Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 4.djvu/16

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

one hand, nor his memory overload it on the other, in accordance with that preposterous doctrine we sometimes hear propounded, which advocates the employment of the youthful memory in laying up stores of unintelligible knowledge, in anticipation of an after-time, when it will become intelligible—as if there could be such a thing as not-understood knowledge, in any other sense than as we speak of undigested food—turning to poison in the system. The child is a philosopher, a moralist, a poet in little, quite as much as he is an observer or a rememberer, and his whole moral and intellectual growth will be warped and stunted so long as you insist upon looking on him as a mere observing or a mere memorizing machine, a mere receptacle for facts or for words either.

If I am right in this view of the true character of elementary education, it follows that the great departments, into which it should from the very first be divided, correspond exactly with the primary divisions of knowledge itself, as they will continue for the pupil forever after. Let me, for the purposes of this discussion, make a triple division of knowledge into physical, ethical, and æsthetical, according as our thought is concerned with the world of matter, the world of mind, and the world of art or beauty. I am concerned here less for strictness of philosophical accuracy than for the practical convenience of this division. Now, as, in accordance with our fundamental conception of liberal education, the question as to a choice between these departments of liberal learning is a futile one, because all are essential elements in our conception of liberal education—so, if I am right, no conception of elementary education can be a correct one that does not provide for them all from the very beginning.

I need hardly point out what a change in all our methods this change in our philosophy implies; for it involves the doctrine that the true place to begin the teaching of all art, all science, all knowledge, is the primary school; and I am not in the least afraid of the seeming paradox. Rather I would earnestly maintain that, unless we treat the child in the primary school as the germ and embryo of all he is destined afterward to become, our education will be doomed to ignominious failure. Whatever, therefore, enters into our conception of liberal education—and we have already seen that nothing less than all extant knowledge should enter into it that should enter into it—from the beginning. Language and literature should be the subjects of elementary teaching; science should be the subject of elementary teaching; art should be the subject of elementary teaching. Whatever is to enter into the higher stages of education is to have its seed planted there, or it never will be planted. The true distinction, therefore, between disciplinary and non-disciplinary, is not a distinction between one set of studies begun early and another set of studies begun late, one set of studies pursued for training, and another set of studies mastered for use: it is a distinction between the earlier and the later