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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 61.djvu/406

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POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

Science, for a long time, was an insignificant feature of the college curriculum; its treatment was more elementary than that of history. The professor had an immense field to cover—the whole of nature aside from man's achievements in a few directions—but, while he taught many subjects after a fashion, he studied only one. The stock of knowledge was very small and anything new to one observer was likely to be new to all others. Investigation was a simple matter; ingenuity, industry and keen discrimination made up most of the necessary equipment; so that there were few earnest teachers who failed to contribute frequently to the common stock. But, by their earnestness, these men worked their destruction as investigators; for while each had his chosen field of study, he still covered the whole area as teacher. Many of the discoveries made by these men were startling and were discusssed in a more or less inaccurate way by the newspapers. Students sought explanation from the professor who was supposed to know everything. The botanist was puzzled by questions respecting chemical physics or psychology; the physicist was worried by questions respecting alleged discoveries in biology or geology. Practical application of newly discovered principles followed quickly to add to the teacher's trials. There was no longer time for special investigations and all one's energies had to be devoted to a vain effort to keep pace with investigations in the several directions.

The danger of this condition was recognized early in some of the older and wealthier institutions, so that in them, as in some of the newly organized and well-endowed universities, the fact was accepted that the several sciences were soon to be independent professions, and the departments of chemistry, physics, biology, psychology, geology, paleontology and mineralogy became practically schools, each with its own staff of professors and assistants.

But in too many of our colleges the danger was not recognized at an early period and in too many it is still unrecognized. Only a few of our institutions have more than four chairs in natural science, many have only two, and far too many are still in the sub-high school stage of only one. Yet the catalogues of such institutions offer a long series of courses, graduate as well as undergraduate, in several departments. A rather prominent college trustee not long ago informed the writer that a professorship of psychology or physics or geology is hardly equal in extent to one of Latin or pure mathematics. Yet any one of the chairs first named covers a group of subjects as unrelated as those embraced by the old-time chair of 'mental and moral science, history and belles lettres.' It is broader in scope than that other chair of 'ancient and modern languages' which existed in many colleges thirty-three years ago. A professor who teaches three branches of chemistry, physics or geology in three successive hours deals with three wholly