I grant that literary students should study some one fundamental science more fully than I have indicated, as a guard against habits of superficiality; but if they are to make any such acquaintance as it seems to me that they should with the "circle of the sciences," it must be by means of synoptic culture courses, since their literary studies will of necessity claim most of their time.
Some scientists will think my proposal foolish and impracticable. It will seem to them absurd that a man should try to study chemistry, for example, especially on the side of its value for mental culture; that he should be vitally interested in the fundamental facts of metallurgy, in the law of definite and multiple proportions, and the atomic theory, and have only a very languid interest in bad smells and the details of the chemical laboratory. But I know that there are scientists whose standing is unquestioned who believe in the value and practicability of the courses that I am advocating.
Undoubtedly some work in natural science can be satisfactorily accomplished in the schools preparatory to college. The more external study of plants and animals should be made prominent here. Ornithology in particular, now that Mr. Chapman's admirable handbook and helpful works by others have been published, may well furnish delight and refreshment to the youth of the present and coming generations. Who can fail to be interested in birds—in voiced sunshine and winged music—especially when the appeal is re-enforced by such writers as John Burroughs, Olive Thorne Miller, Bradford Torrey, and Frank Bolles?
I can not think, however, that other branches of natural science can be handled in a manner adequate to the needs of a broad education in the secondary schools. A certain preparedness of mind for college courses and a very moderate amount of acquirement seem to be all that can be expected in many departments of science from such preparatory work; but I am not entitled to have a very definite opinion on this point.
If I say a few words in favor of natural science as a mental discipline, I shall take a line of argument that is not now popular. Still, the educational world has its fashions. Our present way of thinking, therefore, may change, at least to some degree; and mental discipline in education, the old idea of to-day, may become one of the new ideas of to-morrow.
Since Harvard University gave to its undergraduates practically complete freedom in the choice of the courses which lead to something that it was nevertheless decided to call the A. B. degree, the principle of election in undergraduate study has had free course and been glorified. Some persons would even claim that the various departments of study are substantially equal and identical in disciplinary power and general educational value.