Popular Science Monthly/Volume 35/July 1889/Editor's Table
ON another page we print a letter from "A Mother," whom we are happy to find interested in the subject of our recent editorial article, "Learning to think," We are not sure that we can fully meet our correspondent's demand for a series of "questions arranged under certain categories" for the purpose of drawing out thought, seeing that the questions would necessarily vary to a great extent with the subject. As we pointed out before, however, what is of chief importance is to keep alive a sense of relation between the particular thing that occupies attention for the moment and other things. A vast number of practical errors lie in neglecting the category of cause. The question Why? is one that can hardly be asked too often, provided only it is asked with a sincere desire for information and not in a spirit of evasion or obstruction. Children often ask Why? simply to gain their own ends, not with any intention of yielding to the reasons given. This spirit, of course, has to be repressed as far as possible, but too much encouragement can not be given to an observing, inquiring disposition.
Whatever the intellectual task in hand, we should adjust ourselves to it, with the intention of seeing the subject, as far as may be, in its true proportions and complete bearings. We know what it is to sit opposite an object so as to get a good, fair, and square view of it. So with our intellectual tasks: we should shift our position till we feel that we are so situated as to take in all that we can take in of them. Instead of this, however, how common a thing it is for people, old and young, to take but a hasty, angular glance, so to speak, at what they have to deal with, and so fail to see its most important and really conspicuous features! Before questions can be asked to any good purpose, there has to be careful observation; and before there can be careful observation, the object must be placed in the center of the field of vision. Whatever we see we should try to realize first in its entirety, as consisting of such and such related and convergent parts; and afterward we should examine it analytically, in order to obtain a better knowledge of the parts, from which may flow a better insight into their relations. It is one thing to know that a key fits a lock, and another to be able to figure to ourselves the wards or compartments in the lock that exactly answer to the pattern of the key. It is one thing to know that a certain action is predicated of a certain subject, and another to understand that the predicated action was a natural product of the attendant circumstances. The habit of classification is one that can be taught with comparative ease to the young; and it is one that gives rise to many useful questions. It continually raises the question, "What is it?" and teaches the habit of going behind first appearances. We can not ask in regard to anything: To what class does it belong? without also asking: What is it like? What is it unlike? Then, when the class is recognized, there arise questions of relation to other classes, etc., questions of origin, of function, of cause and effect, of purpose, of significance, and many others. To develop our theme fully would be to write an essay on pedagogics. To sum up, we may say that the great desideratum is to establish a healthy action and reaction between the mind and the environing world. Some minds set up this action and reaction, this interchange of impressions and conceptions, for themselves; others need more or less help, and that help can best take the form of placing them, as we have expressed it, fairly opposite successive objects of study, and leading them to ask, one by one, the questions necessary to draw out all the information obtainable in regard to these. The educator who makes all education practical—that is to say, who keeps the idea of rational purpose ever in the foreground—will certainly accomplish better results, in the way of developing thought, than one who teaches with only an occasional reference to purpose. We can not say more on this subject at present; but, as it is one of great importance, and seems to be of special interest to not a few of our readers, we may attempt further elucidations at a future day.
The death of ex-President Barnard, of Columbia College, has removed from among us one of the most successful and far-sighted of American teachers. Dr. Barnard was a leader in advancing educational movements; among the foremost in steps to enlarge the scope and improve the methods of academic instruction. His early training and associations might have been expected to make him a conservative; but they did not, While prizing and keeping what was good in the old theories and forms, he was a pioneer in the movement that has liberalized the courses of university studies and given them greater flexibility and adaptation. During the very years previous to 1860, when he was closely associated with institutions which seem to have been crystallized in the formality of the ancient traditions, and with men wedded to them, he was maturing those views which, foreshadowed in his papers and reports on "College Government," "Collegiate Education," "Art Culture," "The Improvements practicable in American Colleges," "The Relations of University Education to Common Schools," and "University Education," he carried out in the latter part of his career.
Notwithstanding its advantages of age and endowment, Columbia College, when Dr. Barnard was called to its presidency in 1865, was not occupying a conspicuous position. His accession to the presidency was nearly coincident with the removal of the college to its present location and the establishment of the School of Mines. These were fortunate events which contributed their share to the growth of the college. But the prosperity of the School of Mines itself, which has become one of the foremost American scientific schools, is largely accredited to his executive ability, conjoined with the fidelity of the Board of Instructors who were happily associated with him. While always urging the giving of increased prominence to scientific studies, he did not lose sight of the value of the other departments. He rather sought and secured a symmetrical development all around; so that, as one of the most temperate summaries that we have noticed of the result of his work records, "under his administration Columbia has made steady progress, until he was able in his last years to foresee a future in which the institution shall grow into the dignity of a university worthy of the metropolis." During the last year of his active service Columbia is said to have had the highest enrollment of any college in the country.
President Barnard was successful because he was an original and independent thinker and a prompt executor; because he was quick to discern what was good and ready to accept it. He was neither too strongly attached to the old and established, nor so radical as to grasp at visions and try to force changes. Regarding education as something that must grow and be developed, he looked constantly forward, judged everything by its merits, and seized and made the best of whatever he found that was good. The avowal of principles and acceptance of innovations that flew in the face of the custom of the ages often demanded much courage, but he never lacked it; and the wisdom of his course was usually justified in the event.
The opening of the School of Mines gave an opportunity to enlarge the plan of studies in favor of science, and to encourage the preference of students who desired to give it predominant attention. Similar liberality toward other departments facilitated the ultimate adoption of elective studies. This is a factor that is changing the whole aspect of college life, Columbia College is not alone in the movement toward flexibility in the curriculum; but it is most largely due to President Barnard that it is in it at all, and has been able to turn it to advantage. It can not be doubted that his positive attitude and example have been influential in promoting its extension and its advance elsewhere. The truth of the remark with which our "sketch" of Dr. Barnard in May, 1877, opened—that few men among the promoters of science and liberal culture in our time had labored more efficiently and successfully than he—was made more and more plain during the succeeding years of his life, and was never more evident than on the day when he resigned the presidency of Columbia College.