The Parents' Review
A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture
"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
Parents' Review.--We have from time to time been requested to reprint occasionally some of the very valuable papers which are buried in the early numbers of the Parents' Review. We propose to do so now and then, and such articles will be marked with a dagger after the title.
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NATURE STUDY EXHIBITION, ROYAL BOTANIC GARDENS, REGENT'S PARK, LONDON, July 23rd to August 5th, 1902.
[We are indebted to various newspapers for the following short notices and reports of speeches delivered at the "Nature Study" Conferences. For ourselves, we hail the exhibition and address as among the most promising educational efforts of the day. Mr. Medd's spirited initiative has been admirably followed up. The most able of the addresses insisted that nature study should be followed for its own sake only; not for its utility and not by way of object lessons in science. The judges appeared to be of the same mind, preferring simple nature studies to far more effective shows. We heartily congratulate Mr. Medd and his committee.]
The first general exhibition in England on the methods and results of Nature Study was appropriately opened on July 23rd by the wife of the Lord President, her Grace the Duchess of Devonshire, the Lord President himself, in the presence of a very influential and representative educational gathering, giving a short address suitable to the occasion.
The exhibition is very comprehensive and catholic, and, as a first attempt, must have involved considerable labour to the executive Committee, to the Hon. Sec., Mr. J. C. Medd, and his assistant, Mr. A. Taylor.
Most kinds of educational institutions and various grades of effort and achievement are represented. At the head come the great agricultural or horticultural colleges, such as Wye and Swanley (both in Kent), with a liberal supply of photographs from the Philadelphia Normal School to remind us of our insular deficiencies. Among the public schools, Eton and St Paul's are well represented, and we range through a series of County Council exhibits in which Surrey, Becks, and Hants are well to the fore, exhibits from training colleges, middle-class schools, evening continuation schools, board schools, voluntary schools, kindergarten and infants' schools. Even the afflicted, we gladly notice, are brought within reach of the work, and the exhibition from the Deaf and Dumb School in Fitzroy Square stamps the work as practical, interesting, and inexpensive.
Lord Avebury delivered an address on "The Study of Nature." He said that the most profound classical scholar, if he knew nothing of science, was but an half-educated man after all--a boy in a good elementary school had a better education. The responsibility rested mainly with the Universities. The public schools told them that they must conform to the requirements of the Universities, the preparatory schools are governed by the public schools, and hence the tendency was to specialize the education of boys from the very beginning of school life. No doubt there had been some improvement, but the recent Blue Book on schools showed that science and modern languages were still woefully neglected. So far as children were concerned, it was a mistake to think of astronomy and physics and geology and biology as so many separate subjects. For the child, nature was one subject, and the first thing was to lay a broad foundation. We should teach our children something of everything, and then, as far as possible, everything of something. Specialization should not begin before seventeen, or, at any rate, sixteen. Some study of nature was an essential part of a complete education, and, indeed, was not only most important from a practical and material point of view, and not only most interesting, but it would do much to lift us above the petty troubles, and help us to bear the greater sorrows of life.
Mrs. Franklin, honorary secretary of the P.N.E.U., said it was the parents' province in earlier years to establish a love of Nature in the child. Children should early be taught the names of flowers, so that they might get to know them and love them individually. A very good plan was to describe it, or to send them out on a tour of discovery, and on their return, get them to describe a flower or a leaf which they had seen. London children should especially be taught to take an interest in nature. She had been shocked to hear a friend say that his little boy was very fond of noticing the number of houses and the names over the shops, and that he was of opinion that this took the place of nature study with town children.
Prof. Lloyd-Morgan, after an allusion to the favourite impression produced upon him by a visit to the Central Experimental Farm at Ottawa, proceeded to give an address on "Nature-study in Elementary Education." Nature-study had been defined as "the means by which natural objects and processes acquire meaning," but he rather preferred to call it "the method by which experience grows and acquires meaning." Illustrating by the example of a chick pecking at caterpillars, he showed that knowledge was acquired by the bringing together and correlating of data obtained through the different senses. Young animals through their senses acquired a knowledge of their surroundings, and in no young animal was the spirit of curiosity more firmly implanted than in the young child. Alas! that it should be so often crushed and snubbed out of him. He deprecated the purely utilitarian view of this spirit of inquiry, and preferred to ask what was the "good" rather than what was the "use" of investigation, humorously enforcing his point by an anecdote of a purely practical father who on taking his son to the School of Mines wished him to learn nothing about stratified rocks or fossils, or any such rubbish, but merely how to discover gold-bearing and other metalliferous rocks in paying quantities!
