Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 23.djvu/223

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
211
SCIENCE-TEACHING IN THE PUBLIC SCHOOLS.

adapted. They are not made the means of cultivating the observing powers, stimulating inquiry, exercising the judgment in weighing evidence, nor of forming original and independent habits of thought. The pupil does not know the subjects he professes to study by actual acquaintance with the facts, and he therefore becomes a mere passive accumulator of second-hand statements. But it is the first requirement of the scientific method, alike in education and in research, that the mind shall exercise its activity directly upon the subject-matter of study. Otherwise scientific knowledge is an illusion and a cheat. As science is commonly pursued in book descriptions, the learners can not even identify the things they read about. As remarked by Agassiz, "The pupil studies Nature in the school-room, and when he goes out-of-doors he can not find her." This mode of teaching science, which is by no means confined to the public schools, has been condemned in the most unsparing manner by all eminent scientific men as a "deception," a "fraud," an "outrage upon the minds of the young," and "an imposture in education."

Nor has this criticism of bad practices been without its effect. We are met by the statement that much has been done in the public schools to escape the evils of mere book-science. The method of object-lessons has been extensively introduced into primary schools with the professed purpose of cultivating the powers of observation in childhood. It is claimed that this is a beginning in science; and, as it brings the mind into action upon things, is a corrective of the inordinate study of words. But object-teaching has not yielded what was expected of it, and is in no true sense a first step in science. Nothing is gained educationally by barely having an object in hand when it is talked about. Myriads of objects are present to the senses of people, but no insight follows. The observing faculties must be tasked if they are to be trained. The pupil is not to have the properties of objects pointed out, but he is to find them out. Science will do its work of educating the observing faculties only as they are quickened and sharpened by exercise in discrimination. The scientific aim is to replace vague confused impressions by clear and accurate ideas. Skill in the detection of nice distinctions is only gained by prolonged and careful practice. Object-lessons afford no such cultivation. We do not say that they are useless, but they are not the A B C of science, and do not as a matter of fact open the way to the proper study of the special sciences. This is their test and their condemnation. When the primary pupils have gone over their prescribed course of object-lessons and are passed on to a higher grade, strange to say the "objects" are suddenly dropped as if the objective method had been exhausted. In the technical phrase perceptive education is to be replaced by conceptive education. Instruction in elementary science is now to be carried on by what is known as oral-teaching. This method, as extensively practiced in the grammar grades of the public schools, is everywhere grow-