Sat. Aug 13th, 2022

The concept of apperceptive mass comes out of the seventeenth century; introduced by German philosopher, George Herbart. No, I am not crazy for suggesting something from four centuries ago would have relevance today. The emphasis on state and national standardized tests is in overkill.

Herbart was fed up with philosopher John Lock’s notion of tableau rasa. Remember what that means? Blank tablet. Originally it referenced the human mind at birth and gradually was applied to one’s life. We write our life’s experiences upon a blank tablet. What can you do with a tablet you can’t do with life? Erase what you wrote. You can’t erase an experience. It will linger somewhere in the deep synaptic rivers of the brain. (Please note that some professionals in the field of psychiatric medicines believe that certain memories can now be erased chemically. This especially true in the area of emotional trauma. The success ratio of such treatment is not clear.)

Definitions: The process whereby perceived qualities of an object are related to past experience. A second definition reads: The already existing knowledge base in a similar or related area with which the new perceptual material is articulated. Neither one provides an understanding of the task facing the educator.

Teachers need to grab two phrases in these definitions-past experience and already existing knowledge base-both of which take on paramount roles in the education-learning processes. Our first question now becomes what past experiences? Everything that the newborn experiences becomes a part of the apperceptive mass. It is the base for tying together concepts, ideas, and relationships. It appears the movement to sing to the unborn child, to read aloud, or to play music during pregnancy has a role here. The unborn is learning about its external environment.

Experience has begun. (There are many sites providing information on in utero learning.) Vast quanta of stimuli are absorbed by the child as it grows; all of which impacts its knowledge base. The task of the educator is to build upon that base. The demand for rote memorization of unrelated factual trivia does not improve the learning base. The child’s ability to regurgitate that data on a standardized test is not a determiner of intelligence or of learning. The teacher must help the learner to draw significant relationships between the information.

Enumerating the colors on a color wheel does not demonstrate an understanding of the mixing colors to to produce new colors, shades, and hues. Learning the names and years in office of our Presidents does not demonstrate an understanding of what those presidents did to expand the power of the office of the presidency. Memorizing the Periodic Table of Elements provides no understanding of their value or use. To drive the nail just a bit deeper I will use a personal example. During the time of my undergraduate studies I took a course called Art Appreciation and Criticism. The course consisted of memorizing 200 painters and an example of their works. That did not create an appreciation of art and I learned nothing in terms of art criticism.

In educational years gone by there was talk about ‘learning the tools of the trade’. Working to build apperceptive mass is providing the tools of the trade: the processing of information to arrive at understanding.

Four things a teacher may do to help students in their development of an apperceptive mass:

1. Refrain from asking questions that require just recall of information.

2. Ask questions that call for interpretation and explanation .

3. Ask questions that require conclusions based on given information.

4. Conduct class discussions that require demonstration of understandings.

In my next article I will discuss the affective domain, the area where learning is demonstrated.

By rahul