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DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR,
BUREAU OF EDUCATION,
Washington, D. C., October 10, 1891. SIR: The most striking of the modifications in the college curriculum which have been made within the last half century is the enlargement of the sphere of instruction in the natural sciences. The older colleges built their course of study on mathematics, Latin, and Greek, but there has arisen in later times a tributary stream of human learning which includes three modern branches, natural science and the literature and history of modern nations. This is receiving more and more recognition in the course of study.
Appreciating the significance and importance of this newer line of study, I have gladly availed myself of the opportunity to institute an investigation of the methods pursued in one of its most important divisions, and accepted the offer of Prof. John P. Campbell, of the University of Georgia, to prepare a monograph on Biological Teaching in the United States. The results of his inquiries are here presented, in the belief that they will prove valuable to all teachers of science, whether in colleges or secondary schools. I have the honor to be, sir, very respectfully,
Commissioner. Hon. JOHN W. NOBLE,
Secretary of the Interior.
COLLEGES OF THE UNITED STATES.
By JOHN P. CAMPBELL, A. B., Ph. D.
Within the past 20 years or more there has been an unprecedented activity, especially in this country and England, in the development of methods for all branches of scientific teaching. The idea has been almost totally abandoned that a training, often more or less faulty, in languages, mathematics, and metaphysics constituted an education in any sense of the word; and it is now well-nigh universally recognized that scientific methods must be not only added but given a prominent place. Perhaps the most striking point by which the educational methods of the present are distinguished from those formerly in vogue is the great prominence which is given to inductive methods, and as a consequence, the little attention that is now paid to mere facts, as contrasted with the great stress laid on the processes by which those facts are acquired. It is now pretty well agreed that an ideal course of training should be broad, yet not too comprehensive; that it should be liberal, yet not technical; that it should develop rather than inform; and that it should exercise all the faculties rather than cultivate some at the expense of others.
Although the introduction of scientific methods into the teaching of languages, history, etc., has been followed by the most gratifying results, giving these studies a greater reality to the student, and in consequence a greater value than they ever before possessed, it still seems evident that something more is needed, and that a student only grasps these methods fully and acquires in the greatest degree that self-reliance, independence of thought, and accuracy of observation and reasoning which they are intended to impart, when he has, at least, his first exercise in practicing them upon something which he knows of his own knowledge, which is material and tangible, and which has therefore a real existence to him.
Many of the smaller institutions of the country, which have hitherto made liberal provisions for their literary studies and combined all of their scientific teaching into one or two chairs, have now seen the necessity for changing this order of things, and the “ professor of natural science, "upon whose shoulders rests the burden of instruction in physics, chemistry, zoology, and geology, with perhaps additional duties in other departments, is now almost extinct.
The absolute necessity for considerable science teaching in any liberal course of study is now generally admitted, and teachers seem almost unanimous in believing that the training in methods is the primary object of such work, and that the information involved, important though it is, must be given a subordinate place. It follows, therefore, that if the quality of teaching is what it should be, the methods of scientific inquiry, so far at least as they are common to all branches, may be learned by studies in one department of science quite as well as in any other. It follows, too, that in the arrangement of studies, in a college curriculum at least, all sciences must be given an approximately equal rank, equal so far as the general character of the logical methods is concerned, and varying principally in the extent to which they depend upon the two sources of information-observation and experiment.
It is as a means of training the observational powers that biology is chiefly valuable. In this respect it is surpassed by no one of the natural sciences, and indeed it possesses certain features which it shares with none of them. In spite of this the general improvement in the methods of teaching biology has come much later than in any of the sister sciences. In seeking for the cause of this it seems evident that the introduction of practical and rational methods into the teaching of chemistry and physics has been greatly facilitated by popular appreciation based upon the very erroneous but widespread idea that the final end and aim of chemistry is the ability to determine the composition of unknown substances, while physics finds a justification for its existence only in such occasional discoveries as the electric light and the phonograph. The educational value of practical work in chemistry and physics seems, therefore, to have been something of an afterthought, and to have been demonstrated only after such work had been performed for a considerable time with other objects in view.
The growth and development of methods for biological teaching have been marked by extreme suddenness, for which the reasons are manifold. There is a greater activity in the study of educational methods now than ever before, and the science of teaching certainly rests upon a far more rational basis than has ever been the case previously. The great development of technical and industrial education has also had the effect of making the courses in our liberal colleges more practical in character, and of bringing into deservedly greater prominence those branches into which training of the eyes and bands enters. The establishment of agricultural colleges by the General Government, and the