There are one or two points of a general nature in connection with the art of study that should be emphasized. In the first place, the upper-grade and high-school pupils are, I believe, mature enough to appreciate in some degree what knowledge really means. One of the fallacies of which I was possessed on completing my work in the lower schools was the belief that there are some men who know everything. I naturally concluded that the superintendent of schools was one of these men; the family physician was another; the leading man in my town was a third; and any one who ever wrote a book was put, ex officio so to speak, into this class without further inquiry. One of the most astounding revelations of my later education was to learn that, after all, the amount of real knowledge in this world, voluminous though it seems, is after all pitiably small. Of opinion and speculation we have a surplus, but of real, downright, hard fact, our capital is still most insignificant. And I wonder if something could not be done in the high school to teach pupils the difference between fact and opinion, and something also of the slow, laborious process through which real facts are accumulated. How many mistakes of life are due to the lack of the judicial attitude right here. What mistakes we all make when we try to evaluate writings outside of our own special field of knowledge or activity. Nothing depresses me to-day quite so much as the readiness with which laymen mistake opinion for fact in the field of psychology and education,—and I suppose that my own hasty acceptance of statements in other fields would have a similar effect upon the specialists of those fields.
Can general education help us out at all in this matter? I have only one or two suggestions to make, and even these may not be worth a great deal. In the recent Polar controversy, the sympathies of the general public were, I think, at the outset with Cook. This was perhaps, natural, and yet the trained mind ought to have withheld judgment for one reason if for no other,—and that one reason was Peary’s long Arctic service, his unquestioned mastery of the technique of polar travel, his general reputation for honesty and caution in advancing opinions. By all the lessons that history teaches, Peary’s word should have had precedence over Cook’s, for Peary was a specialist, while Cook was only an amateur. And yet the general public discounted entirely those lessons, and trusted rather the novice, with what results it is now unnecessary to review,—and in nine cases out of ten, the results will be the same.