It's An Old Book But It Still Applies

I've been reading this book online recently written by a pyschologist in the early 1900's. It's a devastating review of the whole system of education of the time, but I think some of it still applies today. Here are some passages of interest, but really you should read the whole thing.

There are a lot of passages of general insight:
WE are stock-blind to our own barbarities; we do not realize the enormities of our life and consider our age and country as civilized and enlightened. We censure the faults of other societies, but do not notice our own. Thus Lecky, in describing Roman society, says: "The gladiatorial games form indeed the one feature which to a modern mind is most inconceivable in its atrocity. That not only men, but women, man advanced period of civilization,―men and women who not only professed, but very frequently acted upon a high code of morals―should have made the carnage of men their habitual amusement, that all this should have continued for centuries with scarcely a protest, is one of the most startling facts in moral history. It is, however, perfectly normal, while it opens out fields of ethical inquiry of a very deep, though painful, character."
Interesting to think about... Another interesting insight which relates the education of individuals to the previously accumulated progress of the species actually touches on the view I came up with and wrote about in an earlier post about culture:
The well known biogenetic law may, with some modifications, be applied to mental life. The development of the individual is an abbreviated reproduction of the evolution of the species. Briefly put: Ontogenesis is an epitome of Phylogenesis. This biogenetic law holds true in the domain of education. The stored-up experiences of the race are condensed, foreshortened, and recapitulated in the child's life history.
A good point on the fear of elitism which currently exists in our schools, thereby branding gifted programs as politically incorrect, while at the same time putting huge allocations of funds away for special education programs:
In levelling education to mediocrity we imagine that we uphold the democratic spirit of our institutions. Our American sensibilities a-re shocked when the president of one of our leading colleges dares to recommend to his college that it should cease catering to the average student.
There's also lots of great, admirably ascerbic alarmist rhetoric:
I ASSUME that as liberal men and women you have no use for the process of cramming and stuffing of college-geese and mentally indolent, morally obtuse and religiously "cultured" prigs and philistines.
The savage compresses the skull of the infant, while we flatten the brain and cramp the mind of our young generation.
We trust our unfortunate youth to the Procrustean bed of the mentally obtuse, hidebound pedagogue. We desiccate, sterilize, petrify and embalm our youth in keeping with the rules of our Egyptian code and in accordance with the Confucian regulations of our school-clerks and college mandarins. Our children learn by rote and are guided by routine.
We piously sacrifice our tender children and the flower of our youth to the greedy, industrial Moloch of a military, despotic, rapacious plutocracy.
I'm pretty sure that the situation is not as bad in most places today as the one he describes. Still I have to admit to finding a lot of truth in what he writes.
Not long ago we were informed by one of those successful college-mandarins, lionized by office-clerks, superintendents and tradesmen, that he could measure education by the foot-rule! Our Regents are supposed to raise the level of education by a vicious system of examination and coaching, a system which Professor James, in a private conversation with me, has aptly characterized as "idiotic."
Our schools brand their pupils by a system of marks, while our foremost colleges measure the knowledge and education of their students by the number of "points" passed. The student may pass either in Logic or Blacksmithing. It does not matter which, provided he makes up a certain number of "points"!
Now, obviously it's very difficult to think of a practical alternative to running schools by giving examinations, awarding grades, and counting credits...But I've always felt the system is imperfect because it does nothing to encourage initiative in learning, aside from whatever advantage having initiative in learning could confer in the way of earning good grades. What's rewarded is not how well you can apply what you know in an original way, which is in reality what leads to productivity outside of the classroom setting, school being quite unique in the context of larger life in rewarding narrow learning and memorization. The system probably needs to be structured as it is for practical reasons, but the saving grace is when individual teachers work independently to inspire students to see the world of inquiry and original application associated with what they're teaching beyond the books, assignments and pedagogy. There are a lot of good, inspiring people with an understanding of the individual aspect of learning at the teaching level. Or at least I've been fortunate to have encountered many throughout my education.

I have to say I pretty much totally agree with the following description of the purpose of education, provided at the very beginning:
I also assume that as men and women of liberal education you are not limited to the narrow interests of one particular subject, to the exclusion of all else. I assume that you are especially interested in the development of personality as a whole, the true aim of education. I also assume that you realize that what is requisite is not some more routine, not more desiccated, quasi-scientific methods of educational psychology, not the sawdust of college-pseudogogics and philistine, normal school-training, but more light on the problems of life.
Indeed. I don't know why it's so hard to find a coherent statement to that effect (ok, maybe not as ascerbic...) put out by the leading educational institutions or educational authorities of the day.

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