This section is from the book "Principles Of Sociology With Educational Applications", by Frederick R. Clow. Also available from Amazon: Principles of sociology with educational applications.
These various forms of communication are so many media through which mind touches mind. Like the media which transmit physical energy they are not perfect conductors; they transmit with resistance, so that the message received is not the same as the message sent. The use of the conventional symbols must be learned and reduced to second nature by practice before they become effective means of expression. Likewise they require interpretation before they yield their meaning. In fact effective expression of inner life through any one of them is a fine art; some persons have more talent for it than others, and some are more appreciative than others. One of the great problems in education is to adjust the form and complexity of communication to the needs of the individual pupil. One of the things a teacher has to learn is that a pupil may be very deficient in using or appreciating the more intricate forms of communication, poetry for instance, or music, and still be effective in thought and action.
The star player on our team had a poor vocabulary, was a poor writer, and could accomplish very little in school. He never passed in the sixth grade before he left. He worked for a year in a hardware store with great success; the proprietor said he never had a better mechanic. Later he became fascinated with cooking. Now he is cooking in a large hotel in a western city. I last heard that he was applying for two patents on inventions he had made.
. . . But many a boy can be taught who is quite unable to learn by himself. It is very painful sometimes to see the hopeless despair with which boys, and good boys too, have got to look upon tasks which only require a little explanation and time. ... - Thring, Education and School, p. 137.
Thring here notes a type of mind which seems unable to work except under stimulus coming directly from persons. Given a book or map to study, or even a picture, or a problem to work out, the response is feeble, the attention is not held, little is accomplished. But given another pupil to work with, or an explanation by the teacher, or a recitation by another pupil, the mind seizes vigorously the results as they come out. In recitation such a person may shine, but fail in written examinations.
For practical purposes it would be convenient to divide all the forms of communication into two classes: one in which the parties see each other and carry on conversation, the other in which one or both of these conditions is lacking. The former enables the parties to use voice, gesture, facial expression, pantomime, demonstration, and many other devices for making their meaning clear, together with all the subconscious manifestations. If there is misunderstanding, a question can be asked; if one mode of communication fails, another can be tried. But when the parties are not brought into each other's presence, misunderstandings go uncorrected, the attention of the recipient may wander or not even be secured at all. The advantage of the latter method is that the entire message, being prepared in advance, may be made more accurate.
. . . We do the main body of that intellectual work which depends upon organised communication with our fellows, rather while reading books and letters in studies and at office desks than while hearing and uttering spoken words. . . .
It will be convenient to call this newer type of Thought-Organisation "impersonal." The older "personal" forms of Thought-Organisation in groups and committees and assemblies still, however, survive among us, owing partly to traditional habit, and partly to the more permanent fact that our psychological nature was evolved under conditions of personal intercourse, and that impersonal intercourse leaves some of our powers unused, and, therefore, some of our needs unsatisfied.
Of these older forms of organisation, the simplest and oldest is that which is constituted by a small number of persons - from two to perhaps seven or eight - who meet together for the purpose of sustained oral discussion. This form may be studied at its finest point of development in the dialogues of Plato. . . .
. . . When friends meet together, that which is most valuable, even as intellectual stimulus, may be found in those things, too delicate for our clumsy words . . . and which are absent when a modern thinker sits down alone to review a new book or to test a colleague's experiment; the ripples of laughter, the unuttered kindnesses, the suggestion that the effort of Thought is supremely worth while and its successes supremely delightful, even the occasional silences, unembarrassed and almost unnoticed. . . . - Wallas, The Great Society, pp. 241, 242, 247.
Insight into the qualities which enable a pupil to learn by one of these methods better than by the other is very desirable in a teacher. The new differential psychology or methods of measuring intelligence will probably in time provide a scientific equipment for doing this. The pupil who makes most progress while digging things out by himself may, like Thoreau, be so sensitive that ordinary conversation over-stimulates. Such a pupil is likely to be diffident in the presence of a class, backward in discussion, halting in recitation, and easily confused under questioning. But when the only stimuli are the printed page and the inner compulsion, the mind moves deliberately but steadily over the ground to be covered; there is no hesitation at a difficulty, but a calm, well-planned attack on it. Pupils of this kind, however, are in the minority, and fortunately, too, because there are relatively few suitable vocations for them when they are grown up. The greater number of pupils are of tougher fiber and need the stronger stimulus that comes from personal communication; in the presence of merely a printed page, their powers remain dormant. Perhaps also they need to have someone else set the pace for them; without that they either work by fits or starts, like a machine that needs a balance-wheel, and so can never do a large unit, or else, lacking the inner compulsion, they put forth no effort, especially when confronted by difficulties, and so make progress only when their attention is seized by another person and dragged along from point to point. They are fitted to work in company rather than in solitude. Supervised study enables such pupils to get along in school, but ability to work independently should be developed if possible.
. . . The recitation periods ... are divided into approximately two equal parts. The first portion consists of the usual type of formal recitation, while the second is a study conference period with the teacher of the subject. The teacher of a subject is present with his pupils, ready to aid by thought-producing suggestions. In the short study conference period, preceding which the recitation sets the "swing of the subject" in the pupils' minds, the student is able, because of a ready subject attitude, to use his intellectual powers promptly and economically. . . .
. . . This plan carried out in details at Newark has been adopted in whole or in part at Trenton, N. J., Morristown, Pa., Kansas City, Mo., Detroit, Mich., and is under consideration for adoption in many cities and towns throughout the country. - Johnston, The Modern High School, pp. 298, 306, Wiener.
Tom is something of a baby. I inquired the cause of his poor recitation, and he protested that he did not understand the book. When I showed him just where the point over which he had stumbled was explained in the book he said, "I understand it now after you have explained it." He wants to be spoon-fed.
. . . There is such a thing as excessive gregariousness. A man may be too much a mixer. Without some withdrawal, some privacy, there could be no integrity of character. We need to recollect, to pull ourselves together, to sound our individual relations to the universe. . . . To lose yourself in sociability is to lose the sociability also, for two nothings cannot correspond. . . . - Lee, Play in Education, p. 321.
The ideally trained servant of the community is the man who, when during the indifferent reading of a Blue Book, his eye is attracted by some numerical total of disease or unemployment, is in a moment both alive to its significance and already started on the work of remedy. - Wallas, The Great Society, pp. 158, 159.