Popular Science Monthly/Volume 31/June 1887/Editor's Table



THE interest which this subject is exciting at the present moment is, we take it, a very hopeful sign. The probability would appear to be that, in the clash of opinions, the truth will gradually be beaten out. Every writer brings to the question his or her own contribution of real experience; and, when once we have the facts properly sifted, it will not be such a difficult matter to draw conclusions.

Mrs. Lynn-Linton in England has taken up a position on this subject that places her in antagonism to most of those who have espoused what, for convenience, we may call the women's side of the question. She does not say that women can not take the highest education or make the best use of it, but on the whole she rather discourages, from a practical point of view, the effort to bestow the highest education on any very large number of women. We do not wish to be understood as committing ourselves to all the views she has advanced; but we think she has at least made one forward step by importing certain simple practical considerations into the discussion. She has shown that an advanced education has an appreciable money value to young men in a much larger proportion of cases than it has to young women. Much as we may talk of "education of the mind" and "discipline of the faculties," the education of boys and young men has mainly been dominated by practical ends. We are far from saying that those ends have always been wisely sought; we simply contend that in general they have been recognized. When a young man has been destined for the bar, for the Church, for the profession of medicine, or for some scientific or literary career, there has been a special object in giving him as liberal a preliminary education as possible; and such courses of higher education as have heretofore been devised have had as their main intention the fitting of men for professional careers, and not the mere production of a large number of finely polished intellects destined for no particular function whatever. It may be further said that, in the education of men, the definiteness of the ulterior aim has been to a large extent the circumstance that has rendered the imparting of a sound education possible. The mind can carry what it means to make use of, what it expects to find serviceable, far better than it can what does not point to any special application. The education of men has thus been given a certain concreteness and a certain actuality from the fact of its bearing, or, at the very least, being understood to bear a distinct and definite relation to practical life.

How is it, now, as regards the education of women? It is certainly true that women are taking to-day a much wider share in the work of the world than they did even a generation ago. Many more careers are open to them, and their ability to assume even the most difficult professional duties is no longer doubted. Manifestly, then, a practical necessity has arisen for placing within the reach of women the highest educational advantages. It can hardly, however, be maintained that the somewhat clamorous demand that has been made of late years on behalf of women for such advantages has been mainly inspired by the desire to enable women to hold their own in various professional walks. The object has rather been to produce a generation of gifted women without reference to any special practical use to be made of their high accomplishments. "Culture" for culture's sake has been the idea, rather than culture for the sake of more efficient work. Now, we are well aware that to some it will sound like a great heresy, but we must frankly confess that we do not believe in culture for culture's sake, nor in art for art's sake, nor in science for science's sake, nor even in truth for truth's sake. "We believe that culture and art and science and truth all find their value in the human life which they tend to beautify and improve. "When culture is given merely for culture's sake, it lacks definiteness of aim, and never seems to know what boundaries to observe. "We fancy—though at this moment we are not prepared to speak positively on the point—that we see a result of the "unchartered freedom" of female education in the more ambitious programmes of female seminaries as compared with those devoted to the teaching of young men. Men know that they must concentrate their energies if they are to succeed in the special objects they have set before them. "Women, not having (in general) such special objects, think the whole circle of knowledge none too vast for their grasp. We read in a recent article by a lady upon a well-known college for ladies that, "in passing from class-room to laboratory and lecture-room, while observing the work done by professors and students, one can not fail to be astonished at its breadth and depth and wide scope, at its immense quantity and superb quality. Pages would be required to do it full justice." Is there any college for men in this country to which such a description could be applied without seeming somewhat overstrained? We certainly do not remember to have seen anything so glowing of either Harvard, Yale, Johns Hopkins, or Columbia.

