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Popular Science Monthly/Volume 33/October 1888/Editor's Table

< Popular Science Monthly‎ | Volume 33‎ | October 1888



WE ventured in our last number a few remarks on the unsatisfactory results, in this city, of the political management of education. Evidence is now forthcoming that in England the cause of popular education has been no better served by state interference than it has been in this country. A Royal Commission that was lately appointed to inquire into the condition of education in Great Britain has made its report, and in that report there occurs what we can only interpret as a distinct admission of the superiority of voluntary effort over state control in the sphere of education. The report is not in our possession, but the following quotation from it appears in an English newspaper: "If it were needful to strike a balance between the efficiency of the two systems of board and voluntary school management, the evidence would lead us to divide the honors. The system of management transacted outside the school is most vigorously conducted by the school board, dispensing the money of the rate-payers; but in the closer supervision of the school, and effective sympathy between managers and teachers, or managers and scholars, the commission pronounce in favor of the efficiency of voluntary management. In the combination of the advantages of both systems we look for progress in the future." We confess to being at a loss as to what, precisely, is meant by "the system of management transacted inside the school"; but it strikes us very forcibly that it must merely be a means to an end—that is to say, that it must be secondary and subsidiary to "the system of management transacted inside the school"; and if so, the conclusion is inevitable that, as regards this far more important matter, the private schools carry off the palm for efficiency. The admission is, to our mind, a very significant one. Government can do outside work, but not inside work. It can put up buildings, provide apparatus, organize a staff of superintendents and inspectors, and make a great show over examinations; but when it comes to the vital point of teaching it breaks down, or, at best, does the work inefficiently. When will people understand that government work is esentially "outside" work, and that, when they want inside work, they must do it themselves? Government has the taxing power, and can do whatever the command of money enables it to do; but, when more than this is wanted—when, for example, to quote the words of the Royal Commission, it is a matter of establishing an "effective sympathy between managers and teachers or managers and scholars"—state agency will not work.

It so happens that, almost simultaneously with the appearance of this report, a teacher of long standing and much experience, Mr. James Runciman, publishes in the "Contemporary Review" a most powerful arraignment of the whole system under which the board schools in England have been conducted since the passing of the Education Act in 1870. That act he pronounces to be "a failure, if we contrast the means expended with the total results obtained; in fact," he adds, "the powers of evil seem to be gaining force, if we study broad results." Speaking of his own career as a teacher, he says: "After bitter years of effort I saw that I was frittering away my life, and thus the gladdest day I have ever known was that on which I knew I should work under the useless pedantic code no more. Ninety-nine out of every hundred teachers in Great Britain would follow my example if they could, for there is no chance for a man or a woman to lead a human life, so long as the code governs them; and I say deliberately that our national millions of educational grant are mostly spent on keeping up a mischievous imposture which broods like a perpetual blight over education," "Roughly speaking," he says in a later part of the article, "we have spent fifty million pounds of money on teaching a generation how not to become good scholars, good workmen, good clerks, or good citizens, and we have performed that remarkable feat in order to satisfy the fantastic desires of a set of pedants whose judgment is scouted by every practical man." We quote only the conclusions arrived at and vigorously expressed by Mr, Runciman, because we have not space for the facts and illustrations by which he supports them; but all who turn to his article for themselves will see that he has not spoken without great and bitter cause.

The Royal Commission express the hope that it may be possible in the future to combine the special merits of state administration, consisting chiefly, as we have seen, in capacity for work "outside the school," with the strong points of voluntary effort. The hope is an amiable one, but we regard it as wholly illusory. The very life of education resides in the free competition of ideas, in private initiative, and in the feeling of individual responsibility. Education without these can be little more than a hollow mockery. It will be "outside" work in the worst sense; and, when we seek to gather from it those fruits of intelligence and morality which a system of national education might be supposed to yield, we shall find the tree smitten with a mysterious disease, and the half-formed fruit falling withered to the ground. "A mysterious disease," do we say? Yes, mysterious to those—and to-day they seem to be the multitude—who look to the Government and the Legislature for their salvation in all things; but not mysterious to those who believe that the heaping of functions on the state is the very canker-worm of liberty and progress.



The recent meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science at Cleveland appears to have been a very satisfactory one. Many circumstances seem to have contributed to its success. The weather was favorable. The members came prepared with papers which were, for the most part, either in their scientific character or their practical bearing, worthy of the name of the Association. And the place of meeting was happily chosen. It had been thirty-five years since the Association met before in Cleveland, and during the interval the city had enjoyed a tenfold growth and development, which, as President Staley pointed out in his welcoming address, was, to a large extent, owing to the advance of science and its applications in the arts and in manufactures. "It would be difficult," the speaker added, "to find a city in which a larger proportion of the inhabitants are interested, directly or indirectly, in pursuits which depend upon scientific methods and processes." The people showed, by their attendance upon the meetings, by their treatment of the members of the Association, and by the avidity with which they read the unusually full newspaper reports of the proceedings, that they appreciated and enjoyed the privilege of having such a body among them. In these points they set an example to some cities of much larger proportions and pretensions.

