In chapter 7 of Vol. 6, Mason writes about Herbartianism and how its effects are seen in the classrooms of her day. Herbart's influence can be seen today in classrooms of all sorts, from the Extreme Unit Study homeschooler to the teacher that teaches with bells, whistles and ingenious techniques to help the students prepare for the test. I hope to explore this subject over a series of posts, so stay tuned.
Mason states the following in Principle 11:
"Such a doctrine as the Herbartian, that the mind is a receptacle, lays the stress of education, the preparation of food in enticing morsels, duly ordered, upon the teacher. Children taught on this principle are in danger of receiving much teaching but little knowledge; the teacher's axiom being 'what a child learns matters less than how he learns it.'" (Vol. 1 p. 6)
One of the dicey ideas of Mason for many teachers in homes and schools is that the onus of a child's education lies with the child and not the teacher. Contrarily, with Herbartianism, the idea "..that the teachers are compendiums of all knowledge, that they have but, as it were, to turn on the tap and the necessary knowledge flows forth." is fundamental. (Vol. 6 p. 118 )
Well, ask the critics, what of it? Eventually, perhaps when they hit the college years, they'll eventually "own" their education. Perhaps, but consider the high schooler who has taken ownership of this responsibility. Better yet, how about a middle school student who realizes it. Mason knew that a child as young as 6, regardless of socioeconomic status or sex, could be prepared to embrace with enthusiasm the responsibly for their education.
Unfortunately, most school environments have it backwards with the teacher as the master and commander of all learning that will take place. After all, we enjoy the glory and praise and have worked so hard to pull together all the lessons that we know the children will enjoy.
I think that for many of us, either because of our own school experiences or because of how we were trained to teach, applying Mason's methods involves a huge paradigm shift - a letting go if you will. In the end, it comes down to viewing the child (and his mind) not as an empty receptacle waiting to be filled, but as a human being created in the image of God.
What do you think?
(The photo is of the children on a recent visit to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts taking in this Chuck Close painting. Read more about it here.)