Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 27.djvu/772

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

THE EARLY STUDY OF PLANTS.
By ELIZA A. YOUMANS.

IN the interesting articles, in previous numbers of "The Popular Science Monthly," entitled "An Experiment in Primary Education," by Dr. Mary Putnam-Jacobi, she makes courteous reference to my "First Book of Botany," while dissenting from certain points of its method. The objections, I think, indicate a partial misunderstanding of this method, and, as some of them have been made before and as I have just reissued the plan of study as a volume of "Descriptive Botany," in which the matters criticised remain unchanged, it seems desirable that the erroneous impressions should be corrected. This is the more needful, because of the weight of Mrs. Jacobi's authority in what may be called human science, and because her objections, though briefly stated, come as results of fresh study tested by careful and prolonged experiment. The chief points she makes are contained in the following passage, which is quoted from pages 618 and 619 of the September "Monthly":

"I suppose that most persons seriously interested in education are acquainted with Miss Youmans's admirable little 'First Lessons in Botany,' and the plea she makes for this science as a typical means of training the observing powers of children. According to her plan, the first object studied is the leaf—and the pupil is brought at once, not only to draw the leaf, but to fill out a schedule of description of it. Much may be said in favor of this method, which proceeds from the simple to the complex form, but it is by no means the only possible one; the writing part of the scheme is, moreover, impossible for a child who has not yet learned how to write. There is another method which consists in seizing at once upon the most striking aspect of the subject, and which shall make the most vivid impression upon the imagination. For this purpose the leaf is the least useful, the flower the most. The earliest botanical classifications are based upon the corolla, and, in accordance with a principle already enunciated, a child may often best approach a science through the series of ideas that attended its genesis. The conditions are different for an adult, who requires to get the latest results; the child's mind is always remote from these, but often singularly near to the conceptions entertained by the first observers. Again, it is unnatural to enter upon the beautiful world of plants by the study of forms and outlines—which is much better pursued when abstracted from all other circumstances, as in models of pure mathematical figures. But with plants comes a new idea—that of life, of change, of evolution. It is fitting that this tremendous idea make a profound impression on the child's mind; and this impression may be best secured by watching the