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Κρείττον γάρ που σμικρών εύ ή πολύ μη ικανώς περάναι.
PLATO, THEAT. 187, E.
THERE are some subjects in treating of which we can plunge in medias res. The subject of this chapter is not such a one. We must, in discussing it, bear in mind the
. Frenchman's advice, to “begin at the beginning.” Before investigating the merits of any particular scheme of education, we must understand clearly what we mean by education, and what we consider to be the object of it. This going back to first principles is, doubtless, a great bore in many cases, as where the Congressman, recorded by Sands, began his speech on a question of paving Pennsylvania Avenue with a historical dissertation on the Constitution of the United States; and such an announcement made formally at this stage of a book is very like admonishing the adventurous reader who has travelled so far that now is the time for him
to repose after his labors. Nevertheless, it is very necessary on some occasions, if he would avoid that satisfactory state of things which is called in Latin controversia, and in English cross purposes. For the term education is a tolerably comprehensive one, covers a great deal of ground, and may
be taken in a great many different acceptations. Ask one man to define education for you, and he will tell you (truly enough, too, in one sense) that everything which a man passes through in his life is a part of his education for this world or the next. Ask another what he understands by education, and he will answer your question most Socratically by another, or a string of others,—“education of whom, and for what? -a lawyer's education, a doctor's, a merchant's ?" And if you
tell him “a man's,” he will be still less able to give you a direct reply. Ask a third what the end of education is, and he tells you, ore rotundo, that it is “to qualify men to do good,” which is a magnificent sentiment to hear, only if you come to cross question this gentleman as to the particular kinds of “good” that men are to be qualified to do, you will find them to include robbery of private individuals, resistance to public authority, and a general propensity to upset everything established.
There are certainly some very odd ideas on this same subject of education afloat among us. Here, for instance, is a passage which I find in a book called Hints towards Reforms,* a series of lectures and discourses delivered by Mr. Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune.
* P. 211.
“The youth who fancies himself educated because he has fully mastered ever so many branches of mere school learning, is laboring under a deplorable and perilous delusion. He may have learned all that the schools, the seminaries, and even our miscalled universities, necessarily teach, and still be a pitiably ignorant man, unable to earn a week's subsistence, to resist the promptings of a perverted appetite, or to shield himself from such common results of physical depravity as Dyspepsia, Hypochondria, and Nervous Derangement. A master of Greek and Hebrew who does not know how to grow Potatoes, and can be tempted to drown his reason in the intoxicating bowl, is far more imperfectly educated than many an unlettered backwoodsman.”
Now, as regards the “intoxicating bowl,” it is certainly a terrible defect in a man's morale that he should habitually get drunk, so it is, for that matter, that he should habitually advocate Anti-Rentism, or any other species of robbery; but I do not perceive that his education has necessarily anything to do with the one or the other. He may have a hereditary propensity to drink or plunder which no education can eradicate, and which can only be repressed or punished by other influences, or he may have started in the world a sober and honest man,
and have afterwards become perverted by warping influences. But I wish to call particular attention to the words which I have italicized, and the proposition which they
onvey, to wit, that to grow, or, in more correct English, to raise potatoes (to the dignity of which vegetable Mr. G. has further testified by the big P he employs in spelling it) is a more essential branch of education than Greek and Hebrew. Now, methinks, a reader of ordinary capacity and reflection, if he had his attention attracted by such a passage, and were led to compare for himself the relative value of the two things referred to as elements of education, would, in the first place, be likely to inquire the amount of labor and time respectively necessary to become a master of the two things. And I fancy the result of his examination would be that a thorough knowledge of Greek and Hebrew requires assiduous application to them for a number of years, probably seven or eight, at least, while the Science of Raising Potatoes may be conquered in a few seasons, perhaps months, taken at intervals. And this consideration would not improbably lead him to the conclusion that, so far at any rate, the scholar had acquired the more valuable part of education, because, supposing them compelled to change places, he could learn to raise potatoes much sooner than the potatoe-grower could learn Greek and Hebrew, provided their abilities were equal. This, then, would suggest another question, as to the relative amount of mind and capacity requisite to make a Greek scholar and a raiser of potatoes. To this, I imagine, he would not be very long in finding an answer, that to make a Greek and Hebrew scholar a man required to be, not a transcendent genius certainly, but a person of fair capacity, rather above than under the average intellect; that to be a scholar is not ToŨ TUXovsós, or, in plain English, possible for every man that you may pick up in the street; that if the scholar is not necessarily a Mercury, neither is he such a stick as can be made out of any wood; and much more to the same purpose,