The Teacher-Student Relation

Section: Human Resource Management
Author(s): Mary Parker Follett
Source: Follett Foundation
Posted: July 09, 2007
Hits: 21873

An address delivered at Boston University in late fall 1928. This speech was not published until it appeared in Administrative Science Quarterly Vol. 15, No. 1, 1970, pp.137-48. In his preface to this article, Charles G. Eberly noted that this paper was deemed lost along with many others burned upon Follett's death. It was discovered in the small box of surviving manuscripts years later.
I have been asked to speak of the teacher-student relation as an aspect of leadership. Any consideration of this subject must be colored by our definition of leadership, and there is a conception of leadership gaining ground today very different from our old notion. Yesterday I tried to present to you this conception of leadership. It is a conception very far removed from that of the leader-follower relation. With that conception you had to be either a leader or a leaner. Today our thinking is tending less and less to be confined within the boundaries of those alternatives. There is the idea of a reciprocal leadership. There is also the idea of a partnership in following, of following the invisible leader — the common purpose. The relation of the rest of the group to the leader is not a passive one, and I think teachers see this more clearly than most people, and therefore in their teachering are doing more than teaching; they are helping to develop one of the fundamental conceptions of human relations.

I want to tell you at the outset why I have anticipated discussing this subject with you. As my books and articles have been on human relations in general, rather than on any one aspect of them, I have been asked to speak to different kinds of groups. Out of all these, I find that those I enjoy talking to most are businessmen and teachers. I should not have anticipated this juxtaposition, for one usually thinks of these two groups as rather far apart. But the reason is that both these groups are in a position to try out their ideas of human relations any day, and also both these groups are coming to have the experimental mind. When I speak to certain groups, as to academic people who are thinking of their subject and not of their teaching, they often seem to tend to think of what I have said in terms of whether it is a good paper or not. “That was a good paper,” some of them say. And I suppose some of them say, “That was a poor paper,” but I don't hear those. But whichever is said, the matter seems to end there. I notice, however, that when I speak to businessmen they don't think in those terms, whether it is a good paper or not, or often even whether they agree with it. They are apt to say, “Well, I'll try that out and see if there is anything in it.” They know they can find out for themselves whether it is true or not, they have the best laboratory in the world for the study of human relations. This experimental attitude on the part of so many businessmen today is one of the encouraging signs of the times. And I find the same attitude among many teachers. So these two groups of people who have hithero been quite distinct in my mind, I am coming to associate because of this trait in common, or rather these two traits: (1) their wish to discover the most fruitful way of dealing with human relations, and (2) their willingness to experiment.

To turn now more directly to our subject, what opportunities for leadership has the teacher, and what is the nature of his leadership?

If leadership does not mean coercion in any form, if it does not mean controlling, protecting or exploiting, what does it mean? It means, I (think) freeing. The greatest service the teacher can render the student is to increase his freedom — his free range of activity and thought and his power of control.

I don't, however, want this to be confused with the idea held by some people in regard to what is called the pupil expressing himself. In some art schools the students are told to express themselves without, I think, due regard to the fundamentals of drawing. Some years ago a teacher told a class of little boys who were beginning clay modeling that they were to express themselves in clay. They of course started throwing the clay at each other, which was perfectly proper; that is the natural way for little boys to express themselves in clay.

Professor Dewey [1927: 168] said in his last book: “No man and no mind was ever emancipated merely by being left alone. Removal of formal limitations is but a negative condition; positive freedom is not a state but an act which involves methods and instrumentalities for control of conditions.”

It is those methods and instrumentalities of control which must be taught to students — all in the spirit of freedom, all with the aim of increasing freedom. The teacher releases energy, frees potentialities, but within method, within the laws of group activity and group control.

If, then, the essential task of the leader is to free, and since freedom is the result of adjustment, the chief problem of all those who work with human beings is, from one point of view, that of adjustment. It is the problem of the business manager, of the doctor, of the psychiatrist, of the courts, of the legislator and administrator, of the League of Nations. Likewise it is the problem of the teacher. His job is to adjust the individual to life. This is what guides the decisions in regard to the curriculum. The teacher, to be sure, finds the curriculum fixed, but he can at any rate use his judgment to a large extend as to how it should be used. If that is his primary aim — not the giving out of information but the adjustment of the individual to life — he has to know firsthand a good deal about the life to which the individual should be adjusted. For eh may be adjusting the student not to actual conditions, but to imagined conditions, conditions of the past which no longer exist. H.G. Wells, in his Story of a Great Schoolmaster [1924: 18] says: “Here was a schoolmaster, a British public schoolmaster, aware that the world was still going on! It seemed too good to be true.”

