Home Boris Archives Menu Preface Appendix: Precocity in Children
PHILISTINE AND GENIUS
Boris Sidis, Ph.D., M.D.
Boston: Badger, 1919
I ADDRESS myself to you, fathers and mothers, and to you, open-minded readers. I take it for granted that your lifework is with you a serious matter and that you put forth all your efforts to do your best in the walk of life which you have chosen. I assume that you want to develop your energies to the highest efficiency and bring out the best there is in you. I assume that you earnestly wish and strive to bring out and develop to the highest efficiency the faculties not only of your children, but also those of your friends and co-workers with whom you associate in your daily vocation, and that you are deeply interested in the education of your countrymen and their children, who share with you the duties, rights and privileges of citizenship. I also assume that as men and women of liberal education you are not limited to the narrow interests of one particular subject, to the exclusion of all else. I assume that you are especially interested in the development of personality as a whole, the true aim of education. I also assume that you realize that what is requisite is not some more routine, not more desiccated, quasi-scientific methods of educational psychology, not the sawdust of college-pseudagogics and philistine, normal school-training, but more light on the problems of life. What you want is not the training of philistines, but the education of genius.
We need more light, more information on "the problems of life." Is it not too big a phrase to employ? On a second thought, however, I must say that your problems are the problems of life. For the problems of education are fundamental, they are at the bottom of all vital problems. The ancient Greeks were aware of it and paid special attention to education. In rearing his revolutionary, utopian edifice, Plato insists on education as the foundation of a new social, moral and intellectual life. Plato in his Republic makes Socrates tell his interlocutor, Adeimantus: "Then you are aware that in every work the beginning is the most important part, especially in dealing wjth anything young and tender? For that is the time when any impression which one may desire to communicate is most readily stamped and taken."
We may say that all man's struggles, religious, moral and economical, all the combats and conflicts that fill the history of mankind, can be traced finally to the nature and vigor of the desires, beliefs and strivings which have been cultivated by the social environment in the early life of the individual. The character of a nation is moulded by the nature of its education. The character of society depends on the early training of its constituent units. The fatalism, the submissiveness of the Oriental; the aestheticism, the independence, love of innovations and inquisitiveness of the ancient Greek; the ruggedness, sturdiness, harshness and conservatism of the ancient Roman; the emotionalism, the religious fervor of the ancient Hebrew; the commercialism, restlessness, speculation and scientific spirit of modern times, are all the results of the nature of the early education the individual gets in his respective social environment. We may say that the education of early life forms the very foundation of the social structure.
Like clay in the hands of the potter, so is man in the hands of his community. Society fashions the beliefs, the desires, the aims, the strivings, the knowledge, the ideals, the character, the minds, the very selves of its constituent units. Who has the control of this vital function of moulding minds? Fathers and mothers, the child is under your control. To your hands, to your care is entrusted the fate of young generations, the fate of the future community, which, consciously or unconsciously, you fashion according to the accepted standards and traditions with which you have been imbued in your own education.
It is related, I think, in Plutarch's Lives, of Themistocles telling with the ironical frankness characteristic of the Greek temperament that his son possessed the greatest power in Greece: "For the Athenians command the rest of Greece, I command the Athenians, his mother commands me, and he commands his mother." This bit of Greek irony is not without its significance. The mind of the growing generation controls the future of nations. The boy is father to the man, as the proverb has it; he controls the future. But who controls the boy? The home, the mother and father, the guides of the child's early life. For it is in early life that the foundation of our mental edifice is laid. All that is good, valid and solid in man's mental structure depends on the breadth, width, depth, and solidity of that foundation.
THAT the groundwork of man's character is laid in his childhood appears as a trivial platitude. I am almost ashamed to bring it before you. And yet, as I look round me and find how apt we are to forget this simple precept which is so fundamental in our life, I cannot help calling your attention to it. If we consider the matter, we can well understand the reason why its full significance is not realized. We must remember that all science begins with axioms which are apparently truisms. What is more of a truism than the axioms of Geometry and Mechanics―that the whole is greater than the part, that things which are equal to the same thing are equal to one another, or that a body remains in the same state unless an external force changes it? And yet the whole of Mathematics and Mechanics is built on those simple axioms.
