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Developing Mental Power
by
George Malcolm Stratton

[Childhood Education, 1922]

X. ESTABLISHING GOVERNMENT IN THE MIND

The education that is needed will touch the person, part and entire, body and spirit, running through senses, memory, understanding, affections, and will. It will not frown upon special activities; they are facts which, if neglected by any plan, will grind it to powder. The school, then, will take particular functions in hand, practicing them to do their work.

There will be no reluctance to give substantial knowledge to the child, without which his action will be blind. But going beyond the empty exercise of intellectual powers, while valuing them and the knowledge that should be had, it will, above all, look to the total organization, the foundation, the great stresses and strains in the structure of the person.

The relation of this to the rival assertions which were early examined and found disappointing, is perhaps thus entirely clear; but it may be illustrated from the human body which, with all its separate organs and special functions, must attain a unity which is not there from the beginning, so that ear serves eye, eye hand, hand lips.

The interrelations of these members are multiplied and strengthened; they are stirred and controlled by hidden glands, by nerves, by brain that is both servant and master of them all. Powers are present which no one of us can outright create, but by taking thought we extend, contract, and modify them into harmony and fuller cooperation.

So it must be with the whole person. His total nature must not escape us, lost in particulars. The child is a living system of many powers, powers not side by side, indifferent, mosaic-like. He cannot be taken and educated piecemeal. The forces that drive through his whole being, that make or unmake him, must never be lost to view.

It will be clear that there is no special virtue in doing what is intrinsically useless, although poetry may be as useful as typewriting. But the sinews of the mind can strengthen pn what is of service and delight, of which there is enough, without incessant treadmill work. Better to paint the ship, for discipline, than to knock rust off the anchor.

* * *

There is, in the view here attained, aid and comfort for those who would interconnect the different sides of schooling, making each interest of the child, each subject studied, enrich and kindle the rest: making literature add to history and geometry, and receive from them; while music and drawing and acting inspire them all. Going thus far, one can go farther, contriving subjects and situations and exercises that do not scatter, but unite, bringing the child's interests into more perfect order, making his will to be of steady and wise power. In all this we must hold fast to the good, while hospitable toward the untried.

When we are offered a new lamp for an old, we must rub the new to see how much of the old Aladdin magic it contains. Let us have the new with the least loss. The cry for special training is a cry also for specialists as teachers; and desirable as they are, they will bear watching; for in choosing them, the temptation will be to ask only what and how much they know. And, as in the new proposal the child is almost forgotten for the things he is to learn, so the stuff of the teacher can too easily disappear behind the bales of information he offers.

Moreover, with specialists it is touch-and-go with their pupils. In the great city schools there is little of the leisurely contact, little of the intimacy, without which the imparting of useful knowledge is as sounding brass.

The archaic teacher who taught the same children everything that lay between Shakespeare and the rings of Saturn, at least became acquainted with his pupils, and little in him escaped their ferret eyes. Factory methods may be excellent for highly specialized mental functions, but not for the whole strong structure of the mind. Upbuilding can come only from those that have it, and the demand for it must not weaken in the demand for the expert in his field. An erect mind knowing the salient things will do more to quicken and give a right facing to other minds than will a dozen husks of humanity with the entire alphabet in capitals after their names.

* * *

Instead, then, of following whole-heartedly the new lights of education whose gospel is that subjects are more important than minds, we shall reaffirm the exact opposite while yet opening the door to the useful. The child is bigger than anything he can carry to market. In him is a divinity ready for employment, but greater than any employment that he will choose. In fitting the child to his job, we must have a live child left. This means no slighting of details. His general powers must be brought down to particulars, and to particulars that are useful. His thinking will not be counted as trained until he can demonstrate, not only some proposition in geometry, but the truths that touch children, women, and men, that touch the life of farm and city, that touch international security.

If the child be more than his information, we shall not neglect his taste. He will be sensitive to beauty, but by some toughening of his fiber he will escape daintiness and a repugnance to what is wholesome and of the soil. He will know the way into the enchanted world of music and painting and literature, but with a strengthened grasp of common duty; he will not treat lightly what he owes to family and friend and to plain man everywhere.

And he will have reverence. This great completion may not aid him as a producer of commodities; it may even hinder. But as Dr. Cabot has reminded us that some of the greatest things of life are unhygienic, so we shall not forget that some are uneconomic. Man, as was said of old, is indeed the great amphibian. He suffocates if kept from the upper air. There must be intercourse with uses great and small, but also with that great world which passes judgment upon all use.

No symbol does justice to the mysterious relation between the mind and him who helps it to its power. The teacher is like a physician, assisting at the birth of the mind, the mind which before exists all cramped, not breathing as yet. But he also feeds the mind, he guides its first steps, he gives it gymnastics, he gives toys and tools. He is the mind's autocrat, but an autocrat who knows when revolution is due, and abdicates; so wise that he has provided against anarchy, has trained many for office, and has trained others to recognize them, so that self-government moves quietly into the departed ruler's place.

No symbol is adequate, but should we not be shrewd bargainers if we exchanged both the image of the stripped athlete with Indian clubs, and the image of the tool-chest well stocked, for the figure of a city-state with its inhabitants becoming trained to artisan tasks, trained to build and enjoy parks and museums, theaters and sanctuaries; trained also to enter and to respect the massive halls of justice and lawmaking and command? At home in all these broad spaces, he who is bringing into order the great city pauses here for a moment and encourages, passes on and sits down and patiently guides; and in the end, and with many helpers 7i different from himself and with a favoring fortune, the republic of the mind is established and unfurls its splendid banner with festival and song.

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