But in America our teachers are aware that the world is still going on. Most of them do not now sit academically apart from life. Professors nowadays sometimes take their sabbatical, not in libraries, but in a factory or studying some governmental or social problem firsthand. Or if their subject is one which does not lend itself to these interests, they sometimes take some part in civic committees or in some portion of the community life.

Again, men are more often nowadays chosen from the world of affairs to hold college positions — engineers, businessmen, doctors, editors, and so on. We can find all these people and more in college faculties.

It is being advocated by a number of people, and advocated rather convincingly, I think, that clergymen should give only part-time to their duties as clergymen and do some other work in the rest of their time which shall bring them in contact with their fellows in another way — one which has to do with the everyday life of business and affairs. It may be that some day this will be advocated for teachers also. To apply a sentence of Mr. Justice Holmes to a profession other than his own: The teacher should have a resilience and spaciousness of mind developed through a seasoned and diversified experience in a workaday world.

In other words, the teacher should have gained some mastery over life as well as over his subject.

The student has hithero often had to be his own liaison officer between the wisdom of the past and the occurrences of today. One of the most marked characteristics of present — day teaching is that the teacher is taking over this task, is realizing that the teacher is not one who has lived and the student one who is going to live, but that both are living now, in the present, that it should be fresh life meeting fresh life. There can be no more false dichotomy than a teacher with past wisdom and student with present experience.

But if teachers are realizing that they should understand the environment in which their students are living, there are many who carry this further and see that the teacher, as every leader, should know the spirit of the age, should know the deeper trend in our spiritual evolution. Is not this always the difference between the great and the lesser leaders, between those who influence their kind abidingly and those who merely mold the clay of present circumstance into the shape of a limited, personal will? We see this difference in contrasting Bismarck and Lincoln. Bismarck had little awareness of that spirit of Western civilization which was working, is working, through all that which tends to dam and turn aside its progress. Bismarck imposed his will on Germany, he led absolutely in that sense. But what he achieved was not a permanent achievement. This was because there were deeper things in the march of European civilization which he did not understand, did not see. Our greatest debt to Abraham Lincoln, after everything else is said, is that he understood the American genius, saw the path the soul of America was really taking, although there was indeed much on the surface which might have misled him.

But there was another quality which Lincoln possessed, equally necessary for the great leader, one which Woodrow Wilson, for example, did not possess. Woodrow Wilson's ideal of world unity was, I believe, directly in harmony with the spirit of twentieth-century development. Nevertheless he failed because he could not make America see this. Bismarck could make the German people do what he wanted them to, but his vision was not great enough. Woodrow Wilson, on the other hand, had vision, but could not make enough others see it. Abraham Lincoln is one of the world's greatest leaders because he both had the vision and could share it with others. Therefore what Lincoln accomplished was permanent. It was foundation, other things could be built on it.

Perhaps never more than in our time has the teacher had an opportunity for an abiding influence through understanding the real trend of the age. You know what is said against the younger generation — I do not need to give the indictment. But we all know, don't we, that this is the mere froth and scum on the waves. We believe, don't we, that in the straightness and courage of our youth, in their fearlessness, in their search for meanings, often even in their unwise experiments, they are showing a spirit which the teacher should cooperate with instead of dealing with mere surface trends, instead of spending all his strength in combatting that which perhaps after all does not need to be combatted as much as he thinks. The leaders among our teachers today are those, I think, who are recognizing the deeper soul of twentieth-century youth, its quests and questionings, who see, beneath what is trivial and often worst than trivial, an underlying greatness, who work with that greatness as Abraham Lincoln saw the true soul of America and worked with that.

It seems to me then that the core of the teacher-student relation is continuity — an unbroken continuity between the life and understandings and inspirations of the teacher and the life and understandings and aspirations of the student. It should never be possible for our young people to say “My teachers at college thought so and so, but they are back numbers now, we have got to change all that.” The test of the teacher-student relation is: Is the teacher's work such, are his ideas and aims such, that the student can carry on, can take over just where the teacher leaves off. The teacher should lead (here I am using the word lead in, I think, its proper meaning), the teacher should lead the student to understand beauty and justice as he has come increasingly to understand beauty and justice with every year of his full and fruitful experience. He must bring the riper understandings of his generation over to meet the understandings of the next generation. Wells says, in his Story of a Great Schoolmaster [1924], “A new voice speaks to the souls of men and women calling for a new age with all its altered relationships and adventures of life.” This is what I believe we have to show our students above all else — the new relationships, the new adventures of life. But our discriminations here are not always fine enough. We can indeed tell them the difference between one age and another, but we should be able to tell them more than this — be able to show them that even with two generations as near each other as this and the next, still our adventures are not to be theirs. A new voice speaks and they must hear it and enter their own kingdom and meet their own high adventures.

