Popular Science Monthly/Volume 40/November 1891/Editor's Table

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

EDITOR'S TABLE.

 
UNIVERSITY EXTENSION.

THE article by Prof, C. Hanford Henderson on University Extension, which appears in the present number of the Monthly, is one which deserves and doubtless will receive a wide and sympathetic attention. Prof. Henderson states his case well, and no intelligent reader can fail to be impressed with the importance of the movement which he describes and advocates. For our own part we think its importance can hardly be over-estimated. It aims at nothing less than an intellectual revolution—at placing within the reach of thousands in every part of the country educational advantages which hitherto have been confined to university students. Useful as the colleges and universities are in their way, we incline to the opinion that what is known as university extension holds out a promise of yet greater usefulness. The former are often spoken of as "seats" of learning, and the expression is appropriate; but, in the extension movement, learning leaves its seats and goes forth to find its disciples in the highways and byways. This simple fact is a pledge of a more living adaptation to the practical needs of the community than is to be expected in the case of the older and more permanent educational establishments. The reactive effect upon the colleges themselves will doubtless be also very beneficial. The theory of the movement is that college professors will do extra-collegiate work; and it is certain that, in addressing more miscellaneous audiences than are wont to be gathered within college walls, they will learn new methods of instruction and discover new springs of influence. College students form a more or less select class, and they are expected not only to follow in an unquestioning manner the lines of study indicated to them, but to accept in the same way whatever may be the special educational views or traditions of the institution they attend. The extension classes will be at once more fluid in their composition and more favorable to initiative and originality on the part of the teacher. There will thus tend to be developed a new type of teaching and new conceptions of the possibilities of intellectual growth. Science will learn—what it has never yet thoroughly learned—to dwell among the people and mingle its life with theirs.

Taking another point of view, we might dwell upon the great need that exists for something that will bring home a touch of true culture and of exact knowledge not so much to the "masses" as to the "classes." Among the latter the fields are "white to the harvest." We are often told that the ignorance of the working classes is a source of danger to the state, but we are by no means persuaded that the ignorance of a somewhat higher social stratum is not a more serious danger. A couple of years ago the most popular clergyman in the United States, addressing his own congregation, recommended those of his hearers who were wealthy to spend their money freely upon every form of expensive luxury—to clothe themselves in the richest fabrics and most expensive furs, to ornament themselves with the costliest jewels, to make their houses gorgeous with everything that was most sumptuous and elegant, to feed themselves with splendid liberality, to conduct themselves in general—so he actually said—as God's favored children, for whom nothing could possibly be too good. In olden times it was said that the poor had the gospel preached to them, and that they heard it gladly; to-day good news of a slightly different tenor comes to the rich, and how sweet it must be to be told that, being rich, you are presumably a favored child of God, and that in living a life of luxury that might make Dives turn green with envy you are simply carrying out his fatherly designs! But the eloquent preacher told his wealthy hearers more: he assured them that, in thus heaping indulgences upon themselves, they were helping the poor by furnishing them with employment. Of course he believed it, because the whole class to which he belongs, with only here and there an exception, believes it, and that is just where we see the great need for the missionary work of the university-extension system. Here are thousands of high-feeding, richly dressed, gospel-taught people, who, in matters economic, are sitting in the outer darkness of ignorance—silly enough to think that the more they consume on their pleasures the more benefit they confer on the world, the more they lighten the toil of the poor.

But it is not upon economic subjects only that the talk of the so-called educated classes betrays a woful lack of information and of coherent thought. Upon scientific and historical subjects it is much the same. By this time the main axioms connected with the doctrine of the conservation of energy ought to be the common property of all decently educated persons, but we constantly hear well-dressed people talking as if electricity, for example, were a mysterious something derived from a mysterious nothing, and thus constituted a boundless source of energy to be had for the asking. It is needless, however, to multiply examples; the world, in spite of all our educational institutions and perhaps a little through their fault, is full of ignorance in places where one would think ignorance ought not to be; and we may well, therefore, hail with joy the introduction of a scheme which seems likely to bring light and knowledge to many thousands of minds.

Upon one point, however, we find ourselves unable to agree with our contributor. After making out a strong case for the usefulness of university extension, he is disposed to draw the conclusion that the national Government should take it under its protection and sustain it by subsidies. From our point of view this would tend to mar the whole scheme. Its success will depend mainly on the individual zeal and public spirit with which it is conducted; but if there is anything that is fatal to zeal and public spirit, it is a subsidy. What is the cause of the paralyzing lack of vitality in our public schools if it is not that they are part and parcel of a political system? It may be granted at once that a national subsidy would greatly accelerate the movement; but we are convinced that what would be gained in rate of growth would be more than offset by deterioration in the ethical and intellectual quality of the work done. If people do not get knowledge to-day it is not for lack of pecuniary means; it is because they prefer to spend the means they might apply to the purpose to less worthy objects. If there is one feature more than another of the university-extension movement that awakens our interest and commands our sympathy, it is that it offers an opportunity for a true crusade against ignorance and folly. But the crusader and the subsidy-seeker are very different persons. The former may be mistaken, but he is enthusiastic; the latter is rarely mistaken, but his enthusiasm is of a low quality. Now, as we have said, here is a grand opportunity for a crusade—an opportunity to show that those who possess the keys of knowledge are willing to unload their stores for others, and that those who have means in abundance are willing to contribute freely to raise the intellectual and moral standard of society. All the elements of a great movement are present if only we can count on enthusiasm—on some small share of that feeling for duty and that regard for others which bring Salvationists into the streets with their drums and tambourines. But the opportunity would be thrown away, and the movement would assume a thoroughly commonplace and almost mercenary character, if it were to be fed with the proceeds of taxation. We trust that the leaders of the movement will resolve to have nothing to do with politics save to purify and elevate them by the direct action of sound instruction on the public mind. It will not help our politics a bit to have university extension hanging round the Capitol for an appropriation.

