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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 18.djvu/684

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

charmed with the beauties of Homer and Virgil, but deficient in the elements of political economy; able to compute the distance of the sun, but incapable of explaining our system of national currency! Take, if you will, the curricula of the high schools, colleges, and universities of the land, and compute the percentage of studies found there that are calculated to make competent members of the commonwealth! And yet this is the boasted system of education upon which we are told the perpetuity of our government depends!

It now becomes necessary to apply to education our second test, namely: Can it be done more efficiently by the state than by individual effort? Many, no doubt, who are ready to accept the conclusions already reached on the subject of special education, will still be inclined to think that general instruction should be at the expense and under the control of the state. But, before we attempt to decide by what agency we can best attain a certain object, it is necessary that we should have a well-defined idea of that object. What, then, is the true object of education? It is, if I mistake not, to aid Nature in perfecting the individual. Its aim should be to promote, not to destroy, individuality. Its object is human development, but, in the language of Von Humboldt, it is human development in its richest diversity.

The great poet Goethe saw and the naturalist Von Baer formulated the truth that in all organic life development consists of a change from a state of homogeneity to a state of heterogeneity; that, as we ascend the scale of animal life, there is a gradual transition from the like to the unlike, from unity to diversity. The social organism is no exception to this general law, and so we find among savages a marked similarity in costume, food, habits of life and in opinions. But as we ascend the scale of civilization we find fewer universal habits and still fewer universal opinions. Indeed, it has been shown that those opinions which are universal usually date back to the childhood of the race, and hence are usually false. Then social as well as physical development is a change from the homogeneous to the heterogeneous. But all history shows that nations as well as individuals have not only a period of youth and of manhood, but also a period of decay and of death. What is the cause of this fatal event which nations like individuals have sought, but sought in vain, to evade? Where does this retrograde movement begin? Nations decline because the conditions of their development are reversed; and decay begins just at that point at which the tendency to heterogeneity is exchanged for the tendency to homogeneity—at that point at which the people cease to become more diversified and begin to become more and more alike. There is in the development of nations a unanimity of savagery, a diversity of progress, and again a unanimity of stagnation. In view of these facts it becomes the duty of the educator to give full scope to the individual, and to encourage rather than restrain the peculiarities of the young.

If these propositions be true, it is, then, by no means clear that the