We cannot, however, do this for our students unless we have faith in our students. But we do all believe that latent in men are great possibilities. At each moment we feel on the verge of realizing these possibilities. Think how we felt during the great war. It was horrible, it tortured anyone with any imagination, and yet all the time underneath was the exultant feeling that the Time had come — our Der Tag — the time had come when man was to awake a great and new understanding of the possibilities of human fellowship. We could go through all the horrors of war because we were looking beyond. We have been grievously disappointed, yet the faith is still there, will I believe always exist in the hearts of men as the strongest urge of human life. And if it is in the hearts of all men, surely it germinates and comes to flower in the teacher who, conscious of the failures of his own generation, works steadfastly, unceasingly, with this high intent that the next generation shall realize what his sees only as in a vision. This is the dynamic faith of teacher in student.

What are some of the steps the teacher takes to realize this faith?

I suppose most teachers today think the chief part of their job is to show students how to meet circumstances, how to handle situations, how to solve the daily problems of life. The old-fashioned teacher sometimes said, “Well, we don't expect them to remember much of what they learn in college, we can only hope that a little will stick.” But nowadays that is not our hope, that our students will remember something of this author or that, of this subject or that, but that they will know better how to meet the manifold situations of life. Yet as every situation is new, we cannot list certain behavior for certain situations, we can teach only the way of meeting any situation that may arise.

What are the steps we take? First, the teacher should show the student how to relate himself to his experience, should show him how to evaluate and utilize his own experience. (Please remember that throughout I am speaking chiefly of the teachers of the social sciences.) The first step is to make the student experience-conscious, make him aware that things of significance are going on in his life.

To be experience-conscious is to know the difference between one moment and another — the beginning of all aesthetic appreciation. Barrett Wendell used to tell us that if we should stand on the Harvard bridge today at the same hour as yesterday and look at exactly the same sunset, if that were possible, still it would not be the same experience as yesterday because we should be different — we should be one day older. No experience can ever be repeated, and in this fact we find all the tragedy of life and at the same time its glory — its irrepressible movement. The knowledge of this fundamental principle I think every teacher should bring to his students.

Moreover, it is very important that the student should get an experimental attitude toward life, that is, make experiences to watch, if at the same time he gets to know what to bring within the area of experience. Sir William Osler used to say to his students, “Don't think, try.” He tells us that the question came up one day when discussing with his students the grooves left on the nails after fever, how long it took for the nails to grow out from root to edge. Most of the class had no further interest, did not think of it again, a few looked it up in books. Two men, however, marked their nails at the root with nitrate of silver and a few months later had positive knowledge of the subject.

In the second place, after the student has become experience-conscious, he should be taught to search for the significance of an experience. Much passes over our heads, goes by us unnoticed, because we are absorbed in preoccupations, because we have never been taught to watch out for meanings. The task of the teacher is not to make his students think of great things, but to think greatly of all things. We might say that from one point of view the essence of the teacher-student relation is a joint search for meanings.

Or we might put it thus, that the task of the teacher is to teach how to translate experience into action. A sermon was preached in Boston last month by Dean Sperry on the text, “The slothful man roasteth not that which he took in hunting.” Dean Sperry said: “We all say we want experience, we go everywhere to get experience, but,” he added, “we don't really need any more experience because we have already had so much more than we have ever used, ever translated into action and character.” This is preeminently the task of the teacher, to train his students to translate experience into action and character.

This can never be done directly, but it should be the aim always of the mind of the teacher as he works out the techniques for his task.

I said that from one point of view, the essence of the teacher-student relation is a joint search for meanings. But the complete meaning is never found in an isolated experience, only in related experiences. And this brings us to the third step. The student should be taught how to organize his experience, how to relate the different parts of it so that altogether they will have meaning. This was well put in a recent article: “No event is isolate; its integration with other events, its adumbration into all life and the inherency of life in it, makes the truth.”

We tend to control our lives in proportion as we are able to organize our experience, for experience as mere happenings is of little use to us. Scattered bits, kaleidoscopic bits, have no force. The driving power of an organized experience is perhaps what the student needs most to learn. As the teacher has all his life been trying to integrate his own knowledge and experience, past and present, to organize them into an effective whole for the controlling of his life, so that is his duty to his student — to teach him how to transmute experience into power.

I have said that the teacher's part in the vital process of adjustment is to teach the student first to become experience-conscious, secondly, to see the meaning of his experiences, and thirdly, to organize his experience. There are two more things which I think we are always trying to make our students understand in regard to their experience. When we talk of meeting situations, we know that when we really meet a situation — not just barely meet it but really meet it — there are two things that happen.

