« PreviousContinue »
They are matters chietly of ocular obxerration;* they stretch from our immediate presence to remote localities and distant realms. The principles of geology are the general truths reached by inductive reasoningt on the facts. They are the settled doctrines, and constitute the substantial bulk of the seience. 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.
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 flat, 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 whoxe data are more purely obserrational. 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, conse
* See the author's Geological Excursions and Geological Studies. † See the author's World-Life or Comparative Geology.
quently, 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.
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 magic 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 inferences as to the nature of the cause. The similarity of the vitrified brick and
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 ex perienced 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. Coöperative 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 yield 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 beginners ---especially young beginners. The method of discovery is betterthe method which brings the most active powers into natural exercise - the method which promotes the spontaneous development of thoughts and interences - new views and personal discoveries. It is not necessary to pursue the method of discovery indefinitely. No pupil can rediscover everything which is recorded in the science. But he should know from experience in what manner the discoveries have been made; and should imbibe the spirit of a discoverer. Most text-books are didactic. We need books to serve as guides, rather than teachers. The best school-books in science are not “manuals"— still less, manuals “boiled down”— they are books which take the pupil by the hand, and point out what to observe and where to find it, and leave him to the full exercise of all his powers. The logic of the world is such that he will observe where observation is the best to be done; compare and group when his observations offer him material; generalize, when his groups of objects permit it. Better, however, is it to employ no text-book. The truths are all written on the pages of nature; and the pupil will read and interpret with the aid of only a judicious monitor. It may
be thought the methods here suggested are only a vision. It may still appear to some that the facts and principles of geology are too oceult for young pupils. Now one of the most important statements which I have to make is the announcement that the method is workable, and has been worked with all the success here pictured -- and with far greater success than I have yet suggested. I could name schools in which teachers have grown into es. perts, and pupils have become exuberant in enthusiasm. I have seen the interest spread from the school to the town; and I have seen hammers in the hands of boys and girls too young for the eighth grade. I have seen classes outside of the schools spontaneously organize themselves, in towns where but one enthusiastic leader communicated the flame.
Should I be questioned more specifically as to methods of procedure, I would reply that any spot to which fortune appoints the teacher is a good spot for a beginning. The spot suggests ideas of its own; they may be ditterent for different places. From every starting-point the path widens, till the great world comes under view. If there be a quarry accessible, we will resort to it. We will note all the circumstances of the arrangement and consolidation of the strata. We will discover the evidences of sedimentary deposition — of an ancient sea, and of the populations which swarmed in it. We will measure and count; we will delineate with pencil and camera. Ile will develop here a season's resources of instruction and delight.
Should there be a river near, we would sit on the bank and think of the sexliment it is bearing to the sea. We would follow it in thought, and witness it laid down in beds, while the relics of the creatures of the sea are entombed in its slimy sheets. We would notice the work of erosion going forward in the banks or bluffs on which we rest, and would discover that old lands are taken to pieces, to be built beneath the sea, into new ones. From this art
ing-point the thread of thought would lead to profounder glimpses of the fabric of the world.
Should fortune assign us a position where quarry and river and sea and mountain are inaccessible, we should turn to the tell-tale stones — the fartraveled bowlders which have come from northern homes to narrate a story of transportation and vicissitude. In their very selves they are specimen stones of the fabric of the world. They are many; they are diversified. We may spend a season gathering samples of the eight hundred species which have come to bring us tidings of a hundred revions which we may not visit. And from this platform of knowledge we will rise, till we apprehend our earth the sister of the planets, with a noble origin and a starry destiny.
It will be noticed that allusion is here made to some of the loftier conceptions to which the study of geology leads. It is not supposed that these will be attained by a child, nor in an elementary course. The elementary course will illustrate the methods of observation and of the generalization of the great principles —such as the former presence of the sea over the continents; the origin of the stratified rocks by deposition in the sea; the gradual improvement of organic types as the ages passed ; the persistence of the plans of the world, both inorganic and organic; and the great doctrine that the earth is a cooling body. The generalized doctrines of the science may thus be assumed as first principles, from which by quite a different method of reasoning, the now maturer student, in a course of quite a different character, will proceed into times and places inconceivably beyond the reach of observation and induction. Thus from the general doctrine of a cooling globe, he feels compelled by the laws of his intelligence to inquire: From what past conditions has the cooling proceeded? And to what future conditions will it arrive? From the present, he reasons deductively, but by an inverted deduction, toward the primordial condition of the earth. If the remotest condition reached by thought is not absolutely primordial, it is inconceivably remote in time and in physical conditions, and he finds the history of the world to be the history of worlds. This is a new exercise for his powers. He reasons from the laws of heat, attraction, mechanics, chemistry; the process is from cause to effect. In his earlier studies, the process had been from effect to
Here is a new discipline. For this purpose it is not essential that the remotest stadium reached should have been actually the first. Nor is it essential that the conditions reasoned out should ever have been real. The processes of thought are the same as if the conclusions were demonstrable. But at the same time, the conclusions are highly probable; and they are the clearest glimpses which human intelligence has attained, into the ancient histories of cosmic matter.
Now also, from the standpoint of the great generalized principle of a cooling globe, the student is in position to pierce with the ray of thought the deep mysteries of the distant future. What is to be the final destiny of the world? Will it continue as to-day, a fair orb, to serve as the abode of sensi