Hard Facts About Children
James R. Mendenhall
SOME NEW TECHNIQUES FOR STUDYING SOCIAL BEHAVIOR, by Dorothy Swaine Thomas and Associates. Bureau of Publications, Teachers College, Columbia University. 203 pp. Price $2.00 postpaid of The Survey.
DR. THOMAS and her associates have produced a book significant to education and to sociology. The techniques described should pave the way for more reliable information about young children. The conditions under which these studies developed were ideal. Here were forty children from one year six months to four years of age. They attended a nursery school from 9 A. Μ. to 3 P. Μ. for five days a week. Their youth meant that they were comparatively simple human beings, which made the observations more nearly accurate and complete. The long school day permitted observations of the children during a variety of their activities—at work, at play, at lunch, at a test period, and so on. The year's span of observation provided an opportunity to collect much information about each child.
Dr. Thomas has written an excellent introduction to these investigations. It stresses the crying need for more science and less philosophy in studying children, the inadequacy of case methods of study, the complexity of social behavior, and the need for controlling the observer as well as the observed. To mitigate some of these vitiating factors, the observers were carefully trained by constant checking. Two observers would record the physical contacts of one child for a short period, his path across the playroom floor, his contacts with other children, the time duration of single activities. Another pair of observers reported the laughter and smile situations; another the conversation of a gang of three children; another, the child's resistance to test situations; and another, the child's conversation with an adult examiner. The studies do not treat the whole child; they simply select and report narrow aspects of child behavior. Granting the truth of such statements, the value of these techniques for studying social behavior stands. May Dr. Thomas and her associates continue the good work, and with their methods help us to supplant our sentimental theories of childhood with hard, critical facts.
The Lincoln School JAMES R. Mendenhall.