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gifts, a long practice, a slow initiation, something, in a
word, more delicate than the attention which suffices for
being instructed in science?

644. Exaggerations and Prejudices. — We believe as
thoroughly as any one can in the efficiency and in the educa-


tional virtues of science, and we would willingly make it, as
Mr. Spencer does, the basis of education. We must be on
our guard, however, against cultivating this religion of
science until it becomes a superstition. Our author is not
completely exempt from this danger.

That science develops the intellectual qualities, such as
judgment, memory, reasoning, we admit ; that it develops
them better than the study of the languages, let even this be
granted ! But it is impossible for us not to protest when Mr.
Spencer represents science as endowed with the same efficacy
for inspiring moral qualities, such as perseverance, sincerity,
activity, resignation to the will of nature, piety even, and
religion. Science appears to us an infallible means of ani-
mating and exciting the different energies of the soul ; but
will it also have the quality of disciplining them? Thanks
to science, man will know that which it is proper to do, if he
wishes to be a workman, a parent, or a citizen, but on this
express condition, that he wills; and this education of the
will, is it still science which shall be charged with it? We
may be allowed to doubt it.

Mr. Spencer himself now seems to share this doubt, if we
may trust one of his recent works. 1 " Faith in books and in
nature," it is there said, " is one of the superstitions of our
times." We deceive ourselves, says the author, when we
establish a connection between the intelligence and the will,
for conduct is determined not by knowledge but by emo-

" lie who would hope to teach geometry by giving lessons
in Latin, would scarcely be more unreasonable than those
who count on producing better sentiments by means of a dis-
cipline of the intellectual faculties."

1 Introduction to Socio! Science, p. 390.


To tell the truth, Mr. Spencer has here fallen into another
extreme, and he seems to us at one time to have granted too
much, and at another too little, to the influence of instruction
on morality.

645. Intellectual Education. — So far we have exam-
ined along with Mr. Spencer only the nature of the objects
and of the knowledge which befit the education of man. It
remains to inquire how the mind can assimilate this knowl-
edge. Pedagogy has not only to draw up in theory a bril-
liant programme of necessary studies, but it also searches
out the means and the methods to be emplo3 T ed, in order that
these studies may be presented to the mind, and may have
the greater chance of being thus presented with profit.

In this somewhat more practical part of his work, Mr.
Spencer thinks that pedagogy should be guided by the idea
of evolution ; that is, of the progressive course of a being
who makes himself, who creates himself little by little, and
who develops in succession, according to fixed laws, powers
originally enveloped in the germs that he has received from
nature, or that have been transmitted to him b}* heredity.

646. Laws of Intellectual Evolution. — In other terms,
Mr. Spencer shows that the precepts of pedagogy cannot be
definitely deduced until the laws of mental evolution have
been accurateby established, and he attempts to determine
some of these laws.

He proves that the mind passes naturally from the simple
to the complex, from the indefinite to the definite, from the
concrete to the abstract, from the empirical to the rational ;
that the genesis of the individual is the same as the genesis
of the race ; that the intelligence assimilates by preference
that which it discovers for itself ; finally, that all culture
which profits the pupil is, at the same time, an exercise
which stimulates him and delights him.


From this there result these practical consequences : that
it is necessary first to present to the child simple subjects of
study, individual things, sensible objects, for the purpose of
starting him gradually on his way towards complex truths,
abstract generalities, conceptions of the reason; that noth-
ing can be exacted of the child's intelligence but vague and
incomplete notions which the travail of the mind will gradu-
ally clarify and elaborate ; that education ought to be in
petto, for each individual, a repetition and a copy of the gen-
eral march of civilization and of the progress of humanity ;
that it is necessary to count more on the personal effort of
the pupil than upon the action of the teacher ; that, finally,
it is necessary to find the methods which interest, and even
those which amuse. Hence the educator, instead of oppos-
ing nature, instead of disconcerting her in her course and in
the insensible steps of her real development, will restrict
himself to following her step by step, and education will be
no longer a force which obstructs, which represses, which
smothers ; but, on the contrary, a force which sustains and
stimulates by associating with itself the work of the sponta-
neous powers of the soul.

