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Popular Science Monthly/Volume 66/March 1905/The Natural History of Adolescence

< Popular Science Monthly‎ | Volume 66‎ | March 1905



THE history of philosophical thought itself participates in the scheme of evolutionary progress which it expounds and records. The sequence of culture changes and the soil of motives in which these find root remain the permanently vital sources by which to illustrate and to comprehend the nature of human endowment, striving and achievement. For only half a century have we had access to an adequate point of view that brings into the vista of the progress of the ages the nature and the scope of evolutionary forces. This added insight has come, more than any single factor, to stamp the pattern of modern thought. We look backward not only with a different equipment in the way of telescopic aids to such retrospective vision, but with very different anticipation of what is thus to be discovered, and of its significance.

Though the application of evolutionary principles to mental endowment has kept pace with its advance within the more strictly biological field; and though the factors which psychological processes have themselves contributed to the trend of evolution have been of late prominently recognized, yet the sum-total of these recognitions has gone rather toward adding some chapters and an appendix or two to the volume of philosophy, than towards the rewriting of the whole. Yet the latter type of reconstruction of philosophy and psychology is by no means unrepresented. The manner of such representation naturally varies with author and subject, with scope and purpose; but it is possible to set down a score or more of titles indicative of the absorption into the ripest psychological thought of the tissue of evolutionary doctrine. In some aspects this tendency appears in a still more intensive and comprehensive form than has yet been accorded it, in the psychological work of large dimensions which President G. Stanley Hall has recently brought to an issue. The dominant message of his pages is the notable one that psychology must ever remain close to biology; that considerations of origin and of the potent past must ever illuminate the road to the future.

The central topic about which this doctrine is elaborated is that of adolescence—that specialized, reconstructive period fraught with the highest possibilities and the severest risks for the future of the individual, and representing nature's point of emphasis in the perspective of human and racial development. The volumes accordingly constitute in the first place an encyclopedia of adolescence. They bring together with a degree of completeness quite unattempted hitherto, the main data concerning the natural history of this period of unfoldment, on its physical, physiological and psychological sides. The normal growth of the body, the special development of different portions thereof concerned with adolescence, the variations from such normal development and their aberrations in disease and crime, the great rôle that periodicity plays in human growth—these constitute the physical basis which conditions through and through the nature of mental growth, as well as determines the spirit of educational progressions. The considerable aggregate of special studies that have been made in all parts of this wide field are here carefully summarized; so that as a book of reference the work takes a commanding position. There will be a variety of opinion as to the specific and permanent value of much of this evidence; and there may be some who will call into question the validity of the question-sheet system by which much of the psychological portion of the material has been gathered. Yet those who weigh evidence in a fair spirit of criticism will find that on the whole the weakness of certain types of evidence, for which unfortunately we have no better substitute, is quite as clearly recognized by the author as by themselves. It is easy enough to discredit the results obtained by a somewhat miscellaneous set of answers to questions, many of them rather difficult to answer with conscience and pertinence. But here, as everywhere in statistical investigation, all depends upon the temper and discretion that are used in the interpretation of the results. If the method used for the extraction of the result is adapted to the nature of the material, then it is likely that the investigation, however deficient, has served a useful purpose. It is not necessary to defend the questionnaire system in itself or the use which Dr. Hall and his pupils have made of it; the real point of issue is how far such material will stand the strain of the conclusions which are based thereupon. Allowing for a wide divergence of opinion in this respect, there remains a very considerable body of evidence which is tangible and well classified, and in the aggregate has a significance in that it suggests the trend of emphasis of the growth and distribution of mental traits. It is difficult, indeed, to understand by what other means an equally adequate conception of the contents, the impulses and the modes of feeling of young minds could have been ascertained, or the larger conclusions involved therein more saliently suggested. Nor must it be supposed that Dr. Hall has limited himself to this form of evidence. Quite apart from the more physical investigations, where statistical methods yield more concrete and definite results, he has utilized direct experimentation where that has been possible, has cited the larger records of history, of literature, and of the more technical portions of psychology and biology. It must forever remain true that advance in this field of comparative psychology must make use of arguments by analogy, of parallelisms, assisted by direct reinforcement of evidence from the investigations of animal life, from the study of the abnormal, from the lessons of history. Method here is not a matter of theoretical preference, but of judgment; and the ability that can turn method into account, not subordinating the chief end to its requirements nor distorting method to strengthen favorite conclusions, is the equipment which the investigator in this field must possess to an unusual degree. Appreciating the difficulties of this undertaking, students of psychology and education, unless they believe that Dr. Hall is fundamentally following a false clue, have reason to be deeply grateful for so much of this work as constitutes an encyclopedia of adolescence. They have the privilege, which many will doubtless exercise, of discrediting this or that group of data; but they can hardly help recognizing that the general perspective of importance and bearing based upon the material thus made available, has on the whole been ably reproduced.

The chapters that best represent this encyclopedic feature are those that deal (the first two) with the varied and detailed factors of physical changes of growth; the fourth, which deals with the disorders of immaturity; the ninth, that treats of changes in the sense endowment and in the voice; and again the later chapters, recounting from a more historical point of view the recognition of adolescence in custom (Chapter XIII.), in religion (Chapter XIV.), in society (Chapter XV.), together with the racial problem of adolescence, which must be treated both theoretically and practically whenever higher races come in contact with lower ones (Chapter XVIII.). A second group of chapters takes up more specifically those questions that are central to adolescence, and in which the element of sex predominates. Chapters VI. and VII. consider the more physiological portions of this problem; Chapter XL is devoted to adolescent love; while Chapter XVII. contains a résumé of the entire topic of the feminine side of adolescence in psychology and education. A third group of chapters includes those in which the philosophic basis is uppermost and which together constitutes in some measure a statement of the author's philosophical and psychological point of view. Chapter X., on evolution and the feelings and instincts characteristic of normal adolescence; Chapter XVI.; on intellectual development and education; Chapter VIII., which considers adolescence in literature, biography and history, represent the more distinctively philosophical contributions; while Chapter III., on the development of the motor powers, represents the best illustration of the combination of all three interests as applied to a single topic.

The selection of this third group of topics for more especial notice is the natural one, as therein are contained the points of view that have directed the entire work as it became formulated in the author's mind, and upon the value of which its ultimate standing will depend. What is known as the 'recapitulation theory' becomes in Dr. Hall's treatment a direct aid to interpretation as well as a guide to interest and application. Its central message is fairly familiar, and emphasizes the fact that there is contained in our physical and functional heredity the vestiges of the several slow and tortuous changes that have intervened between the earliest forms of life and their successive unfoldment into that diversified series of organisms culminating in homo sapiens. The doctrine thus means that the oldest of human structural traits and functional tendencies must find their analogy, as well as their type of explanation, in a study of animal and of primitive human characteristics.

Like many a biological trait, and most typically like the great fact of sex itself, this principle has a wide range of secondary implications. Among these the accounting for present human traits, by means of those strongest in primitive life, of the type that we find among uncultured peoples, is of all the most comprehensive. It gives to that longer and more fundamental life of human endeavor a living participation in the make-up of present psychic traits, and prevents an overestimation of the importance of those newer and less inwardly absorbed tendencies which we too exclusively regard as coming within the ken of psychology, and too exclusively train in systems of education. More concretely, this principle emphasizes the importance, for the comprehension and the training of minds, of the life of the feelings and of the will. Men have felt and men have acted for ages before they guided their actions by thought; and the reverberation of these long emotionally ruled periods must have left decided traces upon those tendencies which will best be expressed in the early and adolescent stages of the individual. The history of philosophic opinion itself in interpreted by Dr. Hall in terms of a similar development, in which immature adolescent systems, staid senescent and blasé philosophies have appeared and appealed to their public in direct relation to the status of the culture-periods in which they found origin and favor. Our own day is decidedly that of the exaggeration of the rational processes, of complete subordination of feelings and will to thought. This type of cerebration is as evident in the studies that we teach, in the education that we favor, as in the philosophies that we read. With the last, indeed, Dr. Hall has a special issue; regarding, as he does, that this indulgence in speculation of the theory-of-knowledge type, has tended to inject unduly into psychological considerations the spirit and the interest of metaphysicians. The explanation in philosophical terms of thought and reality has usurped, in his opinion, the larger, more fruitful as well as more hopeful interest in the functional manifestations of the deeper, more universal and significant aspects of mind.

