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Popular Science Monthly/Volume 48/April 1896/Editor's Table

< Popular Science Monthly‎ | Volume 48‎ | April 1896

Editor's Table.

 
A MODERN LIBERAL EDUCATION.

SUCH is the title of an exceedingly interesting, well-considered, and, in our opinion, weighty article contributed by Prof. Ladd, of Yale, to a late number of our excellent contemporary the Educational Review. The writer well remarks at the outset that the word "liberal" applied to education must imply some sort of differentiation. That differentiation, he shows, is not quantitative but qualitative. A "liberal education" does not mean a liberal supply of education; it means a liberalizing education, or, as he defines it, "that which makes the free mind, which furnishes the liberalizing culture of the trained gentleman." Prof. Ladd is quite aware that such a definition may strike not a few as invidious, but be is not disposed upon that account to alter the terms in which it is expressed.

We think he is right. There is an education which is imparted and accepted with a main, if not exclusive, view to its practical utility to the individual in enabling him to receive a better share than he otherwise might of the goods which society has to divide. And there is an education which aims at expanding his mental and moral powers, and fitting him to profit by the best that has been or is being thought and imagined and expressed in the world. The first, while imparting a measure of efficiency for everyday purposes, not infrequently instills an absolute distaste and repulsion for all higher uses of the intellect. The second develops both capacity and desire for intellectual and æsthetic pleasures, raises the mind above vulgar prejudices, and places the whole

life of the individual on a higher level. The education that produces the latter effect even partially is so far a liberal education; and if the word "gentleman" is to have a real as opposed to a purely conventional significance, we may apply it with much propriety to one whose mind has undergone this liberalizing influence, and whose tastes and sympathies have thus been arrayed on the side of whatever helps to elevate and refine society. We fail to see that, in the true sense, there is anything antidemocratic in this; but if any think otherwise they are, of course, entitled to their opinion. Meantime, we feel sure that the higher education which we have thus imperfectly described, but which Prof. Ladd maps out for us in a very satisfactory and instructive manner, is a matter of vast importance for the progress of national culture and the right direction of our national life.

"A truly liberal education," Prof. Ladd observes, "includes as essential to it the prolonged and scholastic pursuit of three subjects or groups of subjects. These three are language and literature, mathematics and natural science, and the soul of man, including the products of his reflective thinking. Any culture," he continues, "which is markedly defective on any one of these three sides comes, so far, short of being liberal; of being, that is to say, the kind of culture which sets the mind most truly free, and which is most worthy of the cultivated gentleman in the nobler meaning of the latter word." It is an extremely wide scheme of education that is here laid out; and we may say of it, as is said of the strait gate and narrow way, that "few there he that find it." We fully agree, however, with the writer that each of the groups of studies which he mentions contributes important and strictly indispensable elements to a truly liberal and humane education.

It seems hardly necessary to enforce the claims of language and literature as elements of culture. It is one of the chief triumphs of the human mind to have converted language, which primarily, no doubt, was merely a crude means for the expression of material wants, into a source—at least a possible source—of intellectual and aesthetic pleasure; and a great part of education may properly be directed to awakening the minds of the young to a sense of this great fact. The ancients fabled, and wisely, we think, that the Muses were daughters of Memory; in other words, that literature only arises when man has become able, through language, to contemplate his own thought, and live over again his past experience. It should therefore be a distinct aim in education to vindicate the claim of language to be something moi-e than the servant and drudge of mankind, the minister to his lower necessities, or at best a buffoon for the amusement of his hours of hilarity. We should be taught to regard language as an associate, a friend, an equal, from whose intercourse we can gain refinement of thought, and almost every other form of intellectual benefit. We have sometimes thought that a certain classification might be made among people accordingly as they treat language as a menial, or as a friend and equal. With the former, language takes on the degraded form that might be expected from the rank to which it is relegated; and the work that it does is of the crude and inferior kind which might also be expected in such a case. To this class of persons those distinctions of thought which make up the pleasure and interest of intellectual life are nonexistent. In the most ordinary matters it is often difficult to get a definite statement from them, simply because they do not know what is definite and what is not; they have never put language to any sufficiently fine use to become conscious of the difference.

