« Prev Chapter VI. Meaning and Value of Education Next »



THIS review shows that we are justified in speaking of a modern educational movement, and in regarding it as a distinctive feature of our age. The real question, however, with which we are concerned is that of the ethical and social value of this pursuit of education. But before investigating this, it is necessary to form a clear idea of the essential meaning of education generally, and of the particular character of modern education. We are not now dealing with what is called “Civilisation.” Education and civilisation are, of course, very closely connected; but we are accustomed, and rightly so, to regard civilisation as something external, which may be enjoyed even by those who are little influenced by real culture. We are here concerned with culture.

There are countless definitions of education, and their multiplicity proves how many-sided education is, and from how many aspects it 106may be regarded. If, in the first place, we consider man with reference to his innate capacities, education will mean the full development of all his latent powers; by education a man will be enabled to become what he really is, or rather, what he has it in him to be. In this view, the highest aim of education is the complete unfolding of a person’s individuality, and, as a result of such self-realisation, an attitude of freedom towards the external world—a return, as it were, to such freedom and simplicity as is the surest token of a self-determined personality:

“He stands undaunted at the helm:
The ship is tossed by wind and waves,
But wind and waves shake not his heart.”

If, in the next place, we consider man in his relations towards that Nature of which he is a part, education will be seen to have a two-fold function to perform. On the one hand, it will be a weapon of defence against Nature, a protection against her threat of overwhelming force; so far as possible, it will master Nature, gaining possession of her secrets by cunning and skill, in order to subjugate her and make her a willing servant. On the other hand, it is the office of education to lead, by knowledge of Nature, to reconciliation with 107her; to disclose the intimate connection between all things that have life; and to knit yet closer every healthy bond by which they are already connected. From this standpoint, again, the. highest aim in view is power and liberty.

If, again, we consider man in the light of history, and as a member of the human race, then education will be that which renders a man capable of gathering up with sympathetic understanding all that is human, and of reflecting it again in his own person, which keeps him open-hearted and open-minded, giving him the key to the innermost soul of others, and which makes his intellect and his emotions delicately responsive organs, able to see and hear in regions where the senses are of no avail. Through education he will feel himself at home in many places, and yet will shut himself up in none; he will learn how to shape his own life steadfastly and worthily amidst change and instability, how to make it dignified amidst monotony and triviality, how to gain self-control and patience in face of human littleness, and how to maintain an attitude of reverence towards all that is human and divine.

Lastly, if we think of education in the narrowest sense, in its bearing on the special 108calling of each individual, then it may be defined as the sum of all that knowledge and skill which are necessary if the duties of our calling are to be discharged with thoroughness, freedom, and ease. Thus in this case, again, freedom is the final result: it is built up in the exercise of one’s profession, and is the reward of those who, instead of being weighed down by the burden of their daily work, so use their knowledge and power that the exercise of them becomes second nature. This education in the narrower sense of the word, technical or professional education, must never be underrated; particular training is the normal starting-point for general education, and without the former the latter is difficult, if not impossible, to attain.

Some among you have very likely smiled at my enthusiastic panegyric on education, or have even felt annoyed. You have thought of the kind of man dubbed “educational pedant,” and of all that has been justly said about him. But those who believe in education as I have tried to define it, will be among the strongest opponents of such sham educationists. For the pedant is to the educated man what Wagner is to “Faust,” or what a lay figure is to a living one—a thing that has no life save in its own 109conceit! The pedant is devoid alike of toleration and of patience, of freedom and of reverence, of personality and of love; the fruits of knowledge all vanish in his hand, and he holds but husks, which he takes to be the inmost essence of real things.

