III. The Idea of a Permanent World Encyclopaedia
(Contribution to the new ‘Encyclopédie Française’, August 1937)
It is probable that the idea of an encyclopaedia may undergo very considerable extension and elaboration in the near future. Its full possibilities have still to be realized. The encyclopaedias of the past have sufficed for the needs of a cultivated minority. They were written “for gentlemen by gentlemen” in a world wherein universal education was unthought of, and where the institutions of modern democracy with universal suffrage, so necessary in many respects, so difficult and dangerous in their working, had still to appear. Throughout the nineteenth century encyclopaedias followed the eighteenth-century scale and pattern, in spite both of a gigantic increase in recorded knowledge and of a still more gigantic growth in the numbers of human beings requiring accurate and easily accessible information. At first this disproportion was scarcely noted, and its consequences not at all. But many people now are coming to recognize that our contemporary encyclopaedias are still in the coach-and-horses phase of development, rather than in the phase of the automobile and aeroplane. Encyclopaedic enterprise has not kept pace with material progress. These observers realize that modern facilities of transport, radio, photographic reproduction and so forth are rendering practicable a much more fully succinct and accessible assembly of fact and ideas than was ever possible before.
Concurrently with these realizations there is a growing discontent with the part played by universities, schools and libraries in the intellectual life of mankind. Universities multiply, schools of every grade and type increase, but they do not enlarge their scope to anything like the urgent demands of this troubled and dangerous age. They do not perform the task nor exercise the authority that might reasonably be attributed to the thought and knowledge organization of the world. It is not, as it should be, a case of larger and more powerful universities co-operating more and more intimately, but of many more universities of the old type, mostly ill-endowed and uncertainly endowed, keeping at the old educational level.
Both the assembling and the distribution of knowledge in the world at present are extremely ineffective, and thinkers of the forward-looking type those ideas we are now considering, are beginning to realize that the most hopeful line for the development of our racial intelligence lies rather in the direction of creating a new world organ for the collection, indexing, summarizing and release of knowledge, than in any further tinkering with the highly conservative and resistant university system, local, national and traditional in texture, which already exists. These innovators, who may be dreamers today, but who hope to become very active organizers tomorrow, project a unified, if not a centralized, world organ to “pull the mind of the world together”, which will be not so much a rival to the universities, as a supplementary and co-ordinating addition to their educational activities –– on a planetary scale.
The phrase “Permanent World Encyclopaedia” conveys the gist of these ideas. As the core of such an institution would be a world synthesis of bibliography and documentation with the indexed archives of the world. A great number of workers would be engaged perpetually in perfecting this index of human knowledge and keeping it up to date. Concurrently, the resources of micro-photography, as yet only in their infancy, will be creating a concentrated visual record.
Few people as yet, outside the world of expert librarians and museum curators and so forth, know how manageable well-ordered facts can be made, however multitudinous, and how swiftly and completely even the rarest visions and the most recondite matters can be recalled, once they have been put in place in a well-ordered scheme of reference and reproduction. The American microfilm experts, even now, are making facsimiles of the rarest books, manuscripts, pictures and specimens, which can then be made easily accessible upon the library screen. By means of microfilm, the rarest and most intricate documents and articles can be studies now at first hand, simultaneously in a score of projection rooms. There is no practical obstacle whatever now to the creation of an efficient index to all human knowledge, ideas and achievements, to the creation, that is, of a complete planetary memory for all mankind. And not simply an index; the direct reproduction of the thing itself can be summoned to any properly prepared spot. A microfilm, coloured where necessary, occupying an inch or so of space and weighing little more than a letter, can be duplicated from the records and sent anywhere and thrown enlarged upon the screen so that the student may study it in every detail.
This in itself is a fact of tremendous significance. It foreshadows a real intellectual unification of our race. The whole human memory can be, and probably in a short time will be, made accessible to every individual. And what is also of very great importance in this uncertain world where destruction becomes continually more frequent and unpredictable, is this, that photography affords now every facility for multiplying duplicates of this –– which we may call? –– this new all-human cerebrum. It need not be concentrated in any one single place. It need not be vulnerable as a human head or a human heart is vulnerable. It can be reproduced exactly and fully, in Peru, China, Iceland, Central Africa, or wherever else seems to afford an insurance against danger and interruption. It can have at once the concentration of a craniate animal and the diffused vitality of an amoeba.
This is no remote dream, no fantasy. It is a plain statement of a contemporary state of affairs. It is on the level of practicable fact. It is a matter of such manifest importance and desirability for science, for the practical needs of mankind, for general education and the like, that it is difficult not to believe that in quite the near future, this Permanent World Encyclopaedia, so compact in its material form and so gigantic in its scope and possible influence, will not come into existence.