Prof. Ladd emphasizes the fact that it is the study of language, not of languages, which he holds to be essential in any system of liberal education. "It is undoubtedly," he says, "a very convenient thing in these days to speak in several of the principal forms of human speech; but it is not an essential, it is not even a very vital and impressive part, of a truly liberal education. The empty-headed hotel clerk, the boorish globetrotter, the frivolous boarding-school miss, may have this accomplishment and not have the first rudiments of a liberal culture in language." Very much to the same effect does Ruskin express himself in his Sesame and Lilies. "If," he says, "you read ten pages of a good book, letter by letter—that is to say, with real accuracy—you are forever, in some measure, an educated person. The entire difference between education and non-education (as regards the merely intellectual part of it) consists in this accuracy. A well-educated gentleman may not know many languages, may not be able to speak any but his own, may have read very few books, but, whatever language he knows, he knows precisely. An uneducated person may know, by memory, many languages and talk them all, and yet not truly know one word of any—not even a word of his own." This is strongly said, but we are hardly disposed to dissent from it.

The principal value, in Prof. Ladd's opinion, to be derived from the study of the classical languages, especially Greek, is that it facilitates and increases the enjoyment of all good literature. This is moderately stated and constitutes a more defensible position than the extreme advocates of classical studies sometimes take up. It seems to us to be greatly a question of time and opportunity. If one can grapple with a scheme of education including an accurate knowledge of the Greek language without being compelled to omit lines of study more necessary to place him—where every modern man should be—at the modern standpoint, we should say by all means let him study Greek and have his sense of beauty quickened by living intercourse with its wonderful literature, and his logical and critical faculties strengthened by investigation of its linguistic elements and grammatical forms. But we think it must be recognized that, as the claims of modern culture become greater, the number of those who will find time and opportunity for this will become more and more restricted.

On the subject of mathematics and the physical and natural sciences, the professor's views are eminently reasonable. He does not claim too much for mathematics as a training in deductive reasoning; he considers that its educational value lies rather in the alertness it bestows in attacking and solving problems. "For is not life," he asks, "one prolonged succession of problems that demand to be solved? To be sure," he adds, "most of the problems are not of the mathematical order; but it is a thoroughly good thing for a man not to be a coward or a sluggard when he is brought face to face with any hard problem." Before the liberalizing power of mathematics can be fully experienced, it is necessary to have attained in the first place "a certain amount of free and joyful movement in the handling of mathematical symbols and formulæ"; and, in the second, "a certain grasp upon the beautiful ideas and the wonderful laws which these symbols and formulæ represent." Mathematics, however, deals only with abstract truths: for that knowledge of the laws of Nature which is an essential and most important part of modern liberal culture we must have recourse to natural science. Here Prof. Ladd makes a distinction similar to that which he made in speaking of language. He postulates a training in science rather than in sciences. This training, he explains, "implies such a course of study as will impart a conception of what is now understood by the term science, and of the recognized method of scientific investigation common to all the natural sciences." A remark which follows contains much truth: "How often does one meet men of fine literary culture who show no little bigotry, and commit not a few important mistakes, because they simply do not know what science really is!" In answer to the question how much of scientific knowledge is necessary for a liberal education, Prof. Ladd replies: "Enough to give the student a firm grasp on those fundamental physical principles upon which the world of things is built, and enough of the pursuit of some form of descriptive natural science to impart the training of the powers of observation and the habit of properly connecting newly observed natural objects with groups of similar objects known before. We should be disposed to add—though perhaps the professor might claim that it is implied in what he himself has said: Enough to bring clearly and effectually home to the mind what is understood by scientific evidence, and to produce a proper attitude of mind—according to the evidence proffered—toward every proposition or doctrine presented for acceptance.

We can not follow Prof. Ladd into the third division of his subject, namely, the claims of a scientific psychology to be regarded as a necessary part of a liberal education; we can only say that here too he seems to us to be on solid ground. We agree with him also when he says that "the condition of public education in the United States is far from satisfactory at the present time." There are many useful thoughts in his article on which we have not touched; and if we leave it for today it is "without prejudice" in case we should wish to return to it on some other occasion.

 

 
NECESSITY.

Among the ancient Greeks the idea of necessity, or as they called it ananké, assumed a certain religious character. It might bring evil and pain, but, in so far as it was an integral part of the order of things, it claimed a pious submission. We sometimes think that there is room for a similar conception in modern times. It is not uncommon to find people railing at the world as evil, because this or that is not arranged according to ideas of what is right, because necessity sets limits to human action and happiness. What the Greeks felt was that ananké could not be got rid of, and that the best thing we could do was to agree with it, and in a manner reverence it. The Greek was right: get rid of necessity in one form, and it immediately reappears in another; in some form man must face it and submit to it.

Socialist writers do not appear to be at all of this way of thinking. They have a noble zeal for remedying evils, but they do not seem to allow anything for the conditions which Nature itself imposes. Thus Prof. Albion Small, of Chicago, finds much to object to in the fact that "if a weaver or switchnan loses his job, no law compels another employer to hire him." He adds that "few men outside the wage earning class have fairly taken in the meaning of this familiar situation." What we should like Prof. Small or some one else to do is to figure out a situation in which, a weaver or a switchman having lost his job, somebody else would be obliged to hire him. It would really be interesting to have this worked out; our impression is that Prof. Small, or whoever undertook the task, would find himself bumping up against old "ananké" in an altered phase. Everybody in that case would want to be the man who could get a situation—of course, a satisfactory one for the asking; nobody certainly would care to be the provider of situations to his fellow -citizens. We are far from saying that there is not a vast amount of hardship in the world, and much of it of a kind which in no way benefits those who have to endure it, as of course some hardship undoubtedly does. But we want to see a way out that will not cut the nerves of industry and make self-reliance a forgotten virtue. We want to see a way out that will not lessen the sense of individual responsibility or make a man less a man. Show us such a way, and we shall gladly lend every effort in our power toward its realization.

Prof. Small seems to think that the occupation of the land under private tenure is largely responsible for the helpless condition of a portion of society; but has he or has any one else ever worked out in all its details a different scheme? Would poverty always be alleviated by a gift of land, especially if the land so bestowed could not be sold? If it was agricultural land it would have to be either improved or unimproved: in either case capital, not to mention industry, would be required to work it; and in the second case to give away the improvements would be to give away the labor of other men. Make land absolutely unsalable, and the economic operations of the world would be impeded in the most serious manner. The more, for our own part, we look into these questions, the more we are driven back to the conviction that the way out which is so much desired lies in the improvement of individual character with consequent increase of individual power and better adaptation to surrounding conditions. As it is, we find that the well-developed individualities can take care of themselves pretty well; they have the power of adapting themselves to their surroundings, and taking so useful a part in the world's work that, even under the much abused capitalistic system, they thrive very well. The problem is to make more sound individuals; and that problem does not seem to be in its nature insoluble—therein differing from some that are set by social reformers.

Then, is this your way, some one may ask, for getting rid of ananké? By no means: it is our way for making the best of it. In every well-balanced mind the thought of necessity is habitually present, calling forth efforts of self-restraint which tend to conserve and consolidate the individual's happiness and well-being. We contemplate, therefore, a constant recognition of necessity, but a recognition which enables a man to meet it on ground more or less of his own choosing, and not as the Nemesis of error and weakness or the ironic destroyer of futile schemes and baseless visions.

 

 
RÖNTGEN TO THE RESCUE! OR, A NEW CHANGE FOR ABSURDITY.

Our thoughtful contemporary. The Nation, is quick to point out the abuse which absurd people of all kinds will make of Prof. Röntgen's discovery of the peculiar action of the so-called X rays. "The stubborn power," it says, "of ignorance to wrest every new scientific scripture to its own destruction is already beginning to display itself in connection with the wonderful Röntgen discovery. Quack doctors are quick to say, 'Aha! this shows that our electric rings and mesmeric belts and psychic brushes and combs are just what we claim them to be.' The mysterious cathode rays, invisible but powerful, will doubtless renew the faith of many a despairing brother who carries a potato in his pocket for rheumatism. What the theological apologists will argue from the apparent need of readjusting the theory of light, those of our readers who are skilled in their methods of reasoning can guess. The Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch, the reasonableness of prayer for rain, the duty of instantly subscribing both to the creed and for the religious weekly of the able editor making the argument, will be among the very least of the things conclusively proved by the new photography."

Such is the penalty for every new discovery of Science. By one of the oddest perversions of the reasoning faculty which it is possible to conceive, the very advances made by Science are converted into so many reasons for disparaging her authority, and drawing conclusions in favor of notions for which there is no evidence at all. Science did not know this before: ergo, Science is fallible; ergo, this or that shaky doctrine is so far confirmed. Such is the logical process, and possibly there is some mysterious benefit in it for a certain class of minds. If it pleases them, it does not do much harm to Science, which, as The Nation says, has such an army of workers at its disposal as the world never saw before.