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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 72.djvu/280

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POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

they had no part. Theirs is merely to adapt. Man, on the other hand, may assist in bringing about conditions amid which the next generation will live. As adaptation is as much a human as an animal characteristic, the importance of the environment becomes evident, especially when we remember that in man no less than in the lower animals those qualities are selected for survival that best fit the conditions. Alfred Russel Wallace has given a splendid illustration of this in his "Malay Archipelago." He wrote:

There are now nearly five hundred people in Dobbo, of various races, all met in this remote corner of the east, as they express it, "to look for their fortune," to get money any way they can. They are most of them people who have the very worst reputation for honesty, as well as every other form of morality—Chinese, Bugis, Ceramese, and half-caste Javanese, with a sprinkling of half-wild Papuans from Timor, Babber and other islands—yet all goes as yet very quietly. This motley, ignorant, blood-thirsty, thievish population live here without the shadow of a government, with no police, no court and no lawyers; yet they do not cut each other's throats, do not plunder each other night and day, do not fall into the anarchy such a state of things might be supposed to lead to. It is very extraordinary!. . . Trade is the magic that keeps all at peace and unites these discordant elements into a well-behaved community.[1]

The power to modify environment gives man possibilities not possessed by any of the other animals, but it adds vastly to his social responsibility in education. The environment is put upon the lower animals as it were from overhead, and they are left no choice but adaptation or extinction, but man may make his own environment, and in this way break a trail for progress.

The difficulty in applying the principle of natural selection to education is that we do not intelligently determine who are the fittest. In nature the conditions demanding adaptation are comparatively simple and definite. This is true also of primitive man, and, indeed, quite largely of early civilized society. But the enormous enlargement of human interests dims our vision. In one respect the lower animals have the advantage of us in their instinctive educational methods. Their teachers are never troubled by doubts concerning the ability of their pupils. All receive equally careful training for life. They do not prejudice the future of any by an adverse verdict so early in life that the best in them may not yet have appeared. They train all in the best way for success, which in their case means survival, and then leave the final decision to natural selection. The conclusion of one of England's foremost statisticians that the senior wrangler has twenty-five times the innate ability of the lowest on the honor list, because in one year the former obtained 7,500 credits to 300 of the latter, is one of the humorous results of the so-called scientific method of investigation. Against the hallucination of such measurements let us remember that Darwin's father prognosticated that he would disgrace his family because he cared for nothing but shooting, rat-


  1. Loc. cit., p. 443.