The Parents' Review
A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture
"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
The Preparation of the Unconscious Mind for Science.
by Mrs. Boole.
Mrs. Boole then read a paper on
The Preparation of the Unconscious Mind for Science.
Our subject to-day is the unconscious preparation for science. We are not going to discuss the necessity or advantages of learning science; that question is settled for us now; all children are taught it, more or less. Nor are we to-day to discuss methods of teaching. I am to speak, not about teaching, but about preparing the mind for future teaching, which is quite a different thing. I wish to be explicit on this point, because it has happened to me to see in a journal suggestions of a method of preparing infants for future teaching, and afterwards to see the suggestions alluded to by someone who claimed that his method would teach more (or make the children understand more) than that recommended by the former writer. The second writer evidently assumed that the former one must have been aiming to make children understand something; whereas what he had been aiming at was to give a right direction to the unconscious mind, while carefully avoiding rousing the child to any conscious understanding at all, and at an age when it would be impossible to make him consciously understand the topic to which the article referred, and cruel to do so if you could.
It is a common mistake to suppose that no preparation for science is needed or possible, except early teaching of what are called scientific subjects. Early attitude is far more important than early teaching. One simple instance of the kind of precautions which are strongly recommended to whoever aspires to be the parent of future scientific men and women, is as follows:--When you send a little children a message, begin by making him put down any toy or picture or pet animal which may be in his hands. Next tell him to repeat over and over till he has it quite correctly in his mind. When he can say fluently and exactly what you told him to do, do not allow him to speak again or be spoken to, till he has done it and come back to you and given a correct account of what he has done. Then restore at once the possession of which you deprived him. Now all this has nothing to do with any special science. It puts no strain on the child's intelligence, but it puts his whole self through the sequence of mental attitudes which is characteristic of the scientific discoverer.
Medical authorities, whom we all respect, have told us that consciousness resides in but a small portion of the total machinery by means of which we think and learn, and that it is dangerous and futile to constantly over-feed and over-exercise that small portion, while neglecting that larger portion whose action does not immediately cause consciousness. And, indeed, there is much reason to believe that the amount learned by children might be very much increased without the least injury to their health of body or mind, and with much less exertion than is now imposed on them and on their teachers, if the cultivation of the unconscious and that of the conscious portions of the organism were kept properly balanced and adjusted to each other.
In the old days of classical education the training of the unconscious mind was necessarily disconnected with school subjects; one can learn nothing about a dead language except by reading books or being told things. Children learned Latin in school; and the unconscious informing of the mind was done in hap-hazard fashion and by means of quite other subjects. Most of it was called "idling," or "mischief," or "naughtiness." The educational profession has not quite shaken off the influence of this old state of things; it should not be blamed if it has not yet realized what needs doing in the direction of informing the unconscious mind. For the present generation, at least, it will be wise of parents to assume that teachers, on the whole, err in the direction of attending too exclusively to the conscious mental action, and that they, the parents, must compensate what is lacking.
The first thing we must do is to resolve seriously that a good deal of time before the age of seven or eight, and of the vacations afterwards, shall be resolutely dedicated to the training of the unconscious mind. We must not only discourage the setting of holiday lessons by masters; we must also check in ourselves the tendency to overflow into being amateur professional, so to speak, spoiling the future work of the professional teacher by premature and amateurish teaching.
Many parents seem to think that all the time is wasted for their children which is not spent in taking in consciously some special idea which some adult already understands. We must get rid of this notion entirely. Miss Mason said at last year's Conference that a human being comes into the world not chiefly to acquire knowledge or to develop his faculties, but to establish relations; and I would add that a child comes into science, not only to learn facts and to develop the faculty for doing things, but primarily to establish relations with the laws of nature, by which we mean--if we truly mean anything--the laws according to which God governs the world. And in order that relations may be properly established, the grown-ups who are directing the child must, at proper times, do as Miss Mason said, "Stand aside and take a back seat," and keep silence even from good words.
