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DANGERS OF MODERN EDUCATION
AT the same time we should be guilty of thoughtlessness and of dangerous superficiality if we were content with merely emphasising the great value of the educational movement of the present day from the ethical and social standpoint, and with urging that for this reason it must be encouraged and made use of in every possible way. Rather it is our duty to examine the objections which have been raised against it, and to recognise the special dangers attaching to it; by so doing we shall gain a clearer apprehension of its moral and social significance.
The first danger we have to encounter seems to be that of half-education. Not only “reactionaries,” but even men who are anxious for social improvement and in favour of healthy progress, are among those who view with suspicion the present educational movement, and the institutions founded in connection with it. To these we readily confess that the special dangers of half-education—vagueness, confusion, ridiculous conceit, and discontent—cannot immediately be removed, and may, indeed, in existing circumstances, increase for a time among a certain section. But to oppose the present educational movement and try to repress it on that account, would be the most perverse course of action possible. We cannot repress it, for it is far too strong; we should only force it back in the direction of bad teaching and poor methods of instruction. One cannot hope to combat the dangers of half-education by condemning people to no education at all, but only by providing them with thorough education. The best men must offer themselves for the work, and the best books must be written to facilitate it. While showing to students the most important results of the sciences, it is essential at the same time to arouse in them an interest in scientific methods, and a sense of the enormous difficulty of attaining to positive knowledge in any department. This accomplished—and it can be done—the main point is achieved, and the greatest risk of half-education is averted. Certainly, none can soar aloft to the highest stage of scientific knowledge, nor is there any royal road to learning; great thinkers will stand by themselves to the end of time, and there will always be a kind of knowledge beyond the reach of the general public. But there are grades of knowledge as of education, and it is not true that clear and bracing air can be breathed only on the highest peak of the mountain. The bad associations of the words “popular science”—once almost equivalent to “pseudo-science”—need not always cling to them; indeed, I think they have to some extent vanished. When half-truths and trivialities are excluded, when reverence is awakened for truth itself and the investigation of it, and when the particular kind of knowledge set before each individual is likely to be of real use to him in his daily life, popular science is indeed good and true science.
This last condition brings us face to face with a second danger in the present educational movement—that of indiscriminate levelling. This peril appears to me to be very great, and most pernicious in its effects; it is, indeed, one of the principal causes of half-education at its worst, and would necessarily in the long run prove destructive of all real knowledge. In every single direction its results are fatal; its influence is anti-social, inasmuch as it destroys the firm foundations of society and interferes with the free development of original and independent natures. By “levelling,” I mean the endeavour to impose upon, or at least to prescribe for, all alike an exactly identical education, and as far as possible a precisely similar course of training, regardless of the distinctions of sex, individuality, or vocation. The consequences of such an attempt may be seen in the downfall of ancient schools of learning, but even we ourselves have seen something of these bad results, and shall have to buy our experience more dearly yet. It is easy enough to understand that, with the removal of various external barriers, the simplest plan might seem to be to enforce upon all and sundry one dead level of uniformity. But this is a notion based upon the most superficial and fatal idea of education—as if it were something that could be bestowed upon people like an object altogether outside of themselves, whereas in reality its possibility depends upon its association with the natural characteristics and special vocation of every individual. Apart from these it is mere surface lacquer—the nasty, sticky, shiny stuff that varnish is—or rather, it is something much worse, a poison, capable of destroying vigour and health of mind and soul, and very often of body too. In this respect, I cannot acquit the modern woman’s movement of grave errors in various directions, although it is but just to begin by mentioning certain excuses for them. Such are the hard struggle for daily bread and for bare existence, the laudable ambition to gain economic independence; and further, the lack of thorough qualifications, which hampers women’s work; and the competition with male labour, which is too often forced upon them at the present day. I recognise the force of these excuses, but I can only regard as a grievous mistake the widespread theory that, because woman is the equal of man as regards human value, it straightway follows that the same course of instruction and the same occupations should be thrown open to her as to man. In some quarters there is even an affectation of treating the question of sex, in its bearing on work and civil standing generally, as altogether archaic and irrelevant; and where this leads, as it sometimes does, to an attack upon marriage itself, it is nothing short of social disintegration that we are threatened with. I retract nothing of all I have already urged in justification of the woman’s movement; but I do not admit the conclusion that women’s education must be modelled exactly on the lines selected for the education of men, or that society is in a healthy state when women are competing with men in every sphere of action. Equality does not imply absolute parity, and woman would still not be inferior to man, even if it should be proved that her intellectual average is lower than his. To the eyes of all but the wilfully blind, it has, in any case, long ago been clear that physically woman is less fitted than man for a number of occupations. The difficult task that lies before us is to determine what professions are suitable for women, and to see that these are undertaken only under such conditions as are adapted to the mental and physical organisation of the sex. This task is but newly commenced, and until it is accomplished, there will be constant sacrifice of valuable human lives. In the meantime all care must be taken to avoid any levelling process, the injurious effects of which have already been exposed. Furthermore, although women must certainly not be brought up with a view solely to marriage and the care of a family, that must still be the primary aim of their education. If it is objected that, in the case of men, preparation for domestic life is not the first consideration, the objection indicates at the outset a radically false view of the whole matter. This becomes yet more apparent when we find the old question of the Middle Ages being dis-cussed once more, as to whether matrimony is in any case an estate worthy of a free personality. It is not only by frivolous pleasure-seekers that this question is raised, although the convictions of those who argue it are very far removed from those which, in former days, resulted in monasticism. But all such controversies appear to me to be merely symptoms of a temper both anti-social and opposed to the teaching of the Gospel, and I find in them the very disagreeable expression of a selfishness which is none the more creditable because it seeks to ally itself with the pursuit of education. Although there is unfortunately a whole literature on the subject already—a so-called “polite literature”—I purposely pass over in silence these impious attempts to undermine the foundations of society in this respect, and to throw open contempt upon marriage as an institution.
