Thursday, March 09, 2006

In Diane Ravitch's book, Left Back: A Century of Failed School Reforms, she discusses the idea which developed in late 19th century educational philosophy that the mind needed to be trained, in a general sense, and specifically that things like memory and reasoning were susceptible to this sort of training through schooling. Then follows this:

The first attempt to test the validity of mental discipline was recorded by the eminent Harvard psychologist William James, who conducted a trial of his own memory. He wanted to see "whether a certain amount of daily training in learning poetry by heart will shorten the time it takes to learn an entirely different kind of poetry." During an eight-day period he memorized 158 lines of Victor Hugo's poem "Satyr" at the rate of one line every fifty seconds; ten, over a thirt-eight-day period, he memorized the first book of Paradise Lost. When hereturned to the Hugo poem, it took him fifty seven second to memorize each line, which indicated that he had gained nothing in speed or efficience from his earlier memory feats. While James thought that one's memrory might be improved by various methods, he doubted that the faculty of memory could be strengthened merely by training. He referred to his self-test in a footnote in his monumental work, The Principles of Psychology.

James allocated only a footnote to his whimsical experiment because he did not take seriously the idea that education could become a science [my emphasis]. In his celebrated lectures to teachers in 1898, he had warned, "You make a great, a very great mistake if you think that psychology, being the science of the mind's laws, is something from which you can deduce definate programmes and schemes and methods of instruction for immediate schoolroom use."

No comments: