BECAUSE you believe in a good cause, said Dr. Johnson, is no reason why you should feel called upon to defend it, for by your manner of defense you may do your cause much harm. This, however, is a case where, in multitude of counsel, there may be some wisdom. Some kind of answer may evolve from the discussion of the above topic, which will be better than a pontifical statement from a person who has no doubt at all about his qualification to give an irrefutable opinion, like the old Doctor himself.
And if nothing does emerge; if there is no precipitate which you can filter out from the cubic contents of words, and weigh; and if that precipitate is not some kind of yeast which, added to the present educational dough, will help it to rise, then let us admit that something ex cathedra is needed.
This contributor pretends to no experience as a practitioner in the schools. He has been engaged in the workshop and market-place and, like any man so employed, has gone about on all kinds of errands and has met all kinds of people, in the cities and in the country and in small towns —magnates, business people, professional people, teachers, skilled and unskilled workmen, and children.
The public schools and the parochial schools are engaged in pouring out millions,— and have been for years, —and the private schools and colleges and technical schools, thousands; and any man going his way in and out among the inhabitants of the earth meets them, talks to them, dines with them, employs them; and in all sorts of ways gets the taste of them, and a good many cross-sections for careful examination. He sees them in offices, in shops, in schools, in clubs, in churches, on trains and on street-cars and on street corners, and in their homes — city, suburban, and country.
Each one registers. They ‘punch your time-clock,’ so to speak, and on the dial there is an impression. It is a dial you have fixed up for yourself — an old one, with the old marks on it pasted over with new ones; and there are two main divisions, one marked ‘satisfactory,’ and the other, ‘unsatisfactory.’
Some people have the words ‘useful’ and ‘not useful’ (to them); and some have the words ‘interesting’ and ‘uninteresting’; and, perhaps, some, ‘educated’ and ‘uneducated’; and a few may go so far as to divide their dial into ‘ good ’ and ‘ bad.’ But that is about the limit of presumption.
But if you have ‘satisfactory’ and ‘unsatisfactory,’ that means, of course, to you.
And when, therefore, you say that you find that 90 per cent of the product of schools and colleges whom you meet have registered under ‘unsatisfactory,’ it does not follow at all that they would register that way on any other dial — which is only a very roundabout way of saying that you disclaim any superiority for your ‘time-clock.’ You found it nailed to the wall of your vestibule when you were old enough to look about at the furniture which had been bequeathed you, and which you have been dusting up and patching up ever since. You are entitled to use this clock, and you get a great deal of exhilaration in using it; but that you should insist on anybody but yourself believing in its records would be not only foolish but exceedingly cruel, though not unusual.
If you want something to believe, said old Samuel Butler, I will tell you where to find it. It is in the thirteenth chapter of Paul’s first Epistle to the Corinthians. At any rate, don’t believe
The most comprehensive sentence in H. G. Wells’s Outline of History — the sentence which ‘pulls the whole picture together,’ as the painters say — is this: ‘It has always been a race between education and catastrophe.’
This is biologically, ethnologically, and nationally proved. And it can be individually proved, if, by education, you mean something fundamental, something intrinsic, something almost instinctive, and do not mean something external, something decorative, something pinned on.
And if this is true, then what constitutes an ‘educated person’ to-day is an exceedingly important question, both for the individual and for his nation.
If an educated person is just any kind of a person, — say a person with a reasonably well-built exterior, and that exterior decorated with mosaics in patterns, and pictures classical, scientific, historical, grammatical, or linguistic; but the interior more or less unventilated and unlighted, with the dampness of prejudice and provincialism, hereditary or acquired, making the walls clammy, and the creeping things of essential meanness and self-interest and conceit going and coming through the foundation cracks, — then that person is marked for destruction. If you had looked closely enough at the spiritual and intellectual house in which each of those eighty German professors lived who signed that statement of their faith at the beginning of the war, you would have found the words marked on it: ‘Delenda est.’ The man who lives in a house marked for catastrophe does not know it. From his youth up he has kept the rules, passed the examinations, received the degrees, secured the offices and the emoluments and the privileges.
But he is an offense — and catastrophe is his portion, and the portion also of the man by whom the offense cometh, who taught him that exteriors were as important: as interiors, that decorations were more useful than good homespun, that meat was more than the life, and raiment than the body. Which things were not directly taught, — oh, no, — but were too much implied; were the by-products of his total experience at home, in school, and in college.
I say, ‘at home,’ and I ought to say, ‘particularly at home.’ You and I know enough about homes to know that it is asking of schools and colleges a very great deal to ask them to correct the implications of the home atmosphere — with which their pupils are necessarily saturated.
If these implications are second-rate, are low-grade, — if the instinct of the family is for property as against humanity, for instance; for ‘closeness’ as against generosity; for self-interest, as against disinterestedness, in social and political things, — then those are the latent instincts of the children.
But schools and colleges can be asked to begin, not to teach these moralities, but to make it perfectly clear that they are invariable corollaries of all that is taught, and that a boy or girl who has not distilled this by-product from his books and his teachers is, up to that time, uneducated, however high his marks may be. He may know English speech and other speech, modern and classical literature, engineering, law, or medicine, and remain uneducated, unawakened, because the only valuable qualities in him have been left interred there, like Lazarus, — ‘bound hand and foot, with grave clothes,’ — no irresistible voice, to stir those emotions which alone make life worth continuing, having reached them.
I am taking my cue, in answering the query of the editor, from his own comment in his letter inviting me to the ‘party,’ as he called it. He said, ‘How can you decide what is the best way of educating a boy until you know what kind of man you want?’
I am the more ready to do this because it has, for a long time, seemed to me that the kind of man produced by our educational machinery is mostly a poor kind; that therefore this machine, with its highly complicated gyrations, with many curious and intricate gears, eccentrics, clutches, adjustments, accelerators and retarders, lubricators and frictions, is a good deal like the great modern printing press, with a folding and addressing attachment on the end; and when — as a gentleman I met the other day remarked — you unfold the product, so neatly and accurately wrapped in a diploma and delivered at your door after graduation day, you find that you have something very much like the Sunday Supplement.
That I considered an aspersion, and I believe he admitted that it was; but he said it was due to his having listened too much lately to the conversation in university clubs. But even if the product is more like the daily paper, it is still true that a very beautiful piece of mechanism and a very expensive plant have been used to turn out something that ought to have been very much better and more worthy of the time and investment and craftsmanship involved.
The man talks well, — indeed, almost too well, — and he knows what ’s going on, and makes a decidedly distinguished effect in the smoking-room of Pullman cars and elsewhere. You may recall such a man, perhaps, to whom Faithful came on his pilgrimage.
‘“Well, then,” said Faithful, “what is that one thing that we shall at this time found our discourse upon?”
‘ Talkative. What you will. I will talk of things Heavenly or things Earthly; things moral or things evangelical; things sacred or things profane; things past or things to come; things more essential or things circumstantial; provided all be done to our profit.
‘Now did Faithful begin to wonder; and stepping up to Christian (for he walked all this while by himself), he said to him (but softly), —
‘“What a brave companion have we got! Surely this man will make a very excellent pilgrim.”
‘At this Christian modestly smiled and said, “ This man, with whom you are so taken, will beguile with this tongue of his twenty of them that know him not.”’
The man does well, too, because he has a good working knowledge of the thing he is working at — the thing that makes what he calls his career and his reputation, and gives him his standing. He can build good buildings, or good machinery, is diabolically clever on ’Change, in administration of business, in court, in the operating-room, and effective in the pulpit.
His college takes much pride in his success — and even invites him to talk to the boys on the rides for success. He is a trustee, and helps her to turn out more men something like himself, thinking that the more of that kind of men there are in the world, the better for it.
But what the man actually is — how ignorant in those great spaces between his stellar abilities where he should be wise; how cynical where he should have faith; how timid where he should adventure; how indifferent where he should be passionate; how critical where he should be devoted — have n’t we seen this sort of thing very close-up recently? have n’t we seen too many ‘educated men’ of America failing completely in discrimination and even in decent courtesy, not even respecting the burden of the bent and broken workman?
Who or what is responsible for this vacuity, this elemental hollowness? And as time goes on, must we expect this to continue, that so large a proportion of men from universities shall fall so unfavorably under Emerson’s exclamation, ‘With what you are thundering in [our] ears, how can [we] hear what you say?'
And who are ‘we’? We are the people who are paying the bills. ‘We’ are the folks who are working while you are having ‘time off’ in which to be educated.
We have a big stake in your education, because we actually have to pay for it; and we are entitled to say that we want a different kind of person to come out of universities. We want men who have regard for hands as well as for heads, — an equal regard, — for people as well as for profits. Having put the oil in your lamp, — as Graham Taylor said the other day, — we want light, and a much better light than we are getting.
And let no university call its men educated until they understand that we — the men and women who pour into factories every morning and out every night; who ride back and forth in the recking trolleys, and live in the obscure parts of cities; who follow ploughs and harrows in the country and stoke boilers at sea; whose labor makes the buildings, the books, and the salaries of the professors possible — that we must be the beneficiaries of your training, and not, to so large an extent as now, its victims; and must, more and more, be taken into your confidence, and into your esteem — and even into your brotherhood.
If the war has not taught this simple thing, then, among all the dead losses which can be inventoried, here is the deadest.
When you take the liberty of criticizing a thing, you can properly be asked to specify something constructive, too, and to quit working exclusively with the hatchet.
The worst thing you can do, however, is to follow the advice of the Mayor of Chicago and ‘get a horn.’ That is what he has got, and there is ample evidence that he has even two.
Therefore I take the liberty of marching quite by myself, perhaps, in the procession of disputants who shall consider this question at the suggestion of the editor — with a transparency, having on it certain words.
Maybe you think from what you have heard already that one of those words is ‘Excelsior’; but you are mistaken, for the ‘lifeless but beautiful’ rôle is not congenial to this writer at all.
The first thing, then, that I might fondly hope would catch the piercing eyes of such educators as may be standing on the curb as we shuffle past, is the Word ‘Relationships’ — relationships with the inorganic as well as the organic world.
Is n’t it fair to ask that a man living on this planet shall have more regard for it, and for the processes which, from the condensation of a swirling nebula into planets and a sun, and by the cooling of one of the smallest of these, at last found its most profound expression in a living cell? For, by that means, and that only, could all this dramatic prodigality of time, space, and causality arrive at an adequate conclusion. Looking back upon the way it has come, this cell, arrived at homo sapiens, arrived at articulate speech, and reason and memory and dexterity of every sort, mental and manual — looking back upon the magnificence of the process that from the nebula evolved Christ, this cell must, in the minute allowed it above the surface, express something that shall illustrate its sense of obligation, ‘of wonder, love, and praise.’ In other words, the man must be essentially religious — not theologically religious, but intellectually and emotionally religious. And he must in some way prove his kinship with big things and permanent things and beautiful things.
Now, maybe this is something large enough to fill in some of the space which educational institutions leave between the subjects of their curricula; that a man must be more consciously and voluntarily related to those very calm and contemplative things, and less a prey, therefore, to the fevers and infections of his particular day and generation, — his political party, his social ritual, and his religious creed, — and relate himself to cosmic processes spiritually, before he has been physically returned to them, suddenly and ostentatiously, in the cemetery.
And the other word is ‘Discriminations.’ There is no educational process worth our admiration which does not produce people who are on the way to appraise life fairly, who will know the difference between first class and second class — which does not, in other words, establish a scale of values that will stand some scrutiny. This is where our education breaks down most deplorably. We cannot choose intelligently between fine ideas and purposes and mediocre ideas and purposes — between what is worth doing and what is not, considering the shortness of life; between Beauty and the pretense of Beauty, or the total lack of it.
This sort of thing has to begin, perhaps, with grandfathers, or, at any rate, in elementary schools, and carry on very actively in preparatory schools, and arrive at some fruition, or promise of it, in colleges. If neither the elementary school, nor the preparatory school helps the college in that direction any more than they are doing now, we cannot blame the college too much. But, on the other hand, the college makes it difficult for the lower schools to get any of these ‘value scales’ going, because it confuses the issues terribly with its ‘examination’ matters. It sets up a hurdle at its gate, and almost all the time of the lower schools must be employed in training to jump it. Great numbers do learn to jump it; and is it any wonder that the colleges find in their pasture too large a proportion of good jumpers who keep right on jumping examination after examination, until they finally jump out, with a certificate for jumping? But this is not just the kind of man they want, is it? Why, then, do they paralyze education in the lower schools with the Board Examination? Why don’t they indicate that what they want is a certain quality — a certain heliotropic instinct — upon which they can base what they have to give, with some assurance that their time will not be as much wasted as it is now? I don’t know the answer to that question except on one hypothesis, and that is, that these boys are to be more or less creatures of privilege anyhow, and somewhat immune from the laws of gravitation. They are to be ‘little Jack Horners,’ and in their various corners, among other ‘big boys,’ pull out plums from the pic.
How strangely unconscious these boys seem to be that this great diningroom of ours, called the United States, is becoming more and more crowded every year, and that a very large majority of the crowd, having done the work in the kitchen and made the pies, are looking on with an increasing sense of the disparity involved.
These bakers and boilers and sculleryfolk somewhat impudently push up and and peer in, with their sweaty faces and greasy garments, and go back to the kitchen muttering — very naturally, don’t you think?
On the whole far too many voyages are started from colleges without a compass that points north. The metal around it has deflected it; and on a voyage among the boisterous winds blowing off our huge industrial continent, — with newspapers for lighthouses, — what assurance can you give that you will not become a mere menace to navigation?
I submit one of the oldest and best exhibits in this connection. It is a picture of a man, the greatest master of the art of discrimination the world has ever seen; a rough man, not at all like the sentimental pictures, who lived all his life, probably, in a little one-story mudhouse; who worked with his hands and walked much alone along the solitary ways of a remote and silent country under the tropic sun and stars. On this occasion you see him handing back a penny to some very crafty gentlemen surrounding him and pressing upon him the ancient and modern question of allegiance, and, in his penetrating, and very final way, requiring them to decide for themselves where payments to Cæsar stopped. There is the crux of all debates on education. Until the ‘educated’ man knows the answer to that question, whether he goes by it or not, he is uneducated, and, in the history of man, he is marked Zero.