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Education And Growth

( Originally Published Late 1800's )

The word Education is derived from a Latin verb, which means to bring up a child. This verb is, in turn, derived from another, which means to lead forth, or, less literally, to develop. The etymology of the word happily illustrates the true import of the process of education. It is, indeed, a leading forth of the powers and faculties with which a man is endowed. It has for its primary object the man himself, and not his particular calling. It contemplates the fact that life is more than the toil of it and the preparation for life more than to put the man in the way of getting a living. A good education prepares a person to live worthily and not merely to get on in the world. It contributes to that aggregate of qualities which we call manhood and calls into exercise the highest powers of his being. It seeks physical excellence, which we call good health ; it seeks intellectual perfection, which we call wisdom ; it seeks moral completeness, which we call virtue. It aims to give a man possession of his whole nature, and send him to his life-work a far-seeing, high-minded, resolute man, able to work in any direction. It enables him to think clearly, judge impartially, investigate accurately and speak forcibly. In a word, education brings out of a man what there is in him, in the way of ability and power. It makes him a leader of men by virtue of what he is and what he does for them, and not by virtue of what he acquires for himself. Education is thus a growth that involves all of one's capabilities and brings into action the best qualities of his manhood.

It is quite generally supposed that instruction or the acquisition of knowledge is education. Men think that if they acquire certain facts and submit for a time to a certain process of instruction, they are then educated. No greater mistake could possibly be made.

The mere knowledge of facts, be they many or few, does not constitute an education. They may assist in the process, but they are not in themselves sufficient to accomplish the desired result. And again, a man might sit under the instruction of the most talented masters and never become educated. If he merely receives and never acts, if he sits feeding and does not assimilate his food, if he listens to the profoundest instruction and is thereby only entertained, he is not educated and never can be, though his preceptor be the greatest of earth. Who does not know some man who has been an omnivorous reader all his life, and has become a veritable cyclopaedia of facts, yet who cannot think for himself nor act for himself? He has never been trained in the practical use of knowledge. With all his erudition he can do nothing useful, and his mind seems dazed and bewildered by the multitude of his acquisitions. Such men- bring great discredit upon the cause of education. They sit in the schools, they listen to the wisest instruction, they submit to years of training and go out into life to fail and mope and become the laughing-stock of the whole community. Such a man cannot be said to be educated. The learning which he has acquired has been simply swallowed ; it has not called forth his powers into action. His studies have imparted no strength because he started with the notion of becoming an intellectual miser instead of an athlete. No, mere acquisition of knowledge is not education. To educate the mind, we must train it and discipline it in action. The student must think for himself, judge for himself, reason for himself, and go through mental processes, many and diverse, to give the intellect that power over difficulty and that grip upon his faculties which the really educated man possesses. The arm grows strong by exercise, and no amount of reading how to make the arm strong will make it so, unless the knowledge thus gained is put to practical use in the actual exercise of the arm. Just like this is it in the training of the reasoning powers. We may read and study until Doomsday, and the reasoning will not be developed except by actual exercise in reasoning. It is necessary for the student to put two arguments together in logical order and deduce a third from them, before he is educated in reasoning. He may learn to do this in the classroom, conning his despised logic, or he may learn to do it struggling with hard facts in his experience with life. In either case he is not educated as a reasoner until he can state his argument and knows when a thing is proved.

Once, while riding from Norwich to New Haven, Mr. Lincoln told an interesting story of his early life.

I give it in his own phrases:

"When I was about eighteen years old I went into an office to study law. After a while I saw that a lawyer's business was largely to prove things, and I said to myself, ' Lincoln, when is a thing proved ?' That was a poser. I could not answer that question. What constitutes a proof ? Not evidence, that was not to the point. There may be evidence enough, but wherein consists the proof ? I was reminded of the old story of the German who was tried for some crime, and they brought half-a-dozen respectable men who swore that they saw the prisoner commit the crime. 'Vel, vot of dat ?' said the Teuton, 'six men schvears dot dey sees me do the pishness, I prings more as two tozen good men, who schvears dey did not see me do it.'

