Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 10.djvu/34

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24
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

Technical difficulties prevented the formal nomination of the committee in that year; and before the next meeting came round the Science Commission was in full work, and the ground was covered. Five years have passed; the commission has reported; and the British Association, if it deals at all with the problem that lies at the root of our scientific progress, will have to face the fact that only ten endowed schools in England give as much as four hours a week to the study of science; in other words, that, in spite of ten years of talk, the éclat of a Royal Commission, a complete consensus of scientific authority, and the loud demands of less educated but not less keen-sighted public opinion, the organization and practical working of science in our higher schools has scarcely advanced a step since the Schools Inquiry Commission reported in 1868.

Are the causes of this strange paralysis discoverable, and are they capable of present remedy? We believe that they are notorious, and that it is in the power of the British Association at the present moment to overrule them. It is therefore in the hope of rekindling a productive enthusiasm at a critical moment in the history of our science-teaching that we appeal with all the earnestness of which we are capable to the leaders of the great parliament, whose session will have opened before this goes to press.

The first obstacle to be understood and reckoned with is the amazing confusion in the minds of unscientific leaders of opinion as to the very nature of education. An ex-Lord Chancellor gives away prizes to a school, declares in stately terms that Greek and Latin must always form the backbone of high intellectual training, and that the sciences can only be tolerated as a sort of ornament or capital to this great central vertebral column. On the following day an ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer gives away prizes at another school, assures the boys that modern scientific teaching is their being's end and aim, and envies them by comparison with himself, who at Winchester and Oxford basked only in the "clarum antiquœ lucis jubar." [1] In all such public utterances chaos reigns supreme. Men take side with one or other branch of mental discipline, unconscious of the Nemesis which waits on the divorce of literature from science, or of science from literature, forgetful of the fundamental truths that all minds require general training up to a certain point, and that the period at which special education should supervene is the problem which awaits solution.

The hostility of the clergy ranks high among the difficulties we have to recognize. To the great public schools this is matter of indifference; but the vigorous head-master of a young and rising county school, who attempts, being himself a clergyman, to make real science compulsory in his school, is rattened by the vulgar heresy-hunters, who swarm in every diocese. The hint and shrug in society, the whisper at clerical conferences, the warning to parents attracted

  1. The bright radiance of ancient light.