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McCormick, Bart E. (ed.) / The Wisconsin alumni magazine
Volume 28, Number 3 (Jan. 1927)

Frank, Glenn
An experiment in education,   pp. [87]-91


Page 89


THE WISCONSIN ALUMNI MAGAZIN
. methods of teaching and examination
that lay so much emphasis'on subject-
matter? May it not be that the only
way in which the modern man can. hope
to keep pace with the modern world is
to increase the tempo of his mind 'as the
tempo of the advance of knowledge in-
creases?
   I realize that we are dealing here with
 an elusive and maybe absurd hypothesis.
 I know the battle that has been waged
 around the problem of the training of the
 mind. Although I card not, within'the
 limitations of this address, enter into an
 explanation of what seem to me the full
 possibilities of the hypothesis I am sug-
1.L1AZ5, jJL11I1L Li, -11C)  pdti~, LU say
that I am not-suggesting a blanket sort
of mind-training that ignores the find-
ings-of modern psychology.
  But may it not be, I repeat, that the
only way the modern man can keep
pace with modern knowledge is to de-
velop an education for the undergradu-
ate years that puts the learning of sub-
ject-matter in a secondary. place and
makes its first concern the discipline and
development of the mind for quicker and
more accurate visualization and under-
standing, aiming, as some one has sug-
gested, at, the speed of a genius as. a
goal, although that be a goal most of us
will never reach' save by the grace of ex-
ceptional biological endowmenf?
  At least one thing is clear, I think,
and that is that we shall find,no really
conclusive answer to the educational
dilemma growing out of the enormity-
and complexity of modern knowledge if
we center our attention primarily on sub-
jecL-miatter anu attempt to determine
the future evolution of higher education
mainly in terms of curriculun construc-
tion. Any such approach will inevitably
drive us'to a choice between superficial
general knowledge and accurate special-
ized knowledge. But that would prove a
sterile if not a suicidal choice. In the
modern world, the encyclopedic mind is
impossible, but the microscopic mind is
ineffective in the larger and more Crea-
tive adventures of life and learning.
  We are thus driven, I think, to look
for the really creative development of
education in the methods of teaching
rather than in the materials of teaching.
  What would a greater emphasis upon
the possible development of the mind to
see and understand more quickly and
accurately mean in terms of the work of
our classrooms? As a layman in the field
of education-for, after all, I am only a
journalist on parole-I shall not pre-
sume to say. I content myself with rais-
ing certain fairly obvious questions.
  May it mean that our classrooms will
more and more become places in which
ihe students rather than the teachers
perform? May it mean that usually the
best teacher will be the man who says
the least in his classroom?
   May it mean the virtual scrapping of
 the lecture system? Especially in in-
 stances where the lectures are repeti-
 tions of the professor's text-book readily
 available to ,students. Or even in in-
 stances where the lectures are presenta-
 tions of material readily available in the
library. I do not mean to register an
unqualified condemnation of the lecture
method. There are exceptional class-
room lecturers who can sweep vast fields
of thought until" students, while listen-
ing, have the -sense of living through
great historic processes of politics, relig-
ion, science, etc., lecturers wno can open
vistas. But such men, I suggest, are
geniuses. It may be over-optimistic to
organize universities on the assumption
that the supply of such men will equal
the demand, the assumption that many
such men will appear in a whole genera-
tion in a whole nation. But certainly
universities should be flexible enough in
organization and in policy to use such
geniuses when, they appear.
  I suggest that the attempt to make
education concern itself more directly
with the development of the speed and
accuracy of the student's mind will
force us to reckon with this platitudin-
ous and harmless-sounding but, I'sus-
pect, revolutionary proposition, namely,
that we make the teaching process take
its cue from the learning process instead of
compelling the learning process to follow
the technique of teaching as in the main
we do to-day. I shall not undertake here
to deal with the detailed implications of
tis sugg    onLIU1. I erely sUggestL iat
the sheer bigness and complexity of our
modern universities have forced upon
teaching an over-organization and an
over-formalization that handicap rather
than. help the learning process among
students, and that maybe the way out
of this blind alley of over-formaliza-
tion will be found ifi an attempt to make
the teaching process take its cue from
the learning process rather than the
other way around.
  In the average institution of higher
learnifig to-day teaching is essentially a
formal process. Learning, on the other
hand, is essentially an informal process.
Some one told me that a few months ago
lames Harvey Robinson, with his ac-
customed cryptic, irony, began an ad-
dress on learning by saying, "I'm going
to talk to you a little while to-night
about learning. I haven't very much to
say about it because I haven't seen
much of it in my time. But there are a
couple of things that I think can be said
about learning: First, it doesn't seem to
have much to do with teaching; and,
second, it doesn't seem to have much
to do with studying." Back of this en-
gaging statement lay a recognition of
7alnuary, 1927
ing.
                Ix
I have suggested that the judgment
new kind of curriculum for the first two
college years must be a frankly dogmatic
judgment, but that it must be tenta-
tively dogmatic, leaving that section of
the curriculum open for periodic revi-
sion as the pertinence of respective sub-
ject-matters changes. This raises a very
practical question. Can we keep this
general section of the curriculum fluid?
Can we provide any insurance against-
that paralysis of institutionalism which
invariably sets up vested interests in
set courses and departments which pre-
vent vital processes of growth and adap-
tation?
                  X
  Another very practical question forces
itself into the foreground. Would any
such generalized and synthesized section
of the curriculum for the first two college
years prevent the student from master-
ing in these years some of the things that
the professional schools now expect him
to master in these years? That, I sug-
gest, would remain to be seen after such
a curriculum was deteermined. But even
if it should, we might discover that the
professional schools could well afford
to do de novo and on their own time a
E                                   89
this fundamental truth-over-formali-
zation in the teaching process kills the
spirit of learning in the student mind.
I suspect, therefore, that the next great
advance in education, outside the legiti-
mate areas of intensive specialization,
will be marked by a fluidizing of its
present rigid formalizations, by an ex-
tensive informalizing of the teaching
process. And this will bring us to this
stubborn riddle: How can we institu-
tionalize informality?
   As Sir John Adams has trenchantly
 suggested to-day we are making a logical
 approach to teaching; maybe the next
 education advance will be found in a
 psychological approach to teaching., The
 tea her stands between two mighty de-
 mands as the target of their cross-fire:
 the logical demands of his subject and
 the phychological demands of his stu-
 dents. Two things battle for the teach-
 er'sinterest: his subject and his students.
 Clearly the'subject should win in the
 teacher's librariy or laboratory, and the
 students should win in the classroom.
 There is some ground for suspecting that
 to-day the subject wins in both library
 and classroom.
                 VIII
  Let me now conclude by presenting
briefly a few doubts and queries and
alternatives respecting these two rather
sweeping and dogmatic generalizations
I have made upon the problems of the
curriculum and the technique of teach-


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