Supposing, now, we ask for a moment, What is "higher education" for any given individual? we should be inclined to answer—with that bent toward practical views which we have already avowed—that it is not so much education in the minutiæ of any branch or branches of knowledge, as education dominated by a relatively high purpose and expressly directed to the perfecting of the individual life with reference to its normal sphere of activity. Now, individual life is not perfected, not improved, by any education that ministers to vanity or ambition. That the college education of young men often has that effect we are quite sure; that the college education of young women has it still oftener we are disposed to believe. Anything that has such an effect forfeits, in our opinion, its title to be regarded as "higher education," since it really is the education and stimulation of lower impulses and instincts. Apart from this consideration, however, true intelligence is not always promoted by the imparting of a great variety of knowledge, or even by the special prosecution of particular lines of study. "Whether the mind becomes truly intelligent depends upon whether it is enabled to apply to every-day life the lessons of the school-room, and to see all knowledge in its practical bearings. Many minds, male and female, are, we are convinced, simply educated away from true intelligence by the costly efforts that are made to give them the highest educational advantages. As between men and women we draw at present no line whatever in respect to intellectual qualifications. That the distinction of sex extends to mind as well as to bodily organization we think highly probable; but precisely how the distinction operates in the mental region can not be dogmatically affirmed; and the best thing to do under the circumstances is to let the distinction, if there is one, establish itself in practice. Let the same educational facilities and privileges be available for women as for men; and in the course of time we shall perhaps see better than we do now what modifications need to be introduced into the education of women. The principle of equality once firmly laid down, it remains to be said that, from the point of view of the intellectual future of the female sex, too much importance probably is being attached to what is called "higher education." It is safe to say that such intellectual advantages as men now enjoy are but in a minor degree dependent on colleges and universities. "We constantly see men arriving at high scientific and literary eminence, with little or no aid from scholastic institutions; and what is possible for men is possible for women. The last thing we should wish to do would be to disparage systematic training; but still it is an indubitable fact that many have contrived to accomplish great things without it. Upon the whole, it is an encouraging thought that "higher education" is not confined to seminaries of learning. It can be imparted largely in the home-circle; it can be obtained by independent study and reflection. Let the seminaries flourish, but let it be understood that common sense and right feeling, and worthy aims in the household and in society, constitute in themselves the conditions, and even in some degree the elements, of higher education. We should like to see this whole question reduced to its true proportions and brought into direct relation with the realities of life. We believe that women (like men) have at the present moment within their reach far more extensive means of culture than they care to avail themselves of; and that what is really wanted for the diffusion of higher education in the best sense is not so much the multiplication of institutions of learning, as the communication of an impulse to individuals of a nature to lead them to lay hold of the means of intellectual improvement that abound on every side. Could this be accomplished, the general intelligence of society would advance with rapid strides; while the multiplication of institutions of learning, and dependence on them for intellectual results, will only give us a select class of educated, sometimes over-educated, persons, and will leave society at large but slightly modified by the culture that really ought to mark this advanced stage of human progress.


Since the article on the "Present Status of the Greek Question" appeared in the May number of "The Popular Science Monthly," we have been informed by a graduate of the University of Cambridge, England, that it is now possible to obtain the degree of B. A. from that ancient institution of learning without any knowledge of Greek whatever. This marks, of course, a new era in the history of this question in England.

It may be worth while to glance for a moment at the amount of Greek required for the B. A. at the various British universities where it is still insisted upon as a required subject of examination. We have not the requisitions of Oxford before us, but we are assured that they do not exceed those of the University of Edinburgh and other Scottish universities for the M. A. According to the "Edinburgh University Calendar" for 1883-'84, the Greek set for examination for the degree of M. A. comprised the following: "Odyssey," book vi; Sophocles's "Electra;" Thucydides, book vi, and Plato's "Protagoras." Now, when we consider that these authors and the particular works or portions of their works to be set are thus announced a year beforehand, it will be seen how small an amount of work in Greek is really required for this degree. It does not amount to more than is required for entrance to the classical course of any good American college. A Cambridge graduate has asserted that it was quite feasible for a man, in the days when Greek was required at Cambridge, actually to commit to memory the portions of Greek set, and to go through the examination successfully after two or three months' hard grinding, without obtaining the shadow of an idea of Greek grammar even, to say nothing of Greek literature or history! Of course, no sane man would maintain that in the case of men who actually did this any such advantage in the way of culture and mental discipline could accrue, as is claimed for the study of Greek in general.

