« PreviousContinue »
In this way
The fear that the study of natural science will render the pupils averse to that of languages can have no substantial basis, except when it is made a mere superficial diversion, instead of a serious and thorough study. In this latter case it does not seek merely an unintelligent communion of the senses with the material world, but the development of words, as an intellectual blood, from silent examination; an adequate translation of intuition into words. it has the greatest influence upon thorough cultivation in the mothertongue; a cultivation which proceeds from things themselves. And, as the poet says, the mother language is the mother of languages; what is useful for the former is indirectly favorable to the acquisition of the others.
I have even seen cases where the study of natural science first awoke a real liking and capacity for language. Things which the beginner at first sees corporeally, singly, which it is difficult for him to comprehend and to survey to his satisfaction, have afterward, under the dominion of the senses and the understanding, and by means of language, become arranged together, connected, describable, in short thoroughly understood. One name describes innumerable individual substances; and the natural philosopher sets down upon a few pages, briefly and clearly, the result of many years' investigations. The student feels doubly the magic power of words for having first felt the resisting power of the material world; and lie experiences a pleasure as if, after a long and wearisome journey on foot, he should suddenly receive wings, and ascend easily and swiftly into the hights of the air, looking down upon the long, weary way over which he had before been traveling.
But the thorough mastery of one subject of study trains the student to thoroughness in others, even the most different. If he has acquired, by his studies in natural science, a clear, definite, and sure view and comprehension of the creation, and a corresponding power of expression, he will afterward acquire similar clear and definite conceptions as to language, and will learn to speak and write clearly and definitely on whatever subject he understands.
The influence of natural science will be especially valuable upon the study of history. The former pursuit requires, unconditionally, humble and self-denying views of the material world, and treats as absurd that silly or proud obstinacy which would lay down narrow limitations, and then confine nature within them; and thus it educates the mind to the habit of forming clear and undistorted views of things. And a mind thus trained becomes capable of ready and correct views of men and human life. It can recognize, in minerals and plants, and in men also, a fixed and unvarying plan; and all disfigure
ments or distortions, for the sake of aiding any superficial theories, will be painful to it.
It is common, in gymnasia, to give only one, or at most two, hours' recitation a week to studies not reckoned as important as those we have been discussing--as geography, for instance; and this plan is often carried through three or four years, in successive classes. This, it seems to me, is an unfortunate method. It occasions those studies to be esteemed mere side-studies, of which a less thorough knowledge will serve.
The pupil is sure to see this, and governs himself accordingly. If he receives, for instance, twelve hours' instruction a week in Latin and but two in geography, he not only estimates that the value of Latin is to that of geography as twelve to two, but he takes less pains in studying his geography, because his teacher is less strict in his requirements in it. And his examination and testimonials will only confirm his views on this point. But no pupil should esteem any thing which is taught him a secondary study.
Instead, therefore, of creeping along in this spiritless manner through several classes, at the rate of one or two hours a week, it would be much better to devote as much as four hours a week to the study during a year, and then to stop. Natural science, for instance, might be studied for one year at four hours a week, and geography in its place the next year; and so on. This plan would give the pupils a liking for the study, as they would feel that it had some life in it; whereas, the other inode would render it tedious and long protracted, and would afford them no pleasure at all, and least of all that of thorough learning and investigation.
If the boys bave, in the under classes, got the ideas of minerals and plants well impressed on their minds, there need be no fear that they will forget them. These ideas may perhaps pass a little out of fresh remembrance; but, in the second grade of the study, at the university, they will soon return again. The student will not then have to work
ир his lessons with a botanical band-book, by means of laborious comparison of descriptions; he will at once know that this flower is a daisy and that a dandelion, because he has always known it from a boy. He will not have to learn what the flower is, but only its Latin scientific name; and thus he can bring to the more comprehensive and profound investigation of the vegetable world eyes and understanding already trained.
EXTENT OF ACQUIREMENT. I allude once more to the perplexity and doubts which, in view of the extent and depth of the natural sciences, must annoy the teacher who does not know how and where to begin, toward what end to
look, and what way to pursue. I have already in part shown how these difficulties may be overcome.
But the question to answer here is, whether knowledge of nature, and pleasure in it, are the exclusive privilege of the learned by profession; and, further, of that portion of them who have reached the highest point of learning ? Are there not degrees in knowledge; and can not even the beginner find pleasure in the truth of that degree to which he has attained, if it be really truth? The teacher need not trouble himself about the 78,000 species of plants, nor the difficulty of classing the gramineous and umbelliferous plants. Let him take pleasure in his success, if his pupils have become acquainted with a few hundred characteristic plants, and have studied closely the growth of a few of them from their first sprouting to the ripening of their seeds.
Similar principles are true in the other departments of natural his tory. Most of my scholars in mineralogy have been able to devote to it but one half-year. My task was, to determine what they could learn within this time—not balf-way and dimly, but wholly, clearly, and surely; and thus I dared not fix my limit at too great a distance. Where I did fix it will bereafter appear. At present I will only say that my best pupils acquired a satisfactory acquaintance with the most important, simple, and clear species of minerals,* and a clear perception, derived from actual observation, of the consistent laws which prevail throughout them. It is a consideration which may console the teacher of natural science, for the low degree of knowledge reached by his pupils, that even the greatest masters, who have attained to the highest point of learning, have confessed, with ingenuous humility, how much was that of which they were ignorant.
BEGINNING, “We hare but little solicitude,” I think I hear some say, “ for the more or less of knowledge of pature which our pupils shall attain, but much about our own ignorance where and how to begin instructing in it. For we are convinced that eminent men have fallen into error on this point.”
The difficulty of adopting the right mode of beginning occurred to me when, twenty-five years ago, I undertook to give practical instruction in studying mountainous countries to the Prussian mining pupils ; and induced me to write the following considerations upon the commencement of geognostic studies.
I will now state the method which, in my opinion, the student should follow. *Such as fluor spar, lead glance, iron pyrites, garnet, &c.
This is an expression which has a very different meaning in the mouth of the master and in that of the scholar.
He should first examine, in all directions, the neighborhood of his residence, and should make himself so thoroughly acquainted with it that he can call it up before his mind whenever he chooses. Such an acquaintance is the result of the unconscious and fresh pleasure which youth, joyful and free from scientific anxieties, will find for itself in such an examination, obtaining in this artless way a simple general impression of the vicinity, not forced upon him artificially by a teacher. He is not teased, while he is rejoicing in the blue heavens and the rapid motions of the clouds, in the oak woods and flowery meadows, where the butterflies play, by a professor with a kyanometer, to measure the blue of the sky with, nor by a recommendation not to stare into the woods, but rather to ascertain whether the oaks are Quercus robur or Quercus pedunculata ; or, not to look at the flowers in the meadow all at once, as if they were a yellow carpet, but to take his Linnæus and determine the species of this ranunculus. No entomologist is setting him to chase butterflies and impale them. Neither is the youth, when inspired to devotion by the snowy Alps, glittering in moonlight, like so many spiritual, silvery forms of giants, annoyed by a geologist talking to him of granite, gneiss, and limestone, or of the junction and inclination of strata. The young enjoy the heavens and the earth as a susceptible painter or an ingenuous poet does. In this first paradisaic pleasure is planted the seed of the perception of an intellectual world, whose secrets will not be fully ascertained and understood even after the longest and most active life of scientific effort. But most teachers, by the dispersion of these simple impressions of nature, forcibly destroy these earliest pleasures of children, the brightness of the imaginary world which they see. Even the great Pestalozzi falls into an error on this point, when he
that " It is not in the woods or meadows that the child should be put, to become acquainted with trees and plants. They do not there stand in the order best calculated to display the characters of the different families, &c.” That is, we ought to take the child into a botanic garden, arranged on the Linnæan system, so that he may study plants in the order of their species. To me this seems like saying that the child ought not to hear a symphony, because that would be a mere chaos of sounds to him; he should rather have played to him, first, the first violin part, then the second, then the parts for the bass viols, the flutes, clarionets, trumpets, &c. It is true that in this way he would hear the separate parts, but not the bond of thought which makes them a symphony.
Jahn was much more judicious in his gymnastic walks, when he said, not "we are going botanizing, geologizing, or entomologizing,” but merely, “ we are going to walk.” How much more uaturally do our youth, wlien the bird-of-passage instinct seizes them at the university, wander through the father-land and rejoice in its grandeur, and lay it deeply to heart, without
any idea of a preinature, and painful, and usually repulsive studying of any particular subject. I hate this analyzing and lifeless elementarizing of the first youthful impressions of nature-this foolish, superficial, heartless, frivolous directing of the understanding prematurely out of its natural path—which is so sure to chill the youthful heart and render it old before its time. The utmost attainments of a mind thus trained must be- unless aided by remarkable natural qualities—to observe with the bodily eye; to use the reason, but not with pleasure; to derive mere lifeless ideas from creation; and to represent the objects thus conceived in equally lifeless descriptions, like the ghastly wax figures which afford a repulsive imitation of living men.
There is, however, a mode of learning intelligently, which is not chilling, but thoroughly genial and appropriate. But, it should be observed, the mode of instruction just described has a diametrical opposite in that whose advocates despise the adult reason, and would constrain themselves to remain children always-to feel, and only to feel. Among these advocates are prominent the numerous disgusting, pitiful poetasters of our time, who undertake to deal with nature in 80 remarkably childlike a manner. Their false simplicity and innocence is to real childlike innocence what a French actress, who plays the smart chambermaid, is to a truly noble young damsel. Ile who feels himself a man should endeavor in manly wise to understand and represent nature with as deep poetic feeling, and as gigantic understanding, as that which Sbakspeare used in delineating men and life. But I return to my subject.
If the first mental growth of the young is watched over in holy quiet, the results of the mode of training which I recommend, how prosaic soever they may appear, will not be prosaic. The recollection of youthful devotional premonitions will become a hope of realizing them, and will enliven, strengthen, and inspire every effort. After you have enjoyed the unmingled, complete, rich pleasure of a full symphony, you willingly undertake the wearisome labor of becoming familiar with each part of it; for each is to you not a dead thing, but a living portion of the whole symphony, whose collective remembrance lives in your soul. And if now, knowing all the separate parts, you hear the symphony again, you hear with pleasure both each separate part and the united sound of all; and your apprehension of the whole symphony, previously simple and obscure, develops and becomes clear.
In a similar manner the learner proceeds, from passively offering himself to receive impressions, from an artless susceptibility to the