Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 40.djvu/134

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124
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

gladly; to-day good news of a slightly different tenor comes to the rich, and how sweet it must be to be told that, being rich, you are presumably a favored child of God, and that in living a life of luxury that might make Dives turn green with envy you are simply carrying out his fatherly designs! But the eloquent preacher told his wealthy hearers more: he assured them that, in thus heaping indulgences upon themselves, they were helping the poor by furnishing them with employment. Of course he believed it, because the whole class to which he belongs, with only here and there an exception, believes it, and that is just where we see the great need for the missionary work of the university-extension system. Here are thousands of high-feeding, richly dressed, gospel-taught people, who, in matters economic, are sitting in the outer darkness of ignorance—silly enough to think that the more they consume on their pleasures the more benefit they confer on the world, the more they lighten the toil of the poor.

But it is not upon economic subjects only that the talk of the so-called educated classes betrays a woful lack of information and of coherent thought. Upon scientific and historical subjects it is much the same. By this time the main axioms connected with the doctrine of the conservation of energy ought to be the common property of all decently educated persons, but we constantly hear well-dressed people talking as if electricity, for example, were a mysterious something derived from a mysterious nothing, and thus constituted a boundless source of energy to be had for the asking. It is needless, however, to multiply examples; the world, in spite of all our educational institutions and perhaps a little through their fault, is full of ignorance in places where one would think ignorance ought not to be; and we may well, therefore, hail with joy the introduction of a scheme which seems likely to bring light and knowledge to many thousands of minds.

Upon one point, however, we find ourselves unable to agree with our contributor. After making out a strong case for the usefulness of university extension, he is disposed to draw the conclusion that the national Government should take it under its protection and sustain it by subsidies. From our point of view this would tend to mar the whole scheme. Its success will depend mainly on the individual zeal and public spirit with which it is conducted; but if there is anything that is fatal to zeal and public spirit, it is a subsidy. What is the cause of the paralyzing lack of vitality in our public schools if it is not that they are part and parcel of a political system? It may be granted at once that a national subsidy would greatly accelerate the movement; but we are convinced that what would be gained in rate of growth would be more than offset by deterioration in the ethical and intellectual quality of the work done. If people do not get knowledge to-day it is not for lack of pecuniary means; it is because they prefer to spend the means they might apply to the purpose to less worthy objects. If there is one feature more than another of the university-extension movement that awakens our interest and commands our sympathy, it is that it offers an opportunity for a true crusade against ignorance and folly. But the crusader and the subsidy-seeker are very different persons. The former may be mistaken, but he is enthusiastic; the latter is rarely mistaken, but his enthusiasm is of a low quality. Now, as we have said, here is a grand opportunity for a crusade—an opportunity to show that those who possess the keys of knowledge are willing to unload their stores for others, and that those who have means in abundance are willing to contribute freely to raise the intellectual and moral standard of society. All the elements of a great movement are present if only we can count on enthusiasm—on some small share of that feeling for duty and that