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Popular Science Monthly/Volume 47/May 1895/Editor's Table

EDITOR'S TABLE.

 
PUBLIC EDUCATION AND PUBLIC OPINION.

THE editor of the Revue des Deux Mondes contributes to a recent number of that periodical an article entitled Education and Instruction, in which are some things with which we heartily agree and others from which we are compelled to dissent. The article as a whole, however, is of undoubted value, inasmuch as it sets forth the true theory of education, while what we regard as errors are in matters of detail. M. Brunetière remarks at the outset that formerly the ideas of education and of instruction were but little distinguished from each other. True, to instruct meant "to furnish," and to educate meant "to lead forth" or "develop" and so "to mold"; but it was always assumed that the furnishings provided for the mind would be of such a nature, and would be so imparted, as to promote development and favor true culture; and thus the words were to a great extent used interchangeably. In the present day we are compelled to separate their meanings, owing to the fact that, in our modern systems of so-called "education," while much effort is concentrated on fitting up the mind with an equipment of knowledge, the right direction of mental growth, and, above all, the right development of character, receive but little attention, and indeed are almost left out of sight. Our children are instructed in the schools of to-day; but, he maintains, they are not educated in the true sense. Personally, he expresses his regret that education was not allowed to remain a private matter; but seeing that it has passed into the hands of the state, we have simply to see what we can do to get the maximum of good out of the huge mechanism which the state has set up.

Now it might readily have been supposed by any one speculating before the event, that when state education became general it would at least have one strong point: it would aim at fitting the rising generation for social and political life; it would aim at overcoming or at least tempering in the interest of the community the natural selfishness of the individual. The error in this calculation would have lain in imagining that the state, as represented by individuals, has any consciousness of its own interests. The individuals in question have a consciousness of their own interests; the best among them have, in addition, some sense of public duty; but the state can not, through the officers and teachers it appoints, study and strive after its own interests as the individual studies and strives after his. Hence, in any system of public education, the claims of the state never get more than a partial and fitful recognition: the whole drift of the work done is in the direction of an intensified individualism, or, as M. Brunetière expresses it, "la culture intensive du Moi"—the intensive culture of the Ego. Referring to the statement made by Sir John Lubbock that the progress of education and that of morality kept pace in England, M. Brunetière exclaims: "Happy England! and most fortunate accident! for statistics have brought nothing similar to light in France or anywhere else, in Germany or in America. In these countries, on the contrary, we see that quite ignorant people, who know neither antiquity, nor the sciences, nor languages, nor even orthography, are nevertheless very worth y folk; while inversely we find that all their instruction has not preserved a number of unfortunates from the worst lapses; and neither certificates nor diplomas have prevented them from succumbing to the most vulgar temptations." As applied to this country the writer's language is a little lacking in exactness; for here the conditions are such that it is difficult, for native-born citizens at least, to remain ignorant of the arts of reading and writing except through fault of their own; but it certainly has been the case in the past everywhere that people could be, as he says, "fort honnêtes gens" without any tincture of what we now call education. Their knowledge was confined to some useful art by which they earned a living, and the precepts of common morality.

The question M. Brunetière next discusses is how "to put some soul back into the school," or, in his own words, "rendre une áme àa l'école"; but his observations on this point, referring as they do to a system of education controlled by the national Government, have but a slight application to this country. It is here, however, that we find ourselves disagreeing with some of his incidental remarks. He accuses men of science of being excessively dogmatic in their opinions, and apparently ignoring the modern conception of the relativity of knowledge. Now, some men of science may be dogmatic, but to say, as the learned editor does, that a most of these will not allow their conclusions to be disputed, or so much as criticised," is to fall into great exaggeration. As to the doctrine of the relativity of knowledge, it is a doctrine which science has established. It is earnestly and constantly insisted on by Auguste Comte, and has been illustrated and elaborated in great detail by Herbert Spencer. It is not, however, a doctrine of which much use can be made in imparting scientific or any other knowledge to the young, whose natural philosophic creed is one of simple confidence in the reality of phenomena. M. Brunetière is further of opinion that science should only be given in very small and judicious doses in primary and secondary schools. The important thing, in our opinion, is, that nothing should be done to check the spontaneous activity of youthful minds, or any flow of emotion which may be associated therewith. Science should, therefore, not be imparted to the young in too didactic or formal a manner; it should rather come to them in the form of a constant appeal to investigate, to use their own faculties of sight, touch, hearing, smell, and to draw their own inferences from data thus collected. We quite believe that, in the hands of an inexperienced and unsympathetic teacher, science lessons might be given to youthful students in such a way as simply to check imagination and inspire distrust in the testimony of the senses; but when the right kind of science teaching can be got, there will be no need to deal it out as the dangerous drug which the editor of the Revue des Deux Mondes seems to consider it.

