Brain Work and Manual Work (Mother Earth)

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BRAIN WORK AND MANUAL WORK.

By Peter Kropotkin.

IN olden times men of science, and especially those who have done most to forward the growth of natural philosophy, did not despise manual work and handicraft. Galileo made his telescopes with his own hands. Newton learned in his boyhood the art of managing tools; he exercised his young mind in contriving most ingenious machines, and when he began his researches in optics he was able himself to grind the lenses for his instruments, and himself to make the well-known telescope, which, for its time, was a fine piece of workmanship. Leibnitz was fond of inventing machines: windmills and carriages to be moved without horses preoccupied his mind as much as mathematical and philosophical speculations. Linnæus became a botanist while helping his father—a practical gardener—in his daily work. In short, with our great geniuses handicraft was no obstacle to abstract researches—it rather favored them. On the other hand, if the workers of old found but few opportunities for mastering science, many of them had, at least, their intelligences stimulated by the very variety of work which was performed in the then unspecialized workshops; and some of them had the benefit of familiar intercourse with men of science. Watt and Rennie were friends with Professor Robinson; Brindley, the road-maker, despite his fourteen-pence-a-day wages, enjoyed intercourse with educated men, and thus developed his remarkable engineering faculties; the son of a well-to-do family could "idle" at a wheelwright's shop, so as to become later on a Smeaton or a Stephenson.

We have changed all that. Under the pretext of division of labor, we have sharply separated the brain worker from the manual worker. The masses of the workmen do not receive more scientific education than their grandfathers did; but they have been deprived of the education of even the small workshop, while their boys and girls are driven into a mine or a factory from the age of thirteen, and there they soon forget the little they may have learned at school. As to the men of science, they despise manual labor. How few of them would be able to make a telescope, or even a plainer instrument? Most of them[22] are not capable of even designing a scientific instrument, and when they have given a vague suggestion to the instrument-maker they leave it with him to invent the apparatus they need. Nay, they have raised the contempt of manual labor to the height of a theory. "The man of science," they say, "must discover the laws of nature, the civil engineer must apply them, and the worker must execute in steel or wood, in iron or stone, the patterns devised by the engineer. He must work with machines invented for him, not by him. No matter if he does not understand them and cannot improve them: the scientific man and the scientific engineer will take care of the progress of science and industry."

It may be objected that nevertheless there is a class of men who belong to none of the above three divisions. When young they have been manual workers, and some of them continue to be; but, owing to some happy circumstances, they have succeeded in acquiring some scientific knowledge, and thus they have combined science with handicraft. Surely there are such men; happily enough there is a nucleus of men who have escaped the so-much-advocated specialization of labor, and it is precisely to them that industry owes its chief recent inventions. But in old Europe at least, they are the exceptions; they are the irregulars—the Cossacks who have broken the ranks and pierced the screens so carefully erected between the classes. And they are so few, in comparison with the ever-growing requirements of industry—and of science as well, as I am about to prove—that all over the world we hear complaint about the scarcity of precisely such men.

What is the meaning, in fact, of the outcry for technical education which has been raised at one and the same time in England, in France, in Germany, in the States, and in Russia, if it does not express a general dissatisfaction with the present division into scientists, scientific engineers, and workers? Listen to those who know industry, and you will see that the substance of their complaint is this: "The worker whose task has been specialized by the permanent division of labor has lost the intellectual interest in his labor, and it is especially so in the great industries: he has lost his inventive powers. Formerly, he invented very much. Manual workers[23]—not men of science nor trained engineers—have invented, or brought to perfection, the prime motors and all that mass of machinery which has revolutionized industry for the last hundred years. But since the great factory has been enthroned, the worker, depressed by the monotony of his work, invents no more. What can a weaver invent who merely supervises four looms, without knowing anything either about their complicated movements or how the machines grew to be what they are? What can a man invent who is condemned for life to bind together the ends of two threads with the greatest celerity, and knows nothing beyond making a knot?

