Craftsmanship in teaching

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I repeat that this new vantage point from which to gain a comprehensive view of our calling has been attained only as an indirect result of the scientific investigations of the nineteenth century. We are wont to study the history of education from the work and writings of a few great reformers, and it is true that much that is valuable in our present educational system can be understood and appreciated only when viewed in the perspective of such sources. Aristotle and Quintilian, Abelard and St. Thomas Aquinas, Sturm and Philip Melanchthon, Comenius, Pestalozzi, Rousseau, Herbart, and Froebel still live in the schools of to-day. Their genius speaks to us through the organization of subject-matter, through the art of questioning, through the developmental methods of teaching, through the use of pictures, through objective instruction, and in a thousand other forms. But this dominant ideal of education to which I have referred and which is so rapidly transforming our outlook and vitalizing our organization and inspiring us to new efforts, is not to be drawn from these sources. The new histories of education must account for this new ideal, and to do this they must turn to the masters in science who made the middle part of the nineteenth century the period of the most profound changes that the history of human thought records.[4]

With the illuminating principle of evolution came a new and generously rich conception of human growth and development. The panorama of evolution carried man back far beyond the limits of recorded human history and indicated an origin as lowly as the succeeding uplift has been sublime. The old depressing and fatalistic notion that the human race was on the downward path, and that the march of civilization must sooner or later end in a cul-de-sac (a view which found frequent expression in the French writers of the eighteenth century and which dominated the skepticism of the dark hours preceding the Revolution)--this fatalistic view met its death-blow in the principle of evolution. A vista of hope entirely undreamed of stretched out before the race. If the tremendous leverage of the untold millenniums of brute and savage ancestry could be overcome, even in slight measure, by a few short centuries of intelligence and reason, what might not happen in a few more centuries of constantly increasing light? In short, the principle of evolution supplied the perspective that was necessary to an adequate evaluation of human progress.

But this inspiriting outlook which was perhaps the most comprehensive result of Darwin's work had indirect consequences that were vitally significant to education. It is with mental and not with physical development that education is primarily concerned, and yet mental development is now known to depend fundamentally upon physical forces. The same decade that witnessed the publication of the Origin of Species also witnessed the birth of another great book, little known except to the specialist, and yet destined to achieve immortality. This book is the Elements of Psychophysics, the work of the German scientist Fechner. The intimate relation between mental life and physical and physiological forces was here first clearly demonstrated, and the way was open for a science of psychology which should cast aside the old and threadbare raiment of mystery and speculation and metaphysic, and stand forth naked and unashamed.

But all this was only preparatory to the epoch-making discoveries that have had so much to do with our present attitude toward education. The Darwinian hypothesis led to violent controversy, not only between the opponents and supporters of the theory, but also among the various camps of the evolutionists themselves. Among these controversies was that which concerned itself with the inheritance of acquired characteristics, and the outcome of that conflict has a direct significance to present educational theory. The principle, now almost conclusively established,[5] that the characteristics acquired by an organism during its lifetime are not transmitted by physical heredity to its offspring, must certainly stand as the basic principle of education; for everything that we identify as human as contrasted with that which is brutal must look to education for its preservation and support. It has been stated by competent authorities that, during the past ten thousand years, there has been no significant change in man's physical constitution. This simply means that Nature finished her work as far as man is concerned far beyond the remotest period that human history records; that, for all that we can say to-day, there must have existed in the very distant past human beings who were just as well adapted by nature to the lives that we are leading as we are to-day adapted; that what they lacked and what we possess is simply a mass of traditions, of habits, of ideals, and prejudices which have been slowly accumulated through the ages and which are passed on from generation to generation by imitation and instruction and training and discipline; and that the child of to-day, left to his own devices and operated upon in no way by the products of civilization, would develop into a savage undistinguishable in all significant qualities from other savages.

The possibilities that follow from such a conception are almost overwhelming even at first glance, and yet the theory is borne out by adequate experiments. The transformation of the Japanese people through two generations of education in Western civilization is a complete upsetting of the old theory that as far as race is concerned, there is anything significantly important in blood, and confirms the view that all that is racially significant depends upon the influences that surround the young of the race during the formative years. The complete assimilation of foreign ingredients into our own national stock through the instrumentality of the public school is another demonstration that the factors which form the significant characteristics in the lower animals possess but a minimum of significance to man,--that color, race, stature, and even brain weight and the shape of the cranium, have very little to do with human worth or human efficiency save in extremely abnormal cases.

And so we have at last a fundamental principle with which to illumine the field of our work and from which to derive not only light but inspiration. Unite this with John Fiske's penetrating induction that the possibilities of progress through education are correlated directly with the length of the period of growth or immaturity,--that is, that the races having the longest growth before maturity are capable of the highest degree of civilization,--and we have a pair of principles the influence of which we see reflected all about us in the great activity for education and especially in the increased sense of pride and responsibility and respect for his calling that is animating the modern teacher.

And what will be the result of this new point of view? First and foremost, an increased general respect for the work. Until a profession respects itself, it cannot very well ask for the world's respect, and until it can respect itself on the basis of scientific principles indubitably established, its respect for itself will be little more than the irritating self-esteem of the goody-goody order which is so often associated with our craft.

With our own respect for our calling, based upon this incontrovertible principle, will come, sooner or later, increased compensation for the work and increased prestige in the community. I repeat that these things can only come after we have established a true craft spirit. If we are ashamed of our calling, if we regret openly and publicly that we are not lawyers or physicians or dentists or bricklayers or farmers or anything rather than teachers, the public will have little respect for the teacher's calling. As long as we criticize each other before laymen and make light of each other's honest efforts, the public will question our professional standing on the ground that we have no organized code of professional ethics,--a prerequisite for any profession.

I started out to tell you something that we ought to be thankful for,--something that ought to counteract in a measure the inevitable tendencies toward pessimism and discouragement. The hopeful thing about our present status is that we have an established principle upon which to work. A writer in a recent periodical stoutly maintained that education was in the position just now that medicine was in during the Middle Ages. The statement is hardly fair, either to medicine or to education. If one were to attempt a parallel, one might say that education stands to-day where medicine stood about the middle of the nineteenth century. The analogy might be more closely drawn by comparing our present conception of education with the conception of medicine just prior to the application of the experimental method to a solution of its problems. Education has still a long road to travel before it reaches the point of development that medicine has to-day attained. It has still to develop principles that are comparable to the doctrine of lymph therapy or to that latest triumph of investigation in the field of medicine,--the theory of opsonins,--which almost makes one believe that in a few years violent accident and old age will be the only sources of death in the human race.

Education, we admit, has a long road to travel before it reaches so advanced a point of development. But there is no immediate cause for pessimism or despair. We need especially, now that the purpose of education is adequately defined, an adequate doctrine of educational values and a rich and vital infusion of the spirit of experimental science. For efficiency in the work of instruction and training, we need to know the influence of different types of experience in controlling human conduct,--we need to know just what degree of efficiency is exerted by our arithmetic and literature, our geography and history, our drawing and manual training, our Latin and Greek, our ethics and psychology. It is the lack of definite ideas and criteria in these fields that constitutes the greatest single source of waste in our educational system to-day.

And yet even here the outlook is extremely hopeful. The new movement toward industrial education is placing greater and greater emphasis upon those subjects of instruction and those types of methods whose efficiency can be tested and determined in an accurate fashion. The intimate relation between the classroom, on the one hand, and the machine shop, the experimental farm, the hospital ward and operating room, and the practice school, on the other hand, indicates a source of accurate knowledge with regard to the way in which our teachings really affect the conduct and adjustment of our pupils that cannot fail within a short time to serve as the basis for some illuminating principle of educational values. This, I believe, will be the next great step in the development of our profession.

There has been no intention in what I have said to minimize the disadvantages and discouragements under which we are to-day doing our work. My only plea is for the hopeful and optimistic outlook which, I maintain, is richly justified by the progress that has already been made and by the virile character of the forces that are operating in the present situation.

On the whole, I can see no reason why I should not encourage young men to enter the service of schoolcraft. I cannot say to them that they will attain to great wealth, but I can safely promise them that, if they give to the work of preparation the same attention and time that they would give to their education and training for medicine or law or engineering, their services will be in large demand and their rewards not to be sneered at. Their incomes will not enable them to compete with the captains of industry, but they will permit as full an enjoyment of the comforts of life as it is good for any young man to command. But the ambitious teacher must pay the price to reap these rewards,--the price of time and energy and labor,--the price that he would have to pay for success in any other human calling. What I cannot promise him in education is the opportunity for wide popular adulation, but this, after all, is a matter of taste. Some men crave it and they should go into those vocations that will give it to them. Others are better satisfied with the discriminating recognition and praise of their own fellow-craftsmen.