Returning to the question on which, as we have stated, this writer does not give us much help—how to get "soul" into the schools—we must observe that any success in such an effort will depend largely on public opinion. The great mischief of an imperfect educational system is that it creates the public opinion by which itself is judged. The man of thirty-five, who to-day has children of his own at school, was a scholar himself only twenty years ago. Things have not changed much in that time. If the spirit of competition was stamped into him, he will want it stamped into his children. If money is his chief preoccupation, he would not like to hear that a public-school teacher was doing anything to lessen the importance of money in their eyes. He would be willing enough that other children should learn that lesson, but not his own. The case, we are persuaded, is far from being an imaginary one. The average parent sends his children to school with no other view than that they shall be prepared for some money-making occupation; and he expects that that object shall be kept uppermost by the school authorities. This being the case, the "soul" that M. Brunetière desiderates runs a great risk of being contraband of our modern school systems; because it can not enter without coming at once into conflict with the spirit of moneyworship, and also with that of selfish ambition. Of course, if we had every reason to be satisfied with the moral progress of our people and the signs of the times generally, there would be no need to raise this question; we might assume that the schools were doing all that was required of them: but such is not the case; the signs of the times are in many respects unsatisfactory. The state has wrenched education from private hands, and now we have to consider what can be done to humanize the teaching which it is bestowing on the millions of our youth. Very many individual teachers are doubtless occupying themselves with the problem, but their efforts will not make up for general public indifference to it. A nation can not thrive on love of money, nor live on the virtues of a small minority. We must have "soul," or, to speak with more precision, the spirit of social duty and of moral responsibility, at the very base of our educational systems; otherwise education itself becomes a fraud and a snare, and the very agencies which should consolidate the social fabric will work for its disruption.

 

 
THE ALLEGED DOGMATISM OF SCIENCE.

In the above article we have touched, in passing, upon a change very frequently and very carelessly made against men of science that they are intolerant of opposition to their scientific theories, and in effect set up a kind of orthodoxy to which all must bow who desire to be considered rational and intelligent beings. The charge is utterly frivolous, as the most obvious facts attest. Consider first how it applies to some of the most prominent scientific workers of the century. Surely nothing of this kind could truthfully have been said of such men as Sir Humphry Davy and Michael Faraday, of Sir Charles Lyell or of Agassiz, of our own geologist Dana or our great botanist Gray. As to Darwin, all the world knows that candor and modesty were of the very essence of his character. We might pass rapidly in review a number of other eminent names the very mention of which would be a vindication from the charge, but it would be superfluous. When dogmatism appears it is nearly always on the part of men who have adopted their opinions at secondhand, and who have either ignored altogether, or paid little attention to, those elements of uncertainty which were not only fully present to the minds of the originators of the theories in question, but also fully expressed in their published works. This simply means that scientific leaders have the same experience that other leaders have had, and need to join in the classic prayer, "Save us from our friends!"

There is one feature in the case, however, which is not to be overlooked, and that is that the representatives of science have been in the past, and still are to some extent, required to put up with a kind of opposition that is very annoying to men who have worked their way by patient labor, in appropriate fields of observation, to certain well-demonstrated conclusions. We refer to the opposition of those who have not labored at all in those fields, but who, on the strength of the most extraneous considerations, insist that certain scientific conclusions must be all wrong. Such was the opposition made by the Catholic Church to the modern system of astronomy, and such the opposition made by all Christian churches, more or less, to modern geological science. What is the use of inquiring into the origin of language and the affinities of different families of speech if the stories of the Garden of Eden and the Tower of Babel are to dominate all speculation on these subjects? The indignation used to be all on the side of the theologians, when their opinions were traversed by considerations drawn from the study of Nature. Nowadays scientific men allow themselves occasionally a little indignation, or at least impatience, when theories, which they have carefully founded on facts, are traversed on the strength of other men's interpretations of a book. Time brings about these changes, and it would be harsh to find much fault with the champions of science for not being wholly above the infirmities of human nature.

It should, of course, be clearly understood that dogmatism, in so far as it exists, does no good to science. True theories will vindicate themselves in the end; and, even when the grounds for certainty seem ample, it is well not to be too confident or too absolute. Then if people who simply adopt other people's opinions would only learn not to be more dead-sure than the authors and sponsors of those opinions, a great point would be gained and much trouble avoided. Science wants all the friends it can get, seeing that is a friend to all; but its path would be smoothed if ardent converts would temper their zeal with discretion.

 

 
SPENCER ON PROFESSIONAL INSTITUTIONS.

When we wrote, in March, concerning the series of articles by Mr. Spencer with which this magazine began its career we had no thought that we should be so fortunate as to have the first of another series by the same master hand for the opening number of our twenty-fourth year. Nor had Mr. Spencer; for that editorial itself suggested to him the advisability of issuing serially the chapters on Professional Institutions which he had nearly completed. There will be eleven or twelve papers in the present series. These papers will show how the several professions have been differentiated from the functions of the priest or medicine-man, who is the only professional man of primitive society. They will demonstrate that in these affairs—although subject to human will and caprice—the grand principle of evolution operates just as surely and completely as in the derivation of an animal species from its ancestral form.

A peculiar element of value in the evolutionary philosophy, of which Mr. Spencer is the original and most eminent expositor, is the power of understanding the present and predicting the future which is afforded by its explanation of the past. To take the present subject as an illustration, from the division of functions that has taken place in the past we may infer a still further specialization in the future. Higher achievements in the several professions may be expected as a result of this process, the men of different professions will become more and more necessary to one another, and the solidarity of society will be increased.

The Professional Institutions will form the last portion but one of the only volume remaining uncompleted in Mr. Spencer's systematic series of philosophical works. It therefore makes probable the successful completion of the series, and, together with the division on Industrial Institutions which is to follow, will be sure to throw much light upon the puzzling industrial problems of the day. A few days ago Mr. Spencer completed three quarters of a century of life and about half a century of productive labor in the field of thought. For twenty years past there have been times when the close of his labors seemed imminent, but, mainly as a result of prudent care, his physical strength has lasted till this time, while the articles of which we print the first this month adequately demonstrate that his mental grasp and acumen are in no wise impaired.