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INSTRUCTION AND EDUCATION





Foremost among the dominant ideas of the present epoch is to be
found the notion that instruction is capable of considerably
changing men, and has for its unfailing consequence to improve
them and even to make them equal. By the mere fact of its being
constantly repeated, this assertion has ended by becoming one of
the most steadfast democratic dogmas. It would be as difficult
now to attack it as it would have been formerly to have attacked
the dogmas of the Church.

On this point, however, as on many others, democratic ideas are
in profound disagreement with the results of psychology and
experience. Many eminent philosophers, among them Herbert
Spencer, have had no difficulty in showing that instruction
neither renders a man more moral nor happier, that it changes
neither his instincts nor his hereditary passions, and that at
times--for this to happen it need only be badly directed--it is
much more pernicious than useful. Statisticians have brought
confirmation of these views by telling us that criminality
increases with the generalisation of instruction, or at any rate
of a certain kind of instruction, and that the worst enemies of
society, the anarchists, are recruited among the prize-winners of
schools; while in a recent work a distinguished magistrate, M.
Adolphe Guillot, made the observation that at present 3,000
educated criminals are met with for every 1,000 illiterate
delinquents, and that in fifty years the criminal percentage of
the population has passed from 227 to 552 for every 100,000
inhabitants, an increase of 133 per cent. He has also noted in
common with his colleagues that criminality is particularly on
the increase among young persons, for whom, as is known,
gratuitous and obligatory schooling has--in France--replaced
apprenticeship.

It is not assuredly--and nobody has ever maintained this
proposition-- that well-directed instruction may not give very
useful practical results, if not in the sense of raising the
standard of morality, at least in that of developing professional
capacity. Unfortunately the Latin peoples, especially in the
last twenty-five years, have based their systems of instruction
on very erroneous principles, and in spite of the observations of
the most eminent minds, such as Breal, Fustel de Coulanges,
Taine, and many others, they persist in their lamentable
mistakes. I have myself shown, in a work published some time
ago, that the French system of education transforms the majority
of those who have undergone it into enemies of society, and
recruits numerous disciples for the worst forms of socialism.

The primary danger of this system of education--very properly
qualified as Latin--consists in the fact that it is based on the
fundamental psychological error that the intelligence is
developed by the learning by heart of text-books. Adopting this
view, the endeavour has been made to enforce a knowledge of as
many hand-books as possible. From the primary school till he
leaves the university a young man does nothing but acquire books
by heart without his judgment or personal initiative being ever
called into play. Education consists for him in reciting by
heart and obeying.

"Learning lessons, knowing by heart a grammar or a compendium,
repeating well and imitating well--that," writes a former
Minister of Public Instruction, M. Jules Simon, "is a ludicrous
form of education whose every effort is an act of faith tacitly
admitting the infallibility of the master, and whose only results
are a belittling of ourselves and a rendering of us impotent."

Were this education merely useless, one might confine one's self
to expressing compassion for the unhappy children who, instead of
making needful studies at the primary school, are instructed in
the genealogy of the sons of Clotaire, the conflicts between
Neustria and Austrasia, or zoological classifications. But the
system presents a far more serious danger. It gives those who
have been submitted to it a violent dislike to the state of life
in which they were born, and an intense desire to escape from it.
The working man no longer wishes to remain a working man, or the
peasant to continue a peasant, while the most humble members of
the middle classes admit of no possible career for their sons
except that of State-paid functionaries. Instead of preparing
men for life French schools solely prepare them to occupy public
functions, in which success can be attained without any necessity
for self-direction or the exhibition of the least glimmer of
personal initiative. At the bottom of the social ladder the
system creates an army of proletarians discontented with their
lot and always ready to revolt, while at the summit it brings
into being a frivolous bourgeoisie, at once sceptical and
credulous, having a superstitious confidence in the State, whom
it regards as a sort of Providence, but without forgetting to
display towards it a ceaseless hostility, always laying its own
faults to the door of the Government, and incapable of the least
enterprise without the intervention of the authorities.

The State, which manufactures by dint of textbooks all these
persons possessing diplomas, can only utilise a small number of
them, and is forced to leave the others without employment. It
is obliged in consequence to resign itself to feeding the first
mentioned and to having the others as its enemies. From the top
to the bottom of the social pyramid, from the humblest clerk to
the professor and the prefect, the immense mass of persons
boasting diplomas besiege the professions. While a business man
has the greatest difficulty in finding an agent to represent him
in the colonies, thousands of candidates solicit the most modest
official posts. There are 20,000 schoolmasters and mistresses
without employment in the department of the Seine alone, all of
them persons who, disdaining the fields or the workshops, look to
the State for their livelihood. The number of the chosen being
restricted, that of the discontented is perforce immense. The
latter are ready for any revolution, whoever be its chiefs and
whatever the goal they aim at. The acquisition of knowledge for
which no use can be found is a sure method of driving a man to
revolt.[11]



