From time immemorial intellectual endowments have been crowned with bays of honor. Men have worshiped at the shrine of intellect with an almost Eastern idolatry. Men of more than an average endowment of intellect have been regarded as superior beings. The multitude have looked upon them with wonder. With reverent hands the world at large has crowned intellect with its richest honors. Its pathway has been strewn with flowers; its brow has worn the loftiest plume; it has held the mightiest scepter of power, and sat upon the proudest throne. Evidence mightier than the plaudits of admiring multitudes is every-where found in the universe proclaiming the worth and power of the human intellect. There can not be a grander theme to engross the attention of all classes than that subject which has to do with the training of the intellect. The subject of education is fraught with a deep interest to all who have a just appreciation of its merits. It should be of interest to all within the pale of civilization, inasmuch as the happiness of all classes is connected with the subject of education.
Education is development. It is not simply instruction, facts, and rules communicated by the teacher, but it is discipline, a waking up, a development of latent powers, a growth of the mind. It finds the child’s mind passive; it trains it to think independently; it awakens its powers to observe, to reflect, to combine. It aims to bring into harmonious action all the powers of the mind, not, as some suppose, a cultivation of a few to the neglect of all the rest. Education should have reference to the whole man—the body, the mind, and the heart. Its object, and, when rightly conducted, its effect, is to make him a complete creature of his kind. To his frame it would give vigor, activity, and beauty; to his heart virtue; to his senses correctness and acuteness. The educated man is not the gladiator, nor the scholar, nor the upright man alone, but a well balanced combination of the three. The well-developed tree is not one simply well rooted, nor with giant branches, nor resplendent with rich foliage, but all of these together. If you mark the perfect man you must not look for him in the gymnasium, the university, or the Church exclusively, but you look for the healthful mind in the healthful body, with a virtuous heart. The being in whom you find this union is the only one worthy to be called educated.
Education, strictly speaking, covers the whole area of life. It is the word which means all that God asks of us, all we owe the world or ourselves. It expresses the sum total of human duty. Nor is it confined to the present period of life. For aught we know education may be continued in heaven. Reason may continue to widen its powers and deepen its sanctities there. The affections may grow in beauty and fervor through innumerable ages. Mind may expand and intensify through eternity. Education is a work of progress. It begins in life, but has no end. Death does not terminate it. We learn the elements of things below; above, we will study their essence. We progress only by efforts. Whatever expands the affection or enlarges the sphere of our sympathies, whatever makes us feel our relation to the universe, to the great and beneficial cause of all, must unquestionably refine our nature and elevate us in the scale of being.
It requires extensive observation to enable us even partially to appreciate the wonderful extent to which all the faculties are developed by mental cultivation. The nervous system grows more vigorous and active, the touch is more sensitive, and there is greater mobility to the hand. Men are often like knives with many blades. They know how to open one and only one; the rest are buried in the handle, and from misuse become useless. Education is the knowledge of how to use the whole of one’s self. He is educated who knows how to make a tool of every faculty, how to open it, how to keep it sharp, and how to apply it to all, practical purposes. Education is of three parts,—from nature, from man, and from things. The development of our faculties and organs is the education of nature; that of man is the application we learn to make of this very developing; and that of things is the experience we acquire in regard to different objects by which we are affected. All that we have not at our birth, and all that we have acquired in the years of our maturity, shows the need and effect of education. The power of education is shown in that it hath power to give to children resources that will endure as long as life endures, habits that time will ameliorate but not destroy, in that it renders sickness tolerable, solitude pleasant, age venerable, life more dignified and useful, and death less terrible.
Education may be right or wrong, good or bad. Reason may grow strong in error and revel in falsities. The heart may grow in vice, and the passions expand in misrule. It has been wisely ordained that light should have no color, water no taste, and air no odor; so knowledge should be equally pure and without admixture. If it comes to us through the medium of prejudice it will be discolored; through the channels of custom, it will be adulterated; through the Gothic walls of the college or of the cloister, it will smell of the lamp. It is not what a man eats, but what he digests that makes him strong; not what he gains, but what he saves that makes him rich; so it is not what he reads or hears, but what he remembers and applies that makes him learned. He who knows men and how to deal with them, whose mind by any means whatever has received that discipline which gives to its action power and facility, has been educated.
