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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 32.djvu/99

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GEIKIE ON THE TEACHING OF GEOGRAPHY.

gives a chance of distinction to boys and girls whose capabilities are not well tested by the ordinary lessons of school.

But, while laying his foundations broadly in this way and widening the knowledge of his pupils, the teacher will do well to keep clearly before him some definite goal toward which the discipline of the elementary stage is to lead up. Probably no object can be suggested more fitting for this purpose than the thorough comprehension of a map. The power of understanding a map, and getting from it all the information it can afford, is an acquisition which lies at the base of all sound geographical progress. Yet how large a proportion, even of the educated part of the community, have only a limited and imperfect conception of the full meaning and uses of a map!

There is happily now a growing recognition of the principle that adequate geographical conceptions are best gained by observations made at the home locality. The school and its surroundings form the natural basis from which all subsequent geographical acquirement proceeds. Upon a groundwork of actual observation and measurement the young mind is led forward in a firm and steady progress. The school-room and play-ground serve as units from which an estimate is gradually formed of the relative proportions of more distant objects and places.

During infancy we learn that things differ in size and in distance from us. How much they differ in these respects is found out more slowly, if indeed discovered at all. Among the peasantry many adults may be met with who have hardly advanced a step beyond the infantile stage of perception. And even among those who consider themselves educated, it is sometimes ludicrous to see how absolutely untrained they are to judge with even an approach to accuracy of the relative sizes and distances of things. One of the most useful lessons, therefore, in the elementary part of geographical instruction, is to accustom the pupils to appreciate differences of size and proportion by actual measurement. The most convenient unit of measure to start with is the length of a pace, while the school-room is the most convenient place to try the first experiments in mensuration. By multiplying the measurements they have taken at school, the pupils will appreciate how far it is from school to their homes, what distance separates their village or town from the next, what is the size of their parish or county, and so on to the country as a whole, and eventually to the dimensions of the earth itself, and of planetary space.

If want of accuracy in judging of the dimensions of things is a common failing, not less prevalent is want of accuracy in judging of their relative positions, or what is called orientation. We begin in infancy with the difference between our right and left hands, and recognize things and places as lying to the right or left of us. But many of us hardly get beyond this rudimentary stage. It is almost incredible how helpless even educated people often are if asked to tell