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Power of Survey. Ida M. Street,
DEVOTED TO THE SCIENCE, ART, PHILOSOPHY AND
LITERATURE OF EDUCATION.
Vol. XV. .
THE INADEQUACY OF THE TRANSMISSION
OF LEARNING. HENRY LINCOLN CLAPP, MASTER GEORGE PUTNAM SCHOOL, BOSTON. Whatever monotony, stagnation and misapplication of energy have obtained in our educational systems, beginning with the primary schools and ending with the universities, may be charged to the almost universal belief in the transmission of learning as the supreme art of education.
Colleges and universities especially, by sending out as heads of elementary and secondary schools young men imbued with the supreme importance of the transmission of learning, began the work of forming public opinion on educational affairs, and finished it for a time when, as members of school committees and representatives of the three learned professions, they prescribe the subjects and methods of study in the schools along the lines they had followed. The narrowness of the “ three R's" was a legitimate result of the narrowness of the three learned professions. Instruction, book-learning, traditions and the authority of history in every branch of learning have made such a deep impression upon teachers, and lend themselves so readily to uniform, easy and seductively systematic methods that their transmission may well seem a supreme art. For centuries, instruction has been considered almost synonymous with education. Cramming has been rooted in it. “Take fast hold of instruction" has been handed down from times long ante-dating the year 1, A. D., and a term originally used in the sense of advice in regard to moral and religious conduct is supposed to be equally potent in secular education. Generally, teachers see so little beyond instruction that they are quite willing to commend to their pupils the context of the proverb : “Let her not go; keep her; for she is thy life.” And the school life of the average public-school pupil accords with the statement.
Happily, however, there are not a few educators who think that their supreme art is to develop native germs of talent and genius, while, at the same time, such an amount of learning as pupils can really assimilate and make use of is transmitted.
Tate, in his “Philosophy of Education,” pertinently asks, “Why have we so few thinkers among us, and so many great scholars, whose heads are so filled with the ideas of others that they have no room for any thoughts of their own ?"
Universities, like books, are repositories of learning, and the educational capital of society may be lodged in them ; but something else is necessary to educational progress. The highest art is to lead out freely the good qualities born in the child, and repress or train out objectionable traits only, and not merely to draw out what has been transmitted or poured into him, however valuable that may be.
Up to a period comparatively recent, our universities and colleges have placed the transmission of learning first in the education of youth. That has separated them from the body of the people ; and only those who have taken a broader view — " to help the pupil to become a man who takes his place in the world as an active participator in its affairs," as Professor Hanus says — have united with the people. There may be a question even now as to whether there are not a few professors who are more interested in the success of their specialties and in gaining distinction in them than in the proper development of their students' native powers ; – that is, as to whether the specialty does not occupy a larger place in their attention than the precisely suitable study for the individual student.
When I took the regular course in Harvard College, there seemed to be not the slightest consideration of what was most suitable for me. A curriculum of learning had been transmitted, and I was run through it, hoping to come out liberally educated at last. Such was not the case. The curriculum hardly touched my best powers, which lay in quite a different direction, and at the end of nearly a decade came out in spite of the curriculum. Such cases of arrested development are still common. Too frequently, also, what has been transmitted becomes like the old man of the sea in the story of Sinbad, - it is carried but not used. Doubtless Sinbad's leg muscles were disciplined and .stengthened, but a more congenial occupation would have developed them just as well, to say the least, and, at the same time, improved his mental condition immeasurably. It takes most college graduates about ten years, on the average, to shake off their traditional training enough to enable them to assert their own individualities and begin their proper work in the world. They are so weighted with other people's thoughts that their own have but little place to work. In a “Protest” against examinations signed by many eminent men, and among them Prof. Max Müller, Mr. E. A. Freeman and Mr. Frederick Harrison, occurs this significant statement : Again and again brilliant young men, once full of early promise, go down from the universities as the great prize-winners, and do little or nothing afterwards.” Such deplorable results are ascribed to examinations. A young man whose individuality, originality and native powers generally have had proper opportunities for development, is not going to be extinguished by examinations, which are trifling obstacles to a liberal education if other conditions are favorable. Even the lack of a university education itself is not an insuperable obstacle to a liberal education in the case of young men, otherwise favorably conditioned. Professor Wesley Mills says, “We develop in spite of bad methods. The boy develops out of school, if not in it. The great mass are educated by their work and other associations that make up their every-day life. Some of the best educated people have never been inside of a school.”
President Gilman says, “ It is obvious that á liberal education is not to be limited by the period devoted to a college course or a course in technology. I may go further and say that liberal culture may be acquired without seminaries ; scholars may appear in the walks of business, in the solitude of rural life, on the boards of a theatre, in politics, in philanthrophy, in exploration ; and they cannot be produced by a narrow, cramping, servile training.”
The unadulterated transmission of learning is now found in books, as easily obtainable outside of universities as inside in all large cities. And, provided one has opportunities to use the proper kind of books, and at the same time receive experience in varied provinces and conditions of life, his educational advantages may not be secondary to those furnished by the university.
A better reason for the disappearance of apparently brilliant young men may be found in the transmission of learning, in mere instruction, memory exercises, engorgements of dead languages, ancient history and encyclopædic learning generally, all of which universities transmit perhaps a little too faithfully.
Nearly 1800 years ago Epictetus said, “It is one thing to hoard up provision in a storehouse, and another to eat it.”
It is not strange that their graduates find themselves, for a considerable time, out of place in a moving world ; and they are bound to disappear from public view till they learn to adjust themselves to living conditions, to make personal investigations, to think their own thoughts and to live their own lives.
It should be the supreme art of the university to further such conditions of learning, to train young men to make the best application of traditional learning as they go along, and to give them the widest opportunities for the development of their individual and original powers.
Such is the distinguishing work of the German universities. “The workshop and the training school of scientific investigation” are the most potent factors in them. According to the German conception, the university professor is both teacher and investigator ; and he is the latter in the higher degree, so that we may say in Germany, the scientific investigators are at the same time the teachers of academic youth.” “An account of the advance of science turns out to be mainly an account of university work.”
Professor Paulsen of Berlin, says of the universities of Germany, “ Their real value is not in perfect learning of their teachers, nor in the ever-growing learning of their students ; if we should name this as their distinction, a mirror would often need to be held before us to our shame. It is rather this; in them is given a scheme wherein every important educational talent finds its development, and every lively susceptibility of the student its satisfaction, through which every advance of science finds easy and rapid entrance."
This spirit of investigation and the opportunity for individual development, so characteristic of the German universities, is almost wholly wanting in English universities and French uni