Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 29.djvu/716

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
698
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

EDITOR'S TABLE.

 

MORAL TEACHING IN THE PUBLIC SCHOOLS.

THE reason most frequently given for the introduction of more or less of theological doctrine into public school-teaching is that, without this, there can be no effective teaching of morality. The Roman Catholic Church has always urged this point very strongly; and other communions, if less definite in their claims, have in general shown a disposition to give the teaching of morals in the public schools a distinctly theological basis. The question should, therefore, be fairly met, whether morals can be taught apart from theology. If they can not, then there is only one thing for state-directed schools to do, and that is, to leave the whole subject alone; seeing that the teaching of a privileged and undemonstrable theology in such establishments is something the people as a whole will never consent to—something, indeed, entirely inconsistent with the most elementary notions of intellectual freedom.

By morals we understand the science or art of human conduct—the science, when studied theoretically; the art, when practically applied. We believe that the end of conduct is the promotion of happiness in the widest sense. Happiness is the end that every individual instinctively seeks; and happiness is the only end that the philosopher can discover, toward which conduct in general can be directed. Happiness, again, if a definition of it must be had, can only be understood as fullness and harmony of life; and the things, therefore, that tend to render life full and harmonious are the things that tend to happiness, and the things consequently that morality, as a science, should teach. But life is essentially a thing of relations, and of ever-multiplying relations as it grows in complexity. No human being can be understood apart from his relations to the social organism to which he belongs. As well, to use Mr. Spencer's illustration, try to understand a human arm severed from the body and without reference to, or knowledge of, the body as a whole. The harmony of individual life is consequently, in the main, a matter of adjustment to its social environment. Only through society does the individual gain a true knowledge of, or empire over, himself. Only through society does he discover his true destination in the performance of social (including domestic) duties and the enjoyment of social privileges. Only through society are his thoughts so far widened as to enable him to take a rational view of the universe, unobscured by personal illusions and undisturbed by superstition. The action of mind upon mind and the shock of opinion upon opinion are the guarantees at once of our intellectual liberty and of! our mental sanity.

Now, we wholly fail to see why morality as the science of human duties, themselves considered as the foundation, the essential condition (demonstrably so) of human happiness, could not be taught very efficiently and satisfactorily in our public schools, without any reference to supramundane facts or theories. What we all have to do is to adapt ourselves to the conditions of life here; and some respectable theologians are to be found who hold that, if we succeed in doing that, we shall occupy a very good position for entering on any future life that may await us. Be that as it may, the business of adapting ourselves to our earthly environment is one that depends on a knowledge of mundane truths. Let our school--