I fear we are in some danger of forgetting, in the rush of modern education, that conscious mental effort rather interferes with the work of establishing relations. The time for establishing relations is the Sabbath of the I Am, the Jubilee when the land is lying fallow. Sabbath does not mean any sort of conscious exertion. But on the other hand it does not mean useless idleness. A mathematical writer on logic [Gratry.] of this century wrote, that to listen to the voice of the Eternal Teacher we must make silence from conscious learning or even thinking; and adds, 'In these days we need repose far more than we lack work. Repose is the brother of silence. We are sterile for lack of repose far more than for lack of work. The wise man acquires wisdom during the time of his repose." A mathematician of the last century said that Sabbath and Jubilee mean, not mere cessation from work, but renewal. Sabbath, Jubilee, Holy Days, Holidays, mean, in fact, time to renew our force for future work by getting our relations with God, with nature, with man, and even with tools, more true, more perfectly harmonious, more elastic and easy than is possible while the conscious brain is acting on the relation. Begin therefore as early as you can to set up in the child's mind what one may call a Sabbatical rhythm in science; a clear distinction between the time when he is being taught by man and the time when he is free to investigate or experiment as he pleases. Give him limits of time and place, lay down certain necessary negative conditions for safety and health, and to avoid annoying other people; and let the child realize that during that time, in the allotted place, provided he conforms to the prescribed conditions, no one will interfere with his experimenting exactly as he pleases.
It is curious and painful to observe how many things have been proposed by true educationalists, simply for the purpose of ministering to the action of the unconscious mind, and afterwards perverted by persons possessed with the teaching mania to the purpose of stuffing into children's minds some idea which is in the teacher's mind. This is especially the case in regard to early kindergarten work. Each object is catalogued as intended to teach this, or to prove that, or to illustrate so-and-so; many parents seem to have no idea that it may be well to let a child have things and handle them, without anyone talking, and find out what the things have to say. I ought to mention here that I have had a conversation with Mr. Newmann, dealer in education apparatus; he has kindly lent me a selection of articles suitable for quite informal home use. I think that any parent who showed a real intention of leaving room for the unconscious minds of children to inform themselves might find in Mr. Newmann an intelligent adviser.
We have now to consider three points connected with science: (1) What kind of teacher is likely to err least in the matter of neglecting the unconscious cerebration? (2) Assuming that all teachers will err in that direction, and that the parents wish to utilize the time before school age, and the holidays later on, for the purpose of compensating this one-sided action of the school, how shall they decide, in any given case, on the kind of subject most likely to be useful in this respect? (3) How does one set about to direct the action of unconscious cerebration, in science?
First. What kind of teacher do least harm in the way of neglecting to provide material for unconscious cerebration in science? Those are most neglectful of it who have learned up the elements of several sciences simply in order to be able to advertise themselves as able to teach, and who have no other connection with, or interest in, science than that. The best science-teacher is usually a thorough-going enthusiast, who, in the intervals of regular teaching, gets his pupils to assist him in his own investigations or pursuits. But that supposes an ideal connection of things; and ideal conditions can seldom be secured. As I said, the responsibility for unconscious preparation for science lies with the parents at present.
This brings us to the second question:--How shall the parents decide for any given family, what subjects can be most usefully employed as food for the unconscious brain? Choose for this purpose some subject to which you see the child attracted; and one the materials for which are at hand or can be procured without effort, or strain, or fuss. The means used for feeding the unconscious brain should be as far as possible dissociated in the children's minds with any notion of doing things for their own instruction. Whatever you set children to do for this purpose should be done either to amuse themselves, or, better, to amuse someone else; or by way of helping someone else; and by means of objects which you can introduce into the house for purpose of play, or use, or ornament. If there is anyone about, a relative or intimate friend, who knows some science subject well and is not a professional teacher--an uncle electrician or photographer, a friend who owns a star telescope, an aunt with a hobby for collecting seaweeds or growing ferns, a nice friendly carpenter or blacksmith in the place where you go for holidays, let the children spend as much of their spare time with this person as they and the person wish. Lay no stress on their learning any special thing from him or her; leave the children to absorb whatever impressions they can gather. A country-bred girl who in her own childhood went nutting and blackberrying, or worked in a little garden, may be a better holiday companion for children than the town-bred, school-trained governess, however much the latter may know about "ovaries" and "stipules," and the names of classes and orders.
Thirdly, when you have decided on your subject, how shall you proceed to direct the action of the children's unconscious brain towards it?
