Popular Science Monthly/Volume 42/November 1892/The Natural or Scientific Method in Education
|←Eurasia||Popular Science Monthly Volume 42 November 1892 (1892)
The Natural or Scientific Method in Education
By Thomas Wesley Mills
|On Posture and its Indications→|
EDUCATIONAL methods seem to have been devised in the past more to meet the real or fancied requirements of practical life than with any clear reference to the constitution of the human mind, and this has been owing in no small measure to the reflex influence of public opinion. The school was, and by many still is, regarded as a place where that is to be learned, and pretty much that only, which it is thought will enable the pupil to earn a livelihood or prove successful in the struggle for material things; and of course, so far as it goes, this view is of vital importance. Unhappily, it overlooked the highest purpose of life, and so regarded it is a severe commentary on the character of our age. It has proved a short-sighted policy. It has defeated even its own ends. That can only be a sound theory of education which takes into account, what Nature herself always does, the organism and the environment. Why is our age so advanced in science? The human brain is essentially the same sort of a mechanism it always was, within the knowledge of men. The change is due to difference in method. The moderns have achieved their great results by the scientific method, the Baconian method of induction, or, as we usually say now, the experimental method.
Education has given us the results of a series of experiments, and we are trying others to-day; and at this point I would like to insist that educational questions can only be settled by experiment. Many theories that looked fair have proved delusive when actually tested by experience. But one thing is perfectly certain: any theory or any practice which does not square with the organization of man and the nature of his surroundings or environment, will be a failure just in so far as it falls short of meeting both. The difficulty is to know the nature of our own organization, and knowing that, to adapt it to our environment, or, as we usually say, to our circumstances. Allow me to use the term environment because it applies to other animals than man, and I desire to give my treatment of the subject as broad a basis as possible. From the time that men began to think they studied themselves, and long ago the Greek wisely asserted that to know one's self was the sum of all wisdom; and, of course, in the widest sense, for a man to know himself is to comprehend his relations to the entire universe.
Why are we then, after all those ages, still at work on the problem? Why have we made so many blunders as the history of educational methods shows? Are we in any more hopeful position to solve the question to-day than ever before? Without in any way underestimating the efforts of the past, or being over-sanguine as to a complete and speedy realization of perfection in education, I venture to think that we are now at last, if not actually on the right road, at least getting closer to it. We have begun to apply the inductive or scientific method to education because we apply it to ourselves. Modern physiology and psychology are, I venture to think, destined to revolutionize our
|Fig. 1.—Outer Surface of Cerebrum (after Exner). The shaded portion represents the motor area in man and the monkey—i.e., the area which most observers believe to be associated with certain voluntary movements of the limbs, etc.|
educational methods. Certainly, until we study closely the physical organization, and especially the brain of man, we are far from scientific theory and practice in education, because without this a true psychology is impossible. In other words, educating the mind wisely depends on understanding its nature. This can only be accomplished by a study of our physical organization also, especially of that organ through which the mind expresses itself. So far as we know, brain processes and mind processes are always correlated. Cut off the blood-supply from the brain and the subject becomes unconscious, because thereby the subtle molecular processes or movements that we term functioning suffer to such a serious extent. When we speak of mental weariness we really refer to brain weariness, or more accurately to alterations in the delicate machinery of brain-cells. The brain itself is affected by the condition of the rest of the organism. A man with wearied muscles, or blood starving for oxygen, can not think well.
These illustrations may suffice to explain my general attitude, that to study educational methods scientifically we must betake ourselves to an examination of the human brain. Fortunately, within the last twenty years brain physiology has made great
|Fig. 2.—Lateral Surface of Brain of Monkey, displaying Motor Areas (after Horsley and Schafer).|
progress, owing to the investigations of anatomists, physiologists proper, pathologists, and practicing physicians. The chief advance has been in the direction of extension and accuracy of knowledge as to the function of the gray matter on the surface of the brain, the so-called cortex. The functions of nearly every region of this cortex are now known approximately, and as regards some areas with great accuracy; so much so that surgeons have, in consequence of a diagnosis of the site of an irritation or of pressure, been enabled to cut down on the very spot affected and so relieve the patient.
