Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 42.djvu/28

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18
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

phenomena, what is cognizable by the senses and the senses alone. It is hopeless for the most gifted human being to attempt to realize the taste of an apple if he has not had the actual experience. It is idle to read a poem on a sunset to the man that never saw light. We will all admit this; but do we not ignore this very plain conclusion in our teaching? In even the best schools, pure abstractions, or the use of words that can convey no definite meaning because not founded on any sensory experience to the learner, are still too common. Words have but one use—to express knowledge, not to impart it. I greatly wish I could adequately impress this simple truth on those I address, especially the young teachers before me.

How often do we forget that one may have a vast amount of real knowledge of a subject who has never read a page written upon it; while no amount of verbiage can supply those sensory impressions which are essential to all real understanding of the properties of matter! The very first advance the infant makes toward knowledge, real knowledge, is when it first looks out on the world or moves its tiny limbs.

Now, if we would but imitate Nature, or rather assist and not impede her, all would be well. It is a source of great gratification to me that I am in this connection able to refer to one educational method that does almost perfectly realize the true ideal—the kindergarten. The kindergarten was the invention or discovery of a man that got very near to Nature; and had we, led by the light of his genius, but followed, happy would it have been for our education since that time. It is humiliating to think of the long period of stupid blundering through which we have passed. Schools and colleges alike have till recently repressed and dwarfed rather than developed man's intellect in the natural way. It were not possible but that Burns's satire should apply, speaking of colleges, "They went in sturks and came out asses."

Think of what we have passed through! Arithmetic without any basis of concrete perception or practical application; geography, confined to knowing right and left, up and down, in and out, on a flat surface or "map," with certain names attached to these forms that suggested no realities; reading that was necessarily uninteresting and lifeless because the things described were not within the child's experience, and so were not realized; grammar!—that last straw to break the long-suffering learner's back—grammar that was the worst bore of all, because introduced at a period when the mind was unfitted for abstractions and so became divorced from all that was real and practical.

Is it any wonder that farmers and business men complained that such an education was no fitting preparation for real life?