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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 40.djvu/718

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ONE of the most serious questions of the present day is as to where and how adequate moral instruction is to be imparted to the rising generation. In the olden time there was no question as to the full responsibility of the home aided by the Church for the moral training of the child. School education was obtained with more or less difficulty, and, when a child was sent to school, the connection between school and home was close. The parent paid for the teaching, and master and parent worked as a general thing on the same moral lines. Nowadays, owing to the vast extension of popular education through the agency of the State, and the abolition of all direct payment of school fees, there is a severance of the former relation between home and school, and the moral interests of the children seem to be slipping to the ground between two stools. The State takes from the parent nearly all initiative in regard to the education of the child, and does so much that the parent is easily led to imagine that it does everything—that it teaches the principles of right conduct no less than the rules of grammar and arithmetic, and practices the young in virtue as systematically as in handwriting. How far this is from being really the case any one can learn on inquiry; but the vague assumption that it is the case, or ought to be the case if it is not, does a great deal, we are persuaded, to diminish the sense of parental responsibility.

From the side of religion many protests have been made against the present system of popular education. The clergy of the different churches can not help thinking that at least the more important doctrines of the Christian faith should be officially taught; and they draw most discouraging pictures of what the moral future of the youth of this country will be if their counsels are not heeded. All sound and successful moral teaching, they contend, must repose upon a basis of theology, and to confine ethical teaching to the region of the natural is to deprive it of all warrant, of all authority, of all coercive power. If these views were correct, it would be difficult to see how the weakness of our schools on the moral side could ever be remedied; for nothing is more certain than that any attempt to teach theology in them would be predestined failure. The people (or some people) will pay for theology in the pulpit, but they are not willing to pay for it in the schools, and have shown in most unmistakable ways that they do not want it there. The question, then, is: Shall all attempts at moral teaching in the public school be abandoned, seeing that it can not be administered as an adjunct of theology; or shall a brave effort be made to give it an independent status of its own and a fair chance to show what it can accomplish when conducted on purely natural lines? The latter is the decision that some earnest minds have come to, and we have at this moment before us a book produced for the express purpose of aiding the good cause. This work, published by Messrs. Houghton, Mifflin & Co., bears the title Conduct considered as a Fine Art, and consists of two essays written in response to a call from the American Secular Union for "the best essay, treatise, or manual adapted to aid and assist teachers in our free public schools. . . to thoroughly instruct children and youth in the purest principles of morality without inculcating religious doctrine." Mr. N. P. Gilman, who writes the first half of the book, and whose essay bears the special title of The Laws of Daily Conduct, shows very plainly how unnecessary it is in dealing with children to do more than illustrate