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THE IDEALS OF A SCIENCE SCHOOL'
I HAVE .chosen, for my farewell address to the Scientific Association, the ideals of a science school, because there is no subject in which greater misconceptions exist at the present time. The deluded victims of our curiously archaic system of classical education point to the manifold evils of the world which they have misgoverned and the terrible consequences of science under their misdirection as the proof of the superiority of the ancient culture and ideals. I wish to show that the ideals of science, no less than its achievements, compare favourably with their own, and that they must ultimately prevail and permeate the whole university with their spirit, because, like the age in which they have originated, they are creative, insatiable and prospective, whereas the ideals we owe to the age of the revival of learning and the rediscovery of the civilisation of ancient and extinct races ar essentially imitative, self-sufficing and retrospecti I would not waste your or my own time with a theme so trite, and which only in academical circles is still actively and bitterly opposed, if I did not believe the time of change is at hand. The old régime in our universities and schools is so discredited that now it is merely carrying on in the interregnum between war and peace. Science for more than a hundred years has had every vested
1 Farewell Address to the Scientific Association, Aberdeen University, 20th June 1919.
interest in the established order of things in league against it, happily, as we now may feel assured, quite in vain. Haphazard as we are as a nation, mere mental inertia and conservatism does not explain the unfortunate position in which we find ourselves to-day as regards the neglect of science in our universities and educational institutions. Without the powerful and active opposition of the representatives of the established and organised religions, clinging to old creeds which have ceased to be credible, the classical element alone would have been powerless. Men of common sense may be trusted not to commit the cause, say, of temperance to brewers, or to hand over key industries to the control of foreign rivals and competitors. So in the new régime, which may not be better but at least can hardly be worse, I trust there may be sufficient men of ordinary common sense not to entrust the direction of science in our universities to the unholy alliance of the pagan classics and the Christian Church which hitherto has been dominant therein.
It is only because of the lessons we, as a nation, have learned in the war that I have thought it worth while raising again such questions while I have been in Aberdeen. I am well aware that for more than fifty years scientific men in this country have given their testimony in vain, regarding the evil consequences of the survival of the classical system of education and the ignorance and misunderstanding of science. The sphere of knowledge in which, by common consent, this age is the greatest that the world has ever seen remains still outside the understanding of those in whose hands our national and educational destinies have been committed. rightful place has been taken by the studies of the languages, history and customs of two, or, if we include the ancient Hebrews, three nations, which,
LORD HOUGHTON ON EDUCATION
great as they were in their day, have now given place to greater. It is only fair to say that some of the most severe critics of the social effects of classical education have been drawn from the ranks of scholars and men of letters. I can recommend to your perusal the Essays on a Liberal Education, edited by the Rev. F. W. Farrar, and published by Macmillan and Co. in 1867. Lord Houghton, the father of a recent Minister of Education, the Marquis of Crewe, in the concluding essay is the author of one of the most notable of these indictments, to which it would be possible to add little even to-day. Discussing the product of this education he says, for example: "To the social phenomenon of all this elaborate study, which cannot be applied to any practical purpose, must be added this other peculiarity of the system, that, when once the ordinary British youth has bidden farewell to school and college, any attempt to prosecute, or even keep up, his classical attainments and interests, would make him an object of curiosity, if not of censure and alarm, to all who might be solicitous for his future welfare." He touches on the snobbery of the assumed universality of classical culture on the one hand and the artificial barrier which "makes it seem something incongruous and offensive in any man's assuming to know or care about classic objects or classic letters without having been taught to construe Greek and Latin," though no one needs to have a first-hand acquaintance with Italian to enjoy Dante, or with Oriental languages to appreciate the Arabian Nights or Sanskrit philosophy. And he remarks:
"There are too many flagrant examples in the history of the human mind of the persistent adherence, not only of public opinion and private judgment, but of the religious conscience and the moral sense, to forms and ceremonies after the belief on which
they were founded have faded into shadows, to permit the hope that any amount of negative experience will bring about a reformation in the matter we are now considering. It is solely to a growing conviction of the necessity of larger and wiser instruction of our governing classes, if they are to remain our governors, that we must look as the source of any beneficial change."
The instinct of self-preservation, to which Lord Houghton appealed, is one of those primitive instincts which are weakened by security and protection from the struggle for existence. What neither it, nor any amount of negative experience, was able in fifty years to accomplish has been accomplished by the last five years' bitter positive experience, which nearly made of us just one more of those flagrant examples which the history of the human mind affords. Since Lord Houghton's day the further operation for fifty years of the causes which he deplored, has made the necessity, or even the desirability of preserving our governing classes, if they are to remain our governors, a question of relatively small importance. But the necessity of preserving the nation if it is to remain a nation has become obvious to the remotest inhabitant of our wide-flung Empire. There is therefore every hope that the unholy combination against science in our universities has done its worst, and that once more, as at the Renaissance, the love of truth for its own sake and the enlargement of the boundaries of knowledge, the present ideals of science in other words, will again dominate our universities and schools, and through them all classes and conditions of the people.
It has become a question, no longer of the issue at stake, but merely of the means by which the necessary changes are to be effected. There is a widespread feeling that within a few years we shall
MR FISHER ON SCIENCE
have a Labour Party in power in this country, and, whether or no this does occur, much that is taking place can be traced at all events to the possibility that it may occur. It is well that the universities, especially, should re-examine their ideals, for the Labour Party, unlike the parties of which we have had experience, profess very high ideals-indeed, judged by the canons of a literary and classical education, altogether utopian ideals. From the standpoint of science the ideals they profess are not utopian, whatever may be the case from the moral and human standpoint. On the score of physical practicability they are no longer visionary, for science within the past century has multiplied the resources of this planet to support a higher standard of living among all workers to an extent that even the criminally wasteful and ignorant methods of the existing competitive and individualistic system has not been able altogether to conceal.
The President of the Board of Education, the Rt. Hon. H. A. L. Fisher, at the recent Anniversary Dinner of the Chemical Society, after a reference to the issue of the recent conflict as one of the greatest victories which chemistry had ever won in the history of mankind, and, incidentally and humorously, to himself as a melancholy product of the dark ages of compulsory Greek, went on to say: "Nevertheless, if we turn over the pages of Huxley's Addresses on the place of science in national education—and there are few finer specimens of virile English prose-I think we shall feel that if the great master were among us here, he would acknowledge that the cause to which he dedicated his life has been practically won. We want more money for science-we want a great deal more money for science-we want more teachers, we want more learners, but in the main the battle is won. If there are any sceptics to-day they