Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 73.djvu/34

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
30
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

boilers by men who would turn out dime novels or problem plays just as cheerfully if the literary current set in that direction. The student of realities in nature and the "nature-fakir" are not on speaking terms with each other.

Once the students cuts entirely loose from real objects, and spends his days among diacritical marks, irregular conjugations and distinctions without difference, his orientation is lost. He loses the distinction between what is inherently true and what is true by agreement among men. He does not go far enough to touch bottom again in the real science of philology. And the average American boy quits the high school in disgust because he can not interpret its work in terms of life—he can not see how its work is related to the world of things as they are.

As to the relative value of the sciences, that is a minor question. Those sciences are best which give largest play for observation and judgment. Those sciences are best which can be taught best, with most accuracy and most enthusiasm. In general, it is better to teach one science well than two imperfectly, and the reason for teaching any science is its helpfulness to the mind, not the fact that there may be money in knowing it. But to have any value at all the science we teach must deal with realities, not book-science. "If you study nature in books, when you go out of doors you can not find her."

And this, too, is a reason why manual training of some sort ought to form some part of every well-balanced school course. Training of the hand is really training of the brain. This is a motor world we live in—a world in which men do things. We of America are preeminently a motor people. We do things. What can I do with it is the first interest of every child. And to learn to do things with the hand is of greater value as mental training than the disentanglement of phrases, or the memorizing of lists of verbal irregularities. The development of manual training of some sort for all boys and girls will represent the greatest immediate forward step in secondary education. But the purpose of this training must be intellectual, not to teach a trade, and only secondarily to fit for the engineering courses of the universities.

As the third of the three most important duties of the high school, I would place the mastery of English. The student ought to learn how to write good English—clear, accurate and straightforward. He should read enough good English to know it when it is written. He should study poetry enough to know what it is about, and if he is to do any memorizing, there is nothing that enriches the mind so much as the memory of good verse. I do not know how good English can be taught. Most of the students who use it seem to have grown up in it rather than to have learned it in the schools. But it is the most