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ting the general truth of that which they seem to assert namely, that education, in all its departments, ought to be carried to the highest attainable perfection, and that the methods of reaching that point deserve our most anxious and continued attention-it must at the same time be apparent, that as long as the argument is merely speculative, implying objections to existing methods of instruction, and raising doubts about their value, without offering a distinct and approved substitute, great danger is to be apprehended from its circulation.
There is no doubt that improvement may be made in the seminaries of our country—there is no doubt that it ought to be made—and it is quite certain that it requires nothing but the support of enlightened public sentiment to bring it into operation. The improvement adverted to is improvement in degree—a better preparation for admission into college-a somewhat later age, and of course more mature powers—and, as a consequence, higher and more thorough teaching. The result can not be secured, unless the means are employed; and their employment does not depend upon those who are immediately entrusted with the care of the instruction of youth. Professors and teachers would unfeignedly rejoice, in raising the standard of education-in advancing their pupils further and further in the path of learning-if parents, duly estimating its importance, could be prevailed upon to afford them the opportunity—for they, (unless totally unfit for their trust,) must be justly and conscientiously convinced of the value of such improvement. But their voice is scarcely listened to. By a prejudice, as absurd and unreasonable as it is unjust, they are supposed to be seeking only to advance their own interest; and their testimony is, on that account, disregarded; when, upon every principle by which human evidence ought to be tried, it is entitled to the highest respect. Their means of knowledge are greater than those of other men. They learn
from daily experience—they learn from constant and anxious meditation—they learn from habitual occupation. It is theirs to watch with parental attention, and with more than parental intelligence, the expanding powers of the pupils committed to their charge. It is theirs to observe the influence of discipline and instruction in numerous instances, as it operates upon our nature—and it is theirs, too, with parental feeling to note the issues of their labours, in the lives of those who have been under their charge-to rejoice with becoming pride, when following an alumnus of the college with the eye of affectionate tenderness, they see him steadily pursuing a straight forward and elevated path, and becoming a good and an eminent man—and to mourn, with unaffected sorrow, over those who have fallen by the way, disappointing the hopes of their parents and friends, turning to naught the counsels and cares that have been bestowed upon them, and inflicting pain and misery upon all who felt an interest in their welfare. Experlo crede, is the maxim of the law; and it is no less the maxim of common sense. Why is it not to be applied to the case under consideration, as it is to all others which are to be determined by evidence? The sneering and vulgar insinuation sometimes hazarded by those who tind it easier to sneer and insinuate, than to reason, that teachers, as a body, have a peculiar interest of their own, sufficient, upon questions which concern their vocation, to bring into doubt the integrity of their judgment, and thus to make them incompetent to be witnesses, if rightly considered, is not so much an insult to this useful and honourable, and I may add, in general, faithful class of men, as it is to the parents who entrust them with their children. What judgment shall we form of their intelligence—what shall we say of their regard for their offspring, if, at the most critical period of life, they place the forming intellect in the hands of men of more than questionable integrity, to be fashioned by them into
fantastic shapes to suit their own purposes, or gratify their own whims? The truth is, that it is an appeal to ignorance, which can succeed only with those who are unable or unwilling to think, and is employed chiefly for want of solid argument.
The circumstances of our country, it must be admitted, have encouraged and have favoured an early entrance into life, and so far have been averse to extended education. This cause has naturally, and to a certain extent, justifiably, induced parents to yield to the restless eagerness of youth, always anxious to escape from the trammels of discipline, and confide in the strength of their untried powers.
Pride, too, a false and injurious pride is apt to lend its assistance. Instead of measuring the child's progress by his advancement in learning and in years, the parent is too much inclined to dwell only upon the advance he has made in his classes, and to note, with peculiar gratification, the fact, that he is the youngest of the graduates. Often, when it is evident to the teacher, that the pupil's lasting interest would be promoted by reviewing a part of his course, the very suggestion of being put back, is received as an affront, and indignantly rejected, though offered from the kindest and best considered motives. It is a mistake, a great mistake. To hurry a youth into college, and hurry him out of it, that he may have the barren triumph of extraordinary forwardness, is to forget the very end and object of education, which is to give him the full benefit of all that he can acquire in the period, which precedes his choice of a pursuit for life. What is gained by it? If, as frequently happens, he be too young to enter upon the study of a profession, there is an awkward interval when he is left to himself; he is almost sure to misapply and waste his precious time, and is in great danger of contracting permanent habits of idleness and dissipation. But even should this not be the case, of what consequence is it to him, that he should enter upon
a profession a year sooner or later, compared with the loss of the opportunity of deepening, and widening and strengthening the foundations of character, which are then to be laid in a seminary of learning. This opinion is not without decided support. Many intelligent parents have been observed to adopt it in practice, voluntarily lengthening out the education of their children beyond the ordinary limits. Such an improvement as has now been alluded to, ought unquestionably to be aimed at. The progress of liberal education ought to bear some proportion to the rapid advances our country is making in other respects, and to the character and standing which her wealth, her strength, and her resources require her to maintain. It is especially due to the nature of our republican institutions, in order to win for them still higher esteem with mankind, that their capacity should be demonstrated, to encourage . and produce whatever is calculated to adorn and to improve our nature, and to contribute our full proportion to the great society of learning and letters in the world. It would be much to be regretted, if the multiplication of colleges were to have the contrary effect, of lowering the standard of education, or of preventing its progressive elevation. Let the competition among them be, not who shall have the most pupils within their walls, but who shall make the best scholars !
But may there not be improvement in kind, as well as in degree? May not the course of studies itself be beneficially altered, excluding some, which are now in use, and adopting others which have not hitherto been introduced -changing the relative importance of different objects of study-making those secondary, which at present are principal, and those principal which are now, in some degree, secondary—or, adopting a flexible and yielding system, may not the studies be accommodated to the views and wishes of individuals, permitting each pupil to pursue those, and
those only, which he or his parents or friends may think proper to select as best adapted to his expected plan of life? It would be rash and presumptuous to answer that such improvement is impossible; and it would be unwise, if it were practicable, to check or discourage the investigation of matters so important to the welfare of man. The subject is one which at all times deserves the most careful consideration; and the highest intellect cannot be better employed than in examining it in all its bearings. But its unspeakable importance inculcates also the necessity of great caution. It is dangerous to unsettle foundations. Doubts and objections to existing systems, without a plain and adequate substitute, are calculated only to do mischief. By bringing into question the value of present methods of instruction, they tend to weaken public confidence, to paralyze the efforts of the teacher, and to destroy or enfeeble the exertions of the student. A strong conviction of the excellence of the end, is the indispensable incitement to the toil of attaining it. Without this stimulus, in all its vigour, nothing rational will be achieved. The love of ease, which is natural to us all, will lend a ready ear to the suggestion, that labour would be wasted; and the misguided youth, doubting the usefulness of the task that is before him, and expecting something (he knows not what) more worthy of his zeal and energy, will be like the foolish man, who stood upon the bank of a river, waiting for the water to run out, and leave the channel dry for him to pass over.
Experimentum in corpore vili, is the cautious maxim of physics. A generation of youth is of too great value to be experimented upon; and education is of too much consequence to hazard its loss, by waiting for the possible discovery of better methods. It is a great public concern, and should be dealt with accordingly; until a specific change shall be proposed, which, upon a deliberate and careful examination, shall meet the acceptance of the greater part