Popular Science Monthly/Volume 9/August 1876/Editor's Table
|←Correspondence||Popular Science Monthly Volume 9 August 1876 (1876)
THE importance of science is every-where conceded. As affording a knowledge of the operations of Nature, which can be taken advantage of by multiplying the resources and increasing the productiveness of industry, and by guiding art into the most economical ways, everybody admits that science is doing a beneficent work for the world. And even in the region of ideas, as a basis for the formation of opinions and a corrective of old errors, the importance of science is freely acknowledged. That science is something of universal moment, and of the deepest interest it is almost superfluous to argue; its recognition is so far assured.
But science is also, and as a consequence of its importance, something to be promoted. It is something of which myriads of human beings scattered over the globe know nothing; which the world got along without for more ages than we can count; which slowly arose in these latter centuries and grew against steady resistance, and which has at last among certain nations come to be a separate interest cherished by a portion of the cultivated classes, and so distinctly recognized as needing care and encouragement that many organizations have arisen to promote these objects. Royal societies for the "promotion of natural knowledge," academies of science in all the chief cities, special societies devoted to each of the great branches of science, local institutions, naturalists' clubs, and large popular associations for the advancement of science, as in Germany, France, England, and this country, which hold their meetings in the different cities so as to act upon large numbers of people—all these are illustrations of the tendency to organize for the promotion of science by increasing observations, experiments, and original researches for the improvement and extension of this kind of knowledge. Nor are there many obstacles to these modes of work, save those which spring from its inherent difficulties. It is a very expensive kind of study, involving costly instruments, elaborate investigations, and extensive collections—the sending of expeditions into remote and unknown regions, and of ships around the world to scrape the bottom of the sea. The universally confessed importance of such inquiries has already secured large appropriations for these objects, and it may be expected that in future private enterprise and governmental aid will become still more available for these objects.
But there is another agency for the promotion of science, which we hold to be of far greater importance than all these immediate means and instrumentalities, and which the world has hardly yet begun seriously to consider. We refer to the alliance between science and general education. Science has hitherto accomplished its work with but very imperfect assistance from this source. Education in all its grades has been in the interest of other classes, and it does not even yet distinctly, or fairly, recognize as a class the students of Nature. There have been innumerable institutions strongly endowed, and ably equipped for the intellectual training of lawyers, clergymen, physicians, linguists, metaphysicians, historians, and literary men, but the facilities, for the systematic training of scientific students have been scanty, defective, or altogether wanting. Education was highly organized before science arose, and the old institutions not only did not encourage the experimental study of Nature, but resisted it, with the whole weight of their influence, for centuries. The universities were creatures of the church and the state, and devoted to ideas, and ideals of culture, which were unfavorable for the study of natural things, and obstructive to scientific investigation. The old educational institutions have been, of course, greatly modified and liberalized, in recent times, yet tradition continues in the ascendant, so that, although science has forced its way into many of them, it is still regarded with jealousy and treated as an intruder. Though within the pale of official recognition, it is dealt with as something outside of the venerated curriculum of liberal study. It has not been assimilated so as to become an integral and necessary part of our modern culture, and college authorities are still perplexed to decide how much to concede to it, and what to do with it. Scientific men have, therefore, grown up under unfavorable conditions, and have not had those advantages of early preparation, of cordial encouragement, and of long and faithful discipline, which the students in other departments have freely enjoyed. It is under these grave disadvantages that science has, thus far, advanced. Education has been made only very partially tributary to its progress. When it takes its rightful place in our schemes of study, when it is honored as other acquirements are honored, and when the higher institutions offer the same facilities for prolonged and thorough scientific discipline that they offer for training in classics and mathematics, a step will have been taken toward the general promotion of science, more important in its consequences than any measures that have been hitherto adopted.
