Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 40.djvu/51

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41
DO WE TEACH GEOLOGY?.
DO WE TEACH GEOLOGY?

By ROBERT T. HILL.

THE late Prof. Alexander Winchell, who did so much to popularize geology in this country, asked, "Shall we teach geology?" and our educational institutions have answered the question in the affirmative by expending liberal sums for the endowment of chairs in schools and colleges. The question now is, not shall we teach, but do we teach geology?

No modern science has been so vaguely understood and so indefinitely represented as that of geology. Our text-books, as a rule, are from fifteen to twenty years behind in the presentation of the vast results of the army of investigators in the field; and even among the working geologists there are wide differences in regard to fundamental definitions and theories. This great study, which has done so much for the advancement of knowledge and for industry, is still in a chaotic condition; and even its elementary definitions, as given in our text-books, are conflicting.

In the popular mind, in consequence of the mighty throes into which^ geological interpretation precipitated religious thought, the science is usually considered an irreligious inquiry into the history of the earth, or a useless study of curious fossils and pretty minerals To the practical investigator and student, however, geology has but one meaning, and that is, the science which treats of the structure of the earth and its changes.

A glance at the curricula of our universities will show that few of them teach the subject on this basis; they deal with the science either in the old-fashioned historical way, or devote their energies to some narrow branch — for example, paleontology, microscopic petrography, or economic mineralogy.

Geology can in many ways be compared with architecture inasmuch as it is a scientific art, requiring a knowledge of many special arts and sciences. The architect must have a knowledge of mensuration, carpentry, masonry, materials, chemistry, physics decoration, and other specialties pertaining to house-building. Likewise the geologist or student of earth-structure must have a knowledge of chemistry, physics, biology, mineralogy, mensuration, and all the sciences which are useful in interpreting this structure. Although we would never mistake a house-painter for an architect, we are overwhelmed by paleontologists, microscopists, and theologians who assume the title of geologists, and teach their narrow specialties under the broader name. An ethnologist who studies primitive dwellings is not an architect, yet how many astronomical data concerning pre-nebular hypotheses