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From: How to Teach

Formal discipline or transfer of training concerns itself with the
question as to how far training in one subject, along one line,
influences other lines. How far, for instance, training in reasoning in
mathematics helps a child to reason in history, in morals, in household
administration; how far memorizing gems of poetry or dates in history
aids memory when it is applied to learning stenography or botany; how
far giving attention to the gymnasium will insure attention to sermons
and one's social engagements. The question is, How far does the special
training one gets in home and school fit him to react to the environment
of life with its new and complex situations? Put in another way, the
question is what effect upon other bonds does forming this particular
situation response series of bonds have. The practical import of the
question and its answer is tremendous. Most of our present school
system, both in subject matter and method, is built upon the assumption
that one answer is correct--if it is false, much work remains to be done
by the present-day education.

The point of view which was held until recent years is best made clear
by a series of quotations.

"Since the mind is a unit and the faculties are simply phases
or manifestations of its activity, whatever strengthens one
faculty indirectly strengthens all the others. The _verbal_
memory seems to be an exception to this statement, however,
for it may be abnormally cultivated without involving to any
profitable extent the other faculties. But only things that
are rightly perceived and rightly understood can be _rightly_
remembered. Hence whatever develops the acquisitive and
assimilative powers will also strengthen memory; and,
conversely, rightly strengthening the memory necessitates the
developing and training of the other powers." (R.N. Roark,
Method in Education, p. 27.)

"t is as a means of training the faculties of perception and
generalization that the study of such a language as Latin in
comparison with English is so valuable." (C.L. Morgan,
Psychology for Teachers, p. 186.)

"Arithmetic, if judiciously taught, forms in the pupil habits
of mental attention, argumentative sequence, absolute
accuracy, and satisfaction in truth as a result, that do not
seem to spring equally from the study of any other subject
suitable to this elementary stage of instruction." (Joseph
Payne, Lectures on Education, ol. , p. 260.)

"By means of experimental and observational work in science,
not only will his attention be excited, the power of
observation, previously awakened, much strengthened, and the
senses exercised and disciplined, but the very important habit
of doing homage to the authority of facts rather than to the
authority of men, be initiated." (_bid_., p. 261.)

The view maintained by these writers is that the mind is made up of
certain elemental powers such as attention, reasoning, observation,
imagination, and the like, each of which acts as a unit. Training any
one of these powers means simply its exercise irrespective of the
material used. The facility gained through this exercise may then be
transferred to other subjects or situations, which are quite different.
The present point of view with regard to this question is very
different, as is shown by the following quotations:

"We may conclude, then, that there is something which may be
called formal discipline, and that it may be more or less
general in character. t consists in the establishment of
habitual reactions that correspond to the form of situations.
These reactions foster adjustments, attitudes, and ideas that
favor the successful dealing with the emergencies that arouse
them. On the other hand, both the form that we can learn to
deal with more effectively, and the reactions that we
associate with it, are definite. There is no general training
of the powers or faculties, so far as we can determine."
(Henderson, 10, p. 307 f.)

"One mental function or activity improves others in so far as
and because they are in part identical with it, because it
contains elements common to them. Addition improves
multiplication because multiplication is largely addition;
knowledge of Latin gives increased ability to learn French
because many of the facts learned in the one case are needed
in the other. The study of geometry may lead a pupil to be
more logical in all respects, for one element of being logical
in all respects is to realize that facts can be absolutely
proven and to admire and desire this certain and
unquestionable sort of demonstration...." (Thorndike, '06, pp.
243-245, _passim_.)

"Mental discipline is the most important thing in education,
but it is specific, not general. The ability developed by
means of one subject can be transferred to another subject
only in so far as the latter has elements in common with the
former. Abilities should be developed in school only by means
of those elements of subject-matter and of method that are
common to the most valuable phases of the outside environment.
n the high school there should also be an effort to work out
general concepts of method from the specific methods used."
(Heck, '09, Edition of '11, p. 198.)

"... No study should have a place in the curriculum for which
this general disciplinary characteristic is the chief
recommendation. Such advantage can probably be gotten in some
degree from every study, and the intrinsic values of each
study afford at present a far safer criterion of educational
work than any which we can derive from the theory of formal
discipline." (Angell, '08, p. 14.)

These writers also believe in transfer of training, but they believe the
transfer to be never complete, to be in general a very small percentage
of the special improvement gained and at times to be negative and to
interfere with responses in other fields instead of being a help. They
also emphasize the belief that when the transfer does occur, it is for
some perfectly valid reason and under certain very definite conditions.
They reject utterly the machine-like idea of the mind and its elemental
faculties held by the writers first quoted. They hold the view of mental
activity which has been emphasized in the discussion of original
tendencies and inheritance from near ancestry, _i.e._, that the physical
correlate of all types of mental activity is a definite forming of
connections between particular bonds-these connections, of course,
according to the laws of readiness exercise, and effect, would be
determined by the situation acting as a stimulus and would, therefore,
vary as the total situation varied. They believe in a highly specialized
human brain, which reacts in small groups of nerve tracts--not in gross
wholes. They would express each of the "elemental" powers in the plural
and not in the singular.

The basis of this change of view within the last fifteen or twenty years
is to be found in experimental work. The question has definitely been
put to the test as to how far training in one line did influence others.
For a full description of the various types of experiments performed the
reader is referred to Thorndike's "Psychology of Learning," Chapter 12.
Only an indication of the type of work done and the general character of
the results can be given here. Experiments in the effect of cross
education, in memorizing, in observing and judging sensory and
perceptual data, and in forming sensori-motor association habits have
been conducted in considerable numbers. A few experiments in special
school functions have also been carried out. nvestigations in the
correlation between various parts of the same subject and between
different subjects supposed to be closely allied also throw light upon
this subject. The results from these different lines of experiment,
although confusing and sometimes contradictory, seem to warrant the
belief stated above. They have made it very clear that the question of
transfer is not a simple one, but, on the contrary, that it is extremely
complex. They make plain that in some cases where large transfer was
confidently expected, that little resulted, while, on the other hand, in
some cases when little was expected, much more occurred. t is evident
that the old idea of a large transfer in some subtle and unexplained way
of special improvements to a general faculty is false. But, on the other
hand, it would be equally false to say that no transfer occurred. The
general principle seems to be that transfer occurs when the same bonds
are used in the second situation to the extent that the alteration in
these particular connections affects the second response. Both the
knowledge of what bonds are used in various responses and to what extent
alteration in them will affect different total responses is lacking.
Therefore, all that is at present possible is a statement of conditions
under which transfer is probable.

n general, then, transfer of training will occur to the extent that the
two responses use the same bonds--to the extent, then, that there is
identity of some sort. This identity which makes transfer possible may
be of all degrees of generality and of several different types. First,
there may be identity of content. For instance, forming useful
connections with six, island, and, red, habit, Africa, square root,
triangle, gender, percentage, and so on, in this or that particular
context should be of use in other contexts and therefore allow of
transfer of training. The more common the particular responses are to
all sorts of life situations, the greater the possibility of transfer.
Second, the identity may be that of method or procedure. To be able to
add, to carry, to know the method of classifying an unknown flower, to
have a definite method of meeting a new situation in hand-work, to know
how to use source material in history, to have gained the technique of
laboratory skill in chemistry, to know how to study in geography, should
be useful in other departments where the same method would serve. Some
of these methods are, of course, of much more general service than
others. n establishing skill in the use of these various procedures,
two types of responses are needed. The learner must form connections of
a positive nature, such as analyzing, collecting material, criticizing
according to standard, picking out the essential and so on, and he must
also form connections of a negative character which will cause him to
neglect certain tendencies. He must learn not to accept the first idea
offered, to neglect suggestions, to hurry or to leave half finished, to
ignore interruptions, to prevent personal bias to influence criticism,
and so on. These connections which result in neglecting certain elements
are quite as important as the positive element, both in the production
of the particular procedure and in the transfer to other fields. Third,
the identity may be of still more general character and be in terms of
attitude or ideal. To learn to be thorough in connection with history,
accurate in handwork, open-minded in science, persistent in Latin,
critical in geometry, thorough in class and school activities; to form
habits of allegiance to ideals of truth, cooeperation, fair play,
tolerance, courage, and so on, _may_ help the learner to exhibit these
same attitudes in other situations in life. Here again the connections
of neglect are important. To neglect selfish suggestions, to ignore the
escape from consequences that falsehood might make possible, to be dead
to fear, to ignore bodily aches and pains, are quite as necessary in
producing conduct that is generous, truthful, and courageous as are the
positive connections made in building up the ideal.

n the discussion of transfer because of identity, it was emphasised
that the presence of identity of various types explained cases of
transfer that exist and made transfer possible. n no case must it be
understood, however, that the presence of these identical elements is a
warrant of transfer. Transfer _may_ take place under such conditions,
but it need not do so. Transfer is most sure to occur in cases of
identity of substance and least likely in cases of identity of attitude
or ideals. To have useful responses to six, above, city, quart, and so
on, in one situation will very likely mean responses of a useful nature
in almost all situations which have such elements present. t is very
different with the ideals. A child may be very accurate in handwork, and
yet almost nothing of it show elsewhere; he may be truthful to his
teacher and lie to his parents; he may be generous to his classmates and
the reverse to his brothers and sisters. Persistence in Latin may not
influence his work in the shop, and the critical attitude of geometry be
lacking in his science. Transfer in methods holds a middle ground. t
seems that the more complex and the more subtle the connections
involved, the less is the amount and the surety of the transfer.

n order to increase the probability of transfer when connections of
method or attitudes are being formed, first, it should be made
conscious, and second, it should be put into practice in several types
of situations. There is grave danger that the method will not be
differentiated from the subject, the ideal from the context of the
situation. To many children learning how to study in connection with
history, or to be critical in geometry, or to be scientific in the
laboratory, has never been separated from the particular situation. The
method or the ideal and the situation in which they have been acquired
are one--one response. The general elements of method or attitude have
never been made conscious, they are submerged in the particular subject
or situation, and therefore the probability of transfer is lessened. f,
on the other hand, the question of method, as an idea by itself, apart
from any particular subject, is brought to the child's attention; if
truth as an ideal, independent of context, is made conscious, it is much
more likely to be reacted to in a different situation, for it has become
a free idea and therefore crystallized. Then having freed the general
somewhat from its particular setting, the learner should be given
opportunity to put it in practice in other settings. To simply form the
method connections or the attitude responses in Latin and then blindly
trust that they will be of general use is unsafe. t is the business of
the educator to make as sure as he can of the transfer, and that can
only be done by practicing in several fields. These two procedures which
make transfer more sure, i.e., making the element conscious and giving
practice in several fields, are not sharply divided, but interact.
Practice makes the idea clearer and freer, and this in turn makes fresh
practice profitable. t is simply the application of the law of analysis
by varying concomitants.

n all this matter of transfer it must be borne in mind that a very
slight amount of transfer of some of these more general responses may be
of tremendous value educationally, provided it is over a very wide
field. f a boy's study of high school science made him at all more
scientific in his attitude towards such life situations as politics,
morals, city sanitation, and the like, it would be of much more value
than the particular habit formed. f a girl's work in home economics
resulted in but a slight transfer of vital interest to the actual
problems of home-making, it would mean much to the homes of America. f
a boy's training in connection with the athletics of his school fosters
in him an ideal of fair play which influences him at all in his dealings
with men in business, with his family, with himself, the training would
have been worth while. To discount training simply because the transfer
is slight is manifestly unfair. The kind of responses which transfer are
quite as important as the amount of the transfer.

The idea that every subject will furnish the same amount of discipline
provided they are equally well taught is evidently false. Every school
subject must now be weighed from two points of view,--first, as to the
worth of the particular facts, responses, habits, which it forms, and
second, as to the opportunity it offers for the formation of connections
which are of general application. The training which educators are sure
of is the particular training offered by the subject; the general
training is more problematic. Hence no subject should be retained in our
present curriculum whose only value is a claim to disciplinary training.
Such general training as the subject affords could probably be gained
from some other subject whose content is also valuable. Just because a
subject is difficult, or is distasteful, is no sign that its pursuit
will result in disciplinary training. n fact, the psychology of play
and drudgery make it apparent that the presence of annoyance, of
distaste, will lessen the disciplinary value. Only those subjects and
activities which are characterized by the play spirit can offer true
educational development. The more the play spirit enters in, the greater
the possibility of securing not only special training, but general
discipline as well. Thorndike sums up the present attitude towards
special subjects by saying, "An impartial inventory of the facts in the
ordinary pupil of ten to eighteen would find the general training from
English composition greater than that from formal logic, the training
from physics and chemistry greater than that from geometry, and the
training from a year's study of the laws and institutions of the Romans
greater than that from equal study of their language. The grammatical
studies which have been considered the chief depositories of
disciplinary magic would be found in general inferior to scientific
treatments of human nature as a whole. The superiority for discipline of
pure overapplied science would be referred in large measure to the fact
that pure science could be so widely applied. The disciplinary value of
geometry would appear to be due, not to the simplicity of its
conditions, but to the rigor of its proofs; the greatest disciplinary
value of Latin would appear in the case, not of those who disliked it
and found it hard, but of those to whom it was a charming game."


1. t has been experimentally determined that the ease with which one
memorizes one set of facts may be very greatly improved without a
corresponding improvement in ability to memorize in some other field.
How would you use this fact to refute the argument that we possess a
general faculty of memory?

2. How is it possible for a man to reason accurately in the field of
engineering and yet make very grave mistakes in his reasoning about
government or education?

3. What assurance have we that skill or capacity for successful work
developed in one situation will be transferred to another situation
involving the same mental processes of habit formation, reasoning,
imagination, and the like?

4. What are the different types of identity which make possible transfer
of training?

5. How can we make the identity of methods of work most significant for
transfer of training and for the education of the individual?

6. Why do ideals which seem to control in one situation fail to affect
other activities in which the same ideal is called for?

7. Under what conditions may a very slight amount of transfer of
training become of the very greatest importance for education?

8. Why may we not hope for the largest results in training by compelling
children to study that which is distasteful? Do children (or adults)
work hardest when they are forced to attend to that from which they
derive little or no satisfaction?

9. Which student gets the most significant training from his algebra,
the boy who enjoys work in this field or the boy who worries through it
because algebra is required for graduation from the high school?

10. Why may we hope to secure more significant training in junior high
schools which offer a great variety of courses than was accomplished by
the seventh and eighth grades in which all pupils were compelled to
study the same subjects?

11. Why is Latin a good subject from the standpoint of training for one
student and a very poor subject with which to seek to educate another

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