Page images
PDF
EPUB
[merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

I can only hope to outline the discussion of this theme. Some features of an adequate treatment would embrace: The present condition of geology in elementary schools; the influences which oppose its wider introduction, and its pursuit in the higher schools; the diversity of the subject-matter of the science of geology; the range of intellectual powers which it calls into exercise; it, peculiar adaptation in its observational phase, to the needs of the student in the observational stage of his education; the completeness of the intellectual discipline derived from its pursuit; the peculiar sources of enthusiastic interest in the early stages of the study; the direct and the reflexive ethical influence of the study; the place held by geology in the development of American industries and civilization; the rightful demand of pupils not preparing for college to be permitted to make at least an outline acquaintance with the science offering such means of culture and knowledge.

Most of these topics have been elsewhere discussed by me;* and I can only express the hope here that American educators will make themselves acquainted with the reasons for the positions which I have taken; because the ulterior and collateral benefits of geological study constitute indirect reasons for the early study of geology. But the direct reasons are the thesis here for consideration; and I shall have to restrict myself to these, with bare reference to other points.

First, I desire to elucidate the broad and just conception of the nature of the science. It is necessary to state squarely that the widely-current conception among educators is both inadequate and erroneous. Geology is not chiefly a professional study. Some of our pedagogical thinkers, with attention strongly arrested by the splendid results of geology applied to economic development, have concluded that the chief function of the science is utility; and that consequently it is not an appropriate study in general education; that it is suited only to persons with professional aims, and should find place in the later stages of the educational career. Geology is set down by Chancellor Pavne as having a low culture value; and in respect to practical value, affords knowledge which it is better to “hire" than to possess. "Geology as an independent study," he says, "has still less culture value than geography; it has no independent unit that is imposing, though when superadded to geography

shall We Teach Geology? A discussion of the proper place of geology in modern education.

it raises the culture value of the latter.”* Such a conception of geology is so inadequate as to become ridiculous.

At the opposite extreme of misconception are those who pronounce geology but a "bundle of theories.” The attention of such persons has been directed specially to the speculation to which it leads. They overlook the fact that a large volume of principles has been established, as valid truths of nature, and that these are constantly fruitful in the industries promoted by applieel geology. They forget that all these truths are revelations of the ways and thoughts of the Maker of the world. They ignore the splendid opportunities lying at our doors for intellectual inspiration and educational activity. That speculations find place, results from the fact that the field of geology stretches from the present, the accessible and the known, in all directions into the unknown - the inaccessible, the past and the future. A science without op portunity for speculation - without provocations to speculation, is a completed science, like Euclidian geometry. The possibility of speculation implies open, unexplored territory; stimuli to inquiry; incitements to intellectual enterprise. Nor are even the pure theories of geology without value. All theory is based on deductive considerations; and the processes of deductive reasoning possess the same disciplinary value, whether the basal principles are geological, physical or mathematical.

Another misapprehension is the belief that the abundance of technical terms in the science, and the assumed abstruseness of the conceptions, with the remoteness of the times and places at which the truths were present realities, render geology a difficult study, as well as an unimportant one, and therefore better suited for advanced stages of the educational career. Such impressions result both from ignorance and from the positive influence of many of the text-books. That these are false impressions, will be understood from what I intend presently to state.

These are mentioned as misapprehensions current among educators — more particularly educators occupying positions of control - as principals, superintendents, and presidents; and they are the misapprehensions of this class of educators, because, for positions of control, persons of literary and classical educations are usually sought. Such misconceptions of the scope and value of geology cannot be charged generally upon the intelligent public; because however the subject of geology may be slighted in the schools, or actually excluded, a very large number of persons acquaint themselves with the subject, either through private instruction, or “Agassiz Clubs," or "Chautauqua Circles," or general reading. The evidence of this is statistical, and cannot be gainsaid.

Under a more adequate conception of geology, it is presented as a borly of facts, a body of principles, and a body of theories. The facts are: first, the phenomena of the terrestrial surface; second, the phenomena of other world». They are matters chiefly of ocular obserration ;* they stretch from our immediate presence to remote localities and distant realms. The principles of geology are the general truths reached by inductive reasoning on the facts. They are the settled doctrines, and constitute the substantial bulk of the science. The theories are the intimations reached by deductive reasoning. They start from established doctrines, as first principles, and proceed on the basis of physical, mathematical, and, sometimes, biological truths, to enunciations touching things lying within realms of space and time where actual observation has no access.

* Contributions to the Science of Education, p. 59.

It is at once apparent that geology stretches over a scope of contemplations wide and diversified diversified in their nature and in the demands which they make on intellectual effort.

Let us consider the facts of geology with more attention. It is the world which presents itself for study. Whatever it is, or has been, or is to be, is a legitimate subject for inquiry; but the facts of the present are, in every case, our starting point. There is no feature of the terrestrial surface which is not a geological fact. Our thoughts may range to mountain-chains, to gloomy gorges, to desert plains, to eroding rivers, to seaside cliffs, to ocean abysses, to polar ice; but these stupendous phenomena are not more the data of geology than the alluvial Hat, the lake-side marsh, the gravel-pit, the opened quarry, the bowlder by the road-side, and the soil under our feet. The larger phenomena arrest attention and arouse the imagination by their obtrusiveness and grandeur. The less obtrusive phenomena may teach the same lesson; and when we consider them with more than casual attention, they awaken equal interest. These visible phenomena constitute the world in which we find ourselves on first awaking to consciousness. Escaping from the nursery, they are the media of our introduction to material nature. From infancy onward, they surround us on every hand; we are in contact with them; we walk upon them; we build our houses on them; the temples which we rear, the monuments which we place over our dead, are yielded from this store of geological data. I wish to emphasize this point: There is no science whose data are so accessible; none whose data are more purely observational. Now there is nothing so easy to learn as that whose materials are most abundant and most accessible. Nor is there anything more important to be informed about than that with which we have most to do. If these principles are sound, the study of geology is of first importance, subjectively considered. If not too difficult of access, its truths should command universal attention in the work of education.