647. Self-Education. — Mr. Spencer attaches great im-
portance to that maxim which recommends us to encourage
above all else self-education : —

"In education the process of self-development should be
encouraged to the fullest extent. Children should be led to
make their own investigations, and to draw their own infer-
ences. They should be told as little as possible, and induced
to discover as much as possible. Humanity has progressed
solely by self-instruction ; and that to achieve the best re-
sults, each mind must, progress somewhat after tiie same
fashion, is continually proved by the marked success of self-


made men. Those who have been brought up under the
ordinary school-drill, and have carried away with them the
idea that education is practicable only in that style, will
think it hopeless to make children their own teachers. If,
however, they will call to mind that the all-important knowl-
edge of surrounding objects which a child gets in its early
years is not without help, — if they will remember that the
child is self-taught in the use of its mother tongue, — if they
will estimate the amount of that experience of life, that out-
of-school wisdom which every boy gathers for himself, — if
they will mark the unusual intelligence of the uncared-for
London gamin, as shown in all the directions in which his
faculties have been tasked, — if further, they will think how
many minds have struggled up unaided, not only through the
mysteries of our irrationally-planned curriculum, but through
hosts of other obstacles besides ; they will find it a not un-
reasonable conclusion, that if the subjects be put before him
in right order and right form, any pupil of ordinary capac-
ity will surmount his successive difficulties with but little

648. Moral Education. — Moral education, without fur-
nishing occasion for as complete a theory as intellectual
education, has, nevertheless, suggested to Mr. Spencer some
important reflections.

Mr. Spencer expressly declares that he does not accept the
dogma of Lord Palmerston, or what would be called in
France the dogma of Rousseau, nainely, that all children are
born good. He would incline the rather toward the contrary
opinion, which, " though untenable," he says, " seems to us
less wide of the truth " ! Doubtless, we must not expect too
much moral goodness of children ; but it may be found that
Mr. Spencer exaggerates a little, and draws too dark a por-


trait of the child when he says, " The child resembles the
savage ; his physical features, like his moral instincts, recall
the savage." Taken literally, such pessimism would lead
logically to an over-severe moral discipline, wholly repressive
and restraining. Such, however, is not the conclusion of
Mr. Spencer, who recommends a course of tolerance and
mildness, a system of relative letting alone which we might
almost think dictated by the optimism of Rousseau. He
censures the brutal discipline of the English schools. Finally,
he would have the child treated, not as an incorrigible rebel
who is obedient only to force, but as a reasonable being
capable of readily comprehending the reasons and the advan-
tages of obedience, from the simple fact that he takes into
account the connection of cause and effect.

649. System of Natural Punishments. — The true moral
discipline, according to Mr. Spencer, is that which puts the
child in a state of dependence on nature, who teaches him to
detest his faults by reason of the natural consequences which
the}- involve. It is necessary to renounce artificial punish-
ments, which are almost always irritating and taken amiss,
and to have recourse, as a rule, only to the privations and the
inconveniencies which are the necessary consequences, and,
as it were, the inevitable reactions, of the acts which have
been committed.

A boy, for example, puts his room in disorder. In this
case, the method of natural punishment requires that he him-
self shall repair the mischief; and in this way he will soon
correct himself of a turbulence from which he will be the first
to suffer.

A little girl, through indolence, or through tarrying too
long over her toilet, has made herself late for a walk. Let
her be punished by not waiting for her, by leaving her at


home. This is the best means of curing her in the future of
her indolence and coquetry.

