A History of the Teaching of Nature in the Elementary and Secondary Schools of the United States. I

I. B. Myers
1906 The Elementary School Teacher  
The following historical sketch on nature-teaching in the elementary and secondary schools of the United States includes the subjects variously known as natural history, nature-study, and biology (botany and zooilogy). The object of the study is to try to determine in a general way the aim and method of natureteaching, and note the influence of the study upon educational purpose and practice. The choice of subject and method of teaching, of any study, is largely determined by our conception as
more » ... our conception as to the general aim or purpose of the study. In order to understand the full aim or purpose of a study, at the time of its introduction into the school curriculum, and to follow its development and influence from the period of its introduction to the present time, it is necessary to keep in mind the growth of those general ideas which shape the educational purpose as a whole. The complete educational purpose is most clearly revealed, because of its simplicity and directness, among primitive peoples. It consists of learning to perform acts necessary to living: to hunt, fish, prepare and use weapons and snares, prepare skins for clothing, construct shelter; and to do these things in such a way as to avoid offending the spirits which presided over the various objects of man's attentions., The history of primitive races, is largely the story of this twofold relation of man to the universe about him. The advance of man is marked by a gradual discovery and understanding of nature's secrets, and each discovery carries with it a gain in the feeling of mastery, and a loss of intensity in that quality of the emotions Monroe, Textbook of History of Education. 258 This content downloaded from on February 11, 2018 16:41:52 PM All use subject to University of Chicago Press Terms and Conditions (http://www.journals.uchicago.edu/t-and-c HISTORY OF THE TEACHING OF NATURE 259 which go hand in hand with mystery. Out of these conditions of living arise three, interlocked, groups of relations, varying in the dominance of their influence over man, but common in some degree to all men of all times: (I) that group of relations which has to do with supplying man's physical needs and comfortsthe immediate securing of food, clothing, shelter, or their equivalent in wages; this represents education from a utility standpoint; (2) that group of relations which has to do with intellectual conceptions, aesthetics, and religions; (3) that group of relations which has to do! with man's relation to man --social rights and needs. Each of these groups has been recognized as having some place in the general educational scheme; the tendency being for one or the other to lead or dominate, according to the conception of the ultimate educational purpose. The general habits and environments of the people have had much to do in molding this conception as to the function of school work and the type of subjects to be studied. In a consideration of the study of nature it may be of importance to note this general change in nature environment: At the beginning of the century 4 per cent. of the people of the United States lived in cities, while 96 per cent. lived in rural districts, and were occupied, to a large extent, in some form of work dominated by the nature environment, and in which their living problems were directly related to this same environment. At the end of the century 48 per cent. live in cities, engaged in occupations dominated by social conditions and influences. During this early period children were in daily contact with their natural environment, and their acquaintance with the earth surface, climate, soil, animals, and plants, and the relation of these things to man, was gained at first hand. The people of the period were, on the whole, too fully occupied in supplying their immediate needs and simple comforts, and in subduing the earth to afford to experiment or theorize. They looked upon life from a "practical standpoint." It was only at a later period, when living became less strenuous, that the general-culture idea gained headway. This content downloaded from 089.102.
doi:10.1086/453543 fatcat:swg5nf4g3vdobdwd7f5xcbgl4y