The Relation of the
Embryological Development to Education

One of the ideas that is most commonly connected with the name of John Fiske is that of the primary social importance of infancy. He has worked out in some detail the value of the long dependence of the child form upon the parent forms in the evolution of society. He has shown that no animal which had so long a period of dependence could possibly have survived, unless he grew up within a community in which all the essentials of our social relations were at least implicitly contained. From this conclusion he has drawn the further one that the passage from the period of short infancy to that of so long a one as that of the human child could only have taken place gradually, i.e., only so fast as the family involving the whole social organism developed to protect the infant form. Mr. Fiske has also pointed out what has often enough been noticed, that this long period of protected infancy was particularly favorable for the development of higher intelligence. For, during this stage it is possible for the child to form a large number of important and highly valuable habits that are of great service to him later, but which he would have no opportunity of forming if he had been obliged from the first to adapt himself to the immediate environment in which he found himself, and to support himself. For a highly complicated intelligence such as that of man it is necessary that a long period should be allowed the developing form to make the nerve coordination or idea association which are the basis of all intelligence. The importance of infancy, then, and by infancy we understand the whole period of dependence, lasting in the human child till nearly twenty-five—both for society and for the child has been fully recognized. It is to another phase of this period of infancy that I would call your attention in these two lectures. I shall try to indicate in a very general way what is nature's answer to the question, "How should this period of infancy be spent?" It is of the utmost importance for us to recognize in the first place that in education we are but supplying certain of the conditions what should surround the developing form. The family and society that receives the child into itself for further evolution is doing nothing that is essentially different from the mother form that supplies within itself the favorable conditions within which the embryonic form may grow to greater maturity. From the beginning of the development of the embryo till the mature individual takes his place within the social organism there has been no essential break in the process of growth. There have been critical periods such as that of birth, at which the immediate conditions which have surrounded the child have changed and new organs, which have reached comparative maturity, come into play: But there is no essential difference between the calling into play the lungs and new tracts of the brain, and this can, with reference to many tracts, only take place long after the birth of the child. But during the period of embryological growth the problem is, although tremendously complicated, still infinitely simpler than when the child comes into the midst of a community; at least it seems possible to gain some general conception of the conditions under which this development is carried out. If we can find out such general principles, it is but fair to assume that they will apply to the whole period of infancy, i.e., that they will give the fundamental principles for the education. For education represents simply our conscious effort to fulfil the conditions which it is incumbent upon us to fulfill as part of the environment of the developing child. The whole society, as far as it comes in contact with the child, takes the place which the surrounding mother form takes with reference to the embryo. The whole trend of biological thought is at present toward recognizing a structure within the cells from which the embryo arises. It is in this structure that we must seek largely for the explanation of heredity. The facts of rejuvenation, of substitution of one portion of the form for another seem to indicate that there is such a determining structure within all the cells of the developing form, at least at early stages of its growth, that only the opportunity is needed or the stimulus, and any of these cells could develop into the appropriate organ. When, however, the organ has become differentiated the cells that compose it could not take upon themselves the functions of another nor pass over into the structure of another organ. That is, the question as to what organ should develop or where or when seems to depend upon the surrounding conditions. Now, it is to this that is due the advantage which the higher forms have over the lower of the keeping the embryonic cells a much longer time undifferentiated. Differentiation always takes place with reference to use. To differentiate the cells early into organs, then, would mean an adaptation to a correspondingly early stage of life. As we all know, the developing forms pass through stages of growth which correspond to the great divisions of the animal kingdom below us. Early differentiation would then mean adaptation to use within the conditions represented by the environments of these lower forms. The higher forms, then, can keep the cells largely undifferentiated during the periods corresponding to these lower forms. The lack of the necessity of self-maintenance, of the necessity of use, enables the cells to remain partially undifferentiated and leaves them free to differentiate under the conditions that correspond to the higher forms of life.

