Editor Popular Science Monthly:
THOUGH usually reading with approbation the "Editor's Table" in "The Popular Science Monthly," I can not refrain from expressing a decided dissent from the position taken in the latter part of an editorial in the March number entitled "Functions of the State." The opinion therein advanced is that "education is no part of the functions of the State, and that it would be better, therefore, to leave it in the hands of the family, even though the result were to show in the course of a few years a larger proportion than now of that kind of illiteracy which consists in not being able to read or write." In other words, as I understand the editor's meaning, he would do away with our present public-school system, now regarded by educators and tax-payers generally as the most effective means of promoting popular education, and substitute therefor a laissez-faire or go-as-you-please system of private education. That is certainly a revolutionary proposition. Is it logical or tenable?
The theory of the common-school system, by which the wealthy (tax-payers) are made to bear the burden of educating the children of the poor, is, of course, that under this system more children are taught the rudiments of knowledge, and that this teaching is, as a whole, more effective than would be the case if the matter were left to individual action; that is, that more knowledge is imparted to the people in a given time than would be possible by any other means. Back of this is the more fundamental assumption that knowledge is good; that as the antagonist of ignorance it is also the enemy of crime and disorder. Can the truth of either of these propositions be successfully disputed?
It needs no figures to prove that ignorance is the mother of crime. It is a part of the common experience of every man. The patrons of bar-rooms, the criminal classes in city and country, the inmates of prisons, are, as a rule, the uneducated. Educate the children of these people, teach them the great lesson that happiness, prosperity, and success depend upon right living (to the establishment of this truth all true education tends), and you decrease crime.
Again, can it be denied that anatomical and physiological ignorance is the parent of disease? Or that ignorance of political economy gives birth to financial heresies, to the enactment of unjust or unwise laws, to mistaken ideas concerning real-estate tenure, to socialism, communism, and anarchism?
If it be admitted, then, that the spread of knowledge is conducive to the public weal, the only question remaining is as to the efficacy of the present school system to that end. And here, again, it is not necessary to appeal to statistics to prove that a large majority of the people in any country would be pecuniarily unable to educate their children without some form of State aid. And of those who could afford it a large fraction would lack the disposition to do so. It must be evident to any observer that were all laws relating to instruction at public expense to be repealed, and the entire matter left to the individual, popular schooling would become a thing of the past. Illiteracy among the masses would be the rule, and education would be confined to a comparative few among the well-to-do. A well-defined educated class would gradually be formed, and a class spirit would be fostered contrary to the central idea of a democratic society. The brotherhood of cranks would increase and multiply, all kinds of isms would flourish and become powerful, and especially the "labor element," with its demands, would assume the proportions of a national danger, and perhaps succeed in time in bringing about revolution and anarchy.
I think I have not put the case too strongly. That our present educational methods are in many respects faulty, and that there is urgent need of reform in the manner in which the theory of public education is put in practice, I do not deny. The wisdom of compulsory educational laws may be questioned. But it seems to me plain that the theory itself is based upon correct scientific principles. If there is any public function which an organized society is justified in performing, it is to take measures for the elimination of elements within itself inimical to its own existence. And the surest and cheapest way to accomplish this is to disseminate the simple branches of knowledge among its young, to an extent that will inspire them with a desire for higher truth, and furnish them with a sufficient mental equipment for its acquirement and digestion.
|E. S. Marsh.|
|Brandon, Vermont, February 28, 1887.|
Editor Popular Science Monthly:
Sir: In your March issue you say, referring to my article on socialism, in the January "Scribner": "He apparently ap-