By Dr. Frederick B. Robinson
(Dean of the College of the City of New York.)
Few topics have been so thoroughly discussed from all angles and by so many of various ages and races as education. The processes of education began with the first spark of life upon the world. As soon as a living organism began to react against its environment, the great school of nature opened its session. But there is some difference between education itself and men's thoughts about education. Primitive man was roughly educated by nature and was, no doubt, vaguely disturbed and bewildered by the experiences which were shaping him for higher things, and it was not until the race had advanced to relatively high stages of mentality that theories or organized ideas concerning education were conceived and expressed. Our present educational principles and practices will be modified with the flight of time and no one can pronounce the "last word."
Considered in the broadest possible way, education for an individual begins at birth (or even before) and continues to the grave. Very early, impressions are made upon us, the cumulative effects of which .....determine, to a large extent, our destinies. Each situation we face and each event of life ....evokes a reaction on our part and leaves an impression. Our reactions become habitual in numerous directions and we get distinctive traits of Body, Mind and Spirit. At first, reactions are called forth by external forces only, but little by little, the Mind itself becomes capable of originating mental experiences which are increasingly dominant and which, as they are cherished ...shape character. Slowly there are built up habits of Body, Mind and Spirit, all of which, as a composite, constitute the individual ...with his own distinctive personality. Just as no two people have the same circumstances of birth, of experience, of thought and expression, so no two are precisely the same in personality. All living is learning and all life is a school.
There are, however, certain means of education which are more consciously selected and directed to shape human thought, character and conduct than others. As we know, various items of experience come to us haphazard and in no well-regulated manner. Little by little we store them up and reach conclusions about them. But, in modern civilization there are persons who make it their business to collate special material in order to educate others in special directions. There is nothing haphazard about their contacts and their methods. All are carefully planned and systematized as to aim, procedure and anticipated effect. I classify these agencies roughly into three groups; agencies of salesmanship, agencies of propaganda, and agencies of scientific instruction.
The last group, or scientific teachers, are concerned with the TRUTH. They do not dogmatize as to what is the truth, but are open-minded in testing all that comes before them in order to discover that which seems most worthy of acceptance, whether it squares with past prejudices or not, whether its acceptance will enrich or impoverish them, and whether it will establish them as prophets or reveal them as having been previously in error. No one is fit to be regarded as a real teacher or as being of the company of those set aside to discharge the special function of educator unless he is in this third group. He must be an earnest, patient and humble seeker of the truth. But this wholesome attitude is not all; the successful educator must be intellectually capable and a master of the technique of his calling.
Formal education has two great functions: the conservation and transmission of the heritage of wisdom and skill received from past ages; and the adjustment of the individual to current life through the discovery and transmission of truth so far as it is ascertainable. The aim of organized education is to shape individuals so that they will be intelligently aware of the social community in which they live and be able to discharge well some worthy function in that community.
I shall not go into methods of discovering truth or ways of observing facts and drawing inferences so that trustworthy conclusions may be reached. That would require many pages of discourse on logic and scientific method and a treatment of the technique of the natural sciences and mental philosophy that is quite beyond our present scope. We shall assume that modern teachers have available the reports of men, who, if not infallible in the discovery of truth, are as competent as current understanding makes possible.
The educator has at his hands the wealth of ages. He compresses knowledge in various fields such as Languages, Mathematics, Material Science, Social Science, Technology and the Applied Arts, which it took many generations to discover. By his method of arranging exercises ....he teaches, in a term, Mathematics which it took generations of Mathematical Philosophers to formulate. The same is true of all Branches of Knowledge. As a pedagogue, the educator enables the young of the present generation to possess the knowledge and skill of the ages. Increasingly does the world work out its destinies ...with human beings endowed with the strength of youth and the wisdom, not only of age, but of all ages.
But this professional task of compacting and transmitting the race heritage is secondary to the careful observation of each student so that his character may be understood and improved. Mere knowledge is not enough; it must be used or applied by the recipient ...who must also be developed so that he can meet new situations as they present themselves. No man can or should become an encyclopedic storehouse of information. But each man must know certain basic things well and be able to look up or find other things when necessary. The educator is successful when he gives his student a good start and leaves him capable of supervising his own further development and usefulness. Indeed, the final stages of education are those of self-education or self-salvation.
Clearly bodily health is essential to all. Children must be educated in the care of the Body and they must establish hygienic habits that make for health. Then comes the Mind which needs the sound Body in which to dwell. Here must be developed skill in observation, clarity of reasoning, and habits of intellectual honesty. Finally, we have the Spirit, which is reflected in the attitude of the individual to all his fellow men. We need not enter any religious or theological dispute as to the Spirit, whether it is mortal or immortal and whether it is distinct from intelligence. As educators we may simply say—let each man decide those ultimate questions for himself. For our practical purposes we shall define Spirit ....as that which prompts him to be well-disposed or ill-disposed toward others, which makes him cruel or kind, selfish or self-sacrificing, good or wicked. With these things in mind, we distinguish, for educational purposes, three aspects of the whole man; the physical, the mental and the moral, which coincide with Body, Mind and Spirit.
