The Utility Of An Education
( Originally Published Late 1800's )
Education is the most popular sentiment of modern times. It has been called the " cornerstone of State " and the " safeguard of free institutions." It was cherished by our fathers in their poverty. It was bequeathed to us with their blessing, as a.. priceless heritage. The masses of our people have tasted this tree of knowledge and found it good. The cry has gone forth that men shall sit no longer in ignorance, and the schoolhouse has become an institution in this land. With the education of the district school and academy, the generations that have just preceded ours were self-reliant, sterling men. Following in their footsteps, we have crowded the standard of learning higher still, and stronger and stronger men are being brought each year into the vocations of life. The world has learned that there is no place among the active labors of men where a good education will not count as capital and power. If a man would enter a profession he needs an education. If he would engage in mercantile pursuits, he can do best after a long school training. If he would be a farmer, he will be a better farmer with cultivated brains. It would be strange indeed if the corn would not grow better by cultivation and the man with his heaven-born faculties thrive best by neglect. If a man would be a tradesman, he will surely rise higher in his craft with the power to read and think and learn the history of his craft and its bearing upon society and life. If a man is to be even a small man in a small place, he still needs an education for what it can do for him and his happiness in the world. We are all men, and our manhood is to be judged at last by some common standard, and not by the false canons of judgment which society has set up. For John Smith, the man, an education is one of the best things beneath the sun, be John Smith a Baker, a Quaker or a Candlestick-maker.
The fact is there is no place on earth where polished speech, keen insight, farseeing judgment and good sense will not aid a man in his work, and, on the other hand, there is no place where the lack of these will not neutralize or destroy the best motives and the best endeavor. But calm judgment, intelligent forethought and elegant speech are either directly developed by the process of education or greatly strengthened thereby. And the time is past for raising a plea for education. Its necessity as a preparation for every useful work is now acknowledged by all. The places of trust and responsibility are being filled by educated men. In these days of heartless competition, when every nerve is strained and every faculty brought into full play, there is no hope for the man whose mind is left in ignorance and darkness. He must step down and out when so many with cultured minds are crowding all the avenues of success. Even the self-made men of this and a former generation have worked their way up by first over-riding the disadvantages arising from the lack of school training.
The world is always pointing out what it loves to call its self-made men and comparing their brilliant feats with those of the schoolmen. Both suffer by this comparison ; for it is a comparison with no essential difference. The one has saved the moments of toilsome life and devoted them to study by the light of a pine knot in a garret and has at length emerged therefrom a high-minded, educated man. The other has walked the broad way to learned eminence in school and college. Both are self-made men in the sense that they enjoy the power which persistent intellectual work has bestowed. Both are educated in all that goes to make up true education. They have met and mastered intellectual difficulty. It makes little difference how or when the mind receives that training which makes it strong and active. Strength and activity is what the mind needs, and the process by which it arrives in possession of these is education, whether it be reading Plato. or the Pentateuch, whether it be studying' mathematics or magnetics, whether it be studying science from a book or in the laboratories of nature. And there is not a self-made man among them all who has risen to national notoriety that does not possess the equivalent of a college education. Was Elihu Burritt a scholar or an ignoramus ? Was Horace Greeley an ignorant man ? Was Garfield any the less a self-made man than Lincoln? That mental effort and training which knits the fibers of the brain together for earnest and aggressive work, that is education and that is what every man must have to succeed largely in any of the vocations of to-day.
Now there are certain intellectual qualities which a man must possess to rise high among his fellows. One of these is a calm, clear judgment, unruffled in emergency, undisturbed in adversity, triumphant al-ways. It is this that holds a man level. It is this that, like the hawser, when rudder and sail are lost, holds the ship to the wave and the prow to the storm. It was this more than all else that enabled Lincoln to guide the helm of State so well on that tempestuous sea of strife. It was this that sustained Grant at Donaldson, Vicksburg, the Wilderness and Mt. McGregor. It was this that made Robert E. Lee so grand a foe in that last disastrous campaign. It is this that carries many a man through the troubled waters of business-panic into the smooth-sailing sea beyond. It is this that will save a man in countless junctures of life when hope is dead and the storms of misfortune beat sharp around him. The mind that can rise in unruffled might out of the bellowing thunders of disaster and the pelting storms of defeat, to assert its better judgment and see the road to escape and glory, deserves to succeed and will succeed in spite of the world's scorn and opposition.
Education always increases a man's capacity to labor. It gives him a stronger hold upon his faculties and enables him to put forth his efforts to a better purpose. It enlarges the mind for business enterprise. It strengthens every capability for more intelligent and well-directed labor. It increases facilities. It broadens the horizon of knowledge and brings the accumulated experience of mankind to bear upon a man's life-work. It fortifies judgment and gives tone to all the graces of character. It renders all of one's powers of intellect available and makes him by so much a larger and a stronger man. Education has, therefore, a money value. The man who is educated has the advantage always. He can work with less loss of power and accomplish results far easier than his ignorant neighbor. To use the phrase of another, "It always pays to empty your pocket into your brains, for your brains will then fill your pocket."
Good sense, integrity, self-control, industry , frugality, these are, no doubt, the main forces in a successful career ; but all of them are greatly aided by a sound and practical education, and all of them are greatly hindered by the lack of it. A daily laborer, educated, finds better employment and higher pay,-Education lifts him out of the rut that ignorance and stupid faculties have made for him. Educate the poor girl in the cotton mill and she becomes a better artisan. Apply knowledge and training to a mind over-shadowed with the darkness 'of ignorance, and she can take a post in the office or the village school-room and can earn two dollars where she now earns one. The rough farmer, educated, can make two blades of grass grow where one grew before. With an intellect brightened by learning, he can raise his calling to the dignity of a profession, and enlarge his income by the more intelligent cultivation of his fields. Left in ignorance, he makes no progress; he clings to the mistakes of former years and becomes a narrow-minded, obstinate man, to make a failure of the grandest task beneath the skies. Education is capital in the career of the successful man.
In addition to this, education has a value in contentment and happiness. It gives rational employment to a restless mind. It furnishes congenial pursuits and fortifies one against a thousand ills of life. The educated mind can hold converse with itself. It is never obliged to grow weary in its emptiness and become restive under the goading of its tireless energies. Furnished with abundant stores of knowledge and the results of wide reading, an educated man would not be unhappy on an unknown island, or in the seclusion of a primeval forest. His thought is his companionship, and he can be happy, where ignorance and empty-headedness would chafe and fret itself to death. A person cannot live in ignorance without contracting a dull and sordid habit of mind. He will soon crave any pleasure, however brutal, to escape from his stupidity and emptiness. This I believe to be the cause of ruin to countless young men and women. . In their homes there are no books and no congenial associations. Their minds are active, and they cannot mope in idleness. So out of restlessness, off they go to the street, the saloon, and a thousand associations which drag them down. When once the brain is empty and the natural food that it craves is not at hand, the way is broad to bestial pleasure. Men of restless activities will do anything rather than sit in idleness with nothing to think of but the shallow experience of their tedious lives. Thousands of young men plunge into dissipation, who might be saved by any rational amusement, that would occupy the mind for those four restless evening hours after work. Not trained to read, with no intellectual tastes, with brain emptiness and brain-hunger they rush off to the theatre, the street, the dens of vice, anywhere, to fill up those dreary hours. I think it may be said in truth that the ruin of three-fourths of the young, who go down in our towns and cities, might be averted by establishing in early life a taste for intellectual pursuits. Let once the love of knowledge and good books get possession of a young man and the love of whiskey will rarely reach him. Let once the pleasures of a bright fire, a shining lamp and intellectual companionship with great authors captivate a young man, and he will almost never leave them for the cold street, the sickening odors of the saloon, and the unhallowed sights of the dens of vice. Here is a broad field for Christian philanthropy, to provide rational amusement for the young, at that terrible crisis in life, when only something to satisfy the restless activities of the brain can avail to keep them from the excitements and enticements of sin.