Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 3.djvu/657

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EDITOR'S TABLE.

EDITOR'S TABLE.

 

AIMS OF SCIENTIFIC EDUCATION

IN a leading article on "The Proper Study of Mankind," the Nation recently entered a protest against scientific education; and, as we think it gave its influence to strengthen a current misconception on the subject, it will be in our way to offer a few words of reply.

It is a common opinion, and one which the advocates of the old system of study do all they can to maintain, that Science means merely the physical sciences, which treat of heat, light, electricity, chemical substances, and rock formations; that the value of scientific knowledge consists in its application to arts and industries, by which wealth can be accumulated; and that scientific education simply means the extension of mining, engineering, medical and agricultural schools, while its advocates would be glad to have these overrun the country, and root out all other educational institutions. In other words, the friends of scientific education are constantly charged with being animated by a narrow and sordid utilitarianism. We protest against this view as a gross misrepresentation. Science is not a mere acquaintance with physical things—it is a method of knowing, and is as comprehensive as the phenomena of the world we live in. It is not merely knowledge, it is the most perfect form of knowledge, upon all subjects which it is possible to know. Science is the investigator of Truth––truths of all orders, and by all the mental operations through which truth can be established. The first fact about knowledge is, that it grows; it begins in the common observations and reflections of untaught minds, and gradually develops into clearness, certainty, and precision; is it grovelling utilitarianism to demand that the highest and most perfect forms of knowledge shall be employed in the work of mental cultivation? But few can now be found who will deny that the study of the sciences has great value for mental discipline, and we hazard little in saying that, if pursued systematically, they are capable of giving the mind a training that is more varied and complete than that afforded by any other class of studies. That the influential and representative advocates of scientific education rest its claims upon any grounds of mere selfish utility is not true. No class of men protest more vehemently than they against such low and unworthy motives. They certainly believe in the value of knowledge, and in the eminent value of scientific knowledge; but they hold to a broader and more liberal culture than their adversaries; for, while not rejecting the study of the past, they would enlighten and vivify it by a deeper knowledge of the present. Nor is it true that they are the enemies of literary studies, although the writer in the Nation makes them say of the student, "Literature he had better let alone." But they protest against what Dr. Whewell calls the "narrow and enfeebling education" of an exclusive literary culture; and they demand such a restriction of it as will allow room and time for more solid acquisitions and a proper discipline of the faculties that literature neglects. The strongest advocates of scientific education urge increasing attention to the study of English literature; and, more than that, many of them prove, by their fine command of the language, that they have by no means themselves neglected it.

And the writer in the Nation not only reaffirms the current error that scientific education can only afford