Popular Science Monthly/Volume 4/November 1873/Liberal Education in the Nineteenth Century
By Prof. WILLIAM P. ATKINSON,
OF THE MASSACHUSETTS INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY.
THE collapse of that classical system of liberal education which has held almost undisputed sway since the revival of learning in the sixteenth century, and the now generally recognized insufficiency of the theory which makes the study of the languages of Greece and Rome the sole foundation of the higher education, are leading, as all familiar with the educational thought of the present day are aware, to the greatest variety of speculations as to the system which is destined to supersede it. That a theory of liberal education as well adapted to the wants of the nineteenth-or, shall we not rather say the twentieth-century, as was the classical theory to the wants of the sixteenth, has yet been elaborated, would be quite too much to affirm. We are living in the midst of a chaos of conflicting opinions, and it seems to be the duty of all who think at all on a subject on which the vital interests of the future so much depend, and especially incumbent on all practical teachers to make such contribution as they are able, from their studies and reflection or their experience, toward the right solution of the problem. It is to such a contribution that I now ask your attention.
I begin with a definition of Liberal Education, in regard to which I presume we shall not be much at variance. The term liberal is opposed to the term servile. A liberal education is that education which makes a man an intellectual freeman, as opposed to that which makes a man a tool, an instrument for the accomplishment of some ulterior aim or object. The aim of the liberal education of any period is the right use of the realized capital of extant knowledge of that period, for the training of the whole, or only of some privileged part of the rising generation, to act the part and perform the duties of free, intellectual, and moral beings. So far as the nature of the human mind and the foundations of human knowledge remain the same from age to age and generation to generation, a liberal education is the same thing in every age and generation; so far as the condition of society varies from age to age, and as the accumulated capital of extant knowledge increases, the liberal education of one generation will differ from that of another. There are, therefore, both constant and variable factors in our problem. It is with the variable factors, as modifying our conception of the liberal education of the nineteenth century, that I have here chiefly to do.
I reckon five leading influences which are acting powerfully to modify all our old theories, and slowly working out a new ideal of liberal education: 1. A truer psychology, giving us for the first time a true theory of elementary teaching. 2. Progress in the science of philology, enabling us to assign their right position to the classical languages as elements in liberal culture, and giving us, in modern philological science, an improved and more powerful teaching instrument. 3. The first real attempt to combine republican ideas with the theory of liberal education—in other words, to make the education of the whole people liberal, instead of merely the education of certain privileged classes and protected professions. And when I say the whole people, I mean men and women. Nothing, I will say in passing, to my mind so marks us as still educational barbarians, so stamps all our boasted culture with illiberality, as an exclusion of the other sex from all share in its privileges. No education can be truly liberal which is not equally applicable to one sex as to the other. 4. As the influence more profoundly modifying our conceptions of liberal education than any other, I reckon the advent of modern physical science. 5. I count among those influences the growing perception that art and aesthetic culture are equally necessary as an element in all education worthy of the name. Let me give the few words, which are all the time will allow me, to each of these influences.
And, first, the advance we have been making toward a truer education-philosophy, based upon truer conceptions in regard to the growth and early development of the human mind, is pretty well disposing of what, perhaps, I may be permitted to call the old-fashioned grindstone-theory of elementary education; the doctrine, namely, that, as preparation for higher culture, all youthful minds require a certain preliminary process of sharpening upon certain studies, valueless or next to valueless in themselves, at least so far as regards the vast majority of their recipients, but quite as needful, nevertheless, to them as to all others who are hereafter to be considered as liberally educated, for the indirect benefit their pursuit was supposed to confer. The accepted theory of liberal education has heretofore been, that it was a certain very special kind of training which required this peculiar preliminary sharpening process, and that, as the instruments for it, there were certain almost divinely-appointed studies exclusively set apart, to wit, the grammars of two dead languages, and the elementary portions of abstract mathematics. It was not and could not be maintained that these studies would ever be the natural choice of the youthful mind in the beginning of its scholastic career; rather, it was thought to be a prime recommendation that they were as remote as possible from any thing the youthful mind would of itself appropriate as intellectual nutriment. Like medicine, the value of such disciplinary studies was supposed to be in direct proportion to their disgustfulness; for they were not food to nourish the mind withal, but tonics, wherewith artificially to strengthen it. They were rods for the spiritual part, the counterparts of those material ones which the strong right arm of the ancient pedagogue wielded with such efficiency on the bodies of his youthful charge, and the benefit of both alike was not utilitarian, but disciplinary.
That I may not be suspected of caricaturing, I will make two quotations, the first from a lecture by Prof. Sellar, Professor of Greek in the University of Edinburgh: "The one extreme theory," he says, "is that education is purely a discipline of the understanding; that the form of the subject is every thing, the content little or nothing. A severe study, such as classics or mathematics, is the thing wanted to train or brace the faculties; it does not matter whether it is in itself interesting or not. The student will find sufficient interest in the sense of power which he has to put forth in training for the great race with his competitors. 'It is not knowledge,' they say, 'but the exercise you are forced to incur in acquiring knowledge that we care about. Read and learn the classics simply for the discipline they afford to the understanding. You may, if it comes in your way and does not interfere with your training, combine a literary pleasure with this mode of study, but this is no part of your education. As teachers, we do not care to encourage it; we do not care to interpret for you the thought or feeling of your author. All such teaching is weak and rhetorical: we do not profess to examine into your capacity of receiving pleasure. Accurate and accomplished translation, effective composition in the style of the ancient authors, thorough grammatical and philological knowledge—these are our requirements. The training in exactness, in concentration, in logical habits, and in discernment of the niceties of expression, is the one thing with which we start you in life. Whether you have thought at all, or care to think about the questions which occupy and move the highest minds, is no affair of ours.'
"This theory is, I think, a purely English theory of education. It has grown up within the last half-century, and it is in the University of Cambridge that it has been, and still is, most fully realized."