The system which tends thus to substitute the lessons of
nature for artificial penalties, certainly offers great advan-
tages. It subjects the child, not to the authority of a pass-
ing teacher, or of parents who will one day die, but to a law
whose action neither ceases nor ever relents. Artificial pun-
ishments often provoke the resistance of the child because he
does not comprehend their meaning, and because, proceeding
from the human will, they can be taxed with injustice and
caprice. Could one as easily refuse to bow before the imper-
sonal force of nature, — a force which exactly adjusts the
punishment to the fault, 1 which accepts no excuse, against
which there is no appeal, and which, without threats, with-
out anger, rigorously and silently executes the law ?

650. Difficulties in Application. — Mr. Spencer's prin-
ciple is excellent, but the opportunities for applying it are
far less frequent than our philosopher believes. The child,
in most cases, is too little reflective, too little reasonable, to
comprehend, and especially to heed, the suggestions of per-
sonal interest.

Let us add that this principle is wholly negative, that it
furnishes at most only the means of shunning evil ; that even
in according to it an efficacy it does not have, it would still
be necessary to reproach it with narrowing moral culture by
reducing it to the rather mean solicitude for simple utility ;
finally, that it exercises no influence on the development of
the positive virtues, on the disinterested education of moral-
ity in what is noble and exalted.

1 So far as experience can testify, this is a pure assumption. The most
trifling injuries are often the most painful, and the most serious the most
painless. (P.)


Finally, the system of natural punishments would incur the
danger of often being cruel, and of causing the child an irrep-
arable injury. Let pass the pin-cushion, the boiling water,
and the candle-flame, — examples which Mr. Spencer pro-
poses ; but what shall we say of the bar of red-hot iron which
he lets the child pick up? What shall be said, above all, of
the grave consequences entailed by the faults of a young man
left to himself?

" Would it not be," says Gr£ard justly, " to condemn the
child to a regime so severe as to be an injustice, to count
solely on the effects of natural reactions and inevitable con-
sequences, for the purpose of disciplining his will? The
penalty which the}* provoke is the most often enormous as
compared with the fault which has produced them, and man
himself demands for his conduct other sanctions than those
of a harsh reality. He desires that we judge the intention
as well as the fact ; that he be commended for his efforts ;
that in the first instance extreme measures be not taken
against him ; that the blow fall on him if needs be, but with-
out crushiug him, and while extending to him a hand to help
him up." 1

651. Return to Nature. — However it may be, Mr.
Spencer is to be commended for having shown that for moral
education as for intellectual education, the method which
approaches nature the nearest is also the best. The return
to nature which was the characteristic of Rousseau's theories
and of Pestalo/c/.i's practice, is also the dominant trait of Mr.
Spencer's pedagogy.

If we look closely into the matter, this decided purpose to
follow nature implicates something besides the superficial

1 See the Esprit de discipline dans r< : <ln.<-titicii, a memoir of Grcard,
published iu the Revue P6dagogiqu< , 1883, No. 11.


condemnation of methods introduced by art and human de-
vice. It supposes a fundamental belief, — the belief in the
beneficent purpose of natural instincts. To have confidence
in nature, to fall back on the spontaneous forces of the soul,
because we discern behind them or in them a higher provi-
dence or an internal foresight, is a belief generally useful and
suggestive for conducting human affairs, but particularly
necessary for directing the education of man. It is not
without some surprise that we discover this belief at the basis
of Mr. Spencer's pedagogy, as though, by a contradiction
which is not new, the evolutionist philosophy, which seems
to exclude final causes from the conception of the universe,
had been practically constrained to bow before them, and to
proclaim, at least in the matter of education, the salutary
efficacy of the theory which admits them.

Thus, in speaking of physical education, Mr. Spencer
remarks that the sensations are the natural guides, which it
would be dangerous not to follow.

" Happily, that all-important part of education which goes
to secure direct self-preservation, is in great part already
provided for. Too momentous to be left to our own blunder-
ing, Nature takes it into her own hands."

Speaking in another place of the instincts which induce
the child to move himself and to seek in physical exercise the
basis of physical well-being, he declares that to oppose these
instincts would be to go counter to the means " divinely
arranged " for assuring the development of the body.

