Popular Science Monthly/Volume 1/August 1872/Editor's Table

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WE hold educational reform to be the first and most important of all reforms. There are many things in this world that need amendment, and, happily, there are plenty of people willing to help on the work. By diversity of tastes and division of labor, the business of reform is taken up piecemeal, and it is but natural that each party should clamor for the precedence of its own projects over all others. Some think the world is only to be regenerated by reforming its drinks, others its meats, others its recreations, and others its times of labor. Some are sure that what society most needs is better land-laws, others that it is better revenue regulations, and others, again, wider suffrage or free-trade, or a closer sorting of office-holders. Admitting that much good is yet to be attained in all these directions, there still remains a more radical and comprehensive task of reform. Our notion is. that the great agency which undertakes to prepare human beings for their work in life by awakening and directing their feelings, and by furnishing them with ideas and knowledge, is in extreme need of thorough amendment. Because, as men feel and think, so will they act; as are its constituents, so will be society; and, until people are better instructed in the things which pertain to their true welfare, all other reformatory schemes will yield but partial and unsatisfactory results.

But the phrase "educational reform" is vague and capable of various meanings. That phase of it which is destined to work out the most extensive and salutary effects will consist, we believe, in reconstituting the general methods of study upon a scientific basis. What the world wants now, to give effect to philanthropic aspiration, is to know what to do and how to do it, and the great means to this end must be found in comprehensive scientific education. But there is much misapprehension and some misrepresentation as to what is properly meant by scientific education. Its advocates urge the increasing study of science, and it is charged that they would make education consist in the bare acquisition of physical facts. They protest against the excess of traditional studies, and are reproached with the desire to sever our mental connection with the past. They object to the time given to Greek and Latin, and are accused of being the enemies of language in education. In short, they ask the introduction of new studies into an old system which already covers the whole ground and occupies all the time; and, as this can only be done by abandoning much that is established and venerated, the advocates of this change are characterized as the narrow-minded foes of all liberal culture.

These imputations are, however, erroneous and unjust. What the advocates of scientific reform in education demand is, not that everybody shall become chemists, or astronomers, or geologists, or that the past shall be ignored, or language neglected; but they demand that the unfolding mind of the age shall be put into more direct relation with the present realities of the world than our traditional culture allows. They ask but the thorough modernization of educational systems; and, as the characteristic and controlling element of modern thought is science, they maintain that this should be the characteristic and controlling element of culture. They are the enemies of neither literature, language, nor history, but they insist upon a better opportunity for modern literatures, modern languages, and modern history; and that modern science, by which all these subjects are more and more interpreted, and which is itself the transcendent intellectual interest of the age, shall have the leading place in schools of all grades. Holding to the practical value of positive knowledge for use and guidance in both private and public life, and seeing that it is as true now, as it was in the days of the prophets, that the people perish for lack of it, they demand such a reorganization of educational work as shall most effectually secure this end. The reform now required is, to make available for society the stores of valuable applicable truth which is the latest and highest result of human thought.

And this is a work that remains yet to be done. If it be said that changes have already been made and institutions modified so that modern knowledge is practically attainable, we reply that it has been nothing more than attempted. Notwithstanding the endless talk, the tide of influence is powerfully against the reformers. The question is not what special arrangements may have been made to meet special cases, but what is the ascendant ideal which governs the general practice. When a mother is ambitious that her son shall have a liberal education, and commits him to the accredited agencies, the question is, "What will become of him?" It is notorious that a pupil can go through a course of so-called liberal study, and graduate with honor at the highest institutions, in complete ignorance of that vast body of facts and principles which has arisen in modern times under the name of science, and the object of which is to explain the existing order of the world. There are great educational establishments from which modern knowledge is almost entirely barred out, and which oppose its intrusion with all their power. They fight the "encroachments" of modern science, modern literature, modern language, and modern history, at every point; and it is equally certain that this scheme of higher education in the ancient seats of learning reacts with great power upon inferior institutions, making them also unsympathetic with modern ideas as means and objects of culture.

It is true that we have scientific schools, and that they are doing an excellent work; but the shape they are compelled to take sufficiently attests the vigor and vitality of the traditional system. Where allowed to exist at all, they generally take the form of separate and supplementary institutions—outside appendages to the older colleges which, having grudgingly made this concession to "popular clamor," cling resolutely to their inherited methods. The new schools, in fact, became an excuse for resisting all modifications in the policy of the old, for it is said that the new wants are abundantly supplied by the new arrangements. Meantime it is assiduously maintained that the technical schools are only fitted to make chemists and engineers, and cannot educate in any broad or liberal sense, while thorough culture—the complete training of men—can only be accomplished by the old classical colleges. It is, therefore, as far as possible from true that the public have as yet realized the advantages of modern knowledge in education.

In an able article in our present number, Canon Mozely has shown not only the educational importance of modern literature, but he has shown also how grossly it is neglected in the English universities; and this testimony is the more valuable, as coming from a doctor of divinity, trained in the classical system, and holding a distinguished place in the University of Oxford. How desperate has been the struggle for the past generation to get even the nominal recognition of the sciences in these establishments is well known; and how they have languished, when introduced, is equally notorious. The modern languages have fared no better, although, after a long contest, a point has at last been gained in their favor at Cambridge, which is thus described in Nature of June 6th:

"An event occurred on Thursday last at Cambridge, not in itself, perhaps, of imposing magnitude, but yet fraught with very important consequences. For this long while back an agitation has been going on with the purpose of making Greek no longer absolutely essential to the Previous Examination (or 'Little Go,' as it is popularly called), but of allowing French or German, or both, to be substituted for it at the option of the candidate. As any long-headed man might have foreseen, the genuine scholarship and liberal intelligence of the university are in favor of such a change; but the opposition has been neither feeble nor silent. Discussion has abounded more and more, and 'fly-sheets' have fallen like the latter rain. The advocates of the change seem to have been more or less governed by a dislike to many words, and to have had large faith in the merits of their cause; their opponents, on the other hand, appear to have believed in the efficacy of much speaking, and in the effects of arguments drawn from all quarters, and looking all ways; their papers and speeches, all put together, form as pretty a piece of incoherence as may be found in a literary day's march, and would have been a perfect godsend to the great Skepsius when he wrote his famous tract 'An hominibus mens absit.' The reasons, indeed, for making the change were so clear and cogent, that there seemed hardly any hope of its being accomplished. Yet, by one of those freaks of fortune which are met with even in the universities, wisdom prevailed; and by the vote of the Senate on Thursday last, which will, in all probability, be speedily ratified at a second meeting, the student who desires to go out in an 'honors' examination henceforth need not at his Little Go scratch up a smattering of bad Greek, if he satisfies his examiner that he possesses a real knowledge of French or German. We trust that the scientific workers at Cambridge will take heart at this happy issue of the struggle, and gird up their loins for the heavy task of introducing order and system into the chaos in which the natural-science studies at Cambridge are now lost. It is not a little to the credit of this university that she should have been actually the first to remove one more of the old-fashioned swaddling-clothes which have been checking the development of youthful science, and we trust it is an earnest of still greater changes which she means to take in hand. Science has been too long at that old university a sort of blind Samson, bound with many cords, and serving chiefly to make sport for mocking Philistines of the classical and mathematical tribes. It is time his cords were loosed, and his strength made use of for the general advancement of the university."


These are hard words, and will be ranked by many among those pestilent "ologies" of which so much is said by the learned, and which are supposed to be of so little use or importance to ordinary people. Yet they are significant and indispensable terms, and stand for very weighty things; and, moreover, they represent subjects which are forcing themselves more and more upon the attention of intelligent people. It is, therefore, desirable to have distinct conceptions of what they mean.

Anthropology is the term now applied to the general science of man. It, therefore, comprehends many things, and has, perhaps, not yet reached its full and final definition. It embraces men's physical, mental, and moral characteristics; their religious conceptions, mythology, and traditions; their mental traits and development; their civil and political organizations and institutions; their language, literature, arts, and monuments; their customs and modes of life. This statement may seem sufficiently comprehensive, yet it is really incomplete, and, in fact, hardly touches a whole tract of inquiry, which Prof. Huxley regards as the principal thing. According to his definition, "anthropology is the great science which unravels the complexities of human structure; traces out the relations of man to other animals; studies all that is human in the mode in which man's complex functions are performed; and searches after the conditions which have determined his presence in the world. And anthropology is a section of Zoology, which again is the animal half of Biology—the science of life and living things."

