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Uses of Education. (Lecture. April 1895.)

In a friendly chat with my neighbor, a mechanic, I said: "I suppose you will send your son, Henry, to school this coming winter?" "I hardly think I shall," said the mechanic, "Henry has a good common school education, better than I had at his age; in fact, better than I ever had. He will never enter upon a profession; he will earn his living by manual labor. If I thought a better education would enable Henry to make a living with less effort- if I thought a college training would enable him to get a living without work, I would offer him a better education."

This is a progressive age, this is an age in which men plead for religious freedom, commercial freedom, and the freedom of reason, yet an age in which they not infrequently ask for an abuse of education. The father that trains his child in the art of getting a living without work, does much to make life not worth the living. In the normal schools, professional schools, colleges and universities of today, there are thousands of men and women who are training their intellects for the sole purpose of realizing pecuniary profit, for the sole purpose of appropriating the honest earnings of the less enlightened. At the same time, these students cherish feelings of indignation against the outlaw who arms himself with deadly weapons and openly demands the earnings of the farmer on his return from market. Wherein is the intellectual bandit superior to the highway robber? It is not difficult to appreciate the distrust that the common people have sometimes entertained in relation to the so-called higher institutions of learning.

An education of the boy that sends him home at Christmastime blind to the obligations he must hold to father and mother is a failure. If, when he arrives at the old homestead, his trained intellect is used to enable him to see quickly an empty woodbox, an empty water pail, if his trained intellect is used to enable him to use his hands to fill the empty woodbox, the empty water pail, his education is, indeed, good, if his trained intellect is used to make father and mother, brother and sister happier in his coming, send him back to college for more training. If the daughter on her return hastens to the kitchen to lighten mother's burdens, in order that mother may know that she has a lovable and sacrificing daughter, send her back to the seminary.

The world wants men and women who are educated for service. There are men and women who use a discipline intellect for the sole purpose of gratifying their own selfishness. This country has had quite enough of this abuse of education.

Even in the rural school the one use of all uses of education is to make better boys and girls, not simply sharper boys and girls. Our reform schools not infrequently have among their inmates those who are intellectually sharp; those whose abuse of this sharpness has made them inmates of the institutions. The rural school is the one place for training boys and girls for citizenship, for usefulness, for service. When the common school educates the heart, trains boys and girls to recognize right, trains boys and girls to do right, the legitimate uses of education will be conserved. Manner and morals are a thousand times more valuable than arithmetical skill, than skill in grammatical analysis. The new education insists upon educating the moral nature in order that the disciplined intellect may be put to the highest use. The hills and valleys, the rivers and cataracts are grand, the flowers are beautiful, the starlit heavens fill use with awe, the cathedrals of the old world command our admiration, the sculpture and painting, the poetry and song of the masters fill us with wonder and delight; but the human soul fashioned in the beauty of holiness, Christlike in its uses, commands the recognition and "well-done" of the Creator of the Universe.

Source: Newton, Roy, editor. Life and Works of Woodbridge N. Ferris. (Big Rapids, Michigan: n.p., 1960), 160-162.