[Footnote 2: An address before the Oswego, New York, County Council of Education, March 28, 1908.]

[Footnote 3: It should be added that the movement toward universal education in Germany owed much to the work of pre-Pestalozzian reformers,--especially Francke and Basedow.]

[Footnote 4: While the years from 1840 to 1870 mark the period of intellectual revolution, it should not be inferred that the education of this period reflected these fundamental changes of outlook. On the contrary, these years were in general marked by educational stagnation.]

[Footnote 5: The writer here accepts the conclusions of J.A. Thomson (Heredity New York, 1908, ch. vii).]



Efficiency seems to be a word to conjure with in these days. Popular speech has taken it in its present connotation from the technical vocabulary of engineering, and the term has brought with it a very refreshing sense of accuracy and practicality. It suggests blueprints and T-squares and mathematical formulæ. A faint and rather pleasant odor of lubricating oil and cotton waste seems to hover about it. The efficiency of a steam engine or a dynamo is a definitely determinable and measurable factor, and when we use the term "efficiency" in popular speech we convey through the word somewhat of this quality of certainty and exactitude.

An efficient man, very obviously, is a man who "makes good," who surmounts obstacles, overcomes difficulties, and "gets results." Rowan, the man who achieved immortality on account of a certain message that he carried to Garcia, is the contemporary standard of human efficiency. He was given a task to do, and he did it. He did not stop to inquire whether it was interesting, or whether it was easy, or whether it would be remunerative, or whether Garcia was a pleasant man to meet. He simply took the message and brought back the answer. Here we have efficiency in human endeavor reduced to its lowest terms: to take a message and to bring back an answer; to do the work that is laid out for one to do without shirking or "soldiering" or whining; and to "make good," to get results.

Now if we are to improve the efficiency of the teacher, the first thing to do is to see that the conditions of efficiency are fulfilled as far as possible at the outset. In other words, efficiency is impossible unless one is set a certain task to accomplish. Rowan was told to carry a message to Garcia. He was to carry it to Garcia, not to Queen Victoria or Li Hung Chang or J. Pierpont Morgan, or any one else whom he may have felt inclined to choose as its recipient. And that is just where Rowan had a decided advantage over many teachers who have every ambition to be just as efficient as he was. To expect a young teacher not only to get results, but also to determine the results that should be obtained, multiplies his chances of failure, not by two, as one might assume at first thought, but almost by infinity.

Let me give an example of what I mean. A young man graduated from college during the hard times of the middle nineties. It was imperative that he secure some sort of a remunerative employment, but places were very scarce and he had to seek a long time before he found anything to which he could turn his hand. The position that he finally secured was that of teacher in an ungraded school in a remote settlement. School-teaching was far from his thoughts and still farther from his ambitions, but forty dollars a month looked too good to be true, especially as he had come to the point where his allowance of food consisted of one plate of soup each day, with the small supply of crackers that went with it. He accepted the position most gratefully.

He taught this school for two years. He had no supervision. He read various books on the science and art of teaching and upon a certain subject that went by the name of psychology, but he could see no connection between what these books told him and the tasks that he had to face. Finally he bought a book that was advertised as indispensable to young teachers. The first words of the opening paragraph were these: "Teacher, if you know it all, don't read this book." The young man threw the volume in the fire. He had no desire to profit by the teaching of an author who began his instruction with an insult. From that time until he left the school, he never opened a book on educational theory.

His first year passed off with what appeared to be the most encouraging success. He talked to his pupils on science and literature and history. They were very good children, and they listened attentively. When he tired of talking, he set the pupils to writing in their copy books, while he thought of more things to talk about. He covered a great deal of ground that first year. Scarcely a field of human knowledge was left untouched. His pupils were duly informed about the plants and rocks and trees, about the planets and constellations, about atoms and molecules and the laws of motion, about digestion and respiration and the wonders of the nervous system, about Shakespeare and Dickens and George Eliot. And his pupils were very much interested in it all. Their faces had that glow of interest, that look of wonderment and absorption, that you get sometimes when you tell a little four-year-old the story of the three bears. He never had any troubles of discipline, because he never asked his pupils to do anything that they did not wish to do. There were six pupils in his "chart class." They were anxious to learn to read, and three of them did learn. Their mothers taught them at home. The other three were still learning at the end of the second year. He concluded that they had been "born short," but he liked them and they liked him. He did not teach his pupils spelling or writing. If they learned these things they learned them without his aid, and it is safe to say that they did not learn them in any significant measure. He did not like arithmetic, and so he just touched on it now and then for the sake of appearances.

