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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 44.djvu/66

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

based on the assumption that the known is simple rather than complex, is in parts rather than in wholes, and that the child's knowledge must of necessity be built up constructively or synthetically. There is some truth in this interpretation, but, followed out with children as far as we too often see it, it involves difficulties and errors of considerable magnitude. In this case, as in others, excessive generalization is dangerous.

Children's natural sequences are from wholes to parts, from the complex to the simple, from the superficial to what lies underneath, from the indefinitely known to the more definitely known, and the mental processes involved are analytical, especially in the early part of their school days. In this case, also, excessive generalization is dangerous. Undoubtedly, children acquire some knowledge synthetically, and as they approach adult life their powers of analysis and synthesis are increased by more frequent use, and no system or method that is excessive in either direction can be rightfully called scientific.

There is a time appropriate for working toward the profound and the sublime, but the start is fraught with danger. No method of teaching whose beginning is not definitely known can be called thoroughly scientific. So far as it fails to interest children, to make them use their own senses in the best manner, to make them think best in their own way, and to develop them best by means of their own activities, so far it fails to be scientific. If it succeeds only by reason of the teacher's great knowledge of the materials to be studied in a special line of work, or his "magnetism" or holding power, rather than by reason of the natural attractiveness of the things studied and the unobtrusive but skillful directive power of the teacher, it is unscientific. If it does not start independent motive powers, it is unscientific. The magnet seems to infuse life into iron filings, when placed near them, but when it is withdrawn they lie inert. Agassiz's method, as carried out by him, started many independent motive powers which are now vigorously at work throughout our land.

Among educational experts there is a difference of opinion as to where the best starting point is in teaching children elementary science. Dr. Mary P. Jacobi would use the flower in beginning to teach children botany, because it is the most attractive, makes the largest impression upon the senses, is easy of apprehension, and leads to the appreciation of specific differences. These are valid reasons, and might consistently be held by all who believe in that natural mode of working which embodies what the child likes, as clearly indicated by the history of the race, and what will develop his faculties in the happiest and most effective manner, such a mode as gave us Agassiz and Darwin.