Popular Science Monthly/Volume 34/March 1889/Editor's Table
WHEN the storm of the French Revolution was over, the Abbe Sièyes, who had taken a prominent part in it at the outset, was asked, somewhat in derision, what he had done in that critical time. "J'ai vécu," was his reply: "I lived through it." This, indeed, was no mean success for any actor in that bloody drama; and the philosophical abbé might well take a little pride in the adroitness that had enabled him to keep his head on his shoulders. Taking a broad view of the matter, survival is the best test of success; but then survival may either be of the whole or of a part only, of much or of little. The man may survive as a living organism—a zoölogical specimen—but character may be gone, or hope, or health, or happiness. The truly successful are they who carry with them to the end that which makes life worth living, who retain the sense of a purpose and meaning in life, and who do not, like James Mill, father of John Stuart Mill, feel that, when the freshness of youth is past, human existence is a somewhat dreary thing. To the multitude perhaps success in life is gauged by a money scale: to be rich is to be successful, to be poor is to be unsuccessful; but this is far from being a desirable standard to erect. But few can reap success according to this idea; and the rest must reap failure and discontentment, A truer and better conception is that the man who develops his faculties and cultivates his dispositions aright, who, amid the warfare and vicissitudes of life, keeps his judgment sound, his aims sincere, his temper sweet, his domestic and social relations duly adjusted, and who thus in a true sense lives through his whole career, is the type of a successful man. The Roman poet Horace, whose good sense strikes us at every turn, must have had this idea to some extent; since the thought with which he feels he could satisfy himself were his existence to be suddenly brought to a term is that expressed in the word "Vixi," the exact equivalent of the Abbé Sièyes's "J'ai vécu," "I have lived."
The education, then, that we want is an education for life; we want to be taught how to live, how to make the best of ourselves, of our circumstances, of our relations, of our environment generally. Is this the type of education prevalent in the present day? We fear not. The dominant idea in most—we might almost say in all—of our schools is that of a purely selfish success, which means, if realized, a quite incomplete success, one that leaves the general life of the man or woman essentially unblest. What our young people need above all things to be taught is to know themselves and their surroundings, and to understand the true objects of life. They want an education dominated by common sense and right motive; and the few who get such an education are not likely to fail of success in any sense. It is a great thing to be taught the simple habit of verification: one who has this will score many a point even in the competition of the market-place. It is a great thing to be taught, with conviction, that a well-regulated life is always worth living, and that this world is worth doing justice to. Many are stranded in mid-life simply because they have not taken things seriously enough, because they have trusted to chance rather than to doing with their might what their hands found to do. No time is unsuitable for overhauling one's scheme of life, and trying to find out its weak places if it has any; but perhaps the beginning of a new year offers the greatest advantages for such a review. All should aim at a true success in life; and a true success is within the reach of all, if prudence but take the helm.
The article by Mr. George lies, which we publish in our present number, draws attention to the economic waste resulting from unrestricted competition, and suggests the action which the State may hereafter be compelled to take, in the public interest, to check the undue greed of individuals and corporations. Competition, as it seems to us, is not a thing which there is any use in opposing or condemning. It is simply, in the last resort, individual self-assertion; and as long as there are individuals they will assert themselves. Sometimes it occurs to a number of individuals that they can assert themselves—i. e., promote their own interests—more effectually by uniting their means and their efforts than by acting in complete independence of one another: then we have combination or co-operation; but the consolidated body still has its own competitors and its own battles to fight. From this we gather that there are certain unnecessary forms or modes of competition, and that experience points out, from time to time, what these are; but that competition, in the broad sense, is as lasting as human nature. Now, if we differ at all from our respected contributor, it is where he suggests governmental interference to check certain apparently unhappy results of private enterprise. We do not see how the Government is going to help us in the least; and, as it happens, the interference that our contributor invokes is actually for the purposes of restoring competition in cases where he supposes it to have been arbitrarily arrested. He thinks that all trusts whose object is simply to raise prices by restricting competition should come under a legislative or judicial ban. To us the idea of forcing people to compete by legislative authority, whether they wish to do so or not, is a trifle extravagant. To our apprehension the best thing the State can do is to let the whole business alone, and leave individuals to find out for themselves under what circumstances competition is the only possible régime, and under what circumstances co-operation will serve a better purpose. It is not in the least likely that mankind at large is going to pay tribute to any serious extent to great corporations. Even an increase in prices is not a sure sign that the public is suffering, since the consolidation that has rendered the increase possible may have liberated a vast amount of capital and thrown it into more productive channels. Extremely low prices are too often the concomitant of business disorganization and the destruction of capital. The régime of freedom is the one that will suit us best. Give us freedom, and we can take care even of the trusts. A community that has been taught to depend on private initiative, and where legal privilege is unknown, has nothing to fear from any quarter.
The article by Mr. J. M. Arms, on "Natural Science in Elementary Schools," in this number of the "Monthly," contains a notably clear and vigorous statement of the worth of real science lessons to young pupils, together with some practical aid for teachers in giving such lessons, and a sketch of the growth of the sentiment in favor of science teaching. This growth was undoubtedly aided by the attitude on the matter taken by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which, at its meeting in 1879, appointed a committee, of which the former editor of this magazine was chairman, to consider the subject of "Science-Teaching in the Public Schools."
The report of this committee was presented to the Association at the Boston meeting in the following year. It was drawn up by the chairman, and takes the ground that the quality of the science-teaching, where there was any in the public schools at that time, was generally so unsatisfactory that it ought to be entirely recast before any extension of it would be desirable. A point to which Prof. Youmans called special attention is, that science was being taught by the old methods devised for other subjects, which were entirely unsuitable for the new study. In the words of the report, "Through books and teachers the pupil is filled up with information with regard to science. Its facts and principles are explained as far as possible, and then left in the memory with his other school acquisitions. He learns the sciences much as he learns geography and history. Only in a few exceptional schools is he put to any direct mental work upon the subject matter of science, or taught to think for himself." The deceptive quality of oral lessons, alluded to by Mr. Arms, is thus pointed out in this report: "Instruction in elementary science is now," when the pupil enters the grammar school, "to be carried on by what is known as oral teaching. This method, as extensively practiced in the grammar grades of the public schools, is everywhere growing in favor, and we are once more told that it is a successful revolt against book-studies. It is chiefly applicable to the sciences, and its cardinal idea is instruction without a test-book. This looks fair, but it is delusive. The method does not remove the book that the pupil may come at the phenomena, but it removes the book that the teacher may take its place. Oral teaching is class instruction, in which information is imparted in a familiar manner, with the view of awakening the interest of the class. But, so far as real science is concerned, it is doubtful if this method is not worse than the one it replaces. , . . The value of educational systems consists simply in what they do to incite the pupil to help himself. Mechanical school-work can give instruction, but it can not develop faculty, because this depends upon self-exertion. Science, if rightly pursued, is the most valuable school of self-instruction. From the beginning, men of science have been self-dependent and self-reliant because self-taught; and it is a question whether they have been most hindered or helped by the schools."