Popular Science Monthly/Volume 22/February 1883/Editor's Table

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EDITOR'S TABLE.

MACHINE EDUCATION.

WE hear much of the bad effects of machine politics, but it is questionable if the evils of machine education are not far worse. By machine education, we mean the rigid, mechanical, law-established routine applied to great multitudes of children of all conceivable sorts who are got together in large establishments and submitted to operations that go under the name of mental cultivation. Machine education is of the very lowest sort, and the best that can he said of it is, that it is barely better than nothing at all. The worst difficulty is, that it is not capable of improvement. The method itself is radically false, so that the improvements of it but make it worse. At the same time it borrows influence from its enormous extension and the authority by which it is enforced. The education-factories run in series, each has a complex grading, and the different institutions are intimately belted with each other, and all driven by the motive power of legislation. As might be expected, the whole system is run with a view to popular effect, which is necessarily fatal to the best results.

If the reader will refresh his memory in regard to the first principles of mental cultivation by reading the article, found elsewhere in our pages, entitled "Brain-Power in Education," he will get a clear idea of what must be the necessary outcome of educational mechanics. In the work of the school there are two modes of dealing with the brain; it can be stored with information, or strengthened in its functional operations. True education consists in the development of brain-power in accordance with the laws of its activity, and is simply and always a discipline in spontaneous self-exertion. In the attainment of this object the engineer of the educational machine has very little to do. The office of the teacher is important, but it consists in encouraging, inciting, and arousing the pupil to put forth his own efforts, and when this is most effectually done the result is not of that conspicuous kind that is suitable to make a showy impression at a public parade. No method has yet been devised for exhibiting such results that is not full of rank injustice and that does not put a premium upon inferior work.

But it is wholly different when the object is simply to store the brain. This is an easy process, depending upon external appliances and mechanical arrangements, and is capable of being so organized and driven that a shallow and vicious system shall win the highest public applause. As the article referred to explains, it is impossible to get indexes of the hardest brain-work that are fitted to astonish gaping outsiders; but, when it is a question of merely stuffing with acquisitions, nothing is easier than to invent methods by which the results may be strikingly displayed. Hence the marking system which professes to indicate degrees of proficiency and educational results, and which gives so much business to teachers, examiners, inspectors, and superintendents, and enables them to report to boards of control, to parents, and to the public the wonderful success of the institution. This is machine education in its perfection, and the worst of it is, that it excludes the possibility of rational education. The two things are incompatible, for that which can be shown with effect is sure to take precedence of that which can not be exhibited, and brain-storing will proceed at the expense of the self-activity by which mental power is alone acquired. The subjects, moreover, that are most favorable to storing will take the lead and come to be fundamental in machine education. The whole mechanism of the public-school system is now impelled by law in this bad direction. The higher schools react upon the lower, to stimulate the method. Competition for promotion fires the vanity of the pupils, and parental influence conspires to heighten the result.

A new confirmation of this bad state of things has been recently elicited by the New York "Mail and Express," which has started a little inquest of its own into the working of the public schools. A reporter was sent to question the different teachers and officials on various points, and the information he obtained is useful as illustrating the vigorous action of our educational machinery upon one hundred and twenty-five thousand pupils. The Superintendent of the Schools of New York said to the reporter:

"My assistants are instructed to visit the schools, and in their examinations to find out what the children know and how well they know it. They examine in nothing but the branches prescribed by law to be taught, and in each grade only in the work allotted by law to that grade." Again he says: "In my last annual report you will find that, out of twenty-six hundred and ninety classes examined, eighteen hundred and twenty-seven were marked 'Excellent,' and eight hundred and nineteen 'Good,' and only forty-four as 'Not commendable.'" This is of course the kind of result that officials are interested in making, as it naturally brings public commendation, more ample appropriations, and larger salaries. By the very nature of the case, therefore, they will be disposed to favor all those injurious agencies which co-operate to heighten the effect. To illustrate how despotically this bad system works, and how completely all who act under it are but parts of it, listen again to the New York Superintendent: "It is my business to stand between teacher and examiner, principal and teacher, teacher and scholar, parent and teacher, and protect all in their rights. But as to permitting teachers or principals to dictate what questions shall be asked or how they shall be asked, and what marks shall be given—that would be equivalent to resigning my office and handing over the direction of the schools to them, something which I do not propose to do." Thus in machine education the dictation is of course official—those who are in closest relation with individual requirements being allowed no discretion.

President Hunter, of the Normal College, applauds the subjects and courses of study which lend themselves to the smooth working of the machinery by numerical percentage scales of proficiency, on which pupils are promoted from grade to grade, and from lower to higher institutions; but he does not deny that the marking system has some faults; he says: "That some of the pupils of the higher grammar-grades are overworked in preparing for the college, is undeniable; but the fault lies not in the course of study which the board has prescribed, nor in the methods pursued in working out that course, but in the ambition of parents to have their children rapidly advanced, and in the desire of the pupils themselves to obtain high marks."

But where, by the working of the great machine itself, the pupils are set to racing for the Normal College, and to racing for the College of the City of New York, what else can be expected? The honors are but a premium for overdriving in the direction of such acquisitions as make the best show in examination, and win the highest percentage of marks.

President Hunter also naively observes: "Many of the evils complained of in the present system would be remedied by allowing each teacher half an hour a day to show the pupils how to study." Verily, verily, the machine must be in perfection where this is impossible.

Mr. Commissioner Crawford admits that the New York schools were once quite imperfect, but that "now there are, generally speaking, no poor schools. There is a general uniformity of excellence. There is a greater unity, greater harmony, a higher level in teaching power. Then supervision was not so minute as at present. Now we have, perhaps, too much supervision, but the committee have endeavored in this report, and the superintendent is all the while trying, to ease up the machine." The ideal of education here implied, that of unity, uniformity, and harmony in the external working of the system, shows how completely the State machine has superseded the older method by which the teachers had some liberty to adapt themselves to the fundamental though ever-varying requirements of individual pupils. It is the characteristic of machine education that in its working the individual disappears.

No doubt we are talking treason against the State, and blasphemy against a popular idol; nevertheless, there are many who hold that in education, as in politics, the sooner the machine is "smashed" the better. If practice in chess and whist would give a better education than the machine, it is time to protest. Our most thoughtful educators are revolting against the predominant method, which, having been adopted by the State as best suited for official management, is extending throughout the nation. But many, as we said, are striking out, and demanding a good deal more liberty in school management. They condemn the pernicious mechanics of the schools just in proportion to its perfection. Colonel Parker, for example, is one of those who demand more freedom in the play of educational agencies, and more attention to the kind of work that is least available for display. lie is recently represented as saying that "uniformity in schools is death"; he does not believe in "per cents," he would not have them in schools under any circumstances: "Here is a child who is not so quick mentally as another; he studies as hard and labors as faithfully as the others, but, not being able to advance so rapidly, he is marked fifty per cent, while others walk off waving their ninety-five per cent in triumph. It is discouraging to the moderately dull child, and wrong. If a child is examined and asked the name of a river, and can not answer, off goes five per cent."

The difficulty of machine education is, that under it pupils are not taught to think for themselves. It can not educate the judgment, or prepare the mind to meet emergencies through the practice of self-reliance. As remarked by a teacher, "The public-school scholars are excellent in the line of their drill, but, take them one inch outside of it, and they are lost."

 

 
BICYCLES AND CIVILIZATION.

We give space to a long communication on the bicycle controversy at Stockbridge, replying to our article upon the subject two months ago. The writer makes many explanations, and indulges freely in sarcastic personalities; but the reader who cares to compare his letter with what we said will probably observe that the facts of the case remain substantially as we stated them, while everybody can judge as to the correctness of the conclusions drawn from them. To the local particulars of the Stockbridge war we can give no more attention, but will say a few further words on the general aspect of the subject.

We assumed in our former article that large bicycles run upon the sidewalks are objectionable. The sidewalks are a portion of the highway reserved for pedestrians, made smooth and hard to facilitate walking, and protected from exposure to accidents by street vehicles. A new wheeled vehicle is introduced of a peculiar character, but which belongs, if anywhere, to that part of the street which is usually devoted to vehicles. Thus far these new vehicles are only in a very small degree subservient to any use or necessity, public or private, but are run mainly for the pleasure of their riders. These are mostly boys seeking their amusement, and, as the machine is somewhat expensive, only a comparatively few boys are able to possess them. Probably there were not more than half a dozen boys with large bicycles in Stockbridge. They take to the sidewalk because they are objected to in the street, and because the wheeling is nicer. They run swiftly, and when under high motion can not be quickly stopped. That their movements are disagreeable to pedestrians is inevitable. They are sources of constant anxiety and apprehension to them. Accidents have occurred with them, and they are continually liable to occur. The sidewalk belongs to the community, and is indispensable to the daily uses and necessities of all classes of people. Everybody has the right to walk there without molestation or the apprehension of molestation. Nothing should be permitted there which will awaken the dread of danger and compel the pedestrian to be constantly on the lookout to protect himself. Our correspondent says that they can be easily avoided, but how can a bicycle coming noiselessly from behind be avoided? They have India-rubber tires, and people have no eyes in the backs of their heads. But it is by no means a question what people with their senses about them can do if they give all their attention to personal security. The instinct of self-preservation does, of course, save the mass of people from being run down by bicycles when exposed to them. But is it right to introduce an extra exposure of this kind on a public sidewalk that will keep the sense of personal solicitude against danger constantly uppermost in consciousness? Besides, all people are not vigilant in such matters; many are heedless and stupid, and others abstracted or absent-minded. Then, again, there are the children, the aged and infirm, the invalids, the deaf, the cripples, the blind, and the half-blind, and these constitute a very large proportion of those who use the sidewalks, and have a right to use them without annoyance. To all these people the large bicycles ridden by sporting boys are a constant source of fear and dread, a pest of the pathway, and an undoubted nuisance.

We are here speaking of the rights of pedestrians on a common-sense view of the case. But our correspondent says, "It will be admitted that bicyclists, like other domestic animals, have some rights, which, once defined, are as much entitled to protection as the wider liberty allowed pedestrians." Admitted, of course, the only question being on the definition. We have contended negatively that the riders of large bicycles have no right upon the sidewalks, any more than equestrians, but this is not a denial of all rights. What, then, do the bicyclists themselves maintain? They assert that the bicycle is a wheeled carriage, and its rights simply the common rights of carriages upon the street. The representatives of the bicycle associations in New York claim that their right is to the use of the highway, and they explicitly disclaim any right to the use of the sidewalk.

W. R. Pitman, captain of the Ixion Bicycle Club, on being asked his opinion as to the propriety of bicycles being ridden on the sidewalks of small villages, said emphatically that "bicycles had no business on sidewalks anywhere; that the sidewalks were meant for foot passengers and not for carriages, which the bicyclers claim their machines to be."

Dr. N. M. Beckwith, captain of the Citizens' Bicycle Club, said that in his opinion bicyclers had no right to sidewalks at all, and remarked that the bicyclers wished to have their machines regarded as carriages, and claimed all the rights and privileges given to carriages, and in so doing they certainly could not also wish to be looked upon as foot-passengers.

Charles A. Reed, captain of the Columbia College Bicycle Club, said that he thought bicycles had no right on sidewalks or foot-paths except when the road was utterly impassable to them, and that a bicycle could certainly be ridden wherever a light buggy could be driven.

Extensive dealers have expressed themselves to similar effect. The Bicycle Union of Great Britain, in its recommendations regarding road-riding, said, "It is desirable that a rider should at all times keep to the left-hand side of the road, even if no vehicle be in sight, and riding on the footway should never be resorted to." (Pope's "Manual," p. 128.)

The circumstances in which it is admissible for bicycles to deviate into the foot-path are thus stated in "The American Bicycle," p. 122: "As to riding on foot-paths and sidewalks, it may be said that bicyclers, like travelers generally, have not only a right to travel in the highway, but they have a right to a passage along the highway, notwithstanding obstructions; and, if the middle of the road be impassable for their. carriage, the side may be taken; and, if the whole roadway—including foot-paths—be impassable, they even have a right to turn out upon the abutting close, and pass over private land around the obstruction, provided they can do so without committing irreparable or very incommensurate damage. So that if, in suburban streets or country roads, the carriage-track is in so bad a condition as to be difficult or impossible of passage by a bicycle, and the foot-path can be taken without imminent risk to foot-passers at the time, it is justifiable for the bicycler to take it." The bicycle authorities are thus in full agreement with common sense.