My other extract shall be from an essay by the Public Orator of the University of Cambridge: "I conclude, then," says Mr. W. G. Clark, "that the first subject of study must be the same for all, and that it is no valid objection to any subject to affirm that it is dry and distasteful, but, on the contrary, a strong recommendation. It cannot be denied that this condition is amply satisfied by the Latin accidence, as exhibited in our time-honored and much-abused text-books. . . . The question arises where, besides the Latin grammar, we can find any other subject equally dry, and by consequence as powerfully tonic to the juvenile mind, which recommends itself as deserving in lieu thereof to form the basis of education by its general applicability and greater fertility of after-results. Except the Greek language, which, from its intimate connection with the Latin in structure and literature, is a necessary complement to it, and not a possible substitute for it, I know of none."
Here we have the very essence of what I have denominated the grindstone-theory. I think that a truer philosophy has exploded these fallacies, and well-nigh obliterated that artificial line of distinction between studies for use and studies for discipline. True education remains and must remain forever a discipline; but juster views in regard to the nature of the youthful mind are beginning to show us that that discipline is of the nature of a nutritive rather than a curative process, and that the disgust felt by the recipient for the means employed is no measure of their disciplinary value. We are discovering that the idea of discipline inheres not in the nature of certain particular subjects, distinguishing them from all others which are non-disciplinary and merely utilitarian, but in the right method of teaching all subjects; and the question, whether at any particular period or stage of progress a subject is to be used for purposes of mental discipline, depends not at all upon the question whether it belongs to one or the other of two imaginary classes, the disciplinary and the non-disciplinary, but upon the quite different questions whether the study is valuable in itself, and whether it is suited to that particular stage of the pupil's mental progress. If so, and if rightly taught, it will then be sure to be the right discipline.
This change in our education-philosophy has brought with it a corresponding change in our scale and estimate of the relative value of various studies as the instruments and materials of education; and, I think, we have almost heard the last of the doctrine that abstract grammar and abstract mathematics are the divinely-appointed whetstones and sharpeners of the youthful mind, and hence of the system which makes a compulsory study of the Greek and Latin languages the only gate of admission to the privileges of the higher education. In place of that very simple but most unphilosophical doctrine, I trust that a truer psychology is providing us with a course of liberal study, based upon correcter notions in regard to the laws of mental development. That we have such a completed practical psychology, or any such logical and symmetrical course or courses of study based upon it, is more than can be asserted, for education, as a science, is still in its infancy; but we certainly have attained to certain general principles which are fundamental as regards the elementary education of the future; and the most important of these, which is even now revolutionizing all our methods of elementary teaching, is the direct result of the progress of modern physical science. It is, that education begins with the concrete, and not with the abstract, and that the right method for the teaching even of language itself is the right training and development of the child's senses. The Latin grammar, therefore, as the right instrument for training the youthful mind, is fast disappearing, along with that birch which was its material symbol and needful complement, and a striking witness to the absurdity of the use we put it to. Requiescat in pace! The lovers of the noble science of classical philology may well be congratulated on its emancipation from such degrading servitude.
In place of this rude and crude, and now happily obsolescent theory, a deeper philosophy is leading us to inquire into the nature of the undeveloped mind, and the true order of the development of its faculties, and is, at the same time, guiding us to the right choice of means for stimulating their natural and healthful growth and unfolding. And here I will say that the answer which psychology gives to these questions seems to me a little in danger of being misinterpreted for the time being by one class of educational reformers. In their reaction against the premature and unnatural stimulus given to the powers of abstraction by the old system, they are in danger of running into the opposite extreme of paying a too exclusive attention to the development of the observing powers in the new—a tendency which the influence of modern physical science on our educational ideas, especially, tends to foster. I doubt whether one extreme will prove any better than the other, for both are equally one-sided. The true lesson we are to learn is, above all things, to have regard to balance and proportion. The youthful mind is not a different thing from the same mind in its maturity. The germs of all faculties exist in it, and their development is in no linear order, but rather like rays diverging from one centre; and the true conception of the different stages of education is, as being divided by concentric circles, cutting those rays at equal distances from the centre. The child's observing powers should furnish him with intellectual material no faster than his powers of abstraction can work it up into intellectual products, or than the development of his powers of expression can give form to them. On the other hand, his powers of expression should never be developed in empty words, beyond the limits of his acquisition of the ideas words stand for, as is now the case with so much of our word-mongering education. Again, his imagination should never outrun his reason on the one hand, nor his memory overload it on the other, in accordance with that preposterous doctrine we sometimes hear propounded, which advocates the employment of the youthful memory in laying up stores of unintelligible knowledge, in anticipation of an after-time, when it will become intelligible—as if there could be such a thing as not-understood knowledge, in any other sense than as we speak of undigested food—turning to poison in the system. The child is a philosopher, a moralist, a poet in little, quite as much as he is an observer or a rememberer, and his whole moral and intellectual growth will be warped and stunted so long as you insist upon looking on him as a mere observing or a mere memorizing machine, a mere receptacle for facts or for words either.
If I am right in this view of the true character of elementary education, it follows that the great departments, into which it should from the very first be divided, correspond exactly with the primary divisions of knowledge itself, as they will continue for the pupil forever after. Let me, for the purposes of this discussion, make a triple division of knowledge into physical, ethical, and æsthetical, according as our thought is concerned with the world of matter, the world of mind, and the world of art or beauty. I am concerned here less for strictness of philosophical accuracy than for the practical convenience of this division. Now, as, in accordance with our fundamental conception of liberal education, the question as to a choice between these departments of liberal learning is a futile one, because all are essential elements in our conception of liberal education—so, if I am right, no conception of elementary education can be a correct one that does not provide for them all from the very beginning.