We will begin with the preparation for Natural History. Choose as pets animals to whom you can give some sort of real natural life. Try to give the children something to do in connection with the animals. If you cannot entrust the feeding or cleaning of the pets to the children, you can at least make it their business to give the horse his daily treat of fruit or sugar or bread, the dog his bath or swim. If you have birds in cages--a thing which I cannot believe is right where there are children, as I think it gives them a false start as to the rationale of our power over the lower creatures; but still, if you do--let the children accustom the birds to fly about the room and perch on their hands and heads. Let them make a garden for the cage birds by sowing bird seed and chickweed in pots, so that they may watch the birds picking green shoots as they grow. But it is far better to let them feed and tame wild birds.
I am not going to join in Michelet's protest against accustoming children to masses of cut flowers; but I will say that there is no use in trusting to cut flowers and exotics raised by gardeners, as preparation for understanding Nature. Let the children have such homely plants as thrive without very skilled care, and attend to them themselves. Let them also grow such things as mustard and cress for the family use. I wish to call special attention to the advisability of children doing such things as a contribution to the family's resources. It is advisable, not only on moral grounds, as tending to promote unselfishness, but because it makes it easier to secure repeated performance of the same task, with slight variations. Incessant novelty stimulates the conscious brain too much; monotony tends to dull the whole brain; but a duty which has to be done under varying circumstances, a uniform result which has to be properly attained, under varying conditions, does much to furnish with material the unconscious brain. A child who supplies the family with small salads at stated intervals has to water it in dry weather, shelter it from very scorching sun, grow it in pots in town, and in the hardest frosts on a flannel near, but not too near, the stove; he thus become accustomed to the feeling that Nature's unvarying laws of growth present multifold difficulties to finite man.
We come now to preparation for the physical sciences.
If there is a seltzogene in the house, let the children see it made up; not once only, with an elaborate explanation of the actions of acids on alkalies,--that appeals to consciousness; I mean, let them see it done as often as they wish, till the become saturated with the sense of the invariableness of the action; till they are sure that, though mother can make mistakes, the acids never do, and that when anything goes wrong it is because the human agent has been wrong.
The habit of using tools quite experimentally on a variety of material will be useful. The science of mechanics deals largely with resistances and strains. When the teacher begins talking of these things it is advisable that his class should have ready a basis of sub-conscious experience of the resistance of various woods to the hammer and saw. If you can turn the children loose in company of some nice person of the artisan class, you may wish to make some compensation for any waste of his time the children may cause; let it take the shape of an informal present at the end of vacation, not of a weekly wage. The man who is hired to teach at a fixed wage feels bound to teach. That is what happens at carpentering class in school; the teacher gives the boys the right kind of wood to make each object of, cut ready into the right-shaped block to begin upon; he tells them in what order to do the various portions of the work, and which tool to use for each operation and how to handle each. All this is the duty of a paid teacher. What is wanted in holidays is for children to experiment under varied and accidental conditions, to use the wrong kind of wood and the tool which is not quite the best for the purpose, and hurt their fingers a little, and learn by making mistakes, with someone about who will protect them from seriously wounding themselves, will quietly prevent their making over much use of tools too heavy for their small hands and therefore likely to injure the flexibility of their muscles, and to whom they can apply when puzzled or discouraged.
There is some connection between the due feeding of the unconscious brain and the process of going wrong; by which I mean going at first some way which is not the ultimately right way. The nature of this connection is as yet obscure, but it evidently exists, and we have to deal with it. Now parents are given to children in order to prevent their going wrong in ways which will compromise their future; we must not, more than we can help, let them permanently injure their health, or acquire habits which will handicap them physically, mentally or socially, or grow up ignorant of things which they ought to know. But the more careful we are in these respects, the more, not the less, we need to compensate the lack of wrongness in serious matters by providing abundantly safe opportunities for going wrong, and learning by experience, in matters of no consequence. For among all the habits which science requires us to form, none is more important than the habit of learning when there is no man to teach us, of profiting by our own past errors, of rising on stepping-stones of our mistaken selves to corrector judgments. Now there are few places in which a child can do so many things wrong, without injury to himself or annoyance to anyone else, as in a carpenter's shop. He can begin to make something out of wood that has a flaw, or that is too soft for his purpose; or he can try to gouge out a piece that is too hard for anything but a very sharp chisel to bite into. He can begin on too small a piece, he can begin without taking proper measurements and put his centre-bit in the wrong place; and when he finds himself baffled he can try again another way. And when he is tired of failures he can ask the carpenter how he begins, and that is a useful lesson in modesty. And he can get so delightfully dirty without any real soil or filth. But if not in the carpenter's shop, then elsewhere, provide somewhere, somehow, opportunities for children to go wrong and make mistakes, under the protection of someone who will not interfere with them till they ask for guidance, unless serious mischief is threatening.
