Richards perceived that language has to be learned, as it were, “growing through what it has been already.” “The ordering in which events take place” is decisive both for the immediate as well as the furthest consequence.

Richards saw a “close organic connection” between all phases of language development. The beginning student encounters many of the stumbling blocks that he will eventually have to face in complex literature, or indeed in anything. How parts relate to wholes, perceptual and analytical paradigms, distinguishing the similar from the same, the feelings of reward, these all sink into the “unremembered process” that began in infancy: “Tricks, traits, habits, formed earlier continue to persist and display themselves through new material. Thus certain ways of guessing at words-regardless of their companions-recur as ways of guessing at meanings-regardless again of their companions. And attendant incuriosities as to what went wrong and inabilities to consider [what went wrong] remain also. One should trace these habits to their source in childhood, when there is less clutter in the mind and when error can be dealt with preventatively. Furthermore, one should articulate a method that will start the learner off right and impress self-correcting mechanisms upon him.

Richards realized that the mistakes of pupils were compounded by mistakes of teachers and school organizations themselves. Teachers often blamed their problems on the low I.Q.’s or board scores or bad behavior of their students. Richards thought that pedagogical method and textbooks were also to blame. Frequently enough, the learner did not know what to look for in these books and was stymied by false starts and lack of logic. “Helplessness before the unintelligible,” that is Richards’ phrase, according to A.R. MacKinnon, for the “prime obstacle” to learning at both early and advanced stages. As soon as distraction and fatigue set in, the learner begins to incorporate his own errors and bad habits into performance. Learner motivation should not be something that comes and goes. It must be a constant factor, and hence it became one of Richards’ major preoccupations. His empathic understanding of the pupil’s situation is far removed from Whitehead, who said: “If it were easy, the book ought to be burned; for it cannot be educational.” This amused Richards. Modern subjects are difficult enough without adding the “wrong kinds of difficulty”-for example, “randomness,” “accidental absences of intelligibility,” and false “interest” baits that eventually prove distracting.

The essence of Richards on the learning process concentrates itself into a single principle of “preparation” or “growth”: “we learn through what we have learned,” with the corollary and how we have learned it. Behind this principle lies Coleridge’s concept of “progressive transition” from the theory of method; but also the evolutionism, organicism, and vitalism in nineteenth and early twentieth-century science and theories of culture. In essay after essay Richards speaks of the essentially “organic” nature of his programs: “what follows depends on what has come before and in turn protects, confirms it, and illuminates it. With the principle of preparation, it is easy to see why his practical emphasis fell on the earlier stages of the learning programs. Here the pupil is at his most helpless, having to make all sorts of intellectual and imaginative leaps in quick succession to find a way in: here he is most in need of exact guidance. But he is possibly at his most interested in these stages, and one should not fail to capitalize on this interest. The pupil could overcome difficulties with a high probability of success if the design inculcates lessons of intellectual acumen and logical choice at the same time as it presents the actual content to be learned.

What kind of lessons? Essentially the kind that can be demonstrated in and through language: perceptual and intellectual comparison, analogy, opposition, ordering. Richards was always most concerned with the modes by which language organizes, and is organized by, intellectual processes and represents outer reality. A given utterance, language, thought, and reality were orders of increasing complexity: “What can be encoded [in a given utterance] is a selection only from the resources of language (which again makes its selection from the larger resources of thought.) Learning to read, and write, or learning another language, gives the pupil a second or third chance to review the ways and means governing the selection and organization of thought. Ideally, the pupil annexes a “power of control and check” upon his mental habits and gains a new means of examining and comparing them. He reviews “at another tempo and in another form and for the first time the miracles he has been accomplishing fleetingly in speech.”

The central principle of preparation and five practical rules directed approach to both endeavors: economy, intelligibility, sequencing, contiguity programming, and audio-visual interplay.