Education is the from within outward development of the faculties and talents of the individual. Education is life. Education begins at birth and ends at the grave. It is peculiarly and wholly individual. This is not the present day conception of education. We are too prone to regard training as education. A trainer may train a seal to perform stunts in the circus. Or, he may train children to perform stunts in the schoolroom. In either case, the product is an automaton. We think education begins in the kindergarten. It almost ends there. In the kindergarten training commences. We polish off our "education" in the university. After this, if we desire proficiency in any of the arts, sciences or professions; we take special courses and post-graduate courses. This takes twenty-five or more years. During this time we are being ground and polished and trained. Our individuality is smothered or suppressed. We have been made into carbon copies of the conventional pattern. We talk and think and act as we have been trained to talk and think and act.
Mental automatons, intellectual nonentities, stereotyped minds --these are the natural products of such miscalled education. The twentieth century is suffering from mental bankruptcy. Its intellect has been smothered under a flood of training. Mass training produces mass thinking. Standardized training produces a standardized mind. Individuality in submerged and destroyed. All true education is self-education. All real education is founded on truth. Too much of modern training is based on fallacies ancient forms and rituals, traditions of the fathers, conventions and commercialism.
An educated man is not he who knows the most about Alexander's conquests or of Cleopatra's immoralities. The truly educated man is he who knows how to live in the highest and fullest sense, who knows how to make himself useful and who is able to control himself for good. The world is as full of trained men as the circus is of trained animals. But truly educated men are rare indeed. We have a wealth of engineers, mathematicians and mechanics, but few originators. Much potential greatness is smothered and lost forever by the training processes now in vogue. Most of the world's great men are those who have escaped from the spell cast over the mind by the training process. They have managed to squirm out of the mental strait-jacket into which the school put them.
We are accustomed to thinking of education as something apart from life. Something separate and distinct from living. It is detached from life. We think of education as a preparation for life. This conception of education is fundamentally wrong. It is pernicious.
Experience is the greatest educational factor in life. Experience is part and parcel of life. It cannot be separated from life. Every experience prepares one for a broader, fuller life. Life should be a continuous striving for improvement, achievement, beauty. True experiences build character, strength, beauty. They spur one on to higher things. Where a high ideal of beauty is found there is a people that is climbing upward.
By beauty is meant beautiful bodies, beautiful characters, beautiful ideals. A beautiful heart and a beautiful intellect are as essential to true beautiy as strength and beauty of body. Education--life--should be a striving for an ideal of beauty and greatness. Freedom is essential to beauty, to true education, to the highest life.
Free experience is life's great teacher. Compulsion is not education; it is not life. Compulsion does not build character. It builds slaves, serfs, dependents. The soul can expand only in an atmosphere of freedom. Mind and body attain their highest and best only in a free environment. The heart can truly express itself only when it is free to do so.
True freedom is the opened fruit of experience plus intelligence. In society, our rights are those we dare maintain. We are fitted only for such freedom as we demand. Those who demand most are fitted for most. Those who demand least are fitted only for slavery. Freedom is truly the breath of the soul. Without freedom the soul becomes stunted, dwarfed, gnarled and ugly. Beauty of character and intellect can only develop where freedom abounds.
Freedom, guided by knowledge and intelligence and held to a stern self-discipline, will evolve a race of moral and intellectual giants. It is still true that that is the best government that governs least; the best control, self-control. Slaves and serfs are controlled by their masters and make no progress. Free men who control themselves carry the world forward. Ancient civilizations were wrought by the labor of slaves guided by the intellects of free men. Modern and higher civilizations are wrought by the labor of free men and guided by these same free men. More freedom, less bondage, will give us a higher civilization still.
"Education has become the great enemy of enlightenment. Teachers have become mere salesmen of the intellectual life. School systems are only department stores of the 'higher learning.' The order of the day is Quick Lunch Counter Education! Our so-called education is a study in farce and futility." Thus declares Prof. Schmalhausen, who quotes the following gibe from Mark Twain:--"First God made idiots. That was for practice. Then he made boards of education."
This is a terrible indictment of our present methods of educating our children. Our educational system is being attacked from all sides, It pleases nobody--not even those who conduct it. Least of all does it please teachers and pupils. Many people maintain that our education does not educate; that it lacks vital meaning, and is divorced from life. Many of our foremost educational authorities agree with Henry Adams' declaration that, "The chief wonder of education is that it does not ruin everybody concerned in it, teachers and taught." Padagogues agree that our system is an accident. It came down to us in its present form from feudalism. Much of feudalism still remains in it. It is unfitted to modern life. It is in violation of the best principles of psychology. As Bertrand Russell so truly declares-- "A certain percentage of children have the habit of thinking; one of the aims of education is to cure them of this habit."
Now, no one really intends to cure children of the habit of thinking. But this is often just what we accomplish. The trouble with our educational system is that it lacks plan and purpose. It is a crazy-quilt affair. No one ever planned the system we now have. No one ever desired it to be what it now is. No one ever foresaw what the system would develop into. It has simply grown up in a disorderly and disjointed manner. Many opposing forces have helped to shape it and distort it.
Every one who has studied the problem agrees that the educational methods now in vogue are wrong. Modern "education" is often worse than a failure. Joseph K. Hart, in his Adult Education, declares: "Universal compulsory schooling at public expense is at once the most generous movement ever undertaken by society and the most unintelligent--Compulsory schooling has turned out to be a sort of intellectual canning factory--a factory which cannot, however, guarantee the contents of the cans."
This is a very able summing up of the present public school system. It does not turn out thinkers. It does not produce men and women who drag the world along behind them. Every child is run through the same mold. The mind of a Shakespeare and the mind of a moron are run through the same process. Both are expected to learn the same things, do the same things, think the same thoughts and arrive at the same goal.
Much that is instilled into the school child is trivial, unimportant and often untrue. There is too much of rote, formula, memorizing, and not enough constructive and creative thinking. Indeed, the very elements upon which creative work is grounded are often lacking. There is plenty of painstaking supervision, an abundance of blueprints and cut-and-dried formulas. There is much imitation, much copying, but little creating. One must memorize the books and classroom notes if one wishes to receive passing grades and a diploma. He must conform to the prevailing fashions in "thought" if he desires to get on well.
Then, too, the school is so often divorced from life. Mr. Hart rightly contends that it is living and not schooling which educates. Education begins at birth--it ends at death. The school is a passing incident. It may be helpful. It frequently only suppresses the budding genius and transforms him into a dotard. The discipline of the school frequently subdues and, destroys the adventurous, pioneering spirit that dares to do new things or that does old things in a new and better way. We are cursed with too much of the discipline of authority and not enough of freedom.