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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 78

Guyau Endorses Spencer

page 50

Guyau Endorses Spencer.

I quote the following from Monsieur Guyau's 'Education and Heredity' :—

Spender justly remarks that "in all businesses and professions intense competition taxes the energies and abilities of every adult. . . . The damage is thus doubled. Fathers who find themselves run hard by their multiplying competitors, and, while laboring under this disadvantage, have to maintain a more expensive style of living, are all the year round obliged to work early and late, taking little exercise and getting but short holidays. The constitutions shaken by this continual over-application they bequeath to their children. And then these comparatively feeble children, predisposed to break down, even under ordinary strains on their energies, are required to go through a curriculum much more extended than that prescribed for the unenfeebled children of past generations. The disastrous consequences which might be anticipated are everywhere visible," especially in the case of girls, and they are accumulated by heredity. ... "If, during youth, the expenditure in mental labor exceeds that which Nature has provided for, the expenditure for other purposes falls below what it should have been, and evils of one kind or other are inevitably en-tailed. . . .

Various degrees and forms of bodily derangement, often taking years of en-forced idleness to set partially right, result from this prolonged over-exertion of mind . . . mostly the sleep is (short and broken. And very generally there is more or less mental depression. Excessive study is a terrible mistake, from whatever point of view regarded. It is a mistake in so far as the mere acquniment of knowledge is concerned. Fe the mind, like the body, cannot assign late beyond a certain rate; and if you ply it with facts faster than it can a assimilate them, they are soon reject again; instead of being built into intellectual fabric they fall out of recilection. . . . It is a mistake, ti because it sends to make study distasteful; . . . it is a mistake, also, as much as it assumes that the acquisition of knowledge is everything, and forges that a much more important thing is the organisation of knowledge, for which time and spontaneous thinking are requisite . . It is not the knowledge stored up as intellectual fat which is of value, but that which is tamed into intellectual muscle. . . . What tolly it is, then, while finishing the engine so to damage the boiler that it will not generate steam."

M. Jules Simon, formerly Minister of Public Instruction for France, speaking of the French system of secondary education in the eighties, said:

Our boys at the lyceums are crammed with ideas they do not understand, and with facts over which they have no control. Are the facts true?" Are the idea false? That is not their business. They have to keep them in their heads, not be criticise them. . . . And after wards—this bachelor, licentiate, or doctor, what is he? A storehouse, with its boxes and shelves crammed with all sorts of ideas of which he does not know the value and facts of which he does not know the authenticity. His memory is so over loaded that when he tries to live, dragging this load behind him, he spills the contents on his way through life. His memory becomes a blank. ... He has neither energy nor method to study alone, nor judgment to see for himself and appreciate, nor will to form a resolution. He is a baccalaureus, not a man for what is man if he be not judgments and will?

This is, of course, a French statement of the results of an extremely bad system but is it not true more or less of all over-pressure?

It has been assumed in some quarters that I am opposed to all examinations, best this idea is purely imaginary. As at present conducted, examinations are certainly an important factor in school overpressure sure, and tend to encourage hurried, super ficialmemorising. Certainly the examintion system must be greatly modified and improved if it is to be retained. . . . .

page 51

If people would only keep in mind the essential requirements, I can see no reason why there should be any insuperable difficulties to contend with or any further delay in instituting radical reform. If a reasonable system of education, abreast of recognised necessities, could be instituted anywhere, it should be in a young colony like New Zealand, where vested interests and conventional trammels are less binding than in the Old World.

No country can go far wrong which keeps continually in view the true, ultimate aim of all good education—viz., to rear a people who shall be physically, mentally, and morally as strong and capable as they can be made. We are not crying for the moon, but ask that certain fundamental principles and necessities shall be recognised and reasonably provided for.