Chapter 9 A Great Educationalist

Chapter 9
A Great Educationalist
(A Review)

We look to Germany for Educational Reform.––We in England require, every now and then, to pull ourselves together, and to ask what they are doing on the Continent in the way of education. We still hark back to the older German educational reformers. We may not know much of Comenius, Basedow, Ratich; we do know something of Pestalozzi and Froebel; but how much do we know of the thought of Johann Friedrich Herbart, the lineal successor of these, who has largely displaced his predecessors in the field of Pedagogics?

Herbartian Thought the most advanced on the Continent.––How entirely German educators work upon Herbart, and Herbart only, is proved by the existence of a Herbartian educational literature greatly more extensive than the whole of our English educational literature put together. A little volume on the Outlines of Pedagogics8,  by Professor W. Rein, of the University of Jena, is offered to us by the translators, C. C. and Ida J. Van Liew, as a brief introduction to the study of Herbart and his school, the author making due allowance for the advances that have been made in the decades that have elapsed since Herbart's death.

As Herbart and his interpreters represent the most advanced school of educational thought on the Continent, it will, perhaps, be interesting to the reader to make a slight comparison between the educational philosophy I am trying to set forth, and the school of thought which exercises such immense influence in Germany.

Comparison with P.N.E.U. Thought.––One of the most characteristic features of Herbart's thinking, and that feature of it which constitutes a new school of educational thought, is, that he rejects the notion of separate mental faculties. The earlier reformers, notably Pestalozzi and Froebel, divide the faculties up with something of the precision of a phrenologist, and a chief business of education is, according to them, 'to develop the faculties.'

The Development of the Faculties.––There is a certain pleasing neatness in this idea which is very attractive. We want to know, definitely, what we have to do. Why, develop the perceptive faculties here, with the conceptive there, the judgment in this lesson, the affections in the other, until you have covered the whole ground, giving each so-called faculty its due share of developmental exercise! But, say the followers of Herbart, we have changed all that. The mind, like Wordsworth's cloud, moves altogether when it moves at all.

We, like Herbart, discard the 'Faculties.'––Now this appears to be but a slight fundamental difference, but it is one upon the recognition of which education changes front. The whole system of beautifully organised lessons, whose object is to develop this or that faculty, is called in question; for the raison d'être of specialised intellectual gymnastics is gone when we no longer recognise particular 'muscles' of the mind to be developed. The aim of education must be something quite other, and, if the aim is other, the methods must be altered, for what is method but a way to an end? So far we are entirely with Herbart; we do not believe in the 'faculties'; therefore we do not believe in the 'development of the faculties therefore we do not regard lessons as instruments for this 'development': in fact, our whole method of procedure is altered.

Pervasiveness of Dominant Ideas.––Again, we are with the philosopher in his recognition of the force of an idea, and especially of those ideas which are, as we phrase it, in the air at any given moment. "Both the circle of the family and that of social intercourse are subjected to forces that are active in the entire social body, and that penetrate the entire atmosphere of human life in invisible channels. No one knows whence these currents, these ideas arise; but they are there. They influence the moods, the aspirations, and the inclinations of humanity, and no one, however powerful, can withdraw himself from their effects; no sovereign's command makes its way into their depths. They are often born of a genius to be seized upon by the multitude that soon forgets their author; then the power of the thought that has thus become active in the masses again impels the individual to energetic resolutions: in this manner it is constantly describing a remarkable circle. Originating with those that are highly gifted, these thoughts permeate all society, reaching, in fact, not only its adult members, but also through these its youth, and appearing again in other highly gifted individuals in whom they will perhaps have been elevated to a definite form.

"Whether the power of these dominant ideas is greater in the individual, or in the body of individuals as a whole, is a matter of indifference here. Be that as it may, it cannot be denied that their effect upon the one is manifested in a reciprocal action upon the other, and that their influence upon the younger generation is indisputable."

