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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 18.djvu/686

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

immigration, whose heterogeneity tends to counteract the unifying influence of our education. This, however, can not always last, and we shall hope in vain if we hope to escape the effects of those influences which are shaping the destinies of other nations. True, we permit parents to educate their own children, but at the same time we tax them to support the education of all; and we shall find but few who are able and still fewer who are willing to pay others to educate their children and then do it themselves. So our system is virtually a prohibition upon all private schools.

Nor has America entirely escaped the dwarfing influence of such a system. A recent writer says that while the percentage of college graduates is rapidly increasing, strange as it may seem, the percentage of college-bred men in public positions is decreasing. This, however, does not show that we as Americans are slow to recognize ability, for in no other country is true merit so sure to be rewarded; but I believe it does show that our education has a tendency to unfit men for the practical affairs of life. The demand is not for cultured minds filled with facts tumbling over each other in the dark, but for minds trained to independent thought. The question is repeated more and more emphatically, not what do you know, but what can you do? Every vocation of life is crying itself hoarse for men—men with the intellectual audacity to think and the moral courage to do.

It is the tendency of state education to make all intellectually alike, by urging the slow and restraining the fast, by giving a surface polish to the dull and bedimming the brilliant. Its tendency is to crush genius and enthrone mediocrity. It is the great leveling influence of modern times. This procrustean system binds its tender victims upon its inexorable bedstead of iron, and if found too short it cruelly attempts to stretch them out, until not unfrequently the brittle thread of life itself is broken in the effort; and if, when placed upon it, they perchance extend beyond its limits, they are as remorselessly trimmed down to the required standard.

Fortunately for mankind, some of the great minds of the age escaped the influence of popular education. When at the age of fourteen Henry Thomas Buckle won his first prize, his parents asked him to name anything he chose as an additional reward, and, with his wonderful precocity, he asked to be removed from public school. His request was granted, and who that has read his "History of Civilization" can doubt the wisdom of his choice? Herbert Spencer, any one of whose numerous volumes would place him in the first rank, not only as a student of human nature but also as a philosopher and man of letters, was never at public school. John Stuart Mill, than whom England has never produced a greater, who united in one mind the wisdom of the ancients and the learning of the moderns, who was at once an Aristotle and a Bacon, who was not only a profound philosopher but also a practical man of affairs, was singularly exempt from the influ-