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France, Austria, Belgium, Holland, and Sweden the system has been thoroughly tried, and the results have been most satisfactory. If the experiment should fail in our public schools, the causes of failure should be looked for in defects either in the plan or in the efficiency of its execution. With plans already formulated and the experiment certain to be made at an early date, it would be out of place here to discuss details.
The most important use of the public schools, aside from the acquisition of a certain amount of knowledge, is in the general influence exerted upon the mind and character of pupils. Personal cleanliness, habits of obedience and punctuality, honesty, and a proper sense of personal honor, are as important as knowledge acquired from books. A proper comprehension and use of the English language, with kindliness and courtesy of demeanor, contribute much to success in life. Brutality in school discipline belongs, happily, to the past; and civility and gentleness are not now regarded by any class as unmanly. A boy may be taught to be a true gentleman in his own sphere in life, however humble that sphere may be.
Leaving for others a discussion of questions relating to general education, an interesting and important subject relates to elementary scientific instruction. To what extent is it desirable to teach the elements of chemistry, physics, and human physiology? It is beginning to dawn upon the minds of men interested in the higher education that actual knowledge has made great, not to say enormous, progress within the last century, and that what an educated man must know at the present day is not to be measured by the standard of a liberal education of a hundred years ago. We cannot now afford to spend much time in pure mental training by studies that do not convey a fair proportion of practical and useful information. The evils of a too close adherence to antiquated methods of education are shown in the distress of a large class of educated persons unemployed. To a great extent the very elaborate education obtained at some of our universities fits men only for elegant idleness, and the class of men of leisure in our own country is not large and does not command much respect. Men and women who would be quite unwilling to be regarded as imperfectly educated, frequently present a dense and impenetrable ignorance of all matters relating to science. In time this condition of things will undoubtedly be remedied, and perhaps the traditional elements of a liberal education will be unduly neglected; but now we should begin to emancipate ourselves from antiquated habits of thought and mental training. When it is remembered that Galileo lived only about three hundred years ago, that the discovery of the circulation of the blood was published in 1628, and that Lavoisier first applied accurate methods to the study of chemistry only in the latter part of the last century, it is evident that the sum of positive knowledge was comparatively small when the models of our present system of higher education came into existence. The best place to begin our reform in education is at the beginning; and now that something positive and definite may be taught with regard to the sciences, it is well that these subjects should be taught as early as they can be properly understood.
The philosophy of chemistry and the elements of physics are not difficult subjects. They are much easier of comprehension than the construction of the Latin and Greek languages, and they have the advantage, not alone of being elements of actual knowledge, but of indicating the methods by which scientific minds have arrived at truth. While a study of the ancient languages is useful and aids in the elegant expression of thought, a study of the sciences trains the mind to proper methods of thought. More of useful logic is learned from a study of experimental science and the reasoning from facts observed than from the so-called principles laid down in text-books; and scientific language, in its best form, expresses ideas in the fewest words and in the clearest construction.
The question of teaching anatomy and physiology in public schools is one which hardly admits of discussion, provided these subjects can be taught efficiently. This can be done by good teachers and with good books; but, unfortunately, good teachers of these subjects are few, and many of the text-books in common use are full of errors and faults. The errors of statement, however, are not so serious as the faults in style. The amount of anatomy and physiology that it is desirable to teach, even to the higher classes in public schools, is not great, and it is an error to imagine that these subjects are necessarily encumbered with technical names and expressions. All the anatomy that is required is simply what is sufficient to enable pupils to comprehend physiology. The fault that I find with many schoolbooks is that the authors attempt to go too far. If pupils be taught the general mechanism of bones and joints, the actions of the most important sets of muscles, the general arrangement of the brain and nerves, the general characters of the blood and the mechanism of the circulation, the theory and mechanism of respiration, the characters of food, and certain simple facts with regard to the action of the digestive fluids, absorption, and the general action of glands, with simple explanations of the senses of taste, smell, sight, and hearing, they will know enough of anatomy and physiology for all practical purposes. Brief statements embodying the essential facts involved could be made in hardly more space than is occupied by this article; and a competent instructor, with the aid of a blackboard and colored chalks, and with very moderate skill in drawing, could teach these subjects very easily. According to my observation, however, anatomy and physiology are not taught efficiently in schools, partly for the reason that the text-books treat these subjects too elaborately, and partly because there are no teachers specially trained for that kind of instruction. The simple laws of hygiene, of course, follow naturally upon physiology.
If anatomy and physiology are to be taught in public schools, and if the efficiency of instruction depends so largely on the instructors, who is to teach the teachers? It is difficult to answer this question. The courses on anatomy and physiology in medical colleges are not adapted to this purpose. Medical students are taught in what is practically a new language, and the most intelligent school teacher, were he to attempt to learn in a medical college how to teach anatomy and physiology to his pupils, would be infinitely embarrassed in selecting his subjects and in eliminating what is unnecessary. It is a most difficult thing to popularize science. Professional men hardly know how little, and laymen how much, it is desirable to teach. Popular physiology is not by any means a simple translation of technical terms into ordinary language; it is the clear and simple expression of facts in the science, that should be a part of the knowledge of educated persons, in terms that are readily comprehensible by the people. Every one knows that he moves, breathes, feels, sees, hears, tastes, and smells, and that certain other important functions are carried on in the body. A knowledge of how these functions are accomplished should be a part of a fair education. An annual short course of lectures to teachers, in which not only the subjects should be taught but the best methods of teaching illustrated, would be most useful; and some such method of training teachers must be adopted before instruction in anatomy, physiology, and hygiene, and on the course to be pursued in ordinary emergencies, can take its proper place in the curriculum of public schools.
THE UNION OF ENGLISH-SPEAKING PEOPLES.
A FLIGHT of vultures fixed the site of the Eternal City; a flight of parrots settled the destiny of the North American continent, if not of the English-speaking race. But for a flock of homeward-wending birds seen by Martin Alonso Pinzon from the deck of the “Pinta,” on an October evening in 1492, Columbus would not have changed the westerly course which he had sailed from the Canary Islands, and would have landed on the North American coast instead of Guanabani. Spanish colonization would have begun on the mainland instead of on the islands, with consequences to civilization too momentous to be estimated. North America might have been Spanish instead of English, Romanist instead of Protestant, the stronghold of absolutism instead of the home of freedom.
The echo of the news of Columbus's discovery had scarcely died away when Pope Alexander VI. divided the undiscovered world between two little kingdoms of western Europe. Drawing an imaginary line from the north to the south pole, through the ocean then believed to separate Europe from Asia, he said to Portugal, Take all on this side, and to Spain, Take all on that. Portugal, then the most enterprising nation in Christendom, lost no time in pushing her conquests down the African coast and around the Cape of Good Hope to southern Asia, and early in the succeeding century colonized Brazil. For nearly a hundred years this insignificant kingdom, with an area smaller than that of the State of Maine, held the keys of the Indian Ocean and controlled the commerce of Africa and of Asia.
Spain, her political consolidation just completed by the conquest of Granada, displayed equal enterprise in the occupation of large portions of the New World, and while Portugal drained the wealth of the Indies, filled her coffers with the riches of Mexico, Central America, and Peru. Under Philip II.