Popular Science Monthly/Volume 28/April 1886/Editor's Table
WE yield the considerable space in our present number winch is necessary to complete the discussion between Mr. Gladstone and Professor Huxley as the chief parties, on the scientific status of the Pentateuch, in its claims to embody and anticipate in an extraordinary manner the great results of modern science. Mr. Gladstone argues that the statements made thousands of years ago in the book of Genesis in regard to the manner and order in which this earth and its living tribes were produced conform so remarkably to the grand results of modern scientific research as to form a powerful argument in favor of the divine inspiration of the old Jewish chronicles. Professor Huxley takes issue with this conclusion, maintaining that there is nothing like the wonderful agreement alleged, as sufficient to constitute a "plea for a revelation from God," but that, on the other hand, the disagreements between the two records are so great as to be irreconcilable.
This is an old and hard-contested controversy. At first, and for a long period, the Bible, as a paramount and infallible authority, became a powerful instrument in the hands of bigotry and intolerance for the repression of science. For a long time the facts of observation and the proofs of experiment were of but little weight before the authority of Scripture texts. But theologians at length discovered that this was untenable and indeed dangerous ground; as, to plant the Bible squarely in the pathway of advancing science, would be certain to destroy its influence. The lead at last had to be given to the truths of observation and experience, against which it was of no use any longer to quote Scripture. But then came the task of reconciling biblical statements with scientific truths, and for a long period an immense amount of ingenuity and learning was expended to show that the Bible is in perfect harmony with science, and that all its most striking and important results are to be found there, expressed or implied. But neither could this ground be maintained; and after generations of heated contest the great controversy gradually settled itself by the general acceptance of the principle that the Bible was not given to teach science, and is therefore not to be judged by scientific standards. Hence, the present discussion seems now rather anomalous—the revival of an antiquated subject—which derives its chief interest from the eminent character of the parties engaged in it. Mr. Gladstone is, however, an old man, and, though still in great force, he represents ideas and phases of thought upon this question that were far more absorbing and ascendant half a century ago than they are now.
A correspondent of the "New York Times" sums up the functions of the Superintendent of Public Instruction of the State of New York as follows:
This is a very extensive list of duties and responsibilities to be intrusted to any one functionary by the self-governing people of a great State, especially on a subject so extensive and important, and we may add so domestic and social, as that of education. One would think that an intelligent and independent community would be somewhat scrupulous about parting with the control of its children in the matter of instruction, and would prefer to attend to that matter themselves, rather than to be much superintended by any distant officeholder who happens to be thrust into the position where he can regulate the schools of the State. But the Superintendent of Public Instruction is the head engineer of that vast political machine which has come to supersede all private agency in the formation of the minds and characters of the young so far as it is possible for schools to do it. We say "political machine," because the great work of carrying on primary education in this country is being steadily and rapidly swallowed up in the gulf of politics. Indeed, the fundamental reasons given for the existence of our common-school system, and avowedly the sole reasons for which it can be maintained, are political. It is freely admitted that the State has no other warrant for taking in hand the instruction of the young than to shape them as citizens in accordance with the political system we have adopted. As a consequence, the business of administering education is becoming a prominent part of politics, and appointments in all the best-paid positions are being more and more determined by the common influences of political manipulation and intrigue. The influence of this state of things upon teachers who are now all government office-holders is a chapter of the subject that can not be here dealt with, but is full of interest. Our object is now simply to call attention to a conspicuous illustration of the control of partisan politics over our whole system of State instruction.
No intelligent person will deny that the general subject of education is one of great complexity and great difficulty, and that to control it wisely and improve its practical methods is a task requiring much ability, long and profound devotion to its fundamental questions, and a wide and varied experience in educational work. But very few men can be found combining the rare qualifications needed in a State Superintendent of Education; at the very best these qualifications can only be secured in a partial degree, but this makes it all the more necessary that no effort shall be spared to secure the best talent available for so responsible a trust. It is needless to say that this desirable object is impossible under the political régime into which our popular education has now passed. The superintendency of schools of the State of New York has become a foot-ball of partisan faction among the politicians of the New York Legislature. The former Superintendent resigned some weeks ago, to take a more profitable office; and the temporary incumbent of the place will vacate the office in April, to be succeeded by whomsoever the Legislature appoints. A crowd of applicants of all sorts are after the place, lobbying and intriguing in Albany by all the means that are necessary to secure "success" in the scramble for a desirable position. That a competent man will be appointed under these circumstances is virtually impossible, for no thoroughly competent and self-respecting man would enter the lists of competition under these circumstances. The appointee will win because he or his friends can beat all competition in the questionable arts by which politicians are influenced, and the result will be legitimate—a natural outcome of the system by which the instruction of the young has been brought under political and therefore, of course, under partisan control.
