F. E. (Ferdinand Edouard) Buisson.

French educational ideals of today; an anthology of the molders of French educational thought of the present online

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against the same enemy. Does not this figurative
union of the old army and the new typify the still

L [St. Privat, a village of the Department of the Moselle, where on August
18, 1870, the French to the number of 26,000 with 78 guns heroically fought
against 90,000 Prussians with 280 guns.


nobler union between the old and the new France?
Indeed, how our native country shone at certain epochs
with a dazzling luster! I confess that I never could
behold without great emotion the picture of the de-
velopment of our race during those centuries which
are disdainfully referred to as the "Dark Ages,"
I mean the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.

"From 1100 to 1300," says 1. 1. Weiss, "the knights
of France with their followers appear everywhere,
founding French empires, principalities, kingdoms,
and colonies. We are too likely to forget that almost
at the same moment there was a French king at Naples,
and in Sicily, a French king at Jerusalem, a French
king in Cyprus, a French emperor in Constantinople,
French princes at Antioch, in Silicia, in Morea, and at
Corfu; there was even a French king in London, for
our language, our prowess, and our laws ruled England
during two hundred years. For one or two centuries
the name of France was what the name of Rome had
been, and an illustrious Italian writer, Dante's master,
Brunetto Latini, entitled one of his works 'On the
Universality of the French Language.' '

When this idea of the traditional unity of the French
nation is impressed upon the hearts of our young men,
it will be easier to cultivate in them that love of country
which the teacher of history should inculcate before
everything else. "The unity of French history is the
unity of France herself," said Jules Ferry. "We have
before us children who will all become soldiers, men
on whom peace will impose all kinds of self-restraint,
and war all kinds of sacrifice."

In one of the great parliamentary debates on the


army bill, M. Thiers spoke of our poor recruits. "You
are taking from our society men who have had no share
in our education, who have not been fed on the great
examples of history, and to each of them you are say-
ing: 'Thou shalt not think of thy well-being whilst
everything around thee is at peace, and when it be-
comes necessary thou shalt bear the cold and the
heat. Thou shalt throw thyself into the ice of the
Beresina and die to save the army. Thou shalt suffer
the torrid heat of Africa, and thine honor and glory
shall be death under the flag."

Bonaparte well knew the force of example when,
going back to ancient history, he cited the example
of the Roman legions to his soldiers during the cam-
paigns of Italy and Egypt. "Those legions," he said,
"which you have sometimes imitated, but never yet
equaled." And our soldiers went on enduring priva-
tion and fatigue, fighting one against ten. "Our
ambition," said the valiant Pellport, "was to equal the
Romans." Modest as they were, these soldiers were
heroic. Little did they suspect that one day as new
Romans they would themselves become models for

Remember K16ber's foot soldiers, who for a moment
succumbed to exhaustion, but who rose up again
at the call of honor. After a long march in the desert,
panting and worn out, they refused to carry their
wounded. Klber ran up to them: "Wretched
men," he exclaimed, "you are cowards, not soldiers.
To be a soldier means that a man is not to eat when
he is hungry, not to drink when he is thirsty, to go on
walking when he is worn out with fatigue, and when


he can no longer carry himself, to carry his wounded
comrades. Such is the soldier's duty, wretched men !
Take back your wounded on your shoulders!" And
the soldiers took back the wounded.

Was I under a kind of spell? I do not know, but
when I was quoting to my pupils in the classroom this
anecdote and others of the same sort, I seemed to be
looking into the future, yonder, the very distant
future. Under the burning sun of our colonies, I could
see one of the boys who was listening to me. He, too,
was on the point of succumbing, when he suddenly
remembered this incident of the history class, and like
a cordial the memory of it revived his courage. For
myself, too, this vision has often acted as a cordial.
At times teachers, too, have need of cordials.


Jules Payot (1859- ), agrege in philosophy; rector of the
Academy of Aix; author of Education de la volonti, which has
been widely translated, L'&ducation de la democratic, and various
other books.


TODAY schoolmasters are obliged to serve in the army.
The time spent in active service may become very
profitable to those young men who enlist with full
consciousness of the greatness of their future calling.

To those ^who think seriously, entering the army
is a solemn step, for it signifies the acknowledgment
of the insignificance of individual life and will, .in con-
trast with the well-being of one's native land. It
means recognition of the inconsequential character of
our egoism and the acceptance of the truth that we
possess no real value in ourselves, unless our will can
cooperate with the wills of thousands of our fellow
countrymen. By its mere existence the army sets
us an example of brotherhood and joint responsi-
bility, because there all isolated effort obviously be-
comes ineffectual.

Acknowledgment by soldiers and leaders of a prin-
ciple outweighing any individual interest, and implicit
acceptance of the sacrifice of the life of each to this
principle, ennobles the slightest act of everyday serv-
ice in the army. . . .

For the soldier, subordination is the daily practical
form of duty. It does not imply annihilation of the
will of the individual, but rather the contrary, for as

1 Courtesy of Armand Colin et Cie.


the thoughts of the true poet gain in force and pre-
cision through conforming to the laws of metrical
language, so the will of a true soldier gains in strength
and energy by subordinating itself to the regulations
of military discipline.

The "teacher-soldier" who ennobles the most
arduous tasks by fixing his thoughts on the great
patriotic duty he is performing will also find in daily
military life fine opportunities for will-control. In
order that he may be able to turn these opportunities
to good account, it will suffice for him fully to under-
stand the necessity for discipline of all kinds, and
willingly to accept the consequences resulting from the
performance of his duty to his country.

From this very moment, while the poor soldier
(that is, the narrow-minded man, fond of ease and a
slave to comfort, idleness, and pleasure) will find
reasons for complaint everywhere, the "teacher-
soldier" contentedly accepts the inflexible regulations
of military discipline, their regularity, and the prompt-
ness required even in acts of the slightest importance.
Early rising affords an opportunity for overcoming
indolence of body, for everybody, whether he complies
willingly or not, is obliged to rise. The exercise of the
will is easy in this case, for it merely consists in per-
forming quickly and cheerfully what one cannot refuse
to do. Again, the cleanliness required, the prompt-
ness exacted, are valuable acquisitions in self -discipline.
The fatigue of marching renders the body supple;
the promptness and precision demanded in drill and
exercises keep the mind continually on the alert.

As the training of the will consists in overcoming


sloth, effeminacy, and bodily indolence, and in fight-
ing against any tendency to selfishness, irritability of
temper, or pride, so, letting thoughts and acts be
guided by some truly stimulating moral principle, we
easily see that no life can be compared to that of a
soldier in opportunities of development in the train-
ing of the will.

In short, a teacher may gain real moral advantage
through military service. With his regiment he will
learn the great lesson of self-effacement which the
army teaches ; he will come to feel the insignificance
of the individual where there is no solidarity ; he will
direct his energy toward the control of his body and
toward subordinating individual wishes and instincts
to the higher law of patriotism.

Upon resuming his duties in school, he will be quite
prepared to carry on the great work of self-control,
and to let his thoughts and acts be guided by the
manly discipline of duty, which increases the effective-
ness of individual effort an hundred-fold by bringing
into collaboration the efforts of noble minds.


Louis Liard (1846-1917), lycee teacher, professor of philosophy,
rector of the Academy of Caen, director of higher education at the
ministry of public instruction, successor of Greard in the vice-
rectorship of the University of Paris (1902), member of the higher
council of public instruction, member of the Institute, grand officer
of the Legion of Honor. Administrator, philosopher, author of
L'enseignement sup&rieur en France, and numerous books on phi-
losophy and education.


IN secondary education, the study of science, as well
as of all other subjects, should contribute to build up
the complete man. If the sciences do this, they too, in
their own way and in the broad sense of the term, are
humanities, "scientific humanities," as one of the most
ardent partisans of classical culture has not hesi-
tated to call them. Their proper function is to co-
operate with the means best suited to this end in
cultivating in the mind whatever helps to ascertain
scientific truth : observation, comparison, classifica-
tion, and the capacity for planning experiments and
discovering analogies; to awaken and develop that
sense of the real and the possible which is not less
important than the idealistic spirit; finally, and
thereby they become latent but none the less effective
teachers of philosophy, it is their function to teach
the mind not to think in fragments but to understand
that every fragment is part of a whole. Thus they
possess that general character which is commonly
regarded as typical of the varied course of study af-
forded by secondary instruction.


Properly to perform this function, it is evident that
the teaching of science should appeal especially to the
active powers of the mind, to that very activity by
means of which the sciences are built up. Doubtless
memory has a part to play in scientific instruction,
but not the principal part. The purpose is to create
accurate perception of facts, power to distinguish be-
tween the real and the unreal, between the true and
the false, and to attain both accuracy of reasoning
and a clear realization of what can be established with
certainty. Consequently, there is nothing more con-
trary to true scientific teaching than to pour into a
passive brain through books or even by word of mouth
notwithstanding the superiority of the latter means
of transmission a mass of abstractions and facts
to be learned by heart. This immediately becomes
verbalism, in other words a scourge. On the con-
trary, the end in view is to create spontaneity in the
pupil, to bring his mental capacity into play, to pro-
mote personal effort on his part, in short to make
him capable of action. The old adage of the phi-
losopher, "knowing is doing," is always true. Here
as elsewhere what really benefits the student is what
he can produce, not what he can reproduce.

I pass on to less general remarks concerning the
different sciences. It is asserted that for the last
twenty years mathematics has been passing through
a crisis of transcendental idealism. It is supposed
to have risen to dizzy heights and to have lost sight
of the earth and of space itself. One cannot regret
this, since as a consequence we have work of the first
rank which does honor to French genius. And then,


who knows? Some day, perhaps, out of "hyper-
space" there will come to us one of those discoveries
which change the face of things. But that which is
in place in higher education is not in its proper place
in secondary education. I am told that in the last few
years methods not devoid of danger have penetrated into
the former under the influence of the highest speculation.
Let us not lose sight of the fact that in our classes we
are to form, not candidates for the Section of Higher
Analysis in the Academy of Sciences, but clear heads
that can see accurately and reason accurately.

This being the case, is it well to start pupils from the
beginning with purely nominal definitions? Is it
well to install symbols in their minds as rules before
having thoroughly taught them what those symbols
mean, and to let them struggle with the interminable
expansion of these symbols in the abstract without
frequent recurrence to realities? Is it well to teach
them a science parallel to mechanics without showing
them, if only on a bicycle, the parts of a real machine
and the transmission of real movement? Is it well,
instead of showing them the planets in the heavens,
to confine oneself to pointing out "orbs" on the black-
board, so that for them there exist, not the real sun
and the real moon, but merely the "sun and moon of
the classroom " ?

Does it not follow that many of our students, baffled
from the start and perceiving no connection between
mathematics and reality, imagine that they have to
do with an impenetrable world, accessible only to
some few specially constructed minds, and for this
reason make no effort to penetrate further? Does


it not follow that even those who have been able to
grasp the subject by continually living in the abstract
without frequent enough reversion to realities come
to consider mathematics as logic, as a convention,
and as a game ? If we are not careful, this may shortly
become verbalism in other words, the thing that is
least instructive in the world.

One word now about the natural sciences. It is
here that the verbalism is to be feared. These sciences
have so many things to name, and they employ such
scientific nomenclature, that their aspect suffices to
give the child the illusion of knowledge. Pasting labels
on brains is really not doing the work of an educator.