An analagous emphasis must be placed upon action as opposed to thought. The study of motor impulses becomes as fundamental in psychology, and motor training as fundamental in education, as any analysis of how we think, or any teachable wisdom in the guidance of thought. The motor response is as vital to the psychological mode of manifestation as the ability to defend policy by argument or to analyze results into processes. In all these several aspects the position of woman has remained closer and truer to nature than that of man. And to this, the specific trait of feminine psychology, Dr. Hall traces her peculiar distribution and emphasis of brain, heart and hand—a distribution that represents an older, more typical as well as more natural set of relations. The educational application of these several principles lies close at hand. Indeed, to some readers the volumes, as a whole, will appeal more strongly on their practical side as a guide to education than on their analytic side as a guide to a perspective of importance of the several contributory factors of modern psychology. These educational applications are stated with considerable elaboration, at times with distinct and exaggerated oratorical appeal, and as frequently with suggestive and earnest reformatory programs. No one of these practise-guiding principles is more convincingly dealt with than that which leads to the appeal for the proper representation in the educational scheme, of the training of the hand and the will. The dignity and rights of motor education receive an unusually strong and comprehensive recognition. And here as elsewhere, we are reminded in general and in detail that the order of control over muscles and the apparatus of the will is indicated by its natural growth in the child and in the race. The value of the discovery of the natural order in this as in other series of evolutions is that the natural order is the right order; that our efforts should go to encourage for the several periods the conditions and stimuli that nature provides, to avoid at least the most serious of the antagonisms to that sequence of growth, which the needs of civilization (or our imperfect means of preparing for them) seem to demand.

The crowning application of these several precepts and practices is to those special phases of growth which find their joint issue in adolescence. Here more than anywhere else must the natural sequence of evolution determine the variety of occupation that shall prepare for the adult life; and here too, according to Dr. Hall, have our transgressions against the order of nature been most serious. We have imposed upon the adolescent endowment the interests of mature individuals, have invited them to share our adult consciousness, not even taking care to adapt the methods of assimilation to the apperceptive appetite of the young. And the extreme instance of such misapplication is in the efforts of those who attempt to assimilate the education of women to that of men, and who take as their model the type of masculine education against which these strictures most especially apply. Not that the author is arguing against the higher education of women or even specifically against all forms of coeducation, but that he makes a plea both for young men and for young women, for that form of education, and for such favorable conditions of growth, as correspond in both cases most nearly to their individual and very different needs. Thus psychology—properly interpreted as the study of the evolution of mental functions—at once appraises the value of mental traits, and in recovering the trade-routes of the past, points to the most profitable highways of the future. Psychology of this type and temper remains the supreme guide of education. The discussion as to what benefit this or that teacher, or teachers as a whole, may derive from the study of psychology is not prominently considered; yet the affirmative attitude towards the problem is implied. But particularly are we asked to discountenance as of slight profit, or even as pernicious, that type of psychologizing that remains unrelated to the vital functions of life, 'If truth is edification, the highest criterion of pure science is its educative value.'

