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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 78

The Third Period

The Third Period.

Towards the end of the Middle Ages there came a transition in the state of things. It was almost impossible to realise what a sudden subversion there was of the ideas of the previous thousand years This period was ushered in by the fall of. Constantinople and the Eastern Empirs; the discovery of America; the discovery of printing; and what had been called the "discovery" of the Greek and Roman classics, which meantime had been lost sight of. Then came the scientific investigations of Galileo, and a new conception of the universe. At this time the life and the faith of ten centuries were dying. The trend which education was to take was trembling in the balance. One would have thought that with the invention of the telescope by Galileo and the discoveries of the wonders of the universe, the trend of education would have turned in this direction, and the turn which it finally took could not be understood unless it were realised what science was at that time. As the discoverer of the telescope said, they would not look through his telescope to read the truths of the universe; what they would do was to study and compare old manuscripts. The beginning and end of scientific reasoning, then, was an affirmation. Even an original thinker and investigator like Sir Thomas Browne seemed afraid to trust his powers of observation and his reasoning faculties, and would not state a simple matter of scientific fact without due citation of authority for and against, though he would end (where he might have begun and ended) by saying: "I know it is so, because I have seen and studied the thing myself." About this time the discovery of printing saw the old Greek and Roman manuscripts published, and people found that there was a system and an art much more wonderful than anything they had imagined. If at this time men had had any correct realisation of the marvels of Nature and their direct bearings on the life and welfare of mankind, our children would not now be waiting for rational instruction in the laws by which God governs the universe. Language and formal information and formal reasoning had got the start, and we had remained in a similar rut ever since. This led to the attention of educators becoming fixed on the teaching of Greek, Latin, and mathematics as the highest aim. Western Europe never seriously attempted to adopt and assimilate Greek and Roman culture and civilisation, but was content to imperfectly master the dead languages. For the first time in the history of mankind the mere acquisition of dead languages became a main aim of education. The first great spontaneous and relatively independent educator of this period was Commenius, the chief of the Moravian brotherhood. He stated that education ought to commence from the cradle, at the mother's breast, and that languages ought to be taught as we are now beginning to teach them—direct through the senses and "things." Locke was the next authority. He said :—"Knowing is seeing; and if it be so, it is madness to persuade ourselves to do so by page 4 another man's eyes, let him use never so many words to tell us what he asserts is very visible. Till we ourselves see it with our own eyes, and perceive it by our own understandings, we are as much in the dark and as void of knowledge as before, let us believe any learned authors as much as we will." But he centred his attention too minutely on the human understanding, and came to the conclusion that as the understanding was not in the state of advanced development in boyhood, it was only necessary for the boy to form regular habits and train his physique. Stepping aside from the period for the moment, the lecturer said that the method adopted by many modern schoolmasters was to fix information in the memory in such a manner that it could be displayed on the day of examination, forgetting that this sort of knowledge often made no impression whatever on the reasoning faculties. In extreme cases the memory of mere symbols sufficed.