Mental Training: How to Reform Education

Podcast Transcript: Welcome to the Inspirational Living podcast, brought to you in part by Book of Zen, makers of wearable inspiration for a better world. Today’s podcast has been edited and adapted from Mental Training: A Remedy for Education by William George Jordan, published in 1923…

The aim of education should be to teach us HOW to think, rather than WHAT to thinkā€”to improve our minds so as to enable us to think for ourselves, rather than to load the memory with the thoughts of other people. Thousands of respected thinkers and educators have echoed the same thought. But because our current education system operates under the false theory of making knowledge of supreme and first importance, and the training of the mind a by-product (an expected secondary result), education fails in both phases.

Therefore, I would like to venture to suggest a new model, a new ideal, a new inspiration, which we shall call “Mental Training” to differentiate it from the old education. This new model has three cardinal points.

1) It makes the training of the mind itself, the first and supreme aim, giving as much knowledge as can be given in accompanying exercises, in conjunction with the training.

2) It prepares the individual for the seven lives we all must live: the physical life, the mental life, the moral and ethical life, the civic life, the social life, the aesthetic and emotional life, and the spiritual life.

3) It trains in accord with the spirit, methods and mental processes of genius, where revelation naturally occurs when the mind begins working at its best.

By suggesting genius as the model for education, I am not saying that this method’s goal is to create geniuses but merely to start students in the right way; to appeal to and stimulate their mind in accord with the mental laws the genius unconsciously obeys; and to develop the powers, faculties and qualities common to all people, and which genius alone shows in perfect flower.

The difference between Education and Mental Training are differences in attitude, spirit, aim, scope, and methods. We ask of education, “What knowledge does it give?” Of mental training, “What power, faculties and qualities does it develop?” Of education, “What does it teach?” Of mental training, “In what does it train?”

The curricula of the two show how far apart they stand in their purposes and ideals. When asked, “What are the subjects in its course of study?” Education says: reading, writing, arithmetic, history, language, geography and the others of its thirty or more subjects.

The same question asked of Mental Training would bring forth a different answer: trained senses, memories, observation, judgment, reasoning, clear-thinking, self-expression, language and conversation; training in accuracy, thoroughness, initiative, resourcefulness, responsibility, and concentration; exercises in physical training; training in character and ethics, in social civilities, courtesies and graces, in civic duties and responsibilities, in appreciation of the beautiful, in sentiment and emotions, in spiritual consciousness. This list is incomplete but it suggests the scope and the larger vision of the proposed model.

The curriculum of mental training would apply to the elementary school and the high school. There would be simply a continuous progressive, cumulative perfecting of the training in widening circles of application, and finer forms of expression and activity. The final aim of mental training is to teach thinking—exercising the individual not in what to think, but in how to think, making all parts of their mental machine work individually with greatest ease, smoothness, and rapidity, and in finest co-operation.

The system works with the student, training them in the how and why of every process, so that the mind and all its manifestations will be under each student’s own control. As the exercises become progressively harder, the student will be ready and eager for the next step—and thus the amount of real knowledge that can be grasped, absorbed, assimilated, and used will be marvelously increased.

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