As preparation for hydrostatics, let the child dabble in water, with hands and feet, in warm water and cold, in salt water and fresh, as much as is safe from the health point of view. Let the baby have things to float in his bath, sticks, shells, toys of wood and china. Let him turn the water-tap on and hold his hands under it and experiment on making splashes of many shapes and kinds. I do not mean that you should tolerate such disorderly mischief as turning taps on the sly and flooding the house; that is bad training for the child as well as inconvenient for the household. But when you are by to see that no harm is done, let the child turn the water tap when he wishes; not once in order that you may show him something that you can see happen, but habitually. Let him play with falling water. What is wanted is to get his finger tips, so to speak, quivering in response to the tremor of water at various temperatures and densities, and moving in various ways. All these physical experiences pass up to the brain and produce some impression there. They do not constitute knowledge; a man may dabble in water all his life and remain ignorant of hydrostatics as a fish, but they do form the unconscious material which, when he comes to study hydrostatics later on, will make his knowledge living and real, not shadowy.
As preparation for learning electricity, do not be satisfied with once shewing the child that sealing-wax rubbed on flannel will attract bits of paper, but let him have a stick of wax, or better, a common vulcanite comb and a piece of flannel, and keep them, and try all the experiments he wants to try. Let him learn by experience that after a time the comb discharges and needs to be rubbed again; that if he touches the table with the charged comb, it discharges at once and he has the labour of rubbing over again. As soon as he can be trusted to handle a glass rod without cutting himself, let him have one and an old silk handkerchief. Do not attempt to explain why the comb must be rubbed with wool and the rod with silk; but let him find out that so it is. I have seen a charming set of toys made (from receipts published by Tyndal, for poor boys) out of paper and pith, wire and scraps of sheet tin, some sealing wax and a few needles, with which two children, aged three-and-a-half and five, played the whole afternoon. The habit of using them seemed to have evoked in the small mites a deftness of touch on apparatus, and a sort of personal acquaintance with what scientific people call the "behaviour" of electric force, its manners and customs under a variety of conditions, quite different from any knowledge that would be imparted by any kind of teaching. The amount of electricity which a child can generate with a comb is not in the least dangerous.
Most children delight in machinery which moves with a slow, steady, rocking motion. Let them waste as much time as they like in watching it. A hayband twister such as is still in use in remote country places, the spinner of an old-fashioned ropewalk, the rocking piston of a steam ferry boat, becomes quite a familiar friend of children who have the opportunity of cultivating its acquaintance. They might have many worse friends. But a better one still is the old-fashioned Harmonograph, or Sympalmograph, made of two pendulums swinging different ways and holding between them a pen, which traces exquisite curves, that suggest wings, and flames, and strange unknown flower-forms. If you know where lives one of these old harmonographs, cultivate the acquaintance of the owner, and get leave to let the little ones see the big, ugly, lumbering monster creating the most fairy-like beauty, by simple obedience to rhythmic law. Do not preach or try to explain; let the motion itself lay its spell on their souls and preach a sermon too eloquent to be translated into human speech.
I said that children can have worse friends than a steam piston. One of these worse friends is the person who interrupts their fascinated contemplation by saying, "It is waste of time to watch this old slow-coach affair; if you want to see machines, I'll take you to see one that will turn out a gross of diagrams while this lumbering old thing makes one, a mile of rope while this makes a yard." If a child is left to his natural instincts he will prefer to be able to follow what is going on. The love of very rapidly whirring machinery is an acquired taste, and, for a child, an essentially unhealthy one. It is bad for nerves and eyesight; and if a child does like it, it is in the kind of mood in which, if he got into the same later on, he would not be likely to make a scientific discovery; he would be more likely to take a drink, or gambling, or sensationalism in politics, or to startling the public with violent attacks on sacred things, or in short to anything in the world which is most emphatically not science.
