Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 4.djvu/14

This page has been validated.

University of Cambridge: "I conclude, then," says Mr. W. G. Clark, "that the first subject of study must be the same for all, and that it is no valid objection to any subject to affirm that it is dry and distasteful, but, on the contrary, a strong recommendation. It cannot be denied that this condition is amply satisfied by the Latin accidence, as exhibited in our time-honored and much-abused text-books. . . . The question arises where, besides the Latin grammar, we can find any other subject equally dry, and by consequence as powerfully tonic to the juvenile mind, which recommends itself as deserving in lieu thereof to form the basis of education by its general applicability and greater fertility of after-results. Except the Greek language, which, from its intimate connection with the Latin in structure and literature, is a necessary complement to it, and not a possible substitute for it, I know of none."[1]

Here we have the very essence of what I have denominated the grindstone-theory. I think that a truer philosophy has exploded these fallacies, and well-nigh obliterated that artificial line of distinction between studies for use and studies for discipline. True education remains and must remain forever a discipline; but juster views in regard to the nature of the youthful mind are beginning to show us that that discipline is of the nature of a nutritive rather than a curative process, and that the disgust felt by the recipient for the means employed is no measure of their disciplinary value. We are discovering that the idea of discipline inheres not in the nature of certain particular subjects, distinguishing them from all others which are non-disciplinary and merely utilitarian, but in the right method of teaching all subjects; and the question, whether at any particular period or stage of progress a subject is to be used for purposes of mental discipline, depends not at all upon the question whether it belongs to one or the other of two imaginary classes, the disciplinary and the non-disciplinary, but upon the quite different questions whether the study is valuable in itself, and whether it is suited to that particular stage of the pupil's mental progress. If so, and if rightly taught, it will then be sure to be the right discipline.

This change in our education-philosophy has brought with it a corresponding change in our scale and estimate of the relative value of various studies as the instruments and materials of education; and, I think, we have almost heard the last of the doctrine that abstract grammar and abstract mathematics are the divinely-appointed whetstones and sharpeners of the youthful mind, and hence of the system which makes a compulsory study of the Greek and Latin languages the only gate of admission to the privileges of the higher education. In place of that very simple but most unphilosophical doctrine, I trust that a truer psychology is providing us with a course of liberal study, based upon correcter notions in regard to the laws of mental develop-

  1. "Cambridge Essays," for 1855.