"At the outset of modern industry, three generations of workers have invented; now they cease to do so. As to the inventions of the engineers, specially trained for devising machines, they are either devoid of genius or not practical enough. Those "nearly to nothings," of which Sir Frederick Bramwell spoke once at Bath, are missing in their inventions—those nothings which can be learned in the workshop only, and which permitted a Murdoch and the Soho workers to make a practical engine of Watt's schemes. None but he who knows the machine—not in its drawings and models only, but in its breathing and throbbings—who unconsciously thinks of it while standing by it, can really improve it. Smeaton and Newcomen surely were excellent engineers; but in their engines a boy had to open the steam valve at each stroke of the piston; and it was one of those boys who once managed to connect the valve with the remainder of the machine, so as to make it open automatically, while he ran away to play with other boys. But in the modern machinery there is no room left for naïve improvements of that kind. Scientific education on a wide scale has become necessary for further inventions, and that education is refused to the workers. So that there is no issue out of the difficulty unless scientific education and handicraft are combined together—unless integration of knowledge takes the place of the present divisions." Such is the real substance of the present movement in favor of technical education. But, instead of bringing to public consciousness the, perhaps, unconscious motives of the present discontent, instead of widening the views of the discontented and discussing the problem to its full extent, the mouth-pieces[24] of the movement do not mostly rise above the shopkeeper's view of the question. Some of them indulge in jingo talk about crushing all foreign industries out of competition, while the others see in technical education nothing but a means of somewhat improving the flesh-machine of the factory and of transferring a few workers into the upper class of trained engineers.

Such an ideal may satisfy them, but it cannot satisfy those who keep in view the combined interests of science and industry, and consider both as a means for raising humanity to a higher level. We maintain that in the interests of both science and industry, as well as of society as a whole, every human being, without distinction of birth, ought to receive such an education as would enable him, or her, to combine a thorough knowledge of science with a thorough knowledge of handicraft. We fully recognize the necessity of specialization of knowledge, but we maintain that specialization must follow general education, and that general education must be given in science and handicraft alike. To the division of society into brain-workers and manual workers we oppose the combination of both kinds of activities; and instead of "technical education," which means the maintenance of the present division between brain work and manual work, we advocate the éducation intégrale, or complete education, which means the disappearance of that pernicious distinction. Plainly stated, the aims of the school under this system ought to be the following: To give such an education that, on leaving school at the age of eighteen or twenty, each boy and each girl should be endowed with a thorough knowledge of science—such a knowledge as might enable them to be useful workers in science—and, at the same time, to give them a general knowledge of what constitutes the bases of technical training, and such a skill in some special trade as would enable each of them to take his or her place in the grand world of the manual production of wealth. I know that many will find that aim too large, or even impossible to attain, but I hope that if they have the patience to read the following pages, they will see that we require nothing beyond what can be easily attained. In fact, it has been attained; and what has been done on a small scale could be done on a wider scale, were it not[25] for the economical and social causes which prevent any serious reform from being accomplished in our miserably organized society.

The experiment has been made at the Moscow Technical School for twenty consecutive years with many hundreds of boys; and, according to the testimonies of the most competent judges at the exhibitions of Brussels, Philadelphia, Vienna and Paris, the experiment has been a success. The Moscow school admits boys not older than fifteen, and it requires from boys of that age nothing but a substantial knowledge of geometry and algebra, together with the usual knowledge of their mother tongue; younger pupils are received in the preparatory classes. The school is divided into two sections—the mechanical and the chemical; but as I personally know better the former, and as it is also the more important with reference to the question before us, so I shall limit my remarks to the education given in the mechanical section. After a five or six years' stay at the school, the students leave it with a thorough knowledge of higher mathematics, physics, mechanics, and connected sciences—so thorough, indeed, that it is not second to that acquired in the best mathematical faculties of the most eminent European universities. When myself a student of the mathematical faculty of the St. Petersburg University, I had the opportunity of comparing the knowledge of the students at the Moscow Technical School with our own. I saw the courses of higher geometry some of them had compiled for the use of their comrades; I admired the facility with which they applied the integral calculus to dynamical problems, and I came to the conclusion that while we, University students, had more knowledge of a general character, they, the students of the Technical School, were much more advanced in higher geometry, and especially in the applications of higher mathematics to the most intricate problems of dynamics, the theories of heat and elasticity. But while we, the students of the University, hardly knew the use of our hands, the students of the Technical School fabricated with their own hands, and without the help of professional workmen, fine steam-engines, from the heavy boiler to the last finely turned screw, agricultural machinery, and scientific apparatus—all for the trade—and they received[26] the highest awards for the work of their hands at the international exhibitions. They were scientifically educated skilled workers—workers with university education—highly appreciated even by the Russian manufacturers who so much distrust science.