We can not be too careful to have our education proceed in the right direction. It is almost as difficult to make a man unlearn his errors as to acquire his knowledge. Error is more hopeless than ignorance, for error is always the more busy. Ignorance is a blank sheet, on which we can write, but error is a scribbled one, from which we must first erase. Ignorance is content to stand still without advancing towards wisdom, but error, more presumptuous, proceeds in the contrary direction. Ignorance has no light to guide her, but error follows a false one. The consequences are that error, when she retraces her footsteps, has a long distance to go before she is in as good condition for the acquiring of truth as ignorance.
A right conception of the value and power of wisdom is a great incentive in stimulating us to proceed in the work of educating ourselves. It is knowledge that has converted the world from a desert abode of savage men to the beautiful homes of civilization. Human knowledge is permitted to approximate, in some degree and on certain occasions, with that of the Deity—its pure and primary source. And this assimilation is never more conspicuous than when from evil it gathers its opposite good. What, at first sight, appears to be so insurmountable an obstacle to the intercourse of nations as the ocean? But knowledge has converted it into the best and most expeditious means by which they may supply their mutual wants and carry on their intimate communications. What so violent as steam, or so destructive as fire? What so uncertain as the winds, or so uncontrollable as the wave? Yet wisdom has rendered these unmanageable things instrumental and subsidiary to the necessities, the comforts, and even the elegancies of life. What so hard, so cold, so insensible as marble? Yet the sculptors can warm it into life and bid it breathe an eternity of love. What so variable as color, so swift as light, or so empty as shade? Yet the painter’s pencil can give these fleeting fancies both a body and a soul; can confer upon them an imperishable vigor, a beauty which increases with age, and which will continue to captivate generations. In short, wisdom can draw expedients from obstacles, invention from difficulties, remedies from poisons. In her hands all, things become beautiful by adaptation, subservient by their use, and salutary by their application.
Since, then, intellectual attainments are so precious and wisdom so grand in its achievements, he who neglects to improve his mental faculties, or fails to train all his powers of mind and body, is not walking in those paths that, under God’s guidance, conduce most surely to happiness and content. This can be done by all, since education is within the reach of all, even the most humble. The youth who believes it is impossible for him to get an education is deficient in courage and energy. Too many have imbibed the idea that to obtain a sufficient education to enable a man to appear advantageously upon the theater of public life his boyhood and youth must be spent within the walls of some classical seminary of learning, that he may commence his career under the banner of a collegiate diploma, and with it win the first round in the ladder of fame. That a refined, classical education is desirable all will admit; that it is indispensably necessary does not follow. He who has been incarcerated from his childhood to majority within the limited circumference of his school and boarding room, though he may have mastered all the classics, is destitute of that knowledge of men and things indispensably necessary to enable him to act with vigor and dispatch either in public or private life.
Classical lore and polite literature are very different from that vast amount of practical intelligence, fit for every-day use, that one must have to render his intercourse with society pleasing to himself or agreeable to others. Let boys and girls be taught first what is necessary to prepare them for the common duties of life; then all that can be gained from fields of classic lore or works of polite erudition is of the utmost value. In this enlightened age ignorance is a voluntary misfortune, for all who will may drink deeply at the fountain of knowledge. By the proper improvement of time the mechanic’s apprentice may lay in a store of information that will enable him to take a stand by the side of those persons who have grown up in the full blaze of a collegiate education.
Learn thoroughly what you learn, be it ever so little, and you may speak of it with confidence. A few well-defined facts and ideas are worth a whole library of uncertain knowledge. We are frequently placed in position where we can learn with scarcely an effort on our part, and yet we hang back because it takes so long to acquire a mastery of any thing. Let the end alone! Begin at the beginning, and though, after all, it prove but a mere smattering, you are informed on one point more, and your life will be happier for making the effort. By gaining an education you shall have your reward in the rich stores of knowledge you have thus collected, and which shall ever be at your command, more valuable than material treasures. While fleets may sink, storehouses consume, and riches fade, the intellectual stores you have thus gathered will be permanent and enduring, as unfailing as the constant flow of Niagara—a bank whose dividends are perpetual, whose wealth is undiminished, however frequent the drafts upon it. How wise, then, to secure, as far as possible, a complete and lasting education.
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