Popular Science Monthly/Volume 17/September 1880/Editor's Table
THE American Association for the Advancement of Science will hold its twenty-ninth annual meeting in Boston, commencing Wednesday, August 25th, and continuing perhaps a week. It is expected that this will be the largest and probably the most important scientific gathering yet held in this country; and ample arrangements have been made, by a large and efficient local committee, both for the business accommodation of the body in all its departments and for the convenience and pleasant entertainment of the members and guests who may be present.
The purpose for which this Association was established is very well known, but to strangers, who propose attending it, it may be well to say that it is devoted to original researches, which are generally of interest to those only who have paid some attention to special scientific branches. Neither the papers read nor the discussions that follow them are usually of a popular character. They are necessarily dry and unintelligible to those unfamiliar with the subjects; but, to those who have some preparation in science, even though it be of a general sort, there is much in the proceedings of this society that will be found very instructive. It is broken up into a large number of sections, each devoted to a division of science, such as astronomy, physics, chemistry, zoölogy, botany, physiology, geology, anthropology, etc., and programmes are published every morning giving lists of the papers to be read during the day in each section. Though technical, and addressed to specialists, these papers represent the advances in each branch of inquiry, and the proceedings of the successive meetings may be looked upon as comprehensive reports of the annual progress of scientific research.
Any person may become a member of the Association upon recommendation in writing by two members, and subsequent election by a majority of the session. The initiation fee is five dollars, and the subsequent annual dues three dollars; and these payments entitle each member to receive the annual volume of proceedings. New members are usually elected daily during the meeting, but many apply earlier to the permanent Secretary, Mr. F. W. Putnam, Cambridge, Massachusetts. More than two hundred members had been proposed for the Boston meeting a month before it begins.
The sessions of the Association will be held in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The address of the retiring President, Professor George F. Barker, of Philadelphia, will be given on the first day, and the new President-elect, Dr. Lewis H. Morgan, of Rochester, will be the presiding officer of the Boston meeting.
At the College of New Jersey, in Princeton, a considerable number of students were recently attacked by a malignant fever, of which several of them died. It turned out that the cause of this fatal outbreak was not the unhealthfulness of the place, but bad sewage arrangements in the college buildings, where the unfortunate students resided.
There was, of course, nothing new or unusual in such an occurrence. There have been thousands of cases like it before. Indeed, as we go back in the centuries we read of great fever-plagues carrying off millions of people, and which were caused by air-poison and water-poison engendered in the filth of human habitations, when the methods and the virtues of sewage and drainage were unknown.
And yet there was something unexpected and startling about this affair at Princeton. The sickness and death that occurred there were not from want of knowledge. The calamity was entirely preventable. It could not be charged to the mysterious providence of God, as is often so plausibly done when the causes of disease and death are not understood. It took, place in a great seat of learning, where young men gather to be educated. The business of the place was to think. But if there was knowledge sufficient to prevent this disaster, and the young men were learning how to use their minds, why did the catastrophe occur? The answer is, these young men were sacrificed to an educational theory.