It is, however, not only in certain developments of the woman’s movement and of the sex-problem that this tendency to unlimited and dangerous levelling appears; it may be observed in other directions also. As a clear expression of the opposite aim, by which we ought rather to be inspired, I will quote a piece of character-drawing from a wonderful speech by Mommsen on the Emperor William I. He says: “The Emperor William was, as all true men should be, a man with a profession. He completely mastered the duties belonging to it, and, as his high calling as a soldier demanded, he spent his life in the theory and practice of military science. There are not many who have as seriously devoted the years of youth and manhood alike to the art of war as he did. Consequently he was amateurish in nothing. He delighted in beauty, and was wont to follow with enjoyment the discussion of learned questions.” This shows us the element that must be introduced, if we are to counteract excessive uniformity. Special training, with a view to individual vocation, must be offered in the first place, and must become both the starting- and connecting-point for all further advance in knowledge, which must henceforth grow round this in concentric, but ever-widening circles. Such a method both avoids the dilettanteism resulting from attempts at absolute uniformity, and at the same time succeeds in producing that true veneration for knowledge, which tends more than anything to open the minds of those who possess it, and to make people more modest.
But there is yet a third danger that must be faced; it arises from the special character of the modern educational movement, with its eager endeavour to attain knowledge of the real—an aspiration which may be productive of the greatest good, but unless it is combined with strict moral training, will do harm. Goethe once said of one of his friends that his ability and learning were greater than his strength of character was able to bear; and in another connection we find the profound saying: “Everything that sets free our intelligence without giving us self-control, is fatal.” That is a terse and striking epitome of the matter; but it is a heavy task that devolves upon educationists. We have to learn that, with all our excellent institutions for the spread of learning and knowledge, we have only accomplished half—nay, not half—of our mission. If we are unable to influence the morals of those whom we are instructing, it is a dangerous work that we are carrying on. All earnest search after truth and pursuit of knowledge does indeed include a high moral element, but this requires to be brought to the light, and explicitly shown to the learners. Above all, the personality of the teacher must be so armed with the moral force of truth as to be able to exhibit it and impress it upon others; in every kind of teaching—in the higher grades no less than in the lower—the personality of the teacher is of pre-eminent importance. We can learn all sorts of things from books and by other impersonal means through which knowledge is transmitted, but we can be educated only by educators—by personalities, whose own force and life make a deep impression upon us. But who can deny that in this respect the work of education at the present time leaves much to be desired? The pursuit of knowledge so eagerly carried on among us now calls for a type of personality full of hope, love, faith, moral power, more mature and possessing a deeper sense of life than ever before. It calls for a personality which will enable every pupil to see that all true education—or formation of character—is transformation, painful in process, but resulting in freedom; something old must perish, something new must come into being and wax strong!
