Popular Science Monthly/Volume 27/September 1885/Editor's Table

EDITOR'S TABLE.

 
SCIENCE VERSUS IMMORALITY.

SELDOM has the moral sentiment of the civilized world received so severe a shock as it has done in connection with the revelations which a prominent London newspaper has made, within the last couple of months, of the gross and inhuman vices practiced in the metropolis of the British Empire. One of the worst features in the case is the fact that the enormities referred to have been committed, not by the "dregs of the population," as that expression is commonly understood, but by men of wealth and social station. "Gentlemen" (!) of education (save the mark!) and leisure have employed, annually, in the corruption of female youth and childhood, sums that would have afforded decent maintenance to numbers of poor families. Men whose own condition of life had been made in every way desirable, so far as money could accomplish that object, have found nothing better to do than to employ their means in spreading moral contagion and destruction among the families of the poor. Men who boast the name of Englishmen have thought it not beneath them to trade in the souls and bodies of unfortunate children. England, as a nation, struck the manacles from the hands of her negro slaves over fifty years ago; but some Englishmen to-day, belonging to the most favored social class, do not hesitate to practice, upon weaker members of their own race, crimes worse than those which made slavery a hissing and an abomination among the civilized races of mankind.

It is needless, however, to dwell further on the facts. Words can but feebly express the shame and horror that they involve. "What we may do with advantage is to consider whence such evils spring, and what is their most effectual remedy.

As regards the unhappy victims of the rich man's lust, there is an economic side to the problem which is doubtless difficult to deal with. That the pressure of life should be so hard upon some, as to render the path of virtue one almost impossible to tread, is in itself an evil of the first magnitude, and one which a more fully developed economic science must some day grapple with. The efforts at present being made, under the guidance of a purely sentimental impulse, to provide improved dwellings for the poor, and in other ways to force on them higher modes of living, we do not, we must confess, regard as very hopeful. It is seldom that the state succeeds in paying Peter without robbing Paul, or in closing the door to one social abuse without opening it to another and perchance a greater. The economic problem, however, is not the only one to consider, nor is it perhaps the most important. The educational problem demands equal and more immediate attention, seeing that the knowledge necessary for its solution is immediately available. As every one is aware, a vast amount has been done for popular education in England within the last fifteen years; yet it is precisely the children who have been growing up during the last fifteen years who are furnishing prey for the "Minotaurs" and other scoundrels of the metropolis. The theory of state education is that the state is bound to see that its juvenile members do not grow up ignorant, and, as a result of ignorance, prone to vice. It is also held that the state owes it to every youthful citizen to furnish him or her with such elements of education as may be needed to fit them for employments requiring a knowledge of reading and writing. From the latter point of view reading and writing are looked upon in the light of tools; but why the state should be required to furnish mental tools rather than material ones—to furnish the child's head with the multiplication-table, but not to provide his hands with saw, axe, or hammer—has never, to our mind, been entirely evident. It seems to us that if the state is to educate, the whole strain and stress of its effort should be to produce good citizens; not to fit this boy for a counting-house or that girl for a position as "sales-lady," but to impart to both that knowledge and imbue both with those principles that make for the right ordering of life and for the good of society. The multiplication-table and the rules of grammar may be found valuable aids to these all-important objects—we do not say they are not—but we insist that they should be looked upon and treated as means always, as ends never; and as means to no other objects than the ones mentioned. It should be distinctly understood and continually repeated that the state has nothing to do with this or that individual's success in life, so far as that may be a matter of competition; that the only "success" the state can undertake to prepare any one for is the success of good conduct and of social adaptation.

Now it is evident that if State education were dominated by this idea, it would have to assume an essentially scientific character. For the conduct of life, what is wanted is not accomplishment of any kind whatever, but knowledge of what life is and a sense of its realities. A true education will, therefore, find its basis in the laws of life—physical, intellectual, and moral—and will aim at bringing each individual face to face with the great realities upon which happiness depends. From such an education all false prudery would be banished. No child would be allowed to grow up in an ignorance which might expose it to the gravest physical perils; on the contrary, the way of physical salvation would be clearly and plainly indicated, and the perils of every kind which wait upon violations of law would be faithfully exhibited. The chief impression, however, would be produced by the constant reference of all instruction to the grand aim of promoting integrity, purity, and harmony of life. Every branch of knowledge would be considered and treated in its bearing upon this aim, and not, as is now generally the case, in its bearing upon individual success in the competition of life. "Do so and so," children are now told, "and you will rise to positions of distinction in society." Yes, provided others fail to act with equal wisdom; but, supposing all to conduct themselves wisely and well, where is the distinction to come from? No doubt it may safely be predicted that all will not; but is it well to assume this in the appeals we make to the young, and so to accustom them to thought of profiting by the errors or weakness of others? The educator, we hold, should use only such modes of appeal as are applicable to all; and a promise of eminence, of distinction, of wealth, of power, is not applicable to all, but only to a few. To all it may be said: "Do so and so, and your life will rest upon solid foundations; you will be a healthful and helpful member of society, and, whatever your lot in life may be, you will have an inward fund of happiness and self-respect that will be secure against all vicissitude. Moreover, the world is so constituted that you can not give without receiving, and whatever you sow for others you will reap the same yourself."