 

 
A GROUP OF SCIENTIFIC MEETINGS.

The meeting of the American Association was held this year in the midst of the meetings, beginning August 11th and closing September 1st, of a number of societies cultivating special fields of science, which have grown up out of and around it. The multiplication and division of societies in this way is a natural result of the increasing expansion and specialization of scientific studies in the United States, and one of the most certain signs of them. The fields which one society was able to cultivate have become too large and too many to be adequately tilled by it alone, and it has been found convenient to distribute the details among separate workers, while the old Association remains the central organization and chief, under which the whole is unified. This grouping of meetings promises to be a permanent feature, and to make our annual scientific convention an event of larger and growing interest. The meetings held in advance of the larger meeting were those of the American Microscopical Society, the Society of Official Chemists, the Association of Agricultural Colleges, the Society for the Promotion of Agriculture, a body which is limited to forty members; and the Association of Economic Entomologists. The discussions in these assumed, to a large extent, a practical shape, and aimed directly or indirectly at the advancement of agricultural interests. Among the important features of the meetings were the arrangements that were made for the fusion of the chemical societies of the United States into a single body. Eight societies were represented in the Union, viz.: The American Chemical Society, the Washington Chemical Society, the Association of Official Chemists, the Chemical Societies of Cincinnati, the Brooklyn Institute, the Franklin Institute, the Association of Manufacturing Chemists, and the Louisiana Association of Sugar Chemists. Under the terms of union, which have yet to be approved by the societies separately, the new organization will be called the American Chemical Society, and each local society will retain its identity as a branch. The name of the general society is the best that could be chosen for a body representing the whole country, and gives, besides, a fitting recognition to the oldest and one of the most efficient and active of our chemical associations.

The meeting of the American Association itself was one of the largest and best that have been held in recent years. The number of members reached 653, and was greater than had been recorded since the New York meeting of 1887, when 729 members were registered. Three hundred and seventy-one new members were elected, and 235 papers were entered to be read. Permanent Secretary Putnam has been quoted as saying that the papers read were above the average in interest and importance, and this opinion appears to be well founded. Among the subjects informally talked of as things to which the Association should give the support of its approval and influence were those of the establishment of a fund for the encouragement of scientific research, which was supported by Prof. Brashears and President Prescott; the withdrawal of certain public timber lands from entry and their protection as forest reserves; and the utilization of the Weather Bureau and the agricultural experiment stations in forming a service of water statistics and the survey of water-supplies to serve as a basis for the application of proper principles of water management. On the invitation of the Australasian Association representatives were appointed to serve on an International Committee to prepare a uniform system of biological nomenclature.

The meeting of the American Association was immediately followed by that of the American Geological Society, which was followed in its turn by that of the International Geological Congress. The former meeting also took on somewhat of an international character, for several of the European geologists were present, and such of them as chose to take part in the proceedings were given the first places. The meeting of the International Congress was the fifth of the triennial series, and was attended by about two hundred members, nearly half of whom were foreigners from Austria, Belgium, Chili, France, Mexico, Peru, Roumania, Russia, Switzerland, Canada, Germany, Great Britain, and Sweden. Profs. James D. Dana and James Hall were designated honorary presidents of this body and Prof J. S. Newberry president; but he not being able to attend on account of age, the sessions were presided over by one or another of the vice-presidents. Prof. Joseph Leconte presiding at the opening session. The Congress was welcomed by Secretary Noble, in a happily phrased address, in which he spoke of the importance of geology in its scientific and economical aspects, the activity with which its study is pursued in the United States, and the liberality with which it is assisted by the Government. The meetings were varied by the usual number of excursions, ending in a grand excursion of the International Geologists to the Yellowstone Park, the mining districts, the Colorado Cañon, and other points of geological interest in the West.

 

 

The American Association has selected Rochester, N. Y., as the place for its meeting of 1802, and the following officers have been chosen for that occasion:

President, Prof. Joseph Le Conte, Berkeley, Cal.; permanent secretary. Prof. F. W. Putnam, Cambridge, Mass.; general secretary, Prof. Amos W. Butler, Brookville, Ind.; council secretary. Prof. T. H. Norton, Cincinnati, Ohio; treasurer, William Lilly, Mauch Chunk, Pa.

Vice-presidents of sections: A, Prof. J. R. Eastman, Washington, D. C.; B, Prof. B. F. Thomas, Columbus, Ohio; C, Dr. Alfred Springer, Cincinnati, Ohio; D, Prof. J. B. Johnson, St. Louis, Mo.; E, Prof. H. S. Williams, Ithaca, N. Y.; F, Prof. S. H. Gage, Ithaca, N. Y.; H, W. H. Holmes, Washington, D. C; I, Prof. S. Dana Horton, Pomeroy, Ohio.

Secretaries of sections: A, Prof. Winslow Upton, Providence, R. I.; B, Prof. Browne Ayres, New Orleans, La.; C, Prof. J. L. Howe, Louisville, Ky.; D, Prof. O. H. Landreth, Nashville, Tenn.; E, Prof. R. D. Salisbury, Madison, Wis.; F, Prof. B. D. Halsted, New Brunswick, N. J.; H, Dr. Stewart Culin, Philadelphia, Pa.; I, Lester F. Ward, Washington, D. C.

Auditors; Dr. H. Wheatland, Salem, Mass.; Thomas Meehan, Germantown, Pa.