Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 42.djvu/32

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22
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

literature can not afford to dispense with the early training of the senses.

Having thus cleared the way and erected a platform on which to stand, or, in other words, supplied some tests for all educational methods, the subject of science in schools may be discussed, I hope, intelligently, without dwelling on the subject at great length. As before indicated, the principal questions in regard to science in schools are: When? What? How? How much?

When? As the first step in the knowledge of any branch of science is the gathering of sensory impressions or the noting of phenomena, you will at once infer my answer to this question, which is, as soon as the child begins school life. Of course, then and for some time after, little more can be done than to teach the learner to use its senses and to gather and compare sensory impressions, notably but not exclusively those of vision. This must be continued all through the educational career of the child, for we must ever learn in this way; and the exigencies of practical life constantly demand just such use of our eyes, ears, and hands as is implied in the correct method of studying science.

What? The course of studies proper for school life is a perennial theme of teachers' conventions. But is it not clear that the same end may be attained in many different ways? I do not see that any absolutely rigid course of studies should ever be mapped out, for the simple reason that the whole environment of the child must be taken into account—all the circumstances of the case. Always the most important factor in this environment is the teacher himself.

It is doubtful whether it would be wise to attempt to teach to very young children, with the preparation that most teachers can bring to the work, any branch of science as such; but there is no reason why the school life should not be full of object-lessons. But I mean real object-lessons on those things that have a practical bearing. We accomplish the purpose of education just as well by reference to real every-day life as to objects in which children can have no interest out of school, and which do not and will not make any part of their real world.

At a later age it becomes necessary to decide between, say, botany, zoölogy, physics, and chemistry. But, before referring to these, allow me to put in a plea for a sensible method of teaching geography. It is well to bear in mind that geography really is a science, though what it is in many schools it would be hard to designate by any name. This I do know: it is often very wretched stuff.

Why not introduce a child to geography by taking him into the school-yard or its neighborhood, and there, after rain, making mimic lakes, bays, rivers, etc., or availing of those already made?