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Training In Association

Since association is at bottom nothing but habit at work in the mental

processes, it follows that it, like other forms of habit, can be

encouraged or suppressed by training. Certainly, no part of one's

education is of greater importance than the character of his

associations. For upon these will largely depend not alone the content

of his mental stream, the stuff of his thinking, but also its

organization, or the use m
de of the thought material at hand. In

fact, the whole science of education rests on the laws and principles

involved in setting up right systems of associative connections in the


THE PLEASURE-PAIN MOTIVE IN ASSOCIATION.--A general law seems to obtain

throughout the animal world that associative responses accompanied by

pleasure tend to persist and grow stronger, while those accompanied by

pain tend to weaken and fall away. The little child of two years may not

understand the gravity of the offense in tearing the leaves out of

books, but if its hands are sharply spatted whenever they tear a book,

the association between the sight of books and tearing them will soon

cease. In fact, all punishment should have for its object the use of

pain in the breaking of associative bonds between certain situations and

wrong responses to them.

On the other hand, the dog that is being trained to perform his tricks

is rewarded with a tidbit or a pat when the right response has been

made. In this way the bond for this particular act is strengthened

through the use of pleasure. All matter studied and learned under the

stimulus of good feeling, enthusiasm, or a pleasurable sense of victory

and achievement not only tends to set up more permanent and valuable

associations than if learned under opposite conditions, but it also

exerts a stronger appeal to our interest and appreciation.

The influence of mental attitude on the matter we study raises a

question as to the wisdom of assigning the committing of poetry, or

Bible verses, or the reading of so many pages of a literary masterpiece

as a punishment for some offense. How many of us have carried away

associations of dislike and bitterness toward some gem of verse or prose

or Scripture because of having our learning of it linked up with the

thought of an imposed task set as penance for wrong-doing! One person

tells me that to this day she hates the sight of Tennyson because this

was the volume from which she was assigned many pages to commit in

atonement for her youthful delinquencies.

INTEREST AS A BASIS FOR ASSOCIATION.--Associations established under the

stimulus of strong interest are relatively broad and permanent, while

those formed with interest flagging are more narrow and of doubtful

permanence. This statement is, of course, but a particular application

of the law of attention. Interest brings the whole self into action.

Under its urging the mind is active and alert. The new facts learned are

completely registered, and are assimilated to other facts to which they

are related. Many associative connections are formed, hence the new

matter is more certain of recall, and possesses more significance and


ASSOCIATION AND METHODS OF LEARNING.--The number and quality of our

associations depends in no small degree on our methods of learning. We

may be satisfied merely to impress what we learn on our memory,

committing it uncritically as so many facts to be stored away as a part

of our education. We may go a step beyond this and grasp the simplest

and most obvious meanings, but not seek for the deeper and more

fundamental relations. We may learn separate sections or divisions of a

subject, accepting each as a more or less complete unit, without

connecting these sections and divisions into a logical whole.

But all such methods are a mistake. They do not provide for the

associative bonds between the various facts or groups of facts in our

knowledge, without which our facts are in danger of becoming but so much

lumber in the mind. Meanings, relations, definitely recognized

associations, should attach to all that we learn. Better far a smaller

amount of usable knowledge than any quantity of unorganized and

undigested information, even if the latter sometimes allows us to pass

examinations and receive honor grades. In short, real mastery demands

that we think, that is relate and associate, instead of merely

absorbing as we learn.