The region which we least know is just that about which the phrenologists have had so much to say, and mapped out to their own satisfaction with great precision. Of this region physiologists can as yet draw conclusions only by a sort of process of exclusion.
We know very definitely the motor area concerned in voluntary movement, and we know approximately, but with less accuracy, the sensory area—i. e., the region essential to sensory processes. It will be seen from the accompanying diagrams that all the posterior half of the brain surface is, we may say roughly, sensory; and that it has been provisionally subdivided into regions for vision, hearing, tasting, etc. If the surface at these points were crushed, pressed upon, replaced by a foreign growth, or removed by accident, there would be a corresponding mental loss—blindness, deafness, etc.
It is important to notice what a large part of the cortex is concerned with sensory processes, for it suggests in the strongest way that sensation must play some very great part in our mental life, and this modern psychology now most clearly recognizes. In fact, the extent of our sensory activity determines in great
|Fig. 3.—Median Surface of Brain of Monkey (after Horsley and Schäfer). Figs. 2 and 3 may be said to embody the views of Horsley and Schäfer more especially in regard to motor localization.|
measure the degree of our consciousness, for there are all degrees of consciousness, from a maximum down to such a condition as we find in sleep, which has its degrees also.
The case of the boy that had but one seeing eye and one hearing ear, and who could at any time be put to sleep—i. e., rendered unconscious—by closing up the avenues of sense, is very instructive.
It will further be noticed that localization of function consequent on this anatomical delimitation of brain areas is very important. Apart from this it is not possible to conceive of that restriction of the attention to one kind of sensory impressions that is essential to clear perceptions. All teachers know the importance of securing attention; but, unfortunately, this is too often confounded with a constrained attitude and other non-essential accompaniments.
But a sound physiology and psychology should correspond to Nature. About the best way to test them will be to ascertain how they fit into human nature before it is influenced by any methods whatever, for all methods are liable to hamper and modify. It is hopeful to notice that so many psychologists of the modern school are turning to infant psychology, or the study of the mental development of the very young child, which is of course closely related to its physical development. The behavior of the infant is in accordance with the brain structure and function of which I have been speaking.
The infant from birth is the subject of almost constant movements during the waking hours of its life—movements which are spontaneous and not voluntary. Some of these movements, at all events, are reflex—i. e., the nervous discharges from the central cells of the brain and spinal cord which cause them are not due to the will, but to some sort of external stimulus; and so great is the tendency to these nervous discharges in the young animal that but the slightest stimulus is required. Some of these movements may be considered a continuation of those of the pre-natal period.
It is doubtful if the newly born infant executes any voluntary movements, because will proper it does not then seem to possess.
Though the child at this stage neither sees nor hears probably in the true sense of the term, it is not uninfluenced by light and sound. Gradually it gets clear perceptions from all its senses, and then it becomes more than ever a reflex mechanism, its nervous system being responsive to all external things, and its motor system expressing this condition. In other words, sensations are streaming in through all the avenues of sense, and these have their outward expression in movements by which, as from the first, the muscular sense on which all exact voluntary movement depends, and the cutaneous sense, the most fundamental of all, and that on which the perfection of all the others depend, are exercised.
At first, sounds though heard can not be localized. Objects are perceived by the eye, but the infant has no idea of their distance. It will reach for a light across the room as readily as if it were but a foot away.
It is clear that the human being at this stage is on a par with other young animals. Each is a vegetative, reflex, receptive organism. The brain of the infant grows rapidly within the first few months. It no doubt develops equally fast. Already used groups of cells learn to function more perfectly, and new groups take up their duties. Movements become gradually more and more voluntary, more under control, and more definite. Sensory impressions become more and more clearly sensory judgments. To illustrate: The lamp that excited the young infant represents after a few months not merely brightness but an object of definite size and shape, owing to the additions and corrections following from a combined use of the senses. And this process will continue throughout life if not checked.
