MENTAL DISCIPLINE

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MENTAL DISCIPLINE

will. The prevalent curriculum of the school has been relied upon to gain the desired results in all these directions. That the child's powers expand during the period of education in the school is evident. Just how far this expansion is due to the school-studies has never been settled. Moreover, the character of the outcome of schoolwork is usually conceived in a very indefinite manner.

The disciplinary value of instruction has, in the history of education, been especially emphasized to defend the teaching of such subjects as have ceased to have value for their contents. When Latin came to be no longer a living language, its advocates strove to retain its supremacy as a school-study by alleging its great importance in training the mind. This idea was in entire accordance with the psychological conception prevalent until the time of Herbart. The mind was thought to be made up of certain faculties — as perception, imagination, memory, reason and will. These were regarded as largely independent of each other and as capable of dealing with any subject equally well. Perception, trained to notice the terminations of Latin words was thought to be well-prepared to notice flowers or countenances.. Memory, cultivated by learning forms and rules of syntax by heart, was expected to show increased strength in the practical exigencies of life. Especially were reasoning power and will believed to be strengthened by the discipline of the school. Indeed, the religious conceptions of the time found in the bare and uninteresting exercises of formal study the appropriate instrument for bringing the inclinations to heel and thus developing character.         (See Child-Study and Interest.)

The Herbartian conception of mental activity as apperception (q. v.) involved the rejection of the faculty theory. Thinking was by Herbart regarded, not as the reaction of certain powers of the mind upon things brought to their attention, but rather as the interaction of old and new experience. It is not that the mind relates one thought and another. Instead, one thought apperceives or assimilates another, that is, relates itself to the o'ther. What we have perceived determines what we shall perceive. What we remember enables us better to remember related material. Reasoning power means an equipment of knowledge of laws and principles that the mind can use. It follows that one may learn to observe, remember, reason and decide well in certain fields and not appreciably gain strength in others. The lawyer may prove a tiro in noticing the symptoms of disease, although he may be keen enough to watch the significant expressions on the face of a witness, and, while his mind may be brilliant in sum-

moning up and applying legal principles, he may show lack of even common sense in business matters.

In spite of these facts, however, common opinion has so long entertained the idea of a general discipline of the mind that it would seem that there must be some truth in the notion. The developments in recent years have brought the matter to a clearer test. The expansion of the curriculum of the school (see Education, Modern) has led to keen competition among subjects of study, a competition fostered by the elective system. On the other hand, the older well-established subjects have endeavored to hold their ground by emphasizing their disciplinary value, thus warding off the possibly dangerous consequences of a comparison based on the value of subject-matter. The followers of Herbart have insisted that all studies should justify themselves not only by their disciplinary results but by the worth of the knowledge they offer. The mass of teachers have, however, conservatively clung to the idea of discipline, and have not seen fit to revise the curriculum in the interest of abandoning all subjects having a purely formal value. In this emergency the matter has been taken up experimentally, and some results of considerable significance have been attained. For example, Professors Thorndike and Wood worth, American psychologists, have discovered that after gaining by practice great facility in estimating the length of short lines there was no marked improvement in ability to judge the length of long ones. It must be said, however, that the experimenters eliminated whatever gain came from becoming familiar with a standard length into which new lengths might be analyzed. Similarly, improvement in ability to memorize one subject, as the plays of Shakespere, will not appreciably help one in learning another, as the rules of grammar, except so far as one learns to apply himself and how to use a few methods of memorizing that are valuable in any material. (See Memorizing.)

These'results, it will be seen, are largely negative, but they reveal the secret of such general ability as is developed by the special study of certain subjects. So far as such study involves certain methods of work that can be used in other subjects or general facts, laws, principles or rules, present in other varieties of experience, a fairly generalized power may be gained. One may learn the value of observation and some fairly general rules for observing from the study of botany, and may consciously apply this knowledge in the study of human actions or art. It must be noted, however, that the tendency to transfer habits from one kind of work to another is strengthened by continual practice in such transfer.