And now about the impeachment of "the good name of Stockbridge." That lovely village, through its constituted authorities, and after due deliberation, decreed that such a nuisance as bicycles upon the sidewalks shall be tolerated. Is it not fair to take this fact as a measure of its moral status, and its grade in the scale of social progress? We were taught many years ago, in "Woodbridge's Geography," that communities of men are ranked as savage, barbarous, half-civilized, civilized, and enlightened. Any such classification is misleading which implies a stratification or a definite gradation of societies, so that one shall belong altogether at the bottom, and another at the top. The thing is much more mixed. There are savage streaks running through civilization, and enlightenment often coexists with barbarism. Society does not improve in all things alike. Every advanced community retains vestiges of its primitive lower condition. We gave Stockbridge credit for a large complement of virtues and excellences, but Stockbridge has proved herself to be no exception to the common law which gives rise to social anomalies. It has plenty of culture, intelligence, refinement, and religion; but, in common with many other highly cultivated communities, it betrays elements which are characteristic of the inferior grades of society. The ideal virtue of any community, its highest attainment, is justice. There is knowledge enough. People know well enough what is right, but in the undeveloped character conscience does not rule the actions. That is to he a matter of future evolution; and, meantime, we are concerned with the relative attainments of different societies in this respect. The sense of justice is so dull in Stockbridge that it is measured by the selfishness of a small group of boys. What those boys want for their personal gratification must be conceded, no matter what inconvenience to others stands in the way. What the standard of justice is among boys is pretty generally understood. The moral sentiments are the last to ripen in the growth of character, and the immature man has about him a good deal of the barbarian. Boys are thoughtless, selfish, uncompassionate, and often cruel. They delight to worry the cats, to stone the dogs, to plague their sisters, and fight each other. College practices and outbreaks often indicate the immaturity of youthful moral sense. The boys taught the forms of civility, and that it is good manners to defer to others, hut unless morally precocious they are not gentle men. That they should be indifferent at annoying and distressing people on the sidewalk with their bicycles is but natural. But as boys they are more than inconsiderate, and, if they did not run down old women, would enjoy scaring them. We, however, find little fault with the Stockbridge boys. But they need discipline in the recognition of mutual rights as well as indulgence for their pastimes, and the community which allows them to pursue their gratifications at the expense of the comfort of their neighbors is in that respect and to that degree—well—not in the highest degree civilized.

 

 
BAIN ON UNIVERSITY EDUCATION.

The brief history of the higher education contained in the Rectoral Address of Dr. Bain at Aberdeen on "The University Ideal," which is herewith printed, will interest all thoughtful readers. It will prove chiefly interesting as a compact review of changing university methods daring the rise of modern knowledge, and a statement of the present status of the university in the exigencies of modern life. As regards modes of teaching, the type of the university which has grown up within the last hundred years is based upon the principle of the division of labor by which men specially qualified for the work are especially intrusted with the subjects they have mastered. Obvious as this principle is to us, and difficult as it is for us to conceive how the higher education could stand upon any other principle, yet the present method is but the product of centuries of struggle before this policy could be established. It is undoubtedly a result of that general progress of science which can not be said to have got its initiation in the older university methods. With the division of labor in teaching comes the new aim of the higher schools of learning. "Its watchword is progress, and there can not be progress without a sincere and single eye to the truth. The fatal sterility of the middle ages, and of our first and second university periods, had to do with the mistake of gagging men's mouths and dictating all their conclusions. Things came to be so arranged that contradictory views ran side by side like opposing electric currents, the thick wrappage of ingenious phraseology arresting the destructive discharge. There was, indeed, an elaborate and pretentious logic supplied by Aristotle and emended Bacon; what was still wanted was a taste of the logic of freedom."

Dr. Bain insists that the bearing of modern science upon the higher education creates the demand for three fundamental elements in any adequate university curriculum, and he maintains that Aberdeen University holds the leading place in having recognized these elements for the past hundred years. He says: '"Our curriculum is one of the completest in the country, or perhaps anywhere. By the happy thought of the Senatus of Marischal College, in 1753, you have a fundamental class not existing in the other colleges. You have a fair representation of the three great lines of science—the abstract, the experimental, and the classifying. When it is a general education that you are thinking of, every scheme of option is imperfect that does not provide for such three-sided cultivation of our reasoning powers. A larger quantity of one will no more serve for the absence of the rest than a double covering of one part of the body will enable another part to be left bare."