Popular Science Monthly/Volume 83/October 1913/A Problem in Educational Eugenics
|A PROBLEM IN EDUCATIONAL EUGENICS|
THE flood of current criticism which has been directed against our educational system in general and that of higher education in particular is too obvious to call for special emphasis. While much of it has been exaggerated and some even hysterical, still there is not lacking a considerable body of really sane and timely criticism to which no true friend of advanced learning dare close the eyes. The college in particular has come in for some of the sharpest arraignment of recent years. One may discount the rather indiscriminate criticism of Mr. Crane and others of similar type, but he must face frankly, and answer with equal frankness, strictures which have come from such sources as the Carnegie Foundation, ex-President Wilson and others equally capable.
It is no part of the purpose of this paper to undertake to directly review in detail this discussion; but rather to inquire into certain conditions and methods of current educational philosophy, its ideals and aims, with the hope of directing attention to possible methods of scientific betterment.
It is charged that our educational work has failed to add to earlier literary, artistic or cultural power; that no American scholars are among the recipients of the Nobel prize; that there are no modern peers in literary distinction of Emerson, Holmes, Hale, Longfellow, Lowell, et al. These are grave charges if true. What is the answer? Is answer or explanation forthcoming? Surely it can not be said that interest in literary matters has languished, for the multiplicity of literary activity has not only not declined, but greatly increased, as expressed in the new magazines, journals and books which issue in veritable floods. But may not these facts of multiplicity of interest and activity be a sign of the very decline or failure which is charged? Granted that such may be the case; granted that such multiplicity and intricacy of intellectual life has placed an added burden upon student and literary devotee in the added necessity of larger and more varied preparation for such a career; granted that the enormous extension of scientific, historical and philosophic activity has had a disturbing effect upon the purely artistic or literary achievement, the further query arises, is this peculiar to American conditions? Is such a handicap essentially more serious to the American student than to the European? In some degree it may be so; for one finds in the German schools, for example, that more of these preliminary or preparatory studies are disposed of before entering the professional career. Further, in the mastery of languages the foreign student seems to have, whether from inheritance or local conditions, a readier facility in rapidly acquiring usable command of these subjects. But with all this granted, is it quite sure that we have found a real cause, or merely an excuse for existing conditions? It is a condition and not a theory which confronts us and we can not afford to confuse the problem by any false lights, however alluring such a method might be.
However, it is not so much in the matter of actual difference in the relative status of these pupils in school achievement at a given age. It is rather in the matter of attitude toward things scholarly. One has not to go far into an inquiry to assure one's self on this point. Again and again has the writer heard and seen such expressions as "Don't let your studies interfere with your college duties," "fraternity is more important than scholarship," "only grinds pay any attention to marks," etc. Furthermore, it is rather evident that comparatively few give especial effort to achieving scholarship honors, such as prizes. Phi Beta Kappa, etc. Only rarely does one notice any emphasis in college papers of fellowships, research achievements, etc. One misses the eager passion for scholarship for its own sake which forms so dominant a place in the educational history of earlier days. The impression can not be escaped that the student attitude the country over is rather dominantly as intimated above, though it may be more open and avowed in certain sections than in others. "Stover at Yale" is not pure fiction!
Various attempts have been made to find some adequate explanation of this condition. For example, the dominance of commercialism has been assigned as a factor in this attitude and is involved in the scholarly decline. Let it be admitted that in this there may be a grain of truth, yet it is wholly inadequate as an explanation. We hear it over and over again that scholarly ability has a distinctly commercial value. Now if this be so then one ought to find a growing importance attaching to the highest possible standards of scholarship and educational achievement. But the obvious lack of just this is the very problem which confronts us. Again, one finds emphasized the dominance of athletics, and the social dissipation in college affairs as responsible for divorcement of the more serious and primary considerations. And these express an undoubted element of truth; but again they are not the whole of the matter. They are but symptoms; the real trouble lies deeper and must have more critical concern.
