Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 73.djvu/344

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340
POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

THE SPECIALIST BLIGHT ON AMERICAN EDUCATION
By JAMES P. MUNROE
BOSTON, MASS.

SPECIALISM is the order of the day. From the professor of Greek down to the "professor" who shines one's shoes, that man is in demand who is disposed to concentrate all his energies upon the learning or the doing of one thing. Even our households have become infected, for therein is now to be found the very apotheosis of specialization. Even so late as the beginning of the last quarter of the nineteenth century, one maid would do substantially all the work of the house; whereas, to-day, the lady who condescends to burn one's beefsteak and to parboil one's potatoes will not enter the laundry or the dining-room, while the other maid (or maids) would join the family in general starvation before so far forgetting her "place" as to cook a single meal.

But what can be expected of the rank and file of the modern world when the leaders of American life, men in the professions and in those higher institutions which prepare for the professions, have seemingly gone mad upon the question of specialization? Like the gypsy-moth, the specialist was imported from Europe, either directly or through young men who went there for medical, linguistic or other higher studies; and many a green tree of scholarship, many a fair, broad field of general culture has been converted by this importation into a naked waste of narrow pedantry.

Of course, the time has long gone by when any man, no matter how brilliant, can, in Bacon's words, "take all learning for his province." But that does not justify the running to an opposite extreme, does not excuse the digging of a hole in the side of a small mound of erudition, getting into the farthest end of it, and maintaining that the tiny patch of sky framed by the mouth of the hole is all of the universe worth while. It is probably necessary that some man should spend his whole life grubbing at a certain obstinate Greek root; but why call him learned, when he is simply industrious? Why reward him with titles and emoluments, and give no scholastic encouragement to the far less erudite man who is nevertheless sending intellectual and moral roots over a wide area of human thought and life?

The curse of American scholarship and of American education is the Ph.D. For in exalting this decoration of the specialist, we are repeating the error of the Schoolmen, who confounded erudition,