Vol. XIX AUGUST, 1924 No. 2
Published quarterly by the University of Florida
University of Florida
Should Scientific Education
WILLIAM S. FRANKLIN, D.Sc.
Entered September 6, 1906, at the Postoffice at Gainesville, Florida, an second-
class mail matter, under Act of Congress. July 16. 1894
SHOULD SCIENTIFIC EDUCATION
A lecture delivered before the Students of the University
of Florida on Thursday, February 7, 1924 by
WILLIAM S. FRANKLIN,
of Cambridge, Massachusetts.
To the students of the University of Florida:
This essay will tend, no doubt, to confirm in some
of you the belief that the study of science is un-
redeem.ably dry and uninteresting, but let me urge
you to consider the full meaning of your under-
taking. It is a Great Adventure! To meet ex-
actions is the essence of sport. Be good sports!
WM. S. FRANKLIN.
SHOULD SCIENTIFIC EDUCATION BE
Inheritance of wealth and of ipoisition-in-life has developed
in us all an unwillingness to place exactions on young men.
We abhor every kind of trial and test of youth and we multiply
youthful indulgences beyond the old-time dreams of Paradise.
It might be well for us to go back to the terrible ordeals
of the Wild Indian. "What? My son to swing on raw-hide
thongs sewed through the muscles of his breast and back?"
asks your smug place-worshiper. Yes, you mere pretense of
an aristocrat, yours! You think to place him unprepared and
untried, do you? and 'the wonder of it is that you can so place
'him; but 'his 'life will 'become a tragedy if he cannot stick.
Most of my life has been spent as a teacher in the tech-
nical school, and teaching is great fun in spite of, or, I
should say, in all honesty, partly because of delinquent stu-
dents and their softened fathers and tearful mothers. From
their point of view scientific education certainly should be
ameliorated! How often I have faced a real condition with
a young man only to have him and his fond parents assume
that a favor on my part would alter or even greatly mitigate
the stern facts of the case! A sense of humor, alone, is suf-
ficient to fortify a teacher in such a position; but, alas, much
more than a sense of humor is needed to keep a teacher sane
in face of the widespread abhorrence among civilized men
for every kind of ordeal or test or trial of young men. No
one would wish to go back to the practice of savages in deal-
ing with young men, but the point of view of the softies is
Everyone who has to do with the training of young men
in pure and applied science knows that the training in-
volves many exactions and a great deal 'of severe constraint,
and there is, of course, some real distress among our stu-
dents, a distress that is by no means confined to our delin-
quent students and their over-indulgent parents.
Most of this distress comes from the curtailment of nor-
mal instinctive activities which is inevitable when the ener-
gies of young men are largely devoted to serious study. Al-
ways we must expect to find an undercurrent of melancholy
among husky young men who cannot hunt and fish, and play,
and make love all of the time; and we must expect moral
dangers to come with the almost complete breaking away
from the old modes of life. What a rich field in which to make
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
use of literature and poetry-and sport! for the fine arts and
sports are useful because they alone can keep us moderns
from reverting to outright savagery.
"Ernst ist das Leben; heiter ist die Kunst."
The older form of this saying is that life is short, short
and somewhat empty, whereas art is long; but Goethe would
have us understand that life is only serious and trying,
whereas art is a flowing river of comfort and good cheer.
If I were a teacher of English I would expend most of my
energies in a fine-arts emphasis on literature, and I would
try to stimulate real resourcefulness in recreation among
my students. It is a popular belief that college students are
far above the dismal American average in their resourceful-
ness in recreation, but it is not so. College students do, of
course, have their rooting; in fact rooting is their Major
Sport, and I look to see the college graduate of the future
meet every crisis in life as he learns to meet the crises on the
gridiron-by jumping up and down and yelling.
A very small part of the distress among our students
comes from the fact that a few of them are not at all adapted
to mathematical studies. More than fifty per cent of those
who enter our engineering schools drop out before gradua-
tion, and if this high mortality were due to essential non-
adaptability, it would be a serious thing; but in the great ma-
jority of cases it is unqualified perversity, not mental defic-
iency, that is the cause of the mortality. But one should not
use the word mortality in this connection, for many young
men have been killed by being kept in college and no young
man has ever yet been killed by being kicked out.
Nor should one speak of unqualified perversity, for it
is the God-given privilege of young men to go their own way.
No, we should not speak of perversity but merely of un-
willingness to study and think. Even so, it is life itself that
must draw up the indictment; not one who knows the pains
of those who really learn and the grief of those who are wise!
Consider the wonderful capacity 'of the Wild Indian for
long continued and strenuous effort in hunting, and fishing,
and raiding. Surely the Indian is not as lazy as he appears
to be in his Agency Home on a Reservation! And every one
knows that our young men are not stupid, although it is diffi-
SHOULD SCIENTIFIC EDUCATION BE AMELIORATED 5
cult to persuade young men to study as it is to persuade
Agency Indians to plow, and for exactly the same reason.
Studying, and especially the studying of science, is as new
to us as plowing is to Indians. The great grandfathers of
most of our college students could not even read or write,
and it is absurd to expect college boys to study because they
like to study or because they have an instinctive apprecia-
tion of the necessity of studying. No, carrying-on in college
must depend mainly on the will-to-study based on a convic-
tion of its necessity, and this conviction must come from the
friendly counsel of older men and be reenforced by a sus-
tained demand on the part of the college.
But, many people ask, is study, especially the study of
science, a necessity? Certainly not, if there is any alterna-
tive; and of course, there is an alternative. Imagine a never-
to-be-escaped human need of a twenty-foot arm. What age-
long development and what infinite pains! It is easier to
build a steam shovel. This no one will deny, and it means
that mankind is now bent decidedly, for better or for worse,
toward what has been called social inheritance as opposed to
organic inheritance; but social inheritance has its pains, too,
as many know who burn the midnight oil.
"Woe to those who are young!"*
It is a common belief that youth means only carefree joy,
but this blissful state is for childhood only. The divine qual-
ity of youth is niot freedom from care but enthusiasm, and
as enthusiasm has in the past led young men to the terrible
sacrifices of war, so enthusiasm alone can lead young men
to accept the increasing burdens of preparation and training
which civilization demands. Woe to those who are young!
How shocking to substitute a materialistic appreciation
of steam shovels for a tender-minded love of science for its
own sake and to look upon study as a dire necessity rather
than a pure delight! But study is a distressing thing to
most young men, let us face the fact, for nothing but facts
can help us in our dealings with young men. You can fool
all of the people part of the time and part of the people
all of the time, so it is said; but our young men, they never
can be fooled at all.
*"Weh dem die Eukeln sind." Goethe.
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But, many people ask, is an exacting constraint really
necessary in the teaching of science? It certainly is; con-
straint and not a little coercion; and it would be a great boon
to education if some clear understanding of this fact could
be given to all men. Everyone feels the constraint which
is placed on the lives of men by the physical necessities of
the world in which we live, and although in one way this con-
straint is more and more relieved by the advancement of the
sciences, in another way it grows ever more and more exact-
ing. It is indeed easier to cross the Atlantic Ocean now than
it was in Lief Ericsson's time; but consider the discipline
of the shop, and above all consider the rules of machine de-
sign! Even the hardy Norsemen never knew anything as
uncompromisingly exacting as these.
Every person with whom I have ever talked, old or young,
theorist or practician, student-in-general or specialist in
whatever line, has exhibited more or less distinctly an atti-
tude of impatience towards the exactions of this or that
phase of the precise modes of thought of the mathematical
"There, alas, the spirit is constrained, and laced in Span-
It is no wonder that easy-going believers in liberal edu-
cation have always looked with horror on the sciences, very
much as softened men and women look upon work. Liberal-
ism means freedom, and "liberalism in education is the free-
dom of development in each individual of that character and
personality which is his true nature." This I accept in a
spirit .of optimism, believing men's true natures to be good;
but there is a phase of education which has but little to do
directly with character and personality, and I call attention
to this conception of liberalism in education in order that I
may turn sharply away from it as an incomplete conception
which to a great extent excludes the sciences. There is a
condition in education which is the antithesis of freedom; for
the teaching of the sciences is a mode of constraint, a con-
structive discipline without which no freedom is possible in
our dealings with physical conditions and things. The study
*"Da wird der Geist euch wohl dreissert,
In spanische Stieffeln eingeschneurt."
