Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

failure. The intellectual love of truth, no doubt, has some affinity to the passion for it as a moral principle. Integrity of mind tends toward integrity of life. But the state cannot afford to rely upon such tendencies. It needs good citizens even more than it needs intelligent citizens, and it must directly strike for the former. Any system of instruction which ignores either ethics or religion is fatally defective. Whatever a coterie of modern theorists may say in support of such a system, the experience and judgment of mankind is overwhelmingly against them.

It is a forcible saying of the Duke of Argyll that, " fortunately for mankind, no actual legislators have ever been quite so foolish as some philosophers." Certainly, the legislators of my own State never have been; for the public statutes of Massachusetts still enjoin it upon "all instructors of youth to exert their best endeavors to impress on the minds of children and youth committed to their care and instruction, the principles of piety and justice, and a sacred regard for truth, love of their country, humanity, and universal benevolence, sobriety, industry, and frugality, chastity, moderation, and temperance, and those other virtues which are the ornament of human society, and the basis upon which a republican constitution is founded.” But I fear these excellent injunctions are often disregarded. More attention is paid to examination drills, or even to pedantic rules of discipline, than to the weightier matters of the law, judgment, justice, and mercy.”

Every thoughtful observer or careful thinker arrives at the conclusion that we cannot safely rely on the culture of the intel. lect alone. It was the complaint of Montaigne. the skeptic, centuries ago, that the system of education in vogue had the fault of overestimating the intellect and rejecting morality; and it may be remembered that when Herbert Spencer was in this country, he declared that knowledge alone could not be relied on to secure the purification of politics. That “it is essentially a question of character, and only in a secondary way a question of knowledge. Not a lack of information, but lack of certain moral sentiments, is the root of the evil.” But surely we do not need the authority of great names to assure us that the honest laborer who can neither read nor write, but who has the sense of duty in his heart, is a better citizen than the accomplished scholar who has blunted his conscience and sharpened his wits, so that he can swindle his fellows out of a fortune.

I may be told that, however necessary moral teaching may be, it is the duty of the home, and that the school may be excused from it. But I reply that, if the state owes each child it assumes to educate a moral, as well as a mental, training, it cannot rightfully rely on the performance of this duty by others; that the children who come from the worst homes, where no such instruction is thought of, need it most; that even in homes where it is theoretically valued, busines3, cares, or pleasures practically shut it out; and, besides all this, while I would not underestimate either the absolute or the relative worth of home teaching, the teaching of the school supplements the best work of parents, with advantages of its own.

Can we teach ethics without religion? Probably. I say probably, because there is not much experimental proof. We hear more than we see of that kind of teaching. But we cannot teach with authority, we cannot teach with impressiveness, without thought of Him who is the Absolute Right. The peculiarity of Christianity itself is not in the revelation of new ethical truth, but in bringing to us that new sense of God, and of our relation to him, which makes the idea of duty regnant in the heart. Matthew Arnold very inadequately defines religion as “morality touched with emotion." But although it is much more, it is that; and without religion morality has neither emotion nor motion. It will stay in the text-book.

And so, coming to the heart of the problem, I say that I would have religion taught as a part of our public education. What religion? The only religion that is a part of the common law, the only religion that permeates our literature, and the religion that is related to all our modern civilization-Christianity. But it should be the Christianity of Christ, not that of sects; the Christianity which, in its practical aspects, is fitted to be the universal religion of mankind; which appeals, as did the Master, for its test to the common judgment of what is right.

Can the public school teach such a common Christianity ? It were indeed a scandal to our religion if there were no ground upon which its nominal adherents could stand together. Can it be that our schools must be left pagan because we are sectarian ? Such a conclusion is repulsive to the common sense of the community. All the tendencies of the age are toward breadth and unity. I think there are but very few who call themselves Christians who would prefer that our schools should be godless rather than that they should confine themselves to the Lord's Prayer as their liturgy, the Two Great Commandments as the rule of holy liv. ing, and the doctrines of the Sermon on the Mount as the inspiration and comfort of the soul. I would have the state, then, in this spirit, undertake the work of religious training in three ways.

First. Let the sentiment of worship be cultivated by opening the schools with the Lord's Prayer (in which, however, the children should not be required to join), followed by some classic hymn of pure devotion. I would connect with this some reading of selected Scriptures. The teacher who lacks either the head or the heart to render this simple service impressive is out of his place.

Secondly. I would have attention paid to the Bible as literature. The modern neglect of this book in our common and in our higher education is discreditable. Mulford, in his work, "The Nation," says: “The Bible has been removed from the course of study in universities, and then from academies, and has no place, corresponding simply, as a history and literature, to the history and literature of Greece and Rome;" and he well adds that “this is the result, in part, of the principle which has referred it exclusively to the sphere of the dogmatist and the ecclesiast." It is clearly a misfortune that the memory of the young people of to-day is not so richly stored as that of the old witb immortal passages of Scripture. Considered merely as literature, what is there to equal them ?

The“ Fortnightly Review " recently called upon distinguished men of letters to furnish "the one passage in prose which appears of its kind the best.” Without quoting more, Matthew Arnold says: “Passages from the Bible I leave out. Things like · Foxes have holes,' etc., comply with the test as much as anything in the

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

یہ)

world.” John Addington Symonds calls the 28th chapter of Job from the 12th to the 28th verse "absolutely the greatest passage known to me.” Frederic Harrison, equally famed for his fine literary taste and his skeptical mind, puts the Bible in the front rank; and Frederick Myers tells us that "turning from Plato to English prose, there seems little outside the Bible and Prayerbook which does not jar by comparison.” And Mr. Cross, in his biography of George Eliot, writes: "We generally began our reading at Witley with some chapters of the Bible, which was a very precious and sacred book to her, not only from early associations, but also from the profound conviction of its importance in the development of the religious life of man. She particularly enjoyed reading aloud some of the finest chapters of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and St. Paul's Epistles."

Ample as are the grounds upon which, as a matter of scholarship, we may urge a better acquaintance with the Bible, I would not conceal the fact that in my own mind there is a far more weighty reason, because of the spiritual life with which it is instinct. He must indeed be a blind bigot, whether an ecclesiastic or a scientist, who will not see that the Scriptures, “without note or comment,” have been a wonderful power in the regeneration of the individual man, and in toning up the life of the state.

Thirdly. Due place should be given to the study of ethics. This, for practical purposes, is well defined as that science "which teaches men their duty, and the reasons of it." Merely as a matter of intellectual discipline it is of great value, as training the power of moral reasoning, which is of far more value than that of mathematical, in the conduct of life. Without dwelling upon this, it would seem to require no argument to prove that a serious gap would be left in any education which had no teaching of the truths relating to character and to moral obligation. Nor does the contention of a few, that, because some points in ethics are subjects of controversy, we should teach notbing, deserve much notice. Ethics has been studied by the subtlest intellects of the world thousands of years in advance of modern science, and the latter has more disputable and unsettled propositions.

I have no occasion to consider whether the pulpit of the day

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

gives sufficient importance and emphasis to ethical culture. I say nothing as to the relative influence, in this direction, of its teaching, and of that of the school. But I fear the statistics as to the number of children availing themselves of such ethical instruction would be startling. Beyond this there is the further consideration that, while the pulpit has certain advantages of its own in the impressiveness of its teaching, the school also has its advantages. To many minds the great ethical truths are made more real if they are taught as the verities of physics are taught. They thus take rank with the laws of nature in their absoluteness and uniformity.

How much scholastic rubbish might we well exchange for an intellectual conviction that it was sure as the law of gravitation that suffering follows sin; that our happiness depends more on what we are than on what we have; that "character not only fixes destiny, but is destiny itself”! These are ethical truths in which all philosophers, from Socrates to Spencer, would unite; and they are such truths as are calculated to regulate the conduct of life. I am not sanguine enough to suppose that the teaching of them would insure righteous living; the mere teaching of truth never insures wisdom; but, unless we are prepared to abandon all teaching on that account, we have no reason to abandon the teaching of moral truth.

I confess that I find it difficult to appreciate the objections that may be made to the outline of religious instruction that I bave given. But I should seek to meet both those who think that too much religion would be taught, and those who think too little would be taught, in a spirit of conciliation.

As to agnostics. There are many noble souls who sympathize with George Eliot when she says: “I have no controversy with the faith that cries out and clings from the depths of man's need. .. I gather a sort of strength from the certainty that there must be limits or negations in my own moral powers and life experiences which may screen from me many possibilities of blessedness for our suffering human nature." Such agnostics would not be troubled if the faith of child. hood were nourished and strengthened by hymn and prayer and holy word ; nor, as scholars, would they undervalue the

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »