Miss Youmans would begin with the leaf, on the assumption that it is simpler than the flower, and in tracing its scientific relations deeper intellectual pleasure is received.
The evolution of leaves into flowers is at the same time profound and sublime, outside of children's experiences and beyond their range of thought. Its teaching at the beginning results in cramming, however perfectly it may satisfy the demands of a philosophical but artificial system. Moreover, beginning with roots, as so many systematic teachers have done, and following with stem, leaves, flowers, and ending with fruits as the ultimate work of the plant, although logical to adults, full of regular sequences, and scientific from one standpoint, is unscientific from another. Children do not start to work with plants in that way, unless they are obliged to, but in a way diametrically opposite—attractive flowers and fruits first and unattractive roots last. It is certainly natural, although it may be heathenish and show their natural depravity for them to do so, but to scientific reformers they furnish an extensive field for missionary work in improving on the imperfect works of the Creator.
The uncertainty of where to begin and what to do in elementary science work during the last decade has resulted in much experimentation on the part of superintendents of schools, who are gradually feeling their way down to where the children are. They have entered on the work with unbiased minds, and, while laying no claims to scientific methods in conducting it, have thrown upon the subject valuable side-lights, which, if summarized and classified at a later day, will demonstrate what the scientific method with children must have for a basis.
In this work the scientific schools have played a very unimportant part. They are sending out graduates who do not know the principles of education, who have had but little if any experience with children in the schoolroom. Their efforts for a considerable time are nugatory, to say the least, if not mischievous, and tend to bring science work into disrepute and to make it seem impossible to any but specialists. Not only do they grope around when they attempt to teach the large classes inevitable in a city school, but the professors themselves have but little if any advantage when they "take hold." The methods and results of work in scientific schools are wholly admirable in the fields which such schools have thoroughly and honorably won; but as yet their methods have not been made suitable for different fields lower down. The methods of cultivating the hill country are in many respects unsuitable for the lowlands. The child's way of working is, or should be, different from the adult's. Many instructive illustrations of questionable methods may be given and added to indefinitely.