Popular Science Monthly/Volume 29/October 1886/Editor's Table
NOTHING could better illustrate the great need that exists, even in this highly favored country, for a more general diffusion of intelligence, than the extent to which people, who can at least read and write, allow themselves to become the dupes of the most transparent impostures. The post-office authorities are engaged in a perpetual struggle to prevent people, who would be deeply offended if they were spoken of as deficient in intelligence, or if any one hinted that they were not fully, if not superabundantly, qualified for the highest duties of citizenship, from parting with their money to impudent adventurers who advertise their ridiculous and utterly fraudulent schemes in the newspapers. At one end of the country is a lottery, at another a mining speculation; here a gift concert, there a family newspaper sent free for six months with valuable premiums into the bargain; one man has a remedy for every form of disease, another is prepared to reveal an easy and delightful way of making a fortune in a few weeks: it matters little what the pretense is, the fly is no sooner cast than some silly fish begin to rise. Those who pride themselves on being more knowing than their neighbors nibble a little at the bait at first, and enter into correspondence with the advertiser. The latter knows just what to do with such customers. He sends them the most solemn protestations that his business is bona fide, and his personal reputation beyond all possibility of attack. He is prepared to show testimonials by the thousand as to the thorough uprightness and eminently satisfactory character of his dealings. That is enough: the money comes forward by the next mail, and one more gudgeon is hooked.
It may be asked what all this has to do with science. Well, a good deal; or, if not with science, at least with the want of it. What are the schools of the country doing, let us ask, that the Post-Office should have to step in to save the free and enlightened citizens of this republic from the consequences of their own ignorance and folly? The object of popular education, we make bold to say, ought to be to give the people sense; yet here we have indisputable evidence that large masses of our population don't know enough to protect themselves against the most barefaced forms of imposture. The intellectual quality most largely developed in certain extensive regions of society would seem to be credulity. How does this fact tally with our supposed educational progress? Evidently we are here face to face with a question which should come home very directly to all who are interested in public education; and we would respectfully ask teachers and trustees to consider whether, through the schools, something might not be done to diminish an evil which really has assumed very large proportions. Let private education pursue what ends it will; but public or state education, we hold, should aim, above all, at the production of good and efficient citizens. But a man is not an efficient citizen who is so grossly credulous as the majority of those who fall a prey to the advertising quack or confidence-man. A part, and no mean part, of the exercises of every school should consist of the imparting to the pupils of sound practical precepts bearing on civil and social life. We want to develop common sense in the young; we want to give the boys a manly bearing and manly ideas; we want to qualify the girls to act with sound judgment and right womanly feeling in the several positions in life they may be called upon to fill. We want to show that the lust of wealth is a poor motive for any man's or woman's chief activity. Bat how is all this to be done? The mere teaching of arithmetic, geography, and grammar will not do it. It can best be done, as it seems to us, by a scientific, that is to say, a rational exposition, on the one hand, of the principles which go to produce the dignity, security, and happiness both of nations and of individuals; and, on the other, of the causes which lead to national decay and individual misery. In connection with such a course of lessons as we have now in view, it would be well to glance at some of the methods by which dishonest men prey upon society, and, by way of illustration, we can hardly imagine anything more serviceable than an analysis of the advertisements and circulars of some of the "frauds" operated through the post-office. The children who heard these things exposed would carry home the information to their parents; and the net result in many cases would be an enlargement of the common sense of the household, and the saving of a good many dollars of hard-earned money. It may perhaps be objected that ill-disposed boys would thus learn tricks that they might afterward attempt to practice. The same risk, however, attends every exposure, in the press or elsewhere, of vice or crime; and we think that an honest teacher could hardly fail to present the subject in a manner that would leave a large balance of good effect.
