The Child and His Environment
IT is easy to arouse a child's interest. It is not difficult when one has the knack to interest children -- when one makes this the real end of work in the schoolroom. It is not impossible to make the subjects and methods appeal to the child's interest from the start, and to maintain this. But it is perhaps as yet by no means a solved problem -- the gaining of such control over his work that exactness of detail maybe secured when one depends upon his interest instead of a school discipline.
This is easily explained; the spontaneous acts of the child are disjointed. The play acts have an undoubted connection and interrelation among each other. The anthropologist and comparative psychologist can trace in them the different phases of the primitive acts by which man has maintained himself on the earth, and can show that our most complicated activities are but evolutions of these simple games. They have the unity of the life process that lies behind and beneath them, but this unity is not at all recognized by the young child. The hunting game has no necessary connection with eating; play battles no relation to dependence, nor marriages, funerals, sickness, etc., with any of the social results that flow from these in adult life. It is the game that absorbs the attention and the result is of the very slightest importance.
Now just because the results, the products, are of no importance, the necessary relations between the plays which the student can find out, are not present to the child's consciousness. In all of our adult activities it is the product of one that connects it with another. The product of the mechanic's skill is that which relates his art to that of the other workmen who use it in their succeeding labor upon the manufactured object, and finally to the use which is made of it by the purchasing public who pays his wages. The product must be such that it will be the starting point and basis for that which follows. The steel tubing must answer the demands for strength and lightness which make it the proper material from and out of which the bicycle maker can work. The bookkeeper must produce a statement of the financial situation of the firm, which may be made the starting point for, and basis upon which its investments and ventures may be undertaken. The products are the connecting links between the different stages of a whole activity. They are statements of the whole act at each step in the process, and so as representing the whole, they control and criticise it. The steel tubing represents to its manufacturer wheeling in terms of the greatest strength and elasticity, combined with the least weight and resistance. He must be able to see the ultimate act in his product or he is without direction or control, and he must see it in terms of the process which follows upon this product. That is, the product must be the immediate stimulus for the next following act, and the interest in this, as well as that in the whole, will evince itself in the exactness and nicety with which the product is brought forth.
The child with next to no interest in the product, has no connecting link between the different phases of his acts, and is therefore, without control over these spontaneous acts, at least within themselves. His acts are isolated. He is interested, in the activity, and when this ceases, it leads on consciously to nothing else. The delight of the child in his box of tools generally does not go beyond sawing, hammering, planing and boring. A countless series of unconnected acts follow upon each other, and there is no criterion by which to test their success or failure. Point
(3) out the crooked line the saw has followed, and urge him to saw straight, and he fails to understand you really, for what he wants to do is to saw, not to a straight edge. Or, if he is a step farther, and is making a box; he is interested in making it, not in the use to which it can be put, and it is almost impossible to get him beyond this imperfect process. He is satisfied in doing it, and none of the uses can compare with this in interest.
How then is quality to be got into his work. Discipline of one sort or another way do it. In the words of the illustrious Abbot, his tools may be given to him only as he has schooled himself to use each exactly. The straight line, the tight joint, the immaculate surface, may be made by a teacher's or a parent's influence, the end which controls his activity. Can it be got otherwise? As long as number cannot mean business, nor language effective expression, how can you supply the control which the whole exercises over the part, except by carrying that whole in your thought, criticising from this standpoint, and making his dependence upon you the means of making this criticism effective?
It is a very present and insistent problem, for our psychology forbids us the use of a discipline that comes back to the appeal in one form or another to the comfort or discomfort of the child, his pleasure or pain. A result attained by this means must be very indirect and therefore at great and unnecessary expense. It must set up connection in the child's mind and central nervous system which requires a certain amount of violence at first and must be discarded later if he is to use his acquired capacities to good advantage. A child's brain is not an open country within which the pedagogue, like the manager of a telegraph company, may set up and take down wires at pleasure. A habit that has connected work in school with its comforts and discomforts as motives, cannot be dropped at once thereafter to be replaced through the essential relations represented by an interest in the product.
If we turn to brain development we find the same conditions. Tracts in the child's brain develop from undifferentiated nerve
cells one after the other. There is seemingly here the same isolated series of activities, and the ultimate controlling intercommunication between all comes only later. This isolation in development seems to carry with it the same imperfection, for the fineness of perception and reaction can only come under the direction of the complete coordination. It is that gives the ultimate meaning to each stimulus and the grounds for discriminating between valuable and valueless stimuli. For the kitten any moving object calls forth the spring and the clutch; for the full-grown cat these follow only upon the stimuli that nose, feeler, and eye detect and judge with reference to food and its use.
We cannot as yet follow out the training of the young animal, for training it certainly has in its play acts. But it is safe to assume two things in regard to it. First, its environment represents in a real sense the whole life process of the form even before it is forced to be dependent upon it. The smell of prey, movements of the parent forms, the chase after indifferent moving objects, all together with many other elements constantly present to its senses, give opportunity to all its activities to develop as fast as growth makes this possible.
All the essential phases of the ultimate life process are present to the young so that the connections between the different brain tracts, which represent its different acts may be made and naturally will be made as fast as this is possible.
The more we study the growth of the embryo and the infant, the more do we find that the relationship of environment to the developing form seems to be that of opportunity. The great advantage of intra-uterine growth seems to be that of the absence of the necessity of differentiating at an early stage -- the possibility of growing surrounded by the nutrient fluids of the adult parent form without the necessity of struggling for appropriate nourishment, and thus becoming fixed before its highest possibilities of growth were reached. There is no evidence of any other influence exercised by the mother upon the unborn child except that of providing a highly organized nutriment that answers the demands of the fully developed adult.
The relationship of the environment to the infant is, or should be, the same. Surroundings which represent the results of adult activities are placed at the disposal of the child without effort on his part. All that is then within him, at least up to the level of this adult life, may come to unhampered expression before he is thrown upon his own resources and compelled to fix himself and his habits by the fight for good and life. There is here not only opportunity for unhampered growth, but also these opportunities represent the entire life of the form. The blood of the parent form is an epitome in the nutriment gases and salts it carries of the whole adult organism. Though one organ or set of organs may grow at one time, and another at another, there is present the stimulus for growth of those as yet quiescent. When, then, the balance between all the organs is threatened by the overdevelopment of one set, the appropriate stimulus for the growth of the rest lies ready to call them forth.
One may say, then, that the whole life process lies behind the isolated appearance of the successive activities, acting as a never-failing source and direction as soon as the appearance of other sides are needed to make development symmetrical.
In like manner in infant life the child is surrounded by the full life of the parent form. When the developing speech centers have responded to the surrounding atmosphere, vibrating with the spoken language of the family, the connections between ear and throat on one side, and the eye, hand, and foot on the other, are all ready to be called out by the use which language serves in the home, in getting and manipulating what lies within the range of the eye, the foot and the hand. As fast as the organs and their activities appear, they find the stimuli which lead to their being coordinated in the full life process of the parent forms.
It should, then, be one of the most persistent aims of education to provide for the child such an environment as this. There should be about him constantly a life which can unfailingly supply the unity which the more or less isolated appearance of difference powers in the child lacks.
(6) It is characteristic of the modern family and school that it fails signally in this function. The absence of the child from the immediate providing and preparation of food, from the care of the home and use of the soil, which complicated conditions, servants and city life bring with them, leave many a child's hunting, fashioning, ordering and social plays without the essential connection with the adult life behind that should give them meaning and interrelation. They are mere isolated plays. They cannot become a part of the real life of the home. The appeal of the child to help goes only too often without response, and yet out of this could grow a feeling for the connections of things which bring a natural control that is not arbitrary, but an expression of the deepening growth of the child's nature.
