"Education Has For A Chief Object The Formation Of Character"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Herbert Spencer, the English social scientist and philosopher, declined the opportunity for a university education. A self-educated man, he was engaged in engineering from 1837-1845, and from 1848-1853 was sub-editor of the Economist. His subsequent compositions on psychology, sociology, and ethics did much to apply the Darwinian principles of evolution to philosophy. His first significant title, originally published as Social Statics: or, the Conditions essential to Human Happiness specified and the first of them developed, contained various observations on the fundamental purposes and goals of education and the desirability of the state's maintaining and controlling a national educational system. He defends formal education, not as the sole means of proper maturation, but as a system to exercise properly the sentiments through which the savage instincts are checked. At one point he roundly condemns the practice of physical punishment as an inducement to proper behavior. He calls on advocates of "the stern will and the strong hand" to visit Hanwell Asylum and observe the effects of the tolerance practiced by the present management. "Let them contrast (with these horrors) the calmness, the contentment, the tractability, the improved health of mind and body, and the not unfrequent recoveries, that have followed the abandonment of the strait-jacket regime: and then let them blush for their creed." And the same principles should be applied to discipline in the classroom:

Education has for a chief object the formation of character. To curb restive propensities, to awaken dormant sentiments, to strengthen the perceptions and cultivate the tastes, to encourage this feeling and repress that, so as finally to develop the child into a man of well-proportioned and harmonious nature–this is alike the aim of parent and teacher. . . . But the power of self government, like all other powers, can be developed only by exercise. Whoso is to rule over his passions in his maturity, must be practised in ruling over his passions during youth. Observe, then, the absurdity of the coercive system. Instead of habituating a boy to be a law to himself, as he is required in after-life to be, it administers the law for him.