Popular Science Monthly/Volume 36/November 1889/Editor's Table

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EDITOR'S TABLE.

 
A MINORITY BUT NOT A SECT.

A PROTESTANT minister in Oakland, Cal., in a recent address on the subject of the public-school system of the United States, expressed himself as follows: "In one of the schools of San Francisco Herbert Spencer's 'Data of Ethics' was introduced as a text-book of morals—as palpable a violation of the law forbidding sectarian instruction as the introduction of the Catholic or Methodist catechism; for Herbert Spencer belongs to that very small and narrow sect which promulgates the creed of agnosticism." If the reverend speaker had taken the ground that the "Data of Ethics" was too abstruse a book to be placed in the hands of public-school pupils, we should have felt inclined to sustain his objection. But when he says that to introduce such a book is to give a sectarian character to the school in which it is used, we must enter a protest. Science is never sectarian; philosophy is never sectarian. Sectarian teaching begins when you ask a man or a child to assume what can not be proved, for the sake of keeping within the dogmatic lines that fence round some particular creed. The followers of Mr. Spencer may be a minority, but they are no more a sect than were the adherents of the Copernican system of astronomy, or than are the believers in the Darwinian theory of natural selection. Mr. Spencer makes no appeal to faith, but finds his premises in the common experience of mankind. A pupil who was being taught out of the "Data of Ethics" would he quite at liberty to dispute either the premises or the arguments of the author; and he would not he silenced by the declaration that Mr. Spencer was infallible. But when catechisms are taught they are taught, not as containing matter for discussion, but as containing doctrines that must not be disputed, on pain of more or less disagreeable consequences. Similarly, when the Bible is read in school, it is read not as a fallible record of events or a fallible guide in morals, but as something absolutely authoritative—the very voice of God. It is perfectly obvious, then, where sectarianism in education begins: it begins just at the point where doctrines of any kind, accepted on faith by a portion of the community and not discussible on grounds of reason, are made a part of public-school instruction. Sectarianism comes in whenever the teacher is obliged to say "Hush!" to the inquiring scholar who wants his reason satisfied before he will believe. There is no sectarianism, on the other hand, in making use of a book which lays no claim to any kind of privilege, and which, therefore, can not force the belief of any one. The followers of Mr. Spencer do not form a sect, because they have no beliefs which they wish to exempt from criticism or discussion, and because they hold themselves at full liberty to pass beyond the bounds of Mr. Spencer's thought whenever they can see their way to doing so. Mr. Spencer's "Data of Ethics" may not contain all the truth on the subject of morals, but the truth which it does contain lends itself to demonstration; and no one can be the worse for being taught demonstrable truths. Upon that foundation he can afterward build what he likes hay, stubble, or what not; and after his superstructure has been tried by the fire of experience, as it is very likely to be, he will still have something solid left on which to rebuild in perchance wiser fashion. We do not advocate the introduction of the "Data of Ethics" into the public schools; but we are convinced that it would be a very good thing for the rising generation if some of the ideas contained in that book could be brought home to their minds.

 

 
SCIENCE IN DOMESTIC ECONOMY.

Mr. Edward Atkinson's paper on "The Art of Cooking," which opens this number of the "Monthly," is one to which we confidently call the attention of every reader of the magazine. There is no art which concerns the well-being of more persons than cookery. Blunders in navigation do not injure those who stay on land, errors of engineering may easily be escaped, and the mistakes of the apothecary do not affect him who takes no medicine. But none of us can do without eating, and if our food is not properly prepared we are sure to suffer both in health and in pocket. The fact which Mr. Atkinson states in his opening sentence, that "the cost of materials which are used for food comes to one half or more of the average income" of most persons, shows the importance of carefully limiting the percentage of waste in this large item of domestic expenditure; and when we remember that, as he states in the next paragraph, "good health depends in greater measure upon adequate nutrition and upon the conversion of food material into a digestible form than upon any other factor in life," the value of correct principles in cookery, on the score of health, is apparent. Yet the present mode of cooking is far from agreeing with correct principles.

Mr. Atkinson says that almost the whole of the fuel used in cooking in the ordinary way is wasted, while the odors which accompany the process are evidence that the food is losing nutritious properties, and often that it is being converted into an unwholesome condition. The effect of heat on starch, sugar, fats, and albuminoids, and the laws of radiation and conduction, are well enough understood, yet cookery has remained stagnant, while metallurgy, dyeing, soap-making, and other familiar arts, which likewise depend on chemistry and the science of heat, have made gratifying progress. The cooking of the world is practically in the hands of women, and the art is in an undeveloped state. Here is a chance for the sex to prove good their claim to the same mental capabilities as men. Let them give up blind following of recipes and learn to understand processes. Let them experiment, record observations, and invent. If they can not at once rise to the level of original work, let them at least study the investigations and apply the inventions of others. Mr. Atkinson has made experiments in cooking, extending over some years, which have led to the invention of the apparatus described in his article. His "oven" and "cooker" unquestionably prevent the scorching of food, and effect a wonderful economy in fuel, yet he has found it difficult to give away his valuable ideas to the public. "We are confident, however, that his article will be read with more interest than, say, twenty years ago. A steadily growing amount of thought is being given to making science serviceable in the preparation of food, and in other matters of household economy. The fact that such men as Mr. Atkinson and Prof. Mattieu Williams are working in this field, and that their results are received with interest, gives promise that the human race will some time attain to a thoroughly intelligent style of daily life.