Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 79.djvu/139

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
135
THE INTERPRETATION OF NATURE

Only a few days ago, in a discussion of the perennially debated, but never settled, nature-study question, a gentleman affirmed with considerable warmth that as to subject-matter the teacher must teach what "is interesting to her." There we have in a nut-shell one of the chief factors in the sore inadequacy of nearly all our efforts at formal instruction. The supposed needs of the future men and women rather than the present capacities, curiosities and activities of the children determine both subject and method. What is interesting, not to the child, but to the teacher, is the thing to be taught from the vast stores of physical nature.

Unfortunately even this topsy-turvy theory does not get much chance to show itself at its best, for too often what the teacher is really interested in is her pay. Thanks to the alertness and omnivorous curiosity of most children, things would go better if each teacher could handle subjects that do genuinely interest her. As a matter of fact, it is often true that the topics taught are not those which thoroughly interest any one in particular; they are rather those which, it is held, ought to interest everybody. The course of study, like the famous Mr. Herbert Spencer, "goes fishing with a generalization" for the interest of the "average child," which has not yet been shown to exist in the flesh. No wonder the actual Jacks and Jills fail to rise to the highly rational and theoretically attractive bait.

I have recently examined a large number of elementary text-books in zoology and botany, and several general works on the theory and practise of teaching, and have been much interested to find how unmistakably and almost invariably they reflect biological and psychological doctrines which are thoroughly antiquated. The word "antiquated" I use with deliberation. Basal conceptions have to be overhauled now and then; that is the way civilization gets ahead.

It is obvious to me that Dr. Boris Sidis is on the right road doctrinally, and the example he has given us in educating his own son is most important. Looking at young Sidis through the eyes of a biologist, I see not necessarily a "mutant," or "sport," but the result of a carefully worked out demonstration in nurture. It is an experiment I am able to verify at any time by giving the feral, stunted plants of our dry mesa lands about San Diego a better chance through stirring the soil around them, or summer watering.

There is no doubt in my mind that under a thoroughly natural educational procedure carried on partly in the home and partly in the school, any boy or girl capable of being well educated might be better educated at seventeen than any but very exceptional students are now when they are invested as bachelors by our best universities. By "better educated" I mean more broadly educated, more accurately, and, above all, more sympathetically and growingly educated. One of the