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Dangers and Difficulties of the Project Method and How to Overcome Them: III. Dangers and Difficulties of the Project Method


by Frederick G. Bonser - 1921

1. By that narrow and all too common interpretation, which limits the application of the project method to constructive activities alone, those activities which are primarily intellectual, appreciative, and skill- or habit-forming are omitted. While children enter upon constructive activities with immediate interest and enthusiastic effort, many of these activities tend to remain upon a relatively low educational level unless the accessory or related intellectual, appreciative, or skill interests are enkindled by them. Among the chief educational values of many constructive projects are the avenues of approach to interests of higher levels which they afford. In industrial construction, gardening processes, writing stories, plays, or poems, composing music, or in problems of design, the work may stop with the mere manipulative or constructive processes and with the resulting products. It may stimulate no questions to be answered in terms of geography, science, arithmetic, history, literature, social practices or values, or art values; and it may lead to no definite demands for higher degrees of skill to be achieved by specific practice. On the other hand, the imagination of the children may be stimulated and the teacher may lead their interests and activities into questions closely associated with the constructive projects which will bring about new projects into which they will enter with equal enthusiasm and which will lead to higher levels of value.

The conception of the project method here followed is that broad and inclusive interpretation developed by Professor Kilpatrick. The chief dangers in the use of this method are those of misinterpretation and neglect.

DANGERS OF MISINTERPRETATION


1. By that narrow and all too common interpretation, which limits the application of the project method to constructive activities alone, those activities which are primarily intellectual, appreciative, and skill- or habit-forming are omitted. While children enter upon constructive activities with immediate interest and enthusiastic effort, many of these activities tend to remain upon a relatively low educational level unless the accessory or related intellectual, appreciative, or skill interests are enkindled by them. Among the chief educational values of many constructive projects are the avenues of approach to interests of higher levels which they afford. In industrial construction, gardening processes, writing stories, plays, or poems, composing music, or in problems of design, the work may stop with the mere manipulative or constructive processes and with the resulting products. It may stimulate no questions to be answered in terms of geography, science, arithmetic, history, literature, social practices or values, or art values; and it may lead to no definite demands for higher degrees of skill to be achieved by specific practice. On the other hand, the imagination of the children may be stimulated and the teacher may lead their interests and activities into questions closely associated with the constructive projects which will bring about new projects into which they will enter with equal enthusiasm and which will lead to higher levels of value.


Genuine educational growth of the higher order, that kind of activity which elicits more activity, goes on in terms of out-reaching imagination, enkindled interest, and awakened desire. Mental life grows primarily upon the stuff of which intelligence and appreciation are made. Manipulative activities of themselves tend to involve less and less of mental activity as they are reduced to habits and skills. It is in problems of meanings, of relationships, and of values that we have the source of the kinds of activity that broaden out and lead on from one question to another which it stimulates or suggests. There is, of course, a large place for constructive activities to develop desirable manipulative capacities, to satisfy inherent desires, and to stimulate and elicit questions of how, and why, and what in the activities themselves. But if questions of meaning and worth do not result in the initiation of projects on a higher level they fail to serve the educational purpose for which many of them have the greatest value.


Quite apart from the various forms of constructive projects, there are hosts of problems that call for inquiries, investigations, experiments, readings, and discussions of an intellectual nature. There are large numbers of wholesome and very desirable experiences in the enjoyment of nature, literature, art, music, and play. There are many situations which reveal needs for varying degrees of mechanized habits and skills, and from which should be initiated projects in practice sufficient in amount and intensity to achieve the desired degrees of skill. Any interpretation of the project method which omits the important purposeful intellectual inquiries, appreciative experiences, and endeavors in the mastery of the needed skills of life, and limits the use of the method to constructive projects alone, is narrow, inadequate, and inconsistent.


2. A second danger of misinterpretation is that of assuming that all expressed interests of children are of equal worth. By such an interpretation, that which is trivial or relatively insignificant is permitted to divert effort from activities which in themselves lead to higher levels of interest and worth. Children express many interests which, if indulged, lead to almost nothing of value, and frequently to the development of habits and attitudes that are unsocial or antisocial. One very important function of the teacher is to select and direct the interests and activities of children so that they may continuously lead forward and upward to higher stages. It is not only wasteful but reprehensible to indulge children in interests whose development results in bad habits and undesirable attitudes. That condition or attitude sometimes called "arrested development" is often the result of the indulgence of an interest to such a degree that one becomes entirely oblivious to other interests of quite as much importance and often of finer and higher quality. The development of an habituated interest in reading only one kind of story, and an interest in the mechanical phases of arithmetic alone are illustrations of this "arrested" mental growth.


3. By so interpreting the project method as to ignore the profoundly significant values of the race inheritance, there is very serious danger of losing much that is of priceless value in history, geography, literature, and the arts. By giving all of the time to the kinds of activity now current and immediately stimulating, there are those who would quite disregard those questions having to do with the development of the means by which present conditions have come from the past, or with the less obvious but very important relationships of the immediate surroundings with places and peoples somewhat remote. When a people cuts itself off from a recognition of its dependence upon other peoples, and from its continuity with the institutions, arts, and activities of the life of the past, it becomes a victim of isolation, instability, and insanity. This is as true of individuals as of peoples. There is nothing in the project method to warrant any neglect of that study of geography, history, literature, and the arts which helps to make us increasingly conscious of our dependence upon other peoples, present and past, and to satisfy our interest in the larger phases of life, behavior, aspirations, ideals, and the evolution of the spirit as it has expressed itself through the centuries. Children are "heirs of all the ages." That school or that teacher who would deprive them of a large portion of this inheritance by interesting them with the immediately stimulating and obvious only, is taking a responsibility little short of criminal. "I doubt not through the ages one increasing purpose runs." History, literature, and the arts are fields of wealth for projects of intellectual inquiry and appreciative experiences which will yield the finest values available in giving meaning, purpose, and worth to the immediate and obvious interests of the present day.


4. The danger of exploiting the mere name, project method, without catching its spirit or meaning lies in a practice, not uncommon, of calling topics, projects. Calling a topic a project does not make it one. Among teachers there are some faddists who pounce upon any new thing and immediately feature it in their work. The project method is too fundamental and deep to be treated in any such amateurish fashion. One should therefore beware of work which is represented as organized fully on a project basis by those who are too shallow or superficial in their conceptions to appreciate what the project method really means.


5. Still another danger quite frequently illustrated is that of selecting projects too often which are individualistic rather than those requiring class cooperation. To-day, as never before, we see the need of emphasizing education as a process of socialization. People have to learn to work together, to share in each other's purposes and problems, to be leaders at times and at other times to subordinate themselves to others in the pursuit of a common purpose. Where the children of a class are all engaged in the pursuit of individual projects not related to some common purpose, there is no opportunity for leadership or cooperation. In large classes such a condition breaks down because of the difficulty of the teaching problem. One teacher can not follow the needs of a large number, and wrong habits, bad attitudes toward the work, and inadequate results follow.


In the elementary school, the common values of life are emphasized in the appropriate activities. While many large projects readily and naturally break up into smaller aspects, each of which may be worked out by a single pupil or a small group of pupils, these respective parts all have a vital relationship to the common purpose, and each must be developed in relationship to the others through appropriate cooperation. There is nothing in the psychology or pedagogy of the project method which calls for emphasis upon the individualistic interests of the children at the expense of common, cooperative interests. Over-emphasis upon the individualistic interests and activities makes for selfishness, for an unwholesome egotism, and for a relative narrowness of interests. There are individualistic interests and capacities which should have free play for their highest and finest development, but it is possible and desirable to promote these without the sacrifice of social, cooperative interests and capacities. The danger is one of over-emphasis of individualism.

DANGERS OF NEGLECT


1. With interests in constructive, intellectual, and appreciative activities stimulated and followed to a greater extent than formerly, there is danger of neglecting the needs for such practice as is necessary to develop the mechanical habits and skills of the tool subjects. The number of small but important facts and processes is too great, their differences are too small, and their casual occurrence is too unsystematic to depend upon mere repetition in natural situations for their efficient mastery. There must be some drill upon these in a systematic way after their values and meaning have been made apparent. Needs clearly present themselves for projects in drill in certain of the mechanical aspects of reading, language, spelling, penmanship, number, music, drawing, and design. To ignore and neglect these is to deprive the child of that efficient use of the tools of education and civilized life without which the successful pursuit of the larger purposes of life is impossible. The project method neither suggests nor implies the neglect of these.


2. The interest in moving forward to new activities tends to cause a neglect to summarize, emphasize, and resolve into usable form the essential elements of thought content called forth in the work, leaving subject-matter in isolated fragments rather than as parts of a gradually expanding organization of thought. Similar experiences illustrating a common general principle or order of procedure should be recalled and organized. As the same general truth or principle recurs from time to time, it should be emphasized and should finally be so generalized that it will become operative as a principle, whatever the situation in which it appropriately applies. Most worthy projects include as important elements the illustration or use of principles or general truths operative in the conduct of life. By the repetition of these in various situations, the experience is gained for their formulation into general ideas. To neglect to emphasize and appropriately organize them is to divest the work of much that it affords in developing the method and means of a genuinely scientific attitude or an effective and efficient power of thinking.

DIFFICULTIES OF THE PROJECT METHOD


1. A very prominent difficulty in the use of the project method is the difficulty of utilizing the spontaneously expressed or easily stimulated interests of children as avenues of approach to activities of large educational worth. This is due, in part, to the teacher's own habits and training in formal procedure, and, in part, to his lack of knowledge in terms of its functional values for life. In attempting to use the interests of children, many teachers are tempted simply to "turn children loose," and to allow them to follow any interests which they individually express, or to do nothing to stimulate desirable interests if such are not expressed. This results in indulgence rather than direction, in a form of anarchy rather than of orderly procedure. It has already been noted that all interests and activities are not of equal worth. It is the province of the teacher to select, stimulate, and direct activities whose worth is high in leading forward toward objectives of unquestioned value.


2. A second difficulty is that of seeing "leads" and following up accessory interests by which projects may be carried forward to yield their maximum values. This again is evidence of the limited breadth of scholarship in teachers and their want of experience in thinking in terms of life relationships. Projects begin on the levels of interest and experience of the children. Relatively, these are often low. By careful attention to the inherent accessory or closely related "leads" of these projects, interests may grow naturally and progressively into interests and projects on higher levels. Out of constructive projects in which the initial interest may be largely manipulative, may develop projects in number through problems of measurement, in geography through problems in the selection and sources of materials, in fine arts through problems in design, in present day industry through problems of methods of construction and cost, and in history through changes found in methods and forms of production. The teacher should be able to see appropriate "leads," and to direct the work to follow such of these as conditions warrant.


3. A third difficulty is that of so directing projects that their proper development will include the appropriate subject-matter of a desirable curriculum in its essential elements. The objectives toward which the work should move should be clearly perceived by the teacher. He must see the end from the beginning. He should appreciate the values represented by a desirable curriculum, and so direct his work that the projects starting on the levels of interest and experience of the children include as essential factors in their development the important elements of subject-matter. The project method raises no opposition between the appropriate interests and activities of children and the desirable subject-matter out of which the courses of study should be made. It rather emphasizes bringing the two together in a manner that makes the worth and importance of the subject-matter clearly apparent through the purpose which it serves in promoting the respective projects.

AVOIDING THE DANGERS AND OVERCOMING THE DIFFICULTIES


The means by which the foregoing dangers and difficulties may be met include the following:


1. The first step is to develop a clear conception of the project method and its implications. One must go more deeply than into the mere surface forms of the method and become really acquainted with its psychology, its pedagogy, its fundamental principles, and its implications for the selection, organization, and development of school activities. It must not be thought of as a method in isolation, but in its vital relationships to a sound educational philosophy, and to the best that we know of educational psychology.


2. A second, but equally important step, is that of increasing one's professional scholarship. This means an increased breadth of knowledge of the purposeful activities of life, and of the subject-matter of the studies used in carrying forward these activities. Our own personal school experience has quite signally failed to develop in us a clear appreciation of the values of subject-matter in relationship to the conduct of life. We have largely ignored life activities themselves. There remains for us, then, a continuous problem of the study of life and of the subject-matter important to the pursuit of its purposes. The more fully we grasp both, and grasp them in their vital relationships, the more ease we shall find in the intelligent and efficient use of the project method.


3. The use of the project method requires also that teachers must continuously keep themselves thoroughly alive to the problems and interests of the times. They must note the interests of children, and sympathetically and intelligently use such of these interests as are desirable in the development of projects which will afford the appropriate means of growth. Many of the children's interests are a reflection of current questions important in the life of the time. This continuous interest in current life affords the teacher a means for keeping young in spirit, vigorous, abreast of progress, and in a state of growth through experiences which are broadening and enriching.


4. As implied in the foregoing paragraphs, the teacher is required to keep a clear perspective of permanently usable values in relationship to the advancing levels of the interests, capacities, and experiences of pupils. Projects may then be selected and carried forward by means of that skilful direction which at once enlists or enkindles the wholehearted responses of children, leads them to increasingly higher levels, and evokes a maximum of their enthusiasm and effort.


5. The dangers of neglect and over-emphasis may be avoided by occasional reference to standardized values, and by tests of progress in the achievement of these values. Such references and tests reveal the degree to which the elements of the curriculum, or of race experience, which are regarded as essential, are appropriately included by the projects undertaken. It is not assumed that all values are fully standardized, or that tests and measurements have reached a stage of entirely satisfactory development. But use may be made of such standards and instruments as we have, applying these with intelligence rather than as mechanical routine, and with a readiness to modify and improve as advances are made.

CONCLUSIONS


While the difficulties and dangers of the project method are numerous and very real, there is no reason to feel that they may not be largely avoided or overcome by the use of available measures. The more fundamental and far-reaching a method of procedure is, the more difficult, and the more worth while does its adequate development become. It is desirable and necessary that we frankly and critically analyze the difficulties and dangers which confront us in a matter so fundamental and important. These dangers and difficulties are not emphasized in a spirit of unfriendly criticism of the method, but as a means by which we may be helped to employ it with increasing efficiency and success. We have abundant faith in its soundness and in its practicable possibilities. We believe that most of the unfriendly criticism of the method has come from an inadequate appreciation of its full meaning and significance, and from unfortunate exhibitions of its application by some who are not conscious of its real principles and implications.



Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 22 Number 4, 1921, p. 297-305
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 3984, Date Accessed: 12/7/2021 10:09:49 AM

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