presented to the child, the Whole, or perfection, sleeping within him, is awakened. A single example may indicate the method. Every one familiar with the kindergarten is acquainted with the circle in which the children gather. It is not enough that the circle is a convenient way of grouping the children. It must be used "because it is a symbol of the collective life of mankind in general."
Froebel's recognition of the significance of the native capacities of children, his loving attention to them, and his influence in inducing others to study them, represent perhaps the most effective single force in modern educational theory in effecting widespread acknowledgment of the idea of growth. But his formulation of the notion of development and his organization of devices for promoting it were badly hampered by the fact that he conceived development to be the unfolding of a ready-made latent principle. He failed to see that growing is growth, developing is development, and consequently placed the emphasis upon the completed product. Thus he set up a goal which meant the arrest of growth, and a criterion which is not applicable to immediate guidance of powers, save through translation into abstract and symbolic formulæ.
A remote goal of complete unfoldedness is, in technical philosophic language, trancendental. That is, it is something apart from direct experience and perception. So far as experience is concerned, it is empty; it represents a vague sentimental aspiration rather than anything which can be intelligently grasped and stated. This vagueness must be compensated for by some a priori formula. Froebel made the connection between the concrete facts of experience and the transcendental ideal of development by regarding the former as symbols of the latter. To regard known things as symbols, according to some arbitrary a priori formula—and every a priori conception must be arbitrary—is an invitation to romantic fancy to seize upon any analogies which appeal to it and treat them as laws. After the scheme of symbolism has been settled upon, some definite technique must be invented by which the inner meaning of the sensible symbols used may be brought home to children. Adults being the formulators of the symbolism are naturally the authors and controllers of the technique. The result was that Froebel's love of abstract symbolism often got the better of his sympathetic insight; and there was substituted for development as arbitrary and externally imposed a scheme of dictation as the history of instruction has ever seen.
With Hegel the necessity of finding some working concrete counterpart of the inaccessible Absolute took an institutional, rather than symbolic, form. His philosophy, like Froebel's, marks in one direction an indispensable contribution to a valid conception of the process of life. The weaknesses of an abstract individualistic philosophy were evident to him; he saw the impossibility of making a clean sweep of historical institutions, of treating them as despotisms begot in artifice and nurtured in fraud. In his philosophy of history and society culminated the efforts of a whole series of German writers—Lessing, Herder, Kant, Schiller, Goethe—to appreciate the nurturing influence of the great collective institutional products of humanity. For those who learned the lesson of this movement, it was henceforth impossible to conceive of institutions or of culture as artificial. It destroyed completely—in idea, not in fact—the psychology that regarded "mind" as a ready-made possession of a naked individual by showing the significance of "objective mind"—language, government, art, religion—in the formation of individual minds. But since Hegel was haunted by the conception of an absolute goal, he was obliged to arrange institutions as they concretely exist, on a stepladder of ascending approximations. Each in its time and place is absolutely necessary, because a stage in the self-realizing process of the absolute mind. Taken as such a step or stage, its existence is proof of its complete rationality, for it is an integral element in the total, which is Reason. Against institutions as they are, individuals have no spiritual rights; personal development, and nurture, consist in obedient assimilation of the spirit of existing institutions. Conformity, not transformation, is the essence of education. Institutions change as history shows; but their change, the rise and fall of states, is the work of the "world-spirit." Individuals, save the great "heroes" who are the chosen organs of the world-spirit, have no share or lot in it. In the later nineteenth century, this type of idealism was amalgamated with the doctrine of biological evolution. "Evolution" was a force working itself out to its own end. As against it, or as compared with it, the conscious ideas and preference of individuals are impotent. Or, rather, they are but the means by which it works itself out. Social progress is an "organic growth," not an experimental selection. Reason is all powerful, but only Absolute Reason has any power.
The recognition (or rediscovery, for the idea was familiar to the Greeks) that great historic institutions are active factors in the intellectual nurture of mind was a great contribution to educational philosophy. It indicated a genuine advance beyond Rousseau, who had marred his assertion that education must be a natural development and not something forced or grafted upon individuals from without, by the notion that social conditions are not natural. But in its notion of a complete and all-inclusive end of development, the Hegelian theory swallowed up concrete individualities, though magnifying The Individual in the abstract. Some of Hegel's followers sought to reconcile the claims of the Whole and of individuality by the conception of society as an organic whole, or organism. That social organization is presupposed in the adequate exercise of individual capacity is not to be doubted. But the social organism, interpreted after the relation of the organs of the body to each other and to the whole body, means that each individual has a certain limited place and function, requiring to be supplemented by the place and functions of the other organs. As one portion of the bodily tissue is differentiated so that it can be the hand and the hand only, another, the eye, and so on, all taken together making the organism, so one individual is supposed to be differentiated for the exercise of the mechanical operations of society, another for those of a statesman, another for those of a scholar, and so on. The notion of 'organism' is thus used to give a philosophic sanction to class distinctions in social organization—a notion which in its educational application again means external dictation instead of growth.