I am sometimes a little annoyed with my artist friends who are apt to think their own view of life so superior to that of the rest of us. I like their attitude toward life but I do not see why we can't all share it. In an interview for the Boston Herald, the artist, Cecilia Beaux, in comparing the activities and aims of the artist with those of the businessman, said: “The businessman aims at success….The artist grips his idea and will not let it go until it has blessed him, as the angels blessed Jacob.”

I believe that is not true of the artist alone. The businessman or professional man, the clerk or workman, every one of us, I think, must make every situation we meet bless us before we let it go, which is only another way of saying that we want the enlightening and the strengthening which each new circumstance of our life can give us. We want it and we are defrauded of something we ought to have if we don't get it. It is the teacher's part above all else perhaps to train students so to meet every fresh situation in life that it shall bless him before he lets it go.

I said that there are two things which we are always trying to make our students understand in regard to their experience. The second is that the way we meet a situation determines partially what the next situation shall be. There is a way of thinking which sees life bringing one thing after the other to the individual and which sees the teacher as trying to train his students to meet whatever life brings. But the student should also bear in mind his own part in creating the situation which he, as all of us, so often attributes to “life,” that is, to a force wholly outside ourselves. The understanding of this truth tends greatly to enrich and to dignify our lives — the realization of our creative function, and that through no great invention but through the acts of our everyday lives, the realization of our responsibility in a universe which is being created anew at every instant.

The function of the teacher then is to train the student to watch for meanings, to organize meanings, perhaps to create new meanings, and all with the aim of increasing his ability to live not only harmoniously but effectively with his fellows.

Dr. William Temple, himself a man of practical experience as a university teacher and a public school master, defines education as the initiation into social life and says: “Whatever we are going to do in the world, we shall have to do it with other men.” This is profoundly true and needs more pause for our thinking than such a simple statement might seem to demand. If we cannot meet the requirements of Professor Huxley's famous definition of education — that it should give a vigorous will, a love of beauty, and a personality of life and fire — still our aim should be, as it is coming to be, not to teach subjects merely, but to develop personality, build character and to teach men and women to live fruitfully with other men and women.

We hear more and more every day of the necessity of making human relations fruitful. For some years we have talked much of human relations in industry. It has become a phrase the world over, and we have now an international organization with this name. This spring a new chair of humanics has been established in Boston at M.I.T. for “systematic preparation to meet the problem of human relationship in business and industry.”

We can teach something of human relations in three ways: (1) through the subject we are occupied with, (2) through activities devised for the classroom group, (3) through using outside group activities for our students to experiment with, observe and report on in class.

First, through the subject. Here we use not only the subject matter, but the method of handling it. The process of organizing material is not unlike the process the student will need in organizing experience. The first step is selection, the picking of the essentials out of a lot of details. Important as this is for the college work of the student, who has such masses of material suddenly opened to him, no training is better for work of every kind in after life. The businessman's success depends partly on his power of selection, and so does the doctor's. (Think of the mass of details the patient presents to him.) And of course the lawyers and so on.

Then, after the selection is made, we find that some things are of more importance than others. The second step is to discriminate values, to subordinate lesser values to greater values, to think in wholes rather than in dissociated parts, to find the place for the part in the total picture. I think we all want our students to acquire this as a regular, fixed mental habit, and one method is to make the student always try to find the relation of any one part to the whole. When he has learned this way he may be able to use the same process for himself with each fresh outside experience as it comes to him. The method is the same — the seeing of meaning, and the subordination of lesser values to greater values. I have seen it stated that values in its plural sense was a word not known to the ancients, that it was first used by painters in such matters as the values of light and shade in a landscape. I do not know whether this is so, but values in its plural sense, in the painter's sense, is a very important word for the teacher.

But beyond what can be taught directly through the subject, the class itself may be made a training ground in joint thinking. And that is probably what we need most to learn, because joint thinking is becoming the order of our day. More and more businesses are introducing a partial system of committee government — a system of interlocked committees. A businessman has to learn not only how to make wise judgments but how to take his share in a cooperatively formed judgment. Adjustments of labor relations are through conferences. In government, too, the conference method is spreading rapidly. You know how much Mr. Hoover has done in this direction in the Department of Commerce. More and more power is being given to administrative commissions. International conferences are constant.