On the other hand, forcing the child into the work of an adult when the full meaning of this cannot be present, when only a very few things can be done, and these to the exclusion of the other powers, that should be evolving in their turn, is to deprive the child of every advantage of not being forced to differentiate too early. It is like forcing him to pass through a larval period when he is in a sense dependent for his comfort and life upon his own exertions.
The most glaring case of this separation of the child from the full family life is to be found in his exclusion from the meaning of the facts of sex, as this side of his nature develops. One of the most profound connections which more than any other organizes life as a whole, he is shut off from, while the consciousness of the isolated processes becomes almost overwhelming.
In many respects the organization of our material comfort, of the reconstruction of the home, is making this separation of the child's isolated activities from unifying life of the home for the time being necessary, but here the school should come in. The simple processes of home making, the getting and use of food, the appearance and growth of new life should be a surrounding matrix within which the different powers of the child may find not only abundant stimulus, but the interconnection and coordi-
(7)-nation which carry with them the control that the whole exercises over the part.
Our present working hypothesis of education is that the whole can be present only in the thought of the teacher and can be awakened in the child alone when he has passed beyond his childhood into adult life. There is here the assertion of a necessary isolation of child activity, not only as regards this spontaneous play, but also as regards his acts when consciously ordered and directed by the family and the school. Over against this we may place the hypothesis, just worked out, of a unifying and relating life in the family and the school, with stimuli ready to call out the immediate connection between the different spontaneous acts of the child, as respects each other, and the life that lies behind them.
The kindergarten which has responded largely to the demand for a school which shall do for the child what home should do, seems to me to have failed here. It has set up symbolism instead of the reality. It has fallen under the same conception as that which has lain behind the public school -- that is of an adult life which must organize the play acts of the child outside his consciousness. It is one thing to let a child feel the connection between what he does and the life that lies behind and around him. It is another to emphasize one side of his own play, and make it symbolic of the whole which lies quite beyond him. The child who cooks in the kitchen with his mother gets a connection between his playing at keeping house and the reality that is fundamental, but the boy that flaps his arms as wings and hops after imaginary food for imaginary birds, is symbolizing essential life processes to his teacher. I doubt if he is to himself.
It belongs to the school, then, as filling out and perfecting the social and material environment which should surround the child, to present real life processes in planting and gathering food, in cooking and making it ready, in building and decorating, in buying and selling, etc., within which not only the spontaneous acts of the children will fall, but which will interrelate them
(8) and give, in the realities children recognize and respect, a control over their acts otherwise absent.
There is a second phase of child life which also helps to solve the question we have started. The different brain tracts come to development, as we have seen, in a more or less isolated way, and one result of this is that the child's consciousness is for the time being, quite swallowed up in the activity this represents. This law of unequal growth, which finds expression in the whole development of the child from the beginning, seems to be an arrangement by which nature may concentrate her effort now on one side and now on the other. The isolation is not simply a lack of connection between different activities, it is a merging of all the life and energy in one act with a correspondingly rapid development. It is in this complete absorption in that which immediately is being done that lies the sui generis charm of childhood. When we have lost sight of the end and purpose of our life in the midst of consciousness of how we should live, we look back with profound appreciation and longing to the time when we were completely swallowed up in what we were doing with an intense interest that knew nothing beyond.
This shows itself not only in the so-called games of childhood -- it is just as evident in acquiring of command over language and number or in general over any new capacity which has just shown itself. The child who is just learning to talk, chatters incessantly sense and nonsense, makes words and jingles, gives himself up completely to the mere use of the vocal organs and their effect upon the ear. The boy who has learned to count, counts any and everything, revels in continuous number with no thought of result or product. In the collecting age, buttons, stamps, eggs, woods -- anything may serve for this embryonic scientific observation and systematization. There is a period then with every budding faculty when it will absorb the whole interest and attention of the child if it be not forced before its time, or compelled to do adult work before it has its growth. Long multiplications, rhythmic tables, divisions that come out
(9) beautifully even, fractional relationships when they can be approached as relations of wholes, are play in the full sense of the word. In the same way the creative faculties of imagination run riot when the child awakes to the possibilities of making his own selections and combinations instead of following dumbly the eye and ear. Later comes the logical stage in which he becomes conscious of his power to use the necessary connections of things and ideas;; the philosophic age, in which he takes the world to pieces like a machine, and is absorbed in trying to put it together again to suit his own wishes and the yearning of his own soul.