Another obstacle in this same line is the abuse of
detail. Before being synthetical, the natural sciences
are analytical, and they delve deep into analysis.
This is not a reason for pretending to initiate the
students, even those of the philosophy form, into all
the details of organisms and for making them learn
interminable lists of muscles, vessels, and apophyses.
On the other hand there is a different obstacle in the
abuse of biological metaphysics. I approve of its
being taught in graduate work. There it is in place;
it is a stimulus to research. But in the lycee, and
especially in the sixth and fifth forms where it has
sometimes been found, is it not a contradiction and a
danger ? a contradiction, because this biological
metaphysics is valuable only as the provisional synthe-
sis of an infinite number of facts which the student
cannot know; a danger, because it transforms into
dogmatism a training which should first of all devote
itself to teaching things. Certainly I should not


wish to eliminate every allusion to the hypotheses of
scientists concerning life, but I believe in employing
them provided they are used legitimately, and that
only those portions are utilized which can illumine the
way of the pupil across the very limited number of facts
which are known to him.

It seems to me easy to avoid these obstacles if one
is convinced that the teaching of the natural sciences
in the lycee should be an educational discipline, and
not a burdening of the memory. First, accurate per-
ception of facts will cultivate the faculty of observation ;
then, comparison of facts will cultivate the faculty of
comparison ; finally, following these comparisons, prac-
tical connections established between facts will cultivate
the faculty of generalization, thus giving the first con-
ception of law, the first stirring of the scientific sense.

In each one of these steps it is essential that the
pupil, large or small, act for himself as far as possible,
first in order to see. At the outset his eye can read,
but can it see, and see accurately? This it must be
taught to do. Always take pains to show the things
themselves, not from a distance as at the theater, but
close by, very close by, making sure that the pupil
perceives them exactly. Then make comparisons,
which in fact is still seeing, but seeing simultaneously
or in succession and distinguishing, among several
objects, the unlike from the like. Finally, comes
generalization, or passing from facts to concepts.
With systematic direction and well-timed help is it
impossible that a pupil of average intelligence should
manage to grasp the common characteristics of the
objects he is comparing? If one is careful to choose


but a limited number of types, selecting them for their
significance and trimming them down to their es-
sential features, is it impossible to make him climb by
himself, as if from story to story, toward those general
relations which prove the continuity and the unity
of biological phenomena? And later, in the upper
classes, if one applies oneself to making the student
notice the determinism of vital phenomena, the relation
between organ and function, the coordination of organs
and functions, if by means of a few well-chosen ex-
amples from, the works of the great scientists he is then
shown how scientific discovery is made, noting the
relative importance of imagination and experiment,
is it impossible to make experimental study of the
natural sciences contribute to the highest develop-
ment of his intellect ?

Perhaps too great a place in the education of French
youth cannot be given to the physical sciences. This
country, which is before all else of an idealistic and
deductive turn of mind, needs to plunge into realism.
Not that it has not already made many discoveries
in the experimental sciences, great discoveries which
are beginnings and which need afterwards an army of
workers to make them effective; but on the whole
the scientific education of the French youth seems to
have been turned too much toward abstract mathe-
matics and not enough toward experimental science.
Without speaking here of practical utility, which con-
tinues to increase daily, it is from experimental science
that we derive two essential notions, two habits of
thought which are fundamental : the notion of "posi-
tive truth," that is to say of a fact established by ex-


periment, and with it the habit of looking upon a fact
as a fact which must be taken into account and which
can be governed or modified only by other facts;
secondly, the more general notion of natural law,
that is to say of the relation of individual facts among
themselves, and at the same time the habit of con-
sidering objective truth independent of our desires
and of our wishes.

In this order of science nothing less than a com-
plete change of method was requisite. Under the
influence of causes already remote, which are un-
necessary to recall here, science was long taught by
methods which could only give the pupils an idea
diametrically opposed to its true nature. By the
method of exposition, teachers presented science from
the deductive point of view. First of all the law was
announced in the form of a theorem ; then followed its
demonstration, always as if it were merely a theorem.
Only later did the fact come to light, and then it
appeared as an illustration and not as the source of the
law. As the experiment was finally presented, it be-
came merely an aid to the memory, associating an image
with a formula. Today the experimental sciences
proceed in exactly the opposite fashion.