The theory to which the Princeton students were offered up is that college knowledge is not to be of the useful kind that is necessary to save life. Utilitarian knowledge—that which instructs people how to preserve life and maintain health, and deal intelligently with practical affairs—is decried in these institutions as vulgar and unfitted for educational purposes. Knowledge for its vital life-uses is flatly repudiated, and the courses of study are made up with reference to quite other objects. The study of dead languages, which, for general students, is most perfectly freed from all utilitarian taint, is the earliest, the most prolonged, and the most prized of all college studies. The whole pressure goes in this direction. Whatever else is neglected, the Greek and Latin are always insisted upon. The students are told that this will make men and scholars of them, while an acquaintance with modern knowledge, science, and the laws of their own nature is hardly to be ranked as education at all. A knowledge of sewage is not included in the Princeton ideal of scholarship, nor is it exacted by the Princeton curriculum. There was information enough to prevent the calamity that happened there, but nobody had any interest in making use of it. It was dead knowledge in the College of New Jersey. The intellectual interest fostered by the institution impels to other acquisitions. The whole battery of examinations, honors, prizes, is adapted to favor dignified, traditional, and disciplinary studies. The Princeton student is not, first of all, thoroughly instructed in regard to the laws of breathing and the circulation, nor of the brain and its conditions of action and limits of endurance, nor of the nervous system and its perils of exhaustion, nor of the stomach with its dyspeptic dangers, nor of the vital forces of the living system and the laws of their economical exercise, nor of the complex influence of environing conditions over human health, efficiency, and enjoyment. He is not taught these prime essentials of welfare as the most imperative of intellectual requirements, because they are slurred as mere "utilities"; and so he is left to die or sicken from poisonous air, or to undermine his energies and break down his health in any of the numberless ways to which carelessness, ignorance, and unregulated ambition may lead. If he does not die of collegiate sewage, he is turned adrift with his "miserable scrapings of Greek and Latin," to find out by bitter experience that it would have been better if he had devoted more of the precious time of his college years to the study of useful things.
We have spoken of the college at Princeton because it happens to have furnished us with a text; but these strictures have a wider application, for the vice we are condemning vitiates the college system of the country. There may have been excuse for this in institutions founded long before the claims of modern knowledge had anything like their present urgency; but the later colleges exhibit the same defects. The University of Michigan, for example, is of modern origin, having been established nearly a hundred years later than the College of New Jersey, but its educational spirit is of the same kind. It was organized by State authority, and has been maintained from the beginning by public taxes. It is open to all within the State or out, and, excepting a slight initiation fee, is free to every student. One would think that the circumstances were here favorable for giving precedence to that later, higher, and more perfect knowledge which is vindicated in its beneficent uses, and is equally valuable to all classes. Yet this great institution, with its fourteen hundred students, seems just as much enslaved by vicious traditions as the older schools. Middle-age studies are still in the ascendant, as "three years in Greek required for A. B." sufficiently attests. The sciences are taught there, but the classical course is the one encouraged by the whole weight of the university influence; and, consequently, as statistics show, it is the one pursued by an excessive majority of the students. The theory of education which bore its fatal fruit at Princeton is loudly defended at Ann Arbor. A newspaper comes to us with report of the proceedings of the last commencement, held July 1st. These are grand occasions, when the colleges are sure of public attention. A vast audience gathered at this thirty-sixth annual commencement of the Michigan University, but, in place of the usual speeches by the graduating students, an elaborate address was delivered by the Right Rev. Samuel T. Harris, D. D., Bishop of Michigan. The eloquent speaker did not fail to improve the occasion in the interest of all collegiate traditions. Knowing that they are under indictment by the common sense of the age, he came to their defense with a kind of fanatical desperation. The Bishop said:
We take exception to this greatly applauded statement on several accounts. Bishop Harris recommends a course of collegiate study, and rejoices in its popularity at the Michigan University, in which not a single one of the natural sciences is included. He assumes that the scientific progress of three centuries goes for nothing in the higher education; and he admits no improvement upon the mediæval scheme of culture. The most developed form of knowledge, that which has created modern civilization, and opened up a new world of truth to the human mind, he passes by as if it had no existence. He advocates the theory of college education of which Princeton has recently illustrated the practice—the theory to which students are immolated. It is an insult to the intelligence of the age. Any college, supported by forced exactions upon the people, which omits the sciences from its curriculum, is an outrage upon the community; and, if it can not be reformed, deserves to be suppressed as a public nuisance.