And yet this will be but a partial step in the right direction. The bringing of education into the full service of science means much more than its liberal acceptance by the higher schools. Science is a vast and a permanent interest in human society, and in considering the means of its advancement we are bound to take account of those deeper agencies which require time for the accomplishment of their results. More important for the general promotion of science than any change of policy on the part of the colleges, will be its recognition and adoption as a part of the established work of primary and common schools. The most urgent question now, and fullest of import for the future, is the relation which science is to take to elementary education. Thus far, the course of science has been a continuous battle, and it has only got what it has conquered. Its claims have been pressed by its advocates, and they have been resisted by the partisans of other studies, and we observe that the instincts of the combatants are bringing them rapidly to the vital issues of the strife. As we have often said, the most critical and important question between the old education and the new is, which shall have authority to form the first impressions in childhood. The practical inquiry is, How early shall children be allowed to begin the study of science in schools? We can imagine a future time, and we trust it is not far distant, when such an inquiry will be regarded as absurd. Science being an understanding of natural things, and a child being born into the order of Nature, with a capacity for intelligence which is awakened and unfolded only by its intercourse with natural things, what can be more preposterous than to raise the question when a child shall begin to have its attention thoughtfully directed to the objects around it? In this dawning action of the mind upon sensible things are found the rudiments of all science. Obviously, the true requirement is, that these germinal acquisitions concerning the kinds, and properties, and changes, and relations of things around, shall become matters of early attention, encouragement, and cultivation, on the part of parents and teachers; and, if this were intelligently and skillfully given, the query could never arise, When shall the study of science begin? But we are far enough from that condition now. In accordance with the prevailing ideas of education, the child is got into the schoolroom as early as possible, and, being started in a course of acquisition in which science is left out, the question at length arises, If it is to be introduced at all, when shall it commence? The advocates of the old education would never ask for it. They would occupy childhood, and youth, and manhood, with language, grammar, and book-acquisitions, so that the pupil and the student would get no more knowledge of the laws and phenomena of Nature than they had before this knowledge was discovered. And, when pressed by the advocates of the new education to make room for scientific studies, they defer it as long as they can, and allow it as little time as possible.
A very interesting controversy has gone on for some time past, in the columns of Nature, as to how early science is to be entered upon in the preparatory schools. All the writers profess to represent the liberal side, yet some of them who admit the importance of science assign it a low value as a means of education, and think that children should not touch a scientific subject in school until they are well grounded in Latin and geometry. This is substantially a surrender of the whole ground; yet it is the position taken in the great mass of schools in which the sciences are regarded as only fit for finishing studies. The physicists and chemists are more in earnest, and believe in the educational usefulness and importance of their subjects, but they seem more concerned about the consideration given to their chosen sciences than about the mental needs of children, and the adaptation of objective studies to their early cultivation. They would therefore begin with physics and chemistry when boys and girls are old enough to commence simple experimenting; that is, at perhaps the age of twelve or thirteen. Mr. Wyles, of Allesley Park College, claims to have had the best success with chemical and physical experiments and the use of the microscope, and he embodies his views and results in the following instructive passage:
But there are others who insist that scientific studies may and should begin much earlier, and their view must be adopted before society can ever reach the solid and lasting advantages which are to be gained by scientific education. It is the teachers of natural history that favor this view, maintaining that the collection, observation, and comparison of plants, insects, shells, etc., may be made highly instructive at a period when chemical and physical experiments may not be undertaken. The Rev. George Henslow takes this decided position, and, in replying to Mr. Wilson, of Rugby, in Nature, of April 20th, he has the following remarks:
One of the objects of this Government, avowed by its founders in the preamble to the Constitution, is to establish justice. The implication here is that there are such things as human rights which require to be protected, and that it is the office of government to enforce this protection. The first utterance to the world of the American people, in detaching themselves from the parent-country and proclaiming independence, was an affirmation of "inalienable rights," to secure which "governments are instituted among men." We may infer from this that it is the first, the supreme, and the acknowledged duty of the governing power in society to guarantee the rights of citizens, and to see to the strict enforcement of justice. The presumption is that, in the free interactions of citizens in the social state, wrongs will occur, rights will be violated, and injustice be done. The innocent will be circumvented by the crafty, the weak will be oppressed by the strong, the unscrupulous will combine to plunder the helpless, and, to prevent all this, Legislatures enact laws, courts are established, judges, sheriffs, and constables appointed to carry them out and secure the requirements of justice. This is the boasted theory of our civil institutions, but, after a hundred years of experience and improvement and progress, it is painful to note the enormous gap that still exists between theory and practice. That government should fail to secure its great ends in a perfect manner is what might be expected from the imperfection of all human institutions. Though devoted assiduously to this great object, such are its difficulties, and such the ingenuity of the practised perpetrators of wrong, that we should be entitled to expect from government only a very partial accomplishment of its purpose. Another and a very powerful cause of the inefficient execution of justice in society is, that government perpetually forgets its supreme function, in the pursuit of other ends. It attempts to do so many things that it does nothing well, and sacrifices the very object for which it was instituted, in the attempt to accomplish others which it had no business to undertake. Instead of confining itself vigorously to establishing justice in all the relations of society, and then allowing the widest liberty of individual action and enterprise, it meddles with everything and everybody, interfering, checking, and restraining, where it should let things alone, and undertaking to play the part of Providence in controlling the whole course of human interests. Justice is thus not only neglected, but injustice is wrought in all directions, so that government at last becomes the instrument and partner of the great agencies of oppression and wrong-doing in society. Nor is this the worst: instead of concentrating its attention upon the transcendent duty of working out the great ends of justice, and laboring to improve and perfect the methods and appliances for attaining this object, it stands convicted as the open and shameless perpetrator of wrong, violator of the most sacred rights of citizens and the defiant executor of palpable and rank injustice. The prosecutor of criminals, it becomes itself the criminal, and cuts off its victim from all possibility of redress.
