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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 49.djvu/508

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POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

at work in modern society tend to produce average men. What the reform does attempt is simply this—to bring the educational process once more into harmony with the Zeit-Geist. Its office is to sweep away customs and practices that were never wise, and to transform those which, were founded in right reason into more modern and available form. This is all that can be done—is perhaps all that it is desirable to do. No single reform can be very sweeping, for observe, it is to operate upon a set of conditions of which it is itself a product. Hence it is that the reforms which are the most far-reaching in their results come from outside, are forced upon our institutions and enterprises by those who stand themselves outside of the movement. In our education we have precisely the same spectacle, a curious one surely, if it were not for this explanation. The movements which are to-day innovations, and which are looked upon by many of us as reforms, have such an outside origin. The kindergarten, sloyd, manual training, science lessons, and nearly all the features that distinguish the newer education, have not sprung up within the curriculum of the school. They have forced themselves into the school from without, and often after a very long struggle. These readjustments are made only at the cost of considerable opposition and heartburn. They are the efforts to bring the spirit from the past into the present. It is the attitude of mind which says, I am, not I was.

Looking at the schools in this way, you will perhaps agree with me that nothing we do in them is in itself commendable, but is only commendable as it serves some desirable end. Good and bad are relative terms. Schools are good or bad in no absolute sense, but solely in relation to the ends which they serve. Schools which were very good a quarter of a century ago might be relatively bad at the present time. Bear in mind that the school is a tool, a process, a means, is in no sense an end.

As a tool, we can judge the modern school only by the manner in which it does its work. And this makes necessary a clear understanding of the work it is to do. It is here that we need that clearness of expression of which I have been speaking. There is no end to-day of discussion on educational topics. We are all reading papers or giving little talks. We come pretty near to realizing Joubert's famous saying, "It is better to discuss a question without settling it than to settle it without discussing it." But meanwhile the schools must go on, even though the discussion come to no conclusion. This multiplicity of discussion serves at least one good purpose. It directs public attention to the gravity of the problem of education. And yet it seems to me that much of the discussion is idle, and must from its very nature continue to be so. The weakness lies in this, that it is for the most part a discussion of methods and of minor riddles. It is not