Sociology in the Higher Education of Women

"We cannot afford to lose differentiation of education as between the sexes in our attainment of the common treasure."

The recent and rapid development of the higher education of women is one of the remarkable changes of our generation. Colleges less than twenty years old now count their students far into the hundreds, while they reject almost as many candidates as they receive. Their graduates can already be found in nearly every country town, and are numerous enough in cities to form associations of their own.

This movement has a profound interest for the student of society. It raises questions like these: What proportions is it yet to take on? What are all these women going to do? What will be the ultimate effect upon the sex and upon society? How shall its results be made most beneficial? Is the higher education of women to continue along its present line of development? If not, then in what direction is the change likely to lead us? Are there any indications now that will reward our attention?

On some of these points there is little need of concern. Things are taking their own course. Many college-trained women are teaching for a time or permanently. Our secondary schools are thereby gaining better teachers. Young women of inferior training, and even young men, are compelled to give place to the better educated college women. In this way, the schools, if we leave out of the account the question of the advantage of the employment of both sexes in the work of instruction, have profited by the higher education of women.

There are, however, limits to work of this sort, and to the opportunities in libraries, literary work, and medicine. There remain marriage and the life of the home and of society, which will absorb the larger part of educated women as a matter of course. For it is inevitable that most educated women of all classes will become wives and mothers as surely as most educated men will marry and become fathers of children. If it were otherwise, the enthusiastic advocate of the higher education would join every true friend of humanity in lamenting the condition of things. And, on the whole, the entrance into society of a large number of educated women must be a very great advantage. Home life, too, ought to be the gainer from the movement.

But it is to other phases of our subject that attention should be directed. The bearing of education on the mere occupations of women, though important, is, after all, of secondary concern. The education of either sex that ends in fitting one for a trade or a profession or vocation of any sort, without doing more, is sadly defective. If it does not, even while it is practical in immediate object, make the subject of it more of a man or more of a woman, it is little less than a failure. We are accustomed to say, also, that the education of the schools is a success just in proportion as it brings out the inner resources and powers of the student, and gives them such impulse and direction that the work of education is continued through life, no matter where one is put or what he is called upon to do. Results of this kind are signs of the highest order of educational work; for such training makes life a continuous process of self-discovery and self-development.

All this is of course familiar truth among educators of experience, but my reference to it will lead the way to some principles that directly concern our study of the subject before us. If education, looking at its effect upon the student, be the projection into life of the work of self-discovery and self-development, certain important consequences follow. Education will bring out whatever is common to all human beings. It will most sedulously develop whatever is peculiar to one as an individual. It will discover the peculiarities of sex, and as carefully mould them as it does those of individuals. For it is out of the special gifts of individual beings that the best contributions to the welfare of society are made. We may say in general that the higher the culture, the more certainly will both the common possessions and the distinctive characteristics appear; and the perfection of both does much to make society and life interesting, as well as strong and beneficent.

We get so much from looking at the individual, and from the subjective point of view only, and we reach the conclusion that the educational work of the higher schools for all students must, as it advances, increasingly open the way to specialization, but within the limits I have pointed out, in order to provide for the aptitudes of the student. This is a truth of equal application to the sexes.

There must come a time, therefore, if educational work develops normally, when both men and women will find in their sex and its relations to life differentials of the utmost importance in the determination of their studies. While highly organized social relations will add to the common possessions of the individual members of it, we must remember that the increased differentiation of function is no less a marked feature of a complex social order. I suspect that in the just recognition of both these features of the social advance lies our success, and in the neglect to hold the two in true relation is the chief danger of some of the friends of the advance of woman. An increasing difference, then, between the education of men and women will attend the future growth of women’s colleges; for it is in the higher educational institutions, rather than in the secondary or elementary schools, that we must look for the more marked distinctions. Post-graduate work will show the difference still more; and those who would adopt the elective method almost entirely will expect and welcome more differentiation in the studies of women. The distinctive notes of woman’s nature will become clearer and stronger.

Let us now turn to another side of our study; for I cannot think that sheer individualism, with its inevitable incidents of unrestricted election or selection of studies, is the final word in the science of education. It is doubtful, to say the least, if, after having, in political and economic science, put restrictions upon the doctrine of laissez-faire and its principle of unregulated liberty of contract, we can pin our faith to it as the comprehensive rule of education. Sociology is beginning to make its voice heard on the subject. It declares the vital oneness of all individual action in human society, and the consequent solidarity of the social life. This points to the conclusion that purely individual election cannot hold a radically different place in education from that which belongs to it in any other part of the social order, whether it be in religion, economics, or politics; and it also shows that we must look for true educational methods in the study of the processes of actual life:

What, then, is the educational process in life? Education begins with the infant. The practice, the power of election, is then at its minimum. It grows little by little. The days, months, years, bring it out. Bring it out, we say. The phrase is noteworthy. The inward appetency exists. It is active from the first. It grows from unreasoning instinct to intelligent choice. It increases in power to reach farther and farther from itself in time, space, and other relations; and the power and habit of doing so measure the real culture gained, the character acquired. But note that all this does not come wholly by force of the inward impulse or from the incentive from within. The whole external world, beginning with the mother, and through and from her reaching out to all beings and into all things, is continually soliciting the inner life. Always and everywhere something without, a distinctive something in the larger number of instances, is at work upon the human being, calling forth the elective act. The distinctive without finds the distinctive within, and the latter answers to the appeal. In the larger view, then, the result of my education is my power to respond to the external in the full strength of all that is within me, and by the assistance of all I can bring to my aid. When, therefore, I hear education spoken of as the perfection in power of all that is in the individual, and the definition is made to stop there, I feel that something is lacking; for I would add to the sentence the clause, in reference to and through the relations of that individual. In fewer words, the educational task is the perfection of the individual through his responsiveness to the external. It is the realization of the inner life in and through the perfection of its external relations.

It is only as we confine ourselves to the subjective point of view that the educational method is elective, or the mere following of inward appetency. From the larger place of observation the process is one of response. What seems at first sight to be simply choice becomes, on closer inspection, the acceptance of a call. The very election itself is the consequence of an environment of solicitation and its power over the individual; and he is therefore less conscious of a selection of his own than he is of a response to an imperative external to himself. Even that which seems to come from himself is not ultimately so derived, but comes from another, and calls for his reverent consent. Here, close to the secret springs of religion, are, to my mind, the sources of true educational power. It is impossible, so long as the integral man is himself an organism, and also stands in organic relation to all that is external to himself, for the true educational theory to be at variance with that of religion.

Let me now emphasize the truth, already briefly stated, that academical education of every grade has value very largely in the degree it has aroused this kind of educational activity, and so inspired and directed it that the educational process goes on through life, with increasing power and with growing skill in application. Just here is the critical point with the majority of students. It appears in the question of their educational future. Whether they enter a profession, engage in pursuits most favorable to the growth of mind and character, or are shut into those that are apparently unstimulating or narrowing, here is the crucial test: Have they been so trained in school that, whatever they may do afterwards, the educational process will be kept up through life? Will they acquire the habit of treating small things in a large way? Will they increase in the ability to do it? If they have been educated in the schools to do this, the whole world will easily become both their textbook and their teacher. Everything within one’s own being and everything without will be facts calling for that interpretation of itself and its relations whose result is truth and personal perfection in character. This is education for man. It is education for woman. By as much as men and women differ from the pure individual common to them both, and by as much as those of one sex differ from those of the other, by just so much, in all instances of a complete education, will the inner response of men and women to the educational call give each something that the other needs, but cannot supply atone. We cannot afford to lose differentiation of education as between the sexes in our attainment of the common treasure.

To the distinctive nature within there is also a distinctive nature without, at least in the way the call comes to the student. Just as the science of law and government engages the mind of one man, while the rocks and woods interest that of another, so it is with the mind of women. There must be subjects in which women will take deeper interest than men. The place of the family in the social order, and of women in the family, and their future as wives and mothers, will inevitably draw the attention of women to the family and the home as subjects of educational importance in proportion to their richness in educational material and value, and to their close connection with the life of women. That women are late in reaching these subjects in scientific study is nothing unusual, for we are all ever looking far away for that which is near us. The science of botany came late; so did geology; and sociology, one of the most important and far-reaching of sciences, the nearest to our daily life of them all, has been the last to arrest attention. But we are fast learning that almost, if not quite, the best way tobegin our knowledge of a science is in the study of the material immediately about us, and that this also leads to a broad culture; for, as one has finely said, “it is through the vivid endeavor to comprehend the present that we are impelled towards the reconstruction and interpretation of the past.” The great students, the great teachers, are learning to study simple, familiar things. A physiologist turns to the amoeba and gets clues that work a revolution in his method of classification. The educator is going back to the contents of the minds of children for his richest suggestions. Sociology, too, is learning the same lesson. It begins to see the value of that method which goes first to the simpler forms of social life, and finds through study of the individual, the family, and the village as they actually are about us the best way of approach to the vastly complex social order. That the earlier movements for the higher education of women should overlook the rich field that is nearest them is therefore not an unusual experience.

To recall the points I have tried to make clear so far in my discussion:

First, we may expect that the principle of mental appetency which finds its expression in the selection of one class of studies rather than another will lead women, as it has led men, to an increasing differentiation in their intellectual pursuits, and that this change will be in the direction of their future oc-cupations. Second, the external presentation of the facts of being and life to women will be in time powerful in that class of subjects which appeal to that which is special in their nature. Once having escaped from the traditional limitations which have deprived her of comradeship with educated men, the womanly nature will plead anew for its own rights. Third, the pedagogical need of projecting the enthusiasms and methods of the higher institutions of learning into the years that follow school life will naturally tend to accomplish this object by opening to women, while in academical study, their future educational resources in the every-day life of home and society. And fourth, the growing use in all sciences of the rich educational material of the life directly about us as the very best way, in many respects, to enter the several fields of knowledge will turn the study of women to the familiar things of home and social life. We get so much from the educational side. But let us look at the subject from another position.

Service is now recognized more clearly than ever as the true work of life. It is of the very genius of Christianity that we find our highest self in our relations to others through service. The world is calling for service in its deeply felt need, if not in its conscious appeals. It wants the service of women, and it is getting it. It needs women of a high order of culture. The service of an untrained philanthropy, in which devotion and zeal are made to take the place of skillful intelligence, will not do anywhere, in these days. The motive of all beneficent service may spring from the same eternal source as formerly, but its material, form, direction, distribution, proportion, it is now seen, must grow wiser and more effective. The deepest cries for knowledge do not come from those whose immediate duties are in the schoolroom, but from those who are called into service in the social life, and have work thrust upon them for which they find themselves but partially prepared. Here is the place where a man or a woman of purely academical education is in peril of breaking completely from the past, and perhaps forever. This disaster will happen unless away can be found to bring the work of the college to bear on the work and life of the present.

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