SHOULD SCIENTIFIC EDUCATION BE AMELIORATED 7
of elementary science is a reorganization of the workaday
mind of a young man, a reorganization as complete as the pu-
pation of an insect, and an exacting constraint is the essential
condition of this reorganization.
There is a kind of salamander, the axolotl, which lives
a tadpole-like youth and never changes to the adult form un-
less a stress of dry weather annihilates his watery world.
Ordinarily he lives always and reproduces his kind as a tad-
pole, and a very funny-looking tadpole he is, with his lungs
hanging as feathery tassels from the sides of his head; but
when the aquatic home of the axolotl dries up he quickly de-
velops a pair of internal lungs, lops off his tassels and em-
barks on a new mode of life on land.
Something not wholly unlike the change that overturns
the world of the axolotl seems lately to have come upon the
world of men, for our modern age of science and organized
industry is like a stupendous drought in its effect on the fine
arts and on all the fine old ways of life. Millions of men do
indeed continue to live as tadpoles, not very contentedly,
it is true, and those who develop beyond the tadpole stage do
so because they meet the great stress of dryness with a quick
and responsive inward growth. The study of science is to
a very great extent an "inward growth" or what we may call
"making up one's mind" in the sense of putting one's mind
in order. It is the setting up of exact definitions, the formu-
lation of precise ideas, and the building up of elaborate
points of view. Nothing is so essential in the acquirement
of scientific knowledge as the possession of precise ideas be-
cause nothing else so effectually opens the mind for the per-
ception even of the simplest evidences of the subject.
The necessity of precise ideas! Herein lies the impos-
sibility of compromise and the necessity of constraint. One
must think so and so, there is no other way. And yet there
is always a conflict in the mind even of the most willing stu-
dent because of the narrowing influence which precise ideas
exercise over our vivid and primitively adequate sense of
physical things. This conflict is perennial, and it is by no
means a one-sided conflict between mere crudity and refine-
ment, because refinement ignores many things. Precise
ideas not only help to form our sense of the world in which
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
we live, but they inhibit sense as well, and their complete and
unchallenged rule would indeed be a stress of dryness.
All theory, my friend, is somber, gray;
And only the tree of life is green."*
An extremely remarkable thing in science is that highly
complex and penetrating interpretations are forced upon the
almost unthinkably meager data which we obtain directly
through our senses. An astronomer, for example, looks at a
speck of light as it crosses the field of his telescope and he
listens to the beat of a clock, noting the time of day when the
speck of light crosses the center of the field. He then looks
at a set of finely engraved lines on a divided circle, noting
the angular distance of the speck of light above the horizon.
All this he does three times in succession. Then, proceeding
to interpret his data, he calculates when the speck of light
(a comet) will be nearest the sun, how far it will then be from
the sun, how fast it will be moving, and when it will return,
perhaps a hundred years hence. This kind of forced inter-
pretation is very common in physics and chemistry, and in
most cases the actual sense data are so extremely meager that
to the layman they seem to be absurdly inadequate.
Another equally remarkable thing in the physical sci-
ences is that we have learned to exercise over physical things
a kind of rational control which greatly' transcends the cun-
ning of the most skillful hand.
Francis Bacon long ago listed in his quaint way the things
which seemed to him most needful for the advancement of
human knowledge or power, and, among other things, he
mentioned "A New Engine or a help to the mind correspond-
ing to tools for the hand;" and the most important aspect of
the modern mathematical sciences is the aspect in which they
constitute a realization of Bacon's idea. These sciences do
certainly constitute a New Engine which helps the mind as
a tool helps the hand, and it is this Engine which makes pos-
sible all forced interpretation and all rational control.
This New Engine is in part a mechanical structure. Con-
*"Grau theurer Freund ist alle Theorie,
Und grun des Lebens goldener Baum."
