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Journal of Education
SAN FRANCISCO, MAY, 1900.
Manual Training Beginning During Infancy.
GEORGE A. MERRILL, PRINCIPAL CALIFORNIA SCHOOL OF MECHANICAL ARTS.
present at second hand a few of the ideas that have been advanced in this connection during the past ten or twelve years. It may be, however, that I can add an element of freshness to the subject, and make it somewhat more interesting to you by using a part of the time to point out some of the ways in which manual training is related to your special field of investigation-child study. A correct understanding of the fundamental theory of manual training may give you a new point of view from which to observe many of the phenomena that mark the mental and physical development of children. In fact, the earliest and the greater part of these phenomena that you are recording, and measuring, and studying so patiently, are excellent examples of the manual training process. Take, for example, the efforts of the child learning to walk. If I can show you that this is a perfect example of manual training, you will surely admit that I have taken an extreme case to consider the use of the feet as an instance of manual training.
It is only necessary to observe the facial expression of the child to see that in trying to walk his efforts are due to mental, quite as much as to muscular, difficulties. His will-power, above all else, is being exercised and enlarged, until gradually his little brain is able to tell his feet, and his hands, and every necessary muscle, just what to do and what not to do in order that he may walk with impunity, as he sees other people doing. In time the process becomes automatic and he walks without effort; thereafter no further mental development comes from it, because the part first performed by the brain is ultimately shifted to the reflex system. But up to this automatic stage the mental exercises that accompanies the child's efforts to master the mysteries of walking is exceedingly potent. In my opinion, there is no time in a man's life when his will-power is developed so much in the same length of time.
Now, that is exactly the manual training idea—to develop the brain thru physical activity. It is a very common error to assume that manual training is
Delivered before the California Home and Child-Study Club, March 31, 1900.
intended merely to educate the hand; it also educates the brain thru the use of the hands, or the feet, or thru any other form of physical action. For example, consider the training that comes from a course of woodwork. A boy is given a piece of wood and told to chisel it, and saw it, and shape it into a certain form. He does this as well as he can—very imperfectly, no doubt. Then he is given a second exercise somewhat more difficult than the first. He does this one a little better. And so on thruout a large number of progressive exercises, each more difficult than the one preceding it. And it is very important that these exercises should be progressive and not in repetition. So long as each exercise differs from those preceding, its execution, with neatness and accuracy, will require continuous mental effort, resulting in the development of judgment and will power. And right there is the difference between manual training and the teaching of a trade. In learning a trade the aim is to acquire skill and rapidity of workmanship, and this is attained by doing the same thing again and again until the process becomes automatic, as in the case of the child who has become a proficient pedestrian. In a manual training school, on the contrary, a continuous process of mental development is accomplished by this careful pre-arrangement of the manual exercises, constantly taxing the brain and never permitting a sbifting of responsibility to the reflex nervous system. Parallel with the exercises in wood, there are courses of drawing and modeling, and perhaps other lines of industrial work requiring mental direction of muscular effort. Following this, there comes, say, a course of forge-work, operating in some respects much the same as the wood-working exercises, but requiring quicker and more decisive action, for the reason that the iron must be shaped before it cools, and the boy has less time to deliberate.
The function of athletics, even, is not very different from that of manual training. When a boy stands on the mark, waiting for the signal, ready to spring with all his might and with all the effectiveness that his intelligence can command, he is certainly acquiring habits of quick, decisive, vigorous, and courageous action-and that implies will power of the highest order. There is really something substantial in athletics from an educational point of view, and there is no doubt in my mind that in time athletics will become a component part of every child's education and training. It has already taken a strong hold in the secondary schools, i. e., the high schools. It should be accepted as a natural and not undesirable element demanding a place in the daily life of the student. The principal care should be to see that it finds its proper place gradually and without doing violence to any of the established work of the school.
With this dissertation on the question of athletics I have digressed from the point I want to emphasize. What a priceless gift it would be to anybody if every muscle of his body, even if only his right hand, would respond perfectly to the edicts of his brain ? If he had the power to do everything right at the first attempt ? And yet that is just what manual training is trying to accomplish, and what it will accomplish in generations to come, with perfected methods and cumulative results. Imagine a series of exercises in woodwork such as I have already spoken of — each exercise different from all that preceded it, and more difficult. The student executes the first one imperfectly, even crudely. The next one is done a little better, and more readily. And finally, towards the end of the series, he is able to execute his work neatly, accurately, and correctly—and, of course, at the first attempt, since there is no repetition-his hand acts in perfect obedience to his will. Is it will power or muscular power that he has acquired? Is it his mind or his hand that has been educated ? Doubtless both, and even the system of nerves connecting the two. It is hard to say how the benefits have been distributed, or whether they have been distributed at all, because it is impossible to imagine one part disconnected from another. The psychological cycle requires a complete circuit. The nerves ending in the finger tips receive the impression and convey it as a sensation to the brain; the will acts instantly on this information and issues a command, which the nerves convey back to the muscles of the hand (or possibly to muscles elsewhere in the body), and the muscles in turn are stimulated to action. The manual training process is concerned with the entire circuit. It trains each part--the nerves in the finger tips, the muscles, and the brain-to a better performance of its functions, and gives what we call harmonious, co-ordinated muscular action. This is real power-power to will and to do. While tool-work thus acts in a large measure thru the sense of touch, the manual training idea provides in other ways for the other sensory organs.
While this direct development of will power taken by itself is probably the most valuable influence of manual training, still there are many other ways in which it serves as a disciplinary and educational medium of the highest order. And since, as far as we have developed the subject, we have found that the process of mental development, thru physical activity, applies to infancy as well as during later periods of life, I shall leave you to judge for yourselves as to whether this also holds true with regard to some of these other influences of manual training that I am about to speak of.
A well-known idea among educators is the principle of apperception. It means this: You may perceive the mere presence of a thing—a chair in this room for instance-without stopping to think of any relation whatever that it may bear to anything else under the sun. Or, you may be prompted to associate it with something else you have seen-some other chair that may very much resemble this one, or may be very much prettier than this one, or would match the other furnishings of this room much better than this one. Seeing a thing in its relations to other things, and adjusting it and associating it with thoughts and experiences already in our minds—that is the process of apperception. During early infancy the child has very little in his mind with which to associate things, and with him it is mainly a process of perception only. In the adult mind our perceptions very frequently serve as a stimulus to set up a train of thought. A skillful teacher is constantly throwing out or putting before his students in some way suggestions that the eager student will seize upon and use as a connecting link to bring together numberless different things that formerly ficated around in his mind without any apparent relation to each other. No doubt each of you can recall how you have had in your mind a number of different things that seemed to have no connection with each other until, upon some suggestion, an idea propagated itself back and forth thru your brain-a flash of thought -and all of these things that seemed so different, are now seen to be really closely related to each other, or connected by some sort of law. You have a single large idea in place of perhaps twenty or a hundred disconnected facts. And so it is from day to day, as our experience grows, we see things from an ever-changing point of view. By the process of apperception our scattered experiences and bits of knowledge are sifted down and worked together into a few fundamental laws, and we say that our view of things enlarges as we ripen with age. One who has traveled much has a large fund of experi. ences, and more facts with which to associate new ideas, and we say that he is more enlightened therefore. It is for the same reason that a skilled workman is more intelligent than an unskilled laborer. The principle of apperception argues that growing children need a wider acquaintance with materials and ways of doing things,-something with which to associate ideas. A child's stock of experiences should be as large as possible; he should use tools, should know how his wagon is built, should know much about the habits of his animal pets, should peep into power-houses to see how the engines and dynamos run, and he should be encouraged to observe all these things as frequently and as keenly as possible. One of the advantages of manual training is that it furnishes just this sort of experience. If the principle of apperception is pedagogically sound, then it upholds the correctness of the theory of manual training.
Another important feature of manual training is the influence it exerts upon the child's power of thinking and his ability to express himself in a satisfactory manner. The more I have to do with children coming from the grammar schools the more firmly am I convinced that there is something radically wrong with their early instruction in oral and written expression. As a remedy, I believe children should have an abundance of practice in expressing their own thoughts before trying to interpret the thoughts of others. What weird and ludicrous interpretations we used to give at times to what we read in our early reading books, and especially so with the poetry! We were honest and faithful enough in our efforts to master the meaning of these masterpieces, but half the time we knew, or felt, or half suspected that our interpretations were not just right. And how could it be otherwise ? We lacked the ability to express correctly even our own simple thoughts, and we lacked the experience to enable us to put ourselves in the place of others in a way to share and interpret their thoughts. The trouble is that children don't have the thoughts to express, and there is nothing in the average schoolroom to suggest a thought-only four bare walls, a plain desk and the presence of a teacher and a book. Contrast this with a modern manual training laboratory, or work-shop, or drawing-room, and you will see in its full force what is called the objective method of teaching. With young children, thoughts are closely connected with objects, as a rule; ab
stractions come later, and under different circumstances. Manual training not only affords a basis and stimulus for thoughts, but it is even more valuable on account of the means or avenues it gives for thought-expression, as by drawing, both free-band and mechanical, tool-work, sewing, etc. Thru these mediums the child learns to express himself with a clearness, a directness, an accuracy, and a truthfulness that he carries as a habit into the every day use of the mother tongue.
There are other ways, too, in which manual training reacts to advantage upon other studies of the school curriculum. Take, for instance, the question of relaxation from purely mental exercise. If one were to do nothing but drive nails for a day or a half day he would soon find that he needs intervals of rest, or better, intervals of change; for he might just as well use the intervals by going about doing something else—anything that will not take the arm in the same manner as the hammering. If he fails to take such intervals of rest, he soon finds that his arm is paralyzed and useless for the balance of the day. He could have driven more nails if he had observed proper intervals of rest. It is the same way in a schoolroom. Children have so many minutes of arithmetic, so many for geography, so many for history, for grammar, for spelling, for physiology, and for other book studies. A change, to be sure, but yet all directly taxing the brain in the same way, year in and year out. Towards the end of the day the brain is fagged out and can do only a small fraction of what it would have been capable of doing under more favorable conditions. If proper intervals of change are introduced and used for manual work, the child not only receives the valuable training which I have shown comes from such a course, but he returns to bis purely mental tasks, or book studies, greatly refreshed. During the last three hours of the day he is capable of doing three hours' work of full value, and hence has actually saved the time taken out for the industrial work. This is no mere guess or theory; it is one of the most patent and significant facts that the manual training movement has demonstrated. I know a good many educators who have found difficulty in believing it. It is a fact, however, that manual training students do just as well, and cover just as much ground, in the ordinary school branches as do those who omit the manual training. Not only do they come to their other studies more refreshed, but they seem to handle them with more directness, with greater efficiency, and in every way to better advantage.
Another fundamental precept of teaching is the so-called doctrine of interest. First get your pupil's attention, and to hold his attention you must keep him interested in the subject. This is a very evident proposition, and there is no need of enlarging upon it; but the point I want to make is this: if the doctrine of interest applies to a single recitation, why is it not equally applicable to the entire school course? Why is it that so many boys leave school before finishing the grammar grades? Because there is little or nothing to hold them there. They can't see that their interests lie there. They don't find in the schoolroom any of those things that move the world of affairs—the industries. And they can't see that anything they are learn