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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 78

Chapter I. — The Aims of Modern Education

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Chapter I.

The Aims of Modern Education.

The educational organism of our modern world shows symptoms of derangement, and has became uncertain in Aim. This i a due to the substitution of the huge state for the city states.

The question of questions in modern life is that of education. We seem to have suddenly become conscious of what was in earlier ages a reflex or automatic function of the social organism. In the individual, the meaning if a phenomenon of this kind is the derangement of the organ, of which he become conscious. It is the same in the community; whenever an institution or traditional habit dominates the attention of a society there is disease in it, existing or to come. There is no mistaking the symptoms.

What is it that has concentrated our attention on this so natural function of organised life? What has deranged it? Unfortunately there is no trained profession to diagnose the diseases of the body politic. The journalists are too much engaged in catching the pubic eye to rest long enough on any problem for a scientific examination of it. The legislators have their attention too closely fixed on their constituencies to study the symptoms of a general disease. The result is chaos added to the uneasiness, with perhaps a nostrum applied here and there fitfully and then abandoned for another.

The most rational plan is to find out the cause of the uneasiness, to lay the fnger on the new elements that have rendered the problem so dominant and so difficult. For the inadequacy of an argan to perform its functions arises oftenest from new relationships to neighbouring organs that have developed more rapidly, and from unadaptability to a new environment.

Now, if we turn to earlier societies and times we shall find that education was in the hands of the tribe, the family, or the guild; and each one of these had clear and definite limits, duties and ideals; it knew its own mind, or, if it did not, it could easily find out, for there were few to consult, and there was no mistake about the pivot of authority. When a blunder was made, little time was lost in homing it to its source, and the pattern and aim of all education was within sight daily—the chief, the patriarch, or successful guildman.

Now we have the huge state substituted for the narrow localised government, and the aim has grown uncertain, the patterns are legion and far to seek. To name a few, there is the fine old English gentleman, a pattern much discounted in this bustling age; there is the classical scholar, polished like a diamond; there is the omniscient scientist, with his magician's wand; there is the art man, able and eager to throw a glamour of beauty over all life; there is the technical artsman, resolved that every youth shall be trained to fit his place in life and industry; there is the man of commerce, contemptuous of everyone who cannot count like lightning and write like lithography, and uneasy about the competition of other nations; there is the patriot who sees his country underneath the feet of enemies unless every youth is constantly trained to be a soldier; there is the man of games, who knows the nation is going to the dogs if cricket or football is interfered with; there is the physical culturist, who would have every man and woman with muscles bulging like Sandow's; there is the religionist, who sees the whole world stampeding to everlasting ruin unless the Bible is read in schools. This intricate variety of ideal is due partly to the loosening of all the old political and social bonds by the wider outlook of modern life, partly to the failure to adjust the individual nature to the new world-embracing competition of peoples and interests, but most to the distance, and consequent unreality, of those who should lead the community, and embody its ideals. In primitive times, every member of the tribe or family came into personal relationship to the leaders and examples. This was still possible in the Greek city state, and in the mediaeval city with its guilds. But in the huge modern state the ideal is impersonal, fluctuating and shadowy.

New Zealand has most of the advantages of the Greek and mediaeval city, and yet U as much perturbed as to the proper aim of education as Europe and America.

If we turn to those times, fortunate as they were in having an educational system that worked automatically and unconsciously, we shall probablv find in their definite aim some guidance as to what should dominate our modern page 6 education. Their aim was to fit each member of the community to fill his place in it. In the mediaeval city every boy was trained to be the capable citizen, who could work with fullest effect at his art; and who could help the community to develop its fullest life, to defend itself from enemies and bear itself honourably towards friends.

This, we may be sure, should still be the predominant aim of education; and in New Zealand, which is yet a country with a comparatively limited population and limited horizon, there should be little uncertainty as to what this aim means, and how it should be defined and carried out. It is this very limitation, along with the insular position of our country, so far from other countries, that has made its Government so like in its powers and functions to that of an ancient Greek city-state, or that of a mediaeval city and turned it into a laboratory of political and social experiments.

But the advantages of its natural position have yet had hut little influence on the education. That is still dominated by the old ideals of the Mother Country, though the sectional way in which the islands were colonised produced great variety in the traditions and forms. Something has been done to unify the system in the primary stage and in the university stage. But the smoothing out of the provincial varieties in these has not been followed by the experimental variety that has characterised the legislative and social life of this generation. They are on the whole much the same as the primary and university systems of the Homeland, without the development that old wealth gives; and the secondary system, though still marked by provincial variety of source and government, has had something of the same uniformity impressed on it by the primary system from below, and the university system from above.

We are discussing our ideals, aims and methods, with as much uncertainty and fluctuation as if we were one of the huge states of the old world, distracted by its intricate political, commercial and industrial relationships to other nations. Germany alone amongst modernised Powers, has never faltered in its educational outlook and aim, and owes the unfaltering eye to its autocracy, and to a concentration that also includes competitive variety. We in our little country, in oceanic solitude at the edge of the world, should have reached a purpose as clear and a method as undeviating. We should know exactly how to fit our children to the life and industry of our country; but we do not; we are distracted by the ideals of other lands nor have we placed them before ourselves as the true and only aim of education. It is now the urban ideals, again the rural, now the classical, again the scientific, now the technical, again the artistic, now the physical and sanitary, again the intellectual and spiritual, now the prohibitionist, again the religious, that overshadow all others; and we lose in the particular the only general aim the adaptation of the individual, and all the individuals, to the environment.

The reason is that New Zealand is following blindly the course of countries that have quite different conditions end environments.

Nothing should throw this into the background. It is the whole humanity that should be developed by education and not any section or phase of it. Following in the footsteps of the Mother Country, we have wandered into narrow ways that lead nowhere in particular. We have overemphasised one aide of the intellectual faculties, the mnemonic, and one section of physical culture—school games. The defects of this onesided training have become strikingly manifest in the commercial struggle for existence; for Britain is threatened with defeat in all directions, and frantic efforts are made to follow her rivals in scientific, technical, commercial and military education. We have as usual followed the lead of the Motherland, and are busy setting our house in order by similar specialisation. And this would be very well is its way if we were situated like Britain, if we had great manufacturing industries dependent on foreign markets,. our supremacy in which was endangered. But we ere a nation of primary industries; our subsistence depends on the raising of raw materials and food for foreign markets. That this is beginning to dawn on us is evident in the desultory demand for the introduction of agriculture into the education system, and for the establishment of dairying and agricultural schools. The grading of our products has effected such improvement in our trade that we being almost to believe in the grading and training of those who are to take part in it.

But this is still only partial and spasmodic reform. Like the Motherland, we have not got to the radical defects, or discovered the radical aim of edacation. We still fall short of the aim of the mediaeval cities and guilds, the development of all that will enable the youth to do his best in manhood for his community. We still fail to see that it is the whole man has to be developed, and not a side or a part of him, if he is to accomplish all that he is capable of. In spite of our technical page 7 school, we see much of our manhood waste itself in rain efforts to find its true career, or feel itself utterly futile and incapable in the career it has found. Thousands fail to come within the most distant possibility of success, and in a new and sparsely-populated country, filled with prosperous industries, we have the singular phenomenon of a never-vanishing class of unemployed and a growing charitable aid budget. The spectacle has driven many of the thoughtful, as well as many of the unthinking, into finding a nostrum or panacea in Socialism; in its milder forms of State philanthropy it is a mere [unclear: edative] for the external symptoms of the disease, and not a cure. In the more drastic form, that of a complete revision of the social and political fabric, it is a wild and dangerous experiment. It may cure the disease, but in all probability at the cost of anni-[unclear: ilating] the patient; in attempting to prevent mouths being empty it will remove thrift, providence, energy—virtues which have hitherto filled most empty mouths.

The cure does not go deep enough, it does not go to the source of the disquieting phenomena. It is in the making of our men and women that we must seek for the source of these ever-present social failures that stir our pity. We turn them out from our schools unfit to enter the battle of life, adaptable to the conditions that they will meet. They are defective in health and strength, in mental or moral faculty or character, or they fail to find their proper metier, and they go down in the struggle and become the waste of life. Our gaols, our asylums, our slums, our sanatoria, our charitable institutions, our relief works, are full of these failures. And we patch and tinker at these exits instead of going to the entrance of life and attempting the remedy at the source. We have laid for too great stress on heredity; with our later evolutionists we should come to see that environment, and especially early environment, has far more to do with the career of not only the species but the individual. Education in its true sense is the root problem of life. There must we seek for the radical cure of the evils in our body politic.

New Zealand should have no difficulty in applying the true aim of all education, the development of the whole humanity of youth, so as to fit all her people to fulfil the purpose of national as well as individual life.

But it must he education in the true sense, the whole artificial environment we try to make for the childhood and youth of our nation; not the development of one faculty, or even two or three faculties, but the development of the whole man in such a way as shall fit him to the place he has to fill in the State. Nor must it be forgotten that by far the most important role in this development has to be played by the women of a nation; the sisters, the wives, and, most of all, the mothers, are the dominating influence of the education, the most essential feature of the environment, the pivot of the whole movement out of the prehistoric and primitive stages of the individual's animalhood and savagery into his place in the last phase of civilisation. The education of the girls, of the whole womanhood of them, is as important for the future of the natins, of the race, of mankind, as the development of the boys. The church has hut a small place in the environment of modern life, and least of all in the new colonial types of the modern nation; the schoolroom and playground have an ever-increasing responsibility in moulding the destiny of the child. But it is the home that is the dominant and decisive influence, as it ever has been, over the future of the community, even in the laxly disciplined households of new countries, that are untrammelled by tradition, and have too great need of the Marthas to allow the increase of Marys. We have got to train our girls as moulders of mind and morality and character, as well as wielders of the broom, the needle and the smoothing iron, or caterers for the stomach, if the education of the school is to have full effect on the future of our country.

The State has overshadowe to mitigate the evil begin at the wrong end. We must go back to the beginning of life; we must see that education is as complete and relevant and efficient as it used to be, and then these evils will fall into insignificance, if not die out. Take care of the children, and the men and women will take care of themselves.