652. Physical Education. — The chapter devoted by Mr.
Spencer to physical education, is such as might be expected
from a thinker who is wholly exempt from idealistic preju-
dices and who does not hesitate to write : —

' ' The history of the world shows that the well-fed races
have been the energetic and dominant races."


It is necessary first and above all to establish physical
force in man, and to create within him " a robust animal."

" The actual education of children is defective in several
particulars : in an insufficiency of food, in an insufficiency
of clothing, in an insufficiency of exercise, and in an excess
of mental application."

Mr. Spencer complains that modern education has become
wholly intellectual, and that it neglects the body. He
reminds us that "the preservation of health is one of our
duties," and that there exists a thing which might be called
" physical morality."

Here, as everywhere, Mr. Spencer demands that we follow
the indications of nature. He explains on physiological
grounds the apparently inordinate appetite which children
show for certain foods, — sugar, for example. He urgently
entreats that preference shall be given to play and to free
and spontaneous exercise, over gymnastics.

653. General Judgment. — That which, in our opinion,
attests the truth of the pedagogical laws which we have just
discussed, is that they are in agreement with the general
opinions of the great modern reformers in education. It is
thus that Spencer's ideas are in close harmony with those
which Pestalozzi had employed at Stanz. The success which
he obtained there, as Mr. Spencer has remarked, depended
on two things : first, on the attention which he used in
determining what kind of instruction the children had need
of, and next, on the pains he took to associate the new knowl-
edge with that which they already possessed.

Mr. Spencer's essay, then, deserves the attention of edu-
cators. There is scarcely a book in which a keen scent for
details comes more agreeably to animate a fund of solid
arguments, and from which it is more useful to extract the


substance. However, it must not be read save with precau-
tion. The brilliant English thinker sometimes fails in just-
ness and measure, and his bold generalizations need to be
tested with care.

654. Alexander Bain and Education as a Science. —
Less brilliant than the work of Mr. Spencer, the book of
Mr. Bain, Education as a Science, recommends itself by
merits of studied analysis and scholarly minuteness. Others
surpass Mr. Bain in brilliancy of imagination, in originality
and in enthusiasm ; but no one equals him in richness of
details, in acuteness and abundance of observations. After
the more venturesome have taken the lead and have pub-
lished the original sketch, Mr. Bain appears and writes the
methodical and complete manual. His own work resembles
that of a conscientious guard who marches in the rear of
a victorious arnn T , and by a wise organization makes sure
the positions conquered by the march of an impetuous
commander-in-chief. His book, in other terms, is but the
studious and thorough development of Mr. Spencer's prin-

655. General Impression. — It is impossible in an analy-
sis to bring out the merit of a book which is especially
valuable for the multiplicity of the questions which the
author discusses in it, and for the infinite variet}' of the
solutions which he proposes^. There are landscapes which
discourage the painter, because, notwithstanding their
beauty, they are too vast, too full of details, to admit of
being crowded into a frame. We may say the same of Mr.
Bain's book. One must have studied it himself in order to
form an estimate of its value. Professors of all classes will
here find pages of well-considered counsels, and judicious
reflections upon educational methods. The nature of stud-


ies, the sequence of subjects, the gradation of difficulties,
the choice of exercises, the comparison of oral instruction
with text-book instruction, modes of discipline, — nothing
escapes a thinker who is not a mere theorist or an amateur
educator, but a professional man, a competent teacher, an
experienced professor.

Indeed, no one should allow himself to be deceived by this
fine phrase, Education as a Science, which might disconcert
and turn aside whole classes of readers, such as those who,
in works en education, especially desire a guide for practice.
On the contrary, they will have every reason to commend a
book which passes very quickly from generalities to applica-
tions, and which is above all else a manual of practical and
technical pedagogy. The study of it will be profitable not
merely to professors who are teaching the higher branches of
literature and science, but even to the humblest instructors,
and even — for Mr. Bain overlooks no detail — to teachers
of reading and writing.