I need hardly point out what a change in all our methods this change in our philosophy implies; for it involves the doctrine that the true place to begin the teaching of all art, all science, all knowledge, is the primary school; and I am not in the least afraid of the seeming paradox. Rather I would earnestly maintain that, unless we treat the child in the primary school as the germ and embryo of all he is destined afterward to become, our education will be doomed to ignominious failure. Whatever, therefore, enters into our conception of liberal education—and we have already seen that nothing less than all extant knowledge should enter into it that should enter into it—from the beginning. Language and literature should be the subjects of elementary teaching; science should be the subject of elementary teaching; art should be the subject of elementary teaching. Whatever is to enter into the higher stages of education is to have its seed planted there, or it never will be planted. The true distinction, therefore, between disciplinary and non-disciplinary, is not a distinction between one set of studies begun early and another set of studies begun late, one set of studies pursued for training, and another set of studies mastered for use: it is a distinction between the earlier and the later stages of all studies whatever. The child, as well as the man, is linguist, student of science, artist, philosopher, moralist, poet, though his philology, science, art, philosophy, will be childish, not manly, germs and intuitions, not results of developed reason. Is it not obvious that in this view elementary schools become something far more than places for drilling the youthful mind in the use of the mere tools of knowledge? Is it not obvious, moreover, that, looked at from this point of view, a man's profession is only the outgrowth and fruitful consummation of his whole training; a divergence, when the time arrives that the whole of knowledge becomes too wide a field to cultivate, into some special fruit-bearing direction, which, whatever it may be, will lead to a truly liberal profession, inasmuch as by a man so trained his calling cannot but be followed in a liberal spirit?
We have in England and America no conception of what may be accomplished in the early stages of education, because we have been, to so great an extent, adherents of the grindstone-theory. "Nowhere," says Mr. Joseph Payne, commenting on the lamentable, almost ludicrous, failure of that embodiment of the grindstone-theory, applied to popular teaching through the medium, not of the Latin grammar, but of the three R's—I mean the so-called English "Revised Code"—"nowhere have I ever met, in the course of long practice and study in teaching, with a more striking illustration of the great truth that, just in proportion as you substitute mechanical routine for intelligent and sympathetic development of the child's powers, you shall fail in the object you are aiming at." I think that the insignificant results of our present elementary schools, as compared with the amount of time, thought, and money, expended on them, and their want of real vitality, are to be mainly traced to this fundamentally false conception of elementary teaching as concerned only with the acquisition of the mere tools of knowledge. By its fruits, or rather by its barrenness, we may know it; and I may add that it is because in our common schools we are completely outgrowing it, that day by day we see in them so much new life.
So much in regard to the debt which a liberal education is destined soon to owe to the progress of psychology, giving prevalence to truer views in regard to its rudimentary processes. Let me pass to the second influence, which is acting powerfully to modify all our previous conceptions of the subject; I mean the progress of modern linguistic science. I take this next in order because, contrary to the current of thought prevailing at the present moment, I believe the old doctrine will still be found to hold true, even after physical science shall have at last found its true place in the new education, that the study of that wonderful world of matter, which is the stage on which man plays his earthly part, wonderful as it is, is yet inferior in dignity and importance to the study of the being and doing of the actor who plays his part thereon. Scientific studies, though for the time being in the ascendant, yet, even when all their rights shall be accorded to them, will, in a well-balanced system, take their place a little below ethical studies. This, I say, as not believing in the current materialistic philosophy in any of its forms, but as being an immaterialist, as I must phrase it, since we have been robbed by unworthy and degrading associations of the word spiritualist. But, without raising any question of precedence between branches of study which are both essential to any true conception of a complete education, let me proceed to point out that the progress of linguistic science and of modern literature has totally transformed the educational character and position of the ethical studies of which they are the instrument and the embodiment. When the Revival of Learning gave birth to the present classical system of literary, or, as I have termed it, ethical liberal study, it did so by putting into the hands of scholars not merely two grammars as instruments of youthful mental discipline, as the advocates of the grindstone-system would fain have us believe, but two languages that unlocked the stores of a whole new world of ethical thought, in the shape of the philosophy, the history, and the poetry contained in Greek and Roman literature. How assiduously those literatures were studied, how they leavened the whole thought of Europe, and mightily contributed to disperse the intellectual darkness and break the bonds of the spiritual despotism of the mediæval Church, we all know. Classical philosophy, history, poetry, and art, nourished the European mind, and were almost the sole foundation of its culture, through all the period during which the Latin and Teutonic races of Western Europe were slowly elaborating languages and literatures of their own. They were thus of necessity the main instrument of culture of the schools during the period when, save the obsolete scholastic philosophy, no other instrument was forthcoming; and I do not think it possible to overrate the debt which Western Europe owes to them. But gradually their educating influence has been absorbed, and in great measure exhausted, while partially, but by no means wholly, out of the nutriment they furnished have sprung the national languages and literatures which, as more and not less powerful educating instrumentalities, are to supersede them. It is to ignore the vast progress of the human mind since the days of Erasmus to try any longer to make classical learning stand in the same relation to the modern student that it stood in to Erasmus: and Erasmus, if he were alive today, would be the first to abandon the dead pedantries of the past for the fountains of new thought he would see flowing all round him.
When I say, then, that I think the languages and literatures of Greece and Rome are soon to be abandoned, as the sole or main instruments of that side of liberal culture which I have preferred to call ethical rather than literary, it is not that I do not fully recognize their value and beauty, or the vast service they have done in emancipating and training the mind of Western Europe: it is not that I do not recognize their value as among the specialties of liberal culture now. It is only as the sole or chief instruments of literary school training that I believe them to be superseded. So far from believing that they will be abandoned, I believe they will be more diligently and successfully studied in the future, when they will be left as a specialty in the hands of that small number of students who, at any time, in this modern world of ours, will of their own free choice pursue them. As a specialty for the few, classical studies still have a future before them, and we can ill afford to lose the elevating and refining influence exercised by their real votaries on those who do not directly pursue them; but as the main instruments of liberal culture their day seems to me to be nearly over.
In England, the very stronghold of the classical theory, classical study seems to be declining, in spite of, or rather through, the very means taken for keeping it alive. "I fear," says the late Earl of Derby, in the preface to his translation of the Iliad, "that the taste for and appreciation of classical literature are greatly on the decline." "The study of classical literature is probably on the decline," says Matthew Arnold, in his essay on translating Homer. "I cannot help thinking," says Mr. Sidgwick, of Cambridge, "that classical literature, in spite of its enormous prestige, has very little attraction for the mass even of cultivated persons at the present day. I wish statistics could be obtained of the amount of Latin and Greek read in any year, except for professional purposes, even by those who have gone through a complete classical curriculum. From the information that I have been able privately to obtain, I incline to think that such statistics, when compared with the fervent admiration with which we all speak of the classics, upon every opportunity, would be found rather startling. And the truth is that the classical system of liberal education in England maintains its place, so far as it does maintain it, solely from the fact of its being a strictly protected system, through the enormous pecuniary prizes to which it is the sole means of access."
Our own attempts to establish a liberal education seem to me to have thus far proved little less than abortive, because, following as we have in the steps of the mother-country, we cannot bring ourselves to abandon the old shadow for the new substance. For classical study has really dwindled into a shadow. Once it did mean the study of philosophy, of ethics, politics, history, poetry; now, for ninety-nine in a hundred of its students, it means none of these, but the mere dry study of grammar. The scholars of the Renaissance read their Plato in the original, and compassed sea and land to find a teacher who could unlock for them his treasure-house, but it was the treasure-house of his thought, not his grammar. The scholars of the Revival, without Shakespeare or Milton, had to master Homer and Æschylus, or go without poetry altogether. With no wealth of modern literature, such as lies all round us, they were perforce classical students in order to be scholars. We cannot put back the wheels of time, and reproduce their circumstances. The mind of the generation refuses to be bound within antiquated limits: it will seek the new world of thought which lies before it. Try, therefore, to make classical scholars now of all liberally-educated boys, and you make nine-tenths of them into dunces or pedants. How many of the regiments of young men of this generation who have gone through, as it is well called, our older colleges, are real classical scholars? But the liberally-educated men of the times of the revival of learning were real classical scholars.
The Rev. Mark Pattison, Rector of Lincoln College, gives the following account of the present state of classical study even at Oxford: "We must not close our eyes to the fact that the honor-students" (that is to say, the students who have any expectation of winning the pecuniary prizes) "are the only students who are undergoing any educational process which it can be considered as the function of a university either to impart or to exact; the only students who are at all within the scope of the scientific apparatus and arrangements of an academical body. This class of students cannot be estimated at more than thirty per cent, of the whole number frequenting the university. The remaining seventy per cent, not only furnish from among them all the idleness and extravagance which are become a byword throughout the country, but cannot be considered to be even nominally pursuing any course of university studies at all."
If the treasurer of a great manufacturing corporation were to report to his stockholders that, of all the raw material furnished, their machinery was capable of making only thirty per cent, into cloth, and that of a very peculiar and unsalable pattern; that the remaining seventy per cent, was not only not manufactured into any kind of cloth, but was much of it disseminated over the country, in the shape of deadly, poisonous rags, we should think there was something wrong in the machinery of that mill.
Thus it is that, classical education having dwindled into a shadow, our colleges are looking about for a remedy, and a class of thinkers, just now, as we know, very influential, and looking to the substitution of the study of science as the sole remedy. Gentlemen, I have been long enough attached to a school of science to have been convinced, if I had ever doubted it, that science by itself is no remedy; that as there can never again be a liberal education, or the pretense of one, without the scientific element, so, on the other hand, scientific studies alone can never constitute a liberal education—scientific can never supersede ethical studies as its foundation. What, then, is the true remedy? I think it is evident. It is, along with scientific study, of whose true place I shall have more to say presently, to accept ethical studies in their new form, in the form of modern literatures and modern languages, and with classical studies as the special and subordinate, and not, as heretofore, the main and primary instrument. This is the great change which liberal education is silently undergoing, far more than it is a change from a literary to a scientific basis.
I know of no educational fallacy more common and more mischievous than that of enormously overrating the educating value of the process of acquiring the mere form of foreign languages, whether dead or living; yet it is in this barren study that we waste the precious time that should be employed, from the very beginning of school-life, in acquiring the substance of real knowledge. Languages, other than our own, are the useful, sometimes the necessary tools for acquiring knowledge; in the literatures of other tongues there reside elements of culture not to be found, or not to be found in the same perfection in our own, which may well repay the student who has time and perseverance sufficient really to attain them without too great a sacrifice. But to sacrifice an attainable education in not attaining them, what is it but to sow the barren sea-shore, to travel half a journey, to possess one's self of half an instrument useless without the other half. Languages alone are knowledge only to the professed philologist; we sacrifice a real education attainable through an instrument we already possess in the fruitless labor of giving our boys other instruments they will never make use of.
I think that we monstrously overrate the educating value of the mere process of learning other languages; but with the mother-tongue the case is altogether different. Here the mastery of form and substance can proceed pari passu. The mother-tongue is the only one which can stand to our modern liberal education in the relation in which the classical tongues stood to the scholars of the revival of learning. It might be said that Greek and Latin were mother-tongues to them as scholars, because it was through them alone that they reached the thoughts which really educated them. They were not brought up on empty words and barren syntax; they studied no grammars, for grammars were non-existent. Their minds were really nourished on the philosophy of Plato, and Cicero's eloquence, and Homer's poetry, and the lessons not the words they found in Tacitus and Thucydides. Now, when we have a philosophy, a history, a poetry, a law, an ethics, which embody all that is valuable in classical literature, together with all the progress of thought has produced through these later centuries, we not only fail to use them as those older scholars used their older instruments, really and efficiently, but we equally fail in using the older ones. We abandon both to feed our boys on a husk without a kernel. What wonder that our higher education is struck with barrenness?
When, therefore, I propose modern language-study instead of ancient, as a chief instrument of school education, I mean much more than the mere substitution of the study of some modern language as language, for some ancient language as language—German, for instance, instead of Greek, as has sometimes been suggested. This would be the mere semblance of a remedy, for the difficulty consists in the enormous overrating, by what I have called the grindstone-theory, of the educating value of the study of the mere structure and vocabulary of any strange language whatever. It has sometimes been doubted if we can ever really know more than one tongue, and certainly all our deeper mental processes go on in that one we know best. If that is a foreign one, it is because we have lost a mother to gain a step-mother; and a stepmother she will ever remain. What is very certain is, that too many of the recipients of our present education, in seeking to possess themselves of more than one language, end with having none whatever. Neglecting to develop their minds through the instrumentality of their mother-tongue, and never, therefore, really knowing it, they equally fail in providing themselves with any substitute; withpedants, "they have been at a great feast of languages, and stolen the scraps."
