Chapter X


Section III

HUXLEY’S axiom that science teaching in the schools should be of the nature of ‘common information’ is of use in defining our limitations in regard to the teaching of science. We find another limitation in the fact that children’s minds are not in need of the mental gymnastics that such teaching is supposed to afford. They are entirely alert and eager to know. Books dealing with science as with history, say, should be of a literary character, and we should probably be more scientific as a people if we scrapped all the text-books which swell publishers’ lists and nearly all the chalk expended so freely on our blackboards. The French mind has appreciated the fact that the approach to science as to other subjects should be more or less literary, that the principles which underlie science are at the same time so
simple, so profound and so far-reaching that the due setting forth of these provokes what is almost an emotional response; these principles are therefore meet subjects for literary treatment, while the details of their application are so technical and so minute as,—except by way of illustration,—to be unnecessary for school work or for general knowledge. We have not a copious scientific literature in English but we have quite enough to go on with in our schools. We find an American publication called The Sciences (whose author would seem to be an able man of literary power) of very great value in linking universal principles with common incidents of every day life in such a way that interest never palls and any child may learn on what principles an electric bell works, what sound means, how a steam engine works, and many other matters, explained here with great lucidity. Capital diagrams and descriptions make experiments easy and children arrive at their first notions of science without the verbiage that darkens counsel. Form IIA read Life and Her Children by Arabella Buckley and get a surprising knowledge of the earlier and lower forms of life. IIB take pleasure in Kingsley’s Madam How and Lady Why. They are expected to do a great deal of out-of-door work in which they are assisted by The Changing Year, admirable month by month studies of what is to be seen out-of-doors. They keep records and drawings in a Nature Note Book and make special studies of their own for the particular season with drawings and notes.
          The studies of Form III for one term enable children to—“Make a rough sketch of a section of ditch or hedge or sea-shore and put in the names of the plants you would expect to find.” “Write notes with drawings of the special study you have made this term.” “What do you understand by calyx, corolla, stamen, pistil? In what ways are flowers fertilised?” “How would
you find the Pole Star? Mention six other stars and say in what constellations they occur.” “How would you distinguish between Early, Decorated and Perpendicular Gothic? Give drawings.” Questions like these, it will be seen, cover a good deal of field work, and the study of some half dozen carefully selected books on natural history, botany, architecture and astronomy, the principle being that children shall observe and chronicle, but shall not depend upon their own unassisted observation.
          The study of natural history and botany with bird lists and plant lists continues throughout school life, while other branches of science are taken term by term. The questions for Form IV for one term illustrate the various studies of the scholars in natural history, general science, hygiene and physiology; in fact, their studies are so various that it is difficult to give each a separate title in the programme:—

1. Write a short sketch of Central Asia, with map.
2. Compare Palestine with the Yorkshire moors. Describe the valley of the Jordan.
3. “There is but one Nelson.” Illustrate by half-a-dozen instances.
4. What is said in Eöthen of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre?

1. What do you know of (a), the manatee, (b), the whale- bone whale (sketch of skeleton), (c), porpoises and dolphins?
1. Describe (a), quartz crystals, (6), felspar, (c), mica, (d), hornblende. In what rock do these occur?
2. What do you know of insectivorous plants? Name those you know. 3. What circumstances strike you in a walk in summer?

1. What do you understand by,-(a), electrical attraction, (6), repulsion, (c), conductors, (d), insulators, (e), methods of obtaining electricity?
2. Prove that “you never see matter itself,” and show how sight gives us knowledge.

1. Describe the structure of the human ear.

          Perhaps Some Wonders of Matter by Bishop Mercer is the most inspiring of the half-dozen volumes in current use in Form IV for this section of their work. The questions indicate the varied nature of the work and the answers shew that in every case the knowledge is fairly wide and thorough. All the children in the school are usually ready to answer each question on the work of the term. Forms V and VI again cover a wide field as the following questions on a term’s work sufficiently indicate,—

VI. 1. Show how the discovery of the New World affected England in commerce and war.
2. According to what general law is life distributed on the earth?
3. Describe the Siege of Mexico by Cortes, and its surrender.
VI. & V. 4. How has the war affected (a), Luxembourg, (b), the Eastern frontier of Belgium, (c), Antwerp and the Scheldt?
V. 1. Show how the Restoration affected our American possessions.
2. Show accurately how longitude is determined.
3. Sketch the history and character of Montezuma.

VI. 1. Discuss fully (a), the cause of radio-activity, (6), gravitation.
2. What have you to say of the scenic aspects of the English Trias ? Name a dozen of the fossils. Sketch half-a-dozen. V. 1. Give as full an explanation as you can of colour. 2. Describe the composition of the igneous rocks. Where do they appear ? BIOLOGY, BOTANY, ETC. VI. 1. What are the characters of the backboneless animals ? Describe half-a-dozen examples.
2. Describe and account for the vegetation of (a), wood- lands, (b), heath, (c), moorland, (d), meadow.
V. 1. How would you classify the industries of animals? Give examples.
2. Describe the flora of the seashore.
VI. & V. 3. Describe, with drawings, the special study you have made this term.

VI. 1. What do you understand by precession? Describe the precession and mutation of the earth’s axis.
V. 1. Write an essay on the planet Mercury.

