Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 79.djvu/134

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Yet, in spite of this shining program, very, very few general students elected zoology and little glow of enthusiasm could be seen on the faces of those who did. Students in need of some biological knowledge for their later professional studies, and drifters from the nonscientific departments of the university in need of credits for graduation, were the chief constituency of the successive classes. Undoubtedly a few earnest men and women sought the course out of genuine desire for knowledge of the kind it was supposed to furnish. But how scattering these were I see as I look back in memory over the groups that came and went year by year.

And were my efforts of no avail at all? Did nothing whatever lodge permanently and potently in the minds of those students? I try to believe the case is not quite as bad as that, for the lectures and the laboratory work were given with much conscientious preparation and with real labor in the actual doing. Probably the level of general intelligence of the men and women who took the course is somewhat higher than it otherwise would have been. That is all, I much fear, that can be rightly claimed. None but we teachers whose professional reputations and personal interests are at stake will maintain for an instant that this is enough. Our teaching of botany and zoology has failed miserably, judged by what is due from it to the spiritual side of men's lives and to the higher reaches of civilization. Why? The central reason is clear: It is that certain fine-spun theories about "life," rather than animals and plants themselves, have been the main spring of our teaching. The metaphysics of biology and the microscope have stood as almost impenetrable screens between the perennially-interesting, everywhere-present, easily-seen facts of the living world, and the natural responsiveness of young learners.

We have not been metaphysicians by intent or even consciously. Indeed, a supposed fidelity to objective reality has made us loud in denunciation of metaphysics. Nevertheless, "fundamental questions," "ultimate problems," "complete explanations," "final solutions" and other phrases which abound in many biological discussions held as strictly up-to-date are but thin disguises, to discerning eyes, of genuine metaphysics. Far be it from me to pronounce general condemnation on metaphysics. Every domain of knowledge has, from the nature of things must have, its particular metaphysics. The indictment against metaphysics in this case is two-fold. First, metaphysics belongs by right only to advanced stages of learning in all fields, and so has no business whatever in formal instruction of the young. Second, the metaphysics that has dominated recent biology, while being bad in many ways, is especially sinister in its influence on education. Materialism, the theory now in widest favor, and vitalism, its chief rival, might be classed together so far as concerns some of their most essential