Popular Science Monthly/Volume 49/July 1896/Sociology in Ethical Education



THE fact that there is great social discontent throughout the entire western world requires no demonstration. The forms in which it manifests itself are numerous. In the various phases of socialism, and in nihilism, it permeates every department of European life. In the rural portions of our country the same spirit of discontent, though in a much milder form, manifests itself in the Farmers' Alliance and in the Populist movement. In our cities and towns it appears in labor organizations and in socialistic societies.

The adjustment of the parts of our social organism is certainly not harmonious. Collisions between classes whose interests are opposed have at times paralyzed domestic commerce, have involved the comforts of the nation, and have reminded thoughtful men and women of conditions preceding revolution. Not infrequently State militia, and even the United States troops, have been called out to protect life and property and to quell riots.

It is important that educators should inquire whether the schools are in any degree responsible for this unfortunate condition of affairs. We are compelled to acknowledge that we think they are, though not in a blameworthy sense, for the forces of no other agency have been guided with purer motives; hence there is no place for condemnation. The relation of the schools to society, however, is so intimate, and their influences are so potent in their formative effects, that it would be folly to claim that they are entirely free from responsibility in this grave matter; since, even if they have not contributed directly and purposely to it, they have not studied to prevent it. They have cultivated, unintentionally of course, those characteristics of the race which have produced it, and have failed to cultivate, except incidentally, those better characteristics which must correct it.

Throughout the whole course of the development of our public schools, their relation to the child as an individual, with personal ends in life to be attained, has always been a prominent feature and a determining factor; while their relation to the child as a member of society has never been sufficiently emphasized. The effort, therefore, on the part of the schools has uniformly been to enable the child, when grown to manhood, to successfully guard his own interests and secure his personal ends. There has been no general or continued effort to so train and so develop him that he will contribute to the welfare of society. The result has been to center and to fasten his attention upon his personal interests, and to cultivate in him selfishness instead of an altruistic spirit, which is the truly social spirit, and which alone will produce harmony among the classes now in collision. Why has the child been taught to read, to write, to cipher? Primarily because a knowledge of these has seemed to be absolutely essential in securing his so-called rights among his fellows. Only recently has his relation to society been seriously considered. His ethical side is now demanding cultivation more loudly than ever. So far as education is purely intellectual, it only trains him for a fiercer part in the great human struggle for personal ends, and tends to diminish the severity of that struggle in such degree only as purely intellectual culture indirectly contributes to the ethical, through attention to subjects related to the ethical.

Back of all social discontent, back of all forms in which it appears, we find the primary cause of social disorders in the presence of erroneous ideas among men, particularly the presence of erroneous notions concerning the relations which exist among men. There are certain fundamental ideas upon which the social edifice is built—pivotal ideas about which the social world turns. In each of these ten thousand others germinate; and the ten thousand are wrong if the one is wrong. The following are examples of these erroneous, fundamental, pivotal ideas, which have become stock notions of the people: Cæsars and Napoleons are civilizers; royalty is related to the gods; the Creator made some to be served, others to serve; legality is justice; standard belief is more important than standard character; morality divorced from religion is dangerous. Any social structure founded upon such ideas alone is a monstrosity. To-day we stand face to face with the fact that these very ideas, and others like unto them, form a very large part—entirely too large a part—of the foundation of modern society.

All existing governments and all other institutions have been at some time simply abstract ideas in somebody's brain, and afterward have become concrete realities; right ideas giving birth to right institutions, wrong ones to wrong institutions. This same relation of cause and effect which exists between ideas and institutions, exists also between ideas and the character of individuals, and between ideas and the character of the relations which exist among individuals. Just so far as individual character and existing relations among men are right, they are the product of right ideas; so far as they are wrong, they are the product of wrong ideas.

If, as we think, the presence among men of erroneous ideas is the cause of social disorders, the cure will be their displacement, through educational processes, with such as will produce right character in men and inspire right relations among men. We believe this is entirely possible, and we think that both the agencies and the methods are in sight. Both must be educational. All political and legislative schemes, the single-tax theory, the nationalization of land and industries, all socialistic projects, all cooperative remedies, will prove of little avail, if they aim at curing social disorders by improving the environment only of the man. The man himself is wrong. He is the thing which needs correction and improvement; not the world in which he lives, or the form of government under which he lives. The only possible way of correcting him, and through him of permanently curing social disorders, is through the processes of education—education of the child with the potential man in him.

The Church, the press, and the schools are the agencies which, supplemented by other forces, have determined the existing fundamental ideas of society. If these agencies have been able to formulate and fix these, they certainly can modify them, or even displace them by others. The functions of these agencies, however, and the methods employed in the execution of these functions, must be modified, some even revolutionized. Although the Church and the press, the discussion of whose functions and methods the limits of our paper forbid, are powerful agencies whose influence is beyond all computation, or even conjecture—which must be employed in the improvement of social conditions—yet they are not the agency upon which greatest reliance can be placed. This is found in the schools—the great free public-school system. There is greatest hope in this agency for many reasons: particularly because its organization, and no other, is fully adapted to the requirements of the situation; because it deals with the child, which is a moldable and not a crystallized thing; and because the schools are the agency which in large degree determines the character of all other agencies.

Our hope, then, is in the schools; but their function and their methods must be modified, because they are not giving to the world the best they can give. They are not giving what the world most needs—the best possible character, which results very largely from a careful, rational study of our relations to others, from a right understanding of all those relations which are interwoven everywhere among men in all phases and departments of life. Nothing is more important for our children and youth to understand than the nature and character of human relations; but these are ignored, as if there were no such relations. Here, in our judgment, is the most serious defect of our schools, and not in the lack of proper "correlation" of studies.

Whether the study of human relations is the province of the schools we can not stop to discuss, but pass it with the remark that the schools belong to the people, and the people have the right to do what they please with their own. They can make the function of the schools whatsoever they choose to make it—whatsoever will serve themselves best.

How can this most serious defect be remedied? By introducing instruction in pure human ethics, divorced from religion, which then becomes a study of the relations which exist among men in this real world. One great difficulty in the way of providing instruction in ethics heretofore has been the lack of a clear distinction in the minds of the people between ethics and religion. The Christian world has been in the habit of thinking and of claiming that there can be no valid system of ethics, except that which is based upon the existence of God, and upon the relations which we suppose exist between him and us. This claim has never been substantiated in a manner satisfactory to scientific thought. Religion is a system of beliefs and worship, and points to an after life, for which we all hope; while ethics is a system of principles of conduct for man as a social being in this life, which we are all now living. Ethics deals with realities, with a real life in a real world. Its realm is entirely a realm of actualities; while the realm of religion, defined in a scientific manner, is one of beliefs and hopes. So far as these beliefs and hopes are determining factors in the conduct of man to man, the realm of religion affects the realm of ethics. But apart from this, if by some magic power the realm of beliefs and hopes were annihilated, the realm of ethics would remain absolutely undisturbed. Does ethics, then, find its basis in religion? Does that which is real depend for its existence upon that which we suppose to be real? It may, providing that which we suppose to be real is actually real; but when, as in this case, it is beyond human powers to determine whether it is real or not, it is about as unphilosophical to declare that something which is known to be real depends for its existence upon another something which we suppose to be real, as to declare that the Himalayas hang upon the sky. The only possibility of substantiating the claim that ethics and religion can not be divorced is found in so formulating a definition of one of them as to embrace in it the realm of the other. But such an attempt would be futile in this scientific age of discrimination and definition. Ethics and religion are both right, and have their separate and appropriate missions and fields, which, as we have indicated above, overlap; but their foundations are two distinct things in reality, and ought to be made so in definition. The sooner this distinction is recognized, the more rapid will be the moral development of the race.

