States just now are the extent to which boys go into electricity, particularly wireless telegraphy; and the extent of their mastery over the automobile. Nothing has astonished me more than the quickness and thoroughness with which I have in several instances seen boys of from six to ten years learn the automobile when one has come into the family for the first time. I believe thousands of men throughout the land will bear witness from their own observations that an ordinary lad of ten will learn an automobile as readily and nearly as thoroughly as a full-fledged man, and with no seeming effort whatever.
How long, I ask any school teacher, do you suppose it would require for the same boy to master the automobile with equal thoroughness, were it to be taken into the school and studied in the usual school way with no other interests and notions than those ordinarily present in school learning? My own earlier experience as a teacher in the elementary schools, and my later observations on learning and acquiring skill, lead me to venture the opinion that no matter how long a boy should be taught the automobile by school methods under school conditions, he would never gain such a mastery over it as thousands of boys are now doing in a month or six weeks with no particular instruction at all. The principle is the same, I take it, as that of learning languages. We ordinarily make the sharpest distinction between native and foreign tongues. As a matter of fact, there is no such distinction to a child beginning to talk. To it one language is as native or as foreign as another and two or three, who knows how many? will be acquired simultaneously and with equal facility during the proper language-getting period and under the exigencies of real life.
The point for education is that in our systems as they are, the natural correlations between the stages of individual development and subjects to be acquired, native curiosity and interest, spontaneous spiritual and physical activity, and social and other environmental impingements upon the growing boy and girl, are given the most haphazard attention by those who make and operate the systems. In the matter of the child's contacts with and attitude toward natural history, I merely point out how objectively and largely a child's first knowledge is biological. Its contacts with its mother and its nurse, through all the avenues to its inner life, are continuous and vital. The first hours and days and months of a babe's life are a continuous laboratory course in biology. Then come the earliest wider contacts and noticings and curiosities and attentions and movings about. Think of the inevitable conquest of the family cat and dog, and the cow, the horse, the pig, the sheep, if by good fortune the youngster's world contains these animals. The nursery and the toy-shop, not the schoolroom and the educational supply store, tell the story of how the natural education of children runs.