All this makes it necessary that we should understand how to take part in joint thinking. This is very different from thinking separately and then adding it all up, or striking a balance somewhere between. We see this clearly in international affairs. We can go to an international conference each with our own ideas, we can exchange these, give and take, we can try to combine them, but that is very different from learning how to think internationally. The classroom group gives the teacher a chance to train students to think interindividually

Moreover, our purposes, our interests, desires, satisfactions often take on new aspects when compared with those of others. The group life liberates us from the purely personal equation. Also, by concerted thinking we do not merely add together your thinking and mine, but it actually increases the sum total of spiritual energy and vision.

And by means of this process of joint thinking we learn how to unify our purposes — something very necessary for us to learn. I have to learn to recognize that the significance of my life is bound up with the significance of other lives, that however noble I may deem my purpose to be, however sure I may be that it springs from the deepest part of me, yet it is not to do with me alone. It gains its significance through its relation to the purposes which are being simultaneously expressed by many others. Much could be said about unrelated purposes being doomed to failure.

And until we learn how to unify our purposes, we shall know neither industrial peace nor international peace, nor shall we have effective lives reaching their maximum effectiveness. Until we learn this lesson we shall try every kind of makeshift. Think of arbitration. Arbitration, greatly as we value it today, justly as we value it today, will sometime seem a childish method to us. Plan your life so that you will have a bitter and inescapable conflict on your hands and then get someone to-arbitrate. Many people are awakening to the inadequateness of this method. What we have to do is learn how to unite our purposes before the conflict reaches the stage of two exclusive alternatives.

But in order to teach our students the process of unifying our thinking and our purposes, we have to learn a technique of classroom conference. More and more college teachers are using the discussion method in their classes, but some of them think of this only as a method of stimulating, of arousing interest, of setting their students to thinking. This is all good, but it is far from being enough. I know a college teacher who took part of his sabbatical to watch the teaching of his colleagues in order to learn from them something of their methods. I asked this man who was doing the best teaching and he said at once, Professor So-and-so. He described to me the keen interest of the class, the snappy discussion, and ended by saying, “Smith pounded his desk and shouted and they all pounded their desks and shouted and I can tell you it was a lively place.” Now in this case neither the observer nor the teacher would have been satisfied with noise, satisfied merely with the liveliness of the proceedings, but I do know that in some cases teachers have not got far beyond that first step. They want to make their students alert, want to make them do more thinking, and therefore have introduced the discussion method, but they have not tried to get the most possible out of that method. Yet a number of men today are working out certain techniques for discussion by which discussion shall be a method of teaching that joint thinking which is required in business, in government, in the committees we all belong to-everywhere where man is not solitary. These techniques I have not time even to summarize, only to say that I believe one of the chief duties of the teacher to his students is to learn what these techniques are and how to handle them. And I think this because of my profound belief that man is not willfully evil so much as deeply ignorant of how to live with his fellows. Our teaching should be such that in after years, on Boards of Directors, at a conference with employees, at an international conference, on a civic committee, on a jury, at a consultation of doctors — wherever in fact two men come together — each will have the means at his command for making the occasion give its maximum yield. If we can teach this, our students will have learned something of far greater social value than merely a subject.

We must stop here, however, to remind ourselves of something we all know well — that before anyone can learn how to be a worthy and effective member of society, before he can take in social integration, he must have learned to integrate the different tendencies in himself. Much can be done through classroom discussion to help the student in this direction, for we make our personal integrations at the same time and by means of our social integrations.

Moreover, every fresh integration of personality means new direction of purpose or strengthening of purpose.

I think that all we have learned from the psychologists of the evil of a divided personality is very valuable for teachers. No one can be a harmonious element in society unless he has first unified, or is in process of unifying, the discordant elements in himself. It seems to me that the teacher should, as far as time permits, recognize the integration of personality as part of his task. We talk about developing the faculties of our students. We must remember that faculties must be developed and harmonized at the same time. I speak of our debt to psychology. A philosopher has told us this most convincingly. Dr. Temple tells us that man becomes free by “fashioning the unity of his own soul's internal harmony,” and that education should show the individual how to do this, and thus become fit to take his place in the community as one element in that larger harmony. In the degree in which his faculties are at once developed and harmonized he approaches the state of perfect moral freedom wherein a man's whole life is freely given to the pursuit of a purpose lofty enough to claim the service of all his powers and rich enough to give them scope.

I am speaking of using classroom activities as, for instance, discussion, as a method of teaching. I do not think we use the classroom enough for the teaching of many of the most common activities of our lives. Take for instance decision making. The businessman makes decisions all day, the judge makes decisions, every one of us has to make decisions. Yet this subject has not received enough study. We say to people making decisions: Don't be prejudiced; get all the information possible, etc. — all good rules for our guidance, yet there is more to decision making than is covered by even such good rules as these. There is a technique of decision making to be worked out and taught in the classroom.

In the classroom too besides the training in certain activities certain attitudes should be acquired. For instance, perhaps one of the chief tasks of the teacher is to see that his students get a certain attitude toward truth which will govern their attitude toward life and their relation to their fellows. That has never been so preeminently the duty of the teacher as today.

Let me give one more illustration, out of the many possible, of the teacher's responsibility in regard to student's attitudes. If reverence to truth is perhaps the first attitude every teacher wishes his student to acquire, there is another almost equally important, and that is a conception of freedom which will accord with our present stage of thinking. Teachers have a real task here because the wrong notion of freedom is found in so many places — the notion that we sacrifice a certain amount of freedom when we join with others. Manufacturers are supposed to sacrifice some of their freedom when they introduce employee representation, the farmers, when they join the Cooperatives, nations when they join the League of Nations. But in each of these cases freedom is gained, not lost. The fallacy is the nonrecognition that individual freedom is gained through obedience to group laws. In this world of complex relationships we are able to satisfy our desires only by joining with others. Cooperation is the basis of freedom, not the sacrifice of freedom. Herbert Spencer thought the educational laws reduced individual freedom. No one thinks so today. But I read recently a discussion as to how much freedom a man is “entitled” to — a strange expression. A man is “entitled” to be wholly free, but he gains that freedom through recognizing and performing his part in an ordered significance. This can be taught to some extent through classroom activities.

I have not time for more illustrations. You will all think of many more ways of utilizing classroom work to prepare students for the needs of the world. The teacher keenly feels his responsibility when he thinks of the splendid raw material often given him and the waste of potentiality which might lie at his door. I said at the beginning of this section that the teacher had three opportunities to teach something of human relations: first through the subject, secondly through classroom activities, and third through the group activities of the student outside the classroom. I think that the third might be utilized further than it is at present. Even in college life contacts are many and of many different kinds. The students' interactions with others might be part of a constant and conscious experience the understanding of which could be guided in part by the teacher. To expand this part of my subject would require another paper, but let me give one illustration. Consider the subject of representation, that very interesting human relation with its two — fold direction, to the group from which the representative comes, to the group to which the representative goes. This could be taught through the student's own activities in his college years and thus he could learn far more of the subject than a thousand volumes would teach him.

In all these opportunities of the teacher, how far is it legitimate for him as leader to “influence” his students?

I have deeply regretted that many in our labor colleges still have the idea of the teacher-student relation as that of leader-follower. That is, they think of their job as an opportunity for propaganda, for trying to get their students to accept their opinions of labor relations and social reorganization. In most of our colleges, however, the effort is not to spread certain opinions, but to try to train students in the best methods of arriving at their own opinions.

Moreover, we should remember that what we give our students is useful to them only as far as it becomes an integral part of the rest of their knowledge and experience, and if it has become that, then we may never see it again in the form in which it was given, only in the form in which that total knowledge and experience lives on. All that lives grows. What we give our students, if it is alive, may easily grow out of our recognition.

A difficulty in thinking about the teacher's “influence” on his students is one we find in talking of leadership generally, namely, that what is actually taking place nowadays is not conveyed by the words we use — our practice has gone ahead of our language. In most of our talk on leadership there is implied the leader-follower relation, yet in the best organized groups, which have the best leadership, the members do not follow the leader as the sheep the bellwether. I was asked this winter to write an article on this topic: The Difficulty of Explaining New Experiences in Old Categories. I have not yet written the article, but I was much interested in the subject. For I find in so many places that our language has not caught up with what we are actually doing, and the pity of this is that over and over again we are kept back within the boundaries of our language. Someone has said, “We are living in the present and thinking in the past,” but sometimes we are both living and thinking in the present and talking in the past — which is very confusing.

Let us consider some of the words commonly used in connection with teachers and students which indicate this discrepancy.

Persuasion used to be a “good” word. It was the opposite of coercion. It was wrong to try to force people, you should try to persuade them. Now we tend to think that persuasion is, or rather may easily be, a kind of force. We think it better to convince than to persuade. A man may be persuaded against his reason, against his better judgment. But if you convince him it is a different matter. Persuasion crushes out one of two opposing attitudes, and the attitude crushed out tends to reassert itself when the pressure is removed. By the process of convincing, on the other hand, two opposing attitudes are united. The teacher should always seek to unite diverging attitudes. He should seek never to leave a student with an internal conflict on his hands. We often do this however quite unconsciously.

There are some words which are actually falling into disuse because we are not doing the thing which they stand for. We do not use the word blame now because we no longer do the thing. We point out mistakes and we try to train people so that they will be able to avoid those mistakes in the future.

I said that persuasion was changing from a good word into a word not wholly good. Here is, on the other hand, a “bad” word changing into a good word. We have always thought “interference” a “bad” word. We don't want people to interfere with us, I heard a businessman say a few years ago. “Don't allow any of my men to interfere with me.” But last spring an able executive at the head of a department in a big factory said to me, using this same word: “I encourage my men to interfere with me. I don't want to lose any criticism or suggestion they may make which might help my work.” He thought their interference actually increased his power of leadership — a striking example of the change which our thinking is undergoing.

Take the word authority. It is a good word and I hope will always be in use, but it no longer always connotes arbitrary authority. We have functional authority, joint authority, an authority of the situation — which I spoke of yesterday.

And it is not only certain words which are falling into disuse, or changing in meaning, but certain categories of thinking are being abandoned. A recent writer says, and says it incidentally, assuming that everyone will agree with him: “Rebellion is natural to those in a subordinate position.” This ignores the fact that we are trying to create — between teacher and student, between parent and child, between employer and employee — a relation where rebellion shall not be natural.

Take another conception which needs analysis, one which also affects the teacher-student relation-advice. Here I want to take issue with some of the psychiatrists. Those whom I have heard speak of advice say that the essence of the advisor-advisee relation is transference. An organization consultant who has made a considerable study of psychoanalysis told me that whenever he is asked into an industrial plant he always uses the transference technique. “The first thing I do,” he said, is to make myself mamma.” This is all right if you assume that the advisor's advice should be followed without any integration with the advisee's point of view. The transference idea assumes that the advisor is God and that is all right in pathological cases, but not in normal cases.

The task of the teacher here again is one of making the relation such that both contribute to it. Here, as in all human relations, we are abandoning the idea of domination, of Freud's father-authority. We are tending to recognize every human relation as a living, growing thing which as far as it is an evoking relation brings to both a rich enhancement.

We could carry this consideration of words much further. I said above that one of the duties of the teacher was to indicate to the new generation the tasks which are about to devolve upon them. He performs this duty in part by trying to find language which will conform to our present, not our past, ideals. For instance, we often talk of labor, of work, in the sense of grinding toil, we talk of things that are hard, of the fight and the struggle, but some day these very things will have names of beauty, names that will indicate faith and eagerness and the pressing on to the new life. It is one of the great gifts the teacher can give his students — those new names of beauty and power.

One might perhaps call the best part of the teacher-student relation an enjoying together, not work now with the reward to come in the after-college years, but a present hearty enjoyment. This is part of that comradeship with students urged by Sir William Osler. You remember his words, “You have all become brothers in a great society.”

I have called the teacher-student relation a reciprocal relation, and yet have said nothing of what we get from our students — the stimulus, the range of suggestion, the demand upon us for clarity, etc. It is not necessary for us to speak of this side of the question, for we all know it so well. Every teacher recognizes his debt to his student.

Let me say here, however, that I have little sympathy with those who say that they get more from their students than they give. This seems to me a bit of sentimentality. I think that the teacher is in his position because he has more to give. Yet I do think that it should be given through a reciprocal relation, not as a mechanical impress of one on another. I was asked to speak on the teacher-student relation, and I like to think of it in those terms, as a relation. It is one of those cardinal human relations, as those of parent and child, of employer and employee, of friend and friend, and so on. And one of the tests of any relation is: does it bring renewal, an increase of spiritual energy? Is it cumulative? Is there more substance in it as it continues? Is there an increment — an earned increment?

There is a large part of my subject that I have omitted. William Blake said: “True education lives in the cultivation of the imagination.” Yes, in the quickening of imagination, the widening of sympathy, the training of emotion. I believe that our emotions have as legitimate an influence on our life as our thinking, but they also need the right kind of cultivating. Someone has said, “Think of a book or a symphony. It is an hour for us, but a lifetime for the author.” This is not true. Our appreciation of book or symphony depends not on an hour, but on our lifetime, too.

There is another part of my subject which I have not touched on. When we think of leadership in connection with the teacher-student relation what probably comes first into all our minds are those instances of larger personal influence which some of our great teachers have had. We think of Arnold in England, and we have had many in our own country. Shaler at Harvard was one of these, an ennobling influence in many a young man's life. I have deliberately omitted any consideration of this kind of leadership because so few of us could ever hope to attain it. I have confined myself to the kind of leadership which I think every teacher should exercise and should be capable of exercising.

