Educational Perspective


JOSEPH KENNEDY, Dean of the School of Education, University of North Dakota "REAT cyclonic movements have always characterized civiliza

tion-education in its widest sense. There have been storm centers and regions of calm, and these have frequently changed places. These movements have come and gone like the flow and ebb of the tide, like the more or less regular sequence of the waves on the ever restless sea.

Individuals have, as a rule, merely exprest or reflected the social mind rather than guided it. Benjamin Kidd, with some truth, maintains that the great movements of nations and of races are unaffected by individual reason.

Individuals are merely trees in a great forest, le houses in a great city. This should be no justification for neglect or inaction, any more than individual players in a great orchestra would be justified in silence or in discords because they may not lead and dominate the symphony.

The greatest good in life consists in social and individual integrity and welfare, depending upon such relations as will give strength to the individual, solidarity and integrity to the social bond, and such a harmony and perspective in it all as will constitute what Plato called "justice in the large.”

These great movements in society have usually gone from one extreme to the other, like the swing of a pendulum. They have been cycles returning upon themselves illustrating the truth that "there is nothing new under the sun," that “history repeats itself," and that we can judge of the future only by the past. These recurring waves have appeared in various fields: the material, the moral, the intellectual, the artistic, and the educational.

Every nation whose history has been unfolded to us has had its periods of material prosperity; and such times have invariably preceded moral degeneracy. Opportunity and wealth tend to luxury of all kinds, and this results in the disintegration of the moral fiber.


• University Address, given at the University of North Dakota, June 15, 1914.

Copyright, 1915, University of North Dakota.


History points to this outcome in many lands; and Kipling in his
Recessional, warns his own country of this same danger:

"Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Ninevah and Tyre!
Judge of the nations, spare us yet,

Lest we forget-lest we forget!" The almost irresistible tendency in the individual, as well as in the nation, is to become sensuous, to say the least, when possest of great worldly means. Wealth seems to "turn” both the head and the heart of either the individual or the nation. The means of gratifying all desires are well nigh irresistible temptations.

In this condition society moves on an inclined plane, on which individuals may be able to stand but generations will slip. there is a causal relation between simple living and high thinking, so there is, also, between high living and low thinking. Pampered bodies usually house degenerate minds. Where wealth and luxury are rampant on an extensive scale we are sure to find wide-spread laxity and a pronounced lowering of the whole moral tone. The causal connection between wealth and vice is as strong as it is between poverty and vice. Virtue shines brightest among those who are neither lured to vice by wealth and luxury nor driven to it by poverty and squalor. Virtue is found in Aristotle's mixed life, and truth in his “doctrine of the mean.”

Our own country has had an unprecedented period of material progress. America has meant, as Emerson said, opportunity. The common man among us lives as comfortably as the kings of former ages. The conveniences and comforts of life have been spreading downward from the plane of those who are well able to have them to the level of those who can ill afford them. But imitation is strong, and sensuous desires are imperious to the multitude; the man on a salary of two thousand a year or less must have his touring car, no less than the man on a salary of ten times as much. Those who have wealth and means and a large circle of friends are impelled to make a display-to express themselves in various ways that will attract attention. The large cities, where there is a great exhibition of wealth and luxury, set the pace and lead the way. Moving picture shows, dance halls, cabarets, theaters, and all kinds of spectacular entertainment are both cause and effect of an ever-rising tide of sensuous, if not sensual, emotion and passion. While such activities are not to be condemned indiscriminately they are, without a doubt, a kind of barometer of our moral atmosphere. The old policy of reticence in regard to sex relations of all kinds has been abandoned in many places and the tone and thought of the newspaper, the magazine, and the novel, are unblushingly erotic. The barriers of silence and of modesty are breaking down. The theater puts upon the boards problem-plays in all their suggestive reality, and offers as an apology the statement that they are “true.” Discussions on eugenics and the problems of sex are literally thrust upon little boys and girls on the plea that the information is "true" or that mere information is a preventive. Within the last few years a veritable tidal wave-or cyclone, for it is invariably of a rotary type of dancing has spread from the Atlantic to the Pacific. I am not condemning these things in their proper form, time, and place, but am only showing that these exhibitions of emotional and luxurious expression accompany or follow the tide of material wealth and comfort. At such times, however, both the moral and the intellectual life of a people must, of necessity, be lowered; for there cannot be high thought and morality in connection with a pampered social body, any more than there can be in the case of an individual reveling in wealth and luxury. The highest moral and intellectual condition of a nation is found as in the case of the individual, in the simple, constrained and restrained life. A nation absorbed in the dance can not rise during that period to heights of intellectual and moral glory. The luxurious, riotous and promiscuous Roman life, as exhibited at the public baths, was an ominous forecast of the decline of imperial Rome. But such waves of material wealth and their consequent moral depression have come and gone, like periods of panics, in almost every country. The present dancing mania is but a passing phase which has recurred again and again in other nations; the so-called "new" dances are anything but new in this very old world of ours.

