Editorial | Published:

Research in Education1


NO branch of research work at the present day offers greater opportunities, whilst none is more urgently in need of original workers, than that which lies open to the teacher in school or college; and it is surprising how small an amount of sound work is accomplished in it—how little it is realised that there is a science of education to be developed by persistent study, application and research. An analytical habit of mind seems to be the very last qualification sought for in a teacher—such is the influence acquired by clerical instructors in the course of centuries by the universal extension of methods of teaching originated in the monkish cell and cloisters, and wielded with but slightly diminished force, even to-day, by their lineal descendants, whose voices still preponderate in educational affairs. Conservative and sheep-like—as we cannot fail to be if all our early life be spent in an atmosphere of dogmatism—the slowness with which we evolve and apply new ideas is phenomenal. It cannot be that sterility is the outcome of excessive labour in days gone by, and consequent exhaustion of the soil; still less, that it is owing to absence of demand; for it is only too clear that the entire change in the conditions of life witnessed within the century renders it necessary that our children should be so educated that they may successfully grapple with the new conditions, and it stands to reason that the preparation which sufficed in the case of their forefathers must be insufficient in theirs. This is now being universally recognised, but all too slowly and imperfectly. Thus the academic oration first on my list, delivered only in September last, at Freiburg, by the Professor of Anatomy, is a vigorous protest against the practice prevailing in the German “Humanistic” Gymnasia of devoting an enormous proportion of the school-time to classical studies, and the consequent neglect of drawing, natural science, geography and modern languages, as well as of gymnastic exercises, which is very strange, as he points out, when it is remembered that the meaning of gymnasium is a place for athletic pursuits. He especially complains of the way in which exercises in classical style are insisted on and monopolise attention, and strenuously advocates their banishment from the three lowest classes at least. He refers with feeling to the pressure which is brought to bear in school and at home on the child to whom such work does not appeal, and the unhappy state of house and family on “style-days,” remarking that every one who, like himself, has had this experience in his own person and that of his children, will sympathise with this view. He tells us that his own bitter experience of thirty-five years ago still follows him in his dreams, and that he can never forget the encouraging words hurled at him by the master of the “Prima” of the Stuttgart Gymnasium when he had done a bad Latin exercise— “You never in your life will come to any good, as sure as my name is Schmid.” Is not this too often the attitude of our schoolmasters, and is it not too often forgotten that the human mind, fortunately, will not in all cases respond to one uniform system of treatment? Surely the time must soon come when it will be the main duty of headmaster and headmistress to study their scholars, and assort them in accordance with their aptitudes; when no headmaster will set down a boy as of inferior intellect merely because he does not get on well on the classical side, and cannot therefore be made use of with effect as the winner of a scholarship at the university—a course which some of our most noted headmasters appear too often to countenance if report belie them not. Fortunately we are not here so much the victims of educational overpressure as is Germany under the terrible influence of its military system, although there is enough to complain of, especially in the case of girls' schools, owing to the improperly large number of subjects included in the time-table; moreover, examinations? such as the London University Matriculation, are exercising a most insidious effect: and now that County Councils all over the country are granting scholarships on the results of examinations, it behoves us to be much on our guard, and to take steps to secure that all such examinations are so conducted that reasonably well-taught and reasonably intelligent scholars can be submitted to them without any interference with the normal school course. Prof. Wiedersheim, referring to the very one-sided training given in the Gymnasia to the future jurist, theologian and philologist, calls attention to the importance to such students of some knowledge of natural science in the following passage, which undoubtedly deserves our attention, as we suffer in like manner: “Kein Gebildeter vermag sich heutzutage dem Einflusse, welchen die Naturwissenschaften auf das Geistesleben aller Culturnationen gewonnen haben, mehr zu entziehen. Die ganze moderne Weltansschauung, unser Leben und Denken, die Forschung auf alien Gebieten—ich erinnere nur an das auch in der vergleichenden Linguistik zur Geltung kommende genetische und causale Element—stehen unter der Signatur der inductiven Forschung. Mit diesem Umschwung hat auch das humanistische Gymnasium zu rechnen, sollen nicht Juristen, Philologen und Theologen in ihrem ganzen Bildungsgang einen Fehler aufweisen, der oft nicht mehr gut zu machen ist.” But this is nowhere properly recognised. And yet Charles Kingsley long ago dreamt of a day when every candidate for ordination should be required to have passed creditably in at least one branch of physical science—if only to teach him the method of sound scientific thought. Dr. Percival has urged in Convocation at Oxford that the elements of natural science should take their place in Responsions—side by side with the elements of mathematics, and equally obligatory. The late Master of Balliol, I believe, also recognised the importance of such a change; but the reformer who will carry it into effect is not yet in evidence, and perhaps his services will not be required, as the schools must soon do that which the universities ought long ere this to have had the foresight to enforce. We are, in fact, only beginning to escape from the bonds of tradition, and it cannot be denied that our release is being gradually effected—not through any action taken by our ancient universities, but rather in spite of them—mainly through the persistent efforts of a small but untiring and resolute body of outsiders whose position has yet to be made clear to the public, most of whom undoubtedly regard the teaching of experimental science much in the way that the introduction of pianos into Board Schools was regarded a few years ago by a majority of Londoners—as something very nice for those who can afford it, but as in no sense a necessary element in the education of the masses. We, on the contrary, contend that the human mind cannot, as a rule, be completely educated by exclusive attention to literary and mathematical studies, and that lessons in experimental science must form an integral portion of the entire school course, because such lessons alone afford the means of fully developing a side of the intelligence which perhaps more than any other is of importance in life—the faculty of observing and of reasoning correctly from observation: with Kingsley, we desire that the method of sound scientific thought should be taught universally in schools, to the exclusion of dogmatism and eyelessness; and we desire to inculcate habits of self-helpfulness and handiness. The motto from Montaigne adopted by Prof. Wiedersheim fully expresses the modern view of education: “Es ist nicht ein Geist und nicht ein Körper den wir erziehen sollen, sondern ein Mensch, und wir dürfen ihn nicht theilen.” Hitherto more often than not, we have cut him up into pieces, and thrown the most important aside. It is only in Germany that a public address on such a theme can be delivered in celebration of the birthday of a Royal Highness—here we must fall back on the British Association; but this body has strangely wasted the unrivalled opportunities which its organisation affords of appealing to the public on such matters.

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