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· CHAPTER V
DO GENERALIZATIONS PRECEDE OR FOLLOW INDI
VIDUAL NOTIONS ?
It has been shown that general truths are the central objects of interest in instruction. of acquiring knowledge consists in securing an insight into them and the ability to apply them easily in all possible directions. For instance, one has added much to his knowledge when he has come to see clearly the single general truth that the presence of a definite aim is the condition of effective work in any line; the teacher may apply this generalization first of all to the school, seeking out the great purpose of instruction; then to each branch of study, and to each recitation; finally, he may apply it to other spheres of activity, as to that of the lawyer, of the minister, and even to human life as a whole; one may never finish the application of such a broad truth, but knowledge grows as insight into it and ability to apply it are increased.
The inquiry next in place touches the manner in which generalizations should be reached. Should they precede or follow the study of individual notions ? The first distinction between good and bad method, or the first test of method, is found in the answer to this question. It is scarcely possible to conceive that primitive How the race
began to man began work with an outfit of general notions. acquire On the contrary, he certainly had to discover the knowledge. simplest facts for himself.
By experiment in its childhood the race learned that flint makes good arrowheads, that meat spoils quickly in warm weather, that the deer has certain habits. Higher truths have been reached by more developed peoples, but by the same route. Very slowly have the laws been attained that pertain to falling bodies, to the properties of gases, the pressure of air, etc. The data for the same have been recorded one after another, and often centuries have elapsed between the time when the data for a great law were recorded and the time when the latter was really brought to light. In other words, the progress of the race has been necessarily experimental and inductive; it has reached the abstract or general through the concrete or individual. In many respects the child is an imitator of the How the
child must It is asserted by numerous eminent authori
begin. ties that the chief stages in his development correspond in a large way with those of the race. If he
ses through the same great culture epochs as his ancestors, it is quite possible, then, that his approach to general truths is the same as theirs.
How general notions aid the acquisition of knowledge.
It is the most economical means of caring for one's knowledge. Ideas that exist in a chaotic state are wasted; the more valuable the collection of them, the greater the waste. Until they are assorted according to their essential characteristics, and ranked according to their worth, it is impossible to retain them in memory, to survey them easily, and to find them at the moment of need. Since to generalize means to sort and rank notions, the reason is plain why instruction should culminate in generalizations.
There is a fourth reason for regarding generalizations of supreme importance. They are the means of apperceiving new experiences of any kind. It is through them that it becomes possible to acquire knowledge quickly and easily. Just as a new book readily finds its proper place in a well-classified library, so strange ideas readily find classification in a mind whose contents have been carefully arranged. This is seen in the reading of books on education. One who approaches a pedagogical work with an organized or systematized body of educational thought has a framework into which to place the ideas. He knows quickly where each idea belongs, so that even if the arrangement of points in the book is poor, it need not be poor in the mind of the reader. Also, as in an army the relative rank of men can be quickly determined, so the relative worth of the many thoughts can be recognized. The system of thought (or the organized generalizations) already at hand is both the framework in which all ideas can be pigeonholed, and also the standard according to which their value can be measured Thus, the profit from reading, from sight-seeing, and from conversation is directly dependent upon the extent to which one's ideas are brought into order and ranked. It is only through classification that much confusion and loss of time in the acquisition of knowledge can be avoided. Generalizations are, then, to the thinker what the compass is to the seaman: they enable him to keep his bearings, to remain free from confusion in new regions.
That generalizations play such an important part in the acquisition and organization of knowledge, suggests an important requirement bearing on the selection of leading topics in each study of the school
We are getting into the way of thinking out large How gener
alizations are topics as units of instruction in many of the school
the basis for studies. In reading and literature we treat whole division of
studies into poems, stories, and even the longer masterpieces as large topics. units of thought. In history we select biographical stories and commanding topics, like the Puritan emigration or the growth of our territory, or internal improvements as units of instruction. The study of geography and natural science by types is also a distinct movement toward the use of large units of study
Now general notions afford an excellent basis for division of subject matter into large topics, as is shown in our two chapters of illustrative lessons in this book. In each of those examples the general truth is what gives connectedness and unity to the whole. For instance, the general truth, “In unity is strength," establishes a close relation, or sequence, among a large number of particular facts, and thus groups them into one large topic. Likewise in the Metamorphosis of the Milkweed Butterfly, in the Golden Touch, in Minneapolis as a Trade Centre, and in the Addition of Fractions there is the same organization of materials into one large unit. So, in every study, the entire subject-matter should be arranged in these large topics; that is, the teacher should determine beforehand the general truths to be taught, and should collect and arrange the details in each case which lead to them. Fortunately, in arithmetic this has already been done completely, and each lesson contributes to some rule, apparent even to the children.
But where this is not done, miscellaneous collections of facts are made and committed to memory, as when children in beginning the geography of New England are asked to learn a list of products, as follows: boots and shoes, granite, cotton goods, lumber, firearms, fish, paper, ships, wooden ware, maple sugar, etc.
This means disorder and confusion. The prime defect in such cases lies in the original selection and arrangement of the subject matter with