Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 23.djvu/31

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
61
PHYSICS IN GENERAL EDUCATION.

It seems, therefore, not improper to raise the question, What can this Association do, or, more specifically, what can this section do, to increase the efficiency of instruction in physics?

I do this the more willingly for the reason that a considerable majority of the members of the section are engaged in this instruction during the greater portion of the year. In America a few only are privileged to devote themselves to original research. Here instruction and investigation, to a great extent, go hand in hand, and it is generally admitted that it is better so. The teacher does not reach his greatest efficiency, indeed he must fail completely, unless he continues a student, not of the works of men alone, but of Nature herself. On the other hand, some of the best and most fruitful inspirations of the investigator spring from his contact with those to whom he is communicating the finished products of his work. The history of science goes to show that many, perhaps most of those who have contributed to its advancement, have been great teachers. We neglect our duty, then, when we fail to give attention at proper times and under proper circumstances to the improvement of methods of instruction.

Perhaps in no other department of science has a greater change in these methods been wrought during the last ten years than in physics. And yet this change has been going on in an irregular, unmethodical sort of a way. There has been little or no concerted action among those interested and engaged in the work. Although all have had practically the same end in view, each individual has, in the main, worked out his own solution of the problem in accordance with his own views, modified and often largely controlled by the conditions and restrictions to which he was subjected.

It is not surprising, therefore, that results attained should in many cases be widely different and, on the whole, not entirely satisfactory.

In this new instruction many things have been attempted that could not be, and some things that ought not to be, accomplished. That overburdened and somewhat obnoxious word practical has found a place in our vocabulary, and we hear much of practical instruction in physics, whatever that may mean.

The subject, considered as a whole, naturally divides itself into two parts, pertaining respectively to higher instruction and elementary instruction: instruction in the colleges and instruction in the schools. Let us briefly consider each of these.

In referring to higher or collegiate instruction, it will be remembered that I do not include that of the post-graduate course in the university, properly so called, for which laboratories for research are equipped and maintained, and to which students are admitted only when thoroughly prepared by previous training. Fortunately for American students, a few such courses in physics are now open in this country, and it goes without saying that those who are conducting