Education Week - January 23, 2013 - (Page 28)

28 ▲ n n n n EDUCATION WEEK n JANUARY 23, 2013 n COMMENTARY INTERNATIONAL TESTS REVEAL SURPRISES AT HOME AND ABROAD 20 WHAT’S IN A NAME? RETHINKING THE NOTION OF ‘NONCOGNITIVE’ 20 SCHOOLS FOR OTHER PEOPLE’S CHILDREN: I WANT TO SEND MY GRANDSON TO SIDWELL 21 LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 22 A Timeless View of Education From 1899 Jori Bolton I By Peter Gibbon “ William James lauds the masterful connector, the imaginative associator, the instructor who seizes the right moment and sets the right example.” n the mid-1890s, the philosopher and psychologist William James took to the road, traveling from Boston to Chicago to Colorado Springs, Colo., lecturing to thousands of teachers. He later condensed his ideas into a small book, Talks to Teachers on Psychology, published in 1899. It drew on his influential textbook Principles of Psychology, published nine years before, that brought him fame on the world stage, but Talks to Teachers is rarely talked about today. Although much has changed in American education since the late 19th century, Talks to Teachers remains a remarkable and still relevant book. The volume, which blends an appreciation of the handson and the purely intellectual, anticipates evolutionary psychology and celebrates the curiosity of the young. The author examines the contradictions that humans face every day in the classroom and outside it. “Deep in our own nature the biological foundations of our consciousness persist undisguised and undiminished,” James writes. Innately aggressive, we go to war, he says, but adds that our fighting instinct can be made an ally of the educator by driving us to master difficult, unpalatable subjects. “Make the pupil feel ashamed of being scared at fractions, of being downed by the law of falling bodies.” Effective teachers appeal to pride and ambition, in other words. James warns that not every subject is interesting or easy to master. Jean-Jacques Rousseau is naive when he advises Émile (the title character in Rousseau’s novel about rearing a child) to compete only with himself, according to James. Runners need competition; so do students. James is wary of soft pedagogues who would do away with grades, ranking, and trophies. He is also scorn- ful of Karl Marx’s advice to share all property. Even students are covetous, desiring their own desks, pencils, and books. “Among the first words which an infant learns to utter,” he writes, “are the words ‘my’ and ‘mine.’ ” The educators of today should find inspiration in James’ reflections. Though he was a believer in individualism, James emphasized the importance of imitation and emulation in all areas of life, particularly in the classroom. Impressionable children need admirable teachers, he writes. To motivate students, teachers must be interesting. To instruct, teachers must be skilled. What lies at the heart of the skill: association, which makes connections and commands attention. The effective teacher constantly connects his subject with the students’ previous knowledge and experience. James lauds the masterful connector, the imaginative associator, the instructor who seizes the right moment and sets the right example. Clearly, James’ classroom is teacher-centered, and a superior teacher would be more than a coach, a facilitator, or a guide on the side. A realist, James knew that even inspired teaching does not guarantee success: “It is nonsense to suppose that every step in education can be interesting.” The teacher must use the spot quiz and the gold star, depending on fear and self-interest as well as curiosity. Students need to memorize, not mindlessly but through association, striving for an educated memory. Anticipating E.D. Hirsch’s defense of cultural literacy, James claims that the best-educated mind has the largest stock of ideas and conceptions “ready to meet the largest possible variety of the emergencies of life.” A pragmatist like James does not insist on one method PAGE 23 > PETER GIBBON is a senior research scholar at Boston University’s school of education and the author of A Call to Heroism: Renewing America’s Vision of Greatness (Atlantic Monthly Press, 2002).

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - January 23, 2013

Education Week - January 23, 2013
Nation, Districts Step Up Safety
Colleges Overproducing Elementary-Level Teachers
INDUSTRY & INNOVATION: Calif. Districts Link To Push Shared Goals
Loss of Veterans Doesn’t Hurt Scores
News in Brief
Report Roundup
FOCUS ON: CHARTER SCHOOLS: Charters Prepare for the Challenges Of Common Core
Civil Rights Groups: Discipline Excessive In Miss. Schools
Children Still Prefer Print Books to E-Books
Mainstream Video Games Move Into Ed.
Blogs of the Week
Obama Presses School Safety, Mental-Health Efforts
State Data: Use With Caution
State Finance Lawsuits Still Roiling Landscape
Stretched Schools Push to Extend Lifespan Of Books
Policy Brief
STATE OF THE STATES: Vt. Governor Launches Four-Point Education Initiative
State of the States
MARTIN CARNOY & RICHARD ROTHSTEIN: International Tests Reveal Surprises at Home and Abroad
DAVID T. CONLEY: What’s in a Name
ALAN C. JONES: Schools for Other People’s Children
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
PETER GIBBON: A Timeless View of Education From 1899

Education Week - January 23, 2013