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The Place And Value Of Professional Education

( Originally Published Late 1800's )

The utility of professional culture has now passed beyond doubt. It is everywhere conceded that special training for those pursuits, in which the highest interests of mankind are at stake, is a practical necessity. Men may be deprived of the early advantages of school and college training, and make up for it in a measure by devoted industry and long continued reading but a doctor cannot go to the bedside of his patient; nor a lawyer to the court-room, to plead for his client; nor a minister to the care of a church, until he has been through a preparatory training for his professional work. People are no longer willing to trust these great issues to crack-brained enthusiasts, who try to make up in noise what they lack in power. In these and similar professions a large amount of technical knowledge is absolutely necessary to enable one to carry on the work of the profession. And a man will not succeed simply because he likes to dissect cats, or because he can thunder forth a distressing argument in a country debating society, or because he can talk fifteen minutes in a prayer-meeting to the edification of the old ladies who attend. Men so often mistake "brass" for brains and " cheek " for character that they plunge into professional life without being aware that they must serve a long apprenticeship in study and gratuitous service before they can step into the honored places of their vocation. A vast literature has grown up around all the professions. Every one of them has now its science and its art. The rules of the guild, and the technical knowledge of the craft, are embodied in books and in instructions, which it is no easy task to understand and master. An imposing array of almost endless details blocks the entrance to every professional career. And the professional man who is to attain success is obliged to become, from the start, a profound student of special technicalities.

The time has been when this work could be done by a course of preparatory reading, carried on by the student alone or under the direction of an experienced professional man. But even this is now regarded as insufficient, and our young physicians, lawyers and clergymen are being educated in professional schools under the instruction of eminent specialists, who have made a single department of their profession a life-long study. Thus the standard of professional culture is being raised higher and higher, and the difficulties of entering a profession grow greater and greater with each advancing year. One of the' pressing needs of the present day is professional men with an extensive and thorough professional education.

Nothing is more noticeable than that places of profit and trust are in the hands of incompetence. Ask a railroad employee about connections at a station ten miles distant, and after reference to his time-table, he can tell you nothing about it, if the place happens to be off his own division. And a railroad employee never knows anything about trains on any other road than the one he works upon. What consummate ignorance and impudence many of the clerks show in a city store ! Every employer is beset continually with applicants for a position, when they have no fitness whatever for the work they would be called upon to do. And employers are more often, than otherwise; compelled to fill positions with unworthy men, who have not the requisite training to undertake their tasks and do them well. The bane of an employer's life is the raw-handed incompetence that he is obliged to employ to get his work done. It is strange that our young men cannot learn one valuable lesson, that position and pay lie open to the man who will fit him-self thoroughly to take a responsible place and fill it with credit and honor. Employers, offices, places, high honors, noble careers are waiting for men of character and men of brains to fill them. A man thoroughly competent to do good work, thoroughly honest and frugal, will rarely have to look far for employment. Wages and work will find him out. A bungler will be discharged and a competent man put in his place.

This fault of incompetence may not have any very distressing effects in the case of a servant-girl or a gardener, but it assumes the proportions of a crime when it reaches the higher and more responsible vocations. A clergyman has no right to assume leadership in things spiritual when his life is steeped in ignorance and his mind uncultured by previous training. A lawyer has no right to imperil the high interests of his clients through bungling incompetence and ignorance of the principles and practice of law. Doctors hold the keys of life and death in their hands, and they have no right to imperil health through incapacity. They are intrusted with the most precious interests of mankind, and it is a crime for them not to know the best treatment and the best remedies to be applied to the sick under their care. A smattering of medical phraseology and the ability to compound a few formulas is not enough. They need a long and pro-found professional education. The time is coming when high qualities of mind and high degrees of attainment will be required. for entrance upon the duties of professional life; when the quacks and humbugs will be put out, and the men of sense and culture and fitness put in. The days of paid ignorance and incompetence are doomed in this land.

But what place should professional education occupy in a course of training for professional work? There are vast numbers of men who pretend to believe that only the pursuit of technical studies is needed to fit one for professional life. Let the doctor study his Materia-Medica, and the lawyer his Blackstone, and the preacher Dr. Hodge, and he is fitted for a professional career. This technical study of branches having a direct bearing upon professional work is, of course, highly important, but it is very far from being all that is needed. The professions are places of great responsibility; a very high order of mind is needed to meet the exigencies that may arise. The candidate for professional honors needs a most thorough education to train him as a man, in addition to his. purely professional studies. He needs a large capital of brain power and working force besides the technicalities of his vocation, and it is a sorrowful fact that strictly professional studies have almost no value as mental gymnastics. The student rises from the completion of his anatomy or Blackstone with little more intellectual power than when he began. These of themselves do not furnish a first-rate means of mental drill. The doctor, the lawyer, the minister, the chemist, the dentist, like every other man, needs, as a basis from which to start, a sound collegiate education. Upon this as a superstructure, he may safely build the special training for his particular work. I know this is a high standard, but it is none too high for the boundless competition which now exists in every phase of professional life. Upon this point I wish to quote the words of Mr. Goschen, a member of the English House of Commons "Take two young men of 19. Suppose one to have quired that practical knowledge which is said to be so useful, but without a stimulus having been applied to his mind. It is possible that he will have a flabby mind, untutored by difficulties, unaccustomed to exertion, relying on memory, untrained to reason or reflect, to assimilate the knowledge which he gains. And then suppose another young man, who has exercised his mind by severe studies, who has had to exercise his mental powers on difficult problems, and has been taught to think, to methodize- what he learns, to digest what he reads, but who, while he has been engaged on exercises of the mind has acquired less useful knowledge. I will back, two to one, the one whose mind has been thoroughly exercised, against the one who has acquired some useful knowledge. I say that he will best be able to face the difficulties of life. Give me the intelligent one, the student who has been taught to think. He will be able to pick up in time all that his rival has learnt as a boy, and a great deal more besides. He will have the magic power by which he can secure to himself an unlimited supply of what he wants."

A man who has hardened his muscles in the gymnasium or upon the. ball-field could do a better day's work at the carpenter's bench or the blacksmith's forge than one whose arms were weak from lack of exercise, So, too, can a man who has been thoroughly trained in the schools surpass one who has not, in the learning of a trade or profession. The time and effort spent in the learning of languages, in the pursuit of mathematics, in the mastering of logic and the perfection of other merely disciplinary studies always yield large results in professional life. The grip of an early school training upon the mind is eternal, and counts as capital, apply it where you will in the business of life. It is the natural basis and foundation of special training for the professions. The latter should be built upon the former, as the elegant temple is built upon the deep foundation of lasting granite. It is a sorry temple without that foundation.

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