But the truths of geology are not difficult of access. The phenomena may be known by simply directing observation to them. Of all intelligential activities, the exercise of the senses is easiest. The easiest and most spontaneous, and therefore the most agreeable, action of the intelligence results, consequently, in the acquisition of data which lie at the foundation of the science of geology. The study of the elements of geology is, therefore, the easiest, most natural and most appropriate occupation of the mind at the commencement of a course of education, whatever stage of maturity the individual mind may have reached.

* See the author's Geological Excursions and Geological Studies. † See the author's World-Life or Comparative Geology.

But in the progress of development, the faculties of the human soul follow a certain order. First come into exercise those powers which we possess in common with the lower animals; then those which distinguish us from the lower animals. The desire to observe, and the

power

of circumstantial memory, are the characteristic attributes of the intelligence of childhood, and of inferior races, as that of animals next lower in the scale. It is a truism to say that childhood is the stage of observation; but a truism not heeded must be oft repeated. If our educational systems are not based on a correct psychology, it is no excuse for perpetuating the error, to pronounce the correct psychology a truism - a truth “as old as Moses." A truth persistently disregarded is a truth still new to practice, however old in theory. I urge then, the fact well known, that childhood is the period of intensest observation and most tenacious memory of facts. And I place by the side of it the two other facts mentioned: 1st, that the data of geology crowd upon us perpetually; and 2d, that these crowding and obtrusive phenomena lie at the threshold of a great and ennobling, and widely cultural science. In the presence of the three propositions so undeniably sound, no system of education which practically disregards them can be pronounced rational.

It is necessary, here, to guard against a misapprehension. Early attention to the observational data of geology is fruitful of educational results in excess of those of the usual scholastic activity, not because the child is possessed of a visual organ similar in perfection to that of the eagle or the Indian; nor because he possesses a curiosity to see equal to that of the dog, or the monkey, or the African; but because the perfect organ and the indomitable curiosity coexist with reflective intelligence. The child is a rational being- not alone an optical instrument. The images pictured on his retina, unlike those from the mayic lantern, have brain behind them. The boy inevitably thinks; he compares and judges. This is not to say that the abstract powers of the child are either conspicuous or strikingly productive. It must not be forgotten, however, that their presence stamps even the child as a rational being; and makes the observation of the child a more fruitful act than the observation of a greyhound or an American savage. .

When the child has made two or more observations, he instinctively compares the things with each other. He pronounces them like or unlike. The principle of causality is operative in his mind. While he feels that every single phenomenon has had a cause, he affirms that certain similar phenomena have had a common cause, and certain unlike phenomena, dissimilar

Not unlikely, the extension of his observations will lead to interences as to the nature of the cause. The similarity of the vitrified brick and

Calises.

the vitrified stone will suggest heat as the agent in one case as well as the other. Thus the child unconsciously generalizes. He not only observes, but he compares, discriminates, classifies phenomena, and draws inductive inferences. These operations are not tasks set by a teacher. They are spontaneous. The best teacher is he who places the young intelligence in the presence of stimuli to action. The most fertilizing truth is that which the pupil discovers, not that which the teacher imparts. Discovered truth is an outgrowth of spontaneous and delighted activity. It is in organic union with the mind. Imparted truth is received with effort, often painful, and remains sometimes as unassimilated material.

Because the child is not a mere seeing-machine, but a rational observer, the acquisition of geological information is precisely in the line of his natural bent, the indulgence of which is a natural delight. It is not difficult to discover, therefore, what are the sources of the pleasure and enthusiasm experienced by young people, in the observational study of geology. First, they are in the way of the exercise of those percipient powers which nature has assigned to childhood as its characteristic. Second, they enjoy a gentle stimulus to reflection, and are led to the personal discovery of truth. Third, the power of memory is kept in pleasant exercise. Fourth, the imagination is excited, both in the effort to reproduce things before seen, and the endeavor to picture the conditions under which the things seen have been produced by the causes generalized. Fifth, the muscular motion which accompanies the range through the fields of observation is in itself one of nature's provisions for delight, and is accessory to the control of attention. Cooperative with these sources of delight is the pleasure of the open air, the cheerful sunlight, the shifting scenes, the picturesqueness, the beauty or the sublimity of many of the phenomena which vield their suggestions, and the grandeur of the terrestrial globe of whose history all these phenomena are incidents.

I hear it said that earnest and profitable study must be dissevered from emotions of pleasure. There is a stern pedagogic dogmatism which manifestly practices on this principle. The principle contains a truth; but the proposition covers a fallacy. It has been much discussed, with much misapprehension and assumption. The whole truth seems to me so obvious that I will not enter into the discussion. Evidently, feeling which turns attention from the object of study, is detrimental; feeling which fixes the attention on the object of study is helpful. In other words, if the source of the pleasure or the pain is extraneous to the subject of study, it is distracting and hurtful; if a pleasure is found in the subject of study, it is intensifying, concentrative, and auxiliary. Such is the source of the pleasure experienced by young persons in the observational study of geology.

It is quite apparent to anyone acquainted with text-books on this subject, that they are generally prepared from a different point of view. They present geology according to the same method as that employed for logic or mathematics. The logical presentation is sometimes best; but is not best for

« PreviousContinue »