peoples. It is also to be observed in China, which is also a
country in the hands of a solid hierarchy of mandarins or
functionaries, and where a function is obtained, as in France, by
competitive examination, in which the only test is the
imperturbable recitation of bulky manuals. The army of educated
persons without employment is considered in China at the present
day as a veritable national calamity. It is the same in India
where, since the English have opened schools, not for educating
purposes, as is the case in England itself, but simply to furnish
the indigenous inhabitants with instruction, there has been
formed a special class of educated persons, the Baboos, who, when
they do not obtain employment, become the irreconcilable enemies
of the English rule. In the case of all the Baboos, whether
provided with employment or not, the first effect of their
instruction has been to lower their standard of morality. This
is a fact on which I have insisted at length in my book, "The
Civilisations of India"--a fact, too, which has been observed by
all authors who have visited the great peninsula.



It is evidently too late to retrace our steps. Experience alone,
that supreme educator of peoples, will be at pains to show us our
mistake. It alone will be powerful enough to prove the necessity
of replacing our odious text-books and our pitiable examinations
by industrial instruction capable of inducing our young men to
return to the fields, to the workshop, and to the colonial
enterprise which they avoid to-day at all costs.

The professional instruction which all enlightened minds are now
demanding was the instruction received in the past by our
forefathers. It is still in vigour at the present day among the
nations who rule the world by their force of will, their
initiative, and their spirit of enterprise. In a series of
remarkable pages, whose principal passages I reproduce further
on, a great thinker, M. Taine, has clearly shown that our former
system of education was approximately that in vogue to-day in
England and America, and in a remarkable parallel between the
Latin and Anglo-Saxon systems he has plainly pointed out the
consequences of the two methods.

One might consent, perhaps, at a pinch, to continue to accept all
the disadvantages of our classical education, although it
produced nothing but discontented men, and men unfitted for their
station in life, did the superficial acquisition of so much
knowledge, the faultless repeating by heart of so many
text-books, raise the level of intelligence. But does it really
raise this level? Alas, no! The conditions of success in life
are the possession of judgment, experience, initiative, and
character--qualities which are not bestowed by books. Books are
dictionaries, which it is useful to consult, but of which it is
perfectly useless to have lengthy portions in one's head.

How is it possible for professional instruction to develop the
intelligence in a measure quite beyond the reach of classical
instruction? This has been well shown by M. Taine.

"Ideas, he says, are only formed in their natural and normal
surroundings; the promotion of the growth is effected by the
innumerable impressions appealing to the senses which a young man
receives daily in the workshop, the mine, the law court, the
study, the builder's yard, the hospital; at the sight of tools,
materials, and operations; in the presence of customers, workers,
and labour, of work well or ill done, costly or lucrative. In
such a way are obtained those trifling perceptions of detail of
the eyes, the ear, the hands, and even the sense of smell, which,
picked up involuntarily, and silently elaborated, take shape
within the learner, and suggest to him sooner or, later this or
that new combination, simplification, economy, improvement, or
invention. The young Frenchman is deprived, and precisely at the
age when they are most fruitful, of all these precious contacts,
of all these indispensable elements of assimilation. For seven
or eight years on end he is shut up in a school, and is cut off
from that direct personal experience which would give him a keen
and exact notion of men and things and of the various ways of
handling them."

" . . . At least nine out of ten have wasted their time and pains
during several years of their life--telling, important, even
decisive years. Among such are to be counted, first of all, the
half or two-thirds of those who present themselves for
examination--I refer to those who are rejected; and then among
those who are successful, who obtain a degree, a certificate, a
diploma, there is still a half or two-thirds--I refer to the
overworked. Too much has been demanded of them by exacting that
on a given day, on a chair or before a board, they should, for
two hours in succession, and with respect to a group of sciences,
be living repertories of all human knowledge. In point of fact
they were that, or nearly so, for two hours on that particular
day, but a month later they are so no longer. They could not go
through the examination again. Their too numerous and too
burdensome acquisitions slip incessantly from their mind, and are
not replaced. Their mental vigour has declined, their fertile
capacity for growth has dried up, the fully-developed man
appears, and he is often a used-up man. Settled down, married,
resigned to turning in a circle, and indefinitely in the same
circle, he shuts himself up in his confined function, which he
fulfils adequately, but nothing more. Such is the average yield:
assuredly the receipts do not balance the expenditure. In
England or America, where, as in France previous to 1789, the
contrary proceeding is adopted, the outcome obtained is equal or
superior."


The illustrious psychologist subsequently shows us the difference
between our system and that of the Anglo-Saxons. The latter do
not possess our innumerable special schools. With them
instruction is not based on book-learning, but on object lessons.
The engineer, for example, is trained in a workshop, and never at
a school; a method which allows of each individual reaching the
level his intelligence permits of. He becomes a workman or a
foreman if he can get no further, an engineer if his aptitudes
take him as far. This manner of proceeding is much more
democratic and of much greater benefit to society than that of
making the whole career of an individual depend on an
examination, lasting a few hours, and undergone at the age of
nineteen or twenty.