We have an excellent example of this in the distinction between the larval and the embryonic forms. Larval development involves very early adaptation to fixed conditions necessitating self-maintenance of the larva. When the differentiation has once taken place the opportunities for higher development to any great degree are removed. By removing them from the developing embryo the necessity of conforming to early conditions of life, of differentiating its cells into organs such as would be necessary for self-maintenance in these lower stages of growth, nature has given the form the opportunity of reaching a higher stage within which to attain its full growth. But there is another set of conditions that have to be taken into account here, beside the primitive structure that we are forced to assume belongs to the original germ plasm out of which the embryo arises. These set of conditions is the immediate environment within which these developing cells live and grow. This environment is the blood of the mother form, from which the embryonic cells get all their nourishment and stimulus for development. To comprehend the importance of this medium within which these cells live we must remember that all living forms are and remain water forms. All live cells in the human body are as really bathed in a liquid medium as those of the unicellular animalculae from which all life has ascended. We may say, then, that the chief problem of the multicellular form is to provide a concentrated medium within which the unnumbered cells that make it up may find the requisite nourishment and which at the same time can carry off the deleterious waste products. We know how complicated a set of organs it requires to keep this medium in proper condition. We know also that the blood of all animal forms is different from that of other types, though as yet our knowledge of the chemistry of the blood is so slight that we cannot determine what the value of these differences are. Our higher pathology has taught us that many diseases which we have traced heretofore to separate organs is to be traced now to the blood. We know, for example, that very many mental derangements undoubtedly go back to subtle changes in the blood that our methods as yet are not able to detect. The character of the blood and its constituents is a complete counterpart of the life process of the form in which it is found. Every new organ or every greater complication of organ must find its counterpart in the blood that must now supply it with nourishment and carry away the waste product that, unless properly cared for, becomes just so much poison for the system. The tremendous drain upon the nutritive system that is involved in the supply to the central nervous system of a human individual must be met by a blood which can carry within it the rich elements that the brain and spinal column need to repair their waste. We have, then, for the sake of the blood a digestive apparatus to prepare the crude nourishment for its peculiar medium, a heart to pump it about to the farthermost capillary of the body, within the blood peculiar corpuscles to carry about the requisite oxygen, and then a whole series of excretory organs to take out the poisons that are thrown out by the cells as they select for their purposes the particular elements that the blood carries for them. The blood, then, of a highly developed form must be an exact index of the complexity of its life and the position it occupies on the ladder of evolution. The entire life process of the form to its last iota is reflected in the blood and its changes.

Now, the blood forms the environment of the developing embryo. The larva to which we referred earlier is not only thrown out into the world of waters to support itself, but the environment that it finds about it both requires a rapid and fixed differentiation of parts and offers not stimulus nor conditions for higher development.

The three great factors, then, which we find going to make up possibility of development of the embryo are an intercellular structure, which in some degree represents the form into which the embryo will, under favorable circumstances, develop, a protracted state within which the cells remain comparatively undifferentiated waiting for the conditions answering to their place in the scale of beings and the constant presence of a medium which, while it does not require of the embryo the complete development of the parent form, still keeps its subject constantly to the full life process of the parent form. So far as we can trace the rise and growth of the organs within the embryonic period they represent simply the principle of unequal growth and the division of labor arising from formation of the organs into that which eventually gives rise to the differentiation of their cells. That is, we must assume that the cells of the embryo all possess a structure which allows of the development of the appropriate organs of the human form under the proper conditions, but that the stimulus to the formation of the separate organ is one of nourishment leading to the unequal development of certain cells. This stimulus would come, then, from the blood of the parent form which, representing as it does, the complete life process of the species, is able to provide in succession the stimuli necessary for the development of all the organs as respects their extent and content.

We get, then, as the principle of embryonic development the constant presence of the entire life process acting through the blood as the stimulus to further growth without the necessity of self-maintenance and the consequent too early differentiation. Whatever the cause of the development of the parent form may have been, whether it is the result of a fight for existence or not, in the embryonic form we find the opposite conditions present. Instead of forces of life and death acting upon the form to complete differentiation of organs we find a prolongation of the period of undifferentiation, and instead of want the struggle for existence driving the form to the working out of new, higher, and more perfect organization we find unstinted abundance of food. In a word, the stimulus to development is not want but surplus. Embryonic growth represents on the one side probably a cellular structure that responds to favorable conditions for growth and on the other conditions in the surrounding medium which represent not the successive stages of evolution of the lower forms, but all the complexity and richness of the fully developed parent form.

There is no reason to assume that the infant form, when it comes into the larger social world that receives it, is to develop upon a different principle from that which governed its growth during this earlier stage. It seems to me that the defects of education come back to the substitution of opposite principles to those indicated in the first stage of the growth of the individual.

