As they free themselves from mechanical requirements and begin to recognize their true function, they discover the transcendent importance of moral education, that it underlies and gives meaning to all the other work of the teacher. But teachers heretofore have taken a narrow view of the moral influences at their disposal.
The function of the Deity was virtually confined to originating the machine of nature, which, once regulated, was set beyond any further interference on His part, though His existence might be necessary for its conservation. A view so sharply opposed to the current belief could not have made way as it did without a penetrating criticism of the current theology.
Gainful pursuits were opened up to them, adding training in ordered occupation and self-support. Lastly has come the Great War, with its drill in sacrifice and economy, its larger opportunities to function and achieve, its ideals of democracy which have directly and quickly led to the political enfranchisement of women in countries widely separated.
It sees only its own bit, but this it sees with great clearness, and in consequence becomes very powerful. There is only one way of holding it to its legitimate function, and that is by the supremacy of public opinion in a Parliament as its final exponent. Parliaments may be clumsy and at times ignorant.
And there is no more subtle truth than that of the everyday phrase about a man having "his heart in the right place." It involves the idea of normal proportion; not only does a certain function exist, but it is rightly related to other functions.
Let us now turn to the second question, i.e., what precisely is the function of formal education. For my own part I can answer this in a sentence. It is primarily the fostering and development of the character-potential inherent in each individual.
Function is usually restored, the conducting paths being re-established by the formation of new nerve fibres. When a nerve is torn across or badly crushed as, for example, by a fractured bone the changes are similar to those in a divided nerve, and the ultimate result depends on the amount of separation between the ends and the possibility of the young axis cylinders bridging the gap.
It tends to destroy its rigidity, to dull its edge, and to spoil the fine adjustment without which so complex an organization cannot function. There could be no human life whatsoever, and still less a progressive life, were not the great mass of men content to remain steadily in their places, and so form parts of a stable structure. An organization cannot actually work until it is in equilibrium.
It is in the same way possible, as Professor Lorentz has shown, to give a very satisfactory explanation of the thermo-electric phenomena by supposing that the number of liberated electrons which exist in a given metal at a given temperature has a determined value varying with each metal, and is, in the case of each body, a function of the temperature.