It is often alleged that in England boys and girls show less mental curiosity, less desire for knowledge than those of most European countries, or even than those of the three smaller countries north and west of England in which the Celtic element is stronger than it is in South Britain. A parallel charge has, ever since the days of Matthew Arnold, been brought against the English upper and middle classes. He declared that they care less for the “things of the mind” and show less respect to eminence in science, literature and art, than is the case elsewhere, as for instance in France, Germany, or Italy (to which one may add the United States); and he thus explained the scanty interest taken by these classes in educational progress.
Should this latter charge be well founded, the fact it notes would tend to perpetuate the former evil, for the indifference of parents reacts upon the school and upon the pupils. The love of knowledge is so natural and awakens so early in the normal child, that even if it be somewhat less keen among English than among French or Scottish children, we may well believe our deficiencies to be largely due to faulty and unstimulative methods of teaching, and may trust that they will diminish when these methods have been improved.
If it be true that the English public generally show a want of interest in and faint appreciation of the value of education, the stern discipline of war will do something to remove this indifference. The comparative poverty and reduction of luxurious habits; which this war will bring in its train, along with a sense of the need that has arisen for turning to the fullest account all the intellectual resources of the country so that it may maintain its place in the world,—these things may be expected to work a change for the better, and lead parents to set more store upon the mental and less upon the athletic achievements of their sons.
Be this as it may, no one to-day denies that much remains to be done to spread a sense of the value of science for those branches of industry to which (as especially to agriculture) it has been imperfectly applied, to strengthen and develop the teaching of scientific theory as the foundation of technical and practical scientific work, and above all to equip with the largest measure of knowledge and by the most stimulating training those on whom nature has bestowed the most vigorous and flexible minds. To-day e see that the heads of great businesses, industrial and financial, are looking out for men of university distinction to be placed in responsible posts—a thing which did not happen fifty years ago—because the conditions of modern business have grown too intricate to be handled by any but the best trained brains. The same need is at least equally true of many branches of that administrative work which is now being thrust, in growing volume, upon the State and its officials.