Context: Herbert Spencer's Education is a group of magazine articles written in the 1850's and first published in book form in 1860–well over a century ago. Yet is has a striking immediacy; many of the ideas that were new at that time are today considered either new or quite recent by many. In his discussion of intellectual education Spencer discusses the progress being made in regard to educational philosophies. He notes that "the increase of political liberty, the abolition of law restricting individual action, and the amelioration of the criminal code, have been accompanied by a kindred progress toward non-coercive education: the pupil is hampered by fewer restraints, and other means than punishments are used to govern him." He feels that the many new and experimental methods of education are healthy and must be tried, because the best is yet to be discovered. "However impatiently, therefore, we may witness the present conflict of educational systems, and however much we may regret its accompanying evils, we must recognize it as a transition stage needful to be passed through, and beneficent in its ultimate effects." Among the newer trends is the "conviction that body and mind must both be cared for, and the whole being unfolded." Rote learning is now largely discredited; arithmetic is being taught experimentally; teaching by principles which can be applied generally has taken the place of teaching by rules. Most important, Spencer feels, is the systematic culture of observation; "what was once thought mere purposeless action, or play, . . . is now recognized as the process of acquiring a knowledge . . ." Science is now taught by allowing children to perform experiments; real objects and materials are used. Of great significance to Spencer is "the growing desire to make the acquirement of knowledge pleasurable rather than painful. . . . Hence the efforts to make early education amusing, and all education interesting. Hence the lectures on the value of play. Hence the defence of nursery rhymes, and fairy tales. . . . And so with later education. Short breaks during school-hours, excursions into the country, amusing lectures, choral songs. . . ." Spencer advances certain principles of education: that it should proceed from the simple to the complex and from the concrete to the abstract; that the individual's education should evolve gradually as has that of his race; that it should proceed from the empirical to the rational and that self-development should be encouraged to the fullest possible extent.
. . . A leading fact in human progress is, that every science is evolved out of its corresponding art. It results from the necessity we are under, both individually and as a race, of reaching the abstract by way of the concrete, that there must be practice and an accruing experience with its empirical generalizations, before there can be science. Science is organized knowledge; and before knowledge can be organized, some of it must be possessed. Every study, therefore, should have a purely experimental introduction; and only after an ample fund of observations has been accumulated, should reasoning begin . . .