Popular Science Monthly/Volume 17/September 1880/Editor's Table
|←Correspondence|| Popular Science Monthly Volume 17 September 1880 (1880)
THE AMERICAN SCIENTIFIC ASSOCIATION.
THE American Association for the Advancement of Science will hold its twenty-ninth annual meeting in Boston, commencing Wednesday, August 25th, and continuing perhaps a week. It is expected that this will be the largest and probably the most important scientific gathering yet held in this country; and ample arrangements have been made, by a large and efficient local committee, both for the business accommodation of the body in all its departments and for the convenience and pleasant entertainment of the members and guests who may be present.
The purpose for which this Association was established is very well known, hut to strangers, who propose attending it, it may be well to say that it is devoted to original researches, which are generally of interest to those only who have paid some attention to special scientific branches. Neither the papers read nor the discussions that follow them are usually of a popular character. They are necessarily dry and unintelligible to those unfamiliar with the subjects; but, to those who have some preparation in science, even though it be of a general sort, there is much in the proceedings of this society that will be found very instructive. It is broken up into a large number of sections, each devoted to a division of science, such as astronomy, physics, chemistry, zoölogy, botany, physiology, geology, anthropology, etc., and programmes are published every morning giving lists of the papers to be read during the day in each section. Though technical, and addressed to specialists, these papers represent the advances in each branch of inquiry, and the proceedings of the successive meetings may be looked upon as comprehensive reports of the annual progress of scientific research.
Any person may become a member of the Association upon recommendation in writing by two members, and subsequent election by a majority of the session. The initiation fee is five dollars, and the subsequent annual dues three dollars; and these payments entitle each member to receive the annual volume of proceedings. New members are usually elected daily during the meeting, but many apply earlier to the permanent Secretary, Mr. F. W. Putnam, Cambridge, Massachusetts. More than two hundred members had been proposed for the Boston meeting a month before it begins.
The sessions of the Association will be held in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The address of the retiring President, Professor George F. Barker, of Philadelphia, will be given on the first day, and the new President-elect, Dr. Lewis H. Morgan, of Rochester, will be the presiding officer of the Boston meeting.
SEWAGE IN COLLEGE EDUCATION.
At the College of New Jersey, in Princeton, a considerable number of students were recently attacked by a malignant fever, of which several of them died. It turned out that the cause of this fatal outbreak was not the uu- healthfulness of the place, but bad sew- age arrangements in the college build- ings, where the unfortunate students resided.
There was, of course, nothing new or unusual in such an occurrence. There have been thousands of cases like it before. Indeed, as we go back in the centuries we read of great fever-plagues carrying off millions of people, and which were caused by air-poison and water-poison engendered in the filth of human habitations, when the methods and the virtues of sewage and drain- age were unknown.
And yet there was something unex- pected and startling about this affair at Princeton. The sickness and death that occurred there were not from want of knowledge. The calamity was entirely preventable. It could not be charged to the mysterious providence of God, as is often so plausibly done when the causes of disease and death are not un- derstood. It took, place in a great seat of learning, where young men gather to be educated. The business of the place was to think. But if there was knowl- edge sufficient to prevent this disaster, and the young men were learning how to use their minds, why did the catas- trophe occur? The answer is, these young men were sacrificed to an educa- tional theory.
The theory to which the Princeton students were offered up is that col- lege knowledge is not to be of the use- ful kind that is necessary to save life. Utilitarian knowledge that which in- structs people how to preserve life and maintain health, and deal intelli- gently with practical affairs is decried in these institutions as vulgar and unfit- ted for educational purposes. Knowl- edge for its vital life-uses is flatly repu- diated, and the courses of study are made up with reference to quite other objects. The study of dead languages, which, for general students, is most per- fectly freed from all utilitarian taint, is the earliest, the most prolonged, and the
most prized of all college studies. The whole pressure goes in this direction. Whatever else is neglected, the Greek and Latin are always insisted upon. The students are told that this will make men and scholars of them, while an acquaint- ance with modern knowledge, science, and the laws of their own nature is hard- ly to be ranked as education at all. A knowledge of sewage is not included in the Princeton ideal of scholarship, nor is it exacted by the Princeton curricu- lum. There was information enough to prevent the calamity that happened there, but nobody had any interest in making use of it. It was dead knowl- edge in the College of New Jersey. The intellectual interest fostered by the in- stitution impels to other acquisitions. The whole battery of examinations, honors, prizes, is adapted to favor dignified, traditional, and disciplinary studies. The Princeton student is not, first of all, thoroughly instructed in re- gard to the laws of breathing and the circulation, nor of the brain and its con- ditions of action and limits of endurance, nor of the nervous system and its perils of exhaustion, nor of the stomach with its dyspeptic dangers, nor of the vital forces of the living system and the laws of their economical exercise, nor of the complex influence of environing condi- tions over human health, efficiency, and enjoyment. He is not taught these prime essentials of welfare as the most imperative of intellectual requirements, because they are slurred as mere " utili- ties "; and so he is left to die or sicken from poisonous air, or to undermine his energies and break clown his health in any of the numberless ways to which carelessness, ignorance, and unregulated ambition may lead. If he does not die of collegiate sewage, he is turned adrift with his " miserable scrapings of Greek and Latin," to find out by bitter experi- ence that it would have been better if he had devoted more of the precious time of his college years to the study of useful things.
We have spoken of the college at Princeton because it happens to have furnished us with a text; but these strictures have a wider application, for the vice we are condemning vitiates the college system of the country. There may have been excuse for this in institutions founded long before the claims of modern knowledge had any- thing like their present urgency; but the later colleges exhibit the same de- fects. The University of Michigan, for example, is of modern origin, having been established nearly a hundred years later than the College of New Jersey, but its educational spirit is of the same kind. It was organized by State au- thority, and has been maintained from the beginning by public taxes. It is open to all within the State or out, and, excepting a slight initiation fee, is free to every student. One would think that the circumstances were here favor- able for giving precedence to that later, higher, and more perfect knowledge which is vindicated in its beneficent uses, and is equally valuable to all classes. Yet this great institution, with its fourteen hundred students, seems just as much enslaved by vicious tradi- tions as the older schools. Middle-age studies are still in the ascendant, as " three years in Greek required for A. B." sufficiently attests. The sci- ences are taught there, but the classical course is the one encouraged by the whole weight of the university influ- ence; and, consequently, as statistics show, it is the one pursued by an ex- cessive majority of the students. The theory of education which bore its fatal fruit at Princeton is loudly defended at Ann Arbor. A newspaper comes to us with report of the proceedings of the last commencement, held July 1st. These are grand occasions, when the colleges are sure of public attention. A vast audience gathered at this thirty- sixth annual commencement of the Michigan University, but, in place of the usual speeches by the graduating stu- dents, an elaborate address was delivered
by the Right Rev. Samuel T. Harris, D. D., Bishop of Michigan. The elo- quent speaker did not fail to improve the occasion in the interest of all col- legiate traditions. Knowing that they are under indictment by the common sense of the age, he came to their de- fense with a kind of fanatical despera- tion. The Bishop said:
Scarcely less cruel is the introduction of a false utilitarianism into education. In edu- cation the usefulness of a study is not to be measured by its availability for the business purposes of later life. In education those things are useful, not which may be employed thereafter for business purposes, but which best develop and train the student's faculties and powers. Until education is completed, no student ought ever to be permitted to study anything simply because he proposes to make money by it. It is not the object of educa- tion to learn useful things, but to become able to learn and use them. So I say it is a cruel wrong to the student to permit either the instruments or the spirit of mere money- making to be introduced into his educational life. Permit me to say that this is a great evil of which I am now speaking. In too many cases education is dwarfed and per- verted by the tendency to yield to this false utilitarianism. In too many cases allurements of worldliness and mammon are allowed to call our ingenuous youth away from the proper objects of education. In too many cases short roads and by-paths are opened up to tempt them away from the proper work of the college and the university, and so to send them prematurely to schools of professional and technical instruction. The result is, that too often we see half-educated men and un- formed men sent forth to plead the cases and heal the diseases and lead the thinking of the age. Let us all protest against this evil ten- dency. For, unless we succeed in checking it in some way, it will lead to the impoverish- ment of this generation. Let our schools and our colleges and universities make men first, and then let them make lawyers and physi- cians and teachers. Ordinarily, so far as education is concerned and we are confining our discussion to that now the only path to true completed manhood is through a thor- ough course of educational training. Latin and Greek and the higher mathematics, rhet- oric and logic and mental and moral philoso- phy, these are the useful studies in education. These are the studies by which such men as Newton and Bacon and Stevenson and Butler and Gladstone were made. I rejoice to be- lieve that a steadfast adherence to this prin- ciple does characterize the counsels of this institution. I rejoice to learn that the num- ber of students who take the full classical and philosophical course is steadily increasing. I rejoice to believe that this fell spirit of utili- tarianism is not nourished in this place, and I devoutly hope that the time is speedily coming when no one but those who have taken the bachelor's degree will expect to be admitted to the professional schools of this great university. [Great applause.]