The more the minds of our race are inclined to pro-
ceed to the highest generalizations by a method of
leaps and bounds, in order subsequently to treat every-
thing deductively, the more necessary it is to incul-
cate in them in youth an exact sense of what is real,
and with this end in view to teach them real facts,
following the same order in which the human mind
establishes and explains these facts.


Jules Tannery (1848-1910), student in the scientific section of
the Higher Normal School in the rue d'Ulm. Agrege in 1869, he
taught successively in the boys' lycees at Rennes, Caen, and at the
lycee St. Louis in Paris. After substituting for a short time at
the Sorbonne, he was appointed lecturer at the Higher Normal
School (1881), and three years later he became head of the science
section and assistant director of the school, continuing to discharge
this double function until his death. In 1882 he was appointed
lecturer in mathematics at the Higher Normal School for Girls
which had just been founded at Sevres. In 1907 he was elected a
member of the Paris Academy of Sciences.

The different functions he thus performed gave him an oppor-
tunity to exert a great influence on the development of education
in France in an" its stages. The way in which this influence was
exerted may be gathered from the extracts given below. Jules
Tannery had a remarkably keen and penetrating mind, which could
have been turned to literary study as well as to a scientific career.
His pedagogical influence will survive him, thanks to the scholarly
works he has published and the pupils he was able to train.


"MATHEMATICS," says Descartes at the beginning of
the Discourse on Method, "has very subtle inventions
which can be of great service, as well to satisfy the
curious as to facilitate the arts and lighten the work
of mankind." As for facilitating the arts, that is
very uncertain. Lightening the work of mankind,
however, appears to me more doubtful ; in fact, it is
the contrary that we see. The first part of the great
geometrician's oft-quoted phrase has always reminded
me of the "goose game that we have revived from the
Greeks well adapted to pass the time when there
is nothing to do," and I am fairly sure that the pre-
vailing conception in the teaching profession is that
mathematics exists to satisfy the curious.



Our teaching easily becomes ornamental. We ex-
cuse ourselves for its superfluousness by harping upon
the training of the mind to which everything else must
be sacrificed, and we apply the fine epithet "disin-
terested" to that teaching whose uselessness stares us
in the face. Let us discard all such twaddle.

Disinterestedness is a fine thing. This is no place
to speak of the interest some people have in conserv-
ing the teaching they call "disinterested," that could
not apply to any of the readers of the Revue; but
really why is not one disinterested when one strives
to be useful to others? To be ashamed of utility,
what foolishness ! Whatever answers to man's needs,
whatever affords him satisfaction, is useful. The
utility of a subject is in a way the measure of its hu-
manity. It is not worth while, perhaps, to say that
there are various and sundry needs, and that scientific
teaching does not pretend to satisfy them all; but I
certainly should like people to discontinue this re-
proach of "utilitarianism" directed at those who
think that teaching should consider the needs of the

As for training the mind, with which it is certain we
should be occupied in primary teaching as elsewhere,
I ask in what way uselessness helps matters. Do you
flatter yourselves that children seldom suspect this
uselessness, or that their vague misgivings spur them
on to effort? On the contrary, is it not the real
reason for the lassitude that comes over them, for this
disgust with intellectual work that one meets so fre-
quently in school and lycee ?

To satisfy the curious is very well; but first we


may have to awaken the curiosity. Do you think
that children of thirteen or fourteen have a natural
taste for logical abstractions, for empty reasoning, for
demonstrations that seem to them far less clear than
the statement of the problem ? Doubtless they must
be taught to reason well, but to reason about realities,
or at least about models or pictures that come some-

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Online LibraryF. E. (Ferdinand Edouard) BuissonFrench educational ideals of today; an anthology of the molders of French educational thought of the present → online text (page 18 of 23)