It is very curious to compare the views of the adherents of compulsory Greek in Germany, England, and America. They all agree in maintaining that the course of required Greek in their respective countries accomplished wonders in the way of education. "When we compare, however, what is actually required for graduation in a German gymnasium, for example, in the A. B. course at Cambridge, and in an A. B. course in any American college of good standing, we "find that the course in Germany requires fully six years of earnest study; in America at least four or four and a half; and in England not over two or three at the very most. The German apologist for Greek would maintain, however, that the small amount required in America or England is not worth a rush (as indeed some of them have said in answer to a proposition to diminish the amount of Greek required to something like the American or English standard, and that they had better cut it out altogether rather than treat it in such a "step-motherly "way); the American claims that the small amount given in England is of little or no value, and insists that the present requirements in America shall not be cut down.

Outsiders can hardly be blamed for coming to the conclusion that the Germans are right, and that we should either require enough to make it worth the while, or else cut it out altogether from the list of required studies. As it is not at all likely that the amount required will ever be increased, the only thing to do is to get rid of that little which according to the most competent judges is worth nothing at all.

We would not be misunderstood, or have opinions ascribed to us which we do not hold. We do not desire to attack the study of Greek or the policy of offering the most ample facilities for its pursuit. On the contrary, we consider that from no branch of study can one whose tastes lie in that direction derive more benefit in the years before he takes up special lines of work than from Greek. But we can not disregard the fact that such pupils are usually only one or two among a large class who are looking forward to some higher course of instruction, who succeed in accomplishing more than merely to drag through the prescribed course."We believe that many students, who might be capable of showing marked talents in other directions have been deterred from advancing to higher courses of instruction by the fact that Greek lay in the way. In schools dominated by the classical spirit, every sort of talent is measured by its ability to make grade in the classics. All who can not come up to this standard are made to feel that they are considered inferior students. They are "specials," or "partials," or "generals," or something else, which implies that they are not so good as the regular classical students. We can not but think that this fact has lain at the bottom of the failure of many a one in the past, who under a different system would have been quickened to a new intellectual life and raised into a higher sphere of usefulness.

The notion that liberal views of life, wide intellectual sympathies, a broad humanity in a word, that all those qualities that should distinguish a gentleman and a scholar from his opposite—are the exclusive products of one line of studies, may be, we think, properly enough characterized as a fetich; and it is a fetich which has done and is doing much harm in the educational world. We believe it is losing its hold upon the minds of men very rapidly, and that we have great reason to congratulate ourselves upon this fact. Its final destruction need not, and we do not think it will, lead to the disappearance of Greek from our courses of liberal study, but it will deprive it of that peculiar position of predominance which it has held in Western education for the last three hundred years—a predominance which, however beneficial at some stages of our modern era, is now the source of far more injury than benefit.


The editor takes pleasure in announcing the commencement, in the July number of "The Popular Science Monthly," of a series of articles, by David A. Wells, on the economic disturbances commonly spoken of as "A Depression of Trade and Industry," which have prevailed to a greater or less extent throughout the whole civilized world since the years 1872-’73; and, in the opinion of not a few economists and investigators of repute, are yet very far from having come to an end. The subject, considered either historically, or in view of its bearing on industrial progress, the accumulation and distribution of wealth, and the relations of capital and labor in the future, is one of the highest interest, and has already engaged the attention of several national commissions on both sides of the Atlantic. It is almost unnecessary to state that the author brings to its discussion—which necessarily involves the phenomena of the so-called "over-production," the discontent of labor, the depression of prices, bimetalism, and the increasing tendency among nations to impose artificial restrictions on trade and commerce—the results of very thorough study, as well as world-wide reputation for determining and popularly presenting economic facts and conclusions. Mr. Wells is known as a trained observer, who looks at things with judicial fairness, and has formed the habit of arriving at his opinions independently of all prejudice, and of presenting them with candor and precision. It is, therefore, reasonable to anticipate that his conclusions will command, as they deserve, very general attention.