" So, wherein is the proof? I fairly groaned over the question and finally said to myself, 'Ah, Lincoln, you can't tell.' Then I thought, what use is it for me to be in a law office, if I can't tell when a thing is proved ? So I gave it up and went back home over in Kentucky. Soon after I returned to the old log cabin, I fell in with a copy of 'Euclid.' I had not the slightest notion what 'Euclid' was and I thought I would find out. I found out ; but it was no easy job. I looked into the book and found it was all about lines, angles, surfaces and solids. But I could not understand it at all. I, therefore, began very deliberately at the beginning, I learned the definitions and axioms, I demonstrated the first proposition. I said that is simple enough. I went on to the next, and before spring I had gone through that old 'Euclid' and could demonstrate every proposition in it. I knew it from beginning to end. You could not stick me on the hardest of them. One day in the spring, when I had got through with it, I said to myself, 'Ah, do you know now when a thing is proved ?' and I answered out loud, 'Yes, sir, I do, and you may now go back to the law shop.' In a few weeks I went, and to this circumstance I owe all the logical acumen that I possess. I dug it out of that old geometry, often by the light of pine knots ; but I got it, and I think that nothing but geometry will teach a man the power of abstract reasoning."

This story was told by a writer in the Congregationalist a few years ago, and admirably illustrates the idea that education is a growth and not an acquisition. How few men ever think to ask themselves the question, when is a thing proved ? what constitutes proof? And how few men at eighteen would think it necessary to lay this simple foundation for their legal studies ? How many of our young men rush into law and theology and medicine that are just where the young Lincoln was ? they don't know when a thing is proved, to say nothing about a thousand other things that every man in every calling should know. Mr. Lincoln was what is called a self-made man. He acquired such education as he possessed by his own industry, without the aid of schools and teachers ; but I would have you see that he did in that- Kentucky cabin just what every resolute boy does in school. He learned to think and to use his powers. He learned when a thing was proved. He learned how to use his knowledge and apply it to the practical needs of life. And no man has any right to appeal to the honored name and magnificent career of this great man in a plea for ignorance and condemnation of the school. Every man is self-made, in the same sense that Mr. Lincoln was, who studies his "Euclid" to the same purpose, let him do it by the light of a pine knot or under gas light on an embroidered divan. Any man who derives power from a course of study is necessarily self-made, although he may not be self-taught. And it certainly can be no advantage in itself to gain knowledge by. the slow process of self-instruction, when much time and effort can be saved in the school under competent instruction.

The same principle that is here discussed holds true in all mathematical study. No amount of reading in mathematics can do the least good unless the pupil goes through the processes and climbs for himself the steep mountains of mathematical knowledge. And the power gained by mastering the processes of mathematics and by solving problems is what is of real value in the work of life. It is the practical side of education. A student may soon forget the technical processes by which an equation is solved, or a progression reduced; but the power developed by patiently going over these processes, until they are mastered, never leaves him. Algebra, Geometry and Calculus give the mind of the intelligent student a grip that he cannot shake off. In the pressing demands of business life, the formulas, rules and symbols may be forgotten but that close-wrought intellectual fibre, spun in the heat of study, woven in the loom of the class-room, can never be broken, and the man is a better man, a better financier, a better citizen for his study of the processes that have given strength and exercise to his mind.

The same principle holds true in the moral and religious side of life. It is not enough to give intellectual assent to religious truth and moral tenet. We may accept as true the whole moral law and still walk in the "sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat." It is necessary to exercise faith for ourselves and go down to the primitive rock of belief and live the virtues of a good life. The need of experimental knowledge and individual belief is very great in all phases of American life. The world is full of people too superficial to be practical. They have been through the schools, they have done the curriculum and have come out as useless and ignorant as they went in. The truths they have studied and the delightful paths of knowledge they have traversed, have had no effect upon them to develop thought, to move the mind and give it strength and force. It is just here that so many schools fail and so many methods fail. The pupil does not work, does not think, does not get a grip upon the basis of truth, and for this reason is never educated.

This whole subject was most ably discussed by Pest. alozzi in some of his later writings. I quote from one of them : "The education of man is a purely moral result. It is not the educator who puts new powers and faculties into a man and imparts to him breath and life. He only takes care that no untoward influence shall disturb nature's march of development. The moral, intellectual and executive powers of man must be nurtured in himself and not from artificial substitutes. Thus faith must be cultivated by our own act of believing, not by reasoning about faith ; love, by our own act of loving, not by fine words about love ; thought, by our own act of thinking, not by merely appropriating the thoughts of other men ; and knowledge, by our own investigation, not by endless talk about the results of art and science."

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