Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 10.djvu/633

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.
615
EDITOR'S TABLE.

EDITOR'S TABLE.

 

BIOLOGY IN COMMON SCHOOLS.

WE call attention to the important paper sent to us by Prof. Huxley, on the study of biology. Science, as the highest expression, and the most accurate and methodical form of knowledge, is pressing its educational claims; and Prof. Huxley here offers us some very important considerations on the nature of biological science, and why and how it should be taken up in institutions devoted to mental culture. Perhaps no living man can speak with more authority upon this subject than Prof. Huxley, not only from his profound familiarity with this branch of knowledge, and his recognition of the demands of scientific education, but because of his own broad and liberal culture, which protects him from narrow views, and enables him to assign their relative values to different branches of study.

Nevertheless, when he comes to his fourth and final question as to "token biological study may be best pursued," we think he is less satisfactory than in dealing with his previous questions. This, as we look at it, is much the most important inquiry, and deserves a fuller investigation than Prof. Huxley had time to give it; while what he did say, from the use that will inevitably be made of it, will be liable to do more harm than good. Prof. Huxley is decided in the conviction that biological study should be made a part of ordinary school-training, and that it can be carried out with ease and profit to those who are taught. But he anticipates and yields to an objection which, as things are, will be certain to work the utter defeat of the study in "ordinary schools," and an objection, to the force of which, we think, he should not have made the slightest concession. He says, "There are difficulties in the way of a lot of boys making messes with slugs and snails." Prof. Huxley has here put his finger upon what is the formidable obstacle we have to encounter in the study of the real objects of Nature in common schools. Books, lessons, and recitations, are cleanly, and give no trouble; objects as matters of observation and study by individual pupils are dirty, cluttering, and untidy, if not messy, sloppy, and nasty. Experiments are tolerated, now and then, for an hour, when carried on by the teacher at one side, behind tables, or where assistants can clean up; and minerals and specimens are also allowed when they can make a show in inaccessible cabinets; but apparatus and objects of any sort, for the use of individual pupils—even microscopes, minerals, or plants—are the bore of the school-room, and the torment of tidy, methodical, and routine teachers. The superstition that education is purely a matter of books is profound and inveterate—so much so, that even the employment of blackboards, maps, and globes, is looked upon as something in the way of concession to the spirit of modern innovation. The ideal of the school is pure wordiness, with a minimum of bother from anything not included in the text-books.

As regards biology, of course, the difficulty takes its most aggravated form. There is a deeply-rooted and universal prejudice against the whole tribe of lower creatures, typified by Prof. Huxley's "slugs and snails." Our readers who have glanced at the biographical sketch, in the preceding pages, of an eminent Scotch naturalist, who has done noble work for science in his locality, will remember that he