But, besides these, there have appeared from time to time genuine and serious anti-educationists—no ignorant barbarians, but educated men, who yet oppose education. The attitude is obviously paradoxical, and such that the fallacy might almost be left to perish through its own inconsistency. There have been, and, indeed, still are, highly-educated Romanticists who, having failed to reap all the benefits they had expected to receive from great culture, turn and abuse education, contrasting it unfavourably with Nature, or Life, or something else utterly indefinable. That is no new thing; the eighteenth century had its Rousseau, and we have still our petty but not uninfluential Rousseaus. When they are not opposing education in order to commend a life of impulse, or in order to shake themselves free from all concern for their fellow men, and from all responsibility for the course of human affairs, what they attack is not really education as such, but a false, narrow, corrupt view of education. 110This was notably the case with Rousseau; therefore our thanks are due to him, and on many points we are at one with him. But we cannot acquiesce when he simply extols Nature at the expense of Education. If there is here no delusory playing with words, and if no extraneous idea is imported into the term Nature, we cannot subscribe to his formula, “Back to Nature.” We ought certainly to be sincere, unaffected, without hypocrisy, and we ought not to let ourselves be captivated by anything that is at variance with our truest being; but Nature cannot be our teacher on all points, for she lacks two elements which to us are absolutely indispensable, that is to say, self-determining personality and goodness. These are not to be learned from Nature, but are found only in life as revealed in history.

But finally, there are yet others—and that among the ranks of our friends—in whom unqualified praise of education arouses mistrust. There are earnest Christians who warn us against esteeming education too highly, and insist at the same time that it can never be of more than limited value. Their position is easy to understand, for, in the first place, in all that concerns the higher life, a sure and confident knowledge of one’s aim and ideal is of 111such paramount importance that it can compensate for many shortcomings, so that a truly religious man will always be an educated man, though he may happen to possess little “culture.” In the second place, education of any reality and depth can only be the outcome of painful conflict and hard struggle; toil and effort are required to win it and to guard it. Now, since this truth is often forgotten by superficial thinkers, who confuse education with mere erudition; and since they further overlook the fact that education matures but slowly, and involves a lengthy process of gradual growth, or of being educated, with many successive stages, the suspicion with which some earnest people regard our watchword “Education” is well justified. But education itself is not to blame for the superficial and inadequate ideas current about it; therefore every word uttered against it should be carefully weighed. Moreover, it is hardly wise to pass disparaging judgments on education, because religion confers such great blessings. Certainly the want of education is least felt where there is a genuine religious life, so complete in itself as to be capable of transfiguring the whole personality. But if an individual possesses this inner light, and has little education, 112he is restricted in his outer activities by very definite limitations; while certain specific vocations may be open to him, he is excluded from most, and he must leave to others the work of improving and preserving this world of ours. The fact remains, then, that the only opponents of education are those who are ignorant of its nature, or, at least, mistaken with regard to it—while those who declaim against it usually find themselves in the curiously inconsistent position of thinking in its terms and speaking its language. And even though it may be true that wherever education is decried, we have an indication that there is something unsound or corrupt in the prevailing educational movement, it is utter folly or audacity to wage war against education as such, or to represent it as a matter of no importance. To combat education by any means, or in any kind of utterance, witty or otherwise, with the object of making it appear contemptible or superfluous in the eyes of the people, is to incur the heavy responsibility of confusing and outraging all sound beliefs. From this point of view I regard as very questionable the influence of even Tolstoi’s writings, and can only find sorry consolation in the thought that most of 113his readers remain unaffected by them, except to the extent of feeling a passing emotion. On the whole, indeed, we may venture to predict that neither these nor any other attempts at repression can check that mighty, urgent impulse towards education which is working in our midst. The movement is stronger and more full of life than ever before; and naturally so, since it is only in our days that the whole world has for the first time become as it were one single arena. Modern facilities of communication have broken down all barriers, and at the present day countless kaleidoscopic impressions assail our senses on every side. The light of publicity flashes upon everything; nothing is hid from the eyes of the world. Competition, in every sense of the word, is the ruling principle everywhere, and in any one question endless others are involved. An uneducated man is utterly helpless in face of such a state of affairs, and there will soon be no quiet corner left, in which he may take refuge. His only arm of defence is education, and in this fact lies the prime cause of the educational movement of to-day.

« Prev Chapter VI. Meaning and Value of Education Next »


| Define | Popups: Login | Register | Prev Next | Help |