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The Social Task of Education

information, body, mind, generation, art, process, childhood and impart

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THE SOCIAL TASK OF EDUCATION Education may be taken as a very broad term for the entire conscious process of passing on from one generation to another the accumulated treas ures, the acquired capacities, of the race. So con ceived, it touches every age, but childhood is its special province—the period marked by nature as peculiarly adapted to this process.

If, as Professor Thompson says,* unlike the beasts that perish, man has a social heritage, handed on from one generation to another, so that we are not dependent upon our biological inheritance alone, it is to childhood that this debt is paid, by the children that the new credit is acquired in trust for the years ahead, in which they are to be the living link between the past with its achieve ments, and the future with its possibilities. If therefore the social structure is to be sound and suitable, childhood must have its chance, must have time enough to perform its function, must not be cheated of its debt, expected to yield a harvest of figs from a sowing of thistles.

If we analyze this social task of education from • Heredity.

our present point of view, one part of it undoubtedly consists in the mere preservation of actual informa tion. We need not concern ourselves very much about that. The printing-press has solved it. True, there is information which can be preserved and imparted only in other ways, for example, through art. Paintings, sculpture, architecture, music, all tell their own story in a way that descrip tions of them, even critical studies of them, do not. The hand which can conceive and execute works of art, and the eye which can see and appreciate them, are essential to the preservation of our social heri tage. Actual and valuable information perishes from the world if as an incident of warfare works of art are destroyed, or if, through the failure of edu cation, we cease to know their value. Arts of skill might disappear in the same way. But, speaking largely, the next generation is not in serious danger of a dearth of information. Newspapers deluge us with it, books record and elaborate and refine upon it. Research adds to it enormously. Every process of industry turns it out as a by-product. Government is engaged to a great extent in facili tating its distribution and increasing its amount. Schools have been organized to impart it. We shall not run short of information.

A second task of education in a policy of social construction is to teach the use of the mind and body. It is of little avail to have a body unless one

knows how to use it. Most of us misuse and fail to use our eyes, our ears, our hands, our backs, our tongues and teeth, our lungs and diaphragms, our legs, our skin. For a million years or so, no doubt, we traveled on all fours, as babies still do, and now nature fails us sometimes when we try to stand up right. For a million years or so salvation on earth depended on ability to distinguish friend from foe at a great distance. Now, when the objects of our interest and solicitude are nearly always at eighteen inches from the eye instead of a mile, we find our selves handicapped by an optical instrument fitted for the distant but not for the near vision. We subject ourselves to eye-strain, and have head aches, curved spines, and ill temper in consequence.

No other mechanism in the world, we are often assured, is so continuously and flagrantly abused— from ignorance, from obstinacy, from carelessness, from parasitic enemies, from indulgence of its own eccentricities—as the human body. Education for efficiency implies instruction as to these ele mentary things: not anatomy and physiology, though those are useful; but cleanliness, respect for bodily functions, coordination of muscles, re pose of nerves. Hygiene in all its branches is the first element in social education.

But the mind also is useless save as we have learned how to use it. To impart information is no more to give the mastery of the mind than to impart food is to give the mastery of the body. Certain drills are necessary to make the mind rapid and accurate. Certain processes are necessary to develop observation and the critical faculty. Other exercises are useful in cultivating the mem ory and the imagination. But, above all, in a policy of social construction, the educational sys tem must be successful in planting, watering, and securing increase in the power of forming economic judgments, in the power of estimating values as higher and lower, of comparing rightly future pleasures with those of the present, the permanent with the fleeting, the spiritual with the material. Right reasoning about what can be attained by a given effort, and what the satisfaction thus at tained is really worth, as compared with other possible results from the same effort—this, I take it, is a prime function of social education.

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