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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 53

I.—What is Education?

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I.—What is Education?

"Educit obstetrix, educat nutrix, instituit pœdagogus, docet magister."Varr.


The Greek dramatist Sophocles writes: "To know nothing is the happiest life." But however true this may be in the abstract we, in our present artificial modes of existence, need not for practical purposes discuss it: the recognition of education being, under such artificial circumstances, at all events, a necessity. Believing however, as I do, that only the cultured few—as against the unthinking many - have any correct idea as to what education means, or by whom it should be conducted and controlled (thus ignorance the cause of error); and also believing, as I do, that therefore our public system of education is radically erroneous, (thus error the effect of ignorance, inasmuch as if we under-stood what education meant, our self-interest would see that our money was expended on a proper system); and that, as Diogenes said, the "foundation of every State is its education of its youth," I, faute de mieux, have ventured to write the following articles on:—
I.Education.—What it is.
II.Educators.—Who they should be.
III.Results of Education.—What they should be; and, lastly, on
IV.Education Boards, School Committees, and State Schools.

In the hope that we may realise how erroneously we have thought and acted in the past, and therefore how desirable amendment is in the immediate future. Indeed my difficulty with regard to our system is not to find a tendon Achillis, but an invulnerable part. Therefore let us enquire:

1. What is Education?

Now to arrive at a clear conception of what it is, let us definitely understand what it is not.

(1.) That it is not merely or mainly the inculcation, instilling, communicating, or imbibing of knowledge. For "the essence of education is not acquirement, but development, expansion, direction, invigoration."

Thus, for instance, the cramming of a pupil for examination is not only not educating him, but literally injuring him by forcing more mental food upon him than he is, for the time being, capable of digesting. Indeed, a medical authority—Dr. Granville, in an article on "Worry," in the Nineteenth Century of September, 1881—says: "The pernicious system of 'cram' slays its thousands because uneducated, undeveloped inelastic intellects are burdened and strained with information adroitly deposited in the memory as an expert valet packs a portmanteau with the articles likely to be first wanted on the top." And the same writer further remarks: "The sole remedy is the reversal of a policy which substitutes results for processes, knowledge for education." (And see also Lord Brougham's speeches on education.)

(2.) That it is not simply, or indeed principally, intellectual development.

So a learned or well-informed man is not necessarily an educated man, or a wise man.

Hence the mediæval proverb, "The greatest scholars are not the wisest men;" and the Greek proverb, "How vain is learning unless understanding be united with it." So the author of the Verbalist, recently published, says: "Education is one of the most misused of words; a man may be well acquainted with the contents of text books, yet be a person of little education; on the other band, a man may be a person of good education, and yet know little of text books —education is a whole, of which instruction and good breeding are parts."

(3.) That likewise it is not only physical training. Otherwise, an athlete would necessarily be an educated person.

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(4.) That also it is not alone moral culture. For goodness is frequently found where knowledge or physical development, or both, is or are wanting, and—

(5.) That the origin of the word education itself refutes the popular interpretation placed upon it: and suggests not an inculcation of knowledge, but the reverse—viz., a leading out or forth—i.e., a development of the whole being—physical, mental, moral, pari passu. And that not merely a casual development—such as a temporary attendance at a school suggests—but a continuous culture (the verb educare being frequentative); commencing at conception, and only ending with death. Thus, the celebrated philosopher, Seneca, says:—"We learn not at school, but in life."

Having thus endeavoured to ascertain what it is not, let us strive to clearly realise what it is.

The Definition.

And in doing this, I cannot use, to explain my views, more apt language than I have employed above, namely, that true education is a continuous culture, commencing at conception and only ending with death—of the whole being; physical, mental, moral, pari passu.

Professor Payne, the first professor of the science and art of education in the College of Preceptors, London, in more technical language, says "education may be described as the systematisation of all the influences which the science of education recognises as capable of being employed by one human being to develop, direct, and maintain vital force in another, with a view to the formation of habits." Whilst Mr. J. 8. Mill, in his inaugural address, delivered at St. Andrew's, remarked, "whatever helps to shape the human being, to make the individual what he is, or hinder him from being what he is not, is part of his education.

For "the true ideal of education is, to make a man the best, the highest, the wisest, the most comprehensive and communicative, that he is capable of becoming." And thus true education is indispensable to pre-eminent success.

Now my definition of education being a continuous culture of the whole being, physical, mental, moral, pari possu-is based on the hypothesis that to cultivate solely or unduly the physique, the mind, or the conscience, is to destroy the equilibrium of the vital forces of the man, and hence of the man himself.

Because the subject-being consists only of a certain quantity of vital force, and to develope unduly the physical element, is to expend such vitality on, or exalt athleticism at the expense of, mental and moral development; as much as to immoderately cultivate the mind or conscience is—by exhausting the vitality unduly on it—to injure the physique.

For the physical and the mental are so intimately blended that to expect a strong sound mind or conscience in a slighted or neglected, and therefore a weakly or diseased body, is to expect what all the experiences of the natural world—ancient and modern—tell us is contrary to reason. It is unnecessary for me to enlarge on this, so palpable a truism.

Inferences from My Definition.

But the inferences to be drawn from it are so serious that I must ask grave attention to them. Because, if mine be correct, our public system of education requires complete revision and re-organisation. And those I draw are as follow:

(1.) That physical culture-that is the imparting of "strength, dignity, and grace to every movement of the body "-should be pre-eminent as the basis of all education. Because corporeal vigour is the first necessary factor in success in everything. For as Sir B. Brodie has said "In order to make the most of the intellectual powers, the animal system should be maintained in a state as nearly as possible approaching perfect health." Hence the saying by a Roman sage "The mind cannot grapple well any task where the body is languid." The Greeks also had a similar proverb showing that they regarded animal vigor as the primary consideration—thus "Health and understanding are the two blessings of life." And the great genius, the Earl of Beaconsfield, probably page 5 the wisest and most experienced man of the world of this generation, at all events, says in Lothair "The essence of education is the education of the body. Beauty and health are the chief sources of happiness. Man should live in the air; there exercises should be regular, varied, scientific. To render his body strong and supple is the first duty of man. He should develop and completely master the whole muscular system."

So that athleticism should, above all things, even for the purposes of thereon building a mental and moral superstructure, form the basis of any system of public education. And this more especially when we remember that not only does the State undertake the education of its subjects for the purpose of obtaining physically strong bodies with, therefore, sound minds, capable of the dissection of truth from error, good from evil; but also for the purpose of securing men physically capable for manual labour, and foreign and civil war, and commotion in times of trouble; for competing successfully with other States in times of peace; and with the view of ensuring that both men and women are corporeally and mentally fit to produce the most perfect offspring possible.

It is not necessary to refer to the wisdom of the ancients in this respect, for even now in modern times the Germans—probably the beat educated of modern peoples—not only carry out practically the principle in their State schools, but even mark their sense of its importance by designating certain of their higher class State schools "Gymnasien." And even if physical culture were not the necessary factor that it is in education, I cannot refrain from pointing out that muscular exertion is recognised by authorities in physiology as the preeminent antidote for mental strain. So that even for such a reason alone—if as I say it were not the indispensable element which it is in education—it should be scientifically taught in our schools.

(2.) That State mental instruction should be imparted, not primarily (as apparently is the case in our system) with the idea of communicating a certain amount of technical knowledge—although this is a valuable tertiary consideration—but above everything with the view of training and disciplining the mind to reason and weigh propositions and probabilities. Because the main goal of education is not the acquirement of knowledge, but physical development and mental discipline in order to form a capable and competent man. (For, as has been said by a writer on "Popular Fallacies in Education," "Knowledge puffed up, but disciplinary exercise trained up.") For even "the possession of facts is not knowledge correctly speaking. Knowledge is rather a discernment of the relations of facts than the facts themselves, and it is knowledge in this sense only which can form the groundwork of opinion worthy of the name, how the great majority of persons form opinions, which they are quite unable to analyse into their elements. The fact seem to be that the mind has this power, but the operation goes on unconsciously, a species of unconscious cerebration." Hence the incalculable value of mental discipline.

Further, that such technical knowledge as is imparted should be especially such as places the pupil on the highway of knowledge, giving him indications where he may seek further information, rather than inspiring him with the belief that with his school curriculum ends his education.

(3). That to avoid our educational system resulting in training scientific footpads, burglars, and swindlers—preyers on society —(which would indeed be "nursing the pinion that impels the steel")—which physical culture combined only with intellectual training would tend to create—those moral considerations should be imparted which alone save a learned man from being an intellectual prig. Thus "to train to valour, honesty, prudence, justice—these were the aims of the greatest nations," and should be ours. Or, in other words, "to encourage virtuous inclinations, sentiments, and passions, and to repress those that are evil; to cultivate habits of truthfulness, obedience, industry, temperance, prudence, and respect for the rights of others." Hence the wonderful influence in after-life of the tone of chivalry, honour and fair play inculcated at the great English public schools, such as Rugby, especially in the days of Dr. Arnold. For the inclination of human nature is such that, as Whyte-Mel- page 6 ville has cleverly written, "Principle is principle, and honour is honour, so long as circumstances are not too overwhelming, or necessity too urgent." Thus Guizot when Minister of Public Instruction in France said in a circular sent to each public teacher in France that "It is absolutely necessary that popular instruction should not be confined to the development of the intelligence. It should enhance the whole soul; it should awaken the conscience, which ought to be elevated and strengthened according as the intelligence is developed." For as Byron in his Childe Harold says:

"Whatever creed be taught or land he trod
Man's conscience is the oracle of God."

(4.) That as the main ends of education should be physical development and mental discipline, and as the younger the child so much greater the susceptibility to impressions which mould his future, so the most accomplished teachers should be the teachers of the junior scholars because, as Horace says, "With moist clay you may imitate anything you please." Thus "the Jesuits when they found a teacher showing real skill and knowledge in teaching the higher classes, promoted him to the charge of the lowest." (And see also Lord Brougham's speeches on the education of the people.)

(5.) That in view of the foregoing propositions teachers should not only possess the requisite technical knowledge (to superintend and direct the study of their pupils, but not to directly communicate knowledge to them), but should understand the art of teaching, and also equally well understand and act according to human nature; in other words, sympathetically realise the nature of the subject person to be educated.

Thus, we might reasonably hope to train our youth to all that constitutes true manhood and womanhood, and thereby—not only arm them but—endow them at maturity, with the most valuable of all wealths-health and wisdom. (For wisdom is wealth, although, as Goldsmith says "She is a coquette, and must be courted with unabating assiduity) Instead of giving them, as now, that mere smattering of technical knowledge—without physical development or mental or moral discipline—which I fear has mainly the effect of supplying them with superficial intellectual food, without supplying them with the power of digesting or utilising it. Thereby simply implanting crude ideas i having the tendency principally to excite in them discontent with their lot; instead of affording them the animal power and training of the intellect and conscience which would in all probability secure to them the acquisition by sure methods of the end of all existence—happiness; or, as Lord Macaulay puts it in his essay on Lord Bacon, "the multiplying of human enjoyments and the mitigating of human sufferings." And which implanting therefore I fear results in no real benefit to the State or to the subject, Thus let us beware lest "we perish by means of things permitted."

For "one crack in the lantern may let in the wind to blow out the light; one leak unstopped will sink the ship and drown all on board."

Dread of wearying deters me from extending the article, but I hope I have made its main purports to be clear, namely:—


(1) That education is a continuous culture—beginning at conception and only ending with death—of the whole being.

(2.) That physical training should be pre-eminently the first consideration: and that discipline of the intellectual and moral faculties ought to be the next; not the inculcation of technical knowledge. And

(3.) That our system of public education is radically erroneous, inasmuch as in addition to other omissions and mistakes relating to inspection, examination in standards, supplying of books and school requisites by teachers, &c., &c.

(a) It altogether omits or neglects to instruct the pupils in the most important lesson of all, namely,—What education is; and especially omits or neglects to impregnate them with the all important idea that it is continuous culture only ending with death, and not merely a casual development such as their temporary attendance for a few years at a school suggests.

(b) It altogether omits to treat physical training as the main, or even as a main factor in education, and, indeed, ignores it alto-gether as a portion of the school curricul[unclear: lum] to be carried on under the supervision of the master of the school. The only attempt page 7 at its recognition at all in connection with any schools under the control of the Board being in a very subsidiary byeway in the city and suburban schools, where a drill-instructor attends, and instructs each child one half-hour (!!) a-week. Thereby occupying in such instruction only a Fiftieth (! ! !) part of the school hours during the week.

For the supplying of the gymnastic apparatuses to a comparatively small number of the schools—even were it to all the schools need not be mentioned; because the exercises are not compulsory, nor ordained to be, nor are they, carried on under scientific supervision: and therefore, except for voluntary recreative purposes, must not be counted on.

Thus, instead of physical training—the all-important factor—occupying the first place in our system, as it should do, it has virtually no recognised position.

(c) It fails largely to recognise the principle that the disciplining of the mind and conscience should be—next to physical culture—the prime consideration, not the inculcation of technical knowledge.

This failure is shown especially—

Firstly. In the absence of any test-examination for teachers as to their knowledge of human nature, and their capacity to guide and direct it aright: in order to sympathetically realise, and place themselves in accord with, the natures of their pupils.


Secondly. In the employment of, not even qualified junior teachers, but actually pupils only learning to be teachers to teach the most impressible scholars, i.e., the juniors—and so forth.

(d) It promotes the communication of a certain amount of technical knowledge to the first place; and, indeed, practically, to the only place, instead of relegating it to the third place. And

(e) It provides, as I have remarked above under another heading, that the junior scholars are frequently not even taught by the qualified junior teachers but, by the pupil teachers, instead of considering elementary instruction as the most important. And therefore requiring the aid of only the most accomplished and most experienced preceptors.

And the importance of having a clear conception of all this is apparent when we remember that "the greatest wisdom is to know our ignorance; or, as the celebrated orator Quintilian said, "The beginning of excellence is to be free from error;" or more pertinently, as Von Humboldt remarked, "The thing is not to let the schools and universities go on in a drowsy and impotent routine; the thing is to raise the culture of the nation even higher and higher by their means,"