EDUCATION OF THE MIND
The term Mind is often employed to signify all the faculties of the soul. But I shall use it in application to the intellectual faculties, in distinction from the moral; as I have employed heart to denote the moral, in distinction from the intellectual. I shall not undertake to give a strictly philosophical distinction of the mental faculties, but shall comprehend them in the following division, which is sufficient for my purpose, to wit: Perception, Reason or Understanding, Judgment, Memory, and Imagination. PERCEPTION is the faculty that receives ideas into the mind; as, when you look at a tree, immediately the idea of a tree is impressed on the mind through the sense of sight; or, when you touch an object, the idea of that object is impressed on your mind through the sense of touch; or, you may receive the idea of a spirit, from the explanations which you hear or read.
The REASON or UNDERSTANDING, is the faculty that considers, analyzes, and compares ideas received into the mind, and forms conclusions concerning them. For example, suppose you had never seen a watch: one is presented to you, and, as soon as your eye rests upon it, you form an idea respecting it. Perhaps this idea is no more than that it is a very curious object. But, immediately, your understanding is employed in considering what it is, the perceptive faculty still being occupied in further discoveries. From the fact that there is motion, you conclude there must be some power within it; for motion is not produced without power. Here is consideration and conclusion, which is a regular operation of reason. But, to make further discoveries, you open the watch, to examine its parts. This is analyzing. You examine all the parts that you can see, on removing the case. You still see motion—all the wheels moving in regular order; but the cause of the motion, the power that moves, is yet unseen. You perceive a chain wound around a wheel, and attached to another wheel, around which it is slowly winding itself; and this chain appears to regulate the whole movement. You conclude that the power must be in this last-named wheel. Here is a conclusion from analyzing, or examining the parts separately.
The JUDGMENT is the same as what is popularly styled common sense. It is that faculty which pronounces a decision, in view of all the information before the mind, in any given case. For example, if you wish to determine what school you will attend, you first obtain all the information you can respecting the different schools that claim your attention. You consider and compare the advantages of each; and you decide according to your impression of their comparative merits. The faculty which forms this decision is called the judgment. You will readily perceive how very important this faculty is; for a person may be very learned, and yet a very great dunce in everything of a practical nature, if he fails in judgment or common sense. His learning will be of very little use to him, because he has not sense to use it to advantage.
The MEMORY is the faculty which retains the knowledge that is received into the mind. It is a wonderful faculty. It may be compared to an immense closet, with a countless number and variety of shelves, drawers, and cells, in which articles are stored away for future use, only one of which can be examined by the proprietor at the same time, and yet so arranged that he knows just where to look for the article he wants. It is supposed that no impression, once made upon the memory, can be obliterated; and yet the impression may not be called up for years. It lies there, until some association of ideas brings it up again; the faculty not being able to present more than one object distinctly before the mind at the same instant.
The IMAGINATION is that faculty which forms pictures in the mind of real or unreal scenes. It is the faculty that you exercise in your fanciful plays, and when your mind runs forward to the time that you expect to be engaged in the busy scenes of life, and you picture to yourself pleasures and enjoyments in prospect. It is the faculty chiefly exercised by the poet and the writer of fiction.
You will, perhaps, be tired of this explanation; but it was necessary, in order to prepare the way for what I have to say on the education of the mind. From the definition of education already given, you will perceive that my ideas differ very much from those entertained by most young people. Ask a young person what he is going to school for, and he will answer, "To learn." And his idea of learning is, simply, to acquire knowledge. This, however, is but a small part of the object of education. And this idea often leads youth to judge that much of what they are required to study is of no value to them; because they think they shall have no use for the particular science they are studying, in practical life. The chief objects of mental education are, to cultivate and discipline the mind, and to store it with those great facts and principles which compose the elements of all knowledge. The studies to be pursued, then, are to be chosen with reference to these objects, and not merely for the purpose of making the mind a vast storehouse of knowledge. This may be done, and yet leave it a mere lumber-room. For without the capacity to analyze, and turn it to account, all the knowledge in the world is but useless lumber. It is of great importance that young people should understand and appreciate this principle, because it is intimately connected with their success in acquiring a good education. To this end, it is necessary that they should cooperate with their parents and teachers. This they will never be ready to do, if they suppose the only object of study is, to acquire a knowledge of the particular branches they are set to learn; for they cannot see the use of them. But, understanding the design of education to be, to discipline the mind, and furnish it with the elements of knowledge; there is no science, no branch of learning, but what is useful for these objects; and the only question, where education cannot be liberal, is, What branches will best secure these ends?
