Monday, December 10, 2007

The Teacher is like a Midwife

Wonderful title, hmm? I bet it pulled you right in : )

Speaking of titles, I am reading a really really good book with a rather unattractive one: A Humane Psychology of Education. For me, the title has associations of animal shelters, psychotherapist couches and behaviorism, but the book itself is almost the opposite. "Humane" here, within the pages of the book refers to the unique characteristics of our race which is in the material world but not of it; Psychology refers to the study of the personality, that is, what makes the human a person rather than simply one of a species; and Education is in regard to developing (or bringing out, in Socrate's metaphor of a midwife, that unique human personality.

The book is out of print; it was written in 1936 by Jaime Castiello, SJ, PhD. He writes:

..Thought is essentially the abstraction of meaning....Getting at the meaning of things is as personal an operation as digesting food or getting well from an illness. no one can digest or get well or see the meaning of a thing for another. The duty of the teacher, therefore, is to place the student in such a mental situation that he will be able to abstract the meaning for himself....

An obvious and most wholesome conclusion of this doctrine is that the teacherr is not and simply cannot be the efficient cause of any learning. The efficient causes of the learning are on the one hand, reality, on the other hand, thought. The teacher is and must remain the instrument. ....The teacher, therefore, is the go-between, the "midwife", the stimulator who quickens the inborn urges of the mind."

How this reminds me of what Charlotte Mason said so often! paraphrased at the Common Room, here.

She talks in one of her books about how impertinent, dangerous, and interfering it would be to constantly be inspecting the child's digestive system to make sure it was working properly, or to try to separate the functions and strengthen each one individually.

Instead, we give the child healthy, nourishing food, and trust the digestive process to take care of itself. In the same way, she suggests we give the children healthy,
nourishing, generous material for him to set his mind upon, and let the faculty development take care of itself- in, again, 'normal' children. She acknowledges some children will need special help, just as some children need special assistance to learn to walk.

I think she also believed that the balance was skewed and was trying to correct it- that the student was the one who needed to be doing the mental work, but with the apperception mass nonsense floating around, the teachers ended up doing all the work and making all the connections for the student- about as helpful as moving a normal child's legs for him to help him walk. They needed to let go of his mental legs and give him a wide and generous place to walk- if that makes any sense at all.

There are all kinds of echoes of Charlotte Mason in the book; I think more on the "great minds think alike" note; I don't think that Castiello necessarily read CM, or vice versa, though the book was published by Sheed & Ward, a Catholic publisher in Britain during the same time frame as Charlotte Mason lived. I think that at the very least, Miss Mason and Dr Castiello read some of the same educational theorists. More on that in another post.
On a similar note, about the teacher's role -- Studeo -- A Little Schall (and Maritain)

Love2Learn Mom quotes James Schall:

He (Maritain) considered education to be an art, perhaps in its own way the finest of arts because its object, when perfected, was the most beautiful of all the earthly realities. The closest analogy to teaching, Maritain thought, was medicine. Neither medicine nor education created its respective subject matter or what it was to be healthy or complete once it existed. Each sought to lead or guide a body or soul to what it ought to be when it functions normally. Once in its normal status, the healthy body or the healthy soul should be left alone to do its myriad things that healthy minds and bodies do. Given that the body was healthy, it - that is, the human incarnate person informing it - simply lived, did the things that healthy human beings do.

And one more link that fits in here: Educational Theory of Thomas Aquinas -- a summary of Aquinas's work De Magistro:

Knowledge must result from the activity of the pupil's own mind. Along with acquiring knowledge with the aid of the teacher, he can also acquire knowledge by applying his mind by which he knows the first principles of all knowledge. The teacher often points out issues which the pupil had not thought of and shows the relationship between concepts which the pupil would not have noticed without the teacher pointing them out. Aquinas stressesthat teachers are only for helping the student know. The student must digest the knowledge. Otherwise, it is like pouring water into a sieve.

1 comment:

christinemm said...

I read your post last week and enjoyed it. It got me to thinking and so I drafted a blog post back then. Today I edited it to also speak about education reform and schools and coerced learning attempts.

Thanks for your posting it was great.

Here is my post.

http://thethinkingmother.blogspot.com/2007/12/it-is-true-key-to-learning-is-held-by.html