Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 23.djvu/220

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cially to education, they have become organized into a system which is gradually growing settled and unified in its methods. With unbounded means and unlimited authority, these schools have undertaken to form the mental habits of the great mass of the youth of this country. They prescribe the subjects of study, the modes of study, and the extent and duration of studies for all the pupils that come under their charge. The sphere of their operations is, moreover, steadily extending. They are everywhere encroaching upon the province of higher education, everywhere trenching upon private schools, and diminishing the interest in home education.

It may be assumed that the time has fully come when this system must be measured by the standards of science, and approved or condemned by the degree of its conformity to what these standards require. Science has become in modern times the great agency of human amelioration, the triumphs of which are seen on every hand and felt in all experience. Grave subjects are brought successively under its renovating and reconstructive influence; and latest and most important among them is the subject of education. Our inquiry now is how far the public-school system has availed itself of the valuable aid that science offers in the proper cultivation of the minds of the young.

The interest and necessity of such an investigation will hardly be denied; but there may be a query as to its relevancy to the appropriate work of this society. The making of science popular was not among the objects for which our Association was formed. Not that its founders were unmindful of the importance of widely diffusing the results of research; but they recognized that the interests of science are so vast as to be only efficiently promoted by division of labor. Under the operation of this principle it was made the distinctive purpose of the Association to contribute to the extension of original science by the discovery of new scientific truth, leaving its dissemination to the schools, the press, and the various agencies of public enlightenment. Nor does your committee understand that it is now proposed to depart from this policy; for the inquiry before us is really most pertinent to our special objects. It certainly can not be a matter of indifference to this body, from its own point of view, how science is dealt with in the great system of schools which has undertaken the task of molding the youthful mind of the country. We aim to advance science by the promotion of original investigation, which depends upon men prepared for the work. Do the schools of the nation, by their modes of scientific study, favor or hinder this object? Do they foster the early mental tendencies that lead to original thought; or do they thwart and repress them? We have an undoubted concern in this matter, and it is, moreover, strictly identical with that of the community at large; for there can be no better test than this of the real character of the school system. When we ask whether a mode