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X. THE SIGNIFICANCE OF INDIVIDUAL DIFFERENCES FOR THE TEACHER






From: How to Teach

t has been indicated here and there throughout the previous chapters
that, despite the fact that there are certain laws governing the various
mental traits and processes, still there is variation in the working of
those laws. t was pointed out that people differ in kind of memory or
imagination in which they excel, in their ability to appreciate, in the
speed with which they form habits, and so on. n other words, that boys
and girls are not exact duplicates of each other, but that they always
differ from each other. Now a knowledge of these differences, their
amounts, interrelations, and causes are very necessary for the planning
of a school system or for the planning of the education of a particular
child. What we plan and how we plan educational undertakings must always
be influenced by our opinion as to inborn traits, sex differences,
specialization of mental traits, speed of development, the respective
power of nature and of nurture. The various plans of promotion and
grouping of children found in different cities are in operation because
of certain beliefs concerning differences in general mental ability.
Coeducation is urged or deplored largely on the ground of belief in the
differing abilities of the sexes.

Exact knowledge of just what differences do exist between people and the
causes of these differences is important for two reasons. First, in
order that the most efficient measures may be taken for the education of
the individual, and second, in order that the race as a whole may be
made better. Education can only become efficient and economical when we
know which differences between people and which achievements of a given
person are due to training, and which are due more largely to original
equipment or maturity. t is a waste of time on the one hand for
education to concern itself with trying to make all children good
spellers--if spelling is a natural gift; and on the other hand, it is
lack of efficiency for schools to be largely neglecting the moral
development of the children, if morality is dependent primarily on
education. Exact knowledge, not opinions, along all these lines is
necessary if progress is to be made.

The principal causes for individual differences are sex, remote
ancestry, near ancestry, maturity, and training. The question to be
answered in the discussion of each of these causes is how important a
factor is it in the production of differences and just what differences
is it responsible for. That men differ from women has always been an
accepted fact, but exact knowledge of how much and how they differ has,
until recent years, been lacking. Recently quantitative measurement has
been made by a number of investigators. n making these investigations
two serious difficulties have to be met. First, that the tests measure
only the differences brought about by differences in sex, and not by any
other cause, such as family or training. This difficulty has been met by
taking people of all ages, from all sorts of families, with all kinds of
training, the constant factor being the difference in sex. The second
difficulty is that of finding groups in which the selection agencies
have been the same and equally operative. t would be obviously unfair
to compare college men and women, and expect to get a fair result as to
sex differences, because college women are a more highly selected group
intellectually than the college men. t is the conventional and social
demands that are primarily responsible for sending boys to college,
while the intellectual impulse is responsible to a greater extent for
sending girls. Examination of children in the elementary schools, then,
gives a fairer result than of the older men and women. The general
results of all the studies made point to the fact that the differences
between the sexes are small. Sex is the cause of only a small fraction
of the differences between individuals. The total difference of men from
men and women from women is almost as great as the difference between
men and women, for the distribution curve of woman's ability in any
trait overlaps the men's curve to at least half its range. n detail the
exact measurements of intellectual abilities show a slight superiority
of the women in receptivity and memory, and a slight superiority of the
men in control of movement and in thought about concrete mechanical
situations. n interests which cannot be so definitely measured, women
seem to be more interested in people and men in things. n instinctive
equipment women excel in the nursing impulse and men in the fighting
impulse. n physical equipment men are stronger and bigger than women.
They excel in muscular tests in ability to "spurt," whereas women do
better in endurance tests. The male sex seems on the whole to be
slightly more variable than the female, i.e., its curve of distribution
is somewhat flatter and extends both lower and higher than does that of
the female; or, stated another way, men furnish more than their
proportion of idiots and of geniuses.

Slight though these differences are, they are not to be disregarded, for
sometimes the resulting habits are important. For instance, girls should
be better spellers than boys. Boys should excel in physics and
chemistry. Women should have more tact than men, whereas men should be
more impartial in their judgments. With the same intellectual equipment
as women, men should be found more often in positions of prominence
because of the strength of the fighting instinct. The geniuses of the
world, the leaders in any field, as well as the idiots, should more
often be men than women. That these differences do exist, observation as
well as experiment prove, but that they are entirely due to essential
innate differences in sex is still open to question. Differences in
treatment of the sexes in ideals and in training for generation after
generation _may_ account for some of the differences noted.

What these differences mean from the standpoint of practice is still
another question. Difference in equipment need not mean difference in
treatment, nor need identity of equipment necessarily mean identity of
training. The kind of education given will have to be determined not
only by the nature of the individual, but also by the ideals held for
and the efficiency demanded from each sex.

Another cause of the differences existing between individuals is
difference in race inheritance. n causing differences in physical
traits this factor is prominent. The American ndians have physical
traits in common which differentiate them from other races; the same
thing is true of the Negroes and the Mongolians. t has always been
taken for granted that the same kind of difference between the races
existed in mental traits. To measure the mental differences caused by
race is an extremely difficult problem. Training, environment,
tradition, are such potent factors in confusing the issue. The
difficulty is to measure inborn traits, not achievement. Hence the
results from actual measurement are very few and are confined to the
sensory and sensorimotor traits. Woodworth, in summing up the results of
these tests, says, "On the whole, the keenness of the senses seems to be
about on a par in the various races of mankind.... f the results could
be taken at their face value, they would indicate differences in
intelligence between races, giving such groups as the Pygmy and Negrito
a low station as compared with most of mankind. The fairness of the test
is not, however, beyond question."[14] The generality of this conclusion
concerning the differences in intelligence reveals the lack of data. No
tests of the higher intellectual processes, such as the ability to
analyze, to associate in terms of elements, to formulate new principles,
and the like, have, been given. Some anthropologists are skeptical of
the existence of any great differences, while others believe that though
there is much overlapping, still differences of considerable magnitude
do exist. At present we do not know how much of the differences existing
between individuals is due to differences in remote ancestry.

Maturity as a cause of differences between individuals gives quite as
unsatisfactory results as remote ancestry. Every thoughtful student of
children must realize that inner growth, apart from training, has
something to do with the changes which take place in a child; that he
differs from year to year because of a difference in maturity. This same
cause, then, must account to some extent for the differences between
individuals of different ages. But just how great a part it plays, what
per cent of the difference it accounts for, and what particular traits
it affects much or little, no one knows. We say in general that
nine-year-old children are more suggestible than six-year-old, and than
fourteen-year-old; that the point of view of the fifteen-year-old is
different from that of the eleven-year-old; that the power of sense