The wonderful achievements of science, as illustrated by the work of the Association, and the industrial development of Cleveland, were the theme of President Staley's welcoming address. The speaker happily illustrated these wonders by introducing the figure of a citizen of Cleveland, who, meeting in the East a Persian story-teller of the Arabian Nights pattern, should easily defeat him in a game of capping stories by simply relating what he saw actually going on every day in the factories and workshops of his native place. The same topic was touched upon from another direction in President Powell's opening address, in which he indicated the innumerable fields of research that were represented in the membership of the Association.

The address of retiring President Langley, which was made at the evening session of the first day, was probably suggested by his own researches, and bore upon the history of the doctrine of radiant energy; while the speaker could not prognosticate the future of this doctrine for any distance in advance, he suggested, as a problem awaiting more immediate solution, the relation between temperature and radiation. The vice-presidential addresses bore the usual relations of such papers to the special departments in which their several sections were concerned. Prof. Stone, in astronomy, discussed the confirmation which Newton's theory of gravitation had received from studies in that science. Prof. Michelson, in physics, described his experiments to devise a standard of measurement from light waves. Prof. Monroe explained what light the investigation of chemical compounds casts upon the doctrine of evolution. Prof. Cook, in geology, insisted upon the indispensable importance of American geology to the completeness of the science, and to the construction of a systematic and adequate nomenclature. Prof. Eiley, in biology, who seems to have been exceptionally happy in his audience, traced the progress and establishment of the doctrine of evolution. Dr. Abbott, in anthropology, reviewed the evidences—largely of his own discovery—of the extreme antiquity of man in America. Prof. Smiley, in economical science, sharply criticised many modern ideas and practices in benevolence, which he described as too indiscriminate and contrary to nature. The papers in the several sections mostly illustrated the personal researches of their authors or bore upon matters of daily interest, and seem to have been peculiarly acceptable to the audiences who thronged the meetings. The Association is always happy, when it meets in the basin of the Great Lakes, in being upon a ground which is fruitful in lessons in geology, botany, and climatology, and which could of itself supply subjects for papers enough to engage the whole attention of the meeting. These. subjects were well represented. Industrial or manual training WiTS not forgotten in the Economic Section; in which also Prof. Atwater essayed to show that the increase of the human race is never destined to outrun the possibility of food-supply; and the impracticability of the Panama Canal was demonstrated for the xth. time. In anthropology, attention was called to several antique American works the preservation of which has been secured, and to many others which ought to be taken care of; the affinities of the Aryan and other races were considered; and interest was expressed in the institution of an international language, for the purposes of which Volapük was regarded as inadequate. A report was presented by Prof. Mendenhall, from the committee on that subject, on the teaching of physics.

While the work of the meeting was nearly all of a high scientific character, it was also of such a nature or so performed as to be what the people wanted. All the vice-presidents, says one of the city papers, "were wise in placing, as far as possible, their views and theories on a plane not too scientifically lofty for the appreciative observation of those less learned than themselves." Another newspaper expression is to the effect that

One great fact has stood out prominently in all the work of the Association in this city, and that is the practical value of science. No matter what the subject discussed or how technical the treatment, the connection between theoretical science and applied science was plainly discernible, and should need no argument to convince an intelligent resident of Cleveland of the value of applied science, or its intimate connection with everybody's business or the general welfare.

Another lesson, which has also an important social bearing, may be drawn from the experience of the city papers. They were not afraid to give full reports of the papers read, covering from one to two pages of their daily issues, so that members of the Association said the papers of no other city had served it so well, except, perhaps, those of Boston. Of the results upon themselves of making the large sacrifices of space usually devoted to more sensational matter which this required, the "Plain dealer" says:

Those who have read the reports from day to day will admit that the space was well filled, and that the influence on our city can not but be good. Science has been brought to the doors of our people and carried by the papers into their homes, and those who hitherto paid it no attention have been compelled to take some interest in it. To the surprise of some of the—at first unwilling—readers, the topics discussed were found to concern themselves, and to be treated in an entertaining manner. Instead of skipping the proceedings in the next day's issue, they read them with increasing interest, and on the third day turned to them with as much eagerness as if the columns contained a bit of political news, a murder—or a base-ball game. The appetite grew by what it fed on, and each new paper was read with keener interest and better understanding. The effect on such readers—and they can be numbered by thousands—will be lasting. They will hereafter pay more attention to matters of scientific character, and will have a greater regard for scientists.

Are the people, are the newspapers, of Cleveland, wiser or more intelligent than those of any other city, except perhaps Boston? Or is the fact beginning at last to appear, that those who read the newspapers and sustain them appreciate matter of solid worth, and will buy it and read it when it is offered to them?