IT will now scarcely be questioned that the law of progress in education is a tendency toward limitation of mental pursuits. Under the theory of education as a discipline, knowledge is held subordinate, but it is obviously rising in educational value, while it is beginning also to be understood that mental discipline may be acquired in any field of study by the vigorous and methodical exercise of the mental powers upon its subject-matter. But, with the increasing importance of knowledge, there comes a difficulty from its vast extent. Every thing cannot be learned; if some subjects are chosen, others must be passed by; indeed, but few can be taken, while many are left, and so study is inevitably specialized. This raises the further question of the rule of choice, or the relative value of the knowledges. What are the most necessary things to be generally studied, and which shall have the first place in any system of mental cultivation that goes beyond the barest rudiments? This we take to be now the urgent and fundamental problem of education.
Among the articles of our present number, we publish an abstract of an address before the theological students of Yale College, by Mr. Beecher, on the "Study of Human Nature." He presents, with his usual force, the claims of this subject upon students of his profession, but the reader will hardly fail to remark that his argument is much broader than its professional application. It is certainly necessary for clergymen, who aim to instruct and elevate their hearers, to understand their natures, if they would work effectually. It is, in fact, a simple business necessity; and, if neglected, it will entail the same consequences that ignorance of the material in which he works entails upon the artisan; that is, failure. But this necessity is a thousand times greater in the case of the teacher than in that of the preacher. For the teacher takes the human material directly in hand in its plastic period, to shape and in form, and he works at it day by day and all day long. That the study of human nature, systematic and prolonged, is incumbent upon the faithful teacher is self-evident, but what, then, shall we say of its necessity to the parents who give their life to the new being, and make those deep initial impressions that affect the unfolding nature more profoundly than all that is done afterward by teachers and preachers combined?
But it is not as fitting preachers, teachers, or parents, for their special functions, that we are now impelled to demand that the scientific study of human nature shall take a high and universal place in education. It should be done because this knowledge is of first and fundamental importance to all. Living in complex social relations, incessantly in contact with others, acting upon them and acted upon by them in innumerable ways that vitally involve the mutual welfare, it is certainly of the highest importance that each person shall comprehend the qualities of the natures that are thus brought into reaction. But it is needless to enforce the old injunction "know thyself," or to insist upon the correlative duty of knowing others also. The want will be freely admitted: the question is how it may be supplied.
Mr. Beecher maintains that "one of the prime constituents of clerical training should be a study of the human soul and body from beginning to end," and he insists furthermore that