Thursday, June 09, 2011

the education of the will

The development of will, "The mental faculty by which one deliberately chooses or decides upon a course of action," is a more common subject for discussion in Europe and in Waldorf education than in the US. We seem more concerned with controlling willful behavior than developing children's motive force. How do we develop within students, the willingness to try difficult things, to face failure, and to thence try again and persist toward excellence? Are schools merely about meeting standards or transcending them? And is "ease of use" our terminal objective? Is it the anvil upon which human character is forged?

I have been reading a book from Waldorf Education called Will-Developed Intelligence, Handwork & Practical Arts in the Waldorf School, and also found a much older book, The Education of Will by Jules Payot, available as a free download. It can be read on Kindle or Nook or directly on your computer screen. The following is from the preface to the 27th edition.
The age to which we belong is conducive to mental unrest. Neither in dogmas nor institutions can be found the peace of mind which comes from the certitude of complete repose. Even Catholicism itself, which at one time offered a secure sanctuary for the unsettled mind, is full of the most serious internal dissensions.

In politics, sociology, and morals no principle remains undiscust. Secondary education, knowing nothing of the will, remains almost exclusively intellectual. From the moral point of view, it is an ineffectual compromise between precedent and innovation.

Young people start in life with a handicap; they have not been trained to patience long sustained, to disinterestedness, to methodical skepticism, all of which go to constitute the philosophical spirit.

Their tendency is toward intolerance, and this because the great doctrine of the relativeness of knowledge has not penetrated their practical rule of life. A discipline of liberty has not instilled in them the habit of looking for "the soul of truth," which gives birth to new ideas. They take sides too soon, and from that moment they are useless for the elaboration of superior syntheses, or in other words, for the search after truth. Every man should apply himself with all his soul to the truth. It is in this that freedom consists--in the infusion of one's personal attitude with the realities of life.

To be free means, therefore, that one realizes the laws which register the exterior and interior realities of life, and that one realizes one's self. If these two conditions are not fulfilled, the complete and harmonious development of the personality is impossible.

This double consciousness moreover can only be acquired by action. In observing the effects of action on one's self, little by little the cloak of prejudice and suggestion which conceals our deeper tendencies is penetrated, and the fundamental ego is revealed. Emerson remarks that his duty is something which has to do with his own personality, and not with the opinions of others-- a rule as hard to apply in the practical as in the intellectual life, but which can take the place of all distinctions between greatness and littleness. We must therefore have a distinct consciousness of ourselves if we wish to fulfill our personal destiny completely. If we do not know ourselves, we become the sport of circumstances, of suggestions, and of erroneous beliefs which mar our development and give it a direction, which does violence to our fundamental tendencies.

Realizing ourselves and taught by realities in the midst of which we move, in order to fulfill our destiny we only have to treat with the law of causation. It is thus with the commander of a vessel. It is the tendency of the waves to swallow him up; he obliges them to support him, in the same way that he compels a contrary wind to take him to port. Not only does reflex action lay bare our fundamental tendencies, but it renders almost tangible the great moral law which dominates our social structure. The expansion of my personality and the proportionate value of my cooperation in the common task depend for a large part on the richness, intellectual and moral of other men. My highest individual power coincides with the greatest degree of outside support and of justice.

But the slow exploration of our fundamental tendencies and the intelligent development of our will, subjected to the law of cause and effect, make repose necessary. We must resist the dilettante habits acquired by an early encyclopedic training; we must resist the terrifying menial dissipation of useless reading, and the trepidation of contemporary life. Tranquility is required before a solution will form into crystals of regular beauty. In the same way, we need meditation if we would mold our fundamental personality into good, energetic habits.
--Jules Payot, April 10, 1907
I know this is long but worthy of study. People like to read the short and sweet things that can be easily digested, but there is meat here. You will need to chew. We think of schools as imparting knowledge when we also need to think of them as building and informing character. Knowledge is easy, character is hard.

Today in the wood shop, I am working on small cabinet parts to prepare for beginning to film my DVD Building Small Cabinets.

I was just informed that readers can now download my DVD Basic Box Making direct from the Fine Woodworking Website for a price of $14.95, a significant savings over the hard copy price. You can also preview a portion of the DVD from the same link.

Make, fix and create. What the craftsman striving toward excellence most sincerely creates is him or her self.


  1. Doug-

    This was some intense reading, but it was a nice follow up to your entry from yesterday. I am proud of my years teaching at Hyde's Character First school in New Haven, CT. I believe that character is at the foundation of all our intelligence. It is sad that this excerpt is from a book written in 1907, but like Otto Saloman the Teacher's Manual on Sloyd, the matters discussed in the book may be slightly "ahead of their time". It seems that in order for our culture to advance itself we have to move back to get forward. Do we have enough HUMILITY as people to recognize this and address it???

  2. Geoff in Ottawa, Canada12:53 PM

    Mass media, the ubiquity of the internet and other ICTs and the rise of throw-away consumerism have combined to create so many distractions and made entertainment and information too easily accessible. To me, this has created a generation of easily distracted youth who are unwilling to invest the sustained effort and attention needed to systematically learn any skill or subject - manual or academic. Sure, the education system is partly to blame, but so is the larger external environment that has allowed technology and consumerism to become the univeral world faith.

  3. Geoff, that is why some educators are advocating Unplugging children from their devices while they are in school.