Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 78.djvu/58

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hastily draw the inference that the mere acquisition of a similar store will bring out identical mental traits in other individuals irrespective of their mental capacity. This point of view has unfortunately given rise to an excessive faith in the special potency of certain kinds of knowledge, and has engendered a sentimental belief in the educational value of first one and then another subject. As a matter of fact, experiences teach us there is only one kind of knowledge and one way of acquiring it. The general tendency of educators to prescribe definite mental tasks in order to increase the efficiency of an organ whose functions they have never seriously studied is analogous to the practise of the physicians of the old school with their inordinate faith in the specific power of a large number of drugs to cure diseases. There is no reason for supposing that a professor of Greek or chemistry should be more capable of estimating the capacity of an individual student's brain than there was for the barbers in the reign of Henry the Eighth assuming that they possessed sufficient knowledge of the anatomy of the human body to entitle them to perform the duties of general surgeons.

No matter how much intelligent persons may differ in their expressions of belief as to the relative merits of educational systems, there is a general agreement as to the nature of the distinctive differences between past and present systems; the former laying stress upon the character of the information gained, the latter emphasizing the importance of the mental habits acquired. The results aimed at by modern education have been well defined by Ex-President Eliot as "an initiation of mental processes and the establishment of good mental habits, with incidental acquisition of information"; and according to President Lowell "the essence of a liberal education consists in an attitude of mind." From this it may be seen that the importance of good mental habits or, if we choose to express the same idea physiologically, of a well-balanced brain is an essential factor in the pursuit of culture; for although we may get to know the best which has been thought and said in the world, we must still have the power "to turn a stream of fresh and free thought upon our stock notions and habits." If we start out from this physiological point of departure the absurdity and irrelevancy of much of the talk at the present time as to what should and should not be taught in the universities is apparent. When an individual has acquired bad habits of eating, bolts his food and develops symptoms of acute indigestion, he is not generally advised to eat more, but is told to learn how to chew and to eat less. Most of the boys who enter the universities have suffered from one or more attacks of mental dyspepsia; through no fault of their own they have acquired bad mental habits, and nature has made an attempt to readjust their mental balance by giving them a distaste for more food. But, in order to sell the