With this estimate of the nature and purpose of psychological inquiry, Dr. Hall attacks with an almost bewildering variety of equipment the entrenched position of adolescence. This is central, the key to the situation, because the maturing of mind and body which then takes place represents the key-stone of the arch which up to then has been building. It indicates that the stages of mental growth anticipating adolescence form a separate and formative type of psychological study; that a knowledge of the changes which then take place is as vital a matter of human concern as can well be imagined; and that the shaping of interest, which then first buds, remains the supreme question of educational practice. Thus both for education and for psychology, adolescence has a directive importance. The weakness, alike of education and of psychology is, in Dr. Hall's opinion, largely due to the comparative neglect of those interests that the study of adolescence discovers and illuminates. Education and psychology are in danger of becoming scholastic because they are fashioned too much in the study and by the book, and reflect too little knowledge of the world and of the byways as well as of the highways of life. It is, after all, but a small part of psychology that can profitably concern itself with how the mental processes of the adult consciousness can best be presented and explained. A far more vital and comprehensive problem is the comprehension of how men and women, and particularly boys and girls, feel and act as well as think. The study of impulse and motives, not merely of such as lie in a direct line or cultural advance, but equally those that suggest the abnormal, that which when magnified becomes disease, and most of all that which harks back and suggests the psychic mode of action of our primitive ancestors, merit chief consideration; such, apart from the specific applications to the physical and mental hygiene of adolescence, are the conclusions and argument that have guided the author in years of labor, compilation and record.

The effect of so comprehensive and many sided a work as this inevitably depends in no small measure upon the manner of its presentation. This is uneven in the several chapters and rises to the point of complete satisfaction in few. To many the style will be distinctly unattractive, as it suggests a somewhat Teutonic attempt to carry more luggage than the journey warrants. Some will find it a loss to their special purposes to have the special presentation of facts so closely interwoven with the enunciation of principles. More will object to the cumbersome sentences, elaborated paragraphs and detailed summaries. It must be confessed that these frequently suggest the mode of progress of the burdened stage-coach rather than the directness of the pony-express. But as some traverse the ground with the interest of prospective settlers, and others with that of tourists only, it would be difficult in any event to satisfy both needs. Yet in this respect the work falls short of that pedagogical effectiveness upon which the author himself lays emphasis. Indeed, he must not be surprised to find the charge which he makes against other systems of philosophy, namely, that they open large vistas, but that the view enjoyed therefrom is distant and hazy, will be applied against himself. Yet one must hasten to record that the practical issues are nowhere lost sight of, though the path followed in bringing them to light is often needlessly detailed and circuitous.

That equal exception will be taken alike to the main positions of the work and to the detailed applications therein is not unexpected. Dr. Hall distinctly appreciates the imperfection of his own efforts; but these efforts represent the convictions of as long a stretch of teaching and of as close study of a wide range of data, as is the case with any representative of his craft. In a more distinctive way than any other student of mind in America, Dr. Hall has canvassed the field both on its practical and theoretical sides, and has bided his time for many years, eventually placing on record this issue of his encyclopedic labor, his varied experience, his wide observation of men and things. Quite irrespective of the degree to which his views will find ready acceptance among his colleagues and the public at large, the importance of the problems discussed and the originality contributed to their discussions, as well as the encyclopedic comprehension of what is thus put together, make these volumes a distinctly notable achievement in the field of psychology and education.

