The first thing the Bible gave a man was a cosmogony. It gave him an account of the world in which he found himself, and of his place in it. And then it went on to a general history of mankind. It did not tell him that history as a string of facts and dates, but as a moving and interesting story into which he himself finally came, a story of promises made and destinies to be fulfilled. It gave him a dramatic relationship to the schemes of things. It linked him to all mankind with a conception of relationships and duties. It gave him a place in the world and put a meaning into his life. It explained him to himself and to other people, and it explained other people to him. In other words, out of the individual it made a citizen with a code of duties and expectations.
Now I take it that both from the point of view of individual happiness and from the point of view of the general welfare, this development of the citizenship of a man, this placing of a man in his own world, is of primary importance. It is the necessary basis of all right education; it is the fundamental purpose of the school, and I do not believe an individual can be happy or a community be prosperous without it. The Bible and the religions based on it gave that idea of a place in the world to the people it taught. But do we provide that idea of a place in the world for our people to-day? I suggest that we do not. We do not give them a clear vision of the universe in which they live, and we do not give them a history that invests their lives with meaning and dignity.
The cosmogony of the Bible has lost grip and conviction upon men's minds, and the ever-widening gulf of years makes its history and its political teaching more and more remote and unhelpful amidst the great needs of to-day. Nothing has been done to fill up these widening gaps. We have so great a respect for the letter of the Bible that we ignore its spirit and its proper use. We do not rewrite and retell Genesis in the light and language of modern knowledge, and we do not revise and bring its history up to date and so apply it to the problems of our own time. So we have allowed the Bible to become antiquated and remote, venerable and unhelpful.
There has been a great extension of what we call education in the past hundred years, but I while we have spread education widely there has been a sort of shrinkage and enfeeblement of its aims. Education in the past set out to make a Christian and a citizen and afterwards a gentleman out of the crude, vulgar, self-seeking individual. Does education even pretend to do as much to-day? It does nothing of the sort. Our young people are taught to read and write. They are taught bookkeeping and languages that are likely to be useful to them. They are given a certain measure of technical education, and they are taught to shove. Our test of a college education is: Does it make a successful business man?
The Degradation of Education
WELL, this, I take it, is the absolute degradation of education. It is a modern error that education exists for the individual. Education exists for the community and the race; it exists to subdue the individual for the good of the world and his own ultimate happiness.
But we have been letting the essentials of education slip back into a secondary place in our pursuit of mere equipment, and we see the results to-day throughout all the modern states of the world in a loss of cohesion, discipline and coöperation. Men will not coöperate except to raise prices on the consumer or wages on the employer, and everyone scrambles fora front place and a good time. And they do so, partly no doubt by virtue of an ineradicable factor in them known as original sin, but also very largely because the vision of life that was built up in their minds at school and in their homes was fragmentary and uninspiring; it had no commanding appeal for their imaginations and no imperatives for their lives.
So I put it that for the opening books of our Bible of Civilization, our Bible translated into terms of modern knowledge, and as the basis of all our culture, we shall follow the old Bible precedent exactly. We shall tell to every citizen of our community, as plainly, simply and beautifully as we can, the New Story of Genesis, the tremendous spectacle of the universe that science has opened to us, the flaming beginnings of our world, the vast ages of its making and the astounding unfolding, age after age, of life. We shall tell of the changing climates of this spinning globe, and the coming and going of great floras and faunas, mighty races of living things, until out of the vast, slow process our own kind emerged. And we shall tell the story of our race. How through hundreds of thousands of years it won power over Nature, hunted, and presently sowed and reaped. How it learned the secrets of the metals, mastered the riddle of the seasons and took to the seas. That story of our common inheritance and of our slow upward struggle has to be taught throughout our entire community, in the city slums and in the out-of-the-way farmsteads most of all. By teaching it we restore again to our people the lost basis of a community, a common idea of their place in space and time.
Then, still following the Bible precedent, we must tell a universal history of man. And though on the surface it may seem to be a very different history from the Bible story, in substance it will really be very much the same history, only robbed of ancient trappings and symbols and made real and fresh again for our present ideas. It will still be a story of conditional promises, the promises of human possibility, a record of sins and blunders and lost opportunities, of men who walked not in the ways of righteousness, of stiff-necked generations and of merciful renewals of hope. It will still point our lives to a common future which will be the reward and judgment of our present lives.
You may say that no such book exists—which is perfectly true—and that no such book could be written. But there I think you underrate the capacity of our English-speaking people. It would be quite possible to get together a committee that would give us the compact and clear cosmogony of history that is needed. Some of the greatest, most inspiring books and documents in the world have been produced by committees. Magna Charta, the Declaration of Independence, the English translation of the Bible, and the Prayer Book of the English Church are all the productions of committees, and they are all fine and inspiring compilations. For the last three years I have been experimenting with this particular task, and, with the help of six other people, I have sketched out and published an outline of our world's origins and history to show the sort of thing I mean. That outline is, of course, a mass of faults and minor inaccuracies, but it does demonstrate the possibility of doing what is required. And its reception both in America and in England has shown how ready, how greedy many people are, on account of themselves and on account of their children, for an ordered general account of the existing knowledge of our place in space and time. For want of anything better they have taken my outline very eagerly. Far more eagerly would they have taken a finer, sounder and more authoritative work.
In England this outline was almost the first experiment of the kind that has been made—the only other I know of in England was a very compact General History of the World, by Mr. Oscar Browning, published in 1913. But there are several educationists in America who have been at work on the same task. In this matter of a more generalized history teaching, the New World is decidedly leading the Old. The particular problems of a population of mixed origins have forced it upon teachers in the United States.
My friend—I am very happy to be able to call him my friend—Professor Breasted, in conjunction with that very able teacher, Professor Robinson, has produced two books, Ancient Times and Medieval and Modern Times, which together make a very complete history of civilized man. They do not, however, give a history of life before man, nor very much of human prehistory.
Another admirable American summary of history is Dr. Hutton Webster's Ancient History together with his Medieval and Modern History. This again is very sparing of the story of primitive man.
The Outlook for Humanity is a Very Dark and Uncertain One Unless Human Effort is Stimulated and Organized
A Standard History for World-Wide Use
BUT the work of these gentlemen confirms my own experience that it is quite possible to tell in a comprehensible and inspiring outline the whole history of life and mankind in the compass of a couple of manageable volumes. Neither Browning nor Breasted and Robinson nor Hutton Webster nor my own effort is very much longer than twice the length of Dickens' novel of Bleak House. So there you have it. There is the thing shown to be possible. If it is possible for us isolated workers to do as much, then why should not the thing be done in a big and authoritative manner? Why should we not have a great educational conference of teachers, scientific men and historians from all the civilized peoples of the world, and why should they not draft out a standard world history for general use in the world's schools? Why should that draft not be revised by scores of specialists? Discussed and rediscussed? Polished and finished, and made the opening part of a new Bible of Civilization, a new basis for a world culture?
At intervals it would need to be revised, and it could be revised and brought up to date in the same manner.
Now such a book, and such a book
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