Now, the methods by which these wonderful results were achieved were these: In science, learning from memory was not in honor, while independent research was favored by all means. Science was taught hand in hand with its applications, and what was learned in the schoolroom was applied in the workshop. Great attention was paid to the highest abstractions of geometry as a means for developing imagination and research. As to the teaching of handicraft, the methods were quite different from those which proved a failure at the Cornell University, and differed, in fact, from those used in most technical schools. The student was not sent to a workshop to learn some special handicraft and to earn his existence as soon as possible, but the teaching of technical skill was prosecuted—according to a scheme elaborated by the founder of the school, M. Dellavos, and now applied also at Chicago and Boston—in the same systematical way as laboratory work is taught in the universities. It is evident that drawing was considered as the first step in technical education. Then the student was brought, first, to the carpenter's workshop, or rather laboratory, and there he was thoroughly taught to execute all kinds of carpentry and joinery. No efforts were spared in order to bring the pupil to a certain perfection in that branch—the real basis of all trades. Later on, he was transferred to the turner's workshop, where he was taught to make in wood the patterns of those things which he would have to make in metal in the following workshops. The foundry followed, and there he was taught to cast those parts of machines which he had prepared in wood; and it was only after he had gone through the first three stages that he was admitted to the smith's and engineering workshops. As for the perfection of the mechanical work of the students I cannot do better than refer to the reports of the juries at the above-named exhibitions.

In America the same system has been introduced, in its technical part, first, in the Chicago Manual Training School, and later on in the Boston Technical School[27]—the best, I am told, of the sort; and in this country, or rather in Scotland, I found the system applied with full success, for some years, under the direction of Dr. Ogilvie at Gordon's College in Aberdeen. It is the Moscow or Chicago system on a limited scale. While receiving substantial scientific education, the pupils are also trained in the workshops—but not for one special trade, as it unhappily too often is the case. They pass through the carpenter's workshop, the casting in metals, and the engineering workshop; and in each of these they learn the foundations of each of the three trades sufficiently well for supplying the school itself with a number of useful things. Besides, as far as I could ascertain from what I saw in the geographical and physical classes, as also in the chemical laboratory, the system of "through the hand to the brain," and vice versa, is in full swing, and it is attended with the best success. The boys work with the physical instruments, and they study geography in the field, instruments in hands, as well as in the class-room. Some of their surveys filled my heart, as an old geographer, with joy. It is evident that the Gordon's College industrial department is not a mere copy of any foreign school; on the contrary, I cannot help thinking that if Aberdeen has made that excellent move towards combining science with handicraft, the move was a natural outcome of what has been practised long since, on a smaller scale, in the Aberdeen daily schools.

