Popular Science Monthly/Volume 17/September 1880/Zoological Education


By Professor W. S. BARNARD.

IT is the office of education to direct the mental growth of the individual; and this should be by a developing and not by a cramming process. In our present system there is too much burdening of the verbal memory, and too little of what may be called the objective memory, resulting from the exercise of the mind upon actual objects. What we want is more observation, more inductive reasoning, judgment, understanding—in short, intelligent thinking; but how little do we find of this in the prevalent method of education in institutions of all grades!

Ordinary courses of study do not include subjects upon which these various mental activities can be sufficiently employed. They consist too much in learning rules pertaining to language and mathematics and their deductive applications, and too little in the objective investigation of things, the making of generalizations and the investigation of laws. School facts and deductive sciences are means instrumental to business success; but they are not in themselves sufficient to carry on the work of mental development. But, even where natural science is taught in public schools, it is generally for a short time, late in the course, and by the old method of memorizing or parroting from books instead of making it a constant study of concrete objects, to which some time should be devoted on two or more days of each week throughout the student's whole career. This learning of nature from books alone is an impossibility, a deception, and a fraud, like the teacher's "can't for want of time and specimens," when the crops are suffering from insects which swarm everywhere, and the chief amusements of the boys are to go hunting and fishing.

Teachers should utilize what they can obtain by the help of students. This is dangerous for the unfitted instructor, because he will be constantly approached with new specimens and with questions he can not answer. Yet it is better to have books of reference at hand and look things up, or have the student do it, than to be robbed of the benefit. I knew a Western teacher who formed a class of students every year in some study of which he knew little or nothing, in order that he himself might be profited by learning with them. Those who teach other things well may venture to strike out boldly and improve themselves in some part of natural history of which they were ignorant at the outset; because it is better to swim than sink, though of course a good preparation is preferable.

No field is better calculated to improve the inductive functions than that of zoölogy—the highest department of biology—while some of its divisions are to he highly recommended on account of their great economic importance. The agriculturist has to deal directly and practically with only the two highest branches of the animal kingdom, with the jointed animals known as vertebrates and arthropods. To the first of these man himself belongs, and it is now admitted that the best and most practical way to acquire a knowledge of human physiology, anatomy, and development, is by studying the comparative physiology, anatomy, and embryology of vertebrates. Also, because our domestic animals belong to this group, with many of our friends among the birds, snakes, lizards, salamanders, toads, and fishes, it deserves special study. To the second branch belong the crab-like animals, the myriad-legged forms, those which are spider-like, and true insects, which are the highest of their branch. These we meet everywhere, at every step. They are the most abundant of all organisms, their number of species exceeding that of all other animals, with all the species of plants taken together. Every terrestrial plant and animal has its insect-pests, and these in turn have insectean destroyers, which are indirectly friends to the animal or plant. With the cultivation of extensive areas, the destruction of beneficial insects, of birds and reptiles, and their forest-homes, with the introduction of new food plants, and adaptive changes in the food-habits of insects, we favor the multiplication of our native pests, while to these we have added through commerce all the foreign marauders which can be brought with imported produce, and without the enemies which retard their increase in their own countries. At least thirty species of our most objectionable insects are derived from the Old World, among which are the dreaded currant-worm, the cabbage-worm, the cabbage-fly, the Hessian fly, the wheat-midge, the bee-moth, the apple-worm, the cabbage-lice, grain-weevils, the house-fly, the European cockroach, carpet and clothes moths and bugs, the asparagus-beetle, and the clover beetle. This group is commanding more and more attention by the great increase of its depredations from year to year.

