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What Is Education ?

( Originally Published 1924 )

THERE have been many attempts to define education, ranging from a sentence to a book. The attempt to define it in a sentence or paragraph is rather a turning of phrases than a helpful analysis, while the book is likely to bury its meaning in verbiage. It may, of course, be said that the education of a child consists in training him to make the best of all his inherent possibilities, but such a statement needs elaboration.

What is the purpose in educating a child ? There are evidently two factors concerned: the child, and those whose lives may be influenced by him. The purpose is to do the best possible for each of these factors, perhaps in proportion to their importance. Scientifically, it is the race that must be considered, so the major purpose becomes that of preparing each child to be of the greatest help in race progress.

This might become a cold, hard judgment, if it did not follow, as I believe the weight of evidence shows, that a man or woman is, in general, of most help in the progress of the race if he or she lives a normal life, which includes the fact that the life shall give reasonable satisfaction to the one living it.

Let us therefore say that we educate a child in order that he may be prepared to live a normally satisfactory life for himself, and may contribute his full share to the progress and betterment of mankind.

It is at this point that difficulty arises. What is necessary in order to do this ? What are the best ways of working out those necessary sides of education ? While much of the answer is still unsettled, some conclusions seem certain.

Education must include physical preparation for life, both for health and for physical skill. This may vary from accurate performance of the acts upon which one's very life and safety depend, to the higher types of coordination.

It must provide the fundamental preparation that will help each to earn a living. It is still a question, what of the technic of various occupations this should include. Without a doubt it must include the habits and attitudes of mind on which technical training can be based, as well as the provision of information concerning economic needs and opportunities.

It must give the child a mastery of the fundamentals of learning. This includes, above all else, a mastery of communication of thought by spoken and written word, with particular emphasis on obtaining needed information through reading. Use of the symbols and methods by which number and quantity are dealt with is only less important.

It must train him, to such an extent as is possible, in the habit of logical thinking.

Information, as such, has been overemphasized.

It is not the mind that is full of miscellaneous odds and ends that thinks most efficiently.

Information is important, but ways to get information are more important. Children should be shown how to investigate, to go to sources nature, mankind, books - for the information needed; they should have experience in thinking about and weighing the facts discovered, in reasoning about them and coming to conclusions in regard to them; they should learn to act upon the judgments reached and to be able to express those judgments to others, in spoken and written form, definitely and effectively.

They should not, as is too often the case, be expected to learn great numbers of facts and "recite" upon them, only to forget them as soon as the immediate need has passed.

This craze for facts is well shown by the lists of questions propounded by individuals and even widely asked, as a supposed educational help, in some of the newspapers. The following questions are recent examples :

When were the United States postal-savings banks opened? What is the color of pomegranate seeds?

How much water is there in a strawberry?

What is the longest river in Scotland?

What were some of Douglas Fairbanks's first pictures?

Give five synonyms for "sacred."

What is the difference between Guinea and Guiana?

What is the minimum age-limit for entrance to the United States Naval Academy?

If one occasionally needs to know the answer to any such question, it is far better to look it up than to try to remember the answers to the countless thousands of generally useless ones that could be asked. There is a limit also to the amount one can remember by rote. It is certainly foolish then to load one's mind with dissociated facts when so much that is more important could be done in the same time.

It must develop the power to appreciate and enjoy that which is beautiful and fine; to use one's leisure happily and constructively. If, as appears likely, increased use of machinery and better planning of the world's work continue to decrease the average number of hours of labor needed to provide for one's needs, the question of use of leisure time will become increasingly insistent. If it is used for more complete living, for wholesome recreation, constructive activities, and finer enjoyment through awakened appreciation, all will be well. If, instead, time hangs heavy on the hands of those who have no knowledge of how to use it, loss instead of gain is likely to result.

It must try to develop such qualities as those of initiative, originality, imagination, and leadership. There is an almost unlimited field and demand for those who have them. Even here, however, there is a doubt, for we do not really know that it is possible to do more than bring out such qualities in those who already have them.

Above all, it must build social and moral character, realizing that that which is antisocial is immoral, teaching each to do his part in cooperative living, to be willing to bear the burdens as well as to reap the advantages of family and community life.

The various chapters combined in this book have been written in the hope of interesting the mothers and fathers of the country in the ways in which some teachers are interpreting these aims of education and are working them out in the lives of their pupils.

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