Again, we object to the Bishop's disingenuous attempt to bring useful knowledge into reproach by talking of "mammon," "worldliness," and "money-making," in connection with it. It is not true that the advocates of educational reform put the educational claims of modern knowledge on mercenary grounds. Does Bishop Harris need to be reminded that there are other uses of scientific knowledge than sordid uses? Does he need to be told that it subserves the highest ends to which knowledge is applicable? Would students be chargeable with a venal purpose if they neglected their Latin and Greek, and took up the study of sewage to protect themselves from fatal college epidemics? The Bishop reprobates in his address the "false and superficial habit of object-teaching"; but if students should take up college buildings as an object-lesson, and thereby gain some knowledge that might not only be of immediate utility, but have a vital value for them through life, who but an infatuated classicist would accuse them of being animated by low and degrading motives? And supposing they should systematically extend this practice and look into the water-supply of Ann Arbor and the sewage of the town, and then examine the hygienic conditions of the public schools, and afterward proceed to the jail and the poor-house, and get up a series of object lessons on these also, would they be liable to the imputation of being actuated by motives of mere vulgar and debasing utility? This disparaging assault upon the kinds of knowledge which lead to self-preservation, to the maintenance of health, to the promotion of personal and public welfare, and to an understanding of the laws of the human constitution,' the natural laws of society, and the principles on which the surrounding world is ordered, was wholly unworthy of the orator, of the occasion, and the university that he represented.
And we can not refrain from saying that his insinuation about making education subservient to business comes with an ill grace from the Eight Reverend Bishop, whose education was a direct preparation for his trade. He says, "Latin and Greek, and the higher mathematics, rhetoric and logic, and mental and moral philosophy, these are the useful studies in education." Undoubtedly! but useful to whom? They are the staple studies of the clerical profession. They are the acquisitions by which clergymen get a living. Our old colleges were all originally seminaries for training professional divines. The traditional curriculum was shaped for the uses of a vocation. Clergymen have been the heads of the colleges for centuries. Every President of the College of New Jersey, for a hundred and twenty-seven years, from Dickinson to McCosh, has been a professional divine. Greek and Latin, rhetoric and logic, and mental and moral philosophy, which Bishop Harris would palm off upon the Michigan boys as giving the only true education, have been the bread and butter of doctors of divinity ever since divinity became a regular business. Let Bishop Harris confine his pot-boiling curriculum for preachers to the technical schools of the profession, the theological seminaries. It is high time that general education were rescued from this slough of specialism and placed upon loftier grounds.
The Bishop denounces the "fell spirit of utilitarianism"; that is, the vile and pernicious impulse to usefulness. What does he think of the clerical spirit in education, as shown, say, in the history of the English universities? Under clerical domination they have notoriously been the fastnesses of bigotry, intolerance, proscription, and scandalous abuse of trust and power. Their professor-ships and fellowships and scholarships have been sinecures for men in "holy orders ,1; and the institutions have been fettered and trammeled by absurd theological tests, which public sentiment in England has been fighting for half a century, and has not even yet been able to extirpate. Those universities were ages ago the professional schools for the education of the clergy, and, under continued priestly headships, they have clung with desperation to the dominant studies of theological culture. And, as for the spirit of greed, the unscrupulous perversion of endowments and the ravenous struggle for profitable places, which have been displayed in the long hierarchical administration of those great schools, have been the disgrace of civilization. It is fit that the representative of this system should do his best to keep modern science out of the curriculum of the University of Michigan!
But it is a vain and futile work. Bishop Harris's vehement protest shows that he recognizes the strength of the new tendencies. The same newspaper that brings the report of his speech contains also the following significant paragraph: "Cornell University seems to have introduced a notable change in commencement orations and essays. Among the number chosen for public presentation this year is a paper by Mr. R. P. Green, on 'The Sewage of Ithaca as a Hydraulic Problem,' and one by Miss M. Hicks on 'Tenement-Houses, a Social Problem in Architecture.' Among the list from which these papers are chosen are several on broader subjects, as 'The Relation of Modern Science to Education,' etc." When such topics as these are earnestly taken up by students, and college studies become a fit preparation for dealing with them, society will then begin to reap the substantial benefits, which have hitherto been but scantily afforded by the higher education.