To the mind of the writer the root of the trouble lies in our present-day educational methods. And one of these involved is what may be called indiscrimination. In our zeal for education we have been disposed to regard it as the one panacea for every social and civic ill. This is emphasized in such phrases as "education the foundation of democracy," "the public school the hope of our country," etc. These catch-words may have important values, e. g., they may serve the campaign orator some fine phrases, but let us look a bit deeper than even these.
Perhaps as a reflex of that other half truth, "All men are created free and equal," has come the general conception that education is the common privilege of all without distinction; that it becomes a magic wand able to dispel the seeds of incapacity, imbecility, criminality or even immorality. In a word, we have been taught to regard education as creator, rather than helper, guide or cultivator. No one expects his gardener, however skillful, to supply a superior product from barren soil or defective seed. Now let it be given all possible emphasis that back of culture must be a capable brain; and that this element of capacity is rooted in the physical basis of life itself—the germ plasm. These are at once the soil and seed for our mental gardener to work upon.
Long ago have we learned the fundamental lesson here predicted as it relates to the school of husbandry. The breeder is first of all a discriminator. He knows what he wants, and he knows that in only one way may he have it, viz., by patient and persistent selection; and only those factors which measure up to his standard shall have any place in his school. Others may serve as bearers of burdens—as dray horse, or plodding ox; but they have no place in the stud or in that school destined for a higher product. Our husbandman has learned his lesson from that severe mistress of all progress, mother nature, whose rule is that of fitness. Of the product she has said "very good." The price may be high, above the rubies or mere marks, but its cost is well worth while.
Education and Selection.—Fundamental in Darwinism is natural selection, the counterpart of the artificial selection of the breeder. In nature it is a process of sifting, an elimination of the unfit through the rigors of the struggle for existence. Of its reality and efficiency in a state of nature there can be no doubt; though this does not imply that it has been the only method in operation.
As in social matters, so in educational methods, we have largely disregarded nature's method of selecting the fittest. On the contrary, our standards, whether of school or college, have been adapted to mediocrity. There has been a leveling down whenever the poorer pupil seemed unable to keep up. To be sure, in some instances the poorest have been returned to a lower grade, but rarely the average poor. In technical schools there has been less of this compromise, but it has not been wholly lacking even there. The effect has been to place a premium on mediocrity, just as has been the operation of a similar method in trade-unionism, and its sequence has been to a similar end—discouragement of initiative, independence, highest efficiency, and hence highest achievement.
It may be questioned whether the glorification of our educational ideals, and the formal aspects of it in particular, has not been greatly overdone. In spite of more than a century of its trial the per cent, of illiteracy is still large. This I believe to be due to the fact that there has not been allowed to operate more freely the process of selection. Not all children arc fit for formal education. They have no business in either school or college, except in the former for the merest rudiments of learning. For them the apprenticeship, the trade-school, the vocational fitting, is that through which nature may afford some chance for a place. Many a boy should never be encouraged to go to college, and would not if any pains had been taken to look into his mental pedigree. He is sent in many cases out of mere fashion, a sort of social exaction which has for him only a social significance, or value, wholly beneath the aim of a college standard of any real dignity or worth. And as in the school, only more so, his presence involves the same low and compromising standard and reaction upon all concerned.
Let the gauntlet be thrown down without hesitation or apology—Distinctly academic culture, education for scholarly ends, is not for all. Aye, more, the ordinary school is not for all. Is this akin to treason, a direct challenge of the compulsory school laws? I do not overlook the beneficent aim of these laws. No more need one shut the eyes to another code, that for prevention of cruelty to animals. To how many of us has it occurred that occasion for the latter may as often be found under the former, or in other words, that truant officers and a system which makes them necessary are as amenable to the latter code as are those who torture horses or beat helpless wives? The cruelty of which I protest is that which thoughtlessly or ignorantly grinds every intellectual grist through a common hopper. The schools do not differentiate, teachers do not discriminate between matters of quality and quantity as mental factors. An expert in nervous disorders said in a recent address before a public assembly in Syracuse that "New York State schools contribute a larger quota to the insane asylums than any other agency." This might be variously construed, but surely it should give us pause in our zeal for compulsory education. But these laws are not designedly vicious; they only express misapprehension, they fail to discriminate.
Galton has shown beyond reasonable doubt that genius follows the same laws which control other phases of development. Indeed the earlier pioneer work of Galton blazed out the path which our later experimental methods have demonstrated, over and over again, to be now almost a highway, so clear is its course, so readily followed. Concerning this very matter of discrimination and selection he made bold to declare:
Eugenics.—No more fundamental and commanding factor of modern biology is current than that of heredity. This has been long understood in its applications to various details of husbandry. Only of late has it become fairly subject to control and direction, Nearly ten years ago in an address before the Association of Academic Principals I gave expression to its educational implications in the following words:
It was in the light of just this truth that Dr. Holmes in answer to the query "when should a child's education begin," replied, "one hundred years before it is born"! And in a somewhat facetious paraphrase of the idea a later writer has said, "In the light of science it is up to children to be extremely cautious in selecting their grandparents." Waiving all the apparent paradox of the one, or the cynicism of the other, the present message of biology to every sane and serious man or woman in relation to progeny would be similar—due attention to selection of children. If the Roman adage, "a sound mind in a sound body," has any significance for education to-day it is just in the above sense. It is strangely significant that Plato conceived a similar ideal as the basis of his Republic; and had he known as do we to-day the directing and controlling power of heredity, that Republic, instead of an Utopia, might have been an abiding reality, as glorious as the imperishable art and literature of its golden age!
Let it not be insinuated that eugenics as a program is as utopian as Plato's unless forsooth one turn skeptic concerning all laws of life. In the language of a recent authority
Pearson postulates two fundamental biological conditions as to human betterment:
2. All human characteristics are inherited in a marked and probably equal degree. If these ideas represent the substantial truth, you will see how the whole function of the eugenist is theoretically simplified. He can not hope by nurture and by education to create new germinal types. He can only hope by selective environment to obtain types most conducive to racial welfare and to national progress. The widely prevalent notion that bettered environment and improved education mean a progressive evolution of humanity is found to be without any scientific basis.
Improved conditions of life mean better health for the existing population; greater educational facilities mean greater capacity for finding and using existing ability; they do not connote that the next generation will be either physically or mentally better than its parents. Selection of parentage is the sole effective process known to science by which a race can continuously progress. The rise and fall of nations are in truth summed up in the maintenance or cessation of that process of selection. Where the battle is to the capable and thrifty, where the dull and idle have no chance to propagate their kind, there the nation will progress, even if the land be sterile, the environment unfriendly and educational facilities small.
The growth of the eugenics movement, both in Europe and America, within the recent decade is one of the most hopeful signs of the day, and far more eloquent than mere words or theories. Its intrinsic value for education is unmistakable. Herein, as I see the problem, is an open field for social betterment of the highest type, which in itself is of large promise as a basis from which it is not too much to anticipate means for augmenting any unit character of intellect as well as body. Just here is the hope for that increment of power, both innate and cultural, adequate for recovery of lost arts, and for carrying forward the race to higher achievement in every department of endeavor. If great poets, artists, statesmen and prophets are born not made, why not set into operative activity the only machinery through which such divine birth-heritages may become realities?
The problem is not occult. It is so simple that boys and girls may learn it even in the nursery, surely in the school. If a state may charter its special train in an educational propaganda to teach farmers the lesson of selecting seed corn; if a state may spend hundreds of thousands every year for exhibitions of blooded stock, the triumphs of horticulture, the fleetness of the race-horse, may it not be worth while to ask an equally serious consideration of the same state and its citizens to the no less equally important problem of how to select and improve the seed destined to yield its fruition in human brains? And on the other hand, lauding the laws which warrant the slaughter of tuberculous herds, and the common sense of the farmer who relegates his scrubs and dwarfs to the shambles, what are these same sensible people doing toward a similar process of eliminating defective and unprofitable human stock? Almost nothing. Almost! It is matter for note that already nearly a dozen states have taken steps to cure some of these human blights. There is not time for details, but they exist. Such are glimpses of facts all too common and dominant. They cry for attention and intelligent treatment. They constitute in a special sense an educational problem the importance of which is beyond computation. It is our problem; what is to be our attitude?
