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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 78

Nature Study

Nature Study.

With the idea of nature-study, the doctor explained that he is cordially in agreement, but teachers complain that under existing conditions they can find no time to deal with such matters, except in the lost cursory and superficial way. When one considered the requirements of the Syllabus, as practically interpreted by teachers and examiners, one was impressed with the vital necessity of taking off a large portion of the burthens now imposed on school children. The first need was to lessen the load, and until provision was made for that be felt it would be wrong to ask the children to devote more thought to nature-study or to any other school work. It appeared to him that half of what we taught was useless or unessential, and he felt that we could well dispense, for instance, with the learning of such things as troy weight and practice, and the excess of conundrum arithmetic and fractions. He was glad to see that the central authority was now inclined to be less exacting in the matter of formal analysis of sentences in grammar, and he was surprised to find local examiners upholding this as a requirement for children. He sympathisd with Professor Miall, who wrote: "Some text-books which treat of English grammar and analysis of sentences make me bless my own stupid old school, which never mentioned these things at all! Mastery of English, I would re-mark, does not come by grammar and analysis, but by observation and practice." Opposite this paragraph a very able teacher whom they all knew had written "Hear, hear!" It was useless to talk of teaching the preliminaries of rural education in any primary schools so long as we had an over-loaded Syllabus, or while excessive demands were made by examiners. He said this in spite of the strongest conviction upon his own part that rural education was a matter of fundamental importance to the country. As illustrating the intense interest and value of scientific thought and precision directed to agriculture, Dr King showed the results of planting a series of experimental plots with potatoes last season. By using good seed properly kept, and by employing the most suitable artificial manures, etc., it was shown that plots had yielded at the rate of 20 tons to the acre in the midst of farmers' crops which yielded only four tons, the main difference being due to the seed. It was pointed out that at present prices a thirty-acre crop yielding twenty tons per acre would realise nearly £5,000, whereas a four-ton crop, being largely pig potatoes, would leave little profit.