The elements of science are just such obvious platitudes. What is needed is to use them as efficient tools and by their means draw the consequent effects. The same holds true in the science of education. The axiom or the law of early training is not new, it is well kiiown, but it is unfortunately too often neglected and forgotten, and its significance is almost completely lost.
It is certainly surprising how this law of early training is so disregarded, so totally ignored in the education of the child. Not only do we neglect to lay the necessary solid basis in the early life of the child, a solid basis ready for the future structure, we do not even take care to clear the ground. In fact, we even make the child's soul a dunghill, full of vermin of superstitions, fears and prejudices,a hideous heap saturated with the spirit of credulity.
We regard the child's mind as a tabula rasa, a vacant lot, and empty on it all our rubbish and refuse. We labor under the delusion that stories and fairy tales, myths and deceptions about life and man are good for the child's mind. Is it a wonder that on such a foundation men can only put up shacks and shanties? We forget the simple fact that what is harmful for the adult is still more harmful to the child. Surely what is poisonous to the grown-up mind cannot be useful food to the young. If credulity in old wives' tales, lack of individuality, sheepish submissiveness, barrack-discipline, unquestioned and uncritical belief in authority, meaningless imitation of jingles and gibberish, memorization of mother-goose wisdom, repetition of incomprehensible prayers and articles of creed, unintelligent aping of good manners, silly games, prejudices and superstitions and fears of the supernormal and supernatural, are censured in adults, why 'should we approve their cultivation in the young?
At home and at school we drill into the child's mind uncritical beliefs in stories and tales, fictions and figments, fables and myths, creeds and dogmas which poison the very sources of the child's mind. At home and at school we give the child over as a prey to all sorts of fatal germs of mental diseases and moral depravity. We leave the child's mind an open field to be sown with dragon's teeth which bring forth a whole crop of pernicious tendencies,―love and admiration of successful evil, and adoration of the rule of brute force. From the dragon's teeth sown in early childhood there rises in later life a whole brood of flint-hearted men who blindly jostle and fight and mercilessly tear one another, to obtain for some greedy Jason, some witch of a Medea their coveted golden fleece.
WE regard with disapproval the bloody combats of some savage tribe; we regard with horror the sacrifice of children and prisoners to some idol of a Phoenician Moloch or Mexican Huitzlio-Potchli; we are shocked at the criminal proceedings of the infamous Torquemada with his inquisition glorying in its terrors and tortures in the name of Christ; we are sickened as we read of the religious wars in Europe; we shudder at the horrors of the night of St. Bartholomew; we are appalled by the recent slaughters of the Jews in Russia, by the wholesale massacre of the Christians in Turkey.
All such atrocities, we say, belong to barbaric ages and are only committed in semi-civilized countries. We flatter ourselves that we are different in this age of enlightenment and civilization. Are we different? Have we changed? Have we a right to fling stones at our older brothers, the savage and the barbarian? We are so used to our life that we do not notice its evils and misery. We can easily see the mote in the eye of our neighbor, but do not notice the beam in our own.
We are still savage at heart. Our civilization is mere gloss, a thin coating of paint and varnish. Our methods of inflicting pain are more refined than those of the Indian, but no less cruel, while the number of the victims sacrificed to our greed and rapacity may even exceed the numbers fallen by the sword of the barbarian or by the torch of the fanatic. The slums in our cities are foul and filthy, teeming with deadly germs of disease where the mortality of our infants and children in some cases rises to the frightful figure of 204 per thousand!
