Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 2.djvu/717

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SCIENCE AND OUR EDUCATIONAL SYSTEM.

beautiful language of Herschel, along the delicate line of his analysis; no Draper, or Daguerre, or Talbot, had revealed the wonders of actinism; no Mayer or Joule had laid a sure foundation for the grand doctrine of the conservation of force; no Carpenter had unravelled the intricacies of nervous physiology, or analyzed the relations of mind and brain; no Agassiz had ridden down the Alps on the backs of the glaciers and proved their steady flow; no Darwin had lifted the veil from the mysteries of organic development; no Schiaparelli or Newton had put the harness of universal gravitation upon the wayward movements of the shooting-stars; no Mallet had presented an intelligible theory of volcanic flames and of the earth's convulsive tremors; no Kirchhoff had furnished a key to the intimate constitution of celestial bodies or a gauge of stellar drift; no Huggins, or Secchi, or Young, had applied the key thus presented to enter the secret chambers of the sun, the comets, the fixed stars, and the nebulæ; no Stokes had made the darkness visible which lies beyond the violet; no Tyndall had done the same for the darkness beyond the red, or had measured the heat-absorbing powers of aëriform bodies, or shown how the tremors of the ether shake asunder the elements of vapors. In short, that period of presumed scientific omniscience seems now, as we look back to it, but the faint dawning of a day of glorious discovery, which we dare not, even yet, pronounce to be approaching its meridian.

How much of all this has been due to our system of education? Among the great promoters of scientific progress before or since, how large is the number who may, in strict propriety, be said to have educated themselves? Take, for illustration, such familiar names as those of William Herschel, and Franklin, and Rumford, and Rittenhouse, and Davy, and Faraday, and Henry. Is it not evident that Nature herself, to those who will follow her teachings, is a better guide to the study of her own phenomena than all the training of our schools? And is not this because Nature invariably begins with the training of the observing faculties? Is it not because the ample page which she spreads out before the learner is written all over, not with words, but with substantial realities? Is it not because her lessons reach beyond the simple understanding and impress the immediate intuition?—that what she furnishes is something better than barren information passively received—it is positive knowledge actively gathered?

If, then, in the future we would fit man properly to cultivate Nature, and not leave scientific research, as, to a great extent, we have done heretofore, to the hazard of chance, we must cultivate her own processes. Our earliest teachings must be things and not words. The objects first presented to the tender mind must be such as address the senses, and such as it can grasp. Store it first abundantly with the material of thought, and the process of thinking will be spontaneous and easy.