WILLIAM JAMES TALKS TO TEACHERS ON PSYCHOLOGY
(selected passages)

Psychology, "being the science of the mind's laws," (p. 15). . . is "the science of mind" (p. 19).

"We have thus fields of consciousness" (p. 20)

  • "The existence of this stream [of consciousness] is the primal fact, the nature and origin of it form the essential problem, of our science" (p. 19).
  • "It is the fact that in each of us, when awake (and often when asleep), some kind of consciousness is always going on. There is a stream, a succession of states, or waves, or fields (or whatever you please to call them), of knowledge, of feeling, of desire, of deliberation, etc., that constantly pass and repass, and that constitute our inner life" (p. 19).
  • The stream of consciousness has two functions

    • it leads to knowledge
    • it leads to action (p. 23)
"The concrete fields are always complex" (p. 20).

"Education is the organization of acquired habits of conduct and tendencies to behavior" (p. 27).

"No reception without reaction, no impression without correlative expression" (p. 30)

"Every acquired reaction is, as a rule, either a complication grafted on a native reaction, or a substitute for a native reaction which the same object originally tended to provoke. The teacher's art consists in bringing about the substitution or complication; and success in the art presupposes a sympathetic acquaintance with the reactive tendencies natively there" (p. 33).

  • the native reactions are

       1. fear
       2. love
       3. curiosity - impulse towards better cognition
       4/8. The Ambitious Impulses
          4. imitation
          5. emulation - the impulse to imitate what you see another doing, in order
                                  not to appear inferior. "A teacher should never try to make
                                  the pupils do a thing which she cannot do herself" (p. 39).
          6. ambition
          7. pugnacity
          8. pride
          9. ownership
         10. constructiveness
         11. other impulses - love of approbation, vanity, shyness, secretiveness.

A teacher "must start with the native tendencies, and enlarge the pupil's entire passive and active experience. He must ply him with new objects and stimuli, and make him taste the fruits of his behavior, so that now that whole context of remembered experience is what shall determine his conduct when he gets the stimulus, and not the bare immediate impression" (p. 45).
"It is very important that teachers should realize the importance of habit, and psychology helps us greatly at this point" (p. 47).
  • "we are thus mere bundles of habit" (p. 48).
"Since this [habit], under any circumstances, is what we always tend to become, it follows first of all that the teacher's prime concern should be to ingrain into the pupil that assortment of habits that shall be most useful to him throughout life. Education is for behavior, and habits are the stuff of which behavior consists" (p. 48).
  • "We must make automatic and habitual, as early as possible, as many useful actions as we can" (p. 48).
From Professor Bain -
  • We must take care to launch ourselves with as strong and decided an initiative as possible.
  • Never suffer an exception to occur till the new habit is securely rooted in your life.
  • Seize the very first possible opportunity to act on every resolution you make, and on every emotional prompting you may experience in the direction of the habits you aspire to gain. (pp. 49-50)
From J. S. Mills -
"'A character is a completely fashioned will,' and a will, in the sense in which he means it, is an aggregate of tendencies to act in a firm and prompt and definite way upon all the principal emergencies in life" (p. 50).
  • Don't preach too much to your pupils or abound in good talk in the abstract" (p. 50).
  • Keep the faculty of effort alive in you by a little gratuitous exercise every day" (p. 52).
"New habits can be launched, I have expressly said, on condition of there being new stimuli and new excitements" (p. 53).

"It is astonishing how many mental operations we can explain when we have once grasped the principles of association" (p. 57).

"Any object not interesting in itself may become interesting through becoming associated with an object in which an interest already exists. The two associated objects grow, as it were, together; the interesting portion sheds its quality over the whole; and thus things not interesting in their own right borrow an interest which becomes as real and as strong as that of any natively interesting thing" (p. 62).

"An idea will infect another with its own emotional interest when they have become both associated together into any sort of a mental total" (p. 643).

"From all these facts there emerges a very simple abstract program for the teacher to follow in keeping the attention of the child: Begin with the line of his native interests, and offer him objects that have some immediate connection with these" (p. 63).

"Next, step by step, connect with these first objects and experiences the later objects and ideas which you wish to instill. Associate the new with the old in some natural and telling way, so that the interest, being shed along from point to point, finally suffuses the entire system of objects of thought" (p. 63).

  • "The difference between an interesting and a tedious teacher consists in little more than the inventiveness by which the one is able to mediate these associations and connections, and in the dulness in discovering such transitions which the other shows" (p. 64).

  • "When the geography and English and history and arithmetic simultaneously make cross-references to one another, you get an interesting set of processes all along the line" (p. 64)

  • "If, then, you wish to insure the interest of your pupils, there is only one way to do it; and that is to make certain that they have something in their minds to attend with, when you begin to talk. That something can consist in nothing but a previous lot of ideas already interesting in themselves, and of such a nature that the incoming novel objects which you present can dovetail into them and form with them some kind of a logically associated or systematic whole" (p. 64).
"But when all is said and done, the fact remains that some teachers have a naturally inspiring presence and can make their exercises interesting, whilst others simply cannot. And psychology and general pedagogy here confess their failure, and hand things over to the deeper spring of human personality to conduct the task" (p. 69).
  • "The genius of the interesting teacher consists in sympathetic divination of the sort of material with which the pupil's mind is likely to be already spontaneously engaged, and in the ingenuity which discovers paths of connection from that material to the matters to be newly learned. The principle is easy to grasp, but the accomplishment is difficult in the extreme" (p. 70).

  • "If the topic be highly abstract, show its nature by concrete examples; if it be unfamiliar, make it figure as part of a story; if it be difficult, couple its acquisition with some prospect of personal gain. Above all things, make sure that it shall run through certain inner changes, since no unvarying object can possibly hold the mental field for long. Let your pupil wander from one aspect to another of your subject, if you do not wish him to wander from it altogether to something else, variety in unity being the secret of all interesting talk and thought" (p. 72)
"Be patient and sympathetic with the type of mind that cuts a poor figure in examinations. It may, in the long examination which life sets us, come out in the end in better shape than the glib and ready reproducer, its passions being deeper, its purposes more worthy, its combining power less commonplace, and its total mental output consequently more important" (p. 87).

"The art of remembering is the art of thinking" . . . and so "when we wish to fix a new thing in either our own mind or a pupil's, our conscious effort should not be so much to impress and retain it as to connect it with something else already there. The connecting is the thinking; and if we attend clearly to the connection, the connected thing will certainly be likely to remain within recall" (p. 87).

"The process of education, taken in a large way, may be described as nothing but the process of acquiring ideas or conceptions, the best educated mind being the mind which has the largest stock of them, ready to meet the largest possible variety of the emergencies of life" (p. 89).

"I cannot but think that to apperceive your pupil as a little sensitive, impulsive, associative, and reactive organism, partly fated and partly free, will lead to a better intelligence of all his ways. Understand him, then, as such a subtle little piece of machinery. And if, in addition, you can also see him sub specie boni, and love him as well, you will be in the best possible position for becoming perfect teachers" (p. 114).

Also have a look at As William James said . . .
which includes observations on the role of psychology in the practice of teaching.

Back to William James