News of the Week - Technical Education

By R. H. Hutton
The Spectator (December 8, 1877)

[1530] Professor Huxley delivered a very amusing address last Saturday at the Society of Arts, on the very unpromising subject of technical education;–but we believe that even if Professor Huxley were to become the President of the Social Sciences Association, or of the International Statistical Congress, he would still be amusing, so much bottled life does he infuse into the driest topic on which human beings ever contrived to prose. He defined 'technical education' as the teaching of handicrafts, and went on to describe himself,–an anatomist,–as a "handicraftsman," and that not in the sense in which "delicate hustling Agags often claimed to be working-men." The dissection of a beetle's nervous system was a more difficult feat of handicraft than the manipulation of the works of the finest of all watches, and if the best watchmaker attempted that task, while Professor Huxley himself undertook to mend a watch, he should not fear coming off the worst in the competition. Still what he recommended by way of technical education was a good general education,–one which roused the mind,–and then a direct apprenticeship to the handicraft itself, for it would not do to let lads get to their real work in life too late. And so far, Professor Huxley was, no doubt, right. But is it so difficult to combine the practical teaching with some special theoretical illustrations? Professor Huxley certainly never learned anatomy as a mere handicraft, without the aid of lectures; and nearly all mechanists need a great deal of teaching as to the theory and history of machines, which they would never get in the workshop itself. The announcement with which Professor Huxley closed his address, that the Livery Companies were now about to take up their natural duties as the heirs of the great Trade-guilds of the middle-ages, seems to imply that training for a handicraft may really be supplemented by theoretical explanations, apt illustrations, and appropriate history.



C. Blinderman & D. Joyce
Clark University