          If we wanted an excuse for affording children a wide syllabus introducing them at any rate to those branches of science of which every normal person should have some knowledge, we find it in the deprecatory words of Sir Richard Gregory in his Presidential Address in the Education Science Section of the British Association. He said that,-—
          “Education might be defined as a deliberate adjustment of a growing human being to its environment, and the scope and character of the subjects of instruction should be determined by this biological principle. What was best for one race or epoch need not be best for another. The essential mission of school science was to prepare pupils for civilised citizenship by revealing to them something of the beauty and the power of the world in which they lived, as well as introducing them to the methods by which the boundaries of natural knowledge had been extended. School science, therefore, was not intended to prepare for vocations, but to equip pupils for life. It should be part of a general education, unspecialised, but in no direct connexion with possible university courses to follow. Less than three per cent. of the pupils from State-aided secondary schools proceeded to universities, and yet most of the science courses in these schools were based on syllabuses of the type of university entrance examinations. The needs of the many were sacrificed to the few.
          “Too much importance was attached to what could be covered by personal experiment and observation. Every science examination qualifying for the first school certificate, which now represented subjects normally studied up to about sixteen years of age, was mainly a test of practical acquaintance with facts and principles encountered in particular limited fields, but not a single
one afforded recognition of a broad and ample course of instruction in science such as was a necessary complement to laboratory work.
          “The numbers (of examination candidates) suggested that general scientific teaching was almost non-existent. The range of instruction in the portions of subjects taken, moreover, was almost confined to what could be taught in a laboratory. Reading or teaching for interest or to learn how physical science was daily extending the power of man received little attention because no credit for knowledge thus gained was given in examinations. There was very special need for the reminder that science was not all measurement, nor all measurement science.”
          It is reassuring to see methods that we have pursued for over thirty years with admirable results recommended thus authoritatively. The only sound method of teaching science is to afford a due combination of field or laboratory work, with such literary comments and amplifications as the subject affords. For example, from Ethics of the Dust children derive a certain enthusiasm for crystals as such that their own unaided observation would be slow to afford. As a matter of fact the teaching of science in our schools has lost much of its educative value through a fatal and quite unnecessary divorce between science and the ‘humanities.’
          The nature note books which originated in the P.U.S. have recommended themselves pretty widely as travelling companions and life records wherein the ‘finds’ of every season, bird or flower, fungus or moss, is sketched, and described somewhat in the manner of Gilbert White. The nature note book is very catholic and finds room for the stars in their courses and for, say, the fossil anemone found on the beach at Whitby. Certainly these note books do a good deal to bring science within the range of common thought and experience; we are anxious not to make science a utilitarian subject.


          “The warm and fertile Rhône valley belongs in climate to the southern region, where, although the vine is grown, large plantations of olive and mulberry occupy much of the land. We are apt to think of the South of France as the sunny south, the sweet south, ‘but,’ says a writer whom we have already quoted, ‘it is austere, grim, sombre’ …. but the mulberry feeds the silkworm and so furnishes material for the great manufacture of France. Lyons, the second city of France, is the seat of the silk manufacture including those of velvets and satins. It is seated upon a tongue of land at the confluence of the rapid Rhône and the sluggish Saône, and along the banks of both rivers are fine quays.

This extract indicates how geographical facts are introduced incidentally, pretty much as a traveller comes across them. The work for one term includes Belgium, Holland, Spain and Portugal, and the interests connected with each of these countries are manifold. For example,—

Of Further India,—

          “Pigou, the middle division, is really the vast delta of the Irrawaddy, a low-lying country which yields enormous quantities of rice while on the higher grounds which wall in the great river are the finest teak forests in the world.”

          Africa follows Asia with the discoveries of Livingstone, Speke, Burton, Grant, etc. We get an account of African village life and among the chapter headings are Abyssinia, Egypt, Up the Nile, The Soudan, The Sahara, The Barbary States, South Africa, Cape Colony, The Islands. America follows with an account of the progress of discovery, a geographical sketch of South America, the Andes and the Mountain States, Chili, Peru, Bolivia, etc., the Great Plains of South America, Central America, North America, Canada, a historical sketch of the United States, the Eastern States, States of the Mississippi valley, the prairies, the Western States and territories, California. In the section on the Eastern States we read,—
          “Stretching from this chain (the Alleghanies) is the great Appalachian coalfield which extends through Pennsylvania, Virginia and Ohio, with a length of 720 miles containing, it is said, coal enough to supply the world for four thousand years! Iron occurs with the coal in great abundance. Most of this coal is of the kind called Anthracite. It is extremely slow in burning, emits no smoke, but has a painfully drying effect upon the air of a room. Sir Charles Lyall speaking of Pottsville on this coalfield says,–‘Here I was agreeably surprised to see a flourishing manufacturing town with the tall chimneys of a hundred furnaces burning night and day, yet quite free from smoke. Leaving this clear atmosphere and going down into one of the mines it was a no less pleasing novelty to find that we could handle the coal without soiling our fingers.’”

          But enough has been said to indicate the sort of intimacy that scholars in Form IV get with all quarters
of the world, their geography, landscape, histories and industries, together with the study of the causes which affect climate and industries. Geikie’s Physical Geography affords an admirable introduction to the principles of physical geography.
          Forms V and VI are expected to keep up with the newspapers and know something about places and regions coming most into note in the current term. Also, in connection with the history studied, Seeley’s Expansion of EnglandThe Peoples and Problems of India, Geikie’s Elementary Lessons in Physical Geography, Mort’s Practical Geography, and Kipling’s Letters of Travel are included in the reading of one term. In these Forms the young students are expected to apply their knowledge to Geography, both practical and theoretical, and to make much use of a good Atlas without the map questions which have guided the map work of the lower Forms.

[1] Specimens of the children’s Examination work can be seen at the P.N.E.U. Office.

[2] The Ambleside Geography: Book I’V, by the Writer.

[3] Ambleside Geography: Book IV

[4] The Ambleside Geography: Book V, by the Writer.

“Pigou, the middle division, is really the vast delta of the Irrawaddy, a low-lying country which y

Shopping Cart
Scroll to Top