This section is from "The Horticulturist, And Journal Of Rural Art And Rural Taste", by P. Barry, A. J. Downing, J. Jay Smith, Peter B. Mead, F. W. Woodward, Henry T. Williams. Also available from Amazon: Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste.
"Why is not botany studied more! There is scarcely a school or college in the United States in which botany is taught, and very few in which thorough instruction in it is given. By thorough teaching, we mean where the instructor has a good knowledge of all the plants and trees growing in the vicinity of the school, - not only knowing their names, but also their classes, orders, and properties. Under such a teacher, if the students form herbariums for themselves, they will scarcely fail to gain knowledge which will be both useful and practical. Useful, because it will add much to their happiness whenever they go into the garden, fields, or woods; and practical, because they can then deal understanding with the vegetation with which this beautiful earth is clothed, and without which it would be a barren, uninhabited waste. In some of our academies and schools, a few young ladies, and perhaps gentleman, recite a few lessons and analyze a few plants under a teacher who does not know and can not tell the names of one half of the plants growing within five miles of the school.
Indeed we believe there is not one of the nine colleges in this State in which botany forms a prominent study; and in only three of them is it named in their course of study: nor do we think any of said colleges has a good botanist as professor. Yale college has no professor of botany, and we know but one college in the United States which has a separate professor for that study - the University of Cambridge, near Boston, which has a botanic garden under the supervision of prof. Gray, who is undoubtedly the best botanist in this country. In the above statement we by no means include the medical colleges, which unquestionably number several distinguished botanists among their professors, but with them little or no knowledge of botany is required for a degree. One great reason that botany is so little studied, is the want of competent teachers, and because its knowledge is not required to get a degree - the great aim of a large portion of students. Suppose the time required for Greek were given to botany, and other branches of natural science, which would be the most useful, especially to any who ever visit the country or garden? With a knowledge of botany, the world will appear brighter and more beautiful. We would by no means banish the study of Greek from our colleges.
We have devoted many hours to its study, in order to obtain a degree - not worth one cent. We can not now read a Greek work without the aid of a dictionary, nor do we think that one out of every ten graduates in the country can; still, it is of great use in affording a better knowledge of the English language, especially of scientific terms. But we think a knowledge of botany to be worth more than all the dead languages. Then why should so much time be given to their study, to the neglect of the things by which we are surrounded, and among which we move and have our being. There are realities worth knowing; and the better we are acquainted with them, the greater will be our fund from which to derive happiness.
[The natural sciences, botany included, have, up to this time, been surprisingly neglected in the greater number of our educational institutions, and it is just the same in Europe; the study of botany at schools is a mere sham. One student out of ten thousand acquires a particular taste for the study - pursues it with the aid of books, and becomes a botanist. We would not wish to be understood as expecting that every school boy should be made a botanist, in the ordinary sense of that term; no such thing. To be a botanist requires a life-long study. One great reason why so few of those who study it at schools know really anything about it, is, that the teachers, as a general thing, pursue a wrong course. They begin, and go along with their pupils as if they were all aiming at being botanists. If, instead of this, they would merely endeavor to impart some knowledge of vegetable physiology, and of the natural distinguishing characteristics of the more important families of trees and plants, they would very soon impress upon the mind of the student the value of some botanical knowledge, and he would feel a greater inducement to follow it up and apply it We might say much on this subject, if we could spare the time and space; but the time is evidently not distant when the education of the youth of the country will be conducted on a very different plan from that which prevails at present. - Ed].