Historical Dictionary of American Education

By Richard J. Altenbaugh | Go to book overview

F

FACULTY PSYCHOLOGY holds that the mind is not unitary, but is composed of a number of discrete mental “faculties,” each responsible for performing a separate intellectual function. Although this idea was developed in classical Greece, nineteenth-century American educators were most influenced by the faculty psychology of John Locke and the Scottish Enlightenment. Locke's notion of tabula rasa is commonly misunderstood to imply that a child's mental life is shaped entirely by external stimuli; Locke, however, actually held that the mind contains a number of “inborn faculties” capable of translating sense impression into ideas. Locke's followers in the Scottish Enlightenment were more specific about the nature and number of these faculties. Thomas Reid found more than thirty distinct faculties, including not only “intellectual powers” such as “Memory” and “Judgement” but also instinctive ones such as “Lust” and moral faculties such as “Duty.”

Nineteenth-century American educators embraced Scottish faculty psychology, disagreeing only on the number of faculties and whether they had a physical existence in the brain or were subdivisions of an immaterial mind. Faculty psychology provided educators with a clear, common-sense map of the mind and a guide for pedagogy. The goal of education, faculty psychology implied, was to strengthen each mental faculty. Using the analogy of physical exercise, educators claimed that through rote exercise, mental faculties could be developed like muscles. Experimental psychologists in the early twentieth century discredited faculty psychology, denying the existence of distinct mental faculties. The brain performs various functions, they argued, but it is illogical to assume that each function must be performed by a discrete faculty. Still, the ideas of faculty psychology linger in our culture, particularly in popular notions about memory as a distinct and trainable mental skill. Recent neurological study of the localization of brain functions has revived interest in the search for the components of mental activity.

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Historical Dictionary of American Education
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • Introduction xiii
  • A 1
  • B 30
  • C 67
  • D 106
  • E 118
  • F 135
  • G 152
  • H 161
  • I 180
  • J 191
  • K 202
  • L 206
  • M 221
  • N 244
  • O 265
  • P 272
  • R 308
  • S 322
  • T 358
  • U 369
  • V 374
  • W 378
  • Y 391
  • Selected Bibliography 393
  • Index 445
  • About the Editor and Contributors 483
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