The objective account thus rendered of the comprehensive undertaking serves the purpose of indicating its contents, its arguments and the trend of its conclusions. Such an account is inevitably incomplete, but suffers a conspicuous incompleteness if it refrains wholly from any expressly critical estimate of the value and probable influence of the more original and distinctive doctrines for which the work stands. In regard to methods and the kind of criticism which they invite and will doubtless receive, enough has been said. The most pertinent inquiry pertains to the attitude which close students of psychology and of education are likely to assume towards the main positions of the author, and—equally important—the impression which the views thus first formally recorded are likely to make upon the considerable circle of interested and intelligent laymen. In this connection it is not of paramount importance that one should speak exactly for himself, legitimate as that would be; it is equally pertinent to set forth as well as may in him lie, the attitude of those who share with him many of his interests and his general perspective. Approaching the matter with this purpose, one notices a larger representation on the opposition benches than in those set aside for the government supporters. The case of the opposition will be strong and carry a fair measure of conviction; the argument will be advanced, that while the principles thus advanced carry some measure of support from biology, the use to which said principles are put far transcends the warrant of the evidence, and in certain of the deductions seems indeed in contradiction to it. The biological status of recapitulation leaves no such definite provision, not even in the earliest stages of infancy, for such complex appearance of prehuman traits as Dr. Hall advances. To explain the impulse of children when in the presence of water to jump in and swim, as a reverberation of an aquatic habit, seems both feeble and inconclusive. The case becomes stronger and at the same time changes its aspect, when traits favored by primitive human life are brought into operation to account for the vast medley of impulses and feelings which in great part we have shared and then outgrown. Yet even here the transfer from the one field to the other seems better justified when limited to general groups of traits than when literally translated into the deciphering of the variable and complex as well as evanescent characters of changing juvenility. In other words, many who will admit a limited applicability of the general parallelism would hesitate to stand sponsor for the special application and practical deductions that seem the goal of so many of the Clark University studies in this field. Nor is it going too far to add that Dr. Hall's educational insight has a firmer hold upon his pen than his logical adherence to the recapitulation theory. His educational precepts impress one as finding their inspiration in a broad and discerning observation, intermittently reinforced by an elaborated conformity to the principle which at times becomes only imperfectly germane to the plan and the spirit of the exposition. In brief, psychologists are rather likely, with a reasonable variation of cordiality, to endorse the emphasis which Dr. Hall's studies have led him to place upon certain aspects of mental evolution, but rather unlikely to endorse his special and insistent applications thereof. Likewise will they hesitate to join forces with him in his subservience of so many other normative trends in psychology to the dominance of the evolutionary and atavistic influences from which in his accounts so many human blessings and their opposites flow.

It has already been indicated that psychologists and laymen alike will find their sense of obligation to those volumes lessened by certain peculiarities of presentation that seem to result from a too ardent desire for judiciously modified and at the same time richly comprehensive statements. This detraction from the possible influence of the work is more serious for the layman; and it is to be feared that these volumes, extensive and difficult to read, will lose a considerable measure of the influence which the interest of the subject would have, under more favorable circumstances, commanded. Equally must it be said that the extreme, and to many minds needlessly urgent, frankness in the treatment of topics usually (even if we admit at times unwisely) debarred from public consideration, will give offense in quarters where a less drastic treatment would have saved the situation without sacrificing the pedagogical effect. That this element in the work has already led to the exclusion of the volume from certain public libraries can easily be ascertained. Those who read between the lines will acquire a conviction of greater sympathy with the author than with his book. They may come to feel, what those who are acquainted with the author's career know, that his influence in shaping psychological and educational interests is sounder and more effective and distinctly more suggestive than his recorded position. These mixed feelings of attraction and repulsion, together with the strain of orientation of thought already referred to, will further diminish the influence of the volumes among the lay public. This criticism may be fairly interpreted to mean that the author has attempted too complex and many-sided a task, rather than that he has in any sense failed to accomplish the purpose which he set before him. It may well be that two different books, each addressed to a separate set of readers, would have diminished the sense of lack of fitness to their special needs which the layman and the psychologist—to say nothing of the student of education—now feel.

Having thus indicated the characteristics of the volumes which are likely to detract from the more general acceptance of the positions taken therein and from a proper appreciation of the work among lay readers, it remains only to repeat the estimate more objectively stated above, that the comprehensiveness of the task and the ability of the author will in the end, and in more directions than have here been indicated, gain for the work a distinct recognition as one of the notable contributions of American scholarship to the field of psychology.

  1. 'Adolescence, its Psychology and its Relations to Physiology, Anthropology, Sociology, Sex, Crime Religion and Education,' by G. Stanley Hall, Ph.D., LL.D., president of Clark University and professor of psychology and pedagogy. D. Appleton and Company, New York, 1905. Two volumes. Pp. 589 + 784.