Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 35.djvu/430

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.




ON another page we print a letter from "A Mother," whom we are happy to find interested in the subject of our recent editorial article, "Learning to think," We are not sure that we can fully meet our correspondent's demand for a series of "questions arranged under certain categories" for the purpose of drawing out thought, seeing that the questions would necessarily vary to a great extent with the subject. As we pointed out before, however, what is of chief importance is to keep alive a sense of relation between the particular thing that occupies attention for the moment and other things. A vast number of practical errors lie in neglecting the category of cause. The question Why? is one that can hardly be asked too often, provided only it is asked with a sincere desire for information and not in a spirit of evasion or obstruction. Children often ask Why? simply to gain their own ends, not with any intention of yielding to the reasons given. This spirit, of course, has to be repressed as far as possible, but too much encouragement can not be given to an observing, inquiring disposition.

Whatever the intellectual task in hand, we should adjust ourselves to it, with the intention of seeing the subject, as far as may be, in its true proportions and complete bearings. We know what it is to sit opposite an object so as to get a good, fair, and square view of it. So with our intellectual tasks: we should shift our position till we feel that we are so situated as to take in all that we can take in of them. Instead of this, however, how common a thing it is for people, old and young, to take but a hasty, angular glance, so to speak, at what they have to deal with, and so fail to see its most important and really conspicuous features! Before questions can be asked to any good purpose, there has to be careful observation; and before there can be careful observation, the object must be placed in the center of the field of vision. Whatever we see we should try to realize first in its entirety, as consisting of such and such related and convergent parts; and afterward we should examine it analytically, in order to obtain a better knowledge of the parts, from which may flow a better insight into their relations. It is one thing to know that a key fits a lock, and another to be able to figure to ourselves the wards or compartments in the lock that exactly answer to the pattern of the key. It is one thing to know that a certain action is predicated of a certain subject, and another to understand that the predicated action was a natural product of the attendant circumstances. The habit of classification is one that can be taught with comparative ease to the young; and it is one that gives rise to many useful questions. It continually raises the question, "What is it?" and teaches the habit of going behind first appearances. We can not ask in regard to anything: To what class does it belong? without also asking: What is it like? What is it unlike? Then, when the class is recognized, there arise questions of relation to other classes, etc., questions of origin, of function, of cause and effect, of purpose, of significance, and many others. To develop our theme fully would be to write an essay on pedagogics. To sum up, we may say that the great desideratum is to establish a healthy action and reaction between the mind and the environing world. Some minds set up this action and reaction, this interchange of impressions and conceptions, for themselves; others need