Upon what, then, can a system of ethics be based? Upon the fact of human relations. If there were only one human being in the world, there would be no need of an ethical system, because there would be no other man with whom he could have any relations. Neither would there be any need of it if the inhabitants were few, and were so scattered over the earth that no one of them, in securing for himself the necessaries of life, would ever come in contact with any of all the others. But, just so soon as any one place on the earth becomes the common abode of two, so soon relations are established between them, and there is need of principles of conduct governing each in his acts which in any way affect the other. An ethical system to control the actions of these two men alone would be very simple. But when, from increase of population, or for motives of common interest, individuals unite and form a tribe, there comes to be tribal ethics. When two tribes come in contact, intertribal relations are formed; and when tribes grow into nations, national and international ethics arise; and as the life of the individual becomes more complex within itself, and more involved in its relations to other members of the same tribe or nation, and as the nations increase in size and number, the rules governing this increased complexity must by necessity become more and still more complex, until we have the most possible complex system of ethics governing the most highly developed society. It is here, in this fact of human relations, that we find a basis for human ethics. It is the instruction of our children and youth in these relations for which we plead as a remedy for social disorders. Some recent modifications of school work point toward such instruction; but, in our judgment, none of them are calculated to satisfy the demand of our day. The moral results of the work in the kindergarten, where the little ones are unconsciously instructed in their relations to each other, can not be overestimated. Similar results ought to be produced all along the line of educational work, but these can not be secured through kindergarten methods with children beyond kindergarten age. Other methods must be invented appropriate for different ages.

If the study of human relations is so important, how can our children and youth be instructed in them? We venture to reply that this end can be attained by the introduction, in elementary and as yet undeveloped forms, of the new science of sociology, which, if not scientifically defined as the science of human relations, certainly treats of the whole realm of these relations, and no other science does. There is evidence that "the education of the future will be sociological; that the supremacy which has been accorded to the physical sciences will be transferred to sociological studies"[1] The tendency is certainly in this direction. It is seen in the methods employed and in the character of the work done in the kindergarten, in the comparatively fruitless efforts to extract moral lessons from subjects already taught, in the use now being made of the story and myth in literature, in the making of text-books with a view to moral impression, in the provision made for manual training, and in the preference shown by the Committee of Fifteen for "an objective and practical basis of selection of topics for the course of study, rather than the subjective basis so long favored by educational writers."[2] All this is in response to a demand that our schools must do something more than to cultivate brain power. They must also guide it. All possible means must be utilized in meeting this demand; but, in our judgment, it can be more fully met through sociological studies than through all the means and methods now employed. This line of study can, without doubt, be made the vehicle for effective moral impression.

Apart from the ethical character of this new science, which renders it superior to all other subjects for ethical purposes, it possesses two very important advantages which disarm two classes of objectors to ethical instruction. One class is composed of those who say that we can not teach ethics, because that means religious instruction. This objection falls to the ground through the separation of ethics and religion, which this new science assists in establishing. Since this is so, and since the ethical codes of all parties interested in the schools are substantially the same, and since there is no hope that the state will ever provide for religious instruction, may we not hope that on this ethical ground which sociological studies furnish, a compromise may be effected through which something may be accomplished in the schools of vastly greater importance to humanity than any degree of manual training, or even of purely intellectual development? Those who are opposed to religious instruction would not be losing their case, since ethics is not religion. All who desire religious instruction would, from their point of view, be gaining their object in part, since they include ethics in religion. To no party would this be a sacrifice of principle.

The second class of objectors declare that direct moral instruction would be abortive; that all moral impression must be made indirectly. This is an assumption to which the facts of experience are opposed. However, without stopping to argue this point, we present to this class of objectors this same subject, which can be so handled, if it is desired, as to slyly insinuate moral lessons into the boys and girls when they are off guard—side-flank them. With this notion we have no sympathy. Moral training must be known as moral training. An importance of its own must be attached to it by placing it on the same level with, or even above, every other branch. On the other hand, sociological studies can be so employed as to openly, frankly, teach matters of right and wrong, and stamp such an importance upon the right as to make a profound impression.