At this period it is possible to direct and draw out in detail the techniques of these powers with no unnatural stimulus or disciplinary sanction. In some of the schools of this city number has been given to the child in such a way as to take advantage of this natural absorbing interest in the technique for its own sake. It has been studied in blocks which at once represented to the eyes various multiples of each other, and out of the relations of these blocks has sprung up a regular play in fractions, in which the child often outstrips the adult who has gained his technique in the abstract routine fashion. It is a play that has as much fascination as cards or dominoes. The control here over the activity is not so much a conscious or unconscious relating of the part to the whole, as in the perfect freedom of movement that makes it possible to bring all the fundamental phases of the technique to expression. There is no time at which a child is more conscious of emphasis and vowel values than when he is getting control over the language he hears about him. He may be able to copy the manners of speech of all with whom he comes in contact. He is full of correction of others' pronunciation. He can pick up several languages or dialects and keep them remarkably distinct. It is then that correct pronunciation and enunciation can be given without an effort, by merely playing with him at his word game.
The principle of use of these periods, however, cannot be the arbitrary use of the power. There is underneath even such, for
(10) the time, isolated growth, the essential connection with the organism behind. What is to be sought is not abstract, but a free power that is able to reach untrammeled expression. Under what seems most arbitrary in the child's expression there lies the law of his nature. What the school can do is only to draw this out, give the room within which to disport itself and the means which it naturally makes use of.
On the other hand it is equally evident that the development of one side, in accordance with this law of unequal growth, at last furnishes the ground for the development of others and the relationship of that which has been gained to the whole nature. The interest in the technique for itself, is gone, but there remains the power which can be now used in that which the child does. The further education of the capacity must then be found in accepting the child's interest in the larger act, and letting him use and relate what he has gained in reaching the more distant end. It is in this change of base in the growth of the child that I think the so-called different plateaus consist. We reach a stopping point in a child's development along a particular line, not because this power becomes dormant, but because his interest involves the use of the technique instead of its gymnastic exercise. The same recognition explains the seeming increase in knowledge after a period of quiescence, even when one had dropped a problem perhaps as insoluble. The isolated development could go no further, but in the growth of other sides of the nature and the consequent relationships of that are acquired to the rest of our conscious world, come out meanings and capacities of which we were unconscious before. It is at this point then that the relationship between the isolated play act and the real life behind it can come to consciousness, organize it and thus give the control we are seeking. It is then that we find the child rejoicing so in doing some thing, helping someone, making something that has real value.
But if we continue the more technical development with reference to an adult activity that lies far beyond any immediate relationship to his real world, the interest is gone, and the life
(11) of the child cannot be deepened and rounded out upon his own own plane. We have lost contact with him, have deprived him of nature's unifying and supporting environment. This should have taken him up, and out of its boundless wealth have given him feeling for the reality of what he was doing and could do. But it is not simply the loss of reality and its consequent control we are interfering with the rhythmic development of his nature. Out of the developed technique has arisen the stimulus for the growth of the other sides of the child. In putting it to use is found the channel through which comes new nutriment for his evolution and the regaining of the balance which is necessary if the child is to grow in the consciousness of being a real part of the world about him.
As I have indicated, the problem which education faces is one of the organization of the home and especially of the school, so that the child is consciously within a life process in which all his activities have their natural and real place, in which there is ample room for the spontaneous play of the new born powers, Mother Nature's unbounded love and farseeing intelligence, to recognize and take possession of her own.