The growth of the child after birth may be for convenience divided into three great parts. First comes the simple increase of the child to normal size of the adult form. There can be no question that the same principle should apply here as in the embryonic growth. There should be abundance of nourishment and sufficient sleep to enable the child to give the larger part of his vitality to the demands of simple growth, and the conditions under which this should reach the child, the social conditions which surround him, should not be stimulating but quieting. The child in his early years especially needs not the stimulus of excitement and exercise so much as that of food and sleep. What we need to recognize is that these are stimuli to the normally developing organism. The second to which I shall refer is the development of the sexual system at the period of adolescence. Here, especially, the failure of our education to follow out the principles of embryonic growth has led to most serious results. Our aim has been largely in the past to remove the whole fact of reproduction from the child's life, even after the age of adolescence, and this is just the opposite of what takes place in the growth before birth. Here proper development follows when even upon the undeveloped form the whole of the influences of life are brought to bear and left to operate as far as they can. The natural interpretation of this in the case before us is to recognize the child's natural interest in reproduction as an essential part of life. A child who has learned in nature what the meaning of reproduction is before the age of adolescence has the basis upon which to recognize the proper use of his own functions. By shutting the child out from the facts of reproduction we are not allowing the essential relations of life to reproduction to become a part of the child's consciousness. For nature's teaching is that these relations must be set up before the function comes to full expression. She keeps the whole influences involved in the blood of the parent from at work upon the embryo during its whole growth, with the result that all the development is constantly under the influence of the entire life process and no organ comes to operation without finding itself in intimate harmony with the whole organism. A child's interest in the facts of reproduction before adolescence rep-resents just such a relating of the sexual function to the whole of his life activities, and the result should be that when this function is matured his ideas with reference to it would be not confined simply to its immediate exercise but would include the bearing of it upon all life. Instead of allowing nature to gradually make the central life fact of reproduction an integral part of the whole conception and giving it all the meaning and dignity that belongs to life as a whole, we suppress this relationship in the child's mind until he is occupied suddenly and without preparation with his purely personal relation to it. Nature does not bring one organ to maturity except so far as the whole system responds to its exercise. She keeps the entire life process at work upon all parts and during all stages of development. This brings us to the third essential fact in the development of the child. This the so-called mental development, or on the physiological side, the growth of the brain co-ordination.

How should the intelligence of the child grow? By the acquirement of separate facilities such as the use of number, of language, etc., irrespective of their relation to his immediate consciousness, or should he be continually aware of the bearing of all that he learns upon that which makes up the interest of his own life. The attitude that has been the dominant one in the past has assumed that, because the skill that the child was acquiring was to be used in adult life in occupations that have no meaning for him now, he should be taught the abstract techniques. The little child can have no conception of the double-entry bookkeeping in which he is to use his facility in adding. The only thing we can do now is to teach him to add and then, when his intelligence is sufficiently advanced to enable him to appreciate the bearings of adding, he will be able to relate it to the whole of his business activity. In a word, this trains separate brain tracts by themselves irrespective of the relations of these tracts to the activity of the brain as a whole. This method, then, is at variance with the principle of development which we have seen to be that in the growth of the embryo. No organic facility is gained here except as it is adequately related to the whole system at the time of its development. Nature develops a facility for future use by making it at each stage of its development a natural part of the whole.

