This section is from "Scientific American Supplement Volumes 275, 286, 288, 299, 303, 312, 315, 324, 344 and 358". Also available from Amazon: Scientific American Reference Book.
But teachers, with more of imagination than good sense, teach distinctions which do not exist, generalizations which do not generalize, and do incalculable mischief by so doing.
8. Experimental work should be thoroughly honest as to conditions and results. If an experiment is not the success you expected it would be, say so honestly, and if you know why, explain it. The pupil should be taught to know just what is, theory or expectation to the contrary notwithstanding. Discoveries in physical science have often originated in a search for the reason for some unexpected thing.
The relation of the study of science to books on science should be considered. For the work done with pupils before they are given books to use for themselves, any attempt to follow a text book is to be deplored. The study of the properties of matter, for instance, would be a fearful and wonderful thing to set a class of little ones at as a beginning in scientific work. Just what matter, and force, and molecules, and atoms are may be well enough for the student who is old enough to begin to use a book, but they would be but dry husks to a younger child. Many of the careful classifications and analyses of topics in text books had far better be used as summaries than in any other way; and a definition is better when the pupil knows it is true than when he is about to find out whether it is or not.
An ideal course in science would be one in which nothing should be learned but that found out by the observation of the pupil himself under the guidance of the teacher, necessary terms being given, but only when the thing to be named had been considered, and the mind demanded the term because of a felt need. Practically such a method is impossible in its fullest sense, but a closer approach to it will be an advantage.
Among the numerous good results which will follow the study of physical science are the following:
1. The cultivation of all the faculties of the child in a natural order, thus making him grow into a ready, quick, and observing man. Education in schools is too often shaped so as to repress instead of cultivate the instinctive desire for the knowledge of things which is found in every child.
2. The mechanical skill which comes from the preparation and use of apparatus.
3. The ability to follow directions.
4. The belief in stated scientific facts, the understanding of descriptions, diagrams, etc.
5. The habitual scientific use of events which happen around us.
6. The study of the old to find the new. The principle of the telephone, for instance, is as old as spoken language. The mere pulses in the air--carrying all the characteristics of what you say--may set in vibration either the drum of my ear, or a disk of metal. How simple--and how simple all true science is--when we understand it.
[Transcribers note 1: corrected from 'more']
8. The cultivation of the scientific judgment, and the inventive powers of the mind. One great original investigator, made such by the direction given his mind in one of our common schools, would be cheaply bought at the price of all that the study of science in our schools will cost for the next quarter of a century.
8. Honesty. If there is a study whose every tendency is more in the direction of honesty and truthfulness--both with ourselves and with others--than is the study of experimental science, I do not know what it is.
Physical science, then, will help in making men and women out of our boys and girls. It is worthy of a fair, earnest trial everywhere.
A few minutes each day in which a class or a school study science in some of the ways I have indicated will give a knowledge at the end of a term or a year of no mean value. The time thus spent will have rested the pupils from their books, to which they will return refreshed, and instead of being time lost from other study the work will have been made enough more earnest and intense to make it again.
Apparatus for illustrating many of the ordinary facts of physics can be devised from materials always at hand. Many more can be made by any one skilled in the use of tools. In chemistry, the simplicity of the apparatus, and comparative cheapness of ordinary chemicals, make the use of a large number of beautiful and instructive experiments both easy and cheap.
A nation is what its trades and manufactures--its inventions and discoveries--make it; and these depend on its trained scientific men. Boys become men. Their growing minds are waiting for what I urge you to offer. Science has never advanced without carrying practical civilization with it--but it has never truly advanced save by the use of the experimental method. And it never will.
Let us then look forward to the time when our boys and young men--our girls and young women--shall extend the boundaries of human knowledge by its use, fitted so to do by what we may have done for them.