The first stage is called "Romance." In this stage the student is allowed to enjoy a sense of adventure as he or she explores what a subject might have to offer. Here the student browses independently in the new material, finding for himself or herself where the points of relevance are. In a sense, the stage of Romance is the stage of research without strict criteria. The student researches the subject simply for the purpose of getting a general knowledge of the groundwork of fact and theory, keeping a sense of wonder and interest in the newness. The Romance stage really depends, as does its counterpart Generalization, on chance flashes of insight. The student makes contact with points of information if they arouse interest.
But this interest will not sustain him or her indefinitely in the "adventure." Before long the student’s natural craving for development will lead to the desire to know more about the subject. Romance recedes into the background and the student proceeds to the second stage called Precision. The stage is dominated by two considerations: the student needs to know what the relevant details of the subject are (what is the symbol for Radium, when did the Greeks win Battle of Marathon) and the teacher has a need to transfer to the student the cumulated (and relevant) knowledge of the subject. There is, wisdom tells us, no need to reinvent the wheel in every generation. So in the second stage of Whitehead’s rhythms, the "facts" are conveyed, with more or less inclination to dogmatism according to teacher style. Unfortunately this stage is the one which predominates in modern secondary education today. It is extremely difficult for a teacher to take the entire class down the path to Precision without dulling interest. Initiative and training are both essential, but too much of the latter kills the former quickly.
The Transition to Precision
Yet, if done correctly, the freedom of the first stage and the discipline of the second stage should complement, not antagonize, each other. The teacher should, in the best possible pedagogical world, make the transition from Romance to Precision pass almost without notice. The challenge is to have the student commit to memory theorems or grammar rules or history facts or piano scales using his or her interest, not eradicating it. This formidable task is accomplished by the "resonance of the teacher’s personality" (AE 39). As the student’s interest begins to wane before the spectacle of so much new detail, the enthusiasm of the teacher for the subject should carry the stimulation along. The detailed knowledge of the Precision stage is kept from being "inert" because the student tests it against the knowledge learned in the Romance stage and against the background knowledge he or she brought to the subject originally. Perhaps the major failure in secondary school (where the Precision stage is most in evidence) is that of overlooking the fact that knowledge is being thrown into fresh combinations in the minds of students.
The last stage is a return, in a sense, to the adventurous cycle of Romance. Here the student allows the details to retreat from his or her total attention and emerges in the stage of Freedom or Generalization to apply the new knowledge actively. The student’s mind responds to the richness of illustration and general truth of the Precision stage and in response to a "natural" progression it seeks fruition of the effort in the Freedom stage. The teacher has begun by evoking initiative and ends by encouraging it. Always, as in all of Whitehead’s philosophy, there is a feeling of movement. No entity, student or item of fact, can claim completeness, it is always moving into a relationship which defines it somewhat differently. The teacher watches and guides the movement’s speed:
Moving To and Fro: The Rhythm of Education
"The developing personality has a natural sway, to and fro, which Whitehead says results in a "craving" to be continually refreshed by the experience of starting anew. When a student approaches a new subject he or she has, at first, a general apprehension of its vague possibilities. We recall Whitehead’s "mental furniture" which he says the student brings to the subject. Secondly the student proceeds to mastery of the relevant details; finally he or she puts together the whole subject in the light of relevant knowledge. The movement of the student’s developing mentality is but one example of the "way of rhythm that pervades all life"