Page images

The psychological presentation of all the varied subjects in such an order that their logical and mutual relations shall most readily appear may be taken to be the essential meaning of correlation. It is with this idea in mind that schoolmen are now, in this country, attempting to formulate courses of study which shall be rational in conception and practical in application, and by which an effective policy of public instruction may be developed. The practical character of the results of research in the fields of natural science, and their wide application through inventions to the actual affairs of life, have given to even the average mind a powerful stimulus to study in that direction; and allured by the infinite outlook into the universe, which she presents to the contemplative mind, Science has drawn to her service a vast host of followers that includes in its numbers the most enthusiastic, open-minded, cultured, and conscientious men and women of the time.

The innovations in human belief and action produced in the past thirty-five years by the strides of science have at last reached the heart's core of the schools with revolutionary effect. The introduction of nature study into the common schools has made it obvious to the most obtuse that complete reorganization of the course of study is imperative.

In the work of reforming the curriculum of the primary and grammar schools nature study is playing the leading part. Its strength at present lies chiefly in its fulfillment of the public demand for that work which will acquaint the pupil with the conditions of modern life and at the same time best develop his native ability. Ultimately, it will take that high place which will be determined by the acquire. ments, the culture, and the liberality of mind that it can so richly give.

The entrance of nature study into the grammar school from the side of the high school was a misfortune; it should have come from the kindergarten. The high school teacher seeks wisdom in his subject; the kindergartner, in the child. As a result of the specialization, as well as the isolation, of subjects in the high schools, each branch of natural science had its champion who entered the lists determined to place his subject at the head or center of the grammar school course. There is not a subject whose cause was not urged with untiring vigor. Books were written, and, until quite recently, the educational journals were filled with the clamor of these airbeating knights of the various subjects, each seeking the immortality of a first place. The immediate effect of this spirited contention was chaotic confusion, and the luckless primary and grammar teachers were plunged into the depths of despair.

The work of the first epoch, therefore, in the earliest serious attempt at correlation was directed to the misguided efforts to make some one subject the organic center of the course, to which all others should be tributary. Nature study was doubly unfortunate; with it the struggle was twofold. On one hand, it was rent by internecine strife-each separate branch endeavoring to assume the function of an organizing center for all the others; on the other hand, it was involved in a dispute regarding a more important question as to whether the organizing center for the entire course should be an historic or a scientific one. The first step towards a reconciliation of the conflicting interests was taken by a general recognition of the pedagogical principle, that subject matter of whatever kind must be selected and arranged in all cases from a psychological standpoint, regardless of its logical relations. It has been actually demonstrated in scores of schoolrooms that every branch of science presented to the pupil, under normal conditions of life, some aspect of subject-matter which is psychologically near to the child. A human being is never too young to escape the influences of the natural forces which focus upon him, and it is but reasonable to expect that his early unconscious reaction should very soon develop a conscious and lively interest in them. The common experience of teachers upon this point has brought about a change of base in their efforts at correlating the different branches of science. It is evident that no subject can become an organic center of the course of study, but that all must be allowed to respond with equal freedom to the actual psychological necessities of the child. Under this conception of the arrangement of a course of study, the heat of the early discussions respecting the relative value of subjects has gradually cooled down, personal prejudices are fast disappearing, and a second most decided step in advance has been taken towards rational correlation.

Nature study found the grammar school course utterly poverty. stricken from the standpoint of actual thought material. The children were in a state of intellectual starvation. The only resource that remained within the reach of the teacher for preserving even a semblance of interest lay in the claptrap of device. Almost the whole attention of both teacher and pupil was devoted to the study of empty form. The wealth of material offered by the subject of nature study was a godsend. It was like sunlight breaking through gloomy clouds. The fields of thought opened up to hungry minds were entrancing. It is small wonder that a movement began which closely resembled a stampede. It actually seemed as though the three R's were about to lose their grip. In educational journals the question was gravely discussed as to how much of the old could be entirely discarded to make room for the new, and for a second time the work of the grammar school teacher was reduced to a state of apparently hopeless confusion.

From this struggle in the dark, the majority of teachers in the country have hardly, as yet, begun to emerge. The curriculum is still the subject of much aimless experimentation, and is too frequently the prey to whim. The half-educated and poorly-trained teacher, distinguished by his great enthusiasm for one favorite subject, is still abroad in the schools, crowding this way and that to the utter discomfiture of childhood and the disgust of public intelligence. This is the present condition of the school question, in the year of grace, eighteen hundred and ninety-five.

Nature study, with the proper correlation of its several departments fairly understood, holds at least a tentative place in the course of study for the primary and grammar grades. It has made a host of friends amongst the teachers. The permanency of its place, however, and its ultimate usefulness depend upon a still further step in correlation—that involving its natural relations to the already longestablished subjects of study. The work yet remaining to be done in further correlation presents itself under two aspects, each of which involves a disputed question. The first may be broadly stated from a pedagogical standpoint as follows: Can the form studies-making, modeling, drawing, painting, reading, spelling, writing, form, and number—be well and sufficiently taught as a direct result of the nat. ural demand of the thought-work that is presented in the subjects of science and history? The second and more difficult question is, Is there a natural basis for the correlation of science and history? In the first question, science and history have a common interest in the result. This paper, however, must deal chiefly with the relations of science. In the second question is involved the place of each in the curriculum.