There have appeared, in the life of almost every nation, intellectual, as well as material and moral, waves. These can be seen most clearly when they have receded to a distance in the past and have thus become classic. In the life of ancient Greece a period of about one hundred and fifty years produced more great men than any other nation, before or since, ten times as large in ten times the time. We see a somewhat similar intellectual tide in ancient Rome, another in Alexandria, another in the Irish monasteries in the eighth and ninth centuries, one in Europe in the thirteenth century in the midst of what is usually, but not altogether truly, called the “Dark Ages,” and another following the time of the Renaissance. Every nation can point out its own intellectual highwater marks and these will always be found at times when wealth, luxury, and sensuousness are comparatively quiet. In our own country—now that we are removed to a sufficient distance—we can see a period in ante-bellum days when our intellectual tide rose to a high point. Life was simpler, and a galaxy of stars appeared in the intellectual and literary firmament whose sound and quieting messages indicated a sanity and perspective quite in contrast with most of the feverish and erotic output of the present day.

It may perhaps be said that I am only reflecting and expressing an ever-present tendency of human nature to look toward the past, to praise the good old times, and to bemoan the foibles and corruptions of our own age. Professors in colleges now frequently discuss and compare the student life of today with that of their own college days. They complain that they can not get serious study and application from their classes in these times. It can not be that a treacherous memory and imagination create halos around our own student days. The attractions and distractions have increased manyfold in a generation; and, as President Wilson said, the side-shows are in danger of putting the main tent out of business. And yet, I do not mean that there are no serious and able students today, nor even that there are not as many as formerly; but there are hundreds and thousands attending college now who are sent there and who are benefiting neither themselves nor others. The present wave of luxury and sensationalism bears them along on its crest. They do not see life whole nor see it in fine perspective.

We find in the history of nations and of races similar tidal waves of esthetic, or artistic, development, followed in their turn by corresponding depressions. As there are periods of ebb and flow in Art itself, so there are extremes even in artistic method. In the Raphaelite school the most minute definiteness characterized every detail of a painting; every face and form was like an individual photograph and the whole portrayed an objective ideal. Then came the introduction of what is known as "Impressionism,” where much was left to the observer—to his imagination and his point of view. Here details are left so indefinite that they mean little or nothing in themselves: the picture is really created by the observer's imagination, from the impression produced upon him by the picture as a whole and as seen from a particular point of view. Recently there has appeared a new school of artists who have gone to the other extreme from anything resembling definiteness: they leave all to the imagination. This is the so-called "Cubist” or “Futurist" art-if it can be called “art.” Thus we have here, as in other fields, the swing of the pendulum from one extreme to the other.

[merged small][ocr errors]

During the long process of the ages what is known as Education has also manifested itself in waves, in different phases, and in extremes. In ancient Sparta, situated as it was in the midst of war-like peoples, education was almost wholly physical. This was true in large mesure of most of the Greek states, including Athens, the intellectual sun of the ancient world. In those days there was little science, and Grecian youths studied no language but the Greek vernacular. All the physical or bodily exercises needed for health, beauty, and war, constituted most of the education and the training of ancient Greece. It is probable that the Greeks realized what we too often forget, namely, that one of the best ways of reaching the mind and eliciting thought is thru physical exercise in great variety -in both work and play.

It is doubtful whether we have as fine a perspective of the relation between physical activity and education in general as they had. In our modern institutions what is called physical education constitutes only an extremely small part of the whole. Students are required to devote probably two hours a week to this; but in the hour allotted, a student must change his clothing, perform his exercises, and change again. If he is given an opportunity for a bath there is scarcely any time for his physical exercise; and if he does not take a bath he must remain in perspiration and discomfort till the close of his other work or till evening. And this is regarded as physical education! It is not surprising that students dislike both the exercise and the compulsion, and constantly attempt to evade it. Without criticising anyone except the conception and the ideal established everywhere in educational thought and perspective, I would say that this can be little more than a pitiable pretense. There can be no real physical education till it is honored, dignified, and made attractive and worthy of being called a part of education from childhood to college life. I am aware that this will scarcely find a response in a time when the merely intellectual star is near the zenith, but it is pertinent to inquire how the Greeks attained such beauty of physical form and such wonderful intellectual power at the same time. If one man says that he wishes his children to spend half the day in interesting work and fascinating play and the other half in study and discussion, and another man says that such a half day spent away from books and study is time wasted, these two can not agree, for they have a different conception of the educative process and a different perspective of the relative values of such things.

In the first centuries of the Christian Era, when the end of the world was expected soon and when the awfulness of sin weighed

« VorigeDoorgaan »