effect. They will stumble, and they will even make stupid mistakes and mispronunciations; but do they not do so when they are reading—i. e., observing and comparing and interpreting—printed words in a book? Of course they do, and therefore the teacher must not be discouraged by their stumbling and misapprehending when first they have to look at and compare different leaves and flowers, and give forth the articulate sounds which correspond to the impressions created on their minds.
Every weary teacher knows what a blessing is variety in the studies of the class, and it passes my comprehension why advantage is not taken of the splendid opportunity offered by the study of elementary observational botany.
We now come to the important subject of method. How should botany be taught?
Elementary botany in schools should be confined to lessons in observation and comparison of plants, and the greatest possible care should be taken that books are not allowed to replace the natural objects themselves. Indeed, I would go so far as to advise that books be used only as an aid to the teacher, were it not that a judiciously written text-book might be employed later on by even young children as a sort of reading-book.
The chief aids should be the parts of living plants themselves, however, and, in spite of the outcry that may be expected from pedantic town teachers, I must insist that every school might be easily provided all the year round with materials for study. I even venture to think that these materials might be collected by the children themselves; at any rate, there should be no difficulty about this in the country.
I will illustrate these remarks by a few examples. The teaching of elementary botany to children should commence with the observation of external form, and might well be initiated by a comparative study of the shapes of leaves, the peculiarities of insertion, their appendages, and so on.
The point never to be lost sight of is that if you teach a child to discriminate, with the plants in hand and, from observation only, between such objects as the simple, heart-shaped, opposite, ex-stipulate stalked leaves of a lilac, and the compound, pinnate, alternate, stipulate leaves of a rose, you lay the foundations of a power for obtaining knowledge which is in no way to be measured merely by the amount or kind of information imparted. It does not matter whether the child learns the trivial facts mentioned above, or not, but it is of the highest importance that the child be taught how to obtain knowledge by such direct observation and comparison; and the beauty of it all is that, as is well known, the child will retain most of such information as mere matter of course.