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The Meaning of Infancy   By: (1842-1901)

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Riverside Educational Monographs

EDITED BY HENRY SUZZALLO

PRESIDENT OF THE UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON SEATTLE, WASHINGTON

THE MEANING OF INFANCY

BY

JOHN FISKE

1883

CONTENTS

INTRODUCTION

I. THE MEANING OF INFANCY From "Excursions of an Evolutionist"

II. THE PART PLAYED BY INFANCY IN THE EVOLUTION OF MAN From "A Century of Science"

OUTLINE

INTRODUCTION

The new significance of education

The last century has witnessed an unprecedented development in the significance of education. One direct consequence has been an increased reverence for childhood. In this movement which has increased the dignity of children and schools, two large forces have been at work, one social and the other scientific. The growth of the democratic spirit among men and institutions has made the education of children a public necessity, and lifted the school to a position of high social importance. The application of the theory of evolution to man and his life has revealed human infancy as one of the largest factors making for the superiority of man in the struggle for existence, and given to childhood a vast biological importance. The necessities of democracy and the truths of science, acting more or less independently of each other, have given to education a breadth of meaning which it did not possess before. They have shown that infancy is the largest opportunity and education the most powerful instrument for the conscious adjustment of man to the physical and social world in which he lives.

Democracy changes the function of schools

It was the attempt of democracy to educate all of its children which was the initial and important event that provoked large changes in our notions of the social function of education. As long as the school was for the few, and such it was in the less liberal periods of history, the school tended to be an authoritative institution with more or less rigid methods of procedure. With fixed ideas of truth and the means of acquiring truth, it was to a considerable degree unbending in its attitude toward youth. Even if freedom from economic toil and social regulation permitted, only the type of mind that could fit the school's established institutional ways could endure its discipline and achieve its rewards. Other types of mentality it would not receive or retain as students. Under such an organization the school was selective of a special kind of talent. It was not an instrument, so adjustable in its methods of appeal and instruction, that every manner of child could gain considerable of the wisdom of the world. But when a more democratic order was established, the function of the school underwent a considerable change. Democracy granted to all men freedom in manhood; to safeguard its privileges, it had to educate all men in childhood. The school for selected scholars had to be transformed into a school for every variety of citizen. With every child sent to school by order of the state, the teacher had to forego his traditional aloofness, and to adjust his methods of teaching so that every member of the enlarged school community could come into a knowledge of the civilization in which he lived. With the inclusion of the blind, the deaf, the slow of mind, and the restless of spirit, individuals left out of the old scheme of education and now reverently educated by the new democratic order in spite of all their defects, the school becomes more flexible and variable in its methods of transmitting truth. More of the knowledge of human life is brought within the comprehension of children; more men are brought into a large and sympathetic participation in the activities of our civilization. In the truest sense the school becomes an instrument of adjustment between childhood and society.

Evolutionary thought interprets childhood

If the democratic movement emphasized the factor of social adjustment in the school's function, it was the scientific movement of the last half century which drew attention to infancy as a superior opportunity for biological adjustment Among all the contributions of modern evolutionary science to educational thought, none is, more striking or more far reaching in its implications than that special group of generalizations which states the biological function of a prolonged infancy in man... Continue reading book >>




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