Education and the English-Speaking Peoples
THERE is little danger that the Spectator will be suspected of underestimating the value of the study of the Classics ; nor are we greatly impressed by much of the criticism levelled at our Public Schools and Univer- sities. The chief function of education is neither the storing of the mind with the husks of knowledge nor is it the forcing into premature growth of any particular cuttings or offsets, as it were, of the tree of learning. Rather is it such preparation and fertilization of the soil that seed sown therein will in its season produce good fruit. The sphere in which vocational training can be useful is strictly limited. The success or failure of any national system of education can be judged only by its products ; and we arc shameless enough in our patriotism to believe that, measured by that standard, the British system still holds its own as, on the whole, the best in the world. We do not know to what other country to look for a class which is better, in the lump, than that which is turned out by our Universities and Public Schools. In spite of all of which, we are of opinion that the blank ignorance of certain fields of knowledge in which the majority of British youths are now sent out into the world is nothing short of deplorable ; and especially is this true of the story of the Empire and the history of the United States. The growth of the self-governing Dominions and the rise of the American Republic to wealth and power have been the most conspicuous phenomena in the evolution of society in recent years, and it would seem that there could hardly be a more essential thing than a proper appreciation of their importance in one who has to live his life in the years that are now to come. It is not in any spirit of Philis- tinism that we say that the study of these great new forces that are stirring in the world can be made more truly educative than the study of any people or any Empire of the past.
It may be that no man can go out into life in England without acquiring some working notion of the British- Empire as an organic whole. But this is not enough.
The great Dominions have a dignity and a history of their own. They are no longer mere incidents in the adven- turous tale of British seafaring and discovery. Each is a nation which has built and shaped itself, faced and solved its own problems, and has problems yet to solve. Without some knowledge of their achievements, their difficulties, their potentialities any intelligent com- prehension of the Empire and its future cannot be ; and the story of the Empire, whether as a whole or in its parts, is so full of romance and picturesqueness—and, to a Briton, so full of pride—that its study needs, and should have, none of the deadening intellectual influence too often exercised by the study of ancient history or the history of foreign peoples. Nor is it a little matter that every citizen of any part of the Empire who comes to England is hurt and disappointed at what seems to him our indifference towards the land of which he is so proud ; and it makes at best a poor defence to explain to the Canadian that we are just as ignorant of Austrahl and New Zealand, of South Africa and India, as we ar,. of Canada. Ignorance of any or all should be a shame and a humiliation to us. More and more it is coming to be recognized that in the development of the Empire lies a great hope, not only of a revival of the prosperity of Great Britain, but, ultimately, of permanent peace in the world. We constantly implore our people to think imperially. And year by year the schools and colleges turn out their generations of educated young men unfur- nished with any foundation of knowledge on which correct imperial thinking can be based.
With the United States the case is not much different. Sympathy between the English-speaking peoples must always be one of the pillars of world-peace ; and sympathy implies some measure of mutual knowledge. Americans often know English history better than we know it our- selves ; but no American visits England without being astonished and chagrined at the English ignorance of the United States ; and no young Englishman goes to America without being mortified as the depth of his ignorance dawns on him. It is idle now to say, as used to be said, that we do not learn American history because it has nothing valuable to teach us. The sources of America's greatness, the forces that have made her what she is, the tendency of her policies, the nature and ambitions of her people—all these have become matters of profound interest, to people of the British stock most of all. It is absurd that the Revolutionary War, the war of 1812, the Civil War should be treated as mere accidental side issues of the history of England. The story of the growth of the United States, the process of the shaping of a great State out of chaos, the construction of the framework of its Government, its expansion and the development of what is practically a new form of industrial and democratic civilization, these are subjects of study of the first importance. One of the richest and most powerful Empires that the world has seen has grown up before our eyes ; and we think it of more importance to read of the Peloponnesian War. It is doubtful if the whole of history furnishes two figures the proper study of whose lives should contain more -useful inspiration for English youths than would the study of the lives of Washington and Lincoln. Perhaps there is lack of convenient text-books ; and for English youths the books should certainly be English-written. ' But that is a lack not difficult to supply. For the encourage- ment of patriotism and for broadening political vision we can imagine no subjects more precious than the study either of the Empire or of the United States, nor any more calculated to help a youth to understand the conditions of the world in which he has to make his place. There is hardly any omission from the ordinary school or college curriculum which would not be justified if it made place for them. At the worst, as holiday tasks or as topics on reading tours they would seem to be -