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 giv
ng 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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