My position, therefore, is that, so far as language-study shall form a part of the elementary discipline of the liberal education of the future, the centre and pivot of it all will hereafter be the scientific study of the mother-tongue. I anticipate something almost like ridicule for this proposition on the part of those—and they are many—who undervalue our native language so far as to believe it to be incapable of becoming an instrument of disciplinary education. Time would fail me to go into a defense of this proposition. I will only say that I believe that it is precisely the change which the progress of modern philology is bringing about; that it is fitting modern languages, and preeminently our own, to become the instrument of a true mental discipline, so far as language-study can serve as such an instrument. On the one hand it is giving a scientific form to the study of the Teutonic element, and on the other there remains the still needful study of the Latin language—a study which certainly need not lose in force and vitality because it may no longer be pursued as the basis of a superstructure never to be erected, but shall have a definite object and be pursued for a practical end.
But far above and beyond its uses as language-study comes the advantage of the direct and immediate entrance it gives to those regions of thought in which the higher mental discipline really lies. Through the direct road of the real study of the mother-tongue, and that rhetorical and, above all, that real logical study which accompanies and forms a part of it, can the study of what we vaguely denominate literature, and that which we are beginning still more vaguely to denominate social science, but which yet, between them, contain the substance of all we most need to know of man as distinct from Nature, be made real portions of general knowledge—be transferred from being a possession in the hands of the few, to be reached only by an abstruse and difficult preparatory training, secrets unlocked by a key out of reach of the hands of the many, to being a part of the general inheritance of all men. For, to be so, they must be made primary and not secondary; in other words, that time and strength must be devoted to a fruitful study of modern thought and modern literature, which have heretofore been wasted in school and college on the futile attempt to master ancient thought and ancient literature. The rudiments of all those studies must be reckoned as the most valuable of all the elements of general elementary training, which, in their higher departments, and after liberal culture, diverging in various directions, form the substance of professional knowledge, both that of those professions now reckoned, and of all those hereafter to be reckoned liberal. For, what should liberal education be but the preparatory general stage for that work of life which all honest callings and professions carry on in diverse directions afterward? What is a professional education but a liberal education taking a special direction?
Can it now be said, with any truth, that our nominally-educated young men go out into the world equipped with that general knowledge of the sciences of law and government, and political economy, with that knowledge of ethics and philosophy, with that acquaintance with modern history and of the condition of the world they live in, and with that real taste for modern literature, which should form the equipments of every man calling himself educated? We shall have to give a negative answer, just so long as we do not look upon all these as the truly disciplinary studies, and the elements of all these as the true elementary studies, the very school-studies fitted, above all others, for maturing the youthful mind, and filling it with true wisdom. So long as we insist upon approaching them through the operose and roundabout method of dead-language studies, schooldays will flee away, and the object will not be accomplished. The great vice of our education, as has been well said, is its indirectness.
Combining the ideas which I have thus presented—1. That the study of foreign languages as languages, whether dead or living, holds a place in our present education-philosophy quite out of proportion to its real value and importance, and that it is the discipline of philosophy which we are indirectly aiming at, behind and through the discipline of language; 2. That it is through one tongue and not many that that discipline can best be imparted, inasmuch as that is the only one that can or will ever, by the majority of men, be really mastered; and, 3. That now, for the first time, there is the possibility, through the progress of modern linguistic science, of a scientific and systematic study of the mother-tongue—I arrive at the conclusion that we are presently to have, as a substitute for the exclusive or almost exclusive use of classical languages and literatures, as the main disciplinary element in liberal education, a systematic study of the English language and a recognition of its literature as primary, not secondary. And surely it is a strange phenomenon, if it be true, as a foreign scholar has recently maintained, that the sovereignty of the world is hereafter to belong to the English language; and if it be true, as I think may well be maintained, that with this conquering language we possess the world's foremost literature, it is a strange phenomenon that we think them so little worthy of systematic study, give them a place so subordinate as instruments of our own liberal culture, that to-day we must go to the Germans for a good English grammar; to the French for the best, if a very defective, history of our literature. To my mind, no more striking illustration could be given of our want of a true education-philosophy.
How has it happened that we still lack such a philosophy? The answer to that question brings me to my next point, and the third new ingredient in the liberal education of the future, the element contributed by republicanism. I have said that the science of education was still in its infancy; I believe that it is only as a part of republican institutions that it can reach maturity. For the only true liberal education is the education of man as man; the only truly liberal system is that which can be applied to a whole nation, and such a system is only possible as a part of republican institutions. And, when we consider how short a time we have been living under them, and how crude and imperfect they still are, it is not strange that they have not yet produced what will be rather one of their maturest than one of their earliest fruits, a truly liberal education-system.
The history of our errors in regard to liberal education is a very plain one. They are the legacy of the mother-country from which we came, a mother-country which is just beginning to correct her own errors, even by the light of our limited experience. I wish to point out and emphasize the fact that republicanism revolutionizes our very conception of liberal education. All forms of liberal education of the past, and preeminently the one we borrowed from England, were forms of exclusive class-education. The idea of caste was involved in their very conception, to such a degree that the phrase, the liberal education of the people, was a contradiction in terms. The antithesis was, popular versus liberal education. There was the illiberal or servile education of the masses, designed to. fit them for the humble station in which it had pleased Providence to place them, and to content them therewith; there was the liberal education of the exclusive learned professions, and the exclusive aristocratic class, which was liberal by virtue of its being the education of the rulers and not the ruled. Now, republicanism, by converting the people into rulers, transfers to them the claim to a liberal education, which shall be universal. A transfer of the power alone, without a transfer of the privilege and the opportunity necessary to prepare for the exercise of it, cannot but be disastrous. If republicanism is to remain republicanism, and not degenerate into oligarchy or plutocracy, or end in anarchy, there must be one homogeneous education-system for all, and that one the highest attainable. The line of demarcation between liberal and illiberal must be obliterated, and what cannot be called liberal will be seen to be no education at all, but only a miserable counterfeit, by which privileged classes strive to perpetuate obsolete distinctions and indefensible abuses. For a republic, there can be but one system, and one set of schools; its education, begun on the lowest benches of its national primary schools, will one day be completed in the halls of its national universities. There will be no question as to the relative dignity of protected and unprotected professions, or callings, or classes, but all will be reckoned liberal which train and educate the faculties of man as man.