This teacher was elected for the following year at a handsome increase of salary. He took this to mean a hearty indorsement of his methods; consequently he followed the same general plan the next year. He had told his pupils about everything that he knew, so he started over again, much to their delight. He left at the close of the year, amidst general lamentation. School-teaching was a delightful occupation, but he had mastered the art, and now he wished to attack something that was really difficult. He would study law. It is no part of the story that he did not. Neither is it part of the story that his successor had a very hard time getting that school straightened out; in fact, I believe it required three or four successive successors to make even an impression.

Now that man's work was a failure, and the saddest kind of a failure, for he did not realize that he had failed until years afterward. He failed, not because he lacked ambition and enthusiasm; he had a large measure of both these indispensable qualities. He failed, not because he lacked education and a certain measure of what the world calls culture; from the standpoint of education, he was better qualified than most teachers in schools of that type. He failed, not because he lacked social spirit and the ability to coöperate with the church and the home; he mingled with the other members of the community, lived their life and thought their thoughts and enjoyed their social diversions. The community liked him and respected him. His pupils liked him and respected him; and yet what he fears most of all to-day is that he may come suddenly face to face with one of those pupils and be forced to listen to a first-hand account of his sins of omission.

This man failed simply because he did not do what the elementary teacher must do if he is to be efficient as an elementary teacher. He did not train his pupils in the habits that are essential to one who is to live the social life. He gave them a miscellaneous lot of interesting information which held their attention while it lasted, but which was never mastered in any real sense of the term, and which could have but the most superficial influence upon their future conduct. But, worst of all, he permitted bad and inadequate habits to be developed at the most critical and plastic period of life. His pupils had followed the lines of least effort, just as he had followed the lines of least effort. The result was a well-established prejudice against everything that was not superficially attractive and intrinsically interesting.

Now this man's teaching fell short simply because he did not know what results he ought to obtain. He had been given a message to deliver, but he did not know to whom he should deliver it. Consequently he brought the answer, not from Garcia, but from a host of other personages with whom he was better acquainted, whose language he could speak and understand, and from whom he was certain of a warm welcome. In other words, having no definite results for which he would be held responsible, he did the kind of teaching that he liked to do. That might, under certain conditions, have been the best kind of teaching for his pupils. But these conditions did not happen to operate at that time. The answer that he brought did not happen to be the answer that was needed. That it pleased his employers does not in the least mitigate the failure. That a teacher pleases the community in which he works is not always evidence of his success. It is dangerous to make a statement like this, for some are sure to jump to the opposite conclusion and assume that one who is unpopular in the community is the most successful. Needless to say, the reasoning is fallacious. The matter of popularity is a secondary criterion, not a primary criterion of the efficiency of teaching. One may be successful and popular or successful and unpopular; unsuccessful and popular or unsuccessful and unpopular. The question of popularity is beside the question of efficiency, although it may enter into specific cases as a factor.


And so the first step to take in getting more efficient work from young teachers, and especially from inexperienced and untrained teachers fresh from the high school or the college, is to make sure that they know what is expected of them. Now this looks to be a very simple precaution that no one would be unwise enough to omit. As a matter of fact, a great many superintendents and principals are not explicit and definite about the results that they desire. Very frequently all that is asked of a teacher is that he or she keep things running smoothly, keep pupils and parents good-natured. Let me assert again that this ought to be done, but that it is no measure of a teacher's efficiency, simply because it can be done and often is done by means that defeat the purpose of the school. As a young principal in a city system, I learned some vital lessons in supervision from a very skillful teacher. She would come to me week after week with this statement: "Tell me what you want done, and I will do it." It took me some time to realize that that was just what I was being paid to do,--telling teachers what should be accomplished and then seeing that they accomplished the task that was set. When I finally awoke to my duties, I found myself utterly at a loss to make prescriptions. I then learned that there was a certain document known as the course of study, which mapped out the general line of work and indicated the minimal requirements. I had seen this course of study, but its function had never impressed itself upon me. I had thought that it was one of those documents that officials publish as a matter of form but which no one is ever expected to read. But I soon discovered that a principal had something to do besides passing from room to room, looking wisely at the work going on, and patting little boys and girls on the head.

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