Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 23.djvu/33

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PHYSICS IN GENERAL EDUCATION.

3. Course in general physics, involving a previous knowledge of trigonometry, and including laboratory work.

The other courses, up to ten in number, are elementary in their character, and do not concern the present investigation.

The report contains statistics gathered from nearly four hundred universities and colleges, agricultural colleges, and scientific schools. In nearly all of these the study of physics is pursued to a greater or less extent, although it appears that in some instances no report upon physics was forthcoming on account of ignorance as to what was meant by the word. Out of the whole number there were thirty-three institutions in which the instruction in physics fell within the limits established above. Of these there were four of the first rank, two of the second, and twenty-seven of the third.

In chemistry, however, laboratory instruction is to be found in at least one hundred and fifty institutions, the opportunities for instruction in this subject thus outnumbering those offered for similar instruction in physics in about the ratio of five to one. But it will be remembered that in this contest chemistry has many things in its favor, and that physics is handicapped by the great cost, relatively, of the first establishment, as well as by the lack of well-defined and systematic courses of instruction.

Taking it as a whole it will be admitted that there has been a rapid and, I believe, a permanent growth, and that the work has already become so extensive that it appears to be worth while to subject it to criticism, and to determine by conference and consultation what improvements, if any, might be suggested.

Admitting the necessity of the laboratory as a means of instruction in physics, two important questions present themselves: First, of the total amount of time given to the subject, what proportion should be spent in the laboratory? and, second, what should be the character of the work done there?

I shall not undertake to answer these questions, but will submit one or two conclusions which have been thrust upon me by observation and experience.

Concerning the first, something ought to be said. It will be remembered that the new instruction began at a time which was characterized not only by unusual scientific activity, but as well by what almost amounted to a revolution in educational processes. A great teacher. had told us that we studied Nature in books, and when we met her face to face she passed unrecognized. There sprang up a new method, the essence of which was that the mysteries of Nature could not be known at second-hand; that a knowledge of things could only be obtained by a contact with things themselves. The use of the text-book fell into disrepute, and the student was encouraged to become his own authority. It was as if all men were to cast aside their maps, globes, histories, books of travel, etc., and