Cambridge Essays on Education eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 229 pages of information about Cambridge Essays on Education.
The psychology of imitation is still impenetrable and likely to remain so.  The simple interpretation of our troubles as a form of sloth—­a travelling along lines of least resistance—­can scarcely be maintained.  For first there have been times when learning and science were the fashion.  Whether society benefited directly therefrom may, in passing, be doubted, but certainly learning did.  Secondly there are plenty of men who under the pressure of fashion devote much effort to the improvement of their form in fatuous sports, which otherwise applied would go a considerable way in the improvement of their minds and in widening their range of interests.

Of late things have become worse.  In the middle of the nineteenth century a perfunctory and superficial acquaintance with recent scientific discovery was not unusual among the upper classes, and the scientific world was occasionally visited even by the august.  These slender connections have long since withered away.  This decline in the public estimation of science and scientific men has coincided with a great increase both in the number of scientific students and in the provision for teaching science.  It has occurred also in the period during which something of the full splendour and power of science has begun to be revealed.  Great regions of knowledge have been penetrated by the human mind.  The powers of man over nature have been multiplied a hundredfold.  The fate of nations hangs literally on the issue of contemporary experiments in the laboratory; but those who govern the Empire are quite content to know nothing of all this.  Intercommunication between government departments and scientific advisers has of course much developed.  That, even in this country, was inevitable.  Otherwise the Empire might have collapsed long since.  Experts in the sciences are from time to time invited to confer with heads of Departments and even Cabinet Ministers, explaining to them, as best they may, the rudiments of their respective studies, but such occasional night-school talks to the great are an inadequate recognition of the position of science in a modern State.  Science is not a material to be bought round the corner by the dram, but the one permanent and indispensable light in which every action and every policy must be judged.

To scientific men this is so evident that they are unable to imagine what the world looks like to other people.  They cannot realise that by a majority of even the educated classes the phenomena of nature and the affairs of mankind are still seen through the old screens of mystery and superstition.  The man of science regards nature as in great and ever increasing measure a soluble problem.  For the layman such inquiries are either indifferent and somewhat absurd, or, if they attract his attention at all, are interesting only as possible sources of profit.  I suspect that the distinction between these two classes of mind is not to any great degree a product of education.

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