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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 72.djvu/281

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277
EDUCATIONAL RECONSTRUCTION OF NATURE

catching and dogs, that Harriet Martineau was a dull child, and Seward "too stupid to learn," that Isaac Newton at twelve led his class at the foot, that Samuel Johnson was lazy, Robert Fulton a dullard, Oliver Goldsmith insufferably dull in his teacher's opinion, Byron lowest in his studies, Richard Sheridan insignificant as his teacher saw him, John Hunter slow and late to learn, Linnæus, in view of his stupidity, recommended by his pedagogue to be a cobbler, and that Dean Swift through "dullness and insufficiency," and Goethe likewise from seeming inability, forfeited their degrees.

It is not to be forgotten that the survival of the fittest is always relative to the conditions demanding adaptation and, while animals have no preference, man may exercise a choice as to the conditions to which he will adapt himself, and this is broadly the distinctively human quality. The cleverest boys in the slums of New York become the most skillful thieves. In the George Junior Republic, as we have seen, the same boys grow into the best citizens. Here environment is created and chosen by society for the boys; where it appoints them to a slum environment it produces thieves and criminals; where it gives them a rational environment out of the same material it produces first-class types.

Now society may fail to choose for itself the highest goal, which is nothing but failure to select the largest environment to which to adapt itself. It has choice of various inferior lines of growth. Then "practical" education will aim to fit the individual for most perfect adaptation to the inferior plane chosen. Man has largely inherited the animal method and only partly adopted the human. Nature has provided education for animals only in a state of stability. For change, improvement, nature has provided animals with nothing that can be called a method, for the means it uses is destruction—destruction for all who do not conform to the needs of the change, and in working cut a new adaptation, the destruction of all who stray extends over an immense period before a new state of stability is established with a new instinct to conserve it. Now this is an incredibly blundering and costly method where the individual is of any account and where the goal is of value, both of which conditions are true of man. It meets the need of animals because survival is the only thing aimed at and the "fittest" are those adapted to the prevailing conditions. The inadequacy of the principle for man and education becomes evident since the conditions demanding adaptation, if ethically low, will call for and bring out men of an inferior type and in a society of this kind the few that might seek to make their adaptation to a more universal environment, though they would be the best from the standpoint of civilization and progress, would be suppressed. But the society choosing this principle stagnates and, in the long run, retrogrades. Now the purpose of education should not be merely to fit each generation