A modern child must of course acquire some sympathy with the desire for rapid achievement; but there are better ways of introducing him to it than stunning him with the racket of rapidly whirring wheels. Choose if possible some machine which makes little whirr, bustle or dust, which causes no vicious tremor to eyes or nerves, and in which the large amount of work got through in proportion to the amount of force exerted by the operator is due not to any piece of the machine moving quickly, but to the fact that every touch of the operator's finger sets a great variety of parts moving, each one at a moderate pace but exactly in harmony with all the rest. The Linotype composing machine is admirable in all these respects, and the amount of work done for one movement of the compositor's finger might fairly be called miraculous.
There is at South Kensington a selection of machines well chosen for educational purposes. Some of the models are only set working by special request made beforehand; but several work at stated hours daily. The most attractive to children are those which they can turn on themselves by touching an electric button. When you are at the Gallery do not be in a hurry to explain; do not talk unless the children ask questions, and do not imagine that the afternoon has been wasted because you have no proof that any special thing has been learned. The sensation of putting one's finger on a button and seeing a whole army of wheels, cogs, levers and hammers respond, as if by enchantment, to one's touch, is a tremendous revelation to a child's sub-conscious mind; and, until the sensation is quite familiar, it ought to be undisturbed by any conscious teaching. The day when a child receives any great new revelation of his own relation to unseen forces should be treated as a Sabbath, a Holy-day, and no work of mental effort should be imposed on him that day.
There are three volumes, called La Science Amusante, written in French--easy and very beautiful French--by someone whose nom de plume is "Tom Tit." They supply suggestions for a great variety of experiments which can be carried on at home, and which seem to me admirably selected for the purpose of training the fingers, and through them the unconscious brain, into harmony with natural law.
Of arithmetic and algebra I shall say little to-day, as I have made many suggestions about preparing for these subjects in the Parents' Review. Only one point I will lay stress on. Many a life of intellectual muddle and intellectual dishonesty begins at the point where some teacher explains the rule for Greatest Common Measure to a child who has not had the proper basis of sub-conscious knowledge laid in actual experiences. Therefore, if you value your child's future clearness in science, trust no teacher to tell him anything about G. C. M. or L. C. M. till you have ascertained that the child is able [See Parents' Review, September, 1890.] to find, easily and accurately, by means of compasses, the longest length that will repeat exactly into each of two unequal given lengths, and the shortest length into which each of two given unequal lengths will fit.
We now come to the subject of geometry, the condition of which affords, it seems to me, a standing warning against directing educational care too exclusively to the conscious mind, and neglecting to provide food for unconscious mental action.
There seems to be evidence that, in ancient times, all people in good society were expected to know simple truths about geometric forms, in the same way as we all know simple facts in natural history. The elementary properties of the triangle, parallelogram, circle, ellipse and spiral seem to have been familiar to ordinary people. They were not expected to know much about geometry, but they were expected to have and to use ordinary faculties of observation on facts within every one's reach. Euclid was in his day a sort of Darwin of geometry. He wrote not a geometry for beginners, but a book about the logical concatenation of geometric facts for men already geometers; just as our Darwin wrote a book about the concatenation of biologic forms for people already biologists, to the extent at least of knowing that horses prance, and dogs bark and wag tails; that worms crawl and birds fly; that some flowers have scent; that some fruits are sweet and others are sour.
Euclid's book was a type and model of all that a good book on logical concatenation should be. I may add that the use made of it is it the type and model of how such a book should not be used.
The treatment of Euclid is not perhaps the only example on record of a book being misused because it was faultless; because teachers assume that the excellence of the book gives them the right to use it in defiance of all the laws of psychology; but it is a typical example. The result of such misuse is always the same--loss of natural instinct. Text-books are written expressly on purpose to inform the consciousness. A good text-book should explain everything step by step and should assume nothing which it does not actually state. Euclid does this in perfection. He wrote, as I have said, for men for whom the words triangle, circle, parallelogram were already charged with associations, and he gave definitions intended for the purpose, not of telling something fresh, but of clearing up and settling conceptions which were hazy from long familiarity.
Now when it became customary to give to boys of ten or twelve what Euclid wrote for grown men, that was not far wrong; boys now can quite well assimilate what was grown-up food two thousand years ago. But if children of twelve are to learn what Euclid wrote for advanced men, children of three should be acquiring the sub-conscious physical experiences which grown lads in Greece picked up in the course of nature and by the accidental help of architecture and statuary. This precaution our grandfathers entirely omitted. The effect was somewhat similar to that which would be produced if it ever became the fashion to make children learn theoretic natural history from books illustrated by flat diagrams, before allowing them to see any real animal or plant. Europe has lost geometric instinct and the habit of geometric observation. You and I and all of us at this time are in a condition of artificially paralyzed geometric faculty; and now the aim and study of all true mathematicians is to restore the vitality of geometric instinct.
One partial remedy that has been suggested, by Spencer among others, is to substitute for Euclid some book of similar kind but less perfect of that kind; some book which mixes up a little real geometry with Euclid's idea of logical concentration. This does not go to the root of the matter. The remedy is not to substitute for Euclid some inferior and less thorough text-book, but to precede and supplement the use of text-books by some gymnastic calculated to restore normal vitality to the paralyzed natural faculty. A very great deal has been done of late years, by mathematicians, in the way of suggestions towards the creation of such a preparation. The misfortune is that our mathematicians do not yet know how to speak intelligibly to non-mathematical mothers and lady nurses. I have therefore been asked to explain to-day what is the kind of preparation suggested by mathematicians, adapting their suggestions, so far as possible, to the procedure already in use in kindergartens, so that they may be carried out with as little disturbance as possible to existing arrangements. To-morrow at the Conversazione the models and diagrams which you see here will be again on view, and we shall then have much pleasure in giving explanations in detail to anyone who wishes it. This morning I can only state in general terms the nature of the reform which is proposed.
What is emphatically not wanted is that unscientific mothers and nurses should learn something about geometry and teach it before the school age; what is wanted is that we should deal with those type forms which are the subject of geometry on the same principles as we ought to deal, and to a great extent do deal, with the other two classes of form--the living forms evolved by nature, and the artificial forms created by man for his use such as furniture and domestic appliances.
First comes the education of the senses. From the time when an infant begins to stroke the cat, the smell flowers, and to handle a spoon, have geometric solids as ornaments or toys, so that the senses of sight and touch may actually develop in contact with true type-form.
Next the training of associated ideas. When you purchase type-forms, have the correct names written on each, and take care to call each by its name, so that the children may grow up with well-formed groups of associated ideas clustered round the words which mathematical teachers will use. Be as careful as possible not to misuse mathematical terminology in daily talk; either use it accurately or not at all. For instance, do not talk about the "centre" of a long table, nor say "ellipse" when you mean the oval formed by two circles.
Then comes the training of the executive faculty. When the child can handle a pencil firmly and has outgrown the stage of mere scrawling, when he begins brush-drawing of flowers, or the drawing in pencil of boats and houses, give the hand also some training in the production of type-forms and the use of geometric tools. A violin, by the fact of being played on repeatedly, ripens and mellows into fitness for making music because a relation is gradually established between the wood and the musical scale; and so it is with a child's brain, when he is generating type-form; some relation is being established between the brain and the laws which govern the generating of curves.
Lastly--and this is probably the most important preparation for future living comprehension of mathematical ideas--there is the cultivation of the geometric imagination. At the same age at which the child begins to realize that a tadpole grows into a frog, a boy into a man, a seedling into a flowering plant, let him have the opportunity of watching also how one geometrical type-form grows out of, of flows into another. A common night-light placed in the bottom of a deep round jar in a dark room throws on a sheet of cardboard held over it patterns of conic sections, which pass into each other as you change the position of the cardboard. Children very early learn to love watching figures thrown in light; and there is no age at which this amusement can hurt them, provided that the motion is slow, and that no one excites them by trying to explain things. A variety of other methods for training the geometric imagination at a later stage by means of the children's own work, are to be shewn to-morrow. I am happy to be able to inform busy mothers that for this purpose a needle and thread has many advantages over any other implement yet devised; a child can ornament cards by setting long straight stitches in a way which causes beautiful curves to grow under his hands without his knowing why or how, and without any pattern being set for him.
There is not time to enter into any further detail to-day. To-morrow at the Conversazione the apparatus can be examined at leisure. For the present I must only add one word. If you should decide to join the movement of reform in geometry, if your children are so trained that they generate geometric forms for their amusement, three classes of remarks will perhaps be made about you by your friends; and as these remarks shew the muddle the world is in about the whole subject of preparatory training for science, I will mention them. The first, probably by grandpapa:--"How clever our little Polly is! Why, I didn't know what a conic section is till I was sixteen!" The second, possibly by grandmamma:--"Isn't it wicked to worry children with such learned things? It would be fitter for Polly to be working a sampler, as I was doing at her age." The third, by an aunt whose own children don't happen to be getting any training towards geometry:--"Now do you believe my sister's little girl really understands what a parabola is? I am certain she was told how to do it; it is only 'show off.'" Now I want you to observe, please, that there is no more cleverness in little Polly drawing a curve than in the pendulum of the harmonograph doing so; in both cases alike, an implement has been set moving according to a certain law, and beauty has resulted, not from understanding but from obedience. As for any strain to the brain, stitching a curve is not more straining to the brain and nerves than stitching a sampler; not nearly as much so if the sampler is fine, as grandmamma's probably was. The difference is that stitching the sampler gave dexterity to the fingers and that was all; but the act of evoking a curve "out of the everywhere into here," by simple obedience to rhythmic law, lodges an impression on the unconscious mind which will be ready to surge up in ten years' time, and perhaps make some class teacher at College wonder why Polly, though she is not studious and is full of all sorts of interests outside the school curriculum, never had the least difficulty in grasping the idea of the differential calculus. As for the implied suggestion that there can be no other alternative except either conscious understanding or else dishonest "show off," let us notice this. If Polly had grown some cress in her garden, no one would have asked whether the child really understood the laws of evolution, or whether she was "only 'showing off'"; everyone would know that Polly neither made the cress, nor thought she made it, nor pretended to make it; by sowing seeds as directed and watering them at due times; she summoned to her aid forces of growth which she could not understand, and they responded to her call and they made the cress grow. Why hadn't she as good a right to summon to her aid the forces which make a parabola? The cress grew even while she slept; and the parabola grew too, while her conscious brain slept. And if the one thing is not as simple, as restful, and as unpretentious as the other, it must be because someone is making a quite needless muddle of little Polly's life.
The truth is that the great dust raised over questions of detail about the best modes of teaching and the best books to use in blinding us all to the real main question at issue, which is:--are our children to learn science as people used to learn classics, by permission of a privileged caste of men and books who have a monopoly and know all about it? or are they to learn it by right divine, because they are children of an Unseen Teacher, heirs of His kingdom and at home in His house: and because they therefore have a right to use His tools and His toys, His methods and His forces, subject only to such restrictions as He Himself has laid on them? Let us settle that question first, and then details about what books to use, and how to teach this or that, will settle into their proper places. In science at least, if nowhere else, what the old Psalmist said is certainly true: it is vain that we make our children haste to rise early and late take rest and devour many carefully compiled text-books. If their relations with the Laws of Nature are harmoniously established from the beginning, knowledge will be given to them even while they sleep. [It is proposed that Mrs. Boole shall, some time during the autumn, give to the Bayswater Branch of the P.N.E.U. some suggestions of simple methods for preparing children to be, later on, receptive of the ideas of geometry, the higher calculus, mathematical logic, and mathematical psychology.
