Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 3.djvu/403

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WHILE there is great ado about methods in teaching this subject, and the "battle of the geographies" waxes fierce before the school boards, but few stop to inquire into the real claims of the study, and he who should venture to say that it has no business in schools at all, that it usurps time which had better be given to other things, and is of very low value as a means of mental cultivation, would be regarded as absurd. Yet such an idea is entertained by many thoughtful persons, and it increases in force as our educational system is more closely scrutinized.

In his celebrated inaugural address, at the University of St. Andrews, Mr. J. S. Mill remarked: "It has always seemed to me a great absurdity that history and geography should be taught in schools; except in elementary schools for children of the laboring-classes, whose subsequent access to books is limited. Who ever really learned history and geography except by private reading? and, what an utter failure a system of education must be, if it has not given the pupil a sufficient taste for reading, to seek for himself those most attractive and easily intelligible of all kinds of knowledge! Besides, such history and geography as can be taught in schools, exercise none of the faculties of intelligence, except memory."

If this very decisive verdict be thought merely the opinion of a theorist, it is easy to reenforce it by the judgment of practical men who speak from experience in the management of schools. A committee on "Text-books, and a Graded Course of Instruction," of the public schools of Milwaukee, in their report to the board of School Commissioners on the study of geography, say: "The committee have given the subject full and careful consideration, and have come to the conclusion that the study of geography, as now pursued in our schools, should be radically changed. Considering the time devoted to it, and the application required, we are of the opinion that no study is productive of results so meagre and unsatisfactory. It will not be contended that much is to be gained in the way of mental discipline from geography as taught in this city, and we might as well say generally throughout this country. The same amount of time and labor, bestowed upon many other branches of knowledge, would do a great deal more for development of the faculties of the mind. About the only positive result obtained is, storing the memory with an array of disconnected facts, which may indeed be made available in astonishing visitors at examinations, but are utterly useless as a means of unfolding the thinking powers. Nay, more, the very object of the study is defeated by the methods of instruction commonly in use. It is possible to find whole classes of pupils who have spent several years in 'learning geography,' and who can answer endless columns of questions in locating places; but who can in no sense be said to have acquired the knowledge which geography—rightly understood—is intended to impart."

They remark further: "The committee are of opinion that altogether too much time is devoted to geography in our schools. It seems to us that a sufficient knowledge of the subject might be acquired by considerably abridging the number of lessons, and giving the time to studies of at least equal importance, which are now sacrificed to make room for the geography recitations. A com-