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UNIV. OF CALIFORNIA
CONGENITAL ENDOWMENT: ITS NATURE AND
The idea of
Heredity is generally
It has been reserved for our democratic generation to give a new life to the fast perishing faith in pedigrees. It writes, it preaches, it talks, it thinks biologically; and with the result among others that the idea of Heredity has been lodged beyond displacing in the mind even of the average man. has its applications, and of these there are at any rate two which intimately concern the making of character.
Thus rooted it
One is that the old familiar metaphor of the pure white sheet of paper, so often in times past invoked in the interests of educational responsibility, must It implies that we cannot now be decently and finally laid to rest. Psy- in Education chology knows nothing of absolute beginnings. begin at the Everywhere its analysis strikes on existing pre
formations, and if the old metaphor is to survive at all, it must be by saying that the page of the youngest life is so far from being blank that it bears upon it characters in comparison with
which the faded ink of palaeography is as recent history. So that, by general consensus, the first step towards the making of character is the recognition of beginnings that have been already made.
And imparts an added interest to educational work.
Hence, as further result, the growth of a new educational motive. When a father knows that his boy inherits tendencies, none the less definite because possibly hidden even from the eye of affection, there is no loss of responsibility here. There is the enhanced responsibility to be for ever on the watch, as there is with the gardener who watches his seedlings, or the farmer his stock. Just because none of them know what is going to happen, just because the tender plant, animal, child, may at any moment unfold unsuspected tendencies, so must there devolve upon those to whose care they are entrusted the obligation of an unintermitting watchfulness. It is in fact precisely this that imparts to education so much of its fascinating interest. Moulding the clay or hewing the block (wellworn metaphors !) is dull work in comparison. For education, and especially the education of character, would lose half its interest if, as some have fancied, education were everything. It is interesting just because it is not everything, because, in other words, the youngest child is already old in proclivities whose manifestation is often the first sign to us of their existence. Nor does either this responsibility or this interest limit
may be inherited
although their manifestation be deferred.
itself to our dealings with the young. Inherited tendencies, it is to be remembered, need by no means appear all at once. Like the seeds of an hereditary malady, they may lie latent for many a year, and are none the less inherited though their manifestation is deferred. It is the source of many a surprise and many a disappointment. The "ugly duckling" becomes the swan: the cygnet too becomes the duck. And so it will continue to be, so long as these deferred instincts have to wait upon physiological development, upon favouring
environment, or upon simple lapse of time, to bring them at last to light. It is difficult to set limits to this. There are cases of men who seem to develop in comparatively late life belated tastes - tastes for travel or society or art or sportwhich persistently struggle through, though they may have been inhibited for half a lifetime. We are apt to call such tastes acquired, attributing them to the influences of environment which have been so long at work before they make their appearance. Yet the proclivity may have been there from the first. We may at least suspect it was, because it often seems to survive much discouragement, and because we are often able when it appears to identify it as a family trait long hidden but revealed at last.
Thus far then, it may with confidence be said that the idea of heredity is practically fruitful. It brings this enhanced responsibility, and this added interest into all educational work.
The idea of Heredity further suggests
the value of a
It is another matter when we go beyond this, and ask if what is known about Heredity can justify hopes that we can ascertain, otherwise than by the actual watching of those with whom we have to deal, what their congenital endowment is. And we may reduce this question to its most practical terms by asking if it is of real moment to study stock and parentage, in order that we may better discern the endowment of the child.
knowledge of stock and
There seems no reason to doubt that something can be done in this direction. Supposing ourselves able to arrive at trustworthy knowledge of the characteristics not only of parentage but of stock, we stand at an undoubted advantage. For when we detect some trait emerging which we know to have had a masterful influence upon the family history- be it love of adventure, or of money, or of ease, or of fighting, and so forthwe can understand that we are in presence of a proclivity that will tax all our resources. We may thus find an
index as to the lines upon which we have to watch and work. It may be granted further that our knowledge of ancestry will bear the fruit of all genuine knowledge. It will sharpen our perceptions by giving us "pre-perceptions." It will enable us, by knowing what to look for, to detect the first tiny shoots of congenital proclivity as soon as they break the soil, and to lay our plans accordingly. In this way knowledge of stock and parentage may work in helpful alliance with observation. Yet it is safest here not to expect too much. The conviction that every new life inherits much is entirely consistent with the contention that knowledge of stock and parentage, even much fuller and more carefully generalised than seems possible for those whose ends are practical, can furnish but an imperfect clue as to what we may
Yet belief in Heredity need not involve much confidence in the practical value of such knowledge.
For, 1. The transmission of acquired characteristics is still doubtful.
expect to find in the individual boy or girl, even when these are of our own household. This for quite definite reasons. In the first place, we are not, in the present stage of controversy, entitled to treat the habits a father or mother has formed during lifetime, be they virtues or vices, as indicative of what the child is to inherit. Too many of the preachers and teachers of our day, over eager to impress Science into the service of edification, have caught at the doctrine that the acquired characteristics of one generation become, by inheritance, the instincts of the next. It may be so. Habitual skill with chisel, pencil, or piano, habitual temperance or immoderation, thrift or prodigality, may thus be transmitted in ways we cannot trace. But we really cannot be said to know. The evidence is inconclusive. We seem powerless to adduce a single conclusive instance. What we actually know is that this whole question of the transmission of “acquired characters" is open, and vigorously argued by Lamarckians and Weismannians. Till they settle their differences, results are too uncertain to be made the basis of responsible action.