By WESLEY MILLS, M. A., M. D., F. R. S. C.,
PROFESSOR OF PHYSIOLOGY IN MC GILL UNIVERSITY, MONTREAL.
EDUCATIONAL methods seem to have been devised in the past more to meet the real or fancied requirements of practical life than with any clear reference to the constitution of the human mind, and this has been owing in no small measure to the reflex influence of public opinion. The school was, and by many still is, regarded as a place where that is to be learned, and pretty much that only, which it is thought will enable the pupil to earn a livelihood or prove successful in the struggle for material things; and of course, so far as it goes, this view is of vital importance. Unhappily, it overlooked the highest purpose of life, and so regarded it is a severe commentary on the character of our age. It has proved a short-sighted policy. It has defeated even its own ends. That can only be a sound theory of education which takes into account, what Nature herself always does, the organism and the environment. Why is our age so advanced in science? The human brain is essentially the same sort of a mechanism it always was, within the knowledge of men. The change is due to difference in method. The moderns have achieved their great results by the scientific method, the Baconian method of induction, or, as we usually say now, the experimental method.
Education has given us the results of a series of experiments, and we are trying others to-day; and at this point I would like to insist that educational questions can only be settled by experiment. Many theories that looked fair have proved delusive when actually tested by experience. But one thing is perfectly certain: any theory or any practice which does not square with the organization of man and the nature of his surroundings or environment, will be a failure just in so far as it falls short of meeting both. The difficulty is to know the nature of our own organization, and knowing that, to adapt it to our environment, or, as we usually say, to our circumstances. Allow me to use the term environment because it applies to other animals than man, and I desire to give my treatment of the subject as broad a basis as possible. From the time that men began to think they studied themselves, and long ago the Greek wisely asserted that to know one's self was the sum of all wisdom; and, of course, in the widest sense, for a man to know himself is to comprehend his relations to the entire universe.
- The main portions of an address delivered under the auspices of the Royal Society of Canada, at its annual meeting in Ottawa, in May, 1892.