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Physical Science in Schools

Nature volume 13, page 413 | Download Citation



I have read with considerable interest what may be styled the evidence of your correspondents as to the state of scientific instruction in schools, and I think possibly if your space will permit me, that I shall be able to confirm some of the statements of previous writers. I have reason to believe that in some large schools where science is demanded as a branch of education it is practically suppressed, some of the clever lads are removed from the science classes in order to be “crammed”in classics, sometimes against their own desires, for the purpose, if possible, of making a show in school-lists as having obtained scholarships at Oxford. I am acquainted with facts which cannot be otherwise explained. Sometimes I have learned these from the boys themselves, sometimes from science-masters in different establishments. At one large school in connection with a College there are about 600 boys; formerly very nearly 100 attended chemistry lectures onne a week, and about 25 attended the chemical laboratory of the College for 11/2 hour. The subject was a voluntary one, and the undoubted interest shown by the scholars was very striking; one could see that they were being taught to think, it was something so entirely different from their ordinary school work. For the last year or two the number of boys attending these science classes has been limited almost entirely to those who intend matriculating at the London University, those whose parents expressly wish their sons to receive such education, or others “the most stupid and ignorant,” who are so unlikely to hold their own in any other competition that it is considered they may be better fit for distinction in science. I need hardly say that one fails to make anything of the latter class, although, on the other hand, I have seen such lads display unusual mechanical skill. The number of boys from the school now attending the laboratory is only eight, and those who hear lectures about thirty-six. In a school with unusual facilities for scientific instruction at a small cost, since the teachers, the laboratories, the lecture-rooms, and the very costly scientific apparatus, all belong to the College, there is this small result simply because the pupils are prohibited attending the lectures on science lest, as it is said, “they should shirk their other work.” This is certainly not equalising the various branches of human knowledge. In some schools the science masters are appointed not from among those who have made the teaching of science a study, but from that peculiar body who are willing to combine instruction in science (which includes, of course, Physics, Chemistry, Natural History, and Botany), with Mathematics, Classics, and Foreign Languages, and whose views as to the suitable remuneration for their services suggests a limited expenditure of thought, time, and money, on their own acquirements. From the present low estimation in which scientific knowledge is held, I should be exceedingly sorry to see the number of efficient science teachers increased. The capital expended on a classical education gives a far better, a more certain, and a quicker return than that invested in science. Hence the lamentations about the state of science in this country. Until the Head Masters and College dons have been so liberally educated as to understand that besides Classics and Mathematics there are other branches of knowledge which ennoble and enrich the understanding, and further, until a legal status has been ecured for professional scientific men, such things must continue.

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