Geography. (Lecture. 1894.)
The idea that knowledge should be presented to the child in slices still dominates the minds of many educators. We are not, therefore, surprised to find that so-called courses of study designate specifically the year in which any given subject should be presented to the child's mind. They go even farther than this, and state the amount that should be presented in a given time. In the State Manual of Study for the District Schools of Michigan, the subject of geography is not mentioned until the forth year is reached. Whether this suggestion is wise or not can be easily determined by an observer of child life. When the little fellow enters kindergarten, can it be said that he is without geographical knowledge? Is it possible for a child to play about his own door yard, go into the fields, into the creeks, without using his mind, without acquiring geographical knowledge? To the child geography involves nearly all the sciences; botany, zoology, geology, mineralogy, physics, chemistry, astronomy, and so forth. Since geography involves the study and enjoyment of the world he lives in, why discontinue the study that he has already begun? The whole question of science teaching in the lower grade schools can be settled by giving geography, as herein directed, the attention it deserves.
The doctrine of concentration declares that these so-called subjects are not ends. They are only means to the development and training of the human mind. That being the case there can be no doubt as to what subjects should occupy the mind of the child. The problem of problems is to maintain the right proportion. The child loves flowers and studies them; the child loves animals and seeks their society; the child looks at the stars and wonders; the child picks up a piece of rock and puts it with his keepsakes. Who is wise enough to lead the child along this educational pathway? As yet, we would not so much as think of putting a book into the hands of the learner. It is the teacher who must lead the child into green pastures and beside still waters. In what we have already said, the attempt has been made to show beyond question that geography should enter into the child's first year's work in the school room.
The great question relating to method solves itself if we continue in the direction we have already indicated. The method has been determined by the experiences of the child. How has he learned about the flowers, the animals, the rocks, the hills, the valleys, the rivers and lakes? By coming in direct contact with them. How is he to make further advancement? By continuing to come into direct contact with the world in which he lives. This will take the children out of the school room and into the fields.
Journeys here and there with eyes and ears alert. This will demand the progressive teacher, the wide awake teacher, the only kind of a teacher that ought to teach anywhere. We are not arguing for this study to the exclusion of reading, writing, spelling or numbers. This subject becomes a means to enable the teacher to use numbers and teach numbers as they should be taught. The children cannot give evidence of their knowledge save through the use of language. They cannot describe the flowers and animals without some knowledge of number. They cannot write stories of their rambles without spelling.
In our brief article, we have made no attempt to state when a text book should be brought into the schoolroom. The only way in which we can answer this question is to say that whenever the textbook will aid the child in using his power to better advantage, bring in the book. When should a man use a microscope? When he cannot see advantageously without it. When should he use a telescope? When he cannot see economically without it. When should he use any device for enriching his mind? When this device falls in line with the great principle of mental economy that we have already mentioned. Possibly in a succeeding article we may speak with more definiteness in relation to geography use that requires the use of a textbook.