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-pseudogogics 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 with 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 known, 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 on 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 gruesome 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 journals 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 children 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 civilized nations. Henceforth peace was to reign supreme. "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 understand 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 "VŠ 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.
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.
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 philistine 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.
FR0M time to time the "educational" methods of our philistine teachers are brought to light. A girl is forced by a schoolma'am of one of our large cities to stay in a corner for hours, because she unintentionally transgressed against the barrack-discipline of the school-regulations. When the parents became afraid of the girl's health and naturally took her out of school, the little girl was dragged before the court by the truant officer. Fortunately "the judge turned to the truant officer and asked him how the girl could be a truant, if she had been suspended. He didn't believe in breaking children's wills."
In another city a pupil of genius was excluded from school because "he did not fall in with the system" laid out by the "very able business-superintendent." A schoolmistress conceives the happy idea of converting two of her refractory pupils into pin-cushions for the edification of her class. An "educational" administrative superintendent of a large, prosperous community told a lady who brought to him her son, an extraordinarily able boy, "I shall not take your boy. into my high-school, in spite of his knowledge." When the mother asked him to listen to her, he lost patience and told her with all the force of his school-authority, "Madam, put a rope around his neck, weigh him well down with bricks!"
A principal of a high school in one of the prominent New England towns dismisses a highly talented pupil because, to quote verbatim from the original school document, "He is not amenable to the discipline of the school, as his school life has been too short to establish him in the habit' of obedience." "His intellect," the principal's official letter goes on to say, "remains a marvel to us, but we do not feel, and in this I think I speak for all, that he is in the right place." In other words, in the opinion of those remarkable pedagogues, educators and teachers, the school is not the right place for talent and genius!
A superintendent of schools in lecturing before an audience of "subordinate teachers" told them emphatically that there was no place for genius in our schools. Dear old fogies, one can well understand your indignation! Here we have worked out some fine methods, clever rules, beautiful systems and then comes genius and upsets the whole structure! It is a shame! Genius cannot fit into the pigeon-holes of the office desk. Choke genius, and things will move smoothly in the school and the office.
Not long ago we were informed by one of those successful college-mandarins, lionized by office-clerks, superintendents and tradesmen, that he could measure education by the foot-rule! Our Regents are supposed to raise the level of education by a vicious system of examination and coaching, a system which Professor James, in a private conversation with me, has aptly characterized as "idiotic."
Our schools brand their pupils by a system of marks, while our foremost colleges measure the knowledge and education of their students by the number of "points" passed. The student may pass either in Logic or Blacksmithing. It does not matter which, provided he makes up a certain number of "points"!
College-committees refuse admission to young students of genius, because "it is against the policy and the principles of the university." College-professors expel promising students from the lecture-room for "the good of the class as a whole," because the students "happen to handle their hats in the middle of a lecture." This, you see, interferes with class discipline. Fiat justitia, pereat mundus. Let genius perish, provided the system lives. Why not suppress all genius, as a disturbing element, for "the good of the classes," for the weal of the commonwealth? Education of man and cultivation of genius, indeed! This is not school policy.
We school and drill our children and youth in schoolma'am mannerism, schoolmaster mind-ankylosis, school-superintendent stiff-joint ceremonialism, factory regulations and office-discipline. We give our pupils and students artisan-inspiration and business-spirituality. Originality is suppressed. Individuality is crushed. Mediocrity is at a premium. That is why our country has such clever business men, such cunning artisans, such resourceful politicians, such adroit leaders of new cults, but no scientists, no artists, no philosophers, no statesmen, no genuine talent and no true genius.
School-teachers have in all ages been mediocre in intellect and incompetent. Leibnitz is regarded as a dullard and Newton is considered as a blockhead. Never, however, in the history of mankind have school teachers fallen to such a low level of mediocrity as in our times and in our country. For it is not the amount of knowledge that counts in true education, but originality and independence of thought that are of importance in education. But independence and originality of ,thought are just the very elements that are suppressed by our modern barrack-system of education. No wonder that military men claim that the best "education" is given in military schools.
We are not aware that the incubus of officialdom, and the succubus of bureaucracy have taken possession of our schools. The red tape of officialdom, like a poisonous weed, grows luxuriantly in our schools and chokes the life of our young generation. Instead of growing into a people of great independent thinkers, the nation is in danger of fast becoming a crowd of well-drilled, well-disciplined, commonplace individuals, with strong philistine habits and notions of hopeless mediocrity.
In levelling education to mediocrity we imagine that we uphold the democratic spirit of our institutions. Our American sensibilities a-re shocked when the president of one of our leading colleges dares to recommend to his college that it should cease catering to the average student. "We think it un-American, rank treason to our democratic spirit when a college president has the courage to proclaim the principle that "To form the mind and character of one man of marked talent, not to say genius, would be worth more to the community which he would serve than the routine training of hundreds of undergraduates."
We are optimistic, we believe in the pernicious superstition that genius needs no help, that talent will take care of itself. Our kitchen clocks and dollar timepieces need careful handling, but our chronometers and astronomical clocks can run by themselves.
The truth is, however, that the purpose of the school and the college is not to create an intellectual aristocracy, but to educate, to bring out the individuality, the originality, the latent powers of talent and genius present in what we unfortunately regard as "the average student." Follow Mill's advice. Instead of aiming at athletics, social connections, vocations and generally at the professional art of money-making, "Aim at something noble. Make your system 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."
Awaken in early childhood the critical spirit of man; awaken, early in the child's life, love of knowledge, love of truth, of art and literature for their own sake, and you arouse man's genius. We have average mediocre students, because we have mediocre teachers, department-store superintendents, clerkly principals and deans with bookkeepers' souls, because our schools and colleges deliberately aim at mediocrity.
Ribot in describing the degenerated Byzantine Greeks tells us that their leaders were mediocrities and their great men commonplace personalities. Is the American nation drifting in the same direction? It was the system of cultivation of independent thought that awakened the Greek mind to its highest achievements in arts, science and philosophy; it was the deadly Byzantine bureaucratic red tape with its cut-and-dried theological discipline that dried up the sources of Greek genius. We are in danger of building up a Byzantine empire with large institutions and big corporations, small minds and dwarfed individualities. Like the Byzantines we begin to value administration above individuality and official, red-tape ceremonialism above originality.
We wish even to turn our schools into practical school-shops. We shall in time become a nation of well-trained clerks and artisans. The time is at hand when hall be justified in writing over the gates of our school-shops "mediocrity made here!"
I ASSUME that as liberal men and women you have no use for the process of cramming and stuffing of college-geese and mentally indolent, morally obtuse and religiously "cultured" prigs and philistines, but that you realize that your true vocation is to get access to the latent energies of your children, to stimulate their reserve energies and educate, bring to light, man's genius. The science of psychopathology now sets forth a fundamental principle which is not only of the utmost importance in psychotherapeutics, but also in the domain of education; it is the principle of stored up, dormant, reserve energy, the principle of potential, subconscious, reserve energy.
It is claimed on good evidence, biological, physiological and psychopathological, that man possesses large stores of unused energy which the ordinary stimuli of life are not only unable to reach, but even tend to inhibit. Unusual combinations of circumstances, however, radical changes of the environment, often unloose the inhibitions brought about by the habitual narrow range of man's interests and surroundings. Such unloosening of inhibitions helps to release fresh supplies of reserve energy. It is not the place here to discuss this fundamental principle; I can only state it in the most general way, and give its general trend in the domain of education.
You have heard the psychologizing educator advise the formation of good, fixed, stable habits in early life. Now I want to warn you against the dangers of such unrestricted advice. Fixed adaptations, stable habits, tend to raise the thresholds of mental life, tend to inhibit the liberation, the output of reserve-energy. Avoid routine. Do not let your pupils fall into the ruts of habits and customs. Do not let even the best of habits harden beyond the point of further possible modification.
Where there is a tendency towards formation of over-abundant mental cartilage, set your pupils to work under widely different circumstances. Confront them with a changed set of conditions. Keep them on the move. Surprise them by some apparently paradoxical relations and strange phenomena. Do not let them settle down to one definite set of actions or reactions. Remember that rigidity, like sclerosis, induration of tissue, means decay of originality, destruction of man's genius. With solidified and invariable habits not only does the reserve energy become entirely inaccessible, but the very individuality is extinguished.
Do not make of our children a nation of philistines. Why say, you make man in your own image? Do not make your schools machine-shops, turning out on one uniform pattern so much mediocrity per year. Cultivate variability. The tendency towards variability is the most precious part of a good education. Beware of the philistine with his set, stable habits.
The important principle in education is not so much formation of habits as the power of their re-formation. The power of breaking up habits is by far the more essential factor of a good education. It is in this power of breaking down habits that we can find the key for the unlocking of the otherwise inaccessible stores of subconscious reserve energy. The cultivation of the power of habit-disintegration is what constitutes the proper education of man's genius.*
* A well known editor of one of the academic Journals on Educational Psychology writes to me as follows: "Your remarks on the avoidance of routine would be like a red rag to a bull for a number of educators who are emphasizing the importance of habit formation in education at present."