If there is anything that schools maintained by the State might be expected to do, it is to inculcate respect for the State, and in general to develop a sense of the debt which each individual owes to the society of which he forms a part. Nothing is easier to show than the entire dependence of the individual upon society for all that makes life worth living; and it ought not to be impossible to draw out certain feelings of regard and devotion toward the organism in which and through which alone individual life rises to any true worth or dignity. It can be shown that, just as the family, in the first place, educates the individual by taming his selfishness and developing his sympathies, so the State or community educates the family by widening its interests, multiplying its activities, and calling into existence those thousand differentiations, complications, and refinements of thought and feeling which distinguish civilized man from the savage. Were these lines of thought properly worked out, we believe they would be found to furnish the basis for an almost religious sense of duty to the State; and would certainly set in a strong light the odiousness of such treason to it as is involved in private fraud and in public corruption.
We shall only say in conclusion that it would, in our opinion, be well if the public would get more and more into the way of testing our school systems by their apparent practical results as regards the moral and intellectual life of the community. We ought to be able to form some idea as to whether the rising generation are growing up wiser and better than ourselves, or just about the same, or worse. We should postulate distinct improvement; and, if such improvement is not apparent, we should try to find out the reason why.
The American Association met this year in its thirty-fifth meeting at Buffalo. It is the third time it has assembled in that city. its fifteenth and twenty-fifth meetings having also been held there. It is also a fact, of which the people of Buffalo took notice with a gratification they had a right to feel, that their city is the first place which has as yet enjoyed the privilege of entertaining the Association for the third time. The Hon. Sherman S. Rogers, who delivered one of the addresses of welcome, referred to the fact as significant of a growing regard among the people for those pursuits which contribute to the advancement of knowledge, irrespective of their bearing upon business, and as evidence that, eager as that active and enterprising city is in the material pursuits of life, "it is waking up to the conviction that man does not and can not live by bread alone." The same thing is going on in the other cities of the country, large and small, where increased appreciation is shown every year of those things which pertain to learning for its own sake, and where even the most active centers of commercial speculation have their academies working industriously in pure science.
The attendance was good, and the list of members is marked by the presence of a large proportion of those who have attained a solid reputation in their respective branches of science. The programme of the papers also exhibits a greater predominance than has usually obtained of late years of those that are of real scientific or practical value, with a corresponding absence of the vagaries of such persons as President Morse described as "cranks." Retiring President Newton selected meteorites as the topic of his official address, which we publish entire in this number of the "Monthly," the subject with the investigation of which his fame is most closely associated. With a few plain, common-sense considerations which everybody could comprehend, expressed in language intelligible to the most unlearned of his possible hearers, he disposed of most of the theories which have been devised to account for these phenomena, showing how inadequate they are, and then considered, without committing himself definitely to what no one knows, the only one yet advanced which is plausible in the present condition of science. Of the vice-presidential sectional addresses, that of the Hon. Horatio Hale, in the Anthropological Section, presented the subject of "The Origin of Languages and the Antiquity of Speaking Man," in a somewhat different light from that in which it has been regarded by the majority of anthropologists of the present generation. Professor Wiley's address on the "Economical Aspects of Agricultural Chemistry" is of practical interest, and will probably attract more general attention. Professor Bracken's address in physics, and Professor Bowditch's in biology, are of technical interest. In geology, Vice-President Chamberlain presented "An Inventory of our Glacial Drift." Vice-President Chanute, in the Mechanical Section, showed how inventors are indebted to science; and in the Economical Section Vice-President Cummings considered the well-worn questions of the improvement of the condition of laborers, the causes of discontent among them, and their errors. The Association meeting so near to Niagara, the geological origin and character of the Niagara River and Falls naturally claimed a large share of attention. A graceful recognition was made of the approaching completion of the hundredth year of the veteran chemist, Chevreul. In commenting upon the meeting of the Association in Buffalo ten years ago, we spoke of a seeming lack of papers and discussions suited to the wants of the citizens at large who attended the sessions in expectant interest. We observe in the proceedings of the present meeting an improvement in this respect. While the technical side was not over-looked, and little that was unscientific; was presented, the addresses of President Newton and Vice-President Wiley, the Niagara discussion, and other papers to which we have referred, were, both in matter and manner of presentation, well adapted to a popular audience.