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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 44.djvu/68

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

Not long ago one of the distinguished botanists of this country put into the hands of his pupils a sixteen-page syllabus containing full outlines of lectures on the seed—origin, structure, and uses; the stem and root; the leaf—structure and function; the flower—form and use; the fruit—kinds and functions; ferns, mosses, algæ, and fungi. The whole was covered in six lectures, and the published account bore the title Beginnings in Botany. If the scientific method, or any other, will insure such a work being well done, starting with no knowledge of the subject on the student's part, it has much to commend it to the attention of teachers of science.

Another scientist, who claims to teach by the "natural method," advocates a course of study on animals in the primary schools, which includes the study of the following subjects to be taken up in the order given: starfish, sea urchin, and the same compared; the earthworm; a bivalve shell, clam shell, oyster shell, and the same compared; snail and snail shell; classification of shells; lobster, crab, and the same compared; habits of crabs; and an excellent line of insects.

The attempt here made to select subjects in a natural (?) sequence is attended with some drawbacks. Away from the sea-coast all of the material named, except insects, would have to be brought from a greater or less distance, and, being out of the range of the children's common field of observation, would necessitate more or less cramming. Things seen only in the schoolroom do not make the deepest impressions. An extensive use of imported material is directly opposed to Agassiz's injunction to use the material nearest at hand.

Moreover, it is worth while to remember that materials and methods which are serviceable enough in teaching adults often become forced and mechanical in teaching children. It should not be taken for granted that the teacher's sequences, laboriously studied out or taken from some book, are the pupil's sequences, or that he can assimilate them. Prof. McMillan, of the University of Minnesota, says: "No mistake could be greater than to suppose that the sequence most logical for the trained intellect is necessarily the best method of presentation to the novice. In our zeal to eliminate evils of systematic botany we are prone to introduce evils of anatomical botany no less great and equally to be avoided." So in our efforts to prevent pupils from being overwhelmed with information "away over their heads" and almost entirely the product of the adult mind, we have taken on the shackles of a rigid system or scientific method, also the product of the adult mind for the adult mind, and between the two methods the children have generally come to the ground.

One of the best illustrations of the uncertainty that exists as