The Board of Education, in its circular on special courses of lessons on rural subjects, laid it down that the objects of the teaching were to be general, not particular or special. The value of nature-study lay in fostering an observant attitude of mind leading to the examination of familiar facts; it developed susceptibility to the subtle influence of nature in the various scenes which are brought before us as we notice her in her winter sleep, in her vernal awakening, in her summer beauty, and in all the cycle of her moods. In the training of children the imparting of information was good, but things were learnt so easily by children that there was a danger of overloading the memory; we must avoid encouraging an attitude of mere receptivity, and develop a spirit of investigation as the only really valuable thing. In dealing with its position he regarded nature-study not as a substitute but as a preparation for the generalisations of science, which could profitably be studies only at a later stage. There was a danger that the teacher might tire of the slow growth of the powers of observation and endeavour to inculcate general truths and principles beyond the child's comprehension; a further danger was the temptation to employ difficult technical terms, of which the lecturer gave an extreme example. In regard to the relative claims of experimental physics and chemistry on the one hand and nature-study on the other, he unhesitatingly held that the latter should precede, on the ground that it was less systematic than the former. It was urged that experimental science was more exact and more under control, but it was precisely on such grounds that it should follow nature-study, which was freer, more superficial, less exact, and less systemic. Moreover, the conceptions which lay behind a right understanding of physics and chemistry were exceedingly complex, and their real significance was not sufficiently obvious to attract and hold the interest of little children. He did not undervalue the importance of careful and accurate measuring at the proper stage, but it should be supplementary and subsequent to nature-study. Turning to the question of method, the lecturer pointed out that the advocates of the heuristic method claimed that the method of research was the only one of value; but he did not accept that, and would remind his audience that originality was a very rare gift, while imitation was universal. Most men who made their mark in original work passed through a period of imitation as a distinct phase in their development. Example and wise demonstration were important factors in training. Proceeding to deal with the teaching, the lecturer observed that in the case of the upper and middle classes the governess was the proper person to lead her pupils to the observation and study of nature and he regretted that so few were at all equipped for the work. With nature-study he would associate training in the mother-tongue, drawing, and brush work, and he claimed that nature-study was a means of literary and artistic culture, for if they robbed literature and art of all that was the outcome of nature-study, how incalculably the poorer those subjects must appear. It was essential that teachers who had opportunities for nature study in rural districts should be trained, and for them short courses of well-devised and well-illustrated lectures would be very useful. No quickener was half so good as genuine interest, and the value of such courses would depend upon the way in which teachers applied their knowledge in seeing what the lecturer's description had prepared them to recognise. Information was merely the valet to its master, investigation.
Mr. A. D. Hall (Principal of the South-East Agricultural College, Wye, Kent), who spoke upon "The Proper Attitude of the Teacher." He pointed out that nature-study might be followed up in such a way as to be of no value, and this was borne out of his examination of many of the note-books and records in the exhibition. Pressing wild flowers in a book might be of no more value than grammar. To make plant collecting valuable it must be lifted out of the region of mere facts, and put into the region of ideas. Putting down things from the teacher's dictation was neither science nor observation. They must get their pupils to see, and he commended to them a remark made by Flaubert, that an observer should so see a cabman--as the object in question--that his description should differentiate him from every other cabman in existence. In regard to schools, they were met with the objection that there was no time for the subject, but if conditions were favourable and the teacher interested, time would be found. Some teachers asked for a syllabus or programme, but the only programme really of value was one drawn up by the teacher himself. He would advise teachers to read one or two stimulating books on any branch of the subject in which they were interested, and having made some observations and acquired some knowledge for themselves, they might profitably lead their pupils along their own path. Every school should have its own speciality, which would be determined by local conditions and the teacher's own bias. Wherever they began to touch nature they would find much to interest and engage their attention. If they could only get the teacher to realise the educational value of the subject and, in following it, to exemplify that spirit of self-sacrifice and devotion which entered into the work of every good teacher, they would not appeal in vain.
Mr. G. H. Rose (Head Master of the Caterham Board School) read a paper on "Nature Study in Elementary Schools from the Teacher's Standpoint." Three questions faced them in considering this subject, viz. .--(1) Was nature-study desirable? (2) What should influence the teacher in his selection of a subject? And (3) May any advantages generic to the teacher's main purpose be expected to arise from such study? He defined nature-study as "education by observation as opposed to the imparting of information by memorised definition." The old system of education was chiefly mnemonical and artificial; its defects were well known to the teachers, and it was largely owing to their efforts that the system came to an end. Geography was one of the first subjects to benefit; clay models and good pictures were commonly introduced, but how much better was a real hill or a real spring! Many school museums were absurdly overloaded, and if the instruction derived therefrom was too miscellaneous it might result in forcing into the child's mind erroneous ideas of processes and productions. The only absolutely reliable channel of knowledge was observation. The orange tree grown from a pip on the window-ledge of a large city Board school, a water-slug passing its declining days in a three-pound jam jar, or the home-made barometer read daily in the village schoolroom until it became a trusty friend; these and kindred things were such common indications of a breaking away from the old style that it was surely correct to say that the whole tendency of recent methods in elementary schools has been to approach and impinge upon nature-study. But as regards the teacher, he has so often been the victim of educational cranks that he must be pardoned if he were predisposed to doubt the lasting character of new educational expedients, and some amount of patience must therefore be exercised.
Secondly, in dealing with the aims, he observed that these were the halcyon days of liberty which they hoped would be further fostered under the new Local Authorities. Some schools and teachers were crippled for want of help, and disheartened through inability to obtain expensive apparatus. If such could only realise that some modest home-made apparatus was often better and more suitable than the all-embracing one of some more fortunately-situated teacher he would, if he only went on with it, find it lead to happy results. Too often, however, the only alternative was between doing nothing and taking a reading-book course of lessons. Was there not indeed a danger that any injudicious attempt to force the subject would be putting a temptation in the way of teachers to debase nature-study to the level of reading-lessons. The essence of nature-study was that it should be concrete, and unless the teacher possessed the necessary inclination, and, might he add, inspiration in that direction, he would, if he did anything, probably attempt a book-conducted journey through a large variety of subjects bewilderingly wanting in anything like orderly sequence or purpose. If anything was to be achieved, the teacher's personality must be the breathing motive force, and therefore he must keep well within his powers. He might be geologist, botanist, or physicist, it mattered little; but let him retravel his own road with his pupils. Whatever the subject taken, there would have been gleanings which would have created in many eager young minds longings for wider digressions along their far-reaching tracks, so that it would be well to set out with a smaller intent which might widen as proceeded. Frequently the enjoyment, and possibly the benefit, to a pupil of a ramble was in direct proportion to its freedom from subsequent essay-writing. Correlation had its limits and pitfalls, and most teachers would prefer to keep nature-study for the unalloyed enjoyment of their scholars and would not allow it to waste its beauty and usefulness by dribbling away its bifurcations here, there, and everywhere. The teacher would lead his scholars, and the recurrent joy of repeating his own experience would never wane for him. The cunningly devised beech mast bursting into wrinkled loveliness of vernal green, the crimson star stigma of the hazel twig, the silver gleam that betrayed the sand-hidden bivalve as it opened its twin canals in the shallow sun-warmed sea-water, the capture of the resting gaudy dragon-fly, the fragile fleeting snow crystal caught upon the school-boy's sleeve, the perfect equipoise of unequal weights upon a balanced beam, the line of tender seedling shoots which marked the starting of the season's green crops, be it what it might, that what brought profitable delight to the scholar would bring perennial pleasure to the teacher-guide. It was impossible for any one to realise the pleasure of this gentle leadership, unless he had seen the enthusiastic teacher at work among his scholars, all engaged in nature-study. He threw out the hint that in journeys each child should be provided with a map so as to be independent. The success of any scheme must lie first in its simplicity and next in the prudent guidance of the teacher. It was only the great ones among teachers who were able to carry to accomplishment a widely-varied scheme; the average ones would work within narrow limits.
