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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 61.djvu/178

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POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

closed at birth or soon thereafter, the creature can learn but little. So long as the brain is kept plastic, permitting the formation of new associations, there is room for intellectual progress. We have thus a psychological justification for the artificial extension of babyhood, but possibly the college senior at the age of twenty-three has been kept too long in this condition. Certain sensori-motor arcs should be early closed and certain associations definitely formed, or we shall never have the expert; but certain other paths must be kept open or the result will be a machine.

We begin as a matter of fact by teaching the child, supposing it to have escaped the snares of the kindergarten, certain strictly utilitarian studies—the three E's. Under a poorly paid and partially educated woman, we place a flock of children. They sit silent and cramped when movement is essential, not only for bodily health but also for the formation of ideas; they are crowded into an unhealthful room when all out-of-doors surrounds it; the individual child is as far as possible reduced to the average child; in six or eight hours a day for six or eight years the child laboriously acquires certain technical knowledge, the surviving part of which could probably be got in two hours a day during two years. Then in the high school, the youth perhaps takes up Latin, Greek, French and German, while decent English remains a foreign language; text-books in mathematics are arranged for the suppression of thought, and if science is taught it is made as remote as possible from human experience. At the age of eighteen or nineteen the boy has put on the quantity of cerebral fat which, when duly measured by the college entrance examination board for the Middle States and Maryland or some other automatic weighing machine, admits him to college. Here his physical and social environment is suddenly changed, but he finds himself pursuing the secondary studies of the preparatory school—more Latin, Greek, elementary mathematics and English composition—usually under immature tutors. Later in his course, he is allowed to elect miscellaneously, and his daily program may have some resemblance to that of a vaudeville performance. Then finally at the age of twenty-two or three those who stick to the educational system enter the professional schools and go to work in earnest, with no time for culture or research; while a few students prepare to be teachers and are encouraged to undertake independent investigation under the faculty of philosophy.

Mere criticism is nihilistic, and no sensible person would wish to alter suddenly an educational system that has slowly grown. The fact of its existence is evidence that it is the best we can do, but by no means proof that it is the best we shall do. I have no idea what a century will bring, but it is reasonable to assume that there are certain things that it will take. Ten years of age is early enough to begin