Both common observation and the closest scientific study have made it plain that youth is the period of sense ascendency. From
|Fig. 4.—Diagrammatic Representation to illustrate the Reflex Arc (Bramwell and Ranney). 1, 2, sensory fibers; 3, motor cell of anterior horn; 4, motor fiber connected with 3 and passing out by anterior root of muscle; 5, fiber joining ganglionic cell (3) with crossed pyramidal tract, C. P. C.; 6, ganglion on root of posterior spinal nerve; 7, fiber joining 3 with Türck's column, T. Fiber 2 is represented as passing through Burdach's column to reach the cell, 3.|
this, most important conclusions follow, which we can not ignore without paying a heavy penalty. Attention has been called to the infant in order to show that, prior to all school education, Nature asserts herself and points the way in which the human brain and mind develop. Any education that overlooks these facts is directly against the organization we possess, and must be more or less of a failure. How far our methods have been and are in harmony with them I shall presently attempt to show. For the moment let me follow the child out of the stage of infancy into that of school age. The boy of five, let us suppose, is sent to school a perfect stranger to books and the usual educational equipment. Everything on the road to school attracts him to such an extent that likely enough he may arrive late. When at school the teacher may find him so restless that the question of keeping him in order so that he shall not disturb others is a matter of serious difficulty. So long as he can be kept in action things go well enough, but to keep this activity within conventional bounds is the problem.
Very often repressive measures that quite paralyze his nature are resorted to in order to adapt his organism to the environment instead of the reverse being attempted. It is forgotten too often that if this young creature were not active, even restless, impulsive, inattentive—i. e., ever ready to secure some new impression—he could not develop after Nature's plan. We are at the outset in possession of some principles by which to test our methods. So far as the soundest physiology and the most recent psychology go, there seems to be but one way to develop this boy's intellect, and that way is along the path that is clearly indicated—the development of the brain and at this period the senses to the fullest extent. Now, as this implies not only seeing, hearing, smelling, and tasting, but feeling in the widest signification of the term—i. e., the muscular as well as the cutaneous sense—we must not only permit of movements but develop them. Smelling and tasting are in human beings of subordinate importance. But vision, to a less degree hearing, and the compound musculo-cutaneous sense, are of vital moment in all sound development.
It is by the development of these senses, together with smell, that the lower animals attain that perfection which in all respects is not equaled by man. But in delicacy and co-ordination of muscular movements, in perfection of visual and auditory discrimination, man is far ahead of the rest of the animal creation. Color-vision and nice discrimination of tones and form are peculiar to man. The painter and the musician have a perfection in the one case of vision and in the other of hearing unknown to any other animal; indeed, only in a feeble measure realized by their fellow-men.
We recognize in the brain of man a motor area—i. e., a portion of the surface (cortex) indispensable for voluntary movements of the arm, leg, trunk, indeed for voluntary movements generally.
It is, however, found that if, owing to disease, the path of sensory impressions is interrupted or imperfect, accurate voluntary movements are impossible. A person affected in this way is not only incompetent to do the work of an artisan, but he can not co-ordinate or harmonize his muscular movements to any useful end; so that it is now clear that practically all movements are dependent on sensation; while, again, sensation is much curtailed in essential directions (musculo-cutaneous) if movements be not free, extensive, and accurate.
The development of the motor and sensory areas of the brain are in a measure dependent on each other, and that great region in front, which probably functions in all the higher mental processes, must evidently be hindered in its growth and development if the region back of it is defective. It is impossible to have thought without the material for thought; and this can, so far as all perceptions of matter are concerned, be derived chiefly, if not wholly, through the sensory and motor areas working together. This furnishes a physiological basis for the discussion of manual training and all kindred subjects.
These views have received recent confirmation by an examination of the brain of the late celebrated Laura Bridgman, who was defective in all the senses except the tactile and the muscular sense, while absolutely wanting in vision and hearing. Her brain was found much smaller in the sensory areas and its nervous cells few and undersized, owing to disuse, leading to atrophy and failure of development. Experience proves conclusively that all those mental processes on which reflection and judgment depend are in their natural order later of development. Now it is, in my opinion, of great moment to observe in education the natural sequence of development, as any attempt to reverse Nature's order is sure to result in serious harm. We can not bring about in a boy of sixteen a development which should have been begun at five; and this lies at the very root of the question of science in schools, and all others bearing on education. Some have been wondering what all this has to do with science in schools; but I hope to show before I conclude that, according to the homely adage, the longest way around is sometimes the shortest way home.
If my conclusions have thus far been sound, we should be a long way on the road to solving the most important part of any educational problem, viz., the nature of the human brain and mind. The other part of the problem, how best to adapt to the environment, or fit the environment to the mind, is subordinate, though sometimes practically difficult.
It is plain that we must cultivate the senses, and that at the period when they are most susceptible of it, in early youth; that to do this we must not neglect the use of the muscles, or more correctly neuro-muscular activities, for muscular movement of course implies the co-operation of the central nervous system, including the sensory brain areas.
The highest aim of science is to reach great general laws like that which marks the triumph of the science of the nineteenth century, the most important of which is the law of the conservation of energy. But, before any law can be established, a vast number of facts must be gathered. Facts, as regards natural science, mean 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? I complain because it was worse. It was a fearful injustice to that noble organization with which, we are endowed. The case has improved in a fair proportion of our schools, but we are far, far from the true way still. We are also deluded by the spirit of our age, that aims too much at quantity and too little at quality. In elementary schools especially the culture and the method are, beyond all comparison, of more importance than the facts learned.
Given a youth developing aright, and we find him continuing that natural and happy life he began as an infant. He exercises his senses on the world around him, and is learning under guidance to group his facts—that is, his sensations—and to deduce general laws. This is science, and should be pleasant to every normally constituted human being, and experience proves that such is the case.
The students at our colleges are beginning themselves, after having had a taste of real knowledge, to cry out for more practical work and fewer formal lectures.
You will perceive that the conclusions drawn apply more or less to all studies, even purely literary ones. Literature abounds in descriptions of Nature. These must mean more to him who has actually observed than to the closet student. Much of all poetry, notably such as Scott's, for example, is but feebly realized by those unfamiliar with Nature; to put it otherwise, by those who have not had the sensory impressions essential to realization.
It must now appear that in the true sense education is simply furnishing an environment which is favorable to the development or unfolding the organization of the child. I use the term organization rather than mind because it seems to me that as a human being is a complex, we can never in actual practice consider one part of a child's nature absolutely apart from another. There is no such thing as mental development apart from moral and physical effects; and all experience goes to show that, when any part of the organization of a human being is ignored, the very ends aimed at in any one direction are but imperfectly attained. It has been shown that the infant develops through movements. The boy develops through rambles in the fields or through his games, and the methods are after Nature, though not as perfect when the subject is not under' guidance, as he always should be—to an extent not sufficient, however, to interfere with spontaneity. The sooner we get rid of the idea that education is imparting instruction, and that teachers exist to hear lessons, the sooner will we be prepared to enter on the right path.
It has of late years dawned on a few minds that this natural development, which is in a hap-hazard way accomplished by the child in its sports, might be carried out in a systematic way by what is termed manual training, and I allude to the subject in this address because it seems to me to be in the main so perfectly in harmony with our most recent knowledge in brain physiology and in psychology. Just as the child begins life by investigation with its senses and its muscles, so must this method be followed to the end. This is the scientific method—i. e., it is founded on science. The aimless movements of the infant must be gradually replaced by movements with a definite purpose, and its chance sensations by sensations gathered with a definite object. Rightly understood these objects constitute the raison d'être or purpose of manual training, laboratory work, and all kindred methods. It would appear that we can not follow Nature's method without combining muscular movements and the use of the senses. Naturally these develop together, as has already been shown.
What shall we say, then, of educational methods—a fearful abuse of the term—which, instead of permitting of this free and natural development, directly thwart it? In the past the whole development of the child has been sacrificed in no small degree to the three Rs. One might be led to suppose that life was made up of reading, writing, and arithmetic. As a matter of fact, they enter but little into it. Life is made up of feeling, thinking, and acting, which only incidentally involve the three Rs.
The germ or principle of manual training, like that of nearly everything else that is good in education, is found in the kindergarten. All that we have in our modern laboratories, colleges, workshops, etc., exists in that wonderful method.
For a beautiful and successful illustration of the natural method applied in a somewhat different way, I refer you to the January and February numbers of The Popular Science Monthly of the present year.