The sanitary conditions of our cities are filthy and deadly. They carry in their wake all forms of plagues, pests and diseases, among which tuberculosis is so well known to the laity. "Tuberculosis," reads a report of a Tenement House Commission, "is one of the results of our inhumane tenements; it follows in the train of our inhumane sweatshops. It comes where the hours of labor are long and the wages are small; it afflicts the children who are sent to labor when they should yet be in school."
"The Consumers' League," says Mr. John Graham Brooks, "long hesitated to lay stress upon these aspects of filth and disease, because of their alarmist and sensational nature, and of the immediate and grave risk to the consumer of the goods manufactured in the sweatshop and the tenement house. If the sweatshop spread diphtheria and scarlet fever, there is the hue and cry before personal danger. But these diseases are the very slightest elements of the real risk to the general good. It is the spoiled human life, with its deadly legacy of enfeebled mind and body, that reacts directly and indirectly on the social whole." We do not realize that we drift into national degeneracy. We fail to realize that we raise a generation of stunted lives, of physical and nervous wrecks, of mental invalids and moral cripples.
We boast of our wealth unrivalled by other countries and by former ages. We should remember the great poverty of our masses, the filthy conditions of our wealthy cities, with their loathsome city-slums, in which human beings live, breed and teem like so many worms.
We spend on barracks and prisons more than we do on schools and colleges. What is the level of a civilization in which the cost of crime and war far exceeds that of the education of its future citizens? We spend on our army and navy a quarter of a billion dollars, which is found to be insufficient, while the "total money burden of crime amounts in this country to the enormous sum of 600 million dollars a year!"
The cost of crime alone is so enormous that a representative of the Board of Charities of one of our Eastern states considers "the entire abolition of all the penal codes and the complete liberty of the criminal class." Our civilization can boast of the city-slum, the abode of misery and crime, the gift of our modern industrial progress, wealth and prosperity.
Professor James and myself were over once on a visit to a charitable institution for mentally defective. With his clear eye for the incongruities and absurdities of life, Professor James remarked to me that idiots and imbeciles were given the comforts, in fact, the luxuries of life, while healthy children, able boys and girls, had to struggle for a livelihood. Children under fourteen work in factories, work at a wage of about twenty-five cents a day, and, according to the labor bureau, the daily wage of the factory children of the South is often as low as fifteen cents and sometimes falls to nine cents. In many of our colleges many a student has to live on the verge of starvation, freeze in a summer overcoat the whole winter and warm his room by burning newspapers in the grate. We are charitable and help our mediocrities, imbeciles and idiots, while we neglect our talent and genius. We have a blind faith that genius, like murder, will out. We know of successful talent, but we do not know of the great amount of unsuccessful talent and genius that has gone to waste. We favor imbecility and slight genius.
One of the physicians of the institution overheard our conversation and attempted to justify his work by an argument commonly advanced and uncritically accepted―"Our civilization, our Christian civilization values human life." Does our civilization really value human life? The infant mortality of the slums of our large cities and the factory work of our young children do not seem to justify such a claim.
The loss of life on our railways is as large as one caused by a national war. Thus the number of persons killed on America ii railways during a period of three years ending June 30, 1900, was about 22,000, while the mortality of British forces, including death from disease, during three years of the South African war amounted to 22,000. In 1901, one out of every 400 railway employees was killed and one out of every 26 was injured. In 1902, 2,969 employees were killed and 50,524 were injured.
Commenting on the statistics of railway accidents, Mr. John Graham Brooks says: "One has to read and re-read these figures before their grewsome significance is in the least clear. If we add the mining, iron and lumbering industries,-portions of which are more dangerous than the railroad,-some Conception is possible of the mutilated life due to machinery as it is now run." It may also be of interest to learn that, according to the calculation made by a representative of one of the insurance companies, more than a million and a half are annually killed and injured in the United States alone.