The Zeitgeist.––We entirely agree that no one can escape the influence of this Zeitgeist, and that the Zeitgeist is, in fact, one of the most powerful of the occult educational influences, and one which parents and all who have the training of children will do well to reckon with in the adjustment of their work.

The Child's Schoolmasters.––Nature, family, social intercourse, this Zeitgeist, the Church and the State, thus Professor Rein, as interpreting Herbart, sums up the schoolmasters under whose influences every child grows up; a suggestive enumeration we should do well to consider. 'Erziehung ist Sache der Familien; von da geht sie aus und dahin kehrt sie grössenteils zurück,' says Herbart. He considers, as do we, that by far the most valuable part of education is carried on in the family, because of the union of all the members under a common parentage, of the feeling of dependence upon a head, of the very intimate knowledge to be gained of the younger members.

A Noble Piety.––The members of the family look confidently to the head; and this sense of dependence favours, at the same time, the proper reception of that which is dearest to mankind, namely, the religious feeling. If the life of the family is permeated by a noble piety, a sincere religious faith take root in the hearts of the children. Faithful devotion to the guide of the youth also calls forth faithful devotion to Him who controls human destinies––a thought which Herbart expresses so beautifully the words––'To the child, the family should be the symbol of the order in the world; from the parents one should derive by idealisation the characteristics of the deity."'

A Medieval Conception of Education––This idea of all education springing from and resting upon our relation to Almighty God is one which we have ever laboured to enforce. We take a very distinct stand upon this point. We do not merely give a religious education, because that would seem to imply the possibility of some other education, a secular education, for example. But we hold that all education is divine, that every good gift of knowledge and insight comes from above, that the Lord the Holy Spirit is the supreme educator of mankind, and that the culmination of all education (which may, at the same time, be reached by a little child) is that personal knowledge of and intimacy with God in which our being finds its fullest perfection. We hold, in fact, that great conception of education held by the medieval Church, as pictured upon the walls of the Spanish chapel in Florence. Here we have represented the descent of the Holy Ghost upon the Twelve, and directly under them, fully under the Illuminating rays, are the noble figures of the seven liberal arts, Grammar, Rhetoric, Logic, Music, Astronomy, Geometry, Arithmetic, and under these again the men who received and expressed, so far as the artist knew, the initial idea in each of these subjects; such men as Pythagoras, Zoroaster, Euclid, whom we might call pagans, but whom the earlier Church recognised as divinely taught and illuminated.

The Family Principle.––Here follows a passage which we do more than endorse, for it contains the very raison d'être of our society. "The education of the children will always remain the holiest and highest of all family duties. The welfare, civilisation, and culture of a people depend essentially upon the degree of success that attends the education in the homes. The family principle is the point at which both the religious and educational life of a people centres, and about which it revolves. It is a force in comparison with which every sovereign's command appears powerless."

By the way, we are inclined to think that Dr Rein's mention of Rousseau is a little misleading. It is true that in Emil the parents are supplanted, but, notwithstanding that fact, perhaps no other educationalist has done so much to awaken parents to their great work as educators. After investigating the conditions of home training, Dr Rein proceeds to a discussion of schools (a) as they exist in Germany; (b) as they exist in his own ideal, a discussion which should be most interesting to parents.

Uncertainty as to the Purpose of Education.––Teleology, i.e. the theory of the purpose of education, falls next under discussion in an extremely instructive chapter. It is well we should know the vast uncertainty which exists on this fundamental point. As a matter of fact, few of us know definitely what we propose to ourselves in the education of our children. We do not know what it is possible to effect, and, as a man does not usually compass more than he aims at, the results of our education are very inadequate and unsatisfactory.