We believe that were education dominated by these ideas, and by the one main purpose we have indicated, the result would soon be seen in quickened intelligences and improved dispositions; and at least the gross ignorance would be removed which at present is answerable for so large an amount of juvenile depravity.

There is, however, another aspect to the question with which we are now specially concerned. What shall be said of the "education" of the men of wealth and leisure, who find their highest pleasure in the most criminal and ruthless forms of vice? These men have passed through public schools, perchance through universities; some are said to be doctors of medicine; others to be eminent at the bar or on the bench; and some even to wear the livery of the Church. In what shape can life have been presented to such men? What sense can they ever have gained of the organic unity of society? What respect can they ever have been taught for the temple of their bodies, or for the cardinal institutes of nature and of society? What regard for others can ever have been inculcated upon them when they think that money can atone for the utter degradation of a fellow-creature? Surely it is time to cry aloud and spare not, when men can pass for "educated" to whom the very elements of a true science of life are unknown, and who, with all their literary, professional, and social acquirements, are willing to descend in their daily practice to the lowest depths of infamy. Think of the two things—"education" and brutal, merciless vice—going hand in hand! Alas! it is not education; it is that wretched, sophistical veneering of accomplishments which usurps the name of education. It may embrace—in the case of medical men must embrace—a certain amount of scientific instruction; but what it lacks is the true scientific grasp of life as a whole. We are no fanatical believers in the saving efficacy of a little smattering, nor even of much special knowledge, of physics and chemistry; but we are firm believers in the moralizing effects of a true philosophy of life, supported and illustrated by constant reference to verifiable facts. All sciences are but parts of one great science, and the highest function of universal science is to teach us how to live. The state, in so far as it undertakes to fit the young for "positions in life," acts upon the old sophistical idea of education as a thing of accomplishments designed to promote individual success. Such education can not of itself have any moralizing effect, and may have a demoralizing. The change that is needed is to abandon that view, and to make education a preparation for life in the broadest sense. Whether the state can adopt the latter principle, and bring its teaching up to the proper level, remains to be seen. If it can not, its condemnation is definitively pronounced, for no other conception of education will meet the requirements of the future.

 

 
THE STUDY OF FACTS.

The subject of education has been treated from many points of view, but we do not know that it can be more profitably considered than in its bearing upon the power of recognizing and dealing with facts. The educated man, according to our conception, is he who knows a fact when he sees it and knows what to do with it. The educated man is the man who has an instinct for facts, who searches for them as for hidden treasure, and, having got them, knows how to set them in logical and luminous order. It is the man who knows and feels that facts make up the very backbone of human life and of everything else, and that to ignore them, or to play fast and loose with them, is simply to court failure and loss.

The true fact corresponds with the true idea; and the man of facts is therefore a man of ideas. He constantly seeks to see the relations of things, and only when he discerns relations does he feel himself to be in the presence of facts. To have an appetite for unrelated facts is as unwholesome as to have an appetite for slate-pencils. "Grad-grind" is not the type of the man of facts: he is rather the type of a man who does not know what a fact is, who is all unconscious that our knowledge in regard to anything has to round itself to some completeness and symmetry before we can claim to possess facts. A true fact is a living, not a dead, thing; and it proves that it is alive by bearing fruit: it produces something, and, like wisdom, it is justified of its children.

What we have in view, however, on the present occasion is, not to pronounce a eulogium on facts—after all, they can take pretty good care of themselves—but to draw attention to the extent to which, in spite of all that has been done for "education," an inability to discern and do justice to facts still prevails in the world. Ask any intelligent business man what the chief trouble is that he encounters among his employés, or what it is that impairs the usefulness of most of them; and he will tell you, not in so many words, but in substance, that it is their imperfect apprehension of facts, and consequent inability to draw conclusions that common sense itself dictates. He will say, perhaps, "Out of a score of men I can only find one or two who can be trusted to put that and that together." Well, "putting that and that together" simply means mentally recognizing a fact and perceiving its significance. It is not the science of logic that is required in every-day affairs; it is the faculty or habit of seizing main points and holding them as long as may be necessary. The truly superior man, the man who counts, is he who is thus able to take a grip of things, of that which is substantial, vital, pertinent, organic.