For all these reasons, insects appear in near and important relations to man. On these accounts, but also because of the endless variety of wonderful and interesting habits and instincts among them, is their study especially recommended. Not only is the natural history of such creatures of practical value, but there is a peculiar fascination in its study that is highly beneficial in its influence, aside from the pleasure it affords. This is expressed by J. B. Hartwell as follows: "My soul is vexed, from day to day, because the writers of unrighteous fiction are so popular, while the devotees. . . of science and the promulgators of God's truths are to such a degree neglected, their writings unsought, unread. Yet not wholly so. I rejoice to believe that the number of students in the school of Nature is rapidly increasing. And I devoutly pray and hope that the beauties and attractions of nature may be so unfolded and presented that the youth of America may be turned from the unprofitable, innutritious, and demoralizing food of fiction to the bread and water of a true life."

The facts, details, and technicalities of this science are too immensely numerous to be taught with any great degree of thoroughness, except to such as make a life-specialty of the study. Yet a knowledge of its most interesting and important facts, principles, and methods, unencumbered with a strict scientific nomenclature, can be so quickly imparted as to bring it within temporal possibilities.

All educational institutions, and public schools especially, should be required to teach vertebrate and entomological zoölogy in a thorough manner, while the general characteristics of the other branches and a few of their more common and curious representatives should be briefly studied in addition.

The only way to bring practical entomology to agricultural minds generally, to the class with whom it is of greatest importance, is to require that it be taught in all public schools. It is a kind of knowledge which the young country student grasps easily and successfully when deprived of its unessential technicalities. Of such practical consequence is it, that it had better be taught at the expense of almost any other study of the usual courses, and some attention to it would be a great relief from unnecessary problems in abstractions which are often inflicted to a useless extent in early training.

It is a sad result of the failure to teach natural science in the public schools that our cultivators do not recognize their own interest and duty with reference to insects, and need to be forced by law to a sense of its importance, even when they appear as a great scourge and leave famine in their trail. Entomological legislation with respect to the locust plague in the West, like the German insect-laws ("Abraupgesetzen"), has been to a considerable extent beneficial, though it is often difficult to force the execution of such laws. There are strong reasons why we should have a set of insect-laws for all the States. They would be as useful and as easily enforced as the "game-laws," and those prohibiting the harboring of certain noxious plants, or of nuisances against which boards of health are organized. Only by some such arrangement can farmers be compelled to coöperate for their own interests and successfully combat the thieves which are robbing them of their produce, for there are plenty whose sense of obligation can only be aroused through government influence, and who will not educate themselves in this subject unless forced to it. Laws, even if not executed successfully, instruct the people as to their duties. We need legislation to enforce—1. The teaching of entomology and vertebrate zoölogy. 2. Coöperation in destroying insect-pests. 3. The protection of beneficial insects. 4. The protection of useful birds and their eggs, whether game-birds or not, throughout the entire year.

Where can the schools and teachers get the incentives and helps they need to prosecute the work proposed for them? They can obtain these through the influences of legislation, of educational boards, and of our higher institutions of learning. Members of educational boards especially should see that this new work be introduced and continually performed.

Here will naturally arise the question, What is being done in this line at Cornell University? Besides the general course in zoölogy, there are special courses pertaining to vertebrates and insects. In the anatomical department, the special anatomy of the domestic cat is worked up as a standard of comparison, and is followed by the anatomy of examples of the leading groups and of the domestic animals, while in the entomological department special attention is devoted to those insects which are most injurious or beneficial, or otherwise, of unusual interest. Our very complete collections illustrating these insects and their habits in all their stages of transformation exhibit almost everything pertaining to the subject, and are in glass cases where they can be studied at all times. Instruction is also given in the use of antidotes and other devices for opposing objectionable kinds. At the same time students may elect in any term special and advanced courses in—1. Economic entomology. 2. Systematic work on the classification of some group. 3. Comparative anatomy and histology of insects; or, 4. Comparative embryology and metamorphoses of insects or insect-biologies. These zoölogical studies are conducted with reference to their practical relations to the cultivation of crops, to the breeding and medical treatment of domestic animals, to human physiology and hygiene, and to the doctrines of evolution.

  1. Read at the University Convocation, Albany, New York, July 13, 1880.