Its uses will be multiple and many of them will be fairly obvious. Special sections of it, historical, technical, scientific, artistic, e.g., will easily be reproduced for specific professional use. Based upon it, a series of summaries of greater or less fullness and simplicity, for the homes and studies of ordinary people, for the college and the school, can be continually issued and revised. In the hands of competent editors, educational directors and teachers, these condensations and abstracts incorporated in the world educational system, will supply the humanity of the days before us, with a common understanding and the conception of a common purpose and of a commonweal such as now we hardly dare dream of. And its creation is a way to world peace that can be followed without any very grave risk of collision with the warring political forces and the vested institutional interests of today. Quietly and sanely this new encyclopaedia will, not so much overcome these archaic discords, as deprive them, steadily but imperceptibly, of their present reality. A common ideology based on this Permanent World Encyclopaedia is a possible means, to some it seems the only means, of dissolving human conflict into unity.
This concisely is the sober, practical but essentially colossal objective of those who are seeking to synthesize human mentality today, through this natural and reasonable development of encyclopaedism into a Permanent World Encyclopaedia.
IV. Passage From a Speech to the Congrès Mondial de la Documentation Universelle, Paris
August 20th, 1937
It is dawning upon us, we lay observers, that this work of documentation and bibliography, is in fact nothing less than the beginning of a world brain, a common world brain. What you are making me realize is a sort of cerebrum for humanity, a cerebral cortex which (when it is fully developed) will constitute a memory and perception of current reality for the entire human race.
Plainly we have to make it a centralized and uniform organization but, as Mr. Watson Davis is here to remind us, it need not have any single local habitation because the continually increasing facilities of photography render reduplication of our indices and records continually easier. In these days of destruction, violence and general insecurity, it is comforting to think that the brain of mankind, the race brain, can exist in numerous replicas throughout the world.
At first our activities are necessarily receptive and we begin most easily with the documentation of concrete facts, and I do not see how this new and great encyclopaedia, this race brain, can develop into anything but a great structure for the comparison, reconciliation and synthesis of common guiding ideas for the whole world. What is gathered will be digested and the results returned through the channels of education, literature and the press to the whole world.
Please do not imagine that I am indulging in any fantasy when I talk of your work and accumulations as the rudimentary framework of a world brain. I am speaking of a process of mental organization throughout the world which I believe to be as inevitable as anything can be in human affairs. The world has to pull its mind together, and this is the beginning of its effort. The world is a Phoenix. It perishes in flames and even as it dies it is born again. This synthesis of knowledge is the necessary beginning to the new world.
It is good to be meeting here in Paris where the first encyclopaedia of ideas was made. It is good for representatives from forty countries to be breathing the clear, comprehensive and systematic atmosphere of France, to be recreating themselves in the presence of its sympathetic creative understanding. Again I would thank our hosts for bringing this congress together and enabling a number of widely scattered workers to realize something of the real greatness of the task to which they have devoted themselves.
V. The Informative Content of Education
Section L of the British Association is of necessity one of the least specialized of all sections. Its interests spread far beyond professional limitations. It is a section where anyone who is so to speak a citizen at large may hope to play a part that is not altogether an impertinent intrusion. And it is in the character of a citizen at large that I have accepted the very great honour that you have offered me in making me the President of this Section. I have no other claim whatever upon your attention. Since the remote days when as a needy adventurer I taught as non-resident master in a private school, invigilated at London University examinations, raided the diploma examinations of the College of Preceptors for the money prizes offered, and, in the most commercial spirit, crammed candidates for the science examinations of the University, I have spent very few hours indeed in educational institutions. Most of those were spent in the capacity of an inquiring and keenly interested parent at Oundle School. I doubt if there is any member of this section who has not had five times as much teaching experience as I have, and who is not competent to instruct me upon all questions of method and educational organization and machinery. So I will run no risks by embarking upon questions of that sort. But on the other hand, if I know very little of educational methods and machinery I have had a certain amount of special experience in what those methods produce and what the machinery turns out.
I have been keenly interested for a number of years, and particularly since the War, in public thought and public reactions, In what people know and think and what they are ready to believe. What they know and think and what they are ready to believe impresses me as remarkably poor stuff. A general ignorance –– even in respectable quarters –– of some of the most elementary realities of the political and social life of the world is, I believe, mainly accountable for much of the discomfort and menace of our times. The uninstructed public intelligence of our community is feeble and convulsive. It is still a herd intelligence. It tyrannizes here and yields to tyranny there. What is called elementary education throughout the world does not in fact educate, because it does not properly inform. I realized this very acutely during the later stages of the War and it has been plain in my mind ever since. It led to my taking an active part in the production of various outlines and summaries of contemporary knowledge. Necessarily they had the defects and limitations of a private adventure, but in making them I learnt a great deal about –– what shall I say? –– the contents of the minds our schools are turning out as taught.
