Chapter V: Preparation, Unfolding, and Formal Discipline - Summary

The conception that the result of the educative process is capacity for further education stands in contrast with some other ideas which have profoundly influenced practice. The first contrasting conception considered is that of preparing or getting ready for some future duty or privilege. Specific evil effects were pointed out which result from the fact that this aim diverts attention of both teacher and taught from the only point to which it may be fruitfully directed—namely, taking advantage of the needs and possibilities of the immediate present. Consequently it defeats its own professed purpose. The notion that education is an unfolding from within appears to have more likeness to the conception of growth which has been set forth. But as worked out in the theories of Froebel and Hegel, it involves ignoring the interaction of present organic tendencies with the present environment, just as much as the notion of preparation. Some implicit whole is regarded as given ready-made and the significance of growth is merely transitory; it is not an end in itself, but simply a means of making explicit what is already implicit. Since that which is not explicit cannot be made definite use of, something has be be found to represent it. According to Froebel, the mystic symbolic value of certain objects and acts (largely mathematical) stand for the Absolute Whole which is in process of unfolding. According to Hegel, existing institutions are its effective actual representatives. Emphasis upon symbols and institutions tends to divert perception from the direct growth of experience in richness of meaning. Another influential but defective theory is that which conceives that mind has, at birth, certain mental faculties or powers, such as perceiving, remembering, willing, judging, generalizing, attending, etc., and that education is the training of these faculties through repeated exercise. This theory treats subject matter as comparatively external and indifferent, its value residing simply in the fact that it may occasion exercise of the general powers. Criticism was directed upon this separation of the alleged powers from one another and from the material upon which they act. The outcome of the theory in practice was shown to be an undue emphasis upon the training of narrow specialized modes of skill at the expense of initiative, inventiveness, and readaptability—qualities which depend upon the broad and consecutive interaction of specific activities with one another.