Now, the only conception of a liberal education that will satisfy these new conditions, the only conception of an education capable of becoming national and universal, at the same time that it is liberal, is that of a training of the national mind through the mother-tongue as the chief, and other tongues as the subordinate instruments, in the elements of all those branches of knowledge which, used in their rudiments as elements of general training, will develop, in their higher stages, into the objects of professional pursuits. Is there any other distinction than this between general and professional? In the infancy of knowledge, all callings, trades, and professions, are mysteries, whose secrets are carefully guarded from the uninitiated. Every mechanic belongs to his trade-guild, and has his trade-secrets. When Philip of Burgundy destroyed the little town of Dinant, in the Low Countries, the art of making copper vessels became, for the time being, a lost art. With the progress of general intelligence mystery falls away from simpler occupations, but still attaches to what are called the learned professions. The layman has nothing to do with the study of the science of theology: that must be expounded to him by his priest. The layman has nothing to do with the science of medicine: he must be cured, or, more probably, killed, secundum artem, by his physician. The layman has nothing to do with the science of the law: it is his business to get into lawsuits, and it is the lawyer's secret how to extricate him. But these superstitions, the relics of an age of popular ignorance, are in their turn disappearing, as just ideas of what constitutes real knowledge begin to penetrate the minds of the whole people. It is seen that, so far from being mysterious, such knowledge is the very substance and material of sound education for all men; and the layman will no longer allow himself to be led blindfold by priest, or lawyer, or physician, for there is no longer any magical sacredness in their callings. And thus it comes about that a knowledge of physiology, which will help save the patient from any need of a physician; a knowledge of law, that shall obviate the necessity for lawsuits; a knowledge of political science and history worthy of men who have become their own rulers; a knowledge of political economy, that shall raise the honorable calling of the merchant to the dignity of a liberal profession; a knowledge of theology that shall save us the degrading spectacle of the unchristian quarrels of bigoted and superstitious sects—are reckoned more and more to be essential elements in all education. It is only on sound general knowledge, disseminated through the whole people by a liberal education of the whole people, that we shall ever build up professions, in regard to which we are not forced to entertain a doubt as to whether they are not on the whole more of a curse to us than a blessing. And an education of this sort must be begun in the primary school, must have for its instrument the mother-tongue. It cannot be based on the study of Greek particles, or any amount of skill, either in the reading or the manufacture of Latin verses.
It is sometimes said that we, who have received this liberal education we decry, are ungrateful in thus decrying it, and unconscious of, and insensible to, all the benefits we derive from it. I am conscious of no ingratitude in agreeing with an eminent Scotchman who discusses these subjects, when he says, in speaking of knowledge and studies such as I have been enumerating: "lam sure no one seriously applies himself to such studies without wishing that he had given to them many hours in his youth which he fooled away, in obedience to his 'pastors and masters,' in learning what he has now forgotten, and to recall which he would not now take the trouble to raise his little finger." I was the docile and diligent receiver of such training as, in my youth, a "classical school" and our oldest New-England college had to give, and surely it is from no vanity that I say that I was also a recipient of their honors; and it is from the melancholy feeling that my formal education was so barren and empty when looked at from the standpoint of real life, and real thought, and real mental training, that I am so earnest an advocate of changes that I believe will give to future generations the reality instead of the pretense of an education.
I come now to the study of Physical Science, as from this time forward destined to play a wholly new part in our system of liberal education. Nowhere, save in that astonishing document, the Syllabus of his holiness Pope Pius IX., can any education-philosophy be found so benighted as not to recognize its value and importance. Yet I am far from believing that its true place, as a factor in the new education, has yet been determined. While, on the one hand, among the old high-and-dry advocates of the grindstone-system, certain merits and a subordinate place are beginning to be grudgingly allowed it, we are in danger, on the other hand, in this new country of ours, whose vast material resources are waiting for development through its instrumentality, rather of overrating than underrating its purely educational function. It is not as an economical instrument for the development of material wealth that I have here to deal with it, though that is a very important aspect, but considered as a factor in a system of education, and, as such, I claim for it no monopoly, but only a place as the indispensable complement to those ethical and linguistic studies which have heretofore monopolized the title of a liberal education, and which, from the absence of science from that form of education, have been reduced to their present effete and impotent condition. It is to the incorporation into it of the study of science that we are to look as the source of new life-blood.
You will not expect me to attempt to deal here with the great subject which forever occupies the minds of speculative thinkers, and never more than at the present moment—the true relations of the world of matter and the world of mind. That is too large a subject to be dealt with, though upon right views regarding it will greatly depend the correctness even of our educational theories. I will only say, that though I am as far as possible from being an adherent of any form of materialism, yet I believe that physical science is destined to be the great instrument of these modern days to give new forms to our philosophy and our theology—to give new forms to the same everlasting problems, but not to give us new philosophy or new theology. It will but cast old truths in new moulds, while it explodes old superstitions by adding new truths to the old ones. Our conservatives may spare their anxieties. Not a truth the world gains is ever lost again; but they who, blindly believing they have all truth, oppose the new form which science is giving to all knowledge, will soon find themselves side by side with those old Dunsemen who could not believe in the last revival of learning.
