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Essays on Education and Kindred Subjects Everyman's Library   By: (1820-1903)

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First Page:

EVERYMAN, I will go with thee, and be thy guide, In thy most need to go by thy side


Born at Derby in 1820, the son of a teacher, from whom he received most of his education. Obtained employment on the London and Birmingham Railway. After the strike of 1846 he devoted himself to journalism, and in 1848 was sub editor of The Economist .

He died in 1903.


Essays on Education AND KINDRED SUBJECTS



Made in Great Britain at the Aldine Press · Letchworth · Herts for J.M. DENT & SONS LTD Aldine House · Bedford Street · London First published in Everyman's Library 1911 Last reprinted 1963

NO. 504


The four essays on education which Herbert Spencer published in a single volume in 1861 were all written and separately published between 1854 and 1859. Their tone was aggressive and their proposals revolutionary; although all the doctrines with one important exception had already been vigorously preached by earlier writers on education, as Spencer himself was at pains to point out. The doctrine which was comparatively new ran through all four essays; but was most amply stated in the essay first published in 1859 under the title "What Knowledge is of Most Worth?" In this essay Spencer divided the leading kinds of human activity into those which minister to self preservation, those which secure the necessaries of life, those whose end is the care of offspring, those which make good citizens, and those which prepare adults to enjoy nature, literature, and the fine arts; and he then maintained that in each of these several classes, knowledge of science was worth more than any other knowledge. He argued that everywhere throughout creation faculties are developed through the performance of the appropriate functions; so that it would be contrary to the whole harmony of nature "if one kind of culture were needed for the gaining of information, and another kind were needed as a mental gymnastic." He then maintained that the sciences are superior in all respects to languages as educational material; they train the memory better, and a superior kind of memory; they cultivate the judgment, and they impart an admirable moral and religious discipline. He concluded that "for discipline, as well as for guidance, science is of chiefest value. In all its effects, learning the meaning of things is better than learning the meaning of words." He answered the question "what knowledge is of most worth?" with the one word science.

This doctrine was extremely repulsive to the established profession of education in England, where Latin, Greek, and mathematics had been the staples of education for many generations, and were believed to afford the only suitable preparation for the learned professions, public life, and cultivated society. In proclaiming this doctrine with ample illustration, ingenious argument, and forcible reiteration, Spencer was a true educational pioneer, although some of his scientific contemporaries were really preaching similar doctrines, each in his own field.

The profession of teaching has long been characterised by certain habitual convictions, which Spencer undertook to shake rudely, and even to deride. The first of these convictions is that all education, physical, intellectual, and moral, must be authoritative, and need take no account of the natural wishes, tendencies, and motives of the ignorant and undeveloped child. The second dominating conviction is that to teach means to tell, or show, children what they ought to see, believe, and utter. Expositions by the teacher and books are therefore the true means of education. The third and supreme conviction is that the method of education which produced the teacher himself and the contemporary or earlier scholars, authors, and publicists, must be the righteous and sufficient method. Its fruits demonstrate its soundness, and make it sacred... Continue reading book >>

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