Some Attempts to fix the Purpose of Education.––"Shall the educator follow Rousseau and educate a man of nature in the midst of civilised men? In so doing, as Herbart has shown, we should simply repeat from the beginning the entire series of evils that have already been surmounted. Or shall we turn to Locke and prepare the pupil for the world which is customarily in league with worldlings? We should then arrive at the standpoint of Basedow, and aim to educate the pupil so that he would become a truly useful member of human society. Of course we should always be harassed with the secret doubt as to whether this is ideal purpose after all, and whether we are not at times directly enjoined to place the pupil at variance with the usage and customary dealings of the world. If we reflect that an endless career is open to man for his improvement, we realise that only that education, whose aims are always the highest, can hope to reach the lofty goals that mark this career.

"Therefore an ideal aim must be present in the mind of the educator. Possibly he can obtain information and help from Pestalozzi, whose nature evinced such ideal tendencies. Pestalozzi wished the welfare of mankind to be sought in the harmonious cultivation of all powers. If one only knew what is to be understood by a multiplicity of mental powers, and what meant by the harmony of various powers. These phrases sound very attractive, but give little satisfaction. The purely formal aims of education will appeal as little to the educator: 'Educate the pupil to independence'; or, 'Educate the pupil to be his own educator'; or,'Educate the pupil so that "it" will become better than "its" educator.' (Hermann and Dorothea, Hector and Astyanax in the Iliad.) Such and similar attempts to fix the purpose of education are abundant in the history of pedagogy; but they do not bring us nearer the goal. In their formal character they do not say, for example, of what kind the independence shall be, what content it shall have, what aims it shall have in view, or in what directions its course shall lie. For the pupil that has become independent can use his freedom rightly for good just as well as misuse it for evil."

Herbart's Theory, Ethical––Herbart's own theory of education, so far as we may venture to formulate it, is strictly ethical as opposed to intellectual, that is, the development and sustenance of the intellect is of secondary importance to the educator for two reasons: character building is the matter of first importance to human beings; and this because, (a) train character and intellectual 'development' largely takes care of itself, and (b) the lessons designed for intellectual culture have high ethical value, whether stimulating or disciplinary. This is familiar ground to us: we too have taught, in season and out of season, that the formation of character is the aim of the educator. So far, we are at one with the philosopher; but, may we venture to say it? we have arrived, through the study of Physiology, at the definiteness of aim which he desires but does not reach.

Obscurity of Psychology.––We must appeal, he says, to Psychology, but then, he adds, "of course we cannot expect a concordant answer from all psychologists; and in view of the obscurity which still prevails in this sphere, the different views as to the nature of the human soul and the extraordinary difficulty with which the empirical method of investigation meets, an absolutely indubitable explanation can hardly be expected."

Two Luminous Principles.––This is doubtless true of Psychology alone, but of Psychology illuminated by Physiology we have another tale to tell. It is the study of that border-land betwixt mind and matter, the brain, which yields the richest results to the educator. For the brain is the seat of habit: the culture of habit is, to a certain extent, physical culture: the discipline of habit is at least a third part of the great whole which we call education, and here we feel that the physical science of to-day has placed us in advance of the philosopher of fifty years ago. We hold with him entirely as to the importance of great formative ideas in the education of children, but we add to our ideas, habits, and we labour to form habits upon a physical basis. Character is the result not merely of the great ideas which are given to us, but of the habits which we labour to form upon those ideas. We recognise both principles, and the result is a wide range of possibilities in education, practical methods, and a definite aim. We labour to produce a human being at his best physically, mentally, morally, and spiritually, with the enthusiasms of religion, of the good life, of nature, knowledge, art, and manual work; and we do not labour in the dark.

I have ventured to indicate in a former chapter what appears to me the root-defect of the educational philosophy of this great thinker––that it tends to eliminate personality, and therefore leads to curious futilities in teaching. It is therefore the more gratifying to observe that certain fundamental ideas, long the property of the world, which we have embraced in our scheme of thought, appealed with equal force to so great an original a thinker as Herbart.

8Sonnenschein & Co. ; 3s