Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 16.djvu/680

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

schools are, of course, influenced by the examinations, and is it not notorious that these now give so many different hypotheses and enter so much into detail that the student is often perplexed? And (<if report may be credited) the lecturer himself sometimes becomes perplexed also.

Too rapid an acquisition of knowledge—the attempt to master too many subjects—is a part of that Jehu speed at which we are now driving, whether in business or science. Knowledge so gained "proves but of bad nourishment in the concoction, as it was heedless in the devouring." So said Milton in his day. What would he have said now? Competition is not confined to trade. Our examination boards have, in truth, not escaped from its influence. It is melancholy to see that the errors we deplore are perpetrated by men whose knowledge of physiological laws ought to have prevented them from pursuing so disastrous a course. Professor Humphrey has protested in terms of strong disapproval against the system of examinations now too generally pursued, and we of all men ought to join our voice with his in the endeavor to stem the current of this excessive and indiscriminate brain stuffing. "Knowledge grows, but man stands still; that is to say, the intellect and powers of man are no greater now than they were in any of the known past ages; in the days, for instance, of Homer or of Plato, of Confucius, of Buddha, or of Moses; no more powerful to mold the material at hand, whereas the material has vastly increased. . . . Had Hunter been trained upon the present system, had he been weighed down by tightly compressed facts when a student, and subsequently, by out-patient-seeing, on the one hand, and pupil cramming on the other, it is scarcely to be supposed that even his mind could have burst the iron fetters, and could have regained its elasticity and love of work, or that even he could have found time for those reflections which gave such impulse to the science and practice of surgery." ("Hunterian Oration," February, 1879.) One source of mischief lies in the fact that an examiner constantly forgets that the department in which he examines is only one of many, and hence he requires a degree of perfection which is simply absurd—one which, however, suited to honors, is totally unreasonable in a pass examination; and it must be remembered that the severity of an examination can not be gauged by a reference to the questions which happen to be asked at a particular examination. The student has to prepare himself for all possible questions, ranging over very wide areas of knowledge, and involving an acquaintance with a multitude of speculations put forth by Continental as well as English writers. Hence it is not surprising if, in the anxiety to pass the ordeal, success is too often won at the risk of prolonged mental prostration. Failure, on the other hand, involves, besides this, the dangers arising from disappointment and chagrin.

I should not have thought it at all probable, when I commenced