Following my paper of yesterday, I have called this leadership of the teacher a functional leadership. The teacher has a certain definite part to play in the relation. He doesn't demand respect because he is older or because of his position. What takes the place of this perfunctory respect for the authority of mere position is a full recognition of the function of the teacher in the teacher-student relation. And when we consider the teacher's leadership as that of function, that is, as adhering in the job and not in the position, then we see clearly that leadership must be won. A man wins his leadership every day or — he loses it.

In conclusion: the essential point around which I hope this paper all centers is that the leadership of the teacher consists in his relating his student to the life of the community. He should show him his relation to the world's needs. Wells says of Sanderson, his Great Schoolmaster, “He was intensely conscious of his student's relation to the current disorder of life and of how high he meant to carry them to dominance over that disorder.” We hear often today the expression conscious control. Jurists, as Roscoe Pound, economists, as Maynard Keynes, use this phrase. From many quarters we hear expressed the profound belief of men that we can control our lives. I believe that this is the legacy which our generation can leave to the next. I believe the chief duty of the teacher to the student is to make him feel, to quote Wells again, that we are filled with “a mighty power…against which the forces of hell, of destruction, of caprice, of lawlessness, of the jungle, cannot prevail.”

And I believe that we have not until recently realized the power of this appeal to the student. But now teachers in secondary schools are telling us that not only boys do not want to make things for themselves in the workshop, but that they soon cease to have any longing desire to make things for their mothers, that what they love to do is to take part in some work for the community. The possibility that this may be true of all ages is perhaps the greatest incentive for the teacher, that which supports him through all the drudgery of his work.

One opportunity which the teacher has of showing the student his relation to the world's needs is when, as so often happens, he helps him choose his purpose in life. While he should never choose it for him, since that is the very core of individuality — the distinct and separate purpose of each man — yet the teacher can help him by showing him that there are always two factors which should determine his choice: his own bent, and also how he can best make his contribution to the common life. Moreover, he can show his student the relation of his own purpose to larger purposes, the relation of his daily acts to the community life, and the relation of any part to as large a whole as the student is capable of understanding. The teacher can always find larger circumferences, larger settings, for his student's thoughts and acts. If we do believe that “the spirit of man answers to the spirit of the universe,” then the object of all education is to make these words live for the student. The scientist does it in his way, the teachers of the social sciences in another. Tawney showed us his understanding of these words when he said that indifferent as we may be to industrial organization, it acquires a certain sacramental significance when you consider it as a stage in the progress of man towards perfection. I should say that every institution which the political scientist, the sociologist, the historian, the economist treats of, however faulty the institution may be, can be approached with a certain reverence when you think of it as a stage in our progress toward perfection. And not only our institutions. Every ordinary act of our daily life when its true nature is revealed becomes also part of the great life stream.

But after all is said of the student-teacher relation, all that we can easily put into words, there is that left which is more difficult to express, that which makes of this relation a work of art as well as a matter of scientific method. For art has been well defined as the vitality created by parts in a relation. Here we have the uttermost reality of life — that subtle, exquisite delicacy of balance which we find in a Gothic cathedral, the flight of a swallow, a great poem. All great achievement depends on essential, and delicately discriminated, relation.

And if art is that reality given by the vitality of relation, surely truth is the form of that relation. The vision of the teacher may penetrate to a meaning in the relation between teacher and student which shall be for him, by virtue of the practice of the profession he has chosen, the most perfect expression he can reach of truth or of reality.


    Dewey, John
      1927 The Public and Its Problems. New York: Holt Wells, H.G.
      1924 The Story of a Great Schoolmaster. New York: Macmillan.

About the author:

    Mary Parker Follett Mary Parker Follett (1868-1933) occupies a very significant place in the development of thinking and practice around adult and informal education. Her contribution can be seen in three particular arenas. First, her involvement in, and advocacy of, community centers in the first two quarters of the twentieth century did a great deal to establish them as an important social and educational form. Second, her theorizing around the notions of community, experience and the group, and how these related to the individual and to the political domain broke new ground — and was 'far ahead of her time' (Konopka 1958: 29). It provided a key element in the development of the theorizing and practice of groupwork and community development and organization. For example, her argument that democracy could only work if individuals organized themselves into neighbourhood groups, and people's needs, desires and aspirations were attended to was fundamental to the sorts of thinking that emerged. Last, she was able to help key figures like Henry Croly and Eduard Lindeman not only to develop their thinking, but also to access important sources of financial help.

    Today, Mary Parker Follett is better known for her pioneering work on management — although her contribution was soon forgotten after her death in 1933 (especially in the USA). She looked to approach organizations as group networks rather than as hierarchical structures, and attended to the influence of human relations within the group. In terms of current debates around management such a perspective is hardly revolutionary — but then it's radicalism and 'soft' orientation stood well outside mainstream.


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