Certain bodies, at birth, are capable of greater development than others. Certain minds can be taught more than others. The educator must see to it that no laziness of body or mind develops, but rather that constant exercise and application will keep both on a steadily upward trend. Not all men can become giants or geniuses, but all should reach the highest perfection which their own limits permit. One of the great problems of a practical educator is to gauge accurately the capacity of those under him so as to adjust the quantity and quality of study or work to that capacity. The great crime is to under-educate those capable of receiving much. So also, in the pursuits of life, the great crime of a man is to deliver less service than that which he is capable of performing. The Will is the driving-power that keeps us at our tasks. It is the internal task-master. Our moral natures point the direction, our intelligence indicates methods and devices; but it is the Will that keeps us working to the limit of capacity.
In youth, the teacher is a sort of artificial will to the pupil. Should the scholar lag, the teacher spurs him on. Gradually habits of diligence are formed and the pupil has his own standards of faithfulness and persistence. Slowly the individual will becomes stronger and the coercion of the teacher may relax. Finally the Will of the individual is free and acts as the spur to mind and body. Again, we need not enter into a learned discussion of the psychological nature of the Will. Practically, we know some men are aware of the tasks they should perform and who realize that they should perfect themselves along this or that line, but who ease up, loaf or follow some diverting whim. Others stick to a program till it is completed to the best of their ability. The first are weak and the second are strong of Will. Granted bodily health and flexibility, our educators must concern themselves with developing the Will to use the mind, great or small, to its full capacity.
As the Body develops, it has a wider and wider range of possibilities. It can carry out the orders of the Mind with greater and greater facility. Its fullest development comes relatively early in life and it weakens slowly over a long period of years. The Mind grows more wonderful in resources and more accurate in its operations more slowly and reaches its climax later in life. The truly educated man is mentally the heir of all ages. He understands the experiences of the race and he looks out intelligently upon current life. He is a free, intellectual spirit, capable of dealing with ideas in his own way and not swayed by prejudices or the clamor of the foolish or fanatical. This perfect freedom and Fluidity of Mind comes to only a small per cent in this life, partly because only a few are capable of this degree of intellectual progress and partly because educational methods have failed to do all possible for every one. But such intellectual freedom is the ideal goal of education. Not all aspects of life can be grasped by youth. . . . There are studies of childhood. They deal with concrete things and action. Then follow studies in abstractions or judgments and processes. Finally come the philosophical studies which deal with relationships, final causes and the unity of all knowledge. As we progress through life, it is the duty of the teacher at first, and later of ourselves, to see to it that we grasp the significance of all life's experiences, to the end that we may be intellectually free.
Of course, Moral development is the end of all education. True Benevolence and Brotherly Love are our objects. At first the child must conform to the moral regulations of his elders. But there is sure to come the day when the Spirit shows itself in the meditations of the heart, the words of the mouth and the deeds of the hand. As a man thinks in his heart, so is he. This is the Spirit itself. Education's noblest aim is the elevation of the Spirit. But this elevation cannot be had in seclusion. It comes from the performance of every day tasks, honestly and effectively, from struggle and effort, from success and failure, from joys and sorrows. It manifests itself in wisdom and kindness.
Because a man is spiritually good, he need not be impractical in his daily work. Indeed the test of greatness of Spirit is the capacity to co-operate practically with others, "with firmness in the right" and "with charity for all and malice toward none."
The well-educated man is trained to do his share of the world's work. It is common-sense to seek more means of making life more comfortable for one's self and for the race. Manufactures and industries, transportation, banking, literature and means of communication—all are but means contributing to the realization of dreams for humanity. The social, economic and political structure of society changes slowly from age to age and each must play his part effectively, dependably and nobly. One cannot divorce himself from society; we are all interdependent; each must be dependable.
The modern educator seeks, therefore, to make men and women more and more capable of living in the practical world as it is, playing their parts nobly and shaping it so that the next generation will find a more glorious abode that will make possible even further progress in Mind and in Spirit. Educators are the high priests of progress in an endless evolution of the Spirit. The physical needs of man are easily met in this generation, thanks to industrial development. Universal schooling is rapidly informing and freeing the minds of the race. Nor are signs wanting of a true development of the Spirit. Because of ever-widening means of education, we can look forward to a human family with social virtues of co-operative efficiency, dependability and loyalty, made up of individuals who are intelligent, tolerant and charitable. This nobility of Mind and Spirit cannot be legislated into being. It must be evolved through individual grappling with real problems of living—problems of bare subsistence and of increased facilities for comfort. Problems of agreement with others on the basis of personal freedom and mutual respect. And problems of spiritual growth that present themselves in meditation and reflection. The educator must help men to live together in a practical world that is illuminated by lofty ideals and that may be but the preparation for spiritual glory and freedom undreamed of by man.
Return to Index