656. Division of the Work. — Education as a Science
comprises three parts: 1. psychological data ; 2. methods;
3. modern education.

The author first inquires in what order the faculties are
developed, and what effect this order should have on the
distribution of studies. This is the psychological part.
Then follows a discussion of what Mr. Bain calls the logical
order, that is, of the relations which exist between the
studies themselves and their different parts. This is the
"analytical problem" of education. 1

These preliminaries being established, Mr. Bain enters

1 By the "analytical problem " of education, Mr. Bain means the deter'
mining of the educatiou value of subjects. See Education as a Science,
Chapter V. (P.)



upon the principal theme, — the methods of instruction. He
discusses one after another the first elements of reading,
object-lessons, "which, more than any other means of
instruction, require to be practised with care, for without
this, an admirable process might, in unskillful hands, be
nothing more than a thing of seductive appearance, but with-
out value" ; then methods relating to history, geography, the
sciences, and the languages.

Finally, in his third book, Mr. Bain exhibits a new plan of
study, with particular reference to secondary instruction.

657. Psychological Order and Logical Order. — In
his reflections on the development of the mind and upon the
distribution of studies, Mr. Bain is inspired by the prin-
ciples which have guided Mr. Spencer.

"Observation precedes reflection. The concrete comes
before the abstract."

In education, then, the sequence should be from the sim-
ple to the complex, from the particular to the general, from
the indefinite to the definite, from the empirical to the rational,
from analysis to synthesis, from the outline to details ; finally,
from the material to the immaterial.

Such would be the ideal order in education ; but Mr. Bain
remarks that in practice all sorts of obstacles come to disturb
this rigorous sequence.

658. Modern Education. — The plan of secondary studies
which Mr. Bain recommends to the reformers of teaching is
the result and the resume of all these observations.

Intellectual education, common to all young people who
receive a liberal instruction, would henceforth comprise three
essential parts : 1. the sciences ; 2. the humanities ; 3. rhet-
oric and the national literature. We see at once what is to


be understood by this last item ; but the two others have
ueed of some explanations.

The sciences are divided into two groups : those which are
to be mastered, — arithmetic, geometry, algebra, physics,
chemistry, biology, psychology ; and the natural sciences,
which should be studied only superficially because they would
overwhelm the memory under the weight of too large a num-
ber of facts. Geography, which, one does not know why, is
included in the sciences, while history is attached to the hu-
manities, will complete the programme of scientific studies.

As to the humanities, Mr. Bain preserves scarcely more
than the name while suppressing the thing ; for in the cur-
tailed and disfigured domain which he persists in calling by
this name, he cuts off precisely that which has always been
considered as constituting its essence, — the study of the
dead languages. He excludes from it even the living lan-
guages, and that which he still decorates with the fine title
of humanities, is still science, — moral science, it is true, —
" history and sociology with political economy and jurispru-

A course in universal literature, but, be it understood,
without original texts, might afterwards be added to this pre-
tended teaching of the humanities.

Two or three hours a week would be devoted parallelly,
during the whole course of study, which would last six years,
to each of the three departments of instruction which Mr.
Bain thinks equally important.

As to the real humanities, dead or living languages, they
should no longer be included in education save as optional
and extra studies, on the same basis as the accomplishments.
And, appealing to the future, Mr. Bain even predicts that
" a day will come when it will be found that this is still
granting them too large a place in education."


Mr. Bain, then, gives all bis preferences to scientific
studies, and his book might properly be entitled, not only
Education as a Science, but also Science in Education.

G59. Theoretical Errors. — Mr. Bain reproaches letters
with giving the mind the habit of servility. By what sin-
gular revulsion of thought can the liberal studies par excel-
lence be represented as a school of intellectual servitude ? It

Online LibraryGabriel CompayréThe history of pedagogy → online text (page 43 of 48)