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Education:
Schools And Education
Child Development
Child's Education
Education And Life
The Common School
Physical Education
Citizenship And Schools
Education In Democratic Society
Ethics In Schools
Efficiency Of Our Schools
Creative Education
Drama And Education

Creative Education

( Originally Published 1913 )



It is to education that we look for protection against the spirit of

"Raw haste, half-sister to delay"

against the blind and reckless temper of gambling-against the stupid idolatry of mere riches, either in the form of servile flattery or in the disguise of merely servile envy. Education must give us better standards of success and higher tests of greatness than gold can measure. Education must clarify public opinion, calm and allay popular excitability, tranquilize and steady American energy, dispel local and sectional prejudice, and strengthen the ties which bind together all parts of our common country.

Now, these are great expectations. We cannot hope to have them realized, even in part, unless we give to our whole educational effort, which is really bound together from the primary school up to the university, the highest aim, the true direction, the right movement. What, then, is the true ideal of education in a great democracy like the United States?

It is not a sufficient answer to this question to observe that since education is derived from the Latin e-duco, its true purpose must be the bringing out of what is in man. This definition is simple, but not satisfactory. There are many things in man, and there are various methods of bringing them out. The question is, What are the best things, and which is the best method of development?

There is, for example, a method of bringing out the grain of wood by a combination of stain and varnish. It is a superficial way of enhancing the natural difference between pine and poplar and black walnut. Sometimes it is used as a device for disguising the difference between cherry and mahogany. Is this a true type of education?

There is also a method of bringing out the resources of the earth by working it for the largest immediate returns in the market. Farms are exhausted by overcropping; pastures desolated by overstocking; mines worked out for a record yield. Fictitious values are evolved and disposed of at transitory prices. Much that is marketable is brought out in this way. Is this a true type of education?

There is also a method of bringing out the possibilities of a living plant by culture, giving it the needed soil and nourishment, defending it from its natural enemies, strength ening its vitality and developing its best qualities. This method has been used, in the experiments of Mr. Luther Burbank, in a way that seems almost miraculous, changing the bitter to the sweet, the useless to the useful, and proving that by a progressive regeneration one may hope in time to gather grapes of thorns and figs of thistles. Is this a true type of education?

These three illustrations of different methods of "bringing things out" represent in picture the three main educational ideals which men have followed. Back of our various aca demic schemes and theories, back of the propositions which are made by college presidents for the adoption of new methods or the revival of old methods, back of the fluent criticisms which are passed upon our common schools and universities, lies the question of the dominant aim in teaching and learning. What should be the ideal of education in a democracy-the decorative ideal, the marketable ideal, or the creative ideal?

I speak of the decorative ideal first, because, strangely enough, it is likely to take precedence in order of time, and certainly it is pre-eminent in worthlessness. Barbarous races prefer ornament to decency or comfort in dress. Alexander von Humboldt observed that the South American Indians would endure the greatest hardships in the matter of insufficient clothing rather than go without the luxury of brilliant paint to decorate their naked bodies. Herbert Spencer used this as an illustration of the preference of the ornamental to the useful in education.

The decorative conception of education seems to be the acquisition of some knowledge or accomplishment which is singular. The impulse which produces it is not so much a craving for that which is really fine, as a repulsion from that which is supposed to be common. It is a desire to have something in the way of intellectual or social adornment which shall take the place of a mantle of peacock's feathers or a particularly rich and massive nose-ring.

This ideal not only rejects, condemns, and abhors the useful, but it exhibits its abhorrence by exalting, commending, and cherishing the useless, chiefly because it is less likely to be common. It lays the emphasis upon those things which have little or no relation to practical life. It speaks a language of its own which the people cannot understand. It pursues accomplishments whose chief virtue is that they are comparatively rare, and puts particular stress upon knowledge which is supposed to bestow a kind of gilding or enamel upon the mind. This ideal is apt to be especially potent in the beginning of a democracy, and to produce a crop of "young ladies' finishing schools" and "young gentlemen's polishing academies" singularly out of proportion to the real needs of the country. In its later development it brings forth all kinds of educational curiosities and abortions...

At the opposite extreme from the decorative ideal lies the marketable ideal of education. Its object, broadly stated, is simply to bring out a man's natural abilities in such a way that he shall be able to get the largest return in money for his work in the practical affairs of life. Nothing is of value, according to this ideal, which is not of direct utility in a business or a profession. Nothing counts which has not an immediate cash value in the world's market.

"Send my boy to high school and college!" says the keen man of business. "What good will that do him? Seven years at the dead languages and higher mathematics will not teach him to make a sharp bargain or run a big enterprise." He thinks he has summed up the whole argument. But he has only begged the question. The very point at issue is whether the boy is a tool, to be ground and sharpened for practical use, or a living creature, whose highest value is to be realized by personal development.

The influence of this cash-value theory of culture may be seen in many directions.

It shows itself in certain features of our common school system, not in the places where it is at its best, but in the places where it is controlled by politicians, sectarians, or cranks. It is far too mechanical. The children are run through a mill. They are crammed with rules and definitions, while their ideas and feelings are left to take care of themselves. Their imagination, that most potent factor of life, is entrusted to the guidance of the weekly story-paper, and their moral nature to the guidance of chance. The overworked and underpaid teacher is forced, by a false system of competition, to pack their little minds as full as possible of rules which they do not understand, and definitions which do not define, and assorted fragments of historical, geographical, chemical, mechanical, and physiological knowledge, which are supposed to have a probable market value.

It would be a good thing if the cities and towns of America would spend twice as much as they are spending today for common school education. It would be a good thing if we could have twice as many teachers, and twice as intelligent, especially for the primary grades. And then it would be a good thing if we could sweep away half the "branches" that are now taught, and abolish two-thirds of the formal examinations, and make an end of competitions and prizes, and come down, or rather come up, to the plain work of teaching children to read intelligently and write clearly and cipher accurately-the foundation of a solid education.

The marketable ideal of culture makes itself felt, also, to a considerable extent, in some of the higher institutions of learning. We can trace its effects in the tendency to push the humanities aside and to train the young idea, from the earliest possible period, upon the trellis of a particular trade. Every branch, every tendril which does not conform to these lines must be cut off. The importance of studies is to be measured by their direct effect upon professional and industrial success. The plan is to educate boys, not for living, but for making a living. They are to be cultivated not as men, but as journalists, surveyors, chemists, lawyers, physicians, manufacturers, mining engineers, sellers of wet and dry goods, bankers, accountants, and what not.

In obedience to this theory, the attention of the student is directed from the outset to those things for which he can see an immediate use in his chosen pursuit. Literature is spoken of in academic circles as a mere embellishment of the solid course; and philosophy is left to those odd fellows who are going into the ministry or into teaching. The library is no longer regarded as a spiritual palace where the student may live with the master-minds of all the ages. It has taken on the aspect of a dispensary where useful information can be procured in small doses for practical purposes. Half-endowed technical schools spring tip all over the land, like mushrooms after a shower. We have institutes of everything, from stenography to farriery; it remains only to add a few tnore, such as an Academy of Mesmerism, a College of Mind Healing, and a Chiropodists' University, to round out the encyclopedia of complete culture according to the commercial ideal.

Let no one imagine that I mean to say a word against trade schools. On the contrary, I would speak most heartily in their support. So far as they do their work well they are an admirable and neeedful substitute for the earlier systems of apprenticeship for the various trades. Democracy needs them. They are really worth all the money that is put into them. But the error lies in supposing that they can take the place of the broader and higher education. By their own confession they move on another level. They mean business. But business is precisely the one thing which education does not mean. It may, doubtless it will, result in making a man able to do his own special work in a better spirit and with a finer skill. But this result is secondary, and not primary. It is accomplished by forgetting the specialty and exalting the man.

True education must begin and continue with a fine disregard of pecuniary returns. It must be catholic, genial, dis interested. Its object is to make the shoemaker go beyond his last-"Sutor ultra crepidam"-and the clerk beyond his desk, and the surveyor beyond his chain, and the lawyer beyond his brief, and the doctor beyond his prescription, and the preacher beyond his sermon...

The educated man is a new man. It is not merely that he knows more. It is not merely that he can do more. There is something in him which was not there when his education began. And this something gives him a new relation to the past, of which it is the fruit, and to the future, of which it is the promise. It is of the nature of an original force which draws its energy from a new contact with the world and with mankind, and which distributes its power throughout life in all its channels,

This, it seems to me, is the real object and the right result of education; to create out of the raw stuff that is hidden in the boy a finer, stronger, broader, nobler type of man.

In using this language I am not dealing in glittering generalities. The better manhood of which I speak as the aim of education is no vague and nebulous thing-the dim delight of sensational preachers and virile novelists. It has four definite marks: The power to see clearly, the power to imagine vividly, the power to think independently, and the power to will nobly. These are the objects that the creative ideal sets before us, and in so doing it gives us a standard for all educational effort, from the kindergarten to the university; a measure of what is valuable in old systems and of what is desirable in new theories; and a test of new success in teaching and learning.

I care not whether a man is called a tutor, an instructor, or a full professor; nor whether any academic degrees adorn his name; nor how many facts or symbols of facts he has stored away in his brain. If he has these four powers-clear sight, quick imagination, sound reason, and right, strong will -I call him an educated man and fit to be a teacher.

I use the word "sight" to denote all those senses which are the natural inlets of knowledge. Most men are born with five, but comparatively few learn the use of even one. The majority of people are like the idols described by the psalmist: "Eyes have they, but they see not; they have ears, but they hear not; noses have they, but they smell not." They walk through the world like blind men at a panorama, and find it very dull. There is a story of an English woman who once said to the great painter Turner, by way of comment on one of his pictures: "I never saw anything like that in nature." "Madam," said he, "what would you give if you could?" The power to use the senses to their full capacity, clearly, sensitively, penetratingly, does not come by nature. It is the fruit of an attentive habit of veracious perception. Such a habit is the result of instruction applied to the opening of blind eyes and the unsealing of deaf ears. The academic studies which most influence in this direction are those which deal principally with objective facts, such as nature-study, language, numbers, drawing, and music.

But the education of perceptive power is not, and cannot be, carried on exclusively in the study and the class-room. Every meadow and every woodland is a college, and every city square is full of teachers. Do you know how the stream flows, how the kingfisher poises above it, how the trout swims in it, how the ferns uncurl along its banks? Do you know how the human body balances itself, and along what lines and curves it moves in walking, in running, in dancing, and in what living characters the thoughts and feelings are written on the human face? Do you know the structural aspect of man's temples and palaces and bridges, of nature's mountains and trees and flowers? Do you know the tones and accents of human speech, the songs of birds, the voices of the forests and the sea? If not, you need creative culture to make you a sensitive possessor of the beauty of the world.

Every true university should make room in its scheme for life out of doors. There is much to be said for John Milton's plan of a school whose pupils should go together each year on long horseback journeys and sailing cruises in order to see the world. Walter Bagehot said of Shakespeare that he could not walk down a street without knowing what was in it. John Burroughs has a college on a little farm beside the Hudson; and John Muir has a university called Yosemite. If such men cross a field or a thicket they see more than the Seven Wonders of the World. That is culture. And without it, all scholastic learning is arid, and all the academic degrees known to man are but china oranges hung on a dry tree.

But beyond the world of outward perception there is another world of inward vision, and the key to it is imagination. To see things as they are-that is a precious gift. To see things as they were in their beginning, or as they will be in their ending, or as they ought to be in their perfecting; to make the absent, present; to rebuild the past out of a fragment of carven stone; to foresee the future harvest in the grain of wheat in the sower's hand; to visualize the face of the invisible, and enter into the lives of all sorts and conditions of unknown men-that is a far more precious gift.

Imagination is more than a pleasant fountain; it is a fertilizing stream. Nothing great has ever been discovered or invented without the aid of imagination. It is the medium of all human sympathy. No man can feel with another unless he can imagine himself in the other man's place.

The chief instrument in the education of imagination is literature. The object of literary culture is very simple. It is to teach a man to distinguish the best books, and to enable him to read them with inward vision. The man who has read one great book in that way has become a new creature and entered a new world. But in how many schools and colleges does that ideal prevail? We are spending infinite toil and money to produce spellers and parsers and scanners. We are trying hard to increase the number of people who can write with ease, while the race of people who can read with imagination is left to the care of chance. I wish that we might reverse the process. If our education would but create a race of readers, earnest, intelligent, capable of true imaginative effort, then the old writers would not be forgotten, and the new ones would get a wiser welcome when they arrive.

But the design of education is not accomplished unless a man passes beyond the power of seeing things as they are, and beyond the power of interpreting and appreciating the thoughts of other men, into the power of thinking for himself. To be able to ask "Why?" and to discover what it means to say "Because"-that is the intellectual triumph of education.

"To know the best that has been thought and said in the world," is what Matthew Arnold calls culture. It is an excellent attainment. But there is a step beyond it that leads from culture into manhood. That step is taken when the student, knowing something of the best that other men have thought and said, begins to think his own thoughts clearly through and to put them into his own words. Then he passes through instruction into education. Then be becomes a real person in the intellectual world.

The mere pursuit of knowledge is not necessarily an emancipating thing. There is a kind of 'reading which is as passive as massage. There is a kind of study which fattens the mind for examination like a prize pig for a county fair. No doubt the beginning of instruction must lie chiefly in exercises of perception and memory. But at a certain point the reason and the judgment must be awakened and brought into voluntary play. As a teacher I would far rather have a pupil give an incorrect answer in a way which showed that he had really been thinking about the subject, than a literally correct answer in a way which showed that he had merely swallowed what I had told him, and regurgitated it on the examination paper...

But one more factor is included in the creative ideal of education, and that is its effect upon the will. The power to see clearly, to imagine vividly, to think independently, will certainly be wasted, will be shut up in the individual and kept for his own selfish delight, unless the power to act nobly comes to call the man into action and gives him, with all his education, to the service of the world.

An educated man is helpless until he is emancipated. An emancipated man is aimless until he is consecrated. Consecration is simply concentration, plus a sense of duty.

The final result of true education is not a selfish scholar, nor a scornful critic of the universe, but an intelligent and faithful citizen who is determined to put all his powers at the service of his country and mankind.

What part are our colleges and universities to play in the realizing of this ideal of creative education? Their true function is not exclusive, but inclusive. They are to hold this standard of manhood steadily before them, and recognize its supreme and universal value wherever it is found. -Van Dyke



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