Popular Science Monthly/Volume 4/December 1873/The Requirements of Scientific Education

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By Prof. R. W. RAYMOND.

THERE is danger that, in our new-born zeal for scientific education, we may sacrifice the interests of a truly liberal culture, producing, as I have said, a generation of specialists, incapable of appreciating the departments of human thought which lie outside their own, or even of rising within their own departments to broad and comprehensive views. We must not use the microscope till we spoil the eyes. We must not overtrain the investigator until he becomes less than a full man. The chemists, geologists, and engineers, must not cease to be intelligent and active citizens. It may be demonstrated that such a mistaken neglect of studies outside the range of a chosen profession cripples activity and impairs success even in that profession. It is one result of the brotherhood of knowledge that no man, whether employed in the original investigation of Nature, or in the application of natural laws to practical ends, can advance successfully without perpetual communication of his thoughts to others, and the reception of their suggestions and experiences in return. Hence the mastery of language, which was the first condition of civilization, remains the essential condition of progress. The power to comprehend statements, logical arguments, and demonstrations, and to make such statements as may be comprehended by others, and will carry weight and influence in the very perfection of their form, is a vitally important part of the preparation of every young man for his life's career. His success, aside from his moral qualities, will be in direct proportion to his influence over other men; and this influence, again, will be in part proportional to his command of the means by which the minds of men are moved, mainly, language. Under this term we may include a knowledge of the methods of practical reasoning, and if this knowledge is best obtained by scholastic study of logic, then logic must be studied. If Latin and Greek are necessary, then they must be studied. For us, one thing is necessary—a thorough mastery of the English tongue—and this alone has been made to yield, in Lafayette College, a mental discipline not inferior to that of the classics.

But influence is not due to language alone. Behind this vehicle of thought there must be fullness and variety of thought itself. Those fruitful analogies, felicitous illustrations, graceful associations, which come, and come alone, through wide acquaintance with human life and literature, are so many elements of power, and, without this broad basis of a common ground from which to move the minds of others, the student of a special science, though possessed of the lever of Archimedes that would move the world, has no place whereon to stand.

In accordance with these principles, the object of the system of college education in America has always been development and discipline of character, and the broad preparation of the student for his subsequent special or professional pursuits. Our colleges may not have succeeded in realizing this ideal, nevertheless this has been their ideal; and it is the right one, as much to-day as ever. Whatever changes are required in our institutions of learning, to adapt them to the necessities of the modern era, must be changes in accordance with this principle—changes of means, not of ends, so far as colleges are concerned.

That changes are required is admitted on all hands. It is admitted that the physical sciences should be introduced to primary and preparatory schools; that they should be taught for the double purpose of mental discipline and of mental acquirement in the class-rooms of our colleges; that in teaching them the scientific, inductive, experimental, instead of the dogmatic, method should be pursued; and, finally, that either connected with our colleges, or standing outside of them, schools of thorough scientific and technical special training are imperatively required. It is to inaugurate the wider activity of such a school that we are met here to-day, and I shall say a few words concerning the relation of this school to Lafayette College, on the one hand, and to technical education and the needs of the present time in technical departments on the other hand.

While we trust that in time to come scientific investigation will be promoted in no mean degree by this school and its graduates, it must be confessed that at the present time its object is chiefly the preparation of young men for practical pursuits involving the applications of science. Nor can it be fairly said that this department is inferior in dignity to the pursuit of abstract science, so called. It is out of the ranks of the practical workers that those peculiarly gifted in scientific investigation are likely to arise; and it is in the ranks of practical workers that they must look, chiefly, for appreciation and support. It is no derogation from the value of a discovery of truth, to say that it can be made useful to man; and, hence, there is no inferiority in the position of those who make it useful to man.

Indeed, that which the whole world chiefly needs to-day, and our country not less than any other, is the application of scientific truths and principles already known to the affairs, and labors, and problems, of daily life. We might even afford to pause in our career of fresh discoveries, to consolidate the progress and utilize the results already obtained. But the alternative is not presented; it is not necessary or best that any part of the intellectual activity of the age should pause; the advance of science itself assists, and is assisted by, the applications of science.

We need a scientific in the place of a barbarous or scholastic architecture; a scientific in the place of a traditional agriculture; a scientific in the place of an empirical engineering; we need more machinery, more economical applicatians of power, more effective processes of metallurgy and manufacture, more exact knowledge, in all these particulars, of our own condition and necessities, and of the degree in which these can be supplied by experience already attained abroad. Lesoinne, a distinguished French writer, defines metallurgy as "the art of making money in the treatment of metals." This definition may be applied to almost all occupations of life. The practical art of each is not only to achieve certain results, but to do so profitably, to make money in doing so; that is to say, to increase the value of the raw materials, whether wood, or cotton, or ores, or time, or ideas, by the use we make of them, and the transformation to which we submit them, so as thereby to really elevate the condition of humanity: to leave the world better than we found it. This is, in its last analysis, the meaning of honestly making money. Men are put into this world with limited powers and with limited time to provide for their own sustenance and comfort, and to improve their condition. A certain portion of these powers and this time is required for the support of life in a greater or less degree of comfort, and with more or less multiplied means and avenues of enjoyment, activity, and influence. Whatever their labor produces more than this, is represented by wealth, and for purposes of exchange by money. To make money honestly, is to do something for other men better or cheaper than they can do it for themselves; to save time and labor for them; in a word, to elevate their condition. It is in this sense, greatly as we Americans are supposed to be devoted to making money, that we need to learn how to make more money; how to make our labor more fruitful; how to assail more successfully with our few hands the natural obstacles and the natural resources of a mighty continent; how to build up on the area of that continent a prosperous nation, united in varied, fruitful, and harmonious industries, glowing with patriotism and inspired by religion.

In this work we need specially the basis of a more thorough technical institution, applying principles of science to the material and economical problems involved. This education is necessary to supply the directing forces for the great agricultural, manufacturing, and engineering improvements of the country. It is also needed as a solvent and remedy for the antagonism between labor and capital. The true protection of labor will be found in its higher education, and in opening to the individual laborer for himself and for his children, by means of that education, a prospect of indefinite improvement and advancement.

In the realm of metallurgical and engineering operations the difference between theoretical and practical training is, perhaps, still more striking. The student of chemistry in the laboratory cannot be made acquainted with many of the conditions which obtain in chemical and metallurgical operations upon a larger scale. All the chemists of the world failed to comprehend or to describe correctly the apparently simple reactions involved in the manufacture of pig-iron, until, by the genius and enterprise of such men as Bell, Tanner, and Akerman, the blast-furnace itself, in the conditions of actual practice, was penetrated and minutely studied. Moreover, in all the experimental inquiries of the laboratory the question of economy plays no part. It is the art of separating and combining substances which the student follows there, not the art of making money. That education of judgment and decision, of choice of means for ends which the exigencies of daily practice give, cannot be imparted in the school.

In mechanical engineering the same principle is illustrated. The highest department in this art is that of construction, and in this department the highest function is the designing of machinery. Now, the most perfect knowledge of the theory of a machine and its mathematical relations, of the strength of materials, or the economical use of power, will not suffice to qualify a man to design a machine or a system of machines, for the reason that in this work an element must be considered not at all included in theoretical knowledge, namely, the element of economy in the manufacture, as well as in the operation of the machine. A machine, any part of which requires for its manufacture a tool (such, for instance, as a peculiar lathe) which is not already possessed by the manufacturer, and which, after the construction of this one part, would not be necessary or useful for other work—such a machine could not be profitably built. In other words, machines must be so designed, in a large majority of cases, as not to necessitate the construction of other machines to make them; and the planning of machinery, so that it shall be at once economical and durable in operation, and simple and cheap in construction, is not merely an important incidental duty, it is absolutely the chief and most difficult duty of the mechanical engineer.

  1. Extract from the Inaugural Address at the dedication of Pardee Hall, of Lafayette College, Easton, Pa., by Rossiter W. Raymond, President of the American Institute of Mining Engineers.