IT is the office of education to direct the mental growth of the individual; and this should be by a developing and not by a cramming process. In our present system there is too much burdening of the verbal memory, and too little of what may be called the objective memory, resulting from the exercise of the mind upon actual objects. What we want is more observation, more inductive reasoning, judgment, understanding—in short, intelligent thinking; but how little do we find of this in the prevalent method of education in institutions of all grades!
Ordinary courses of study do not include subjects upon which these various mental activities can be sufficiently employed. They consist too much in learning rules pertaining to language and mathematics and their deductive applications, and too little in the objective investigation of things, the making of generalizations and the investigation of laws. School facts and deductive sciences are means instrumental to business success; but they are not in themselves sufficient to carry on the work of mental development. But, even where natural science is taught in public schools, it is generally for a short time, late in the course, and by the old method of memorizing or parroting from books instead of making it a constant study of concrete objects, to which some time should be devoted on two or more days of each week throughout the student's whole career. This learning of nature from books alone is an impossibility, a deception, and a fraud, like the teacher's "can't for want of time and specimens," when the crops are suffering from insects which swarm everywhere, and the chief amusements of the boys are to go hunting and fishing.
Teachers should utilize what they can obtain by the help of students. This is dangerous for the unfitted instructor, because he will be constantly approached with new specimens and with questions he can not answer. Yet it is better to have books of reference at hand and look things up, or have the student do it, than to be robbed of the benefit. I knew a Western teacher who formed a class of students every year in some study of which he knew little or nothing, in order that he himself might be profited by learning with them. Those who teach other things well may venture to strike out boldly and improve themselves in some part of natural history of which they were ignorant at the outset; because it is better to swim than sink, though of course a good preparation is preferable.
No field is better calculated to improve the inductive functions
- Read at the University Convocation, Albany, New York, July 13, 1880.