THEOSOPHY, Vol. 21, No. 6, April, 1933
(Pages 255-257; Size: 10K)
(Part 1 of a 3-part series)

THEOSOPHY AND EDUCATION

I

THE constantly narrowing gulf between Science and the Secret Doctrine has been observed by Theosophists with the greatest interest. No less noteworthy is the gradual approach of educational theories and experiments toward the ideas expressed by Madame Blavatsky in her Key to Theosophy. Although these "progressive" methods have been adopted only by the most advanced schools, they are the leaven which promises in time to bring about great changes in the whole school-system.

In an article New Trends in Education, Prof. William H. Kilpatrick, of Columbia University, briefly summarizes the evolution of education in America. "Beginning in 1845," he says "in Boston an average school of 400 pupils had 65 whippings a day. Since then whippings have gradually disappeared from most schools. A century and more ago lessons were commonly learned by heart. The school reformers of that day asked that pupils understand what they memorized. A generation later they asked that pupils tell in their own words what they had learned. Then they asked them to deal with things and actual situations as well as simply with words and ideas. At the close of the 19th Century the demand was to make school work interesting. Of late we have been wishing pupils to ... assume responsibility for both thinking and doing." This progress in school procedure he attributes to the growth and application of the democratic spirit, but it seems quite as true to fact to say it has followed in the wake of the impulsion and influence of the Theosophical movement.

When education was almost wholly a "learning by heart," H.P.B. said, "We would reduce the purely mechanical work of the memory to an absolute minimum and devote the time to the development of the inner senses, faculties and latent capacities."

Prof. Mearns, of New York University, recalls the time when for their work in logic students were compelled to memorize long lists of Latin verses, a process which later at Harvard Josiah Royce dismissed as "a silly bit of useless mental lumber." So today, "parrots" and "phonographs" are seldom commended.

Again H.P.B. said, "A proper and sane education should produce the most vigorous and liberal mind, strictly trained in logical and accurate thought, and not in blind faith. Children should be taught to think and reason for themselves."

In "The University and Civilization," Dean Pound considers a good teacher one who "does not proclaim a revealed message, expecting faith on the part of the students," but encourages them to think for themselves rather than to "accept any 'ipse dixit' of the Lord." In the same vein Prof. Robert Withington, of Smith College, writes "In the past teachers were concerned not with teaching 'how to think', but 'what to think,' ... forgetful of the elder Holmes's insistence on the right of the freeborn Americans to question everything." Yet he adds somewhat mournfully, "One wonders sometimes if many students want to think for themselves. One wonders if the adult population of our land is interested in thinking. It is much easier to provide people with ready-made opinions ... and perhaps that is why the propagandist has power and prestige among us."

Writing in 1888, H.P.B. said "The object of modern education is to pass examinations, a system [adapted] not to develop right emulation, but to generate and breed jealousy, envy, hatred almost, in young people for one another, and thus train them for a life of ferocious selfishness and struggle for honours and emoluments instead of kindly feeling."

Nowadays all writers on education look with disfavor on examinations even if they do not dispense with them. They realize that marks are misleading, since for the most part they test the memory instead of the general intelligence, and foster competition, undesirable class distinctions and selfishness. Although Prof. Kilpatrick thinks examinations have a real use in making a diagnosis, he says they should be wisely used, and confesses that "The finer and really more significant things can hardly be tested, such as appreciation of literature or of music and moral qualities like thoughtfulness of others or willingness to assume responsibility, or persistence at a disagreeable task. The good modern school puts the care of the 'whole child' first with lessons and examinations second."

This latter concept has come forth many years subsequent to H.P.B.'s modulus. "We would endeavor to deal with each child as a unit, and to educate it so as to produce the most harmonious and equal unfoldment of its powers." This was further expanded by Edmond Holmes in What Is and What Might Be from which one paragraph must suffice: "Can we fail to see the imperative need of a synthetic education which will regard all life as a unit; the nature of man as unitary; that there is no spiritual and moral and intellectual, unrelated and independent of one another."

In an article by the President of the Progressive Education Association, Mr. Burton Fowler, an old-fashioned report-card simply giving the child marks is contrasted with one from a Progressive School. Under the heading Social Relationships and Personal Qualities a certain child is reported as "friendly, cheerful, enthusiastic. He is ambitious, determined and very resourceful. He has a good sense of humor. We are trying to help him to see the value of being more group-minded, to be willing sometimes to be a follower, to interrupt less frequently ... and [to be] more reliable about fulfilling assumed responsibility." Follows a summary under General Habits.

More and more teachers see the need of helping the "introvert" child to be more "socially-minded," to foster cooperation among children instead of rivalry, Prof. Kilpatrick going so far as to question the advisability of classing children together merely on the basis of equal intelligence because of its exclusive and anti-social tendencies. All this is in line with the spirit of a theosophical education which H.P.B. said aims "at creating free men and women, unprejudiced in all respects, and above all unselfish."

We must see, however, that unless and until educators recognize and accept the theosophical teaching as to the nature of man, even the most progressive methods fall short of attaining that supreme aim so admirably expressed by Edmond Holmes. "Man is a soul -- the soul is the man. The soul manifests as mind, as feeling, as body, and only when we educate and use all faculties for the purposes of the immortal soul, will either the school or the world find its true place in the great evolutionary and educational Scheme of Nature and of Man."


COMPILER'S NOTE: The following is a separate item which followed the above article but was on the same page. I felt it was useful to include it here:

COSMIC "EDUCATION"

....the Universe, which manifests periodically, for purposes of the collective progress of the countless lives, the outbreathings of the One Life; in order that through the Ever-Becoming, every cosmic atom in this infinite Universe, passing from the formless and the intangible, through the mixed natures of the semi-terrestrial, down to matter in full generation, and then back again, reascending at each new period higher and nearer the final goal; that each atom, we say, may reach through individual merits and efforts that plane where it re-becomes the one unconditioned ALL. --S.D. I, p. 268.


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