Sunday, May 02, 2010

A Month with Charlotte Mason, #28: Sunday Ponderings from the Parents Review

"Geology I dabbled in, having met with "Lyell's Principles" in the School Library. A piece of spar still remains which I obtained from the lowest Lias at the deep cutting, then being made, on the London and Birmingham Railway; I loved to gaze from the top of its banks on the three spires of Coventry. The slight knowledge acquired of what was then a new science was like a seed thrown into the ground, which did not germinate till long years after. I still eagerly pursued Entomology, chiefly with Wratislaw."--"Memories of Arnold and Rugby 60 Years Ago," by a Member of the School, in 1835, '36 and '37. Parent's Review, Volume 7, 1896, pg. 127

"Fifty years ago, when that famous pioneer of science, Dr. William Buckland, was Professor of Geology in the University of Oxford, it was his pleasant custom on occasion to announce to his class at the close of a lecture, 'Tomorrow, gentlemen, we shall meet at the top of Shotover, at ten o'clock.' And to the top of Shotover Hill the class would ride or walk from Oxford the next morning, and there the professor would talk to them in his vivacious, impressive fashion about the formation of the hill on which they stood, its limestones, clays, ironstones, gravels or fossils, on the evidences of denudation or the methods of stratification. And if things got a bit dull he would take especial delight in giving the most fastidious of the equestrian freshmen a practical lesson in geology by leading their horses through the stickfast mud on the slopes so that they might remember the nature of the Kimmeridge clay. And, doubtless, they did remember it, with the help of Common Room jokes thereon.

"Dr. Buckland, like every great man of science (and if one may presume to judge from programmes alone, like the truly scientific promoters of the work of this Union) was thoroughly convinced of the supreme importance of the school out of school, of out-door education. Buckland used often to say that such geological terms as stratification, denudation, faults,--to mention only a few of the commonest--could never be understood through lecture-room teaching alone. Shotover Hill was to him a lesson in geology, far superior in force to any which could be learnt from books or lectures, however admirable, and however rich the illustration by diagrams or pictures, or even by actual specimens of rocks and fossils. And all such illustrations in the lecture-room itself, Buckland used with a liberality that was utterly astounding and disconcerting to the academic Oxford of his day.

"Yet Buckland was teaching young men, not mere children, and might justly have relied to some extent on their fairly mature intelligence to grasp his verbal explanations of geological phenomena. But with the true teacher's instinct he studied his own mental processes, and asked himself, 'Now, could I really, thoroughly understand what a fault looks like, could I have a vivid mental picture of it from books and diagrams if I had never seen the thing itself in the rocks?' And being aware that the intense reality of his knowledge came purely from his early friendship with the rocks themselves at Lyme Regis, and Bristol, and elsewhere, from a long-continued intimacy with the thing and not the name or even the picture of the thing, he made it his business to bring his students to see the thing itself, since in such a case the thing could not be brought to the students.

"This, then, is the testimony and the practice of one who was a master of earth-lore. No less significant is the evidence of one whose study lay amongst the great stone-books of art. As Buckland was the pioneer of geological studies in Oxford, so was John Henry Parker (now resting in the quiet of St. Sepulchre's, near Jowett and T. H. Green) the pioneer of the study of Historical Architecture. In one of his books on Gothic Architecture, which have been the source of a new joy in life to throngs of students, Mr. Parker tells us with the brief unmistakable words of a master: 'The only real way of thoroughly understanding architectural history is to go about and see the buildings themselves.'"

"If Buckland and Parker thus insist on the necessity of bringing the real thing before the eyes of students of university age so that the thing may teach its own lesson, how much more essential to right understanding is this 'real' teaching for children of school age, and how absolutely the only right sort of teaching for the very young whose school days have not yet come."

--"At School on Hampstead Heath," Parent's Review, by Mrs. Grindrod, 1897

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