Now, if the study of physical science is to play a vastly more important part than it has hitherto done in all future schemes of liberal education, the first and most obvious consideration is that room must be found for it. Bearing in mind, as we must constantly do, that the word education stands for a strictly limited quantity, a limited amount of time, a definite amount of mental effort, if that time and mental effort have been wholly absorbed in one set of studies, it is very obvious that these must undergo modification and curtailment in order to make room for another set. And yet no error is at present more common or more disastrous than the attempt to introduce the new, without any disturbance of the older studies. Either the older curriculum did not absorb, as it professed to do, the whole of the student's mental energies, and was not therefore a complete education, or its requisitions must be diminished to make room for another set of solid, important, and disciplinary studies; or else it must be maintained that the new studies are not solid, important, and disciplinary, but only fitted to be the amusement of idle hours, and the lighter tasks with which gaps and intervals may be filled between the more solid, older ones. That this latter is really the view of the more thoroughgoing adherents of the classical system is pretty obvious. Thus the Rev. S. Hawtrey, one of the masters of Eton, says, in a recently printed lecture: "It is for the masses that I fear, when I hear the cry that boys should be freed from the severer labor of studying language if it is distasteful, and therefore it is said unprofitable, and should learn, instead, something about the wonders which science has achieved in the present century." It is very obvious that a writer who speaks of the severer study of language has very little comprehension of the true nature of the study of science, or else, like the public orator of Cambridge, in his "tonic" theory, confounds together the ideas of severity and distastefulness. And Mr. Hawtrey's very childish conceptions in regard to the teaching of science are further exemplified when he goes on to ask: "Would there not be great danger of boys becoming less vigorous-minded than they are?... Will their becoming acquainted with a string of scientific results stand them instead of the mental training they now get?"
Thus we see that the highest conception a master of Eton has of the study of science is that it is "becoming acquainted with a string of scientific results." I need not pause before this audience to refute such a notion. If the study of modern science did not call for the exercise of all the highest faculties of man; if it did not give an exercise such as no other study gives to his reasoning as well as his observing powers; if without it the very study of language itself did not become empty and barren; if a knowledge of it were not necessary to the solution of all the profoundest philosophical problems with which the mind of man in these generations is occupied—then, indeed, a question might be raised as to the propriety of its introduction into the curriculum of liberal study. But if it is this, and more than all this, then it claims more than a subordinate place; it is no toy for idle hours, no subject to fill up gaps and intervals of time. It claims a right to no less than a full half of all available time and power; of time for training the student's senses—all left by our older training in worse than Egyptian darkness—of power to be employed in training the reasoning faculties, by processes as rigorous as any the older studies can boast of. Nothing less than this will satisfy the demands of science as an element in modern liberal education.
I have already indicated what seems to me to be the only way by which room can be found for the real introduction of science into our scheme of studies. By removing Greek wholly from the list of general studies to that list of specialties which make up our completed conception of the higher education, after it diverges in different directions; by relegating Latin to a subordinate instead of a primary place in language-training, we shall find room to place science on an equal footing with literature as an instrument of general liberal culture; and I see no other way. And this scheme will have this further advantage, that, for all who carry their education beyond its rudimentary stages, it will afford ample time and opportunity for the real mastery of at least two of the leading modern languages besides our own: for French, the modern daughter of the Latin—for German, a kindred Teutonic dialect closely related to our own. I am aware that such a scheme for the teaching of modern languages, including our own, so systematically and scientifically, as that the mental discipline derived from it shall not be inferior to that derived from the teaching of the classics, implies an adaptation of the results of modern philology to the purposes of elementary instruction such as has hardly yet been realized; implies a body of teachers of modern linguistic science such as hardly yet exist—teachers whose instruction shall not be inferior in philosophic breadth and thoroughness to the very best of classical teaching. If we have few such books or teachers yet, there are indications on every hand that we very soon shall have them in the greatest abundance, and that modern language-teaching and English language-teaching are very soon to be relieved of the reproach of empiricism which has heretofore prevented them from taking the leading place which, as educating instrumentalities, rightfully belongs to them.
And, finally, time will also be gained by utilizing the at present barren and empty study of mathematics. If there is any thing more preposterous than the abuse of grammar, in our present grindstone-system, it is the abuse of mathematical study. Rightly viewed, the mathematics are the key to scientific, as language is the key to ethical study. At present, both are used as mental tread-mills, unprofitable mental gymnastics, keys to unlock empty chambers never destined to be filled; for their sole value is thought to lie in the mental exercise they give. Robbed thus of all living connection with other knowledge, they become the most disgustful, and therefore the most valueless, of mental exercise. Put into vital connection from the very outset with those great sciences, of whose laws they are only the symbolic language, the mathematics spring into life. By themselves, they are to most minds a series of barren puzzles, hardly rising in dignity or educational value above the game of chess, and so remote from all those paths in which the human mind naturally travels, that it is only one peculiarly-constituted mind in ten thousand that, in their abstract form, can pursue them with either pleasure or profit. Looked at as the language of the laws which govern the world of matter, and used as the instruments to unlock so many of its secrets, they lose their disgustfulness, and become a necessary, if a narrow and partial instrument of training—one which performs certain disciplinary functions which no other instrument can perform so well; but it is only live mathematics, not dead mathematics, mathematical in vital connection with physical science, not prematurely thrust as an ugly skeleton alone upon the youthful mind, upon the pretense that its sole object is their mental discipline. And, on the other hand, it is only for the study of physical science, pursued by vigorous scientific methods, and in rigorous, logical, and mathematical ways, that we can claim for it a place as a disciplinary, that is, a real study. As the mere becoming acquainted with a string of scientific results, it may well be left to the contempt of the Rev. Mr. Hawtrey.
But the chief influence of modern science upon liberal education will be its ethical influence. Its discoveries are transforming man's conception of the earth he lives on, and of his history and his work upon it. Before man acquires the control of matter, through ascertainment of the laws that govern it, his life on earth is poor, narrow, and full of hardship, and his earthly relations full of pain. So long as that state continues, life on earth must seem to him a small matter, and its opportunities for growth not much worth considering; it is only here and there that a philosopher in his closet attains to some realization of the capacities that lie hidden in it. War and savage occupations consume the days of the mass of men, and no culture is possible save the perverted culture of the cloister. But the advent of physical science means the emancipation of the masses into the privileges of intellectual life. From a battle-ground, the earth is transformed into a school-room, written all over with hieroglyphics, no longer mysterious, but to which mankind have found the key: and, with the right use of the secrets thus unfolded, will come to the mass of men that accession of material wealth which will give the leisure and opportunities that have heretofore been the monopoly of privileged classes.