Thirdly, as regards results, some said it was pernicious to expect any tangible results from this study; some, on the other hand, expected too much from it, and others again favoured it as tending to keep population in the villages. But with the teacher the chief consideration must always be whether it would enable him to turn out from his school better men and women, no matter where their lot might be cast, in factory or on the farm, in workshop, dairy, or garden, while at the same time he would rightly hope that some at least of the firstfruits of his training would be for his own gathering during the school life of his scholars. There would be many agreeable experiences, such as the scholar's wider interest in the things around him, the alertness, the delicacy of handling which took the place of former clumsiness, the fostered love of drawing beautiful things--all these and other gains would be obvious enough. Of all possible subjects, nature-study would leave the fewest scholars untouched. It was in overcoming such difficulties as were continually met with during definitely-planned rambles that the spirit of comradeship between teachers and pupils would be at its brightest, and at the same time there was no time when the teacher saw his own disciplinary powers put to a more severe test. The subject was of great service, too, in evoking the interest of parents. School gardens, maps of the neighbourhood, and school rambles with their aftermath of private collections, experiments, and drawings, all interested parents, and helped to promote the mutual sympathy between parents and teachers which would exist in connection with all schools.
Bronze Medals.--Bedale's School, Petersfield, for collective exhibit; Bootham School, York, for collective exhibit; Arnot Street Board School, Liverpool, for school rambles; Orpington Board School (Chislehurst Road), for collective exhibit, House of Education, Ambleside, for children's work; Philadelphia Normal School, for general exhibit; Professor Bickmore, of the Natural History Museum, New York; Surrey County Council, for their exhibits; Tiffin's School, Kingston, for collective exhibit; Arbroath High School, for nature-study drawings; St. Paul's Streatham Church Girl's High School, for apparatus; James Allen's Girl's School, Dulwich, for collective exhibit; Miss K. M. Hall, Curator, Stepney Museum.
Certificates of Special Distinction.--The Essex County Council; The Horticultural Collece, Swanley, Kent; Tiffin's Boys' School, Kingston-on-Thames; Clapham High School; Cheltenham Ladies' College; Streatham Hill High School; St. Paul's School, Oxford; House of Education, Ambleside.
Certificates of Merit.--The Yorkshire College, Leeds; Durham College of Science, Newcastle; Cheshire County Council; Hants County Council; Surret County Council; Surry, for Evening Continuation Schools; Surrey, Weybridge National School; S.E. Agricultural College, Wye, Kent; Fife County Council; West of Scotland Technical College, Glasgow; Clapham Public Day School; Norwich High School; Sheffield High School; Aberdeen Grammar School : Sexey's Trade School, Bruton; St. Margaret's School, Bushey; Cheltenham Ladies' College; Eton; King Alfred Society's School, Hampstead; Hampstead, West Heath High School; Queenswood School, Clapham Park; Hastings and St. Leonards's College; Wells Blue School; London School Board; Halifax School Board; Leeds School Board; Leeds, Bewerley Street Girls' school; Leicester School Board; Leicester, Green Lane School; Liverpool School Board; Cardiff School Board; Cardiff, Gladstone Manual Training School; Brynoch School, Neath; Hereford, Lord Scudamore's School; Padiham Wesleyan School; Shorwell School, Isle of Wight; Stockport, St. Peter's School; Thornhill School, Wye; Southlands Training College; Cambridge Secondary Training College; Home and Colonial Training College; Lincoln Training College; Salisbury Training College; Froebel Training College; Association for the Instruction of the Deaf; Home Office School, Baldovan, Dundee; Cardiff Museum and Art Gallery; Leeds Children's Natural History Club; Goodrich Road Field Club; Miss R. Thornycroft; Mrs. Brightwin; Master Hall, Wye; R. Youens; Normal School, Truro, Nova Scotia.
Prize for best exhibits from a secondary school museum--James Allen's Girls' School, East Dulwich.
Typed by Noella M. April 2021, Proofread by LNL, Apr 2022
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