Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 8.djvu/124

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.

known of these subjects, and when regarded as a body of thought to be employed for purposes of culture, must be held as representing not the universe of reality, but only a distorted and spurious semblance of it.

The question of scientific education, then, undoubtedly the greatest question of our time, is simply this: "Shall we study the genuine or the spurious universe? Shall the minds of students be developed and moulded by direct exercise upon the phenomena and problems of Nature and present human experience, or shall they be cut off from the living world and trained in the acquisition of old knowledges, just as if science had never arisen?" This question may seem to many a futile one, as they will say that in this age the influence of science cannot be escaped. Nevertheless it is an urgent and a practical question. For, although the influence of science cannot be escaped by society, it can be and it is extensively evaded and escaped in education. In this our schools and colleges do not represent the age; they are out of harmony with it; they are far behind it. The genuine universe is not the supreme object of study; it is only partially recognized or not recognized at all. The spurious universe is still in the saddle. It has not been displaced; it has hardly been disturbed. Science is still begging of our colleges for a few crumbs; and, when snubbed, is trying here and there to organize schools of its own, which are generally looked upon as mere technological shops where needy youths are apprenticed to bread-and-butter occupations a grade or two above the workshops of artisans and mechanics. The dignity of being liberally educated, the honors of scholarship, and the prestige of culture, are reserved for those who, passing by all the grand results of modern science, give themselves to the study of the spurious universe.

The latest illustration that comes to us of the extent to which this statement is true, is furnished by the condition of the great public or preparatory schools of England. An official report has been made upon this subject, which represents the state of things after a quarter of a century of vehement agitation for some reformatory change that shall bring the popular culture of that country into greater harmony with the present state of knowledge. The case is thus forcibly presented by the London Spectator, a journal that will not be suspected of extreme views upon the subject:

"During the past three hundred years, the spread of scientific knowledge has revolutionized European modes of thought, has fundamentally altered the European idea of the universe, of the earth's place in the grand whole, and of man's place on the earth, and has profoundly modified European social life and political institutions; but, to our great schools, science has been as if it had made no progress. To those who have regulated the studies of those places of learning, it has not appeared at all important that English gentlemen should be able to. follow with intelligence the fruitful researches to which the pioneers of modern thought were devoting themselves, should be capable of appreciating the discoveries which were abridging space, approximating classes, and calling into existence industries, activities, and relations, that are gradually transforming the ancient order of things—in a word, that they should be in sympathy with the modern spirit.... Of course, such a state of things has not been allowed to continue without protest and controversy, and some little has been done to make room for science-teaching in our schools. It has, however, been very little. The sixth report of the Royal Commission on scientific instruction now lies before us. It is confined exclusively to an examination into the provision made in the various secondary schools throughout the country for the teaching of science, and this is what appears: Returns, more or less complete, were re-