We may then start out with the assumption that a child's interest is always adequate to any task that comes in the right form and with the requisite relationship to the whole of his life. Double-entry book-keeping has no meaning to the seven-year-old child, but the use of tools in building boxes whose sides have a given relation to each other has an intense interest to him. He is constantly interested doing a multitude of things, and these actions all have an essential relation to each other. It is possible to arouse the interest that belongs to the whole of any activity in any of its parts, so that it is possible to give him in this way any necessary facility by finding its place in these activities. But the most serious failure in our system of education does not consist so much in giving techniques apart from their meaning in the immediate activity of the child, but in losing in this and analogous ways the feeling of the child for life as a whole. A child can be kept just as really under the stimulus of life as a whole as during the prenatal period. He has a peculiar interest for the whys and wherefores, that is, for the relations of things as a whole. By neglecting this we are sacrificing the central ethical element of his life. Because he is able to feel the connections of all that has a bearing upon him if brought to bear upon him in the right way, that he suffers when he comes in contact with that which is for him perfectly arbitrary. We lose the ethical hold upon him by breaking up the unity of his life. Of course, it is not meant by this that he can appreciate the whole bearing of his actions, but that life as a process of getting and eating food, of building and living in houses, of buying and selling things of value, etc., etc., are of interest to him as a whole if he will only let them be so. All his plays reveal this, his constant questions why things are done in this or that way are instinct with this feeling. Life normally acts upon him as a whole. Of course, this seems to him as yet as play. But play is the normal activity of the child. Education must come to him through the regulation and direction of the play activity. But not only is this isolation of separate facilities which we try to give the child at variance with nature's method of letting life as a whole act upon him, but it also is deleterious because it aims at early differentiation when the advantage of the child's position as respects lower forms lies in the fact of the possibility of leaving the differentiation to take place later under more favorable circumstances for the adult activity. The growth of intelligence in the child, as we have seen, represents the formation of co-ordinations in the central nervous system. The paths that are formed are the lines of least resistance form that time on. Differentiation here means the fixing of these paths by constant drilling, so that the nervous energy will always flow over these lines more readily than over others. The error arises from overlooking the fact that the motives that we bring to bear upon the child to force him, for instance to study an arithmetic lesson that has no meaning to him, represent such fixed paths just as much as the processes of adding and multiplying. Now, I take it that intelligence will become higher in proportion as the steps in an act follow the one upon the other from the sense of their intrinsic relation to each other within the whole act. It is only so far as the individual feels the bearing of each element in the act upon the whole that he is intelligent in its execution. The man who must stop in the midst of his activity to get the motive power for the next step outside of his interest in what he is doing may possibly get to the goal he set out to reach, but the act lacks just that subordination of all the means to the end—the direction of every step by the view of the goal in advance—which is the very essence of intelligence.

Now, it is the peculiarity of the play activity that it keeps the relation of means to end—the government of the entire act by the end—in view always unbroken, and it does this without fixing the process or, in other words, without differentiating the different tracts of the nervous system into organs adapted to the early and imperfect stage of development of the child. The child is always interested in doing something in which the ground for each step lies in the end to be accomplished. This activity may be very imperfect and the end in view seemingly very slight and trivial, but it is a subordination of means to ends that lays all of it within the comprehension and interest of the child. On the other hand, the associations that are formed here, and the brain co-ordinations, lie, as it were, on the surface. That is, the child is not obliged to say to himself I must play in this way or that in order to get bread for my mouth, nor should he be obliged to say I must play in this way or that in order to avoid punishment or win the approval of parents or teachers that is essential to his comfort. The child should not be obliged to relate his actions to the immediate problem of his own existence. To force this upon the child is to take away from the advantage that should accrue to him from his dependence. It compels a complete differentiation of his brain organs with reference to his present incomplete development. Now, this is just what is done when a child is set at tasks which have no meaning for him, which cannot be spontaneous,—and when he gets motive power by rewards and punishments that push upon his consciousness the immediate problem of his own existence. The evil effects of such a too early differentiation are not lacking. The child becomes dependent upon these motives. He loses power to relate these activities to an ultimate end in which he is interested, because the paths which connect the act with the reward or punishment have been made the dominant ones in his life. This has been well expressed by Professor Dewey in terms of a psychological fallacy: one thinks he is trying to fix the child's attention upon the object or end while in reality he must be fixing the attention upon the reward or punishment that keeps him at work. We all resent the unnatural course of forcing a child to take upon himself the responsibility of maintaining himself, of earning his own bread. We feel that this is taking away from him the benefit of his childhood. But so far as the development is concerned it is a matter of indifference whether the appeal is made to the child's empty stomach or his quivering back, to the satisfaction of keeping the wolf from the door or that of getting the approval of those whose approval is made as essential to his comfort as bodily necessities. There is, however, the advantage in the former case that the child can feel the meaning of what he is doing, while he has to be satisfied in the latter case by the assurance that he is too young to comprehend why he must perform these tasks.

A child's activities should always reflect the intelligent character of human life as a whole. They should never spring from the necessity of adapting himself to the stern requirements of immediate necessity. For this means the differentiation of his higher brain function at an early incomplete stage of development.

In general, this embryonic development gives us the above principles to govern the further stage of infancy after birth. The stimulus in education should be found in plenty, not in want, or expressed psychologically in interest, not in distress. Life should always be made to appeal to the child as a rational whole that falls within the scope of his comprehension. His child activities, i.e., play activities, should remain spontaneous and as yet without forced connection with the problem of an endurable life.


No notes

Valid HTML 4.01 Strict Valid CSS2