And so now I propose to concentrate the attention of this Section for this meeting on the question of what is taught as fact, that is to say upon the informative side of educational work. For this year I suggest we give the questions of drill, skills, art, music, the teaching of languages, mathematics and other symbols, physical, aesthetic, moral and religious training and development, a rest, and that we concentrate on the inquiry: What are we telling young people directly about the world in which they are to live? What is the world picture we are presenting to their minds? What is the framework of conceptions about reality and about obligation into which the rest of their mental existences will have to be fitted? I am proposing in fact a review of the informative side of education, wholly and solely –– informative in relation to the needs of modern life.
And here the fact that I am an educational outsider –– which in every other relation would be a disqualification –– gives me certain very real advantages. I can talk with exceptional frankness. And I am inclined to think that in this matter of the informative side of education frankness has not always been conspicuous. For what I say I am responsible only to the hearer and my own self-respect. I occupy no position from which I can be dismissed as unsound in my ideas. I follow no career that can be affected by anything I say. I follow, indeed, no career. That’s all over. I have no party, no colleagues or associates who can be embarrassed by any unorthodox suggestions I make. Every schoolmaster, every teacher, nearly every professor must, by the nature of his calling, be wary, diplomatic, compromising –– he has his governors to consider, his college to consider, his parents to consider, the local press to consider; he must not say too much nor say anything that might be misinterpreted and misunderstood. I can. And so I think I can best serve the purposes of the British Association and this section by taking every advantage of my irresponsibility, being unorthodox and provocative as I can be, and so possibly saying a thing or two which you are not free to say but which some of you at any rate will be more or less willing to have said.
Now when I set myself to review the field of inquiry I have thus defined, I found it was necessary to take a number of very practical preliminary issues into account. As educators we are going to ask what is the subject-matter of a general education? What do we want known? And how do we want it known? What is the essential framework of knowledge that should be established in the normal citizen of our modern community? What is the irreducible minimum of knowledge for a responsible human being today?
I say irreducible minimum –– and I do so, because I know at least enough of school work to know the grim significance of the school time-table and of the leaving school age. Under contemporary conditions our only prospect of securing a mental accord throughout the community is by laying a common foundation of knowledge and ideas in the school years. No one believes today, as our grandparents –– perhaps for most of you it would be better to say great-grandparents –– believed, that education had an end somewhen about adolescence. Young people then left school or college under the imputation that no one could teach them any more. There has been a quiet but complete revolution in people’s ideas in this respect and now it is recognized almost universally that people in a modern community must be learners to the end of their days. We shall be giving a considerable amount of attention to continuation, adult and post-graduate studies in this section, this year. It would be wasting our opportunities not to do so. Here in Nottingham University College we have the only Professorship in Adult Education in England, and under Professor Peers the Adult Education Department which is in close touch with the Workers’ Educational Association has broadened its scope far beyond the normal range of Adult Education. Our modern ideas seem to be a continuation of learning not only for university graduates and practitioners in the so-called intellectual profession, but for the minder, the plough-boy, the taxi-cab driver, and the out-of-work, throughout life. Our ultimate aim is an entirely educated population.
Nevertheless it is true that what I may call the main beam and girders of the mental framework must be laid down, soundly or unsoundly, before the close of adolescence. We live under conditions where it seems we are still only able to afford for the majority of our young people, freedom from economic exploitation, teachers even of the cheapest sort and some educational equipment, up to the age of 14 or 15, and we have to fit our projects to that. And even if we were free to carry on with unlimited time and unrestrained teaching resources, it would still be in those opening years that the framework of the mind would have to be made. We have got to see therefore that whatever we propose as this irreducible minimum of knowledge must be imparted between infancy and –– at most, the fifteenth or sixteenth year. Roughly, we have to get it into ten years at the outside.
And next let us turn to another relentlessly inelastic packing-case and that is, the school time-table. How many hours in the week have we got for this job in hand? The maximum school hours we have available are something round about thirty, but out of this we have to take time for what I may call the non-informative teaching, teaching to read, teaching to write clearly, the native and foreign language teaching, basic mathematical work, drawing, various forms of manual training, music and so forth. A certain amount of information may be mixed in with these subjects but not very much. They are not what I mean by informative subjects. By the time we are through with these non-informative subjects, I doubt if at the most generous estimate we can apportion more than six hours a week to essentially informative work. Then let us, still erring on the side of generosity assume that there are forty weeks of schooling in the year. That gives us a maximum of 240 hours in the year. And if we take ten years of schooling as an average human being’s preparation for life, and if we disregard the ravages made upon our school time by measles, chicken-pox, whooping-cough, coronations and occasions of public rejoicing, we are given 2,400 hours as all that we can hope for as our time allowance for building up a coherent picture of the world, the essential foundation of knowledge and ideas, in the minds of our people. The complete framework of knowledge has to be established in 200 dozen hours. It is plain that a considerable austerity is indicated for us. We have no time to waste, if our schools are not to go on delivering, year by year, fresh hordes of fundamentally ignorant, unbalanced, uncritical minds, at once suspicious and credulous, weakly gregarious, easily baffled and easily misled, into the monstrous responsibilities and dangers of this present world. Mere cannon-fodder and stuff for massacres and stampedes.