Ethnology is a branch of anthropology, and is defined as the science of races. The family of mankind is divided up into great groups, which are characterized by numerous and important differences; it is the business of ethnology to trace these differential characters, to estimate their value, and, if possible, to ascertain their source. The ethnologists are divided into two schools: one school holds to the theory of monogenesis, or that the human race has had a single origin, or sprung from a single ancestral pair; and the other school holds to the theory of polygenesis, or plurality of origins. These schools, of course, take different views of the nature and character of the differences among races. Those who maintain that racial differences have been brought about by natural causes, speak of races as "modified men," and it is with reference to this idea that Prof. Huxley defines the science. He says: "Ethnology is the science which determines the distinctive characters of the persistent modifications of mankind, which ascertains the distribution of those modifications in present and past times, and seeks to discover the causes or conditions of existence, both of the modifications and of their distribution. I say 'persistent' modifications, because, unless incidentally, ethnology has nothing to do with chance and transitory peculiarities of human structure. And I speak of 'persistent modifications,' or 'stocks,' rather than of 'varieties,' or 'races,' or 'species,' because each of these last well-known terms implies, on the part of its employer, a preconceived opinion touching one of these problems, the solution of which is the ultimate object of the science; and, in regard to which, therefore, ethnologists are especially bound to keep their minds open, and their judgments freely balanced."

It is obvious that ethnology covers a large field in the domain of anthropology, and it in fact involves so much of the larger subject that there has been found great practical difficulty in pursuing them separately. The larger subject is the later in the order of cultivation. Ethnological societies were the first to be formed in Paris, London, and New York, but they have disappeared in their distinctive forms, and are now merged in organizations for the promotion of anthropological knowledge. This, however, is but a matter of practical convenience, for the spirit and methods of investigation in both are essentially the same. It is the aim of this science, to study man as all other parts of Nature are studied, with the simple aim of ascertaining and classifying the facts. Putting aside all preconceived views that might vitiate the strict scientific character of the inquiry, the anthropologist asks simply: What are the phenomena presented by the different groups of men? What are their aspects, modes of life, beliefs, traditions, institutions? In short, what are the data which, when authentically presented, will serve as the basis for generalizations respecting the attributes and nature of man?

We publish, in the present number of the Monthly, an interesting ethnological sketch of the Calmucks of the Volga. It is translated from the Russian, and is derived from the work of Nebalsine, who resided for a long time at Astrakhan, at the mouth of the Volga, on the Caspian Sea, and he was employed at the "Court of Domains," by which these singular people are governed. At this place he had opportunity to study them carefully and intimately. No Mongol or Turkish race presents such characteristic traits as the Calmucks. They display the persistence of race character in a remarkable degree; answering exactly to the description given of them by Jornandez thirteen centuries ago, when, under the name of Huns, they devastated Southern Europe. Chambers describes the Calmuck as short in stature, with broad shoulders, a large head, small black eyes, always appearing to be half shut, and slanting downward toward the nose, which is flat with wide nostrils, hair black, coarse, and straight, complexion deeply swarthy, while his ugliness is the index of the purity of his descent. The beliefs of the Calmucks, as represented in the article, form an instructive comment on the dogma of the "wisdom of the East."

It is not to be supposed, however, that the wisdom of the West would at all approve the life of these restless nomadic vagrants. They would be told to settle down somewhere, change their religion, go to work, build schoolhouses, and make money, like good Christians. It is, however, probable that the Calmucks would not be without a reply. A traveller, who had studied their customs, made this significant statement: "If it could be proposed to all the academies of Europe to point out the best means to convert those enormous and sterile deserts, which are completely lost for agriculture, into habitable and productive lands, they would with difficulty find a more practical solution of this problem, than that actually put in operation by the Calmucks themselves. In fact, with these poor herbs, so thin and so arid, which they find in these enormous wastes burnt up by the sun, the Calmucks nourish millions of horses, cows, goats, sheep, and camels, and transform these sterile districts into a true and rich source of wealth to Russia. By making a great trade of wool, hair, fat, skins, and pelts, the Calmucks contribute to furnish illumination and defence against cold to a great portion of the northern provinces of the empire. In this particular, the economic part played by the Calmucks is very important."