Assuming what is generally conceded, that the subjects of science and history, with their various subdivisions, comprise the thought studies, it remains to consider specifically what demands the former subject has made for the various means of expression. Doubtless there are many teachers present who are better qualified to speak of what has been done in the country at large; but the writer will confine himself to what has been accomplished in the school with which he is connected.

Making is chiefly valuable in a preparation of conditions for study; that is, in the construction of apparatus. As a rule, the pupils have been so little accustomed to manual labor of this kind they are not skillful enough to entirely supply the demand. The interest is so great, however, that skill is rapidly acquired. No one has yet been able to plan a series of models or pieces of apparatus, probably, that

would be accepted by the sticklers in manual training for the logical development of the subject. Yet, irregular as the work, as a rule, may be, its educational advantage is beyond question and the material is all that can possible be used.

Under the old regime, there was scarcely any attempt to give the pupils just conceptions of form through modeling in clay. Form was not studied. The subject matter of nature study strongly appeals to the pupil through form, and much of the significance of what is studied depends upon this accurate conception which modeling is best fitted to give. The material is abundant and marvelous skill is rapidly acquired. Color as a study had no place whatever in the old schools. Through nature study it now mounts to a conspicuous and honorable position. The growth of the pupil's expression through the use of brush and color is strong and beautiful. The teacher's ignorance of the principles underlying this mode of expression has long hindered the children. It is not with the single leaf, the single fruit, or small object that the child should begin, but with the great irregular mass of the tree or landscape. This insures from the first the enlistment of the æsthetic sense, and it develops from the beginning an artistic touch. A similar elevation has been given the subject of drawing.

But it is concerning the relations of nature study to reading, writing, and number that the gravest apprehensions have been felt. The relation of reading to observation is close and organic. By it the pupil obtains new views of the subject he has himself studied, and he may avail himself of information respecting other allied subjects. The mind, to study, must reflect, and expression by writing is the handmaid of reflection. The mind thinks in judgments; but the indefinite judgments of childhood can become definite and accurate only through a determination of numerical relations.

As before mentioned, prior to the comparative recent advance of nature study the great drawback to school work was poverty of thought-material. Reading was nothing more than a struggle with words; institutes and educational journals wasted their energies in learned babble about methods, and, in the end, the schools did less for the pupils than they could have done for themselves had they been turned out upon the streets.

Writing was a prolonged and tedious wrestle with hieroglyphics, while the Great Sahara of arithmetic was scarcely even attempted. A few points respecting these subjects have been demonstrated. First, by a judicious and rational use of the thought-material furnished by the subject-matter of nature study and by means of the school printing-press, beginning with the first sentence that is presented to the child upon entering school, the subject of reading may be made to appear to him what it really is, namely, a means of enlarging his own thought through study. That correlates it naturally with observation. It should be here added, that, in this work, the subject matter of history and literature, including the myth, is a valuable support and ally. It has been shown that the idiotic compilations of the majority of the reading charts and early readers, for the sake of stocking up a vocabulary, are absolutely unnecessary. The child may be taught to read from precisely the same motive that will actuate him as an adult to continue his reading, namely, the desire to enlarge his field of thought. He can be so taught that the printed word shall never appear in his consciousness above the level of a purely incidental thing; as merely a means of his mind to further thought, as the window-pane is a medium through which his eye reaches the landscape expanse.

And, finally, within the first three years of school life, not only may the mechanics of reading be mastered but a cultivated taste and a refined literary habit can be established which will have a beneficent effect upon all subsequent life, no matter how unfortunate the conditions may be.

The proper presentation of subject matter involves a demand for an amount of written expression that puts the matter of formal training in this subject of writing beyond the shadow of a doubt. The mechanical difficulties are not conquered quite so early as in reading, on account of the later development, physiologically, of the organs concerned; but the final and timely mastery on the same plan is certain. From the first sentence written, the feeling grows with the pupil that writing, like reading, is simply a necessary means to his thinking

In determining the relations of number work to nature study, less definite, because less persistent, work has been done. This work seems to most teachers especially hopeless. Definite judgments respecting the mathematical relations of matter and force are comparatively late in appearing in children, and in many teachers they have not appeared at all. But the full significance of form can only be understood when its proportions are definitely known; the value of force can only be known when it is accurately measured, and number work in nature study is therefore clearly implied. Suffice it to say, that, without the aid of mathematics, the grandest conception of nature possible to man must forever remain hidden from sight. As teachers more clearly realize this, more demand for number work will be made, and it is safe to venture the prediction, that the day is not distant when nature study will be regarded as sound a basis for arithmetic as it is now for other form studies.

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »