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Science In Education
by [?]

I mean what I say: science in education, not education in science.

It is the last of these that all the scientific men of England have so long been fighting for. And a very good thing it is in its way, and I hope they may get as much as they want of it. But compared to the importance of science in education, education in science is a matter of very small national moment.

The difference between the two is by no means a case of tweedledum and tweedledee. Education in science means the systematic teaching of science so as to train up boys to be scientific men. Now scientific men are exceedingly useful members of a community; and so are engineers, and bakers, and blacksmiths, and artists, and chimney-sweeps. But we can’t all be bakers, and we can’t all be painters in water-colours. There is a dim West Country legend to the effect that the inhabitants of the Scilly Isles eke out a precarious livelihood by taking in one another’s washing. As a matter of practical political economy, such a source of income is worse than precarious–it’s frankly impossible. “It takes all sorts to make a world.” A community entirely composed of scientific men would fail to feed itself, clothe itself, house itself, and keep itself supplied with amusing light literature. In one word, education in science produces specialists; and specialists, though most useful and valuable persons in their proper place, are no more the staple of a civilised community than engine-drivers or ballet-dancers.

What the world at large really needs, and will one day get, is not this, but due recognition of the true value of science in education. We don’t all want to be made into first-class anatomists like Owen, still less into first-class practical surgeons, like Sir Henry Thompson. But what we do all want is a competent general knowledge (amongst other things) of anatomy at large, and especially of human anatomy; of physiology at large, and especially of human physiology. We don’t all want to be analytical chemists: but what we do all want is to know as much about oxygen and carbon as will enable us to understand the commonest phenomena of combustion, of chemical combination, of animal or vegetable life. We don’t all want to be zoologists, and botanists of the type who put their names after “critical species:” but what we do all want to know is as much about plants and animals as will enable us to walk through life intelligently, and to understand the meaning of the things that surround us. We want, in one word, a general acquaintance with the results rather than with the methods of science.

“In short,” says the specialist, with his familiar sneer, “you want a smattering.”

Well, yes, dear Sir Smelfungus, if it gives you pleasure to put it so–just that; a smattering, an all-round smattering. But remember that in this matter the man of science is always influenced by ideas derived from his own pursuits as specialist. He is for ever thinking what sort of education will produce more specialists in future; and as a rule he is thinking what sort of education will produce men capable in future of advancing science. Now to advance science, to discover new snails, or invent new ethyl compounds, is not and cannot be the main object of the mass of humanity. What the mass wants is just unspecialised knowledge–the kind of knowledge that enables men to get comfortably and creditably and profitably through life, to meet emergencies as they rise, to know their way through the world, to use their faculties in all circumstances to the best advantage. And for this purpose what is wanted is, not the methods, but the results of science.

One science, and one only, is rationally taught in our schools at present. I mean geography. And the example of geography is so eminently useful for illustrating the difference I am trying to point out, that I will venture to dwell upon it for a moment in passing. It is good for us all to know that the world is round, without its being necessary for every one of us to follow in detail the intricate reasoning by which that result has been arrived at. It is good for us all to know the position of New York and Rio and Calcutta on the map, without its being necessary for us to understand, far less to work out for ourselves, the observations and calculations which fixed their latitude and longitude. Knowledge of the map is a good thing in itself, though it is a very different thing indeed from the technical knowledge which enables a man to make a chart of an unknown region, or to explore and survey it. Furthermore, it is a form of knowledge far more generally useful. A fair acquaintance with the results embodied in the atlas, in the gazetteer, in Baedeker, and in Bradshaw, is much oftener useful to us on our way through the world than a special acquaintance with the methods of map-making. It would be absurd to say that because a man is not going to be a Stanley or a Nansen, therefore it is no good for him to learn geography. It would be absurd to say that unless he learned geography in accordance with its methods instead of its results, he could have but a smattering, and that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. A little knowledge of the position of New York is indeed a dangerous thing, if a man uses it to navigate a Cunard vessel across the Atlantic. But the absence of the smattering is a much more dangerous and fatal thing if the man wishes to do business with the Argentine and the Transvaal, or to enter into practical relations of any sort with anybody outside his own parish. The results of geography are useful and valuable in themselves, quite apart from the methods employed in obtaining them.