Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 37.djvu/136

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

and traditions are taught where truth should be explored. We have large and influential schools decrying the use of reason, and we have millions of people to-day trying to think true what their common sense tells them is not true. All this does not make for the world's peace or stability. It will not be really well with society until men generally are brought to recognize that there is such a thing as truth, and that its claims upon them are paramount. Our systems of education need to be revolutionized. When a young person leaves school or college nowadays, do we expect to find that his or her judgment has been developed in practical things? Do we expect to find a keen sense of what is true, a quickness in distinguishing shams from realities, and a well-established habit of yielding, upon all disputed questions, to the greater weight of evidence? Nothing of the kind. We look for a little knowledge of arithmetic and mathematics generally, a modicum of geography and grammar, a smattering of literature, a few confused notions of natural science, a discontinuous skeleton of historical knowledge, and not much else. The judgment has not been trained, the sense of truth has not been trained, nor has any insight worth mentioning been given into the realities of life and duty. We do not blame the teaching fraternity for this; society as a whole is responsible. The want of interest in truth as truth, the lack of perception of its importance, is a broad social characteristic of the time, and floods the schools just as it floods the market-place, the press, and the pulpit. But, while we do not in any special manner blame the teaching profession, we feel like summoning all serious men to consider whether a very decided and vigorous effort should not be made to place our schools upon a higher level in this respect. No one can doubt that, if our minds were set upon it, a simple gymnastic might be devised which would, from the outset, train childish minds in the perception of truth and lead them on from stage to stage in the acquisition, not of sham but of real knowledge. A child in course of education should never be removed from actual contact with the world about him. He should be made to feel that every general rule given to him is merely a summary expression of a number of concrete examples. He should be early familiarized with the method of proof, and in every possible way encouraged to ask for proofs. He should be made to realize the activity of his own senses; to feel that knowledge is coming to him through those avenues; and that, only as it so comes, is it entitled to be considered real knowledge.

Such a system of education as we have hinted at would banish the intellectual poverty and squalor of our time; and this could not be done without an immense improvement of general social conditions. The sentimentalists of our day bestow a huge amount of sympathy upon the victims of poor wages; but they do not grieve as they might over the victims of poor thoughts and disordered imaginations. The dust and dirt heaps that obstruct the entrance to thousands of minds are not visible as material masses; but they are there all the same, and the injury they cause is greater than any due to mere limitation of material conditions. The land is full of delusions, and scarcely anywhere do we see any clear consciousness of the grand possibility open to the human race of co-operating in the discovery and application of truth, including, of course, and in the first place, the laws of social well-being. We too readily resign ourselves to the idea that men's opinions must differ by the whole circle of possible thought, and that a common standard of truth is unattainable. Well might the reproach be launched against this generation, "O ye of little faith!" Amid the manifold and ever-widening discoveries of science we resign ourselves to intellectual chaos, as if there were no common heritage of truth for us all, or as if human minds