Very closely connected with this is another point which goes to the root of the matter: all true education starts from a complete and definite theory of existence, and it is only valuable in so far as it enables men to see life steadily and see it whole. Yet such a comprehensive view of the world cannot be other than idealistic; that is to say, it must be rooted in the conviction that personal life and moral consciousness are worth more and rank higher than any mere life of nature, and that, as it is in God that we live and move and have our being, we are accountable to Him. But are the intellectual leaders of our nation of the present day animated by such a conception of the universe—that is to say, by a faith that is sure of itself? Who dare affirm it? Since the Enlightenment movement came to an end at the beginning of the nineteenth century, we have had no one consistent, elevating, and ennobling theory of life. Neither the subsequent revival of religious belief nor the great idealistic systems of philosophy have succeeded in giving our people such an outlook on the world. This state of affairs, which has lasted so long already, this lack of faith and diversity of beliefs, is most prejudicial to all healthy progress to-day; it is the cause of our weakness in every direction, including our ineffectiveness in face of the political and ecclesiastical system of Roman Catholicism. We have practically prevailed against materialism as a philosophy; we may liken it to a disease that time and the healing influence of nature have cured; but we are very far from being really sound yet, for such a cure does not produce positive health. It was no theologian, but an opponent of theology, the philosopher John Stuart Mill, who, in his autobiography, wrote as follows: “When the philosophic minds of the world can no longer believe its religion, or can only believe it with modifications amounting to an essential change of its character, a transitional period commences, of weak convictions, paralysed intellects, and growing laxity of principle, which cannot terminate until a renovation has been effected in the basis of their belief, leading to the evolution of some faith, whether religious or merely human, which they can really believe: and when things are in this state, all thinking or writing which does not tend to promote such a renovation, is of very little value beyond the moment.” If we omit the expression “merely human faith,” which to me is meaningless in contra-distinction to religious faith, Mill’s is a most accurate description of the present situation, and of what must necessarily ensue. It is useless to expect that the mere study of particular sciences can avert it; for in this matter neither specialised learning, nor knowledge as a whole, can avail anything. Men must be exhorted to retire into their own souls, in order that, while immense realities throng upon them through their acquaintance with the sciences, they may not overlook or forget the real nature of Reality itself. They themselves, in the first instance, are this Reality—their souls, that existence of theirs which is lifted above nature. This, to be sure, is a matter, not of knowledge, but of faith, since it can be present in the mind only as a struggling and growing conviction; yet it is the motive power of all mental, and ultimately of all social life. “It is characteristic of belief to impel to action; it is characteristic of unbelief to destroy the joy of work, to deny to man his creative destiny, and so to force him back upon bare existence and primitive instinct, till humanity, grown tired of the attempt to spiritualise existence, wearies at last of life itself.” Now modern science has necessarily adopted the genetic method, which consists in going back everywhere to first beginnings, and in tracing things to their original elements, and to the lowest forms from which they appear to have sprung; and this does, indeed, tend to cause great confusion in weak and unstable minds, and to confirm any inclination they may already have to underestimate their own human value. It is not a state of affairs that is bound to last for ever; the time must come when it will be recognised that the gradual development of truth results, like consecutive acts of creation, in bringing to light new marvels of great and valuable power; but in the meantime we are called upon to put forth all our strength to cope with the situation. As far as it is in our power to influence the course of events, we must never encourage the dissemination of knowledge or spread of education, unless at the same time the moral consciousness of those who are taught is invigorated, the inner harmony of their personalities strengthened, and the eternal significance of their lives enriched. This must be our constant aim, but especially with regard to instruction in social history and social questions. Of all current phrases, none is more open to objection than the saying that social life must be regarded in the light mainly, if not altogether, of economics, and economics be considered by itself, and absolutely apart from anything else. Such a dictum is objectionable in the first place because it is false; but it is also regrettable because it lends support to blind and petty prejudices, and hinders ethical progress. Those who give utterance to it in good faith, imagining that such a view will simplify matters and win for them more ready hearing, do not know what they are doing; and fortunately they are refuted by their own practice. At the bottom of all great social questions and all intellectual problems, seekers after truth will always light upon the moral and—closely bound up with it—religious element; these can never be neglected without doing injury both to facts as they really are. and to mankind. But it is no use for us to try to idealise that universe presented to us by a knowledge of the external world and embellish it with all kinds of aesthetic notions: quick eyes will see through I the device, and we shall not thus attain our object. Nothing can satisfy, on the one hand, the sense of the individual value of the human soul, and the requirements of its inner life; and on the other, the ideal set before us of the universal brotherhood of mankind, except the Christian idea of God—“God is the Lord, and He is love.” As we were created by Him and for Him, so too our knowledge and education must be rooted and grounded in Him. This feeling lifts us above the region of the transitory into that of the everlasting and eternal; it ennobles the meanest work, and cancels all mere surface value. In this spirit, then, we must work and educate.
Every member of this Congress is equally persuaded of the truth I have just enunciated, and is convinced that, as beseems Protestants, it is our duty to fulfil this task in enlightened agreement with the traditions of our Evangelical Church. But how much there is to do, and how lacking we are in zeal, assiduity, and persistent effort! The educational movement of to-day has laid open to us an immense field of action, and none can excuse himself by saying that he does not wish to waste his time sowing on the stony ground or among thorns. There is a general readiness to hear, to learn, to exchange ideas, and to ponder new conceptions. There is keen and living interest in the deepest questions which concern human life, as well as in social problems—issues which are most intimately connected, and are, indeed, fundamentally one. The responsibility would be ours if this modern pursuit of education were to end in despair, either because men were not given the bread of life they ask, or because that offered them had ceased to be life-giving; it would be our fault if it were to result in disgust and scepticism, and in the conclusion that reality is barren, and knowledge fruitless. That must never he. May to-day’s Congress help to intensify our feeling of responsibility towards our people, and to increase our strength!
All discoveries—nay, all knowledge, for the time being so exciting in its novelty—soon become cheap and insignificant; but all the same it has eternal life in it, if it gives depth and fuller life to the inward being, and help in the great work of transformation into a higher self.
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