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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 38.djvu/379

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ELEMENTARY BOTANY IN GENERAL EDUCATION.

easily attained means of cultivating in children the powers of observing and comparing direct from Nature, and of leading them to generalize accurately.

Of course, no advocacy is needed for good preliminary education in elementary botany in the case of those who are about to continue the pursuit of the subject as an academic study, or for a special purpose, as noted under the headings (2) and (3); but a few words may be devoted to pointing out the shocking waste of time and energy on the part of all concerned in the prevailing cases where students come up to a university, or other institution for higher education, insufficiently prepared for progressive study.

It is still true that boys and young men leave school without so much as a notion of the real meaning and aims of science; this applies no less to subjects like physics and chemistry, which are professedly much taught in schools now, than to subjects like natural history and botany, which, though avowedly in the curriculum of some good schools, are usually entirely ignored.

There is considerable discussion about the details, but many practical teachers regard such subjects as unfitted for school, because the boys and girls soon cease to be interested, and get lost in the masses of facts and hard names that beset their path; this, to my mind, simply shows where the whole system is wrong, and wrong because the tyrant empiricism still rules the prevailing methods of teaching in schools.

I shall go so far as to say that the only remedy for this state of things is for the teachers to lose that blind worship of facts, as facts, which dominates our school system. I am aware that this lays me open to very serious misconstructions, but I hope to make that all right in the sequel.

I would say to the teachers, therefore, Do not fall into the mistake of measuring a boy's progress by the amount of dogmatic information which he imbibes, and splutters forth upon his examination papers, but look to the quality of his understanding of the relations between relatively few and well-chosen facts; and again, pay less attention to the number of facts which a boy observes and of names he remembers, and more to the way in which he directly makes his observations, and intelligently describes them, even if untechnically.

This is, I firmly believe, the only cure for the malady under consideration—i. e., it is the prevention of it.

Children in schools are taught most subjects from printed books, and it is not my province to criticise the necessity of this as regards those subjects; but let a competent teacher try the experiment of making the children read directly from Nature, and he will soon see that the new exercises have a powerful