The Moscow Technical School surely is not an ideal school.<ref>What this school is now, I don't know. In the last years of Alexander II.'s reign it was wrecked, like so many other good institutions of the early part of his reign.</ref> It totally neglects the humanitarian education of the young men. But we must recognize that the Moscow experiment—not to speak of hundreds of other partial experiments—has perfectly well proved the possibility of combining a scientific education of a very high standard with the education which is necessary for becoming an excellent skilled laborer. It has proved, moreover, that the best means for producing really good skilled laborers is to seize the bull by the horns, and to grasp the educational problem in its great features, instead of trying to give some special skill in some handicraft, together with a few[28] scraps of knowledge in a certain branch of some science. And it has shown also what can be obtained, without over-pressure, if a rational economy of the scholar's time is always kept in view, and theory goes hand in hand with practice. Viewed in this light, the Moscow results do not seem extraordinary at all, and still better results may be expected if the same principles are applied from the earliest years of education. Waste of time is the leading feature of our present education. Not only are we taught a mass of rubbish, but what is not rubbish is taught so as to make us waste over it as much time as possible. Our present methods of teaching originate from a time when the accomplishments required from an educated person were extremely limited; and they have been maintained, notwithstanding the immense increase of knowledge which must be conveyed to the scholar's mind since science has so much widened its former limits. Hence the over-pressure in schools, and hence, also, the urgent necessity of totally revising both the subjects and the methods of teaching, according to the new wants and to the examples already given here and there, by separate schools and separate teachers.

It is evident that the years of childhood ought not to be spent so uselessly as they are now. German teachers have shown how the very plays of children can be made instrumental in conveying to the childish mind some concrete knowledge in both geometry and mathematics. The children who have made the squares of the theorem of Pythagoras out of pieces of colored cardboard, will not look at the theorem, when it comes in geometry, as on a mere instrument of torture devised by the teachers; and the less so if they apply it as the carpenters do. Complicated problems of arithmetic, which so much harassed us in our boyhood, are easily solved by children seven and eight years old if they are put in the shape of interesting puzzles. And if the Kindergarten—German teachers often make of it a kind of barrack in which each movement of the child is regulated beforehand—has often become a small prison for the little ones, the idea which presided at its foundation is nevertheless true. In fact, it is almost impossible to imagine, without having tried it, how many sound notions of nature, habits of classification, and taste for natural sciences can be conveyed to[29] the children's minds; and, if a series of concentric courses adapted to the various phases of development of the human being were generally accepted in education, the first series in all sciences, save sociology, could be taught before the age of ten or twelve, so as to give a general idea of the universe, the earth and its inhabitants, the chief physical, chemical, zoological, and botanical phenomena, leaving the discovery of the laws of those phenomena to the next series of deeper and more specialised studies. On the other side, we all know how children like to make toys themselves, how they gladly imitate the work of full-grown people if they see them at work in the workshop or the building-yard. But the parents either stupidly paralyze that passion, or do not know how to utilize it. Most of them despise manual work and prefer sending their children to the study of Roman history, or of Franklin's teachings about saving money, to seeing them at a work which is good for the "lower classes only." They thus do their best to render subsequent learning the more difficult.

* * *

The so-called division of labor has grown under a system which condemned the masses to toil all the day long, and all the life long, at the same wearisome kind of labor. But if we take into account how few are the real producers of wealth in our present society, and how squandered is their labor, we must recognize that Franklin was right in saying that to work five hours a day would generally do for supplying each member of a civilized nation with the comfort now accessible for the few only, provided everybody took his due share in production. But we have made some progress since Franklin's times. More than one-half of the working day would thus remain to every one for the pursuit of art, science, or any hobby he might prefer; and his work in those fields would be the more profitable if he spent the other half of the day in productive work—if art and science were followed from mere inclination, not for mercantile purposes. Moreover, a community organized on the principles of all being workers would be rich enough to conclude that every man and woman, after having reached a certain age—say of forty or more—ought to be relieved from the moral obligation of taking[30] a direct part in the performance of the necessary manual work, so as to be able entirely to devote himself or herself to whatever he or she chooses in the domain of art, or science, or any kind of work. Free pursuit in new branches of art and knowledge, free creation, and free development thus might be fully guaranteed. And such a community would not know misery amidst wealth. It would not know the duality of conscience which permeates our life and stifles every noble effort. It would freely take its flight towards the highest regions of progress compatible with human nature.

FOOTNOTE:

<references/>

  • Peter Kropotkin, “Brain Work and Manual Work,” Mother Earth 1, no. 4 (June 1906): 21-30.