An organization, known throughout New England as the "Teachers' School of Science," had been carried on since 1871 by the liberality of one person, Mr. John Cummings, a patron of the Society of Natural History. The faith of Mr. Cummings in the educational value of nature lessons was constant, as proved by his generous contributions year after year.
In the winter of 1878-79 the pecuniary responsibility of the "school" was assumed by two Boston ladies, Mrs. Pauline Agassiz Shaw, the daughter of Prof. Agassiz, and Mrs. Augustus Hemenway. Five hundred teachers attended this course of lessons upon the scientific method of teaching applied to the study of our common plants, animals, and minerals. Nearly a hundred thousand specimens were carried into the public schools, and the publication of the series of "Science Guides," to which we have referred, was begun, to aid teachers in their work. A new impetus was given to the movement, and an enthusiasm created which promised much for the future.
Eleven years have passed since nature lessons were embodied in the prescribed elementary course of the Boston schools. What is the position of these and other schools of our country on this subject? Do the leaders of the movement who are living to-day feel a sense of disappointment that the results have not been larger? The growth, it is true, has been slow; yet if those who are oppressed by the truth of this statement would compare the science work done in the schools to-day with that done ten or twenty years ago, they would surely bend to their oars with new courage. That work can be briefly described: the quantity was extremely small, and the quality exceedingly poor.
We are beginning to recognize the fact that science lessons can not exert their legitimate influence so long as they are not included in the prescribed curriculum of study, but depend for their life upon the option of the teacher. I have endeavored to obtain exact information on this subject. In New England there are eighty-seven cities and towns whose schools are provided with a superintendent. Of these, eight include lessons on plants, animals, or minerals in their prescribed courses of study, under the head of "Observation and Elementary Science Lessons," or of "Plants, Animals, Minerals." Fifteen include such lessons under the head of "Oral Instruction." Eleven take up natural objects in connection with language and geography lessons. Five are revising their courses of study, three of which are including observation lessons. Four have not replied to my letter of inquiry This leaves forty-four cities and towns whose elementary courses do not include nature lessons.
Personal interviews and correspondence with educators in
- See "List of the School Superintendents," for June, 1888.