It is not wonderful that men, at first, are carried away with the contemplation of its lower uses, even sometimes to the making them the sole end of education. It is but a reaction from the opposite extreme, only a dazzling of eyes with a flood of new light. Presently we shall look about us, and find the old relations of things not greatly altered. Matter is not going to supplant mind because we are learning so much more about it; whether we understand or do not understand the laws that govern it, matter remains the servant of mind, to educate it and do its bidding. The higher uses of science will still be spiritual uses. It has not come into the world merely to carry us faster through space, merely that we may sleep more softly and eat and drink more luxuriously, nor will education become the mere teaching how to do these things. It is with the spiritual educating function alone that we have to deal when we consider it as an element in liberal education.
And thus one great result of the new form into which modern science is casting all our conceptions of education will be a vastly higher estimate of the educating value of those pursuits in life which are concerned with material things, and a distinct recognition of them as included among the liberal professions. It is interesting to observe how the list of liberal professions enlarges with the advance of civilization. At first the priest is the divinely-appointed monopolist of all higher knowledge; by degrees he is joined by the lawyer, as the interpreter still of a divinely-established code; it is much later and only after a certain amount of progress has been made in physical knowledge that the importance of his function raises the physician's art to the dignity of a liberal profession; and that more at first through a superstitious belief in the power of his spells and his magic than from respect to the small reality of his science. Now that science has so far entered into other callings as to make them worthy fields for the exercise of the highest faculties, all those pursuits which have for their aim the improvement of man's earthly condition will take their due rank in the list of liberal professions, and the chemist, the engineer, the architect, and the merchant, will have their appropriate liberal educations as much as this clergyman, the lawyer, or the physician. It may safely be affirmed that that view of earthly life of mediæval ascetics which has left its traces so deeply imprinted in much of our sectarian theology is fast vanishing like an ugly dream forever. The intellectual and moral aspect of material pursuits is fast gaining, through the significance given to them by modern science, a predominance over their mere material aspect. The worker in material things is more and more, as the days go by, compelled to be an intellectual being even in order to be a worker, and it is because the study of and working in material things now give scope for the energies of great intellects, that they more and more absorb them. Whoever continues to believe in the antithesis between matter and spirit, and insists upon looking on the world of material things as of necessity the world of the devil, must see in this tendency only disaster to all our higher interests; but whoever sees that it is the true function of modern science to spiritualize material things by enabling us to put them to higher uses, will see in science not the great antagonist but the great hope of the religion and the philosophy of the future.
The advocates of the classical theory are never weary of reproaching their opponents with opinions which, as they say, degrade the dignity of true learning, by making it subservient to mere utilitarian aims. If to try by knowledge to make this world a better place to live in, and. to teach men how to make the highest and best use of it be utilitarianism, then I make bold to say that any knowledge that cannot make good its claim to such usefulness is worse than utilitarian, for it is useless knowledge. The charge that is meant to be brought is this, that none but the advocates of classical learning have or can have the higher ends of life in view in planning schemes of education; that all other systems look solely to the stomach or the pocket. I do not know whether such charges are not too hackneyed to waste words on; certainly I can conceive of no lower form of utilitarian abuse of education than the pursuit of fellowships by the cramming of Greek and mathematics for the competitive examinations of an English university. On the other hand, the truly liberal learning of England is to be found more than anywhere else at this moment with that noble band of students of science who are virtually excluded from all such preferments. It is not a difference in studies that constitutes them liberal or illiberal; it is a difference in the spirit in which all studies may be pursued. The study of chemistry and the study of Greek particles may be equally base or equally noble, according as they are pursued worthily or unworthily, with a selfish eye to the loaves and fishes, or with an aim at the higher rewards of true culture, and the higher advancement of man's estate. But I think we may well leave aside this stupid charge of utilitarianism. It comes nowadays only from those benighted pedants who are wholly ignorant of the true spirit of modern science.
I have left myself no room, even if I were competent, to speak of the last ingredient in any just scheme of modern liberal education—the study of art, æsthetic culture. I fear there will be abundance of time to develop that side of the question in this country before it is in any
danger of becoming a practical one. Yet, in the shape of elementary drawing, the rudiments of art are beginning to take their proper place in our schools as a necessary and indispensable element of all real education, and the art galleries and the foreign musicians of a few of our older cities are beginning to exert their influence, if a slight one, in introducing higher ideas of the importance of art into our new country. They will have but a limited influence, however, till the study of the fine arts takes its proper place among us as a necessary element in every conception of true education.
There is one form of art-study, and that, perhaps, the highest, which is open to all, even to the humblest student, and the most elementary school, and that is, the study of poetry. It is a prime element in any conception of a liberal education, which shall take as its chief instrument of language-training the mother-tongue, that the real study of English poetry will take the place of the pretended study of classical poetry. When that time comes, we may expect to see the great poets of our native tongue exerting the same influence in the culture and training of our children that Homer and Æschylus really exercised over that of the Greeks. We shall not know what that influence is capable of becoming till we have a real study of English, in place of a sham study of classical literature. The great Greek philosopher says that poetry is truer than history. Sure I am that we shall one day come to see that in neglecting to train and cultivate the imagination, we are neglecting the most powerful of all the faculties.
Ladies and gentlemen, I have thus given you, very feebly and imperfectly, an outline of a scheme of liberal education, applicable to a whole free people, which shall use that people's own language on the one hand, and the great instrument of modern science on the other, as its chief disciplinary instruments, in lieu of the obsolescent scheme for a liberal class education, based upon the study of dead languages as its chief educating instrument. As a means for realizing that scheme for the liberal education of the whole people, I believe that we must sooner or later have in this our republic one homogeneous system of free schools, from the lowest to the highest. The first step of that education will be taken from the benches of the primary school, its last lessons learned in the lecture-rooms and laboratories of universities, free from all trammels of sectarian narrowness or class distinctions. It will be from first to last a homogeneous, logically compacted, consistent training in all available knowledge, to all attainable wisdom, free to all men and all women to pursue to the extent the faculties God has endowed them with will carry them. It is a Utopian vision, you will say, this of popular liberal education. Say rather it is the necessary safeguard and supplement of free institutions; to despair of it is to despair of the republic.