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Volume XIII

MARCH 1915

Number 7




By H. W. Fairbanks
Berkeley, Cal.

HAT is geography and what part ought it to play in elementary school education are questions to which many diverse answers have been

In looking through files of the Journal of Geography as well as various reports and discussions on the teaching of geography we do not find any uniformity of opinion as to the fundamental nature of the subject, as to what it should include in the elementary school, or finally what should be the order and what the method used in the presentation of the material.

With the present unrest in educational matters, the cutting down of the time allotted to various subjects and the throwing out of much that has encumbered the curriculum, what is finally allowed to remain must be shown to be a fundamental and necessary part of the child's education.

The position of geography has been a difficult one. It has suffered much at the hands of both friends and foes. It has been criticized by those who should know better as being merely an agglomeration of facts from every science and without any individuality of its own. It has often suffered at the hands of its friends through a lack on their part of an insight into its fundamental nature, and an inability to arrange and put in practice courses which should demonstrate the importance which they claim for the subject.

We must conclude that the tendency in many quarters to cut down the time given to geography indicates that the importance of the subject in the elementary school curriculum is not understood, and that the divergence of view point brought out in discussions shows that we have not yet arrived at an agreement as to what geography is or how it should be taught.

The literature on geographic topics in our journals abounds with many valuable contributions along the newer lines of thought, and if these were put in practice we could indeed say that the outlook was promising, but when we turn to the schools, to the methods employed and the texts which are accepted without any serious criticism, we cannot help but realize what a mighty gap there is between theory and practice in our educational system.

It is not customary to demand any special training of teachers of geography in the elementary schools and the subject still remains in most of them a mere memorizing of disconnected facts. The geographies in use show but little improvement over those of a generation ago, and the general absence of objections to their use lead us to conclude that the newer views have not

aroused any wide-spread response either among the teachers or among those who have the responsibility of organizing and putting in force the work of the elementary school.

The schools of Germany have long been noted for their excellence in many respects and their methods have been widely copied in other countries. The doctrines of Herbart, Ritter and others as applied to school geography have found a practical expression in the teaching of the subject and in the textbooks which place them far in advance of the teaching and of the texts employed in any other country.

In what follows I shall give briefly a number of views as to what geography is, what should be included in a course in school geography, what is the best order of presentation and what methods should be used. These are presented with the hope that they may help advance a subject which it seems to me is one of the most important in the curriculum but which is today not receiving the attention which it demands, and concerning the exact nature of which most teachers have a very hazy idea.

A definition so commonly used that it has become trite is as follows: "geography is a study of the earth and man" or in little different form "a study of the earth as the home of man." These definitions are so brief and inadequate that they fail to convey any real conception of the subject, in fact they convey a wrong one. In the first, earth and man as the two important parts of the subject are singled out for mention without giving any clue as to the relation they bear to each other or if there is any relation at all between them. We have no idea as to whether the term "earth" includes merely the physical earth or the various forms of life as well.

The second definition is equally defective in that it fails to give any clue as to the nature of the study. Man is singled out for mention as though he were outside of the subject and not an integral part. In a rational definition we should no more expect to find man specifically mentioned than any other animal, for he is included as an inseparable part from the very nature of the subject.

The definition given by Mill that "Geography is the exact and organized knowledge of the distribution of phenomena on the surface of the earth, culminating in the explanation of the interaction of Man with his terrestrial environment,"* is also open to criticism. The idea of "distribution" is not the controlling one in modern geography, and particularly of elementary school geography. Man is a part of the phenomena of the earth's surface and it is wholly superfluous to single him out for especial mention in a definition of the subject. By so doing we seem to set him off against the rest of nature in a class by himself a proceeding which does not give the right point of view.

McMurry has voiced a much more comprehensive definition when he says speaking of geography: "It deals with people in the midst of their physical

*Mill-Realm of Nature, p. 331.

social, industrial, and political surroundings."* It is not clear, however, what the point of view is. The statement might be interpreted as a mere enumeration of facts about any given group of people with no attempt to bring out the innate relationship which exists between all these facts, a relationship which constitutes the true essence of modern geography.

McMurry says in another placet: "The study of the earth alone, its phenomena and forces, its vegetation and animals, its rocks and atmosphere, is natural science pure and simple." It seems to me that this is a fundamentally wrong conception of geography. There is just as truly a science of geography in the study of the distribution of animals, and the effect of environment upon their habits, structure and coloring, as there is of man in relation to his environment. The study of the distribution and modification of vegetable forms over the surface of the earth is true geography, although we may conceive of its being carried into regions where man does not or cannot live.

Bryce says: "Geography is a sort of great culture hall from which there opens out numerous doors, leading into apartments, each of these being dedicated to some particular one of the sciences.-All branches of knowledge which have anything to do with the earth, diverge from or are connected with geography.-Geography is the science which brings all into correlation with each other; it is the science through which you can best observe the action of each of them upon the life of man."

Guyot says geography is "the reciprocal action of all those forces the perpetual play of which constitutes what might be called the life of the globe; it · should, if I may venture to say so, take up its physiology." In this definition, as far as I have been able to learn, is the first suggestion of the views advanced by Fritsche, a modern German geographer, that geography is the study of the earth as an organism. This definition given by Guyot is, it seems to me, one of the very best that has ever appeared. It gives a true conception of the province of modern geography.

The author has in another publication given the following definition"Geography is the science of the earth as an organic whole whose parts are continually reacting upon each other"**; and again, "Geography is a study of the earth as a living organism whose parts and functions are mutually dependent." By earth is here meant the totality of the phenomena exhibited upon its surface studied in the light of their interdependence. In the definition of Guyot as well as that just given there is no occasion for singling out "man." As one of the earth phenomena he is included in the definition.

It may be said in criticism of the position outlined above that the definitions deal with the subject as a science and not from the standpoint of the schools. It should be recognized, however, that we must have clear conceptions to start with. The general lack of clean cut conceptions as to the funda

*McMurry-Special Method in Geography.

McMurry-Special Method in Geography, p. 8. **Nature Study Review, September, 1905.

mental nature of geography is the cause of much of the confusion in the elementary schools in regard to what should be included in geography and how its facts should be presented.

One of the foremost German geography teachers is Fritsche who in his paper "Die neuen Bahnen des Erdkundlichen Unterrichts," has presented a discussion on elementary geography which is the best the writer has ever seen. He looks at the subject from the standpoint of Guyot. He says "The earth in its collective phenomena is an organism well knit together, which, like an animal or plant is continually going through changes." Fritsche has embodied his views in a series of most excellent geographies for the elementary schools.

Geography in the elementary schools should be first a study of the phenomena of the environment in their association and mutual relationship. Any fact which is studied for its own sake, because of its own intrinsic value apart from its relation to other facts cannot properly be included in the geography course, although it may be expedient at times to place them there. As the study is extended outward from the home this fundamental idea of the world as an organism forms a philosophical basis for a unity of treatment and a criterion by which we can exclude what is foreