Popular Science Monthly/Volume 49/August 1896/The Aim of Modern Education
|THE AIM OF MODERN EDUCATION.|
IN venturing to speak or write about a topic so much, spoken about and so much written about as education, one may be pardoned a little hesitation. In the midst of our present wealth. of educational theories, the need seems not so much for any addition to them or any restatement of them as for a little genuine, wholesome action in carrying them into effect. And yet this problem, the education of our children, though so very old and so much discussed, is always new and never exhausted. The last word has not been spoken.
This perennial interest in education springs, I think, from two sources—from a feeling that much of the current action that goes under the name of education is obviously ill-advised, and from an appreciation of the tremendous importance of the whole matter. For, mark you, what we propose to discuss is no more nor less than this—the unfolding of the human spirit. It is a process for whose preparation the mighty drama of evolution has not been counted too great; and, now that that drama has become in our hands a conscious process, we can scarcely overestimate the unique significance of this, its concluding scene. It is an august problem, one that I stand before in reverence and humility.
In a day of more childlike faith one can readily conceive the attitude of mind of those who, in the presence of such an issue as this, devoutly waited for the working of the Spirit, and listened to its utterance as to the oracle of God. But though the old faiths are dead, or at least certain aspects of them, there is a new faith no less inspiring and no less revered. Modern faith believes in the essential sanity of the human spirit. It believes that it is possible by pure and holy living to so strengthen and clarify the spiritual vision that one may catch some glimpse of the divinely human truth. And this glimpse comes not to one man alone but to you and to me, when together, in the disinterestedness of a common purpose, we attempt to let the light play about the problems of the inner life.
And first let me say, in considering the aim of modern education, that I do not do so as the advocate of any special system or of any limited cult. I am in no sense a special pleader. It may be known to some of my readers that I have had for several years the charge of a manual training school in Philadelphia, and the thought would be quite natural that I may have come to regard the salvation of childhood as dependent in some occult way upon the training of its extremities. But, believe me, this is far from the truth. We hold, rather, the deep conviction that the province of secondary education is to lay broad, general, catholic foundations for the successful conduct of life. We should defeat ourselves by indulging in any specialty, however commendable in itself. What we are after is culture, and the power and perfection that come through culture. It is no new motive. On the contrary, it is a very old motive, as old as the birth of the human spirit itself. But it is still the motive underlying all that new movement in education of which manual training, sloyd, and the kindergarten form so prominent a part. I believe that not all the men and women taking part in the movement would agree to such a statement of motive. Some at least among them would assign more special and technical ends. I make the statement, however, quite unreservedly. What does distinguish the new movement is that in the choice of methods it differs somewhat radically from the older efforts. Be kind enough, then, at the outset to distinguish between motive and method, between ends and means.
In speaking about the present demands upon the school I do not think we hit the mark when we confine ourselves to the industrial demands, or the economic demands, or the social demands, or to any other one aspect of a very complex problem. Nor do I think we get any place when we propose to offer in satisfaction of these demands any one panacea. I would stand rather upon a broader platform, and ask your sympathy and consent to a much more catholic solution.
The problem of education is forever presenting this double interrogation point: What do you want? How are you going to get it? They are very definite questions, and it is easy enough to give equally definite answers so long as one confines one's self to general terms. We want culture, and the power and perfection that come through culture. We shall get it by surrounding the child with those influences that make for culture. But when we come to translate these general terms into something more specific, and, still more, when we come to translate our words into action, it is then that the difficulty comes; it is then that the educational sun goes under a cloud. Yet, as we love education, we must go on forever asking these questions, and we must go on forever trying to answer them. What we should pray for is clearness.
One of the most difficult branches in the modern school curriculum is apparently mathematics. We are prone to grade the children by their progress in this one branch. Yet it is not essentially difficult. If you will analyze it for a moment, mathematical study is but a study of the quantitative relations of life. It is consequently axiomatic. It needs for its mastery only clear statement. Higher and lower mathematics are equally easy of comprehension if they are only clearly stated. It is, I think, this effort after clearness of statement that gives to mathematics its high disciplinary value. The apparent difficulty that surrounds mathematics and has made it a dreaded name to so many generations of schoolboys comes, I believe, from the way we approach the science, and is chargeable to the cloudiness of our own mental atmosphere.
Now it seems to me that we stand toward education in very much the same attitude. It is apparently the most difficult problem that presents itself in modern life. It is certainly the gravest. But here, too, the difficulty lies not so much in the problem itself as in our statement of it. If we could clearly state what we are after in education and stick very close to that, I have large faith that we should be able to get it.
We do not begin de novo. Others have been pegging away at the same problem. We find an educational process already in operation, and bearing unmistakable signs of its evolution. It is a process which has grown up in answer to the demands of a varied, and for the most part of a past, life. What we do in the name of education, we do because at some time the circumstances of life made it seem wise. I do not for a moment venture upon the statement that it was wise. Much that we do was never wise under any circumstances. But we may readily believe that each element brought into education came in response to some outward condition. Yesterday, as well as to-day, had its demands upon the school. A progressive education would be one in which the educational process was being constantly readjusted to meet these changing conditions. In a rough and somewhat rebellious way this is what does happen. But the readjustment is not easy, continuous, voluntary. It comes by irregular jumps. The old customs have considerable inertia. The mechanical workers, the men and women in whose hands the process of education mainly rests, follow the line of least resistance. And the line of least resistance is to go on in the way one has been accustomed to going on. So it comes about, quite easily and naturally, that the schools get much behind the informed spirit of the time. The process they follow is no longer in harmony with the demands of the life which it is meant to serve, is indeed very much out of harmony with those demands. The children become restless. The teachers find their work difficult. The outside world grows impatient. And now at this juncture some reform is inaugurated. It is hailed, and very sincerely, as an entirely new departure. The reformer is believed to be a radical in either motive or method. But, in point of fact, the reformer and the departure which he proposes are much less radical than they are believed to be. It is difficult to be original, and as rare as it is difficult. All the forces at work in modern society tend to produce average men. What the reform does attempt is simply this—to bring the educational process once more into harmony with the Zeit-Geist. Its office is to sweep away customs and practices that were never wise, and to transform those which, were founded in right reason into more modern and available form. This is all that can be done—is perhaps all that it is desirable to do. No single reform can be very sweeping, for observe, it is to operate upon a set of conditions of which it is itself a product. Hence it is that the reforms which are the most far-reaching in their results come from outside, are forced upon our institutions and enterprises by those who stand themselves outside of the movement. In our education we have precisely the same spectacle, a curious one surely, if it were not for this explanation. The movements which are to-day innovations, and which are looked upon by many of us as reforms, have such an outside origin. The kindergarten, sloyd, manual training, science lessons, and nearly all the features that distinguish the newer education, have not sprung up within the curriculum of the school. They have forced themselves into the school from without, and often after a very long struggle. These readjustments are made only at the cost of considerable opposition and heartburn. They are the efforts to bring the spirit from the past into the present. It is the attitude of mind which says, I am, not I was.
Looking at the schools in this way, you will perhaps agree with me that nothing we do in them is in itself commendable, but is only commendable as it serves some desirable end. Good and bad are relative terms. Schools are good or bad in no absolute sense, but solely in relation to the ends which they serve. Schools which were very good a quarter of a century ago might be relatively bad at the present time. Bear in mind that the school is a tool, a process, a means, is in no sense an end.
As a tool, we can judge the modern school only by the manner in which it does its work. And this makes necessary a clear understanding of the work it is to do. It is here that we need that clearness of expression of which I have been speaking. There is no end to-day of discussion on educational topics. We are all reading papers or giving little talks. We come pretty near to realizing Joubert's famous saying, "It is better to discuss a question without settling it than to settle it without discussing it." But meanwhile the schools must go on, even though the discussion come to no conclusion. This multiplicity of discussion serves at least one good purpose. It directs public attention to the gravity of the problem of education. And yet it seems to me that much of the discussion is idle, and must from its very nature continue to be so. The weakness lies in this, that it is for the most part a discussion of methods and of minor riddles. It is not basal enough. It does not sufficiently address itself to the question of the sort of men and women we wish to produce. How to get culture will depend upon what you mean by culture. And this can not be stated once for all. It is a shifting ideal, growing as the spirit of man grows.
Perhaps we shall the sooner see our mark by first clearing the ground a little, and disclaiming some of the ends proposed for education. My own list of unadmitted ends is somewhat long. I do not, for example, set as the object for education a good citizen, a successful breadwinner, a wise father, an expert mechanic, an adroit versifier, a keen lawyer, an eloquent preacher, a skillful physician, a learned professor, a prosperous tradesman. Some of these ends may be good enough in themselves. I do not discuss the question. But they are not the proper end of education. And they are not, because they are secondary, minor, special ends. They are not the major ends in life, though they are often mistaken for such. We are pretty far from the mark when we mistake for education any training which has a partial and special end in view. To erect any one of these ends into the end, and declare it to be the goal of education, is to fall by the wayside, and deliberately to turn one's face away from the New Jerusalem of the Intellect.
The end in education should be the major end. It should be the very biggest thing in life, the most general and far-reaching good the mind can formulate. We cheat ourselves, we cheat the children, if we express the end in terms any less catholic than this. It may include good citizenship, wise parenthood, successful breadwinning, literary or technical skill, but it is not any one of these things. The greatest thing in life is life—life in its fullness and totality. It is this that education should set its face toward. Its end should be wholeness, integrity, and nothing less than this. It is false to its mission if it turn aside into any of the bypaths of convenience, of industry, or even of accomplishment and erudition. These are broad terms that I have been using and somewhat ambitious. But I can say no less than this and say what I mean. Education has to do with the whole of life, with man, and not with any one or any group of his petty activities. He must take an acceptable part in the life of effort, and to do this he must be prepared. There is a time when special technical training is advisable, when it is the proper usurper of the time; but this is quite secondary, a mere supplement to the main business of education. It is a deplorable intrusion if it ever take the place of education. There is a marked tendency in us all to get things out of perspective, to specialize, to confound magnitudes, and, of equal elements in a problem, to see one big and the other small. We are prone to mistake the means for the end.
Now turn to a more cosmic conception. For one moment let us isolate a man. Place him naked and alone in the midst of Nature, jn the open sunshine. Clothe him with health and beauty. Endow him with a clear mind, a warm heart, a keen love of perfection. Make him self-poised, resolute, independent. Then bring him into relation with his fellows. Have him share in all the wholesome activities of life. Let him taste of labor and joy. Let him be a son, a brother, a friend, a lover, a husband, a father, a citizen, a worker, an idler, a thinker, an artist. Let him feel. Let him philosophize. This is to taste life in its entirety. Great God, how few of us do it! How slight we are! How partial r And what a tragedy that, in the name of education, we should go on working for fragments instead of for the completed whole! And this figure of the complete man is the figure that modern education has in mind. An impossible figure, you may say. Yet less impossible the more you and I believe in it. Such a figure is not the ideal of the economists, with their extreme division of labor and their strong belief in the economic trinity of production, distribution, and consumption, but it is a figure which appeals to those men who, like myself, believe in what I may call the scientific humanism. As I see the matter, we want to turn boys toward this ideal of full living, to make them en rapport with the universe and with man, to bring them out of their smaller into their larger self, to change them from a less evolved into a more evolved existence. We want to create in them a discontent with partial, secondary, minor ends. We want to turn their faces toward the major end. To do this is to magnify the human spirit—that spirit in whose essential sanity I so profoundly believe. And so I define education as the unfolding and perfecting of the human spirit.
I do not know whether my readers agree to this answer of mine as to what we want to do. I hope that they do agree to it, for to believe less would seem to me to make out life meaner and cheaper than it is. This ideal is but a restatement of the old ideal of the earnest pagan world. To see things as they are is the mission of culture. To adjust one's life to this clear perception of things is to gain the power and perfection that come through culture. But our modern complex world has not taken this motive in its simplicity. It has modified it so that now it reads: To see some things as they are, and notably those things which have to do with material convenience and progress. This is not life in its entirety. It is life weak on the human, emotional, artistic side, life weak on the side that can least afford to be weak. We are waking up to this fact. We are waking up to a feeling that modern school life is rather juiceless. On many sides I see a hopeful discontent—a discontent which is to be the prologue to that intellectual and spiritual renaissance which I doubt not will grace the opening years of the coming century. This is what we want—this fullness of life. Shall we ever get it? My friends, that depends upon us—upon you and me, upon the earnestness and single-heartedness with which we want it. Assuredly we shall never get it if we continue to fix our gaze upon the partial, upon the fragment, and forget that there is such a thing as the greater whole. If you persist in saying. This is good, and That is good, and proceed to build up educational institutions for the pursuit of this and that, what you get will be simply what you pursue—this and that, and naught else. And the result of this pursuit, of this process of emphasizing one or two sides of life and ignoring many other sides of equal or even greater importance—the result is not beautiful, is not encouraging. In many cases the discipline of life at large would be more valuable. It is this feeling that makes me count myself fortunate to have gone to school but two years in all my life.
It would perhaps interest you just here to learn a bit of curious testimony in regard to the practical effect of this pursuit of the partial. It came in my own experience. Before I went to Europe to study I had charge of the science department in our older manual training school, and I noticed, or thought I noticed, that many of my brighter and more promising boys had, for some reason or other, been to school very little, less indeed than the average. The suspicion grew so strong that at last I decided to test it. I had each boy in a certain class write out his age, the number of years he had been in school, how old he was when he started, and whether the school had been public or private. There were some surprises. There were some boys who had been to school for eleven years, who had been through all the dismal grind of the primary, secondary, and grammar schools, and who were still bright and attractive. But the result of the whole scrutiny warranted the remarkable generalization that the brightness and desirability of the boys as pupils was inversely proportional to the number of years they had been at school. In a word, I could do more with the boys who had been least in school. Do you comprehend the full significance of this statement? I have never been able to forget it. It has made me critical of school processes and methods. It stands before me a silent specter. I cry aloud, Woe unto us if we are sending our children to school to their hurt!
Let us turn now to that second question. How shall we get what we want?
When I was quite a young man I went over to New York on a literary mission. My purpose was somewhat ill defined, but I think I had it in mind in a vague way that I could be very useful on the staff of one of the leading periodicals, and, in view of the chaste and elegant English then at my command, I fear that I expected a pretty high post. Among others, I carried a letter of introduction to Mr. Roswell Smith, the editor of The Century. He received me very kindly and talked with me for some moments. Finally he said to me: "You want to write?" I said that I did. "Well," he answered, "if you want to write, write," and he held out his hand. The interview was over. As I returned to Philadelphia I could not help the reflection that I had gone a considerable distance for so obvious advice. But do you know, the more I thought over the matter the more I came to the conclusion that Mr. Smith had touched off the position with great nicety. If I wanted to write, there was just this one thing open to me to do, and that was to write. This bit of obvious advice has never quite got out of my head. But it is not a principle which often leads along the line of least resistance. On the contrary, like the Czar's railroad from Moscow to St. Petersburg, it goes in a straight line, quite regardless of mountain and morass. It asks us frequently to oppose what is of all the most difficult to oppose—the wishes and counsel of friends. If you want to do a thing, do it. This is simple advice, but it sometimes takes a hero to follow it. In this matter of education I see no other way open to us. If we want for our children life in its fullness and totality and beauty, we must address ourselves to the task of realizing this, and be contented with no partial solution. It is not an easy task.
Life in its totality—this means twenty-four hours, seven days, four weeks, twelve months, threescore years and ten; it means feeling, thinking, acting; it means the life of the organism—birth, nutrition, growth, reproduction, death; it means the life of the emotions; it means the life of the intellect—acquisition, reflection, creation. It means nothing less than this; and the moral measure of our work as teachers will be the measure of the fullness of life that we open to our children. Were we tried by this standard to-day, I dread to reflect how many of us would be found wanting!
And yet I have said that this gigantic problem, like mathematics, is only difficult in appearance; is in reality quite simple. I believe this to be true, provided, observe, that we can attain a clear statement of the problem, and maintain this clearness in all our dealing with it. And we gain clearness and rationality, the stronger our hold upon the principle of causation. If we really believe in cause and effect and in the necessary relation between them, we will realize that we can never gain complete effects by setting in operation partial causes. This is, indeed, the great lesson in method that we all have to learn. With a clear idea of the end, we must set going adequate means. The machinery must be competent to do the work. Here it is that the older methods have been found wanting. They do not provide for life in its totality. The answer may well be made that they were never meant to. They attempted to deal only with one side of life—the intellectual. The other side, the emotional, bodily life, was left to the home. This division would not be amiss, if it were possible to so divide the child, and if both school and home were equipped, to do their share of the work and received each its due share of the child's time. But this is not the case, and, from the very nature of our being, can not be the case. The child is not divisible. It is a unit, a monistic child. The intellectual life depends for its material upon the bodily sensations, and for its motive and coloring upon the emotions. Separate these, and the result is a crippling of the whole process of education. Separate them very far, and the result is fatal. The emotions are the inner springs of action, and upon the healthy life of the emotions depend the joy and fullness of action. The poets have long known this. It has been the burden of their singing. When we love, then are we strong. It has been with them a divine intuition. It might have been a direct induction, for it is not only the teaching of the poets, but it is the teaching of life. The history of all action is the history of expressed emotion. Every conflict on the world's arena has been the drama of conflicting feeling. Stint emotion, stifle feeling, and there comes the most dreadful of all the soul's maladies—that fatal apathy which makes action impossible and life a stupid slumbering. And when action is gone, when experience is curtailed, when sensations are limited, intellection becomes feeble, for it has no stuff to work upon. Believe me, the most terrible paralysis that can befall the human spirit is the paralysis of feeling, the slow drying up of the emotions. It is this that makes old age a tragedy and life a bitter, juiceless thing. I would that we, who presume to teach children—for it is a presumption—I would that we might early learn this lesson. It would transform us into teachers of men. It is a truth beautiful in its operation when we realize it and act upon it, terrible in its operation when we lose sight of it and deny it. And this same great truth, hit upon by poets and thinkers as they wandered over the open fields or in the deep forests, under the hush of the night or in the broad sunshine, is precisely the truth hit upon by colder methods in the laboratory of the psychologist. We have been discrediting "mere feeling," and asking for something more solid and enduring. It is much as if we scorned the springs and brooks and still asked for broad rivers to float our argosies upon. The emotions are the elements out of which is built the whole life drama. They are the first terms in the synthesis of life, the stuff out of which, each earnest, loving soul builds his world. Likewise, they are the last terms in the analysis of life, the ultimates reached by the painstaking, fact-loving man of science.
Pardon my too persistent iteration. But I am saying this over and over again, hoping to so say it at last that it will seize upon your imagination and carry us both into a new and more rational comprehension of the problem of education. The child is a unit, and neither he nor you can separate his intellectual from his emotional, bodily life. It might be desirable, it would certainly be convenient, if we could present great slices of truth, like a generous help of layer cake, to the minds of our children, and have it thoroughly assimilated by methods prescribed by ourselves in normal schools assembled. But however desirable or convenient, it is not possible. Yet we go on trying—yesterday, to-day—I hope not forever. To do this is to deny causation and invoke the power of magic and the black arts. There is but one avenue of approach to the mind of a child. It is the avenue pointed out in earlier days by loving intuition—that unconscious induction of the untaught spirit—and in later days by the colder scrutiny of science—that conscious induction of the informed spirit. It is the approach to action through feeling, and to thought through sensation. The causal chain is very distinct. It should be well noted: feeling, action, sensation, thought. You see, then, how psychologically impossible it is to reach the last link in this chain without passing through the intermediate links. Yet this is precisely what we attempt to do when we divorce the thought life from the bodily life, and assign the one to the school and the other to the home.
If it were equally agreeable to sit still as to walk, and we happened to be sitting still, we should go on sitting still all the rest of our lives. The balance of pleasure and pain being equal, there would be no motive to action. The absence of desire would be the absence of power. We should be as hopelessly bound to our chair as Prometheus to his rock. In this condition we might be picked up, might even through the application of some external force be made to go through the motion of walking, but it would be an awkward, ungracious act. A better way to get us to walk would be to offer some inducement—in a word, to enlist desire on the side of walking. The internal force is infinitely more efficient than the external. No one can make us walk so well as we can walk ourselves, for walking, after all, is a mental act. No action, however simple or complex, can be brought about without an appeal to the spring of action, and the spring of all action is a feeling, a desire, an emotion. It is perfectly hopeless to ask your apathetic subject, sitting there in the chair, to get up and walk. unless you offer at the same time some sufficient reason for walking; and observe, please, the reason must be one that appeals to him and not alone to you. It is his desire, not yours, that is going to make him stir himself. Is it not the same with a child and his lessons? It is quite as hopeless to ask a child to learn unless you first see to it that he wants to learn. You may force him to go through the motion of learning, just as it was possible to force the apathetic man to go through the motion of walking, may even force the child to memorize the lesson and recite it with verbal accuracy, but it will be an awkward, ungracious act, and will do the child injury rather than good. And the injury is of a very positive kind. It drives another nail into the coffin of desire. By so much is the emotional life of the child dead and are his intellectual possibilities stunted. I am not speaking with picturesque exaggeration when I tell you that in many a schoolroom where this process of drilling children is being carried out, I experience a distinct sensation of spiritual horror, a sense of intense darkness, for I say to myself: Here is accomplished the death of the spirit; here are children growing each day more listless and apathetic, not learning what we want them to learn, and losing in the vain effort what no one can afford to lose—the joyous life of childhood, rich in strong feeling and high spirit, in itself an end of beauty, and a source of perfect manhood and womanhood. In all sincerity, it seems to me an evil greater by far than the evil committed by acknowledged thieves. It is a spiritual robbery, the least endurable of all robberies. I have been often robbed. I have been "held up" in Montana, and robbed by less direct methods in other parts of the world. You have doubtless had similar experiences. But these losses sink into absolute insignificance in comparison with the more dreadful losses inflicted by poor teachers and guides. You have doubtless had similar experiences. The reflection may be made without bitterness, but it ought not to be made without bearing fruit of the most wholesome sort in our own handling of that delicate bit of organism—the mind of a child.
What we must do, then, in educating children is first and foremost to give full and free play to the emotional life. We want consciously and deliberately to encourage feeling and sentiment, and to create the greatest possible number of wholesome desires. This may sound to you like strange doctrine. It will, however, bear your examination. It is easy to cultivate the emotional life in children. All we have to do is not to suppress it. And yet even this negative function, this clearing of the ground, requires finesse on our part. What we want in children is totally unconscious sentiment. Children who are well, children in whom the pulse of life beats high and quick, are reservoirs of feeling, bits of concrete sentiment, bundles of desire. In the majority of our schools we try to crush this all out. What we should do is to encourage it. If we are sympathetic, if we are responsive, if we are wise, we will hesitate to check this flood of feeling. It is to be disciplined, but not destroyed. It is the same with the multiform desires of childhood. Many of them can not be gratified, but the child-life will be fuller and more wholesome if they are allowed as far as may be. And I so value this emotional life, this prodigality of sentiment and desire, because it all leads to action, and to the very sort of action that is educationally the most valuable—to that which is self-prompted. Froebel hit upon this in the kindergarten, and made self-activity the corner stone of his whole system. He could not have built truer. It is a quality found in all children. Those who are full-blooded and have not been constantly thwarted by the cry of "Don't!" have an inexhaustible supply of it, and this is precisely what we want. It is the source of power, and jealously to be guarded. The particular merit of the new education, represented by the kindergarten, sloyd and manual training, lies in this, that they proceed psychologically. They recognize the child's desire as the source of action and effort, and build upon that. What we want to do is to turn these desires into the most wholesome channels, and to have the activity spend itself along the most helpful lines. So long as the desire is genuine, is the child's very own, and the activity which follows, a legitimate result of the desire, we may feel quite sure of the resulting sensations and their assembly into thought. What I dread most as a teacher is the child devoid of feeling and desire, the quiet little mouse who under the old régime would be called good and held up as a pattern. To keep quiet and vegetate is not to be good. The troublesome child, full of action and desire, is the far more promising bit of humanity. In the first there is nothing to work upon, poor little anæmic creatures with no past, no present, and no probable future. But the second is a storehouse of power. Education has something to work upon. It has a more lively problem, it is true, and one of some difficulty, but withal a problem of keen interest and large promise. Believing this as strongly as I do, the systems of education which begin by repression, by a process of subduing, quieting, deadening the activities and desires of childhood, seem to me absolutely vicious—more vicious by far than the conduct of nurses who feed troublesome babies with soothing sirups and other detestable drugs to put them to sleep.
The children themselves suggest the right method in education. What they most want is to be employed, and with something that interests them, not something that interests mamma or papa or the teacher. Consult any child of your acquaintance —any unsophisticated child, I mean—and get at his preference for one place over another. I think you will find, for example, that he prefers the shabbiest old farmhouse to the trimmest village mansion; and the reason is simple—there is more to do there. This is the great fact that the newer education has seized upon. It attempts to make knowledge real to children by making it a part of their experience, and to do this it enlists the life forces on its side instead of arraying them against it. As educators, we are to use our skill in directing the wonderful self-activity that in children is already a reality. We are to provide the theater for its exercise, and decide, in large measure, what shape it is to take. But always we are to do this with the sympathy and co-operation of the child, and never against his protest. It is bad practice in medicine to deal with symptoms and treat only them. It is good practice to go back of symptoms to causes. It is bad practice in education to attempt to control the occupations and activities of children, and neglect the motive power back of it all. It is good practice to accept the desires of children and allow them wholesome expression. A large part of the childish instinct is the desire to make things, to construct something—anything, indeed, from a mud pie to a canoe or playhouse. It is a wholesome instinct. It is only by such experience that the child comes to know the great outer world and to find himself in it. Think for a moment how much he has to learn; how much that to you and me are mere commonplaces, but to him are brand-new wonders! He is a born investigator, an inquisitive experimenter in a very large laboratory. And not only this, but it is very desirable that he should be. To prohibit these activities, to thwart these instincts, and to deliberately propose as a substitute that he shall sit still indoors with the abstractions of formal education is simply grotesque. If the proposition and the carrying out of it did not involve so much mischief of a very grave sort, they would be highly humorous. No educational ideas are defensible which have not their foundation in ethics, and one's ethics, I need not add, must rest upon one's philosophy of life. In proposing to respect the desires of children, or, in a word, to let them have their own way, I am proposing something quite at variance with the ethical ideas of the majority of people and notably at variance with the Puritan ethics, yet I do it on ethical as well as psychological grounds. It is a moral universe, this, in which we find ourselves—a universe so constituted that health-giving activities are followed by happiness, and evil activities by pain. It is this, indeed, that constitutes the rightness or the wrongness of the action—the good or bad results. If we wish to make the moral life a reality, we must from the cradle up let children feel this essential relation between cause and effect, and discriminate between good-producing and bad-producing action. You must not misunderstand me. I would, of course, try very earnestly to influence the desires of children, to make them want the things that the experience of the race has shown to be good and wholesome, but it seems to me of greater moment to have the desire and the action harmonize than to have the action which would seem to us always commendable. We would not, I think, run any very great risk. Healthy children, living under wholesome conditions, have, in the main, wholesome desires. And desires that are not wholesome can not be more thoroughly killed than by allowing them, if possible, to flower into action which the child himself will recognize as painful. No greater wrong can be done a child than by associating in his mind what is right with what is painful, and what is wrong with what is pleasant. It is an utterly false association. He will attain the highest morality when he does simply and naturally the thing that is good-producing without any inner conflict, but solely as the result of cultivated instincts.
I read once the gospel credited to John, making careful note of all reference to miracles. I was struck with the fact that all of the reported events had to do with some physical want—the curing of the sick, the feeding of the hungry, the raising of the dead. You will notice in studying the inclinations of childhood a similar uniformity. They are all physical wants, and may be summed up for the most part in two words—muscular exercise. The children are right. It is this exercise that is going to strengthen all the organs and make them capable of more perfect function. Every physical act has its corresponding mental act, and it is a succession of these acts that develops the gray and white of the brain and gives us at last a highly evolved and sensitive organism. The work of education consists in directing these activities into those channels which will yield the most helpful reactions. By concentrating the wandering attention, by increasing the delicacy of touch, by cultivating a finer and finer discrimination, by training the observation—in a word, by developing, as far as may be, each and all of the faculties—we make possible that unfolding and perfecting of the human spirit, that evolution of human nature, which is the end in education.
The goal of modern education is not reached through manual training alone, any more than it is through language or science or mathematics. It is for this reason that I no longer desire to see the establishment of manual training schools as such. They were necessary in starting the movement. This side of things had to be emphasized, and the early manual training schools did yeoman service. But now it seems to me far more wholesome and desirable that manual instruction should be introduced into the lower and secondary schools already in existence, and that the work should take its place alongside of the other recognized means of culture. It has a substantial contribution to make toward that fullness of life which is the modern aim. It enlarges the experience of children by bringing them into closer contact with the outer world of force and matter; it develops that many-sided interest which gives alertness to youth and redeems old age from ennui; it increases the sensitiveness of the bodily organism; it makes possible activities which would otherwise be impossible; in a hundred ways it makes for righteousness—that righteousness which consists of fullness of life.
And the method of the new education is admittedly psychological. It is in harmony with the desires of childhood. It offers occupations which are welcome to the children, and at the same time rich in thought reaction. It is a proposition to educate children through their own self-activity, with their co-operation instead of against their protest.
In estimating the several forms of manual training, I have come to believe that the Swedish form, sloyd, has some advantages over the more formal Russian manual training, in giving better gymnastics in its movements and a more human interest to its occupations. A finished article makes a stronger appeal to the childish sympathy than the abstract exercises of manual training proper. It is psychologically truer and, I believe, morally more effective. Children wholesomely occupied, children busy in trying to realize some form of usefulness and beauty, must, I think, daily grow into that unconscious goodness which I hold to be the highest morality; must illustrate Emerson's favorite doctrine, that evil, like cold, is a negation, is but the absence of good.
I have indicated the ideal in modern education. I have tried to indicate somewhat of the method. The practical question remains: Who shall carry it out? It would be unfortunate to intrust this most important interest of society to any but the best men and women, and by best I do not mean those who know the most, but those who are the strongest, the most beautiful, the most lovable, the most cultured, as well as the most skillful and the best informed. And in the newer education the need for wise and beautiful teachers is particularly great. Now that education has taken this truer and more psychological turn and is building its work upon the basis supplied by Nature, upon the feelings and desires of childhood, upon its wonderful self-activity and constructive instinct, you can readily see how utter will be the defeat if the realization of the method be left in the hands of men and women devoid of the requisite insight. Profoundly as I believe in this aspect of education, in the underlying principles of the kindergarten, sloyd, and manual training, I greatly prefer the old academic training, with all its defects, in the hands of earnest, cultured men and women, to the most elaborate carrying tout of the newer methods in the hands of those who do not see the end and purpose.
Mistakes bear a certain family likeness. The most tangible element in the older education was knowledge. Teachers were selected for their knowledge alone, and education was defeated. The most tangible element in the newer education is dexterity and its product, the finished exercise. But this is likewise the product of our industrial operations. Externally the school and the factory resemble each other. Both make things. But the difference is this, and it is a great one: The school concentrates its effort upon the making, and has regard only to the little workman; the factory values only the thing made, and is indifferent to its effect upon the worker. What a sad travesty when the modern school loses sight of this immense difference! The effort to turn children into artisans, and to do it in the name of education, is quite as unfortunate as the more ancient effort to turn them into encyclopædias. From the very circumstances of the time, it is far easier to establish one of these factory schools than it is to establish a true school. For, observe the teaching material that is available. It is difficult to find men and women of broad culture who can also use their hands. It is very easy to find artisans who are willing to exchange the smaller pay and longer hours of the shop for the pleasanter work of the schoolroom. They believe very sincerely that the only qualification is the ability to turn out good work. I admire their dexterity, I respect their earnestness, but I say to them and I say to you that this is not enough. The artisan habit of thought does not make for the unfolding and perfecting of the human spirit. By the very conditions of his life, the artisan is a man of limited experience, and consequently of narrow views. He is not the sort of man qualified to educate our children. His thought is directed solely toward the product. His skill is in the handling of dead material. What we want is something different from this; it is a man whose thought is on the process, whose cunning is in the handling of the living material, the tissue of childhood.
I have had a distinct purpose in mind in writing this article, I shall have satisfied it if I have gained the reader's assent to three propositions:
1. That the object of modern education is fullness and integrity of living; is the most complete unfolding and perfecting of the human spirit; is the development of the more evolved out of the less involved self.
3. That the method by which this object is to be attained must be psychological. Its foundations must be laid deep in the
emotional life of childhood, in the desires and feelings. It must allow these to express themselves in sincere action. It must preserve inviolate the causal chain of desire, action, sensation, thought. Its philosophy must be monistic. It must hold fast to the organic unity of the child.
3. That the proper agents for carrying out this method and gaining this end are the best men and women that society has produced, the very flower of the race, men and women of large experience and broad culture in whom the pulse of life beats quick and high; not bookworms, not artisans, not fragments of any sort whatever, but men and women to whom Nature and circumstances have been kind, who have caught sight of the vision of the complete life, and who would make this vision prevail.