Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 21.djvu/562

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548
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

THE SLOW PROGRESS OF IDEAS.

In his recent excellent report to Columbia College, Dr. Barnard says, in discussing the policy of universities, "Newton stands perhaps without a peer in the scientific annals of all time, yet the astronomy of Ptolemy continued to be taught in Newton's own university of Cambridge for a century after the publication of the 'Principia' had created astronomical science anew." This is an excellent illustration of the power of habit and tradition in education. In further discussing "Education as a Science" in the same report, President Barnard quotes the following statement of the Rev. Mr. Quick, the Cambridge lecturer, on the history and philosophy of teaching: "I take it that Jacotot taught more emphatically than any one three great pedagogic truths: first, that a good teacher exercises the searching rather than the receiving faculties of the learner's mind; second, that all fresh knowledge should be connected with what the learner knew before; and, third, that a thorough knowledge of anything is an almost inexhaustible source of power. However, if his principles were right, there must have been some grave defect in the application of them, or his system, which at first met with immense success, would not so speedily have lost its ground." To this President Barnard adds, "The grave defect in the application consisted obviously in his pushing the first principle to an extravagant and unreasonable excess, and in leaving the pupil too entirely helpless."

We suspect that the reason why those golden truths of Jacotot have not been more generally accepted and practiced, and why his system perished with him, was deeper than is here indicated. Badly applied they no doubt were, but it is more significant that they were prematurely thoroughgoing, and involved the cutting up of an old system, root and branch. If it took a hundred years for the magnates of Cambridge University to recognize the demonstrated truths of the "Principia," how much longer will it take to introduce something like a law of gravitation into education? It is hurrying things if a great new principle gets well accepted in a century and intelligently applied in another century, and Jacotot's experiment is but half a century old. Science is making progress, but it moves precious slow in old educational establishments. Loading the memory with Greek and Latin seems still to be the leading business of Columbia College; while Dr. Barnard tells us that; "zoology, botany, physiology, and biology are all unrepresented in our scheme of instruction." As a further illustration of the slowness of collegiate improvement and reform, it may be mentioned that, while Columbia College has a strong corps of teachers for drilling in the dead languages, it has no adequate provision for discipline in the correct and elegant use of the living language in which the intellectual life-work of all the students is to be carried on. Dr. Barnard laments that there is no sufficient provision "to practice the learner in the proper use of language," and urges the Board of Trustees to repair this and the other omissions referred to. From all of which we infer that, although knowledge goes slow, Columbia College goes slower.

Dr. Barnard desires to have the ladies patronize his institution, but they may well reply: "Not yet, dear doctor; you are too far behind the age. We appreciate the honor, and the society of the gentlemen would not be unpleasant; but it is a very important question whether the culture you are prepared to give us is the best calculated to qualify us for that sphere of life to which most of us are destined. We have all read that Agesilaus, King of Sparta, upon being asked what things he thought most proper for girls to learn, answered, 'Those which they