A Collecting Instinct

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 At the turn of the century, some educators integrated stamp collecting practices into their classrooms because child psychologists urged them to take advantage of a child’s instinct and desire to collect. We have seen in some popular writing about collecting, generally, the activity was sometimes described as childish given that children seemed to enjoy collecting and saving many different types of natural and manufactured objects. Noted psychologist Granville Stanley Hall and his students from Clark University, pioneered the field of child psychology and researched behavior at different stages of childhood development.

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 Caroline Burk pursued the question: is there a collecting instinct in children? After surveying over 1200 children in two California cities, Burk published her findings in 1900. She found that 90 percent of the children surveyed collected something and most kept between three and four collections at a given time. Girls kept a slightly higher number of collections than boys. Stamp collections were very common with boys and girls. Burk determined that the desire to collect began as early as three years old and intensified from ages eight to ten. Influence of friends, family, and fads motivated most youngsters to collect specific types of things, and stamps were no exception. Through her findings, Burk saw potential pedagogical uses for collecting. ((G.S. Hall is probably most notable for his recognition of the need to define the period between childhood and adulthood as distinctive developmentally and called it “adolescence.” Burk was one of Hall’s students. Caroline F Burk, “The Collecting Instinct,” Pedagogical Seminary 7 (1900): 179–207. G. Stanley Hall and Theodate L. Smith eds., Aspects of Child Life and Education (Boston: Ginn, 1907), vii. ))

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 Burk’s study was quite influential. Normal school psychology textbooks included sections on understanding the collecting instinct in children, citing Burk’s findings. Textbook authors, some psychologists themselves, championed collecting in classrooms. Specific pursuits, like stamp collecting, fostered “the scientific attitude of the mind” by encouraging classification, organization, and arrangement. It was argued that this instinct would lead students to organize historical events in chronological order and recognize national heroes. ((Burk, “The Collecting Instinct.”; Elizabeth Howe, “Can the Collecting Instinct Be Utilized in Teaching?,” The Elementary School Teacher 6, no. 9 (May 1906): 466–71; Lawrence Augustus Averill, Psychology for Normal Schools (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1921), 51–7; and William D. Johnston, “The Acquisitive Instinct in Children as an Educational Stimulus,” Science, New Series 54, no. 1409 (December 30, 1921): 662–63. Other studies of collecting habits in youth include: E. Leigh Mudge, “Girls’ Collections,” Pedagogical Seminary 25 (1918): 319; and William Estabrook Chancellor, Our Schools, Their Administration and Supervision (Boston: D. C. Heath & Co, 1904), 189.)) Not only did many educators believe that a collecting instinct existed, but that the practice of collecting stamps taught students how to read and interpret the signs embedded in the designs.

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 Additional research that followed in the late 1920s and early 1930s challenged Burk’s findings by proposing that collecting habits reflected social environments and could be indicative of problematic behaviors. In contrast to Burk, psychologists Harvey C. Lehman and Paul A. Witty found that only 10 percent of children collected anything in Kansas towns and cities during 1925. They also collected interesting data that illuminated gender, regional, and demographic differences and concluded that collecting might be a fad and not an instinct inherent to all children. By the 1930s, Lehman and Witty’s research reflected anxiety about the population shifts to urban areas as they found rural children were more likely to maintain collections than their urban counterparts. Unlike advocates of the playground movement who prized an idealized vision of rural play that associations attempted to replicate in large towns and cities, Lehman and Witty believed their data provided some evidence that the isolation of rural living promoted individualism which adversely prepared young Americans for modern life. Alluding to notions that American farmers were uncooperative politically, Lehman and Witty maintained that farmers’ children needed to learn cooperation and socialization—skills the urban-based psychologists assumed these children lacked—through participation in team activities at school. ((M. T. Whitley, “Children’s Interest in Collecting,” Journal of Educational Psychology 20 (1929): 249–61. Paul A. and Harvey C. Lehman Witty, “Further Studies of Children’s Interest in Collecting,” Journal of Educational Psychology 21 (1930): 112-127; Paul A. and Harvey C. Lehman Witty, “Sex Differences: Collecting Interests,” Journal of Educational Psychology 22 (1931): 221–28; Paul A. and Harvey C. Lehman Witty, “The Collecting Interests of Town Children and Country Children,” Journal of Educational Psychology 24 (1933): 170–184. Here we read in Witty and Lehmann’s prose an unease with perceived differences between rural and urban life, and in their use of the term “American farmer” we do not hear an understanding of how rural African American children collect. Rather, their concern is based on a construction of the “frontiersman,” an individualist, who is of European descent, who would not be well socialized for the modern world. Cooperation is valued in the Witty and Lehmann paradigm, and but there is no understanding of farmer cooperatives.))

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 Strikingly, given that Witty and Lehman’s later research occurred during the Great Depression, they never examined economic factors (individual family income or locality averages) as influencing collecting habits. Data about the collecting activities of children were instead analyzed to speculate how collecting trends might reflect political behavior in adulthood.

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 Witty and Lehman’s research indicated a declining interest in collecting among children of all ages in the 1930s, yet we know that the sales of stamps, media attention, and philatelic activities in schools and during extra-curricular groups actually increased throughout the 1930s. Burk’s study in 1900 had already laid the groundwork for stamp collecting to be viewed as an acceptable classroom or extra-curricular activity.

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Source: https://stampingamericanmemory.org/2014version/learning-to-read-stamps/a-collecting-instinct/