Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 1.djvu/385

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.

are two factors in the case, a subject to be presented and a mental organism to be affected, and that the latter, instead of being of small account comparatively, is in reality the first and principal thing? Botany, like the other sciences, can be so presented as to stupefy the mind instead of awakening it. Book-science and scientific books, as generally used in schools, are as often baneful as beneficial; they are merely new resources for loading down the memory with verbal acquisitions. The overshadowing influence, in education, of language which is learned entirely from books, and is mainly an exercise of pure memory upon arbitrary signs and empirical rules, has so determined the habits of education that the sciences have been forced into the same method of acquisition, and the absurd practice still prevails of acquiring them by memorizing the contents of books. Even in botany, where the objects treated of are everywhere—overhead, underfoot, by the way-side, in the gardens, fields, yards, and even in the house, soliciting the attention and kindling the admiration continually—we have still the preposterous habit of studying the subject by committing book-lessons in the school-room. To begin botany in this way with children is worse than an absurdity, it is an educational crime. It violates the law of the mind, by making them learn in a forced and unnatural way that which should be acquired in an attractive and natural way; and, by inducing indifference or actual repulsion, it defeats rather than promotes the true objects of education.

Nor is the case at all helped where the author begins with a general injunction to study the objects themselves, and then leaves the pupil to make his own way without guidance, or, in attempting to guide him, puts him on a false track. This is the sin of Dr. Masters. He puts the beginner at the most complex work of botany the first thing. It is the old story of commencing to pick flowers to pieces, "to ascertain of what parts they are constituted, their number, their shape, in what manner they are pieced together, whether they are separate or joined together, what is their relative size and position in regard to one another, and so forth." The object is to reach classification at the earliest moment, so that the child can begin to name flowers and show off his botanical accomplishments. Although professedly writing for beginners, Dr. Masters tacitly assumes them to be adults, and capable of grasping at first the generalized results of the science. That he begins with the simplest flowers is but little mitigation of his bad method. To attack the most complex part of plant-structure at the outset, using microscopes and making dissections, however possible it may be for matured minds, is neither possible for children, nor is it the true order in which the science should be considered. There is a wide range of observation of the simpler parts of plants which are open to easy inspection, and it is to these that the beginner's attention should first be directed. The earliest thing to be done is to cultivate the art and the habit of observation, and then the pupil will pass naturally to the comparison of these simpler characters, and thus advance imperceptibly to the higher complexities of form and structure. This course is equally necessitated by the order of unfolding of the child's faculties, and by the order of facts in the science itself.

Science Primers. "Chemistry," by Prof. Roscoe. "Physics," by Prof. Balfour Stewart. D. Appleton & Co.

In these little volumes the authors have tried very hard to adapt the treatment of their respective subjects to the juvenile capacity, and with very fair success. We think them by no means perfect, but they are probably better than any thing else of the kind that can be got. They were prepared for the English schools, and are the result of the recent commendable effort to infuse more of the scientific element into general primary instruction. The Rev. W. Tuckwell, an able advocate of this reform, thus speaks of them in Nature:

These little books illustrate an imperfectly-accepted truth, that systematic elementary teaching is a late and not an early product of educational energy. The best head-masters of our schools have discovered the fallacy latent in our ancient belief that the ablest men are required to teach the oldest boys, and have, in one or two famous cases, acted on their discovery. It is easy for a young man fresh from university honors to pour his knowledge into minds which