This understanding of the objects of education is also necessary, to stimulate the young to prosecute their studies in the most profitable manner. If their object were merely to acquire knowledge, the more aid they could get from their teachers the better, because they would thus obtain information the more rapidly. But the object being to discipline the mind, call forth its energies, and obtain a thorough knowledge of elementary principles, what is studied out, by the unaided efforts of the pupil, is worth a hundred times more than that which is communicated by an instructor. The very effort of the mind which is requisite to study out a sum in arithmetic, or a difficult sentence in language—is worth more than it costs, for the increased power which it imparts to the faculties so exercised. The principles involved in the case will, also, by this effort, be more deeply impressed upon the mind. Such efforts are also exceedingly valuable, for the confidence which they inspire in one's power of accomplishment. I do not mean to commend self-confidence in a bad sense. For anyone to be so confident of his own power as to think he can do things which he cannot, or to fancy himself qualified for stations which he is not able to fill, is foolish and vain. But, to know one's own ability to do, and have confidence in it, is indispensable to success in any undertaking. And this confidence is inspired by unaided efforts to overcome difficulties in the process of education.
As an instance of this, I recollect, when a boy, of encountering a very difficult sum in arithmetic. After spending a considerable time on it, without success, I sought the aid of the school teacher, who failed to render me any assistance. I then applied to several other people, none of whom could give me the desired information. Thus I was thrown back upon my own resources. I studied upon it several days without success. After worrying my head with it one evening, I retired to rest, and dreamed out the whole process. I do not suppose there was anything supernatural in my dream; but the sum was the absorbing subject of my thoughts, and when sleep had closed the senses, they still ran on the same subject. Rising in the morning with a clear head, and examining the question anew, it all opened up to my mind with perfect clearness; all difficulty vanished, and in a few moments the problem was solved. I can scarcely point to any single event, which has had more influence upon the whole course of my life than this. It gave me confidence in my ability to succeed in any reasonable undertaking. But for this confidence, I should never have thought of entering upon the most useful undertakings of my life. But for this, you would never have seen this book, nor any other of the numerous works which I have been enabled to furnish for the benefit of the young. I mention this circumstance here, for the purpose of encouraging you to independent mental effort. In prosecuting your studies, endeavor always, if possible, to overcome every difficulty without the aid of others. This practice, besides giving you the confidence of which I have spoken, will give you a much better knowledge of the branches you are pursuing, and enable you, as you advance, to proceed much more rapidly. Every difficulty you overcome, by your own unaided efforts, will make the next difficulty less. And though at first you will proceed more slowly, your habit of independent investigation will soon enable you to outstrip all those who are still held in the leading-strings of their teachers. A child will learn to walk much sooner by being let alone, than to be provided with a go-cart. Your studies, pursued in this manner, will be much more interesting; for you are interested in any study just in proportion to the effort of mind it costs you.
The perceptive faculty is developed first of all. It begins to be exercised by the child before it can speak, or even understand language. Reason and judgment are more slow in their development, though they begin to be exercised at a very early period. Memory is exercised as soon as ideas are received into the mind. The imagination, in the natural course of things, is developed last of all; but it is often forced out too early, like flowers in a hot-bed, in which case it works great injury to the mind.
You will perceive the great importance of bringing out the several faculties of the mind in their due proportion. If the memory is chiefly cultivated, you will have a great amount of knowledge floating loosely in your mind, but it will be of very little use. But the proper cultivation of the memory is indispensable, in order to render your knowledge available. Nor will it do for you to adopt the notion that nothing is to be committed to the keeping of the memory which is not fully understood. The memory is a servant, which must consent to do some things without knowing the reason why. The imagination is the beautiful flower that crowns the top of the plant. But if forced out too early, or out of due proportion, it will cover the stalk with false blossoms, which, in a little time, will wither, and leave it dry and useless. The perception, reason, and judgment, require a long course of vigorous exercise and severe training, in order to lay a solid foundation of character.
I shall leave this subject here, without suggesting any particular means of cultivating the mind, leaving you to apply the principles here laid down to your ordinary studies. But in several subsequent chapters, I shall have some reference to what I have said here.