When once we grasp the true conception of education by realizing that the very object of existence is to attain, as nearly as possible, to a perfect development, which, of course, implies the discharge of all duties and obligations, many problems can be speedily solved in a general way. Much judgment and skill will always be required to accomplish the end in view with the means at hand; or, to put it in a more scientific way, to adapt the organism and the environment to the best advantage. It has been abundantly proved, by the history of education and human affairs as a whole, that with a theory utterly wrong people do not generally fall upon right methods of action; and they never do so when work is to be systematically performed, as in the case of our education in this country for the last thirty years at least. My own elementary education was conducted in what was at that period considered the best school in one of the most progressive cities educationally in this country, yet in the light in which I now see I would have been a great deal better without much of what was then considered education. I have for a long period been trying to undo the harm wrought and make up for what was omitted at the most impressionable period of life, and I feel to this day that I have not wholly got rid of some of the evil effects. There was not only no science in the course, but the very methods used were radically opposed to science and to such knowledge of our organization as I am endeavoring to show is now well enough established. There was no freedom; the senses were utterly neglected; and human nature could not develop by such methods as were in vogue.
But many will no doubt think the case overdrawn, and point to the fact that development has actually gone on satisfactorily, and that our present standing in science and other subjects is a proof of it. Happily, it is not possible for Nature to be wholly repressed. We develop in spite of bad methods. The boy develops out of school if not in it. The great mass are educated by their work and other associations that make up their every-day life. Some of the best-educated people have never been inside of a school.
The great fertilizing ideas of our age, coming from the mint of genius and embodied in a way that appeals to all and in a measure educates all, have been at work. Who can estimate how great a part such a man as Edison, to mention a single instance, has played in the true education of our period? I purposely now select a practical man rather than a pure scientist. The great difficulty that most teachers would mention, I suppose, in the way of accomplishing their ends is in getting children interested, for children work when they are stimulated by interest. Yet this difficulty is not experienced with the kindergarten method at the beginning, nor in any serious degree with wisely devised laboratory work later at college. Why is a boy more interested in his sports than in his studies? Partly, at all events, because the former are better suited to his nature, to his development, than his studies as sometimes conducted.
Introduce scientific methods, and introduce science itself according to the laws that underlie our organization, and you will revolutionize our schools. To hope for this at once, even if the object were clearly perceived by all immediately concerned in education, would be Utopian; but success comes to those who strive persistently and wisely with a true ideal clearly in view.
I should like it well understood that the same methods that apply to what is usually termed science are also adapted for all other subjects. We use at least some of the same faculties, and it is the same mind that is engaged, whether with literature or science. I have already endeavored to show that one who pursues 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? Why not get the points of the compass fixed in the natural way by reference to those great guides which alone are of any service to a mariner or explorer? Why not draw a map of the yard, and thus beget some real, tangible notion of the purpose of a map?
As all sciences involve the same methods and employ the same faculties, the choice of one to be studied in any particular case should be determined by such consideration largely as the location of the school, the qualification of the teacher, the extent of the equipment, and perhaps the tastes of the pupils. That branch will produce the best results which is most pleasurably and thoroughly pursued.
All pupils should at some period learn something of physics, though not necessarily mathematical physics. All require some knowledge of the properties of matter as such, and some idea of the forces and mechanism by which the results of industrial life, as well as those of Nature, are accomplished. Practical physics, as illustrated by what is going on around us, and by simple apparatus devised by scholars and teachers, will often serve every purpose. The cost of a chemical equipment depends on the size of the class and the extent of the work. Chemistry is more suitable for more advanced pupils and the better endowed schools.
But of far more importance than all other questions is How? We may have a teaching of so-called science that is a mockery of the reality.
It is surely now clear that any mere book teaching is worse than useless. It leads to no real knowledge, can give no healthy training of the faculties, and can lead to no sound development. He who can teach only by the book had better not begin. For pupils just commencing science it is doubtful whether it is not better for a while to avoid the use of text-books altogether. From first to last the student should be an investigator. This implies a great deal. It means that he shall desire to know and aim to learn the facts by one method and one only, viz., by seeking for them, as all that have ever found did, by the use of his natural faculties—i. e., by the use of his senses. All that any one can ever really know of any branch of science, let me repeat, is what he acquires by his senses—by feeling, seeing, etc. Whatever subject is pursued, this must ever be kept in mind. The teacher's guidance is invaluable in saving the pupil's time, economizing his energy, assisting in the comparison of results, and aiding in all the higher mental processes that lead to those generalizations which constitute the essence of science. But no teacher can be eyes and hands for any pupil, and to deprive the student of these organs, as all book teaching pure and simple does, is to cut at the very root of all true progress in development.
Nor should the investigating spirit be confined to the school and school hours. The pupil should he encouraged to observe on his own account and without guidance, and report the results. It is wonderful how much enthusiasm may be aroused in this way. The spirit spreads to the home circle, and the school becomes a quickening leaven to the whole community.
Every class and every school should have its museum. Of all kinds of mere hoarding, museum hoarding is the least objectionable. But the class museum especially should be the receptacle for objects that the pupils bring, thinking them especially suitable to illustrate certain points that have arisen. Sometimes the students prove so enterprising that the teacher's knowledge is severely taxed. But no teacher should be ashamed to admit ignorance. He may assume the attitude of an investigator with his pupils; indeed, that is the safest and healthiest way to put the matter. He is then an example of what he would have his pupils become.
It would be well that every school should have a library of books of reference on the subjects of science taught, and indeed on all subjects. The Encyclopædia Britannica is invaluable. Such a use of books as a last resort to aid in settling doubtful points is perfectly legitimate.
If any subject can not be taught by the natural method, that is sufficient to render it unsuitable for any particular class or school.
Physiology and hygiene are of great importance for medicine. All liberally educated people should understand these subjects. No graduate of a college should, in my opinion, obtain his degree without giving evidence of a practical knowledge of the general structure and functions of his own body. No doubt it would be well for the great masses to know the laws of life, and the dangers that beset them from mistakes and excesses. But physiology is perhaps the most difficult of all sciences, certainly the most difficult to teach well in schools. If it be not practical, based on actual observation, it may prove worse than useless. Book physiology is rubbish, utter rubbish. No doubt much useful hygiene may be taught in a practical way, by example rather than by precept; but the attempt to teach scientific physiology to very young pupils can, with few exceptions, end only in failure, and probably in much confusion and misconception. Physiology has been largely introduced into our schools. It would be interesting to know how many of the teachers have themselves a practical knowledge of the subject, and how many of the pupils really understand what they commit to memory. But all teachers, whether required to give instruction on this subject or not, should have a sound, practical knowledge of it, because of its great importance in school life.
There is no science which does not permit of simple experiments that may be introduced into any school. The pupils will delight in these, and they will prove a source of strength, pleasure, and inspiration. I am not, of course, to be understood as claiming that every fact that a child shall take cognizance of shall be gained through observation and experiment; but this is the ideal, and the nearer it is approached the better.
I again repeat that it is not the extent of ground covered, but the method, that is important. Let us not over-examine our pupils. How much in education is sacrificed to examination!
It has often occurred to me that if, in all schools, large and small, there was a certain portion of the time of each week set apart for the development of the general intelligence and moral life of the pupils in such way as the teacher saw fit, irrespective of any rigid course or time-table, it would be well. It should not be difficult to devise safeguards against the abuse of this by unworthy teachers. Readings, talks, short lectures, experiments, excursions, or any means the teacher may devise in harmony with the principles that underlie our organization, will aid in accomplishing the purpose in view. I do not refer to science alone, but to literature, and all that leads to a healthy development. Such a plan wisely put into practice gives tone to the entire school.
There is no limit to the means by which the great aim of education may be accomplished. As I have endeavored to show, the high purpose of education is development according to the laws of Nature as they are unfolded to us by the observations of every-day life, and especially by the study of brain physiology and of psychology. Those methods that harmonize with our organization are successful; all others fail. The child that is educated according to these laws is healthy, happy, and progressive. He leaves school not only uninjured in mind and body, but with the abounding physical and mental vigor that should characterize youth. His tendencies are toward investigation and application. He thirsts to know, and he understands how to enlarge the bounds of his knowledge. He desires to apply, and he can apply. His moral impulses are toward progress, harmony, and freedom of thought and action, and according to his natural endowments does he influence the world more or less, but always for good.
- The main portions of an address delivered under the auspices of the Royal Society of Canada, at its annual meeting in Ottawa, in May, 1892.
- The figures in this article are taken from Mills's Comparative Physiology, D. Appleton & Co., New York, 1890.