The Basis of an Efficient Education: Culture or Vocation

Arthur W. Roberts
1907 The School Review  
If we are to oppose vocation to culture in this antagonistic fashion, the question seems to be simple enough and to admit of an unhesitating answer from any reasonable person. Left unqualified, it is an impossible alternative. Every man must live, and comparatively few but need to earn their livelihood. Hence there is no possibility of a choice which would leave a man without means. He must earn his living, and for this needs a vocation. Viewed thus baldly, vocation is a necessity, culture a
more » ... ssity, culture a luxury. Some years ago a teacher of the classics in a large private school was endeavoring to improve the quality of his work by subjecting his pupils to tests in sight-reading. But the headmaster of the institution observed that many of the pupils failed at first to gain satisfactory standing in these tests upon unfamiliar material; he therefore called the teacher to account and demanded his reason for his method. When the teacher replied that he taught for power, and believed that in this way only could his pupils gain power in reading the languages, the headmaster retorted sharply: "I tell you, sir, that, in a private school, teaching for power is a luxury." So, in schools of any kind, we might fairly term that training a luxury which had culture for its sole aim, and paid no heed to a probable vocation. But we must and do refuse to allow that smallest of disjunctives, or, to tyrannize over us. We may not and do not set vocation and culture in such unqualified opposition. Perhaps those who appear to be opponents are really nearer together than they are willing to admit. But our topic is not altogether clear. The basis of 'an efficient education is to be -discussed. There are certainly three words here which require careful definition. "Basis" suggests something upon which a superstructure is to be placed. Some 358 This content downloaded from 141.218.latitude of interpretation is quite possible there. When, in educational matters, may the basis be said to be complete? Where does the work of creating a superstructure begin? Then "efficient" qualifies education in a most embarrassing way. It itself requires explanation. An education that is efficient for what? In enabling a man to earn his living; or to make money; or to gain a proper understanding of his relations to his fellows; or to appreciate the best that the world olf thought in the past and present contains for each individual? And then we find ourselves confronted with a natural doubt, which prompts us to ask who is competent to decide this question with any authority. Men travel by different ways to achieve what they term success, and, having reached their goal, naturally laud that path by which they have climbed, to the exclusion of all other paths. After all, we have here an old question in a new form, but coming to us under changed conditions. It is a direct descendant of that much-debated question of nearly a half-century ago, "Classical versus Utilitarian Studies;" it has, moreover, a close relationship to that staple subject for discussion of moire recent years, "The Merits of the Elective System in Schools and Colleges." As regards the former question, the classicists of the present day would hardly be disposed to assume an extreme position, such as was generally occupied by their confreres of forty years ago. The absurd position of those who claimed that the study of ancient languages and of mathematics furnished the one road to culture was too apparent to withstand the mere passing of time. The justice of the position olf those who! urged the claims of science, of history, and of modern languages to a share of a youth's attention could not be denied; and these, in increasing amounts, have gradually found their way into school programmes, so that the old time question has assumed a new guise, and masquerades under the title "culture or vocation." In restating the old-time controversy in a new form, the advocates of utilitarian studies have driven their opponents back to their line of secondary defense, it is true, but they have brought them new allies. Surely now, not mathematics and This content downloaded from 141.218.
doi:10.1086/435019 fatcat:3gnmoal2nrbejkcwhp4ci7gy7i