Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 23.djvu/225

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SCIENCE-TEACHING IN THE PUBLIC SCHOOLS.

formity among pupils which is not according to the facts. Wide personal differences of capacity, aptitude, attainment, and opportunity, not only exist among children, but they are the prime data of all efficient mental cultivation. In the graded schools, just in proportion to the perfection of the mechanical arrangements, individuality disappears. Special original capacity, the main thing, counts for nothing. The mind can not be trained in such circumstances to originate its own judgments. The exercise of original mental power, or independent inquiry, is the very essence of the scientific method, and with this the practice of the public schools is at war. Moreover, a system which deals with the average mind, and does not get at the individual mind, breaks down at the point where all true education really begins, that is, in promoting self-culture. The value of educational systems consists simply in what they do to incite the pupil to help himself. Mechanical school-work can give instruction, but it can not develop faculty, because this depends upon self-exertion. Science, if rightly pursued, is the most valuable school of self-instruction. From the beginning men of science have been self-dependent and self-reliant because self-taught; and it is a question whether they have been most hindered or helped by the schools. De Candolle, in his valuable book on the conditions which favor the production of scientific men, says that the discoverers, the masters of scientific method, have chiefly appeared in small towns where educational resources have been scanty; and that they have often been most helped by the very poorness of their teaching, which threw them back upon themselves. It was to their advantage that the schools were not so perfect as to extinguish individuality and thus destroy originality.

Our strictures are here upon the general working of the public school system; but we recognize that there are many exceptional teachers who do what they can to deal with science in the true spirit, while multitudes of instructors are chafing under present restrictions and groping after something better. The bad system is, moreover, continued chiefly from the lack of knowledge as to the possibilities of a better. But the better method of teaching science has been proved entirely practicable. The institution where we meet and many other science schools have shown it. A large number of teachers have demonstrated that various branches of science can be taught to the young by the true as well as by the false method. What is now most urgently needed is to gather from these experiences practical plans of improvement in science-teaching for the benefit of those who desire better guidance than they now have.

In his address as Rector of the University of Aberdeen, Professor Huxley said, "I would not raise a finger to introduce more book-work into every art curriculum in the country." We concur in this view, as applied to the present science-teaching in our public schools. We would not raise a finger to extend it.