The Chairman: In view of encouraging a short discussion on the very important paper which has just been placed before us, I should like just to make a remark or two in connection with it. Mrs. Boole seems to have a natural affinity for heresy and a natural inclination for paradoxes, and I hope that the reporters here will grasp and report the great underlying ideas contained in her paper, rather than such utterances as might be misunderstood. I think that this is a very remarkable paper, and I think that you will agree with me that it is scientific, consistently with the economy of words, and points to powers and possibilities, and the necessity and value of the unconscious preparation of the mind. In saying this, I know that Mrs. Boole and I myself are uttering tremendous psychological heresy. Yet I think that Mrs. Boole's paper is an extremely remarkable one, not only for the fact that it gives utterance for the first time of "unconscious mind" as a definite phrase, but by the way in which she has handled character and shown the direction in which true training should be regarded. (Hear, hear.) She has presented to us this enormously important fact--that the new ideas must be sown and then must be left in silence and unconsciousness, without the teacher pulling up the roots to see how they are growing. (Laughter and hear, hear.) As a physician, let me say that there is a borderland between the conscious and unconscious mind that can be invaded at will, but not without certain danger. So long as the unconscious mind rests in unconsciousness we are safe, but to try to drive it into consciousness is fraught with danger, and may lead to hypochondriasis, and there cannot be the slightest doubt that this was not intended by the Framer of our intellects. It would be just as wise to try to turn night into day as to try to turn children's thoughts to the operations of the mind. Therefore stress is to be laid upon this--that children should not be continually meddling with and moulding under ideas, "improving their holidays," as some might call it--but left to their native consciousness, and not dragged to immature light. Another important matter in regard to such training is the most beautiful absence of all effort. I think that the great beauty of this training is that it strikes at the bottom of the mental over-pressure of these days--of the brain strain and nerve troubles from which many children suffer through the more direct education. Having made these few introductory remarks, I will now ask others to speak very briefly upon the paper which we have just had put before us.
Lady Campbell: I was much struck by Mrs. Boole's valuable remarks on the importance of silence, and I think that these remarks cannot be too much laid to heart by many parents. You may remember the delightful answer of the child, 'I think I could understand, mamma, if you wouldn't explain" (laughter and hear, hear); and there is a delightful little illustration to the same effect in the book by Richard Jefferies, Bevis, or the Story of a Boy, which I would recommend to all women.
Mrs. Anson: I should like to ask Mrs. Boole if, after taking a child to look at such machinery as she referred to, at South Kensington, a parent would be acting unwisely in talking over the question of machinery to the child, or would it be better not to speak about the question? Is it possible for a mother to help a child to gain a knowledge of geometry, for instance, if she is not well informed herself upon the subject?
Mrs. Boole: I should be very sorry to put a stop to a mother's talk, if it came quite naturally. But while the child is looking at the machinery, or directly afterwards, the mother should not think it her duty to talk about it. Let the child observe, and learn what there is to learn quite naturally. (Hear, hear.)
Mrs. Ketley: I should like to ask Mrs. Boole as to the machines she would consider dangerous for a child to study. Would she include a locomotive in the list of the good or the bad?
Mrs. Boole: I do not think that the locomotive could do any harm if the child liked to look at it spontaneously.
Miss Lucy R. Latterly: It struck me while Mrs. Boole was speaking that more time should be given to children to work out their own ideas, and that they should not have the teacher constantly imparting on them formal knowledge. I think that there should be no formal instruction to a child until it is six years of age at least, and then perhaps the best form of training is Kindergarten. (Hear, hear.) I should like to express my thanks to Mrs. Boole for her excellent paper, and I only wish that many of my late pupils had been here to listen to it.
Mr. Howard Swan: I should like to say a word with regard to the very admirable way in which Mrs. Boole has dealt with this subject. I think it is really wonderful how well she has brought this subject before us. I remember reading some years ago a striking example of what Mrs. Boole says, in a work by Emerson. He said that one day he was watching a Quaker lady and a child; the child came up and asked whether the lady thought it ought to do such or such a thing, and she said, "Go over there and hear what the Voice says." Yes, there is something else which the children want to do besides looking at locomotives: I should like them sometimes to go to a Quakers' meeting, and see a number of people trying to hear what the Voice says. I should advise, when a child is put out, or when there is fear of it getting angry, that the child should be allowed to go and be quiet and listen, and get the good coming from the unconscious mind. I should like to finish with a little story about Professor Hughes, the inventor of the microphone. An American gentleman came to see him one day, and having dined, said he would like to see the professor's laboratory. Professor Hughes rang the bell, and when the servant appeared, said, "Mary, bring in my laboratory," and soon she returned with a solitary jar, a comb, one or two hairpins, and a few other little things. (Laughter and applause.) A child could use these little things, and a man like Professor Hughes could bring such wonderful results from these simple things. (Hear, hear.) I should like to also express my thanks to Mrs. Boole for her admirable paper.
~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
Miss R. A. Pennethorne, ex-Student, House of Education, then read a paper on "P.N.E.U. Principles as Illustrated by Teaching."
|Top||Copyright © 2002-2014 AmblesideOnline. All rights reserved. Use of these resources subject to the terms of our License Agreement.||Home|