Another exemplification of the influence of politics upon education is seen in the "Blair Bill," which proposes that Congress shall make a gift of seventy-seven million dollars, to be divided among the States of the Union to help them maintain their schools. The success of the bill, as we write, is said to be uncertain; but, whether it pass or not, it has had so extensive a backing as to well illustrate the sort of influence which politicians would bring to bear upon education. The tendency to make education a charity, and to bring school-houses into the same category with poor-houses, is sufficiently strong; but this measure, by an audacious stretch of constitutional power, would give the stamp of nationality to the charity policy. The scheme proceeds upon the peculiarly American assumption that anything can be done with money, and that the Central Government has only to scatter millions enough and all the people will be educated. But the assumption is false: there are things which no amount of money can do, while the evils of its lavish distribution are not only palpable and certain, but may result in the absolute defeat of the object intended. That the distribution of this seventy-seven million largess among the States would be profoundly injurious to the interests of popular education does not admit of a doubt; and the American Congress would have to make the experiment but once more to paralyze and destroy the existing common-school system of the country. For, by the results of all experience and the very necessity of things, those who expect to be helped will depend upon help, and put forth less effort to help themselves. Whatever lessens the interest taken by parents and citizens in the working and character of the schools, whatever tends to diminish their direct responsibility in regard to them, and to weaken the sense of obligation to make sacrifices for the instruction of the young, strikes a demoralizing and deadly blow at the springs and incentives of all educational improvement. Our people have yet to learn that one of the highest benefits of a popular educational system is in training parents and citizens to the efficient discharge of their social duties, and a national policy which undermines these obligations can not be too strongly reprobated.
Our readers are reminded that one of the most important scientific papers that have appeared in "The Popular Science Monthly" since its establishment is that by Herbert Spencer, in the present number, on "The Factors of Organic Evolution." It is a popular paper, but it will demand close attention to appreciate its significance and ltd force. The biological questions discussed are fundamental in organic evolution, or the theory of descent with variations, and Mr. Spencer brings into clearness aspects of the subject upon which there has hitherto been much confusion of thought. His root question is as to the import and value of the principle of natural selection contributed by Mr. Darwin, and the decision of which must fix Mr. Darwin's permanent place in relation to the doctrine of evolution. The need of a thorough investigation here is shown, on the one hand, by the confessed unsettledness in regard to the limits of the doctrine of natural selection, and how far it is capable of accounting for evolution phenomena—an uncertainty shared prominently by Mr. Darwin himself; and, on the other hand, by the exaggerated and extravagant claims that have been made for this principle as being all there is of evolution, and that Mr. Darwin is, of course, its founder. No man was so capable of dealing with this subject as Herbert Spencer, and it will be a matter of general congratulation that he has seen fit to take it up in the interests of science and of justice. But, quite aside from all personal bearings of the discussion, it will bo found of the highest interest as a study in the progress of modern biology.
Mrs. Rickoff describes in another place in this number an exhibition of hand-work made out of school by children of from five and six to fourteen years, and draws various suggestive conclusions from the experience. Among those is the following remark: "One of the noticeable features of the exhibition was an apparent decline in originality of invention and spontaneity of thought after the first year or two at school." The inference, of course, is that the school exerted an unfavorable influence upon the manual practice. This could not well be otherwise, as the ideal of the schools is mental cultivation by books, and not by the exercise of the active powers; and, as the schools are machines run by verbal methods and backed by old bookish superstitions, the child brought under their influence will very naturally and very quickly lose any interest it may have previously acquired in manual efforts. The two systems are antagonistic, and we do not believe it is possible to graft any thorough or valuable plan of technical study on our public schools as at present organized. The technical system must be independently developed, and will force its way through or over the narrow, unpractical system that now has the field.