Is True Education A Mental Training?
A Preparation For Special Pursuits?
There is, no doubt, much to be said for vocational training, or technical education, in schools. Hitherto there has been too little of it, though it is more and more being introduced into the training of young people. People often criticize the whole system of school education as not being practical enough. They recognize the value of reading and writing and some elementary arithmetic, for these will be required in after life; but, they say, much of what children now learn in school will be of no practical use to them afterwards. Why, they ask, should so much of the children’s time be taken up in learning useless subjects such as history, geography, grammar, and bits of literature ? Such subjects will not help a boy to earn his own living.
This attitude assumes that the main object of education should be to train the pupils to earn a living when they grow up. Their time at schools should be devoted to learning carpentry, metal-working, weaving, book-keeping and accountancy, business correspondence, farming, engineering, or any other craft or trade. Then when they leave school they will be fitted to take up a job at once, and earn an honest living. School education should be practical—a preparation for some special pursuit.
Such people seem to misunderstand the meaning and purpose of education. If school education should be narrowed down to mere vocational training, it would miss the whole point of true education. Education is a method for developing and training the mental (and moral) faculties. Vocational training, while a desirable thing in its place, is by itself altogether too narrow a training to take the place of real education. At best it develops manual dexterity, attention, carefulness, and pride in good workmanship. But to draw out and develop the mental faculties, a much broader kind of education is needed. The subjects which practical people despise as unnecessary are a form of mental drill or gymnastics. The study of them not only informs the mind, but exercises it and trains it to think. They give a mental training that purely technical education can never give. A knowledge of history, for example, may never be of any practical use in earning one’s living; but it broadens the mind, gives it the right perspective of life, creates interest in human affairs and progress, and so humanises and refines the pupil’s mind. Such studies produce not only an educated but a cultured person. This is true education.