The waste of human life is in fact greater than in any previous age. "Saul hath slain his thousands, but David his ten thousands." Think of our modern warfare, with its infernal machines of carnage, mowing down more men in a day than the warlike Assyrians and Romans, with their crude bows, arrows and catapults, could destroy in a century. And is not our country, our civilized Christian society, with its high valuation of human life, keeping on increasing its army and navy, and perfecting deadly weapons of slaughter and carnage? What about the justice dealt out by Judge Lynch? From 1882 to 1900 there were about three thousand lynchings! What about our grand imperial policy? What about our dominance over weak and ignorant tribes, treated in no gentle way by the armed fist of their civilized masters, who send to the benighted heathens their missionaries to preach religion and their soldiers to enforce the sale of narcotics and other civilizing goods?
WE are stock-blind to our own barbarities; we do not realize the enormities of our life and consider our age and country as civilized and enlightened. We censure the faults of other societies, but do not notice our own. Thus Lecky, in describing Roman society, says: "The gladiatorial games form indeed the one feature which to a modern mind is most inconceivable in its atrocity. That not only men, but women, man advanced period of civilization,―men and women who not only professed, but very frequently acted upon a high code of morals―should have made the carnage of men their habitual amusement, that all this should have continued for centuries with scarcely a protest, is one of the most startling facts in moral history. It is, however, perfectly normal, while it opens out fields of ethical inquiry of a very deep, though painful, character."
As in modern times, our college authorities justify the brutalities of football and prize-fights, so in ancient times the great moralists of those ages justified their gladiatorial games. Thus the great orator, the moralizing philosopher, Cicero, in speaking of the gladiatorial games, tells us: "When guilty men arc compelled to fight, no better discipline against suffering and death can be presented to the eye." And it is certainly instructive for us to learn that "the very men who looked down with delight, when tile sand of the arena reddened with human blood, made the theater ring with applause when Terence in his famous line proclaimed the brotherhood of men."
One feeble protest is on record, a protest coming from the mother of civilization, from ancient Athens. "When an attempt was made to introduce the games into Athens, the philosopher Demonax appealed successfully to the better feelings of the people by exclaiming: "You must first overthrow the altar of pity 1"
The philosopher Demonax had not the compromising spirit of the modern professor. Although the brutal games of our youth and populace need a Demonax, we certainly should not look for one in our colleges and universities. Our college authorities assure us that athletic prestige is indispensable to a good university. In fact, according to some official statements, football teams are supposed to express the superior intellectual activities of our foremost colleges. Like Cicero of old, we claim that "our games are good,―they train men, and no better discipline can be presented to the eye."
The fact is, man is bat-blind to the evils of the environment in which he is bred. He takes those evils as a matter of course, and even finds good reasons to justify them as edifying and elevating. In relation to his own surroundings, man is in the primitive condition of the Biblical Adam,―he is not conscious of his own moral nakedness. Six days in the week we witness and uphold the wholesale carnage, national and international, political, economical, in shops, factories, mines, railroads and on the battlefields, while on the seventh we sing hymns to the God of mercy, love and peace.
We pick up the first newspapers or popular magazines that come to our hand, and we read of wars, slaughters, murders, lynchings, crimes and outrages on life and liberty; we read of strikes, lockouts, of tales of starvation and of frightful infant mortality; we read of diseases and epidemics ravaging the homes of our working population; we read of corporation iniquities, of frauds and corruption of our legislative bodies, of the control of polities by the criminal classes of the great metropolis of our land. We read of all that evil and corruption, but forget them next moment.
Our social life is corrupt, our body politic is eaten through with cankers and sores, "the whole head is sick and the whole heart is faint. From the sole of the foot even unto the head, there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises and putrefying sores, and yet we think we are a civilized people, superior to all countries and to all ages. "The voice of our brother's blood crieth unto us from the ground." How can we be so callous? How can we be so mole-blind and so stone-deaf?
The truth is, we have but a thin varnish of humaneness, glossing over a rude barbarism. With our lips we praise the God of love, but in our hearts we adore the God of force. flow much physical force is worshipped we can realize from the crowds that throng the games of base-ball, football, prize-fights and boxing exhibitions. They go into tens of thousands. flow many would be drawn by a St. Paul, an Epictetus, or a Socrates?
The newspaper, the mirror of our social life, is filled with the names and exploits of our magnates of high finance, our money-mongers and usurers. Our 3our-nais teem with deeds and scandals of our refined "smart set" set up as patterns, as ideals, after which our middle class so longingly craves. Like the Israelites of old we worship golden calves and sacred bulls. Our daughters yearn after the barbaric shimmer and glitter of the bejewelled, bespangled, empty-minded, parasitic females of "the smart set." Our college boys admire the feats of the trained athlete and scorn the work of the "grind." Our very schoolboys crave for the fame of a Jeffries and a Johnson. If in the depths of space there is some solar system inhabited by really rational beings, and if one of such beings should by some miracle happen to visit our planet, he would no doubt turn away in horror.
We press our children into the triumphant march of our industrial juggernaut. Over 1,700,000 children under 15 years of age toil in fields, factories, mines and workshops. The slums and the factory cripple the energies of our young generation The slaughter of the innocents and the sacrifice of our ehildreu to the insatiable Moloch of industry exclude us from the rank of civilized society and place us on the level of barbaric nations.
Our educators are narrow-minded pedants. They are occupied with the dry bones of text-books, the sawdust of pedagogics and the would-be scientific experiments of educational psychology; they are ignorant of the real vital problems of human interests, a knowledge of which goes to make the truly educated man.
About the middle of the nineteenth century, Buckle made the prediction that no war was any more to occur among civilizcd nations. Henceforth peace was to reign suprenie. "The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; their young ones shall lie down together, and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. . . . Nations shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not lift lip sword against nation, nor shall they learn war any more." This prophecy was rather hasty. We have had since the Civil war, the Franco-Prussian war, tile Spanish-American war, the Boer war, the Russo-Japanese war, not counting the ceaseless wars of extermination carried on by civilized nations among the various semi-civilized nations and primitive tribes. Civilized nations do not as yet beat their swords into ploughshares, but keep on increasing the strength of their "armed peace," and are ready to fight bloody battles in the quest of new lands and the conquest of new markets.
In spite of The Hague conference of peace convoked by the peace-loving Czar, no other age has had such large standing armies provided with such costly and efficient weapons of execution ready for instant use. The red spectre still stalks abroad claiming its victims. We still believe in the baptism of fire and redemption by blood. The dogma of blood-redemption is still at the basis of our faith and, consciously or unconsciously, we brand that sacred creed on the minds of the young generation. We are not educated to see and under-stand the wretchedness, the misery of our life,-the evil of the world falls on the blind spot of our eye. In the name of evolution and the survival of the fittest, we justify the grasping arm of the strong, and even glory in the extermination of the weak. The weak, we say, must be weeded out by the processes of natural selection. The strong are the best; it is right that they should survive and flourish like a green bay tree. The fact is that we are still dominated by the law of the jungle, the den and the cave. We are still wild at heart. We still harken to the call of the wild; we are ruled by the fist, the claw and the tooth.
Love, justice, gentleness, peace, reason, sympathy and pity, all humane feelings and promptings are with us sentiments of unnatural" or supernatural religion which we profess in our churches, but in which we really have no faith as good for actual life. We mistake brutishness for courage, and by fight and by war we train the beast in man.
All humane feelings are regarded as so many hindrances to progress; they favor, we claim, the survival of the weak. We are, of course, evolutionists, and believe most firmly in progress. We believe that the luxuries and vices of the strong are conducive to prosperity, and that the evils of life by the automatic grinding of that grind-organ known as the process of evolution somehow lead to a higher civilization.
When in the beginning of the eighteenth century Bernard de Mandeville proclaimed the apparently paradoxical principle that Private Vices are Public Benefits, the academic moralists were shocked at such profane brutality. Mandeville only proclaimed the leading, the guiding principle of the coming age of industrial prosperity. We now know better. Are we not evolutionists? Have we not learned that progress and evolution and the improvement of the race are brought about by the fierce struggle for existence, by the process of natural selection, by the merciless elimination of the weak and by the triumph of the strong and the fit? What is the use of being sentimental? Like Brennus, the Gaul, we throw our sword on the scales of blinded justice and shout triumphantly "Vae victis!"
WE are confirmed optimists and sow optimism broadcast. We
have optimistic clubs and mental scientists and Christian scientists,―all
afflicted with incurable ophthalmia to surrounding evil and misery. We are
scientific, we are evolutionists, we have faith in the sort of optimism taught
by Leibnitz in bis famous Theodicea. We are the Candides of our oracles, the
Panglosses. You may possibly remember what Voltaire writes of Professor Pangloss.
"Pangloss used to teach the science of
metaphysico-theologo-cosmologo-noodleology. He demonstrated to admiration that
there is no effect without a cause and that this is the best of all possible
worlds. It has been proved, said Pangloss, that things cannot be otherwise than they are; for everything, the end for which everything is made, is
necessarily the best end. Observe how noses are made to carry 'spectacles, and spectacles we have accordingly. Everything that is, is the best that could possibly be." It is such shallow optimism that
now gains currency.
Verily, we are afflicted with mental cataract. "If we should bring clearly to a man's sight," says Schopenhauer, "the terrible sufferings and miseries to which his life is constantly exposed, he would be seized with horror, and if we were to conduct the confirmed optimist through the hospitals, infirmaries, and surgical operating-rooms, through prisons, asylums, torture-chambers and slave-kennels, over battlefields and places of execution; if we were to open to him all the dark abodes of misery, where it hides itself from the glance of cold curiosity, he would understand at last the nature of this best of possible worlds."
Schopenhauer is metaphysical, pessimistic, but he is certainly not blinded by a shallow optimism to the realities of life. Drunk with the spirit of optimism, we do not realize the degradation, the misery and poverty of our life. Meanwhile the human genius, the genius which all of us possess, languishes, famishes, and perishes, while the brute alone emerges in triumph. Weare so overcome by the faith in the transcendent, optimistic evolution of the good, that through the
misty heavenly, angelic visions, we do not discern the cloven hoof of the devil.
Professor James in a recent address told the Radcliffe graduates that the aim of a college-education is "to recognize the good man," when you see him. This advice may be good for Radcliffe young ladies; but, fathers and mothers, the true education of life is the recognition of evil wherever it is met.
The Bible begins the story of man in a paradise of ignorance and finishes it with his tasting of the fruits of the forbidden tree of knowledge of good and evil. "And the eyes of them both were opened and they knew that they were naked. And the Lord God said,―Behold, the man is become as one of us to know good and evil, and now, lest he put forth his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat and live for ever. Therefore, the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden. So he drove out the man." We prefer the sinful, mortal, but godlike man with his knowledge of evil to the brutish p}lilistine in the bliss of Elysium.
IN the education of the young
generation the purpose of the nation is to bring up the child as a good man, as a liberal-minded citizen, devoted
soul and body to the interests of social welfare. This purpose in the education of the young citizen is of the utmost importance in every society, but it is a vital need in a democratic society. We do not want narrow-minded patriots devoted to party-factions, nor bigoted sectarians, nor greedy
entrepreneurs fastening in trusts, like so many barnacles, on the body-politic. We do not want ringleaders and mobs, unscrupulous bosses and easily led voters. What we need is
men having at heart the welfare of their fellow-men.
The purpose of the education provided by the nation for its young generation is the rearing of healthy, talented, broad-minded citizens. "We need, above all, good citizens, active and intelligent, with a knowledge of life and with a delicate sense of discrimination and detection of evil in all its protean forms; we need strong-minded citizens with grit and courage to resist oppression and root out evil wherever it is found. A strong sense of recognition of evil should be the social sense of everv well-educated citizen as a safeguard of social and national life. The principle of recognition of evil under all its guises is at the basis of the true education of man.
Is it not strange that this vital principle of education, the recognition of evil,―a fundamental principle with the great thinkers of humanity,―should remain so sadly neglected by our educators and pub- lic instructors? Our educators are owl-wise, our teachers are pedants and all their ambition is the turning out of smooth, well-polished philistines. It is a sad case of the blind leading the blind.
It is certainly unfortunate that the favored type of superintendent of our public education should be such a hopeless philistine, possessed of all the conceit of the mediocre business man. Routine is his ideal. Originality and genius are spurned and suppressed. Our school-superintendent with his well-organized training-shop is proud of the fact that there is no place for genius in our schools.
Unfortunate and degraded is the nation that has handed over its childhood and youth to guidance and control by hide-bound mediocrity. Our school-managers are respected by the laity as great educators and are looked up to by the teachers as able business men. Their merit is routine, discipline and the hiring of cheap teaching-employees.
It is certainly a great misfortune to the nation that a good number of our would-be scientific pedagogues are such mediocrities, with so absurd an exaggeration of their importance that they are well satisfied if the mass of their pupils turn out exact reproductions of the silly pedagogue. What can be expected of a nation that entrusts the fate of its young generation to the care or carelessness of young girls, to the ire of old maids, and to pettifogging officials with their educational red tape, discipline and routine,―petty bureaucrats animated with a hatred towards talent and genius?
The goody-goody schoolma'am, the mandarin-schoolmaster, the philistine-pedagogue, the pedant-administrator with his business capacities, have proved themselves incompetent to deal with the education of the young. They stifle talent, they stupefy the intellect, they paralyze the will, they suppress genius, they benumb the faculties of our children. The educator, with his pseudo-scientific, pseudo-psychological pseudogogics, can only bring up a set of philistines with firm, set habits,―marionettes,―dolls.
Business is put above learning, administration above education, discipline and order above cultivation of genius and talent. Our schools and colleges are controlled by business men. The school-boards, the boards of trustees of almost every school and college ill the country consist mainly of, manufacturers, store-keepers, tradesmen, bulls and bears of Wall street and the market-place. What wonder that they bring with them the ideals and methods of the factory, the store, the bank and the saloon. If the saloon controls politics, the shop controls education.
Business men are no more competent to run schools and colleges than astronomers are fit to run hotels and theaters. Our whole educational system is vicious. A popular scientific journal entered a protest against the vulgarization of our colleges, the department-store trade methods of our universities, but to no avail. The popular hero, the administrative business superintendent still holds sway, and poisons the sources of our social life by debasing the very foundation of our national education.
[Scanning continuing. If you have immediate need for the remaining text, email Dan at danmahony.com.)
ARISTOTLE laid it down as a self-evident proposition that all Hellenes love knowledge. This was true of the national genius of the ancient Greeks. The love of wisdom is the pride of the ancient Greek in contradistinction to the barbarian, who does not prize knowledge. We still belong to the barbarians. Our children, our pupils, our students have no love of knowdge.
The ancient Greeks lmew the value of a good education and understood its fundamental elements.
They laid great stress on early education and they knew how to develop man's mental energies, without fear of injury to the brain and physical constitution. The Greeks were not afraid of thought, that it might injure the brain. 'They were strong men,
The love of knowledge, the love of truth for its ownsake, is entirely neglected in our modern schemes of education. Instead of training men we train mechanics, artisans and shopkeepers. We turn our national schools, high schools and universities into trade-schools and machine-shops. The school, whether lower or higher, has now one purpose in view, and that is the training of the pupil in the art of money-making. Is it a wonder that the result is a low form of mediocrity, a dwarfed and crippled specimen of humanity?
Open the reports of our school superintendents and you find that the illustrations setting forth the prominent work performed by the school represent carpentry, shoemaking, blacksmithing, bookkeeping, typewriting, dressmaking, millinery and cookery. One wonders whether it is the report of a factory inspector, the "scientific" advertisement of some instrument-maker or machine-shop, a booklet of some popular hotel, or an extensive circular of some large department-store. Is this what our modern education consists in? Is the aim of the nation to form at its expense vast reserve armies of skilled mechanics, great numbers of well-trained cooks and well-behaved clerks? Is the purpose of the nation to form cheap skilled labor for the manufacturer, or is the aim of society to form intelligent, educated citizens?
The high-school and college courses advised by the professors and elected by the student are with reference to the vocation in life, to business and to trade. Our schools, our high schools, our colleges and universities are all animated with the same sordid aim of giving electives for early specialization in the art of money-getting. We may say with Mill that our schools and colleges give no true education, no true culture. We drift to the status of Egypt and India with their castes of early trained mechanics, professionals and shopkeepers. Truly educated men we shall have none. We shall become a nation of narrow-minded philistines, well contented with their mediocrity. The savage compresses the skull of the infant, while we flatten the brain and cramp the mind of our young generation.
THE great thinker, John Stuart Mill, insists that "the great business of every rational being is the strengthening and enlarging of his own intellect and character. The empirical knowledge which the world demands, which is the stock in trade of money-getting, we would leave the world to provide for itself." We must make our system of education such "that a great man may be formed by it, and there will be a manhood in your little men of which you do not dream. We must have a system of education capable of forming great minds." Education must aim at the bringing out of the genius in man. Do we achieve such aim by the formation of philistine-specialists and young petty-minded artisans?
"The very cornerstone of an education," Mill tells us, "intended to form great minds, must be the recognition of the principle, that the object is to call forth the greatest possible quantity of intellectual power, and to inspire the intensest love of truth; and this without a particle of regard to the results to which the exercise of that power may lead." With us the only love of truth is the one that leads to the shop, the bank and the count- ing-house.
The home controls the school and the college. As long as the home is dominated by commercial ideals, the school will turn out mediocre tradesmen.
This, however, is one of the characteristic types of the AmerIcan home: the mother thinks of dresses, fashions and parties. The daughter twangs and thrums on the piano, makes violent attempts at singing that sound as "the crackling of thorns under a pot," is passionately fond of shopping, dressing and visiting. Both mother and daughter, love society, show and gossip. The father works in some business or at some trade and loves sports and games. Not a spark of refinement and culture, not a redeeming ray of love of knowledge and of art, lighting up the commonplace and frivolous life of the family. What wonder that the children of ten and eleven can hardly read and write, are little brutes and waste away their precious life of childhood in the close, dusty, overheated rooms of the early grades of some elementary school? Commercial mediocrity is raised at home and cultivated in the school.
"As a means of educating the many, the universities are absolutely null," exclaims Mill. "The attainments of any kind required for taking all the degrees conferred by these bodies are, at Cambridge, utterly contemptible." Our American schools, with their ideals of money-earning capacities, our colleges glorying in their athletics, football teams and courses for professional and business specializations would have been regarded by Mill as below contempt.
What indeed is the worth of an education that does not create even as much as an ordinary respect for learning and love of truth, and that prizes knowledge in terms of hard cash? What is the educational worth of a college or of a university which suppresses its most gifted students by putting them under the ban of disorderly behavior, because of not conforming to commonplace mannerisms? What is the educational value of a university which is but a modern edition of a gladiatorial school with a smattering of the humanities? What is the educational value of an institution of learning that expels its best students because they "attract more attention than their professors"? What is the intellectual level of a college that expels from its courses the ablest of its students for some slight infringement, and that an involuntary one, under the pretext that it is done for the sake of class-discipline, "for the general good of the class" What travesty on education is a system that suppresses genius in the interest of mediocrity? What is the cultural, the humanistic value of an education that puts a prize on mediocrity?
See also Leon Hansen's Sidis and Socrates, and Doug Renselle's Review of Philistine and Genius.
Home Page Boris Menu Preface