An illustration of this has just occurred, which is worth pondering over in this year consecrated to political vainglory. The newspapers inform us that "in November, 1874, Charles and Mary Fisher were sentenced in the county of New York, the former to seven and the latter to five years' imprisonment in Sing Sing, for being accessory to an outrage upon a girl. The governor has pardoned both, upon the representation of the prosecuting officer that they were innocent of the crime." Government has here perpetrated a gross injustice upon two innocent persons—deprived them of their liberty, extorted labor from them, and robbed them of the results of it, subjected them to a cruel degradation, and, when convicted of its own blundering, it lets its victims go without lifting a finger toward repairing the wrongs it has inflicted; Charles and Mary Fisher are without redress. If their rights had been similarly violated by other individuals, government would have recognized their claims to large compensation. But when its own court and its own officers are the self-convicted offenders, those who have suffered may ask reparation in vain. If a citizen is wrongfully deprived of his property by government, he may prosecute and recover it to the uttermost farthing; but, if wrongfully imprisoned, stripped of his wages and disgraced by the very authority that was constituted to mete out equal justice to all, its victims are helpless. If an American citizen were unjustly imprisoned abroad, the government would have redress from the offending nation, though at the cost of war. But when the same thing occurs under its own jurisdiction and by its own fault, all reparation is denied. It may be said that such things cannot occur often; then they are the more easily rectified, and the excuse for withholding justice is only an aggravation. But it is probable that they occur far more often than the public is aware of. For what have we to hope, in the strict administration of justice, from an authority that can itself outrage justice in so glaring a way? What are we to expect from an authority that refuses to hold itself accountable for the wrongs it does. If it be said that the government must assume the infallibility of its ministration of justice, then why liberate Charles and Mary Fisher? And, if the machinery of justice can work so ill as utterly to defeat itself, the proof of which we have in this flagrant case, what confidence have we in the proportions and measures of penalties that are meted out to real criminals? With such obtuseness and indifference to right and wrong as are evinced in this scandalous case, there is surely little confidence to be reposed in the general equities of criminal adjudication. There can be little doubt that the coarsest and most barbarous part of our administration of law relates to the treatment of the criminal classes.
Prof. Huxley has decided that, from the nature of his engagements, he must give up all expectation of visiting the United States during the winter, and that therefore it would be impossible for him to devote a season to lecturing here. But he is coming over in August to spend a brief vacation of a few weeks in this country, and, although strongly desirous of forgetting all lecturing, and being left quietly to himself while here, he has, nevertheless, consented to give three lectures during the last week of his stay. He will speak in New York on the 18th, 20th, and 22d of September, the subject being "The Direct Evidence of Evolution." This will give an opportunity, for those persons throughout the country who are anxious to hear Prof. Huxley, to connect this pleasure with their September visit to the Centennial Exhibition. It is to be remembered that these are the only lectures that Prof. Huxley will give in this country, and they will probably be fortunate who obtain the tickets. Detailed arrangements are not yet made, but parties wishing to secure seats can do so by applying to the editor of The Popular Science Monthly, who will register applications in the order in which they are received, the first applicants for tickets having the first choice of places.