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CHAPTER VII

MAIN FEATURES OF MODERN EDUCATION

LET us now consider the principal direction in which this educational movement manifests itself; for although all education is fundamentally one, from time to time various aspects come to the fore and preponderate. In my opinion, the following stand out clearly as the principal features in our present pursuit of education. First, it shows a hearty preference for such knowledge as is intrinsically real; secondly, its most serious aim is to gain independence, economic and personal; and thirdly, it reveals a longing for a keener sense of life and a desire to obtain a fuller share in life, in one’s relations both to the outer world and to the inner self.

I have said that the new educational movement discloses, in the first place, a strong preference for real knowledge, or, as it might with equal truth be expressed, for a knowledge of the real. To provide this is the object of most 115of the above-mentioned institutions and enterprises. It is a pleasure to genuine scholars to observe the unfeigned eagerness and zeal with which the pursuit of scientific knowledge is carried on to-day. Fine words and interesting tales no longer suffice; men want to know the world of reality, and to study the progress made by knowledge; that is why single lectures on popular science are being abandoned more and more in favour of consecutive courses of instruction. There is increased interest in the history of the discovery and recognition of reality and truth; or, at any rate, an earnest desire to see facts as they are, and to guard against deceptive appearances. But the most notable point of all is the manner in which the two leading ideas of modern science have spread in all directions, and have already become the test by which to measure the validity of knowledge generally—the theory, that is, of the conservation and transmutation of energy, and the doctrine of evolution. We rejoice that this is the case, and it is a mistake to imagine that it is a step which can ever be retraced. The perception that every special form of energy is an integrant part of a general system, in and through which alone it exists, 116and that any individual phenomenon possesses reality only as a link in an evolutionary series, is such a revelation as, once perceived, can never again be lost sight of; for through it we are enabled to discern and to comprehend as much of the world around us as it is given to us to know. In this sense the characteristic of our times may justly be said to be the pursuit of realism, and the description is one that we can use gladly, not reproachfully. We rejoice to live in an age in which, in spite of ever-abundant stupidity and superstition, there is such an overpowering impulse towards reality. Honesty and sincerity are at the bottom of it—honest work and sincere endeavour—and I do not hesitate to ascribe to this tendency a high ethical significance. We shall duly examine its limitations, but at any rate those who strive with a single mind to gain a knowledge of the real are, in so doing, showing moral activity, and those who, for the same object, make sacrifice of strength and of means, are making these sacrifices for a moral end.

We saw, in the second place, that this educational movement reveals a fixed intention to gain, by means of education, an independence, both general and economic. What is it that 117urges crowds of workmen, full of zeal for education, to devote their scanty leisure to technical training and to the further cultivation of their minds? Not merely the yearning for knowledge as such, but also the keen desire to improve their condition, and to win for themselves a more secure position in the labour market by means of increased intelligence and skill. What, again, is one of the principal causes of the great Woman’s movement, to which I have alluded? Here, too, it is the desire for independence, the wish of each one to be self-supporting, and, by means of a fixed occupation, to win for herself a definite and secure place in the world. This is an altogether praiseworthy aim, and may indeed be regarded as an ethical tendency in the strictest sense of the word. A human being, man or woman alike, who has no vocation and no definite sphere is a useless person. One’s calling is the backbone of one’s life, and that which lends it stability; without a settled sphere of duty arid the consciousness of filling a place where one is really required, no life can be healthy. Now, since there are very many girls to whose lot matrimony will never fall, and since domestic work has diminished enormously in quantity as compared with former days, it follows that 118women must seek for other vocations, and be admitted to them. Nay, one must go further yet, and agree with those who say that no girl ought to be brought up with a view to marriage only, and solely as a future helpmeet for man, but ought rather to be so educated as to be qualified for the duties of some suitable calling. This is a perfectly just demand, not only because the eventuality of marriage is always uncertain, not only because of the importance of improving the pitiable position of countless widows, whose poverty and dependence were formerly regarded as their inevitable destiny, but also because the stage of development we have reached requires that every normal citizen should be able to fend for him or herself, and should look upon independence as both a duty and a right. In other times these matters were regarded differently, but a new epoch has arisen—an epoch to which we are proud to belong. Further results that may be looked for from this dawning movement of reform are the raising of the moral standard of the female sex where this is required, and an ethical improvement in the relations of the two sexes towards each other. It is true that the movement is not free from its own new and peculiar dangers, of which 119we must speak later; nothing human is without its darker side; but there can scarcely be any doubt that some of the blackest shadows which disfigure the whole circumstances and lot of women can be swept away, or at any rate lessened, by the growth of economic independence among them. It is impossible, for example, that prostitution, either in its coarser or more refined form, should continue to its present extent if the education of women is made to include preparation for definite callings. Then this new order of affairs must necessarily re-act upon men also, and on this point I heartily agree with Mr. Wychgram, one of the most ardent promoters of the woman’s movement, who writes as follows in the opening article of his new periodical, “Women’s Education”: “The furtherance of women’s education will, if it is conducted on sound principles and by right means, prove a blessing both to women themselves and to society generally. For there are two chief considerations: by better training of the feminine intellect we are, in the first place, raising the general position of the sex; and, by doing this, we believe that we are, in the second place, enriching our whole life of culture, by importing into it a new, valuable and reproductive 120element. To womankind we are giving a higher and nobler independence—a word that can and must be understood in a double sense, ethical and economic. It is true in an ethical sense, because, whatever may be said to the contrary, it is the highest possible development of his mental powers that best fits the man of to-day to take a serious view of life and its duties, and because, in the case of every thoughtful nature, such a grasp of life becomes in turn an inexhaustible source of happiness. In the economic sense, independence raises us above that sad plight in which we are obliged to live by other’s toil, and are unable ourselves to produce any work of value to others. This touches upon questions of the deepest import, and if no thinking man can doubt that happiness consists in work—rightly undertaken, executed, and remunerated—then we must enable women to perform such work.”

We observed, in the third place, that there is manifested in this movement a yearning for a greater sense of life, and for a fuller share in life in all its relations. But this is a matter by no means easy to understand aright. It is not a craving for mere pleasure that I mean, although that, too, might to some extent be justified, and it is very easy for those to scorn 121it who can easily procure for themselves hundreds of pleasures unattainable by the objects of their righteous indignation. Nor do I mean the latest romantic fancy for frenzied and artificial excitement of the senses; such a practice is the very opposite of true education, and absolutely inimical to it. What I do mean is the endeavour to escape from the dull monotony which is all that life itself still offers to thousands, and to enrich and invigorate existence by widening the range. This purpose has now become a mighty force, animating many who feel that the mere alternation of night and day is not sufficient to keep a man’s faculties healthy, but that he further requires change during the day, and that he can only remain vigorous and alert if he can look beyond his immediate occupation, and share in the general happiness of humanity. But if this wider life of his is to extend beyond the crudest pleasures, he cannot dispense with a certain amount of progressive education, and that which will bind him to others who have similar aims, for in this matter none ever attains his end in isolation. This truth is felt by the aspirants themselves, for it is by no mere chance or coincidence that the movements for social and educational reform work together hand in 122hand to bring about the enrichment of life. From the ethical and Christian point of view it is impossible to find fault with this struggle, for in view of the fact that every life is considered to have an eternal significance, the end of life is Life itself.

I have tried to indicate the most important and distinctive features of the educational movement of the present day. In the process its ethical and social value have revealed themselves in every direction, without being in any way obtruded by me, and apart from any mention of particular effects. And indeed, numerous as these are, it is not in them that the prime import of the movement consists. I may, for example, point out the beneficial effect that improved education will have upon the question of the housing of the poor—that most urgent problem of social life. Since we may reasonably regard the condition of the home as a fairly exact measure of the education of those who live in it, and since we everywhere observe that higher education leads to a demand for better dwellings, it is obvious that in this point domestic circumstances are affected by an intellectual impulse, and that this can easily be proved. I may also call attention to the fact that higher education 123tends to promote social equality, and that by it the different ranks and classes of a nation are drawn together, and learn to understand and sympathise with each other. In this connection University Extension lectures are of special value, and it is easy to perceive that underlying all such undertakings is a strong social element, namely, that mutual recognition that makes for unity between the classes. And lastly, I may observe, that educated men are, as a rule, prudent and thoughtful; therefore extreme and eccentric opinions will give way to a growing sense of the necessary limitations imposed by circumstances, and this again will tend to the establishment of social peace. But, as I said before, any particular effects must only be regarded as parts of the general result, which consists in helping the individual by means of higher education to become a real personality, and so to increase his social value also. We cannot see the goal that awaits a nation united in peaceful work, in mutual recognition and in solicitude of class for class, nor the final outcome of a “universal ethical alliance,” in which “all men bind themselves in one, with all their strength, with heart and soul, intellect and affection;” for these, like all ideals, lie beyond our vision. But this at 124least is certain, that we are not turning our backs upon them, but are in the right way to attain them, if we promote the educational movement in every direction, and, in the midst of our anxiety for economic reform, never cease to look for the ideal, which is after all the most truly real.

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