We take exception to this greatly applauded statement on several ac- counts. Bishop Harris recommends a course of collegiate study, and rejoices in its popularity at the Michigan Uni- versity, in which not a single one of the natural sciences is included. He assumes that the scientific progress of three centuries goes for nothing in the higher education; and he admits no im- provement upon the mediteval scheme of culture. The most developed form of knowledge, that which has created modern civilization, and opened up a new world of truth to the human mind, he passes by as if it had no existence. He advocates the theory of college education of which Princeton has re- cently illustrated the practice the the- ory to which students are immolated. It is an insult to the intelligence of the age. Any college, supported by forced exactions upon the people, which omits the sciences from its curriculum, is an outrage upon the community; and, if it can not be reformed, deserves to be sup- pressed as a public nuisance.
Again, we object to the Bishop's disingenuous attempt to bring useful knowledge into reproach by talking of " mammon," " worldliness," and money-making," in connection with it. It is not true that the advocates of educational reform put the educational claims of modern knowledge on mer- cenary grounds. Does Bishop Harris need to be reminded that there are other uses of scientific knowledge than sordid uses? Does he need to be told
that it subserves the highest ends to which knowledge is applicable? Would students be chargeable with a venal purpose if they neglected their Latin and Greek, and took up the study of sewage to protect themselves from fatal college epidemics? The Bishop rep- robates in his address the "false and superficial habit of object-teaching"; but if students should take up college buildings as an object-lesson, and there- by gain some knowledge that might not only be of immediate utility, but have a vital value for them through life, who but an infatuated classicist would accuse them of being animated by low and degrading motives? And supposing they should systematically extend this practice and look into the water-supply of Ann Arbor and the sewage of the town, and then examine the hygienic conditions of the public schools, and afterward proceed to the jail and the poor-house, and get up a series of object- lessons on these also, would they be liable to the imputation of being actu- ated by motives of mere vulgar and debasing utility? This disparaging assault upon the kinds of knowledge which lead to self-preservation, to the maintenance of health, to the promo- tion of personal and public welfare, and to an understanding of the laws of the human constitution,' the natural laws of society, and the principles on which the surrounding world is ordered, was wholly unworthy of the orator, of the occasion, and the university that he rep- resented.
And we can not refrain from saying that his insinuation about making edu- cation subservient to business comes with an ill grace from the Eight Bev- erend Bishop, whose education was a direct preparation for his trade. He says, " Latin and Greek, and the higher mathematics, rhetoric and logic, and mental and moral philosophy, these are the useful studies in education." Un- doubtedly! but useful to whom? They are the staple studies of the clerical profession. They are the acquisitions by which clergymen get a living. Our old colleges were all originally seminaries for training professional divines. The traditional curriculum was shaped for the uses of a vocation. Clergymen have been the heads of the colleges for centuries. Every President of the College of New Jersey, for a hundred and twenty-seven years, from Dickinson to McCosh, has been a professional divine. Greek and Latin, rhetoric and logic, and mental and moral philosophy, which Bishop Harris would palm off upon the Michigan boys as giving the only true education, have been the bread and butter of doctors of divinity ever since divinity became a regular business. Let Bishop Harris confine his pot-boiling curriculum for preachers to the technical schools of the profession, the theological seminaries. It is high time that general education were rescued from this slough of specialism and placed upon loftier grounds.
The Bishop denounces the "fell spirit of utilitarianism"; that is, the vile and pernicious impulse to usefulness. What does he think of the clerical spirit in education, as shown, say, in the history of the English universities? Under clerical domination they have notoriously been the fastnesses of bigotry, intolerance, proscription, and scandalous abuse of trust and power. Their professor-ships and fellowships and scholarships have been sinecures for men in "holy orders ,1; and the institutions have been fettered and trammeled by absurd theological tests, which public sentiment in England has been fighting for half a century, and has not even yet been able to extirpate. Those universities were ages ago the professional schools for the education of the clergy, and, under continued priestly headships, they have clung with desperation to the dominant studies of theological culture. And, as for the spirit of greed, the unscrupulous perversion of endowments and the ravenous struggle for profitable places,
which have been displayed in the long hierarchical administration of those great schools, have been the disgrace of civilization. It is fit that the representative of this system should do his best to keep modern science out of the curriculum of the University of Michigan! But it is a vain and futile work. Bishop Harris's vehement protest shows that he recognizes the strength of the new tendencies. The same newspaper that brings the report of his speech contains also the following significant paragraph: "Cornell University seems to have introduced a notable change in commencement orations and essays. Among the number chosen for public presentation this year is a paper by Mr. R. P. Green, on 'The Sewage of Ithaca as a Hydraulic Problem,' and one by Miss M. Hicks on 'Tenement-Houses, a Social Problem in Architecture.' Among the list from which these papers are chosen are several on broader subjects, as 'The Relation of Modern Science to Education,' etc." When such topics as these are earnestly taken up by students, and college studies become a fit preparation for dealing with them, society will then begin to reap the substantial benefits, which have hitherto been but scantily afforded by the higher education.