Self-interest is supposed to be a great sharpener of the mental faculties; but nothing is commoner than to find people ignoring the very facts on which their happiness chiefly depends. They live according to the impulse and humor of the moment, in a hind of disjointed, inconsequent fashion. They do not know the great facts of life; and the truth that their life, as a whole, should present a certain organic unity, and should then itself become a great fact, has never been revealed to them. Here is a man who is "all out of sorts." He wants change, he says; the desperate monotony of his existence is killing him. He can not understand how it is that he should have to be always running to the doctor and dosing himself with tonics and alteratives. He likes to throw the blame on circumstances; he likes to think there is something mysterious or at least altogether special in his case; the last thing he wants to hear is that probably his condition is due to the neglect of certain important facts of his physical, perchance, also, of his moral, nature. He willingly lends himself to the nostrums of the quack; but a simple account of the general principles upon which Nature works is nowise to his taste. He does not like to think that certain penalties are irrevocable, or that the only course by which partial relief can be obtained is one of careful submission to law for the future.

We see substantially the same condition of mind in many a man whose business career has been one of failure. He likes to think that success in this world is mainly a matter of accident, and that "luck" was against him. That one word, "luck," is the whole philosophy of some men: it does not explain anything, but it does what is more pleasing to persons of their disposition, enables them to dispense with explanations. We may say in general that there is a fatal disposition in most men not to recognize facts, not to perceive that things are woven together in the iron bands of law, and that nothing stands wholly out of relation to any other thing. This is the tendency which it should be the chief object of education to combat. What we require to do is to build up in the mind, little by little, but with undeviating purpose, the belief that things hang together, and that the business of the intellect is to discover the laws or principles of their association. We should teach that there is order in the universe, which should and must—unless our lives are to be marred by failure—be responded to by a certain order in our thoughts. We should teach on every occasion, and with every possible variety of illustration, that nothing can be done wisely or well that is not done upon system; that random words are vain; that random thoughts are vain; that no mental effort is worth anything that is not dominated by some clear purpose, and that does not connect itself with previously acquired knowledge.

We find ourselves here face to face with the principle of evolution. If evolution means anything, it means the unity of the universe; it means the construction of a path along which thought can travel from the infinitely small to the infinitely great, from forms of the last degree of simplicity to forms of the highest degree of complexity; it means, finally, the blending of subject and object in one all-embracing synthesis. Well, this, according to the measure of our opportunities, is what we have to teach to the young. It will be acknowledged that intelligence is only stimulated by the perception of general truths, or, in other words, of laws, which again are the great facts of the universe; but the object in education should distinctly be to show that things only exist in relation to one another, and that things out of relation are virtually out of existence. Let a man—to take an illustration—introduce irrelevant matter into his argument: that matter relatively to the object of the argument has no existence. The case is even worse; for, in the place where it is found, such matter is a burden and a nuisance; we must put a minus-sign before it. Now, a teacher who is thoroughly imbued with these ideas, and who neither regards nor accepts anything as work that does not show progress in the comprehension of them, will, with an inferior subject, accomplish better results than another man will who, with a superior subject, contents himself with more perfunctory methods. The reason why the teaching of science has so often been comparatively barren is that it has not been broadly taught, and has not, therefore, awakened the true scientific spirit. The reason why language-studies have sometimes appeared to produce superior intellectual results is that they have, in these cases, been taught by earnest men who, by dint of their own extensive culture, have connected these studies with wide areas of literature and history, and so obtained a sufficient field for the illustration of law; in other words, for the presentation of their subject in a scientific manner. Science, in the true sense, is vindicated as much by success in the one case as by failure in the other.

This is a matter, it is needless to say, to which too much attention can not be given. The whole progress of society depends upon the intelligence of its members. But intelligence is formed in the earlier years of life; the habit of taking rational views, and of being alive to the teachings of experience, is one which, if not acquired while the intellect is fresh, will probably never be acquired at all. We would therefore urge upon all who are interested in the education of the young to see to it, as far as they possibly can, that by education is understood the development of the habit of seeking the true relations of things, and of conceiving of human life as a network of relations. Let us banish from education the unrelated word, the unrelated thought; let us proceed according to the principle of evolution, linking step with step, while tending always to a higher unity; and the intellectual progress of the race will proceed with all the rapidity that is desirable or possible.