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The Training Of Perception

In the physical world as in the spiritual there are many people who,
having eyes, see not and ears, hear not. For the ability to perceive
accurately and richly in the world of physical objects depends not alone
on good sense organs, but also on interest and the habit of
observation. It is easy if we are indifferent or untrained to look at
a beautiful landscape, a picture or a cathedral without seeing it; it
is easy if we lack interest or skill to listen to an orchestra or the
myriad sounds of nature without hearing them.

PERCEPTION NEEDS TO BE TRAINED.--Training in perception does not depend
entirely on the work of the school. For the world about us exerts a
constant appeal to our senses. A thousand sights, sounds, contacts,
tastes, smells or other sensations, hourly throng in upon us, and the
appeal is irresistible. We must in some degree attend. We must observe.

Yet it cannot be denied that most of us are relatively unskilled in
perception; we do not know how, or take the trouble to observe. For
example, a stranger was brought into the classroom and introduced by the
instructor to a class of fifty college students in psychology. The class
thought the stranger was to address them, and looked at him with mild
curiosity. But, after standing before them for a few moments, he
suddenly withdrew, as had been arranged by the instructor. The class
were then asked to write such a description of the stranger as would
enable a person who had never seen him to identify him. But so poor had
been the observation of the class that they ascribed to him clothes of
four different colors, eyes and hair each of three different colors, a
tie of many different hues, height ranging from five feet and four
inches to over six feet, age from twenty-eight to forty-five years, and
many other details as wide of the mark. Nor is it probable that this
particular class was below the average in the power of perception.

SCHOOL TRAINING IN PERCEPTION.--The school can do much in training the
perception. But to accomplish this, the child must constantly be brought
into immediate contact with the physical world about him and taught to
observe. Books must not be substituted for things. Definitions must not
take the place of experiment or discovery. Geography and nature study
should be taught largely out of doors, and the lessons assigned should
take the child into the open for observation and investigation. All
things that live and grow, the sky and clouds, the sunset colors, the
brown of upturned soil, the smell of the clover field, or the new mown
hay, the sounds of a summer night, the distinguishing marks by which to
identify each family of common birds or breed of cattle--these and a
thousand other things that appeal to us from the simplest environment
afford a rich opportunity for training the perception. And he who has
learned to observe, and who is alert to the appeal of nature, has no
small part of his education already assured.

Next: Problems In Observation And Introspection

Previous: The Perception Of Time

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