"In the hospital, the mine, the factory, in the architect's or
the lawyer's office, the student, who makes a start while very
young, goes through his apprenticeship, stage by stage, much as
does with us a law clerk in his office, or an artist in his
studio. Previously, and before making a practical beginning, he
has had an opportunity of following some general and summary
course of instruction, so as to have a framework ready prepared
in which to store the observations he is shortly to make.
Furthermore he is able, as a rule, to avail himself of sundry
technical courses which he can follow in his leisure hours, so as
to co-ordinate step by step the daily experience he is gathering.
Under such a system the practical capabilities increase and
develop of themselves in exact proportion to the faculties of the
student, and in the direction requisite for his future task and
the special work for which from now onwards he desires to fit
himself. By this means in England or the United States a young
man is quickly in a position to develop his capacity to the
utmost. At twenty-five years of age, and much sooner if the
material and the parts are there, he is not merely a useful
performer, he is capable also of spontaneous enterprise; he is
not only a part of a machine, but also a motor. In France, where
the contrary system prevails--in France, which with each
succeeding generation is falling more and more into line with
China--the sum total of the wasted forces is enormous."


The great philosopher arrives at the following conclusion with
respect to the growing incongruity between our Latin system of
education and the requirements of practical life:--


"In the three stages of instruction, those of childhood,
adolescence and youth, the theoretical and pedagogic preparation
by books on the school benches has lengthened out and become
overcharged in view of the examination, the degree, the diploma,
and the certificate, and solely in this view, and by the worst
methods, by the application of an unnatural and anti-social
regime, by the excessive postponement of the practical
apprenticeship, by our boarding-school system, by artificial
training and mechanical cramming, by overwork, without thought
for the time that is to follow, for the adult age and the
functions of the man, without regard for the real world on which
the young man will shortly be thrown, for the society in which we
move and to which he must be adapted or be taught to resign
himself in advance, for the struggle in which humanity is
engaged, and in which to defend himself and to keep his footing
he ought previously to have been equipped, armed, trained, and
hardened. This indispensable equipment, this acquisition of more
importance than any other, this sturdy common sense and nerve and
will-power our schools do not procure the young Frenchman; on the
contrary, far from qualifying him for his approaching and
definite state, they disqualify him. In consequence, his entry
into the world and his first steps in the field of action are
most often merely a succession of painful falls, whose effect is
that he long remains wounded and bruised, and sometimes disabled
for life. The test is severe and dangerous. In the course of it
the mental and moral equilibrium is affected, and runs the risk
of not being re-established. Too sudden and complete disillusion
has supervened. The deceptions have been too great, the
disappointments too keen."[12]



almost the last that Taine wrote. They resume admirably the
results of the great philosopher's long experience.
Unfortunately they are in my opinion totally incomprehensible for
such of our university professors who have not lived abroad.
Education is the only means at our disposal of influencing to
some extent the mind of a nation, and it is profoundly saddening
to have to think that there is scarcely any one in France who can
arrive at understanding that our present system of teaching is a
grave cause of rapid decadence, which instead of elevating our
youth, lowers and perverts it.

A useful comparison may be made between Taine's pages and the
observations on American education recently made by M. Paul
Bourget in his excellent book, "Outre-Mer." He, too, after
having noted that our education merely produces narrow-minded
bourgeois, lacking in initiative and will-power, or
anarchists--"those two equally harmful types of the civilised
man, who degenerates into impotent platitude or insane
destructiveness"--he too, I say, draws a comparison that cannot
be the object of too much reflection between our French lycees
(public schools), those factories of degeneration, and the
American schools, which prepare a man admirably for life. The
gulf existing between truly democratic nations and those who have
democracy in their speeches, but in no wise in their thoughts, is
clearly brought out in this comparison.



Have we digressed in what precedes from the psychology of crowds?
Assuredly not. If we desire to understand the ideas and beliefs
that are germinating to-day in the masses, and will spring up
to-morrow, it is necessary to know how the ground has been
prepared. The instruction given the youth of a country allows of
a knowledge of what that country will one day be. The education
accorded the present generation justifies the most gloomy
previsions. It is in part by instruction and education that the
mind of the masses is improved or deteriorated. It was necessary
in consequence to show how this mind has been fashioned by the
system in vogue, and how the mass of the indifferent and the
neutral has become progressively an army of the discontented
ready to obey all the suggestions of utopians and rhetoricians.
It is in the schoolroom that socialists and anarchists are found
nowadays, and that the way is being paved for the approaching
period of decadence for the Latin peoples.





Next: 1. IMAGES, WORDS AND FORMULAE.

Previous: POLITICAL AND SOCIAL INSTITUTIONS



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