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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 72.djvu/283

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279
EDUCATIONAL RECONSTRUCTION OF NATURE

one, is that of which we have just been speaking, and which we may call suggestive variation. The world is moving with constantly accelerated velocity, not merely because we have more information to-day than yesterday, but because what we know means more to us, and this alchemistic power of getting out of facts something not superficially visible in them is mind's contribution to progress. Now education has never appreciated the importance of variation in human society and for that reason has never set itself to develop it. The very capacity for variation, implying as it does a certain flexibility, facilitates ready adaptation in the individual, and its suggestive influence on society promotes adaptation in others. The means, of course, by which this influence becomes effective is speaking and writing. The function of education here is to develop a mental attitude that is friendly to variation, and to train to rightly see and interpret relations. There seems to be an impression that if we just give a child or a man information enough he will at some time and in some way—though we are never told just when or how—learn to apply it to the problems of life. But the facts do not justify this view. The astonishing velocity with which science and industry are moving to-day calls for correspondingly rapid adjustment, and owing to defective principles of education we are unable to meet the demand. This is the reason for the conflict between labor and capital. Industry has advanced so fast that instinctive society could not keep up with it. Not educated to vary flexibly we can not adjust ourselves in time to new conditions. We are confused and baffled by them. The intellectual element enters into human adaptations, and the more rapid the change the more conscious and purposive must adjustment become. Fitting for this adjustment belongs peculiarly to education. But here we fail. We have given too narrow an interpretation to education. Our narrow theory regards it as a preparation to adapt ourselves to a certain set of conditions, i.e., those found existing. The result is intellectual rigidity and obstinate resistance to evolution. The mental processes, moulded in certain mechanical forms of activity, find hardship in readjustment when conditions change, and, as we have seen, change is the rule to-day. Here, again, we are adhering too closely to the animal method, where movement is slow and rapid adaptation is not expected. Education should seek to develop a mental plasticity, a capacity for understanding and getting control of new situations and for making them.

To-day the great changes are social. Evolutionary conditions are pressing us toward a fundamental reconstruction of society. The reconstruction is a profound social variation. Education—that is to say, those who have the magnificent educational equipment of the nation in charge—should have foreseen this and made the new generation of youths ready for it, should have prepared them to recognize