The ways and means of teaching this new science must be discovered by trial. Whatever is said here in reference to this point is purely suggestive and tentative. The present undeveloped condition of the science requires that first effort shall be made with the most mature pupils, hence in the high schools. Later, without doubt, what may be called elementary sociology will be developed and adapted to the other grades. Child sociology is already taught in a practical way in the kindergartens.

The primary aim ought not to be to acquaint high-school pupils with the theory of sociology, desirable as that may be, but to make them as familiar as possible with the multifarious relations of life, before they enter upon them as individuals independent of parental protection and guidance. Perhaps I can indicate most clearly the line of work, as it lies in my own mind at present, by venturing a few thoughts upon the character of a text-book suitable for this work. I would devote the introductory chapters to the establishment upon a philosophic basis of some universally accepted ethical principles, with which human actions are to be compared and adjudged as right or wrong. The best, the simplest, the most easily understood, and the most generally accepted is, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." In our judgment this is entirely sufficient. Nothing better is known, and I would make a text-book sing the spirit of this beautiful principle of social life on every page. It is the condensed epitome of all the ethical teachings of the great Master of ethics as they are recorded in the New Testament; hence, acceptable to all Christian peoples and institutions. This can be based upon a philosophic induction from social data. This, perhaps, would clothe it with an authority which, because it has been heard so often and so universally ignored, it unfortunately does not now possess.

A similar induction might be made to result in some other general principle, if that is desired, like that of Bentham, which, without philosophic verbiage, is that that is right for this world which aims at the greatest degree of happiness to the largest number of persons. These and other like generally accepted in life. After these have been established they must be so stamped upon, so burned into the mental fiber of every pupil, that he must by necessity carry them through life; that he can not by any possible line of conduct cause them to fade out, or by logical process silence their voice. This result I would make the aim of the remainder of the book, which should embrace civics in all its branches, business and industrial relations in all their ramifications, natural rights and duties of the individual, the objects, rights, and obligations of society and governments, and all kindred subjects.

Civics embraces duties to country and whatever contributes to best citizenship. Under this topic I would direct attention to political abuses of all sorts, and impress the importance of living by the same moral code in politics as in religion. I would discuss whatsoever would bring plainly to view the individual's ethical duties and obligations to country and government. In the treatment of business relations I would go into the details of the various branches. It seems entirely practicable for a man familiar with business life and methods to conduct students equipped with their code of universally accepted moral principles, according to which human actions are to be classified as right or wrong, into and through the ten thousand ramifications of all kinds of business, behind the counter, into the bank, into the boards of trade, into the business and professional office, into the exchanges, into the council chambers of great corporations, into every corner of the business world, and study the relations which exist among all who are occupied there, as well as between these branches and the great world outside. Here the like relations of the industrial world should be considered, the relations between those who possess capital and those who labor, between those who employ and those who are employed, the rights of each and the duties of each to the other.

In treating of the natural rights and duties of the individual I would attempt to impress the ethical relations between individuals which arise from the fact of birth. All are in the world through no merit or fault of their own, hence no credit or blame attaches to the fact of being here in any case. No man brought anything with him which every other man did not bring; hence all by Nature are endowed with equal rights and entitled to equal opportunities. This opens up an immense field of thought in the direction of modifying the existing conditions of unequal rights and unequal opportunities, which all students of social questions recognize with serious misgivings.

Closely allied with this subject are the objects of social organization, the relations which exist between society and the individual, the rights of each, and the duties of each to the other. Society is a necessity. Being a necessity, it ought to be so organized as to continue and perform its functions with the least possible friction, and the greatest possible comfort and happiness to all who compose it. Hence the immeasurable importance of investigating, and of establishing in the minds of the rising generations an ethical adjustment of the parts of the social organism.

  1. Prof. Fulcomer, Lecturer in Chicago University.
  2. Report of Committee of Fifteen.