SHOULD SCIENTIFIC EDUCATION BE AMELIORATED 9
sider, for example, the carefully planned arrangement of ap-
paratus which is set up and used in any experimental study
in the laboratory or in making any kind of engineering test.
Experimental data which are in themselves as meager as the
astronomer's data take on meaning and bear a complex in-
terpretation very largely because of this arrangement of ap-
paratus. Or consider the carefully planned series of opera-
tions of solution, reaction, filtering, drying, and weighing,
such as is always carried out in chemical studies and tests.
The experimental data of the chemist are as meager as the
astronomer's data and they take on meaning and bear a com-
plex interpretation very largely because of the carefully
planned operations, and, of course, a carefully planned group
of operations is essentially a mechanical structure.
The New Engine is also in part a logical structure, that
is to say, a closely reasoned body of mathematical and con-
These two structures do indeed constitute a new engine,
and the teaching of the physical sciences is the building of
this engine: (a) By developing the logical structure of the
sciences in the mind of the young man, (b) by training in
the use of instruments and in performance of ordered opera-
tions, and (c) by exercises in the application of these things
to the phenomena of physics and chemistry at every step and
all the time with every possible variation.
That certainly is an exacting program, and the only al-
ternative is to place the student under the instruction of
Jules Verne where nothing is to be done. There the student
need not be troubled by exactions, but he can follow his teach-
er pleasantly on a care-free trip to the moon, or with easy
improvidence embark on a voyage of twenty thousand leagues
under the sea!
"Superiority to fate
Is difficult to learn,
'Tis not conferred by any,
But possible to earn
A pittance at a time,
Until, to her surprise,
The soul, with strict economy,
Subsists till paradise."
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
The most distressing idolatry the world has ever known
is the modern popular science-worship which pays no tithes
and takes no pains. It is our Great Religion. Its catechism
is science teaching which abhors exactions; its litany is the
semi-serious wail of regret of the easier college graduate
that a silver-spoon smartness was not transmuted by a pleas-
ant college course into what he conceives the talent of its
priesthood to be; and its creed is the belief of every would-be
parasite who thinks exaltingly that science is the building
of steamships to carry him where he has no need to go, of
railways to bring him things he could better do without, and
of airplanes to carry quickly his letters which would not
lose in meaning if their time of transit were to take a thous-
and years. Most people think of science in terms of results,
chiefly, indeed, of results which facilitate joy-riding of all
kinds, including easy orgies of near thinking. And these are
the Beatitudes! Blessed is the joy-rider, for he will never
run amuck! Let us thank the Lord for joy-riding, for, in
view of such bliss we need never count on such things as
literature and art as safeguards against reversion to sav-
No! Science is Finding Out and Learning How. Its
greatest gift to those of us who live inside of its frontiers
is an understanding of the things which surround us and of
the things we have to do, and its price is pains.
Science is finding out and learning how, but its results
have fascinated the crowd, who, neither paying nor achiev-
ing, adopt a scale of material values for everything in life
with a consequent neglect of human quality and a denial of
human value in everything. We have a wisdom of easy
plausibilities, a religion of mechanical beatitudes, a theology
of universal indulgences, a jurisprudence which will hang no
rogues. All of which means that we cannot discern worth
or unworth in anything, and least of all in men; whereas
nature and heaven command us, at our peril, to distinguish
worth from unworth in everything and most of all in men.
Our real problem now, as always, is "Who is best man ?"
and the fates forgive much-forgive the wildest, fiercest and
cruelest experiments, if fairly made in the settling of that
question. Theft and blood-guiltiness are not pleasing to the
gods, and yet the favoring powers of the material and spirit-
SHOULD SCIENTIFIC EDUCATION BE AMELIORATED 11
ual worlds will confirm to you your stolen goods and the
noblest of voices will applaud the wielding of your sword
if only your robbing and slaying are done in fair arbitrament
of the question "Who is best man?" But if we refuse
such inquiry we come at last to face the same question wrong
side upwards, and our robbing and slaying must then be done
to find out "Who is worst man?" which, in our wide order
of inverted merit, is a difficult question, and its decision is
"Ich bin der Geist der stets verneint, und das mit Recht,
denn alles was entsteht ist werth das es zu Grunde geht."