Our question becomes therefore: “What should people know –– whatever else they don’t know? Whatever else we may leave over –– for leisure-time reading, for being picked up or studied afterwards –– what is the irreducible minimum that we ought to teach as clearly, strongly and conclusively as we know how?”
And now I –– and you will remember my rôle is that of the irresponsible outsider, the citizen at large –– I am going to set before you one scheme of instruction for your consideration. For it I demand all those precious 2,400 hours. You will perceive, as I go on, the scheme is explicitly exclusive of several contradictory and discursive subjects that now find a place in most curricula, and you will also find doubts arising in your mind about the supply and competence of teachers, a difficulty about which I hope to say something before my time is up. But teachers are for the world and not the world for teachers. If the teachers we have today are not equal to the task required of them, then we have to recondition our teachers or replace them. We live in an exacting world and a certain minimum of performance is required of us all. If children are not to be given at last this minimum of information about the world into which they have come –– through no fault of their own –– then I do think it would be better for them and the world if they were not born at all. And to make what I have to say as clear as possible I have had a diagram designed which I will unfold to you as my explanation unfolds.
You have already noted I have exposed the opening stage of my diagram. You see I make a three-fold division of the child’s impressions and the matters upon which its questions are most lively and natural. I say nothing about the child learning to count, scribble, handle things, talk and learn the alphabet and so forth because all these things are ruled out by my restriction of my address to information only. Never mind now what it wants to do –– or wants to feel. This is what it wants to know. In all these educational matters, there is, of course, an element of overlap. As it learns about things and their relationship and interaction its vocabulary increases and its ideas of expression develop. You will make an allowance for that.
And now I bring down my diagram to expose the first stage of positive and deliberate teaching. We begin telling true stories of the past and of other lands. We open out the child’s mind to a realization that the sort of life it is living is not the only life that has been lived and that human life in the past has been different from what it is today and on the whole that it has been progressive. We shall have to teach a little about law and robbers, kings and conquests, but I see no need at this stage to afflict the growing mind with dates and dynastic particulars. I hope the time is not far distant when children even of 8 or 9 will be freed altogether from the persuasion that history is a magic recital beginning “William the Conqueror, 1066”. Much has been done in that direction. Much remains to be done. Concurrently, we ought to make the weather and the mudpie our introduction to what Huxley christened long ago Elementary Physiography. We ought to build up simple and clear ideas from natural experience.
We start a study of the states of matter with, the boiling, evaporation, freezing and so on of water and got on to elementary physics and chemistry. Local topography can form the basis of geography. We shall have to let our learner into the secret that the world is a globe –– and for a time I think that has to be a bit of dogmatic teaching. It Is not so easy as many people suppose to prove that the world is spherical and that proof may very well be left to make an exercise in logic later on in education. Then comes biology. Education I rejoice to see is rapidly becoming more natural, more biological. Most young children are ready to learn a great deal more than most teachers can give them about animals. I think we might easily turn the bear, the wolf, the tiger and the ape from holy terrors and nightmare material into sympathetic creatures, if we brought some realization of how these creatures live, what their real excitements are, how they are sometimes timid, into the teaching. I don’t think that descriptive botany is very suitable for young children. Flowers and leaves and berries are bright and attractive, a factor in aesthetic education, but I doubt if, in itself, vegetation can hold the attention of the young. Sometimes I think we bore young children with premature gardens. But directly we begin to deal with plants as hiding-places, homes and food for birds and beasts, the little boy or girl lights up and learns. And with this natural elementary zoology and botany we should begin elementary physiology. How plants and animals live, and what health means for them.
There I think you have stuff enough for all the three or four hundred hours we can afford for the foundation stage of knowledge. Outside this substantial teaching of school hours the child will be reading and indulging in imaginative play –– and making that clear distinction children do learn to make between truth and fantasy –– about fairyland, magic carpets and seven-league boots, and all the rest of it. So far as my convictions go I think that the less young children have either in or out of school of what has hitherto figured as history, the better. I do not see either the charm or the educational benefit of making an important subject of and throwing a sort of halo prestige and glory about the criminal history of royalty, the murder of the Princes in the Tower, the wives of Henry VIII, the families of Edward I and James I, the mistresses of Charles II, Sweet Nell of Old Drury, and all the rest of it. I suggest that the sooner we get all that unpleasant stuff out of schools, and the sooner that we forget the border bickerings of England, France, Scotland, Ireland and Wales, Bannockburn, Flodden, Crécy and Agincourt, the nearer our world will be to a sane outlook upon life. In this survey of what a common citizen should know I am doing my best to elbow the scandals and revenges which once passed as English history into an obscure corner or out of the picture altogether.
But I am not proposing to eliminate history from education –– far from it. Let me bring down my diagram a stage further and you will see how large a proportion of our treasure of 2,400 hours I am proposing to give to history. This next section represents about 800 to 1,000 pre-adolescent hours. It is the school-boy –– school-girl stage. And here the history is planned to bring home to the new generation the reality that the world is now one community. I believe that the crazy combative patriotism that plainly threatens to destroy civilization today is very largely begotten in their school history lessons. Our schools take the growing mind at a naturally barbaric phase and the inflame and fix its barbarism. I think we underrate the formative effect of this perpetual reiteration of how we won, how our Empire grew and how relatively splendid we have been in every department of life. We are blinded by habit and custom to the way it infects these growing minds with the chronic and nearly incurable disease of national egotism. Equally mischievous is the furtive anti-patriotism of the leftish teacher. I suggest that we take on our history from the simple descriptive anthropology of the elementary stage to the story of the early civilizations.
We are dealing here with material that was not even available for the schoolmasters and mistresses who taught our fathers. It did not exist. But now we have the most lovely stuff to hand, far more exciting and far more valuable than the quarrels of Henry II and à Becket or the peculiar unpleasantness of King James or King John. Archeologists have been piecing together a record of the growth of the primary civilizations and the developing rôles of priest, king, farmer, warrior, the succession of stone and copper and iron, the appearance of horse and road and shipping in the expansions of those primordial communities. It is a far finder story to tell a boy or girl and there is no reason why it should not be told. Swinging down upon these early civilizations came first the Semitic-speaking peoples and then the Aryan-speakers. Persian, Macedonian, Roman, followed one another, Christendom inherited from Rome and Islam from Persia, and the world began to assume the shapes we know today. This is great history and also in its broad lines it is a simple history –– upon it we can base a lively modern intelligence, and now it can be put in a form just as comprehensible and exciting forthe school phase as the story of our English kings and their territorial, dynastic and sexual entanglements. When at last we focus our attention on the British Isles and France we shall have the affairs of these regions in a proper proportion to the rest of human adventure. And our young people will be thinking less like gossiping court pages and more like horse-riders, seamen, artist-artisans, road-makers, and city-builders, which I take it is what in spirit we want them to be. Measured by the great current of historical events, English history up to quite recent years is mere hole-and-corner history.
And I have to suggest another exclusion. We are telling our young people about the real past, the majestic expansion of terrestrial events. In these events the little region of Palestine is no more than a part of the highway between Egypt and Mesopotamia. Is there any real reason nowadays for exaggerating its importance in the past? Nothing really began there, nothing was worked out there. All the historical part of the bible abounds in wild exaggeration of the importance of this little strip of land. We were all brought up to believe in the magnificence of Solomon’s temple and it is a startling thing for most of us to read the account of its decorations over again and turn its cubits into feet. It was smaller than most barns. We all know the peculiar delight of devout people, amidst the endless remains of the great empires of the past, some dubious fragment is found to confirm the existence of the Hebrews. Is it not time that we recognized the relative historical insignificance of the events recorded in Kings and Chronicles, and ceased to throw the historical imagination of our young people out of perspective by an over-emphasized magnification of the national history of Judea? To me this lack of proportion in our contemporary historical teaching seems largely responsible for the present troubles of the world. The political imagination of our times is a hunch-back imagination bent down under an exaggeration. It is becoming a matter of life and death to the world to straighten that backbone and reduce that frightful nationalist hunch.
Look at our time-table and what we have to teach. If we give history four-tenths of all the time we have for imparting knowledge at this stage that still gives us at most something a little short of 400 hours altogether. Even if we think it desirable to perplex another generation with the myths of the Creation, the flood, the Chosen People and so forth, even if we want to bias it politically with tales of battles and triumphs and ancient grievances, we haven’t got the time for it –– any more than we have the time for the really quite unedifying records of all Kings and Queens of England and their claims on this and that. So far as the school time-table goes we are faced with a plain alternative. One thing or the other. Great history and hole-in-corner history? The story of mankind or the narrow, self-righteous, blinkered stories of the British Islands and the Jews?
There is a lot more we have to put into the heads of our young people over and above History. It is the main subject of instruction but even so, it is not even half of the informative work that ought to be got through in this school stage. We have to consider the collateral subject of geography and a general survey of the world. We want to see our world in space as well as our world in time. We may have a little map-making here, but I take it what is needed most are reasonably precise ideas of the various types of country and the distinctive floras and faunas of the main regions of the world. We do not want our budding citizens to chant lists of capes and rivers, but we do want them to have a real picture in their minds of the Amazon forests, the pampas, the various phases in the course of the Nile, the landscape of Labrador mountains and so on, and also we want something like realization of the sort of human life that is led in these regions. We have enormous resources now in cheap photography, in films, and so forth, that even our fathers never dreamt of –– to make all this vivid and real. New methods are needed to handle these new instruments, but they need not be overwhelmingly costly. And also our new citizen should know enough of topography to realize why London and Rio and New York and Rome and Suez happen to be where they are and what sort of places they are.
Geography and History run into each other in this respect and, on the other hand, Geography reaches over to Biology. Here again our schools lag some fifty years behind contemporary knowledge. The past half-century has written a fascinating history of the succession of the living things in time and made plain all sorts of processes in the prosperity, decline, extinction, and replacement of species. We can sketch the wonderful and inspiring story of life now from its beginning. Moreover, we have a continually more definite account of the sequence of sub-man in the world and the gradual emergence of our kind. This is elementary, essential, interesting and stimulating stuff for the young, and it is impossible to consider anyone a satisfactory citizen who is still ignorant of that great story.
And finally, we have the science of inanimate matter. In a world of machinery, optical instruments, electricity, radio and so forth we want to lay a sound foundation of pure physics and chemistry upon the most modern lines –– for everyone. Some of this work will no doubt overlap the mathematical teaching and the manual training and stela a little badly needed time from them. And finally, to meet awakening curiosity and take the morbidity out of it, we shall have to tell our young people and especially our young townspeople, about the working of their bodies, about reproduction and about the chief, diseases, enfeeblements and accidents that lie in wait for them in the world.
That, I think, completes my summary of all the information we can hope to give in the lower school stage. And as I make it I am acutely aware of your unspoken comment. With such teachers as we have! Teachers trained only to reaction, overworked, underpaid, hampered by uninspiring examinations, without initiative, without proper leisure. Young and inexperienced or old and discouraged. You may do this sort of thing, here and there, under favourable conditions, with the splendid élite of the profession, the 10 per cent who are interested, but not as a general state of affairs.
Well, I think that it is a better rule of life, first to make sure of what you want and then set about getting it, rather than to consider what you can easily, safely and meanly get, and then set about reconciling yourself to it. I admit we cannot have a modern education without a modernized type of teacher. A teacher enlarged and released. Many of our teachers –– and I am not speaking only of elementary schools –– are shockingly illiterate and ignorant. Often they know nothing but school subjects; sometimes they scarcely know them. Even the medical profession does not present such extremes –– between the discouraged routine worker and the enthusiast. Everything I am saying now implies a demand for more and better teachers –– better paid, with better equipment. And these teachers will have to be kept fresh. It is stipulated in most leases that we should paint our houses outside every three years and inside every seven years, but nobody ever thinks of doing up a school teacher. There are teachers at work in this country who haven’t been painted inside for fifty years. They must be damp and rotten and very unhealthy for all who come in contact with them. Two-thirds of the teaching profession now is in urgent need of being either reconditioned or superannuated. In this advancing world the reconditioning of both the medical and the scholastic practitioner is becoming a very urgent problem indeed, but it is not one that I can deal with here. Presently this section will be devoting its attention to adult education and then I hope the whole question of professional and technical refreshment will be ventilated.
And there is another matter also closely allied to this question of the rejuvenation of teachers, at which I can only glance now, and that is the bringing of school books up to date. In this informative section of school work there is hardly a subject in which knowledge is not being vigorously revised and added to. But our school work does not follow up the contemporary digesting of knowledge. Still less do our school libraries. They are ten, fifteen years out of date with much of their information. Our prison libraries by the by are even worse. I was told the other day of a virtuous prisoner who wanted to improve his mind about radio. The prison had a collection of technical works made for such an occasion and the latest book on radio was dated 1920. There is, I have been told, an energetic New School Books Association at work in this field, doing what it can to act in concert with those all too potent authorities who frame our examination syllabuses. I am all for burning old school books. Some day perhaps we shall have school books so made that at the end of ten or twelve years, let us say, they will burst into flames and inflict severe burns upon any hands in which they find themselves. But at present that is a little –– Utopian. It is even more applicable to the next stage of knowledge to which we are now coming.
This stage represents our last 1,000 hours and roughly I will call it the upper form or upper standard stage. It is really the closing phase of the available school period. Some of the matter I have marked for the history of this grade might perhaps be given in Grade B and vice versa. We have still a lot to do if we are to provide even a skeleton platform for the mind of our future citizen. He has still much history to learn before his knowledge can make an effective contact with his duties as a voter. You see I am still reserving four-tenths of the available time, that is to say nearly 400 hours for history. But now we are presenting a more detailed study of such phenomena as the rise and fall of the Ottoman Empire, the rise of Russia, the history of the Baltic, the rise and fall of the Spanish power, the Dutch, the first and second British Empires, the belated unifications of Germany and Italy. Then as I have written we want our modern citizen to have some grasp of the increasing importance of economic changes in history and the search for competent economic direction and also of the leading theories of individualism, socialism, the corporate state, communism.
For the next five-and-twenty years now the ordinary man all over the earth will be continually confronted with these systems of ideas. They are complicated systems with many implications and applications. Indeed they are aspects of life rather than systems of ideas. But we send out our young people absolutely unprepared for the heated and biased interpretations they will encounter. We hush it up until they are in the thick of it. And can we complain of the consequences? The most the poor silly young things seem able to make of it is to be violently and self-righteously Anti- something or other. Anti-Red, Anti-Capitalist, Anti-Fascist. The more ignorant you are the easier it is to be an Anti. To hate something without having something substantial to put against it. Blame something else. A special sub-section of history in this grade should be a course in the history of war, which is always written and talked about by the unwary as though it had always been the same thing, while as a matter of fact –– except for its violence –– it has changed profoundly with every change in social, political and economic life. Clearly parallel to this history our young people need now a more detailed and explicit acquaintance with world geography, with the different types of population in the world and the developed and undeveloped resources of the globe. The devastation of the world’s forests, the replacement of pasture by sand deserts through haphazard cultivation, the waste and exhaustion of natural resources, coal, petrol, water, that is now going on, the massacre of important animals, whales, penguins, seals, food fish, should be matters of universal knowledge and concern.
Then our new citizens have to understand something of the broad elements in our modern social structure. They should be given an account of the present phase of communication and trade, of production and invention and above all they need whatever plain knowledge is available about the conventions of property and money. Upon these interrelated conventions human society rests, and the efficiency of their working is entirely dependent upon the general state of mind throughout the world. We know now that what used to be called the inexorable laws of political economy and the laws of monetary science, are really no more than rash generalizations about human behavior, supported by a maximum of pompous verbiage and a minimum of scientific observation. Most of our young people come on to adult life, to employment, business and the rest of it, blankly ignorant even of the way in which money has changed slavery and serfdom into wages employment and of how its fluctuations in value make the industrial windmills spin or flag. They are not even warned of the significance of such words as inflation or deflation, and so the wage-earners are the helpless prey at every turn towards prosperity of the savings-snatching financier. Any plausible monetary charlatan can secure their ignorant votes. They know no better. They cannot help themselves. Yet the subject of property and money –– together they make one subject because money is only the fluid form of property –– is scarcely touched upon in any stage in the education of any class in our community. They know nothing about it; they are as innocent as young lambs and born like them for shearing.
And now here you will see I have a very special panel. This I have called Personal Sociology. Our growing citizen has reached an age of self-consciousness and self-determination. He is on the verge of adolescence. He has to be initiated. Moral training does not fall within the scope of the informative content of teaching. Already the primary habits of truthfulness, frankness, general honesty, communal feeling, helpfulness and generosity will or will not have been fostered and established in the youngster’s mind by the example of those about him. A mean atmosphere makes mean people, a too competitive atmosphere makes greedy, self-glorifying people, a cruel atmosphere makes fierce people, but this issue of moral tone does not concern us now here. But it does concern us that by adolescence the time has arrived for general ideas about one’s personal relationship to the universe to be faced. The primary propositions of the chief religious and philosophical interpretations of the world should be put as plainly and impartially as possible before our young people. They will be asking those perennial questions of adolescence –– whence and why and whither. They will have to face, almost at once, the heated and exciting propagandas of theological and skeptical partisans –– pro’s and anti’s. So far as possible we ought to provide a ring of clear knowledge for these inevitable fights. And also, as the more practical aspect of the question, What am I to do with my life? I think we ought to link with our general study of social structure a study of social types which will direct attention to the choice of a métier. In what spirit will you face the world and what sort of a job do you feel like? This subject of Personal Sociology as it is projected here is the informative equivalent of a confirmation class. It says to everyone: “There are the conditions under which you face your world.” The response to these questions, the determination of the will, is however not within our present scope. That is a matter for the religious teacher, for intimate friends and for the inner impulses of the individual. But our children must have the facts.
Finally, you will see that I have apportioned some time, roughly two-tenths of our 1,000 hours, in this grade to the acquisition of specialized knowledge. Individuality is becoming conscious of itself and specialization is beginning.
Thus I budget, so to speak, for our 2,400 hours of informative teaching. We have brought our young people to the upper form, the upper standard, Most of them are now going into employment or special training and so taking on a rôle in the collective life. But there remain some very essential things which cannot be brought into school teaching, not through any want of time, but because of the immaturity of the growing mind. If we are to build a real modern civilization we must go on with definite informative instruction into and even beyond adolescence. Children and young people are likely to be less numerous proportionally in the years ahead of us in all the more civilized populations and we cannot afford to consume them in premature employment after the fashion of the preceding centuries. The average age of our population is rising and this involves an upward extension of education. And so you will see I suggest what I call an undergraduate or continuation school, Grade D, the upper adolescent stage, which I presume will extend at last to every class in the population, in which at least half the knowledge acquired will be specialized in relation to interest, aptitude and the social needs of the individual. But the other half will still have to be unspecialized, it will have to be general political education. Here particularly comes in that education for citizenship to which this Educational Section is to give attention later. It seems to me altogether preposterous that nowadays our educational-organization should turn out new citizens who are blankly ignorant of the history of the world during the last twenty-five years, who know nothing of the causes and phases of the Great War and are left to the tender mercies of freakish newspaper proprietors and party organizers for their ideas about the world outlook, upon which their collective wills and actions must play a decisive part.
Social organization is equally a matter for definite information. “We are all socialists nowadays.” Everybody has been repeating that after the late Lord Rosebery for years and years. Each for all and all for each. We are all agreed upon the desirability of the spirit of Christianity and of the spirit of Democracy, and that the general interest of the community should not be sacrificed to Private Profit. Yes –– beautiful, but what is not realized is that Socialism in itself is little more than a generalization about the undesirability of irresponsible ownership and that the major problem before the world is to devise some form of administrative organization that will work better than the scramble of irresponsible owners. That form of administrative organization has not yet been devised. You cannot expropriate the private adventurer until you have devised a competent receiver for the expropriated industry or service. This complex problem of the competent receiver is the underlying problem of most of our constructive politics. It is imperative that every voter should have some conception of the experiments in economic control that are in progress in Great Britain, the United States of America, Italy, Germany, Russia, and elsewhere. Such experiments are going to affect the whole of his or her life profoundly. So, too, are the experiments in monetary and financial organization. Many of the issues involved go further than general principles. They are quantitative issues, questions of balance and more or less. A certain elementary training in statistical method is becoming as necessary for anyone living in this world of today as reading and writing. I am asking for this much contemporary history as the crowning phase, the graduation phase of our knowledge-giving. After that much foundation, the informative side of education may well be left to look after itself.
Speaking as a teacher of sorts myself, to a gathering in which teachers probably predominate, I need scarcely dilate upon the fascination of diagram drawing. You will understand how reluctant I was to finish off at Grade D and how natural it was to extend my diagram to two more grades and make it a diagram of the whole knowledge organization of a modern community. Here then is Grade E, the adult learning that goes on now right through life, keeping oneself up to date, keeping in touch with the living movements about us. I have given a special line to those reconditioning courses that mustsomehow be made a normal part in the lives of working professional men. It is astonishing how stale most middle-aged medical men, teachers and solicitors are today. And beyond Grade E I have put a further ultimate grade for the fully adult human being. He or she is learning now, no longer only from books and newspapers and teachers, though there has still to be a lot of that, but as a worker with initiative, making experiments, learning from new experience, an industrialist, an artist, an original writer, a responsible lawyer, an administrator, a statesman, an explorer, a scientific investigator. Grade F accumulates, rectifies, changes human experience. And here I bring in an obsession of mine with which I have dealt before the Royal Institution and elsewhere. You see, indicated by these arrows, the rich results of the work of Grade F flowing into a central world-encyclopaedic-organization, where it will be continually summarized, clarified, and whence it will be distributed through the general information channels of the world.
So I complete my general scheme of the knowledge organization of a modern community and submit it to you for your consideration.
I put it before you in good faith as a statement of my convictions. I do not know how it will impress you and I will not anticipate your criticisms. It may seem impossibly bold and “Utopian”. But we are living in a world in which a battleship costs £ 8,000,000, in which we can raise an extra £ 400,000,000 for armaments with only a slight Stock Exchange qualm, and which has seen the Zeppelin, the radio, the bombing aeroplane come absolutely out of nothing since 1900. And our schools are going along very much as they were going along thirty-seven years ago.
There is only one thing I would like to say in conclusion. Please do me the justice to remember that this is a project for Knowledge organization only and solely.
It is not an entire scheme of education I am putting before you. It is only a part and a limited part of education –– the factual side of education –– I have discussed. There are 168 hours in a week and I am dealing with the use of rather less than six during the school year of less than forty weeks –– for ten years. It is no good saying as though it was an objection either to my paper or to me, that I neglect or repudiate spiritual, emotional and aesthetic values. They are not disregarded, but they have no place at all in this particular part of the educational scheme. I have said nothing about music, dancing, drawing, painting, exercise and so on and so forth. Not because I would exclude them from education but because they do not fall into the limits of my subject. You no more want these lovely and elementary things mixed up with a conspectus of knowledge than you want playfulness in an ordnance map or perplexing whimsicality on a clock face. You have the remaining 162 hours a week for all that. But the spiritual, emotional, aesthetic lives our children are likely to lead, will hardly be worth living unless they are sustained by such a clear, full and sufficient backbone of knowledge as I have ventured to put before you here.