Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 60.djvu/423

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WORK AND REST: GENIUS AND STUPIDITY.

The Child.—It is a fact of immemorial knowledge that the child at play, in some respects nearest the animal, in others the most typical representative of our human race, takes especial delight in continuing his activity to the uttermost extreme of exhaustion. This is true likewise of intellectual pleasures in that early age when the little child has not been subdued by the pedagogues; we see both in his first attempts to speak and to listen, and often in his imitation of his elders, the same genial exertion till weariness induces rest. Groos,[1] in his 'Play of Man,' discusses this feature of early childhood, pointing out, moreover, that, before the school places its ban upon the child, 'his life, apart from feeding and sleeping, is spent almost wholly in play-activities.' Play-time remains for years the absorbing, genial period of his existence. And in its acmes of intensity he exhausts himself corporeally and mentally. Some say it is 'complete absorption into the genius of the present,' others that it is 'genial repetition of self,' or 'delighted remanipulation of the right combination happily stumbled upon.' Whatever it may be, enough is revealed to make it certain that a sort of inspiration so works upon children as to make them tend to use their powers of mind and body intensely to the furthest possible limit, i. e., of course, when they are moved so to do, and not interfered with by things alien to their type and mode of action. There is undoubtedly monotony in the play-intensity of childhood, but the child has not the innumerable sources of variety appealed to by the adult genius whom he so often and so much resembles. The self-imitation of the child foreshadows a similar phenomenon, broader and deeper in the adult genius, which is higher and greater than all hetero-imitation of any sort whatsoever. All things considered, these phenomena of childhood suggest that the school is on the wrong track in seeking to force upon the young lesson-restraints of several hours duration (both morning and afternoon, nay, even at night sometimes), and placing the emphasis upon a high average in all things and at all times. Ought it not rather to utilize the brief periods of intense activity fathered by heredity, perhaps, and mothered by interest? Is more than an hour really necessary for the schoolman's art to deal with the growing child? The shortening of the school-day, advocated now in divers parts of the pedagogical world, has not at all gone far enough, if it be true that a few minutes of the child at his best outweigh the mediocre rest of his hour, or even day. As the one brilliant figure or turn of speech in the arid desert of a set composition acquits the child and condemns the teacher, so the one bright answer or genial question, not the stupidity of the remainder of the lesson, should go upon record. How often the pupil is 'stung by the splendor of a sudden thought,' which the routine mind of the


  1. 'Die Spiele der Menschen' (Jena, 1899), pp. 472-478.