Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Herbartianism Made Fun and Easy, Part Three: Like a surgeon

After his previous zinger about the omniscience and omnipotence of the teacher, Adams continues:
"It is difficult to overestimate the importance of this view from the teacher's standpoint. If the mind must wait till the right idea comes along, what an enormous importance must be attached to the theory of apperception masses. If the idea that the soul ought to choose is not there to choose, what can the soul do but choose amiss? Here Herbartianism appears to great advantage. During the process of education when the soul happens to be on the lookout for a certain idea, the teacher, knowing what is going on in the soul, and the laws according to which its mechanism work, can readily increase the presentative activity of the idea in question and send it right up to the dome..."
Do you notice any, perhaps, slightly fuzzy logic in that paragraph? This is what strikes me: that there is one and only one idea out there today, or at this minute, that you are supposed to grab onto. Like a surgeon asking for a particular retractor or Mr. Fixit asking for a certain size of drill bit, there is one and only one choice, with implied disaster if the tool is missing or you take the wrong one. You've missed your chance at the brass ring; your life will never be the same.

In response, I will quote Colonel Potter:
"Pony Pucks."
Learning is not a midway game of Lucky Duck, where you either win a prize or go home with nothing. And doesn't it make it sound like your chances are even slimmer if it all depends on whether a teacher is standing by, ready to fire the right idea at you at just the right second?
Charlotte Mason suggested that education should put the focus on the student rather than the teacher, the learning rather than the teaching. That is, not in the above sense where the hypothetical teacher seems to hover like an anxious ICU nurse, attention fixated on the student's mental vital signs; but in the sense of letting the child take what he needs from the feast that is spread. Yes, you can say with Herbart that what he ingests may join his apperception masses and head up to the top of the dome. But the point is that there are many good ideas, many opportunities to learn, and most of them won't come around just once. If you choose an apple instead of a banana for lunch today, you probably haven't missed your only chance ever to taste bananas.

Photo of antique surgical tools found here.

Part Four is here.

1 comment:

Queen of Carrots said...

Charlotte Mason's perspective is much less anxiety-producing, for sure.