Popular Science Monthly/Volume 43/May 1893/Editor's Table

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EDITOR'S TABLE.

 
SOUND WORDS ON EDUCATION.

THE article of President Eliot to which we called attention three months ago dealt with the subject of education mainly in its intellectual aspect. In a recent number of the Contemporary Review we find an article entitled The Teacher's Training of Himself, which discusses the same subject, but mainly from the moral point of view. The author is Dr. Weldon, head master of Harrow, and the article is a reproduction of an address delivered by him before the Birmingham Teachers' Association. Seldom, if ever, have we found more of sound sense and right feeling in any discussion of the general subject of education than is contained in this essay of Dr. Weldon's. From first to last it may be said to be a plea for that which, according to Dr. J. M, Rice, is so conspicuously lacking in most of our own public schools—sympathy. The writer sees that this, above all things, is needed to vivify education and make it what it ought to be, a blessing both to the giver and the receiver—to prevent it, indeed, from becoming positively injurious in its effects. Is it due simply to mental inertness and inferiority on the part of the mass of society that there is on the whole so little love of knowledge and so little pleasure in intellectual effort? May it not be in a measure due to the fact that in childhood the acquisition of knowledge was carried on under more or less repulsive conditions with the mental faculties only half aroused and the sympathetic or emotional nature wholly untouched, except in so far as it may have been moved to opposition?

It is the first step, says Dr. Weldon, in the teacher's self-culture to realize the dignity of his profession, which, though it may lack the distinction belonging to the pulpit, the platform, or the bar, has "this signal advantage, that in all its branches and among its humblest no less than its highest representatives, it aspires constantly to two objects that are among the worthiest of which human nature is capable—namely, the promotion of virtue and the increase of knowledge." He places the promotion of virtue first, but in actual practice we fear that the amount of attention given in public schools of the ordinary type, here or elsewhere, to that special object is far from commensurate with its recognized importance. The discipline of the school is often said to be of itself a powerful moral influence; and so it would be if the discipline were maintained in any large degree by the help of sympathy; but if it is enforced in the thoroughly unsympathetic way described by Dr. Rice we fear it can hardly be counted on for any very moralizing effects.

We must, however, pass over much that we would wish to note in Dr. Weldon's address, in order to leave space for a few of his more striking remarks. The following are worth quoting and remembering:

"If a teacher is to train others, still more must he train himself. ... The reason is that the influence of every teacher depends not upon what he says, nor even upon what he does, but upon what he is. He can not be greater or better than himself. He can not teach nobly, if he is not himself noble.

"It is sadly true that we as teachers may make mistakes. We may break the bruised reed; we may quench the smoking flax. By making the young dislike us we may make them dislike the subjects we represent. Strongly would I impress upon you and upon myself the terrible responsibility which belongs to us of malting one of these little ones to offend. Perhaps if I might sum up in a single phrase the teacher's true temper toward his pupils, especially boys in a large school, I should say it is one of sympathetic severity. . . . Severity is not worth much if it stands alone. It may be said that severity without sympathy is a guarantee of failure.

"There is one word, and only one, that I have simply begged my colleagues never to use in their reports of boys—the word 'hopeless.' Masters and mistresses may perhaps be hopeless, I can not tell; but boys and girls—never.

"An angry schoolmaster, or rather a schoolmaster who can not control his anger, is the drunken helot of the profession. In an angry moment words are spoken, deeds are done, that are irreparable. Fling away from you the poisoned shafts of sarcasm; they are forbidden to the humanities of school life. "It appears to be the particular danger of schoolmasters and schoolmistresses that their profession has naturally a cramping or narrowing influence upon the mind; it is therefore the primary duty of all teachers to take every opportunity of enlarging and liberalizing their views. The schoolmaster must not be a schoolmaster only; he must be more than a schoolmaster. He must be a man of wide interests and information; he must move freely in the world of affairs. Fill your pitchers, however humble they may be, at the wide and ever-flowing stream of human culture. It is my counsel, as a precaution against narrowness, that you indulge largely and lavishly in reading. You can hardly read too much. It may be a paradox to say so; but I doubt if it matters much what you read, so long as you read widely. . ., Novelreading I conscientiously recommend. It will take you out of yourselves, and that is perhaps the best holiday that any one can have. It will give your minds an edge, an elasticity. The peril of reading no novels is much more serious than that of reading too many. . . . Apollo himself does not keep his bow on the stretch forever, and most of us need relaxation as much as Apollo."

The above is good advice, and happy is it for those who can take it to heart and act upon it—for those whose faculties have not been already so deadened by a mechanical routine as to be incapable of the ambition of individual culture. Dr. Weldon speaks and writes from the elevated standpoint of head master of one of the great English public schools, a position of as great independence probably as any the educational world affords, and one in which there is infinite scope for the exercise of individuality. The position of the average public-school teacher is very different. To the latter functionary individuality may be a personal advantage, but it may easily become, from a professional point of view, a burden and a drag through the lack of encouragement or even opportunity for its exercise. That the advice given by Dr. Weldon as to reading is not very widely followed out by teachers in this country was proved some few years ago by some one who took the trouble to write to all the principal public libraries to ascertain to what extent teachers took advantage of the privileges which these institutions afforded. We forget the precise result of the inquiry; but it showed that the teachers, as a body, used the libraries almost less than any other class of the community. We recall this fact in no unfriendly spirit, but solely with a view of showing to a public that is hard to convince on this point how far we are from having as yet commanded the most successful conditions for general education.

 

 
THE SCIENTIFIC ALLIANCE.

The formation of the Scientific Alliance of New York marks an important step in the scientific movements of this city, and will not be without beneficial influence, we believe, in the advancement of research in the country at large. New York, long recognized as the great financial and commercial center of the Union, and pre-eminent in some other departments of the life of the century, has not been eminent in science. It has, indeed, as President Low said at the late joint meeting of the Alliance, many scientific men of the first order, and has a record of scientific work of the highest character that has been done by such men as Draper, Morse, Rutherfurd, Newberry, and Edison; but the fame of that work has been dissipated: it has never been concentrated, as in other metropolitan cities and many much smaller towns, under the panoply of a single organization, central for all the branches of research. London has its Royal Institute and Royal Society; Paris, Berlin, and other European capitals have their Academies of Sciences, where the work of the whole nation has a common home, and contributes to the fame of its chief city. In the United States, Boston has its Academy; Philadelphia, its Academy and the American Philosophical Society; Brooklyn, the Brooklyn Institute; and other cities, down to many relatively small ones, have central organizations through which the scientific work done by citizens receives all the credit it is entitled to; but New York, which should have been in the advance of all of these, has had only a few struggling societies devoted to specialties—nothing comprehensive enough to command the allegiance of students of different branches and the attention of the public. To use President Low's words again, "These bodies have revealed at once the strength and the weakness of New York in these directions. They have made clear beyond a doubt the vast resources of the city, both in men and means. But they have also revealed the fact that these resources are as yet insufficiently organized." To this time, by reason of the division among these special societies and the want of a general one. the scientific spirit of the city has lacked intensity of expression. It will be the object of the Scientific Alliance, as President Low believes it has the capacity, to give to New York the agency which it has long needed to develop to the utmost its activities of investigation and experiment in the direction of pure science.

Seven societies, each of which is well known and has done creditable work in its special field, have united in the formation of the Scientific Alliance. They are the New York Academy of Sciences, the Torrey Botanical Club, the New York Microscopical Society, the Linnæan Society of New York, the New York Mineralogical Club, the New York Mathematical Society, and the New York Section of the American Chemical Society.

The advantages which are expected to accrue to these societies and their work from united organization were well presented in the address of Mr. Charles F. Cox. Among them are "the stimulating and re energizing effect which will be wrought in them by the demand made upon them for an increased output of effort for the public good"; the re-enforcement and encouragement they and their members will receive from contact with one another; the saving of work in doing over again what has been already done which will be effected by bringing these laborers in different fields into co-operation and consultation with one another, and enabling them to contribute their several results to a common stock; in short, a union of forces to produce the best results.

The need of endowment for scientific research and publication was presented at the meeting for organization in an address by the Hon. Addison Brown. The existence of such a body as the Alliance, proving its efficiency by its work and extending its influence, may be expected to attract the gifts of liberal-minded capitalists, as do other enterprises for the public good that accomplish something. Still another advantage that may be derived from the organization is revealed in Prof. Bolton's idea of its furnishing accommodations in a single building for all the libraries of the societies and for such other libraries of scientific works as may seek a domicile there; each library to be kept distinct, but accessible alike to all the societies, and one supplementing the others. For this and other purposes of the Alliance a building will be necessary, and a plea in behalf of this was made by Prof. N. L. Britton.

Another view of the advantages that may be derived from this movoitient is afforded by the advances which are being made in all departments of enterprise in which scientific research is the original and most important factor. "The practical men," said the lion. Addison Brown, basing his remark on the confession to him of an electrical expert who had made several very interesting and important inventions, "do not work at random, but upon the basis of what scientific research and publication have previously put within their grasp." Capitalists and corporations have derived immense wealth and power from the fruits of this work; and yet science, which has furnished them the instruments of their success, has received the most niggardly treatment from them, and has been spnrned and scorned by them as unpractical. A society that will serve as a center for its scattered forces and give it a voice by which it can assert itself and emphasize its claim for recognition can not fail to help it greatly in commanding the homage of its debtors.

 

 
MORAL EVOLUTION.

The recent articles of Prof. St. George Mivart on Happiness in Hell, in spite of what must seem to many their fanciful character, may reasonably be regarded as an encouraging sign of the progress the modern world is making in the direction of reasonable views and humane sentiments. Mr. Mivart states at the outset that "not a few persons have abandoned Christianity" on account of the popular doctrine of a hell involving unending torture for untold multitudes of human beings, and that this doctrine now "constitutes the very greatest difficulty for many who desire to obtain a rational religious belief and to accept the Church's teaching." The object which he has in view is to show that the absurd and cruel ideas which have gathered round the conception of hell are no essential or authoritative part of Christian doctrine. Whether he has succeeded in doing so, we must leave to the professional theologians to discuss and, if possible, decide; but, meantime, some of the writer's utterances deserve to be put on record as evidences of the moral evolution which theology itself is undergoing.

"To think," says Prof. Mivart, "that God could punish men however slightly, still less could damn them for all eternity, for anything which they had not full power to avoid, or for any act the nature or consequences of which they did not fully understand, is a doctrine so monstrous and revolting that stark atheism is plainly a preferable belief." The writer of these words could evidently not subscribe to the Westminster Confession, nor to the views of those Congregationalists who have lately been so much exercised over the daring theory advanced by some of their brethren that fairly decent heathen may perchance escape hell without any aid from missionaries. A Catholic authority whom Mr. Mivart quotes says that "if there is one thing certain it is this—that no one will ever be punished with the positive punishments of the life to come who has not with full knowledge, complete consciousness, and full consent turned his back upon Almighty God." The same authority farther says that "the God of all justice most, and will, make every allowance for antecedent passion, for blindness, for ignorance, for inadvertence"; and this, Mr. Mivart explains, will apply to that "large proportion of men's actions which can not be freely controlled by them on account of ancestral influences, early associations or intellectual and volitional feebleness." As we read these declarations we begin to find ourselves somewhat at a loss to conceive the kind of person who would really constitute an eligible candidate for the place which Mr. Mivart so far offends ears polite as to mention. However, some do get there, and then they fare according to their deserts. Their great loss consists in being shut out from what theologians describe as "the beatific vision"—that is, from the happiness of heaven; but they have apparently all the means of enjoyment and even of moral improvement open to them which they had on earth, though without hope of ever changing their fundamental state of separation from God.

Waiving all questions as to the reality of the matter which Mr. Mivart discusses, we venture to express the opinion that the view he puts forward is far more favorable to the interests of religion, and much better adapted to produce moral thoughtfulness, than the heretofore current notions, which no amount of sophistical ingenuity can torture into conformity with justice, benevolence, or reason. So far we extend to the distinguished naturalist and, as it would appear, not inexpert theologian our sympathy, and bid him Godspeed.

 

 

The Index to Volumes I to XL of The Popular Science Monthly, announced as in preparation some months ago, has been completed, and up to March 25th about fifty pages had been put in type. It will make nearly three hundred pages, and, as setting the type for such a book is slow work, we must ask a little more patience from the many who have been anxiously inquiring for the volume.