It is the same with any other specialist. As specialists in education, you and I are likely to overemphasize the importance of the common school in the scheme of creation. Personally I am convinced that the work of elementary education is the most profoundly significant work in the world; and yet I can realize that I should be no fit person to make comparisons if the welfare of a number of other professions and callings were at stake. I should let an unbiased judge make the final determination.
The first question for which we should seek an answer in connection with the value of any school subject is this: How does it influence conduct? Let me insist at the outset that we cannot be definite by saying simply that we teach history in order to impart instruction. If there is one thing upon which we are all agreed to-day it is this: that it is what our pupils do that counts, not what they know. The knowledge that they may possess has value only in so far as it may directly or indirectly be turned over into action.
Let us not be mistaken upon this point. Knowledge is of the utmost importance, but it is important only as a means to an end—and the end is conduct. If my pupils act in no way more efficiently after they have received my instruction than they would have acted had they never come under my influence, then my work as a teacher is a failure. If their conduct is less efficient, then my work is not only a failure,—it is a catastrophe. The knowledge that I impart may be absolutely true; the interest that I arouse may be intense; the affection that my pupils have for me may be genuine; but all these are but means to an end, and if the end is not attained, the means have been futile.