Educational Eugenics.—It has seemed to me for some time that there should be found an application for the principles of eugenics in the work of education in general, and for that of higher education in particular. In seeking light on the problem I have submitted certain queries to a considerable number whose work or concern in such matters I know to be great enough to warrant inquisition. For example, to Dr. Davenport I put the following:
To another was asked this additional question:
To still another:
To these varied inquiries various replies have been received. Some have been extremely suggestive, others have been conservative to the point of the worse than helpless. For example, one in reply says
In a later letter the same writer said:
Another response will be briefly cited. Dr. Goddard, chief of research in the Training School for Backward and Feeble-minded Children, New Jersey, writes:
A later word from Dr. Davenport afforded special encouragement. He says:
Enough has now been suggested to warrant the reflection that our entire educational program, its ideals, aims and methods is faulty at many points, and in not a few absolutely untrue to any consistent application of biological principles. When we reflect upon the course through which our educational philosophy has come it is not surprising that there should have been error, that something of tradition has held a sway beyond reason, and that much of existing methods are an inheritance from an outgrown past. It is not to be wondered if criticism has arisen. The wonder is that it has not come sooner and been more fierce. If one compares the civilization of even the most enlightened nation of antiquity with that of the present day; if with this survey he includes that of prevalent ideals and methods of education; if, indeed, he compares conditions in pagan Greece and Rome with the latter under the sway of the monasticism of later centuries, it will be less surprising that there arose the condition known as the "dark ages," which dominated both state and church, and school as well, for more than a thousand years. Without indifference to the good which may have endured in spite of dominant ills in the educational ideal and aim of those times it is still high time that they be estimated at their real worth and discounted according to their inadequacy in relation to present-day conditions and needs.
Through just what means the desired betterment may best be realized may still be an open question. There are those who will continue to regard it as a philosophical problem. But there are others, and their numbers are multiplying, who look upon the problem as one open to scientific and experimental solution. The writer assumes the biological point of view without hesitation or apology. He believes that whatever ideals one may assume it must be more or less evident that man, the subject of these ideals, is involved in those common relationships and laws which condition all organic nature. His growth, both physical and mental, is also conditioned by the same laws. Furthermore, it is probably beyond serious dispute that man in his entirety—bod}-, mind or spirit—is a unity; that all his powers are so correlated that it is not possible for us to isolate them for any such artificial object as that of conventional education. The older notion of mind as an entity, distinct and independent of body or natural relations, an occupant of the "tenement of clay," may still be a fruitful theme for the metaphysician, but it is without significance in any sound philosophy or science of education. "Whether one may accept the purely neurological view that all mentality is potential in the metabolism of nerve cells he can hardly doubt their intimate correlations.
Therefore, whether for better or worse, under the biological assumption, the methods of education, whether of body or mind, whether for mental or physical efficiency, must be those of the living world. In this view there is nothing essentially novel. In many of our educational processes, sometimes consciously, oftener otherwise, there has been at work these vital principles. Galton's appeal has been already cited. The whole program of eugenics is but another aspect of the application of the same conception. With this much accepted let attention be directed without further digression to the main aspect of our problem. namely, a provisional program of educational eugenics. Granted the clearly defined program of eugenics in its primary relations, may a method be devised by which the same principles may be made operative in the realm of education? In other words, can this biological method which promises so much for the race in its physical, social and other respects, afford a reasonable basis for similar hope concerning mental and spiritual betterment? May we find in it the promise and potency of a higher and better type of scholarship than that of the present or past?
I have referred above to "a provisional program" to be directed to these ends. In an attempt to frame a scientific hypothesis of heredity Darwin designated his attempt as "provisional." It was open to serious criticism at first, and it is hardly too much to say that it has only a historic interest to-day. With such a fate for that provisional hypothesis I am not vain enough to anticipate an immediate and unchallenged acceptance of views on a subject greatly more complex.
But is such a program desirable or important? Are educational conditions such as to call for an experiment of the sort which in the nature of things must be more or less an experiment? These questions are important and merit serious attention; but to my mind they must be answered in the affirmative. The program is important and worthy of whatever test or experiment may be called for in its solution. It seems rather certain that the tide of criticism already noted is such that there should be no evasion in giving to it the consideration its importance warrants. Furthermore, it is not too much to aver that existing knowledge concerning biologic laws and principles is such as to call for searching revision of existing methods of all phases of education. It is absolutely impossible to differentiate between growth or development as related to body, mind or spirit. It was once thought that such distinction was obvious as related to animals and plants. To-day such a view is impossible. The fundamentals of life are the same everywhere and always. And the growing child, in every aspect of its nature, is amenable thereto; and every phase of its development should have the same intelligent biological direction as is given to other living things. Some may be forced, while others must as certainly be restrained, or absolutely transplanted and developed under a different environment. A method applicable to the precocious would prove fatal to a mental defective. And now, that we have the ready means of differentiating these varying' grades of mentality, it can hardly be short of folly to decline to utilize them thoroughly. Our school authorities have been ready to take advantage of every means by which these ends may be conserved. For example, in this state steps have only just been taken to care for any such physical defects as may impede or embarrass the pupil in the school. This has been undertaken jointly by the boards of education and health. Examinations of eyes, cars, nose, teeth, etc., will be made by special teachers under a district superintendent, and all such records will become the permanent property of the state board of health.
A School Census.—Here we have the first important step toward the establishment of a definite school census. It is admittedly only a first step; but when it shall be recognized that it is quite as important that the same critical attention be given to defects of mind as to those of teeth or eyes we shall have taken the step which more than any other can redound to educational betterment, and at the same time prove a more effective measure for prevention of cruelty to the human animal than that at present in vogue. With such a school census at command the work of the teacher becomes at once intelligent and at the same time free from the apprehension which must ever haunt one whose problem is rendered obscure by ignorance as to actualities in constitution of the pupil's mental capacity. The Binet scale has been sufficiently tested to render it a fairly trustworthy method of judging potential, as well as actual mentality, and no valid objection has been made against its use. Such a method correlated with such careful family pedigree as might readily be made an obligatory part of our official vital statistics would form a school census of the very first importance in relation to educational betterment and progress.
Difficulties.—The problem is not simple. There are difficulties, and some of them serious. But they are not insuperable. There is that associated with the ideas of family privacy, those skeleton closets where disagreeable things of body or mind are scrupulously hidden from the public view. While we may not lightly moot these objections, at the same time the state and society have rights involved which are no whit less sacred than are those of the family. As a social unit the family must not be permitted to foster conditions which may menace the larger complex of society. These rights are invaded by the board of health, by the life insurance company, by marriage permits (not as yet widely effective); why have not the guardians of mental health and efficiency an equal right to such knowledge? But let it be made clear that such a census need not be a public bureau. The school principal or superintendent is surely as trustworthy as is the city clerk or insurance agent and may be made amenable to any honorable discretion in such matters. Other difficulties may be raised, but none so far can be foreseen of serious concern; surely none more grave than the above. It is not probable that impediments, of whatever character, can long obstruct a searching inquiry into a method having even a reasonable probability of value from receiving a fair test in an impartial effort to advance educational methods by rendering them more scientific and efficient.
A Provisional Scheme.—As an outline of a method of educational eugenics the following seems both rational and workable:
1. Adequate vital statistics. These should include an authentic record of data touching (a) birth and parentage; (b) physical characteristics, health, development; (c) temperamental peculiarities; (d) mental traits, or predispositions; (e) moral characteristics. Critical data covering these matters should be made obligatory upon parents or guardian. Such data would be of inestimable value to the teacher at every step in the course of instruction and should cover the period from birth to school age.
2. A school census. From the time of school entrance and through the entire course of the grades there should be a permanent record of (a) rate and character of progress; (b) mental aptitudes or peculiarities; (c) temperamental or moral traits. During this time there would be ample opportunity for application of the Binet tests of mental capacity. Such a record would afford a real insight into the mental pedigi'ee, which, compared with that of the nursery period, should afford some insight into hereditary antecedents.
3. A high school census. Upon entry into the high school its staff would have at command a body of fairly trustworthy data as to the general character and capacity of every pupil. It would thus become practicable from the first to advise intelligently each one as to the type and character of course to be pursued, i. e., whether academic or vocational, literary or scientific, or whether discouraged concerning either. At any rate, both principal and teacher would be advised in advance as to prospects and probabilities, and thus forearmed to meet the issues. Thus qualified we should be saved from an expedient recently invoked of lowering the passing grade of the high school in order to encourage (?) dull pupils against truancy or abandoning the course, and then defending the method by the assertion that the apparent lowering of the standard was only such in form, that examinations would be made correspondingly more difficult! Such a subterfuge calls for no special comment! As in the grades, so in the high school, a similar record should be as rigidly kept, adding such data as the advanced age of the pupil might naturally afford, e. g., as to prospective vocation, peculiarities, moral traits, etc.
4. A college census. Already there is much available data touching various aspects of actual progress and subsequent history. Much more is needed along these lines. There has been far too much boasting concerning subsequent capacity of college-bred people. This has lent itself effectively to the college agent or president in his endless appeal for resources, for students, etc. Let there be developed a thoroughly reliable body of facts touching every aspect of college or university pretension. Let it include data no loss critical concerning social, athletic, fraternity affairs, and followed later by equally critical details as to subsequent professional distinction.
The scholastic pedigree furnished by the applicant for admission to college which the high school affords would serve quite as useful a purpose to the entrance board as is now served by the examination or certificate; indeed, in most respects a much higher credential than the latter. But beyond this ordinary entrance tribunal there should be one of still deeper importance. If the earlier school life has been largely one of grounding and discipline the college should be distinctively one of discrimination and selection. There is no more expensive and important institution in human society than the college and university. It is obviously unfair to add to the constantly increasing burden for supporting these social institutions by adding to their obligations the thankless task of educating the uneducable; cultivating a defective soil; producing a superior fruit from degenerate seed. Yet such is the present program.
Let there be added to the entrance examination already in vogue an inquiry into the eugenic pedigree of every entering freshman. This will involve no additional machinery; simply a better type of medical inspection; one which will not stop short with a test of lungs or heart or musculature; but will inquire into antecedents touching mental and moral as well as physical traits. That such is not so radical a matter as might at first sight appear, note the following recommendation made to the board of trustees of a state university only a year ago.
"A Chair of Individual Attention."—This sounds a bit vague, or worse, and it is not quite clear as to just what was involved in such a chair, but the following will afford some clue:
Without attempting a discussion of this particular suggestion, or an inquiry as to just what might have been the aim, it seems fairly evident that one feature concerned was a more intimate personal relation with the student. The program herein proposed involves this and much in addition. That the personal concern is important is beyond all question; but that much more is imperative and fundamental is equally certain. It matters little just what name may be attached to such a chair. It might be designated the professorship of educational eugenics; or it might be called the chair of hygiene and physical culture; or any other of a dozen such. The point of real importance is that such a chair be created and placed on the same basis of dignity and independence as that of history or economics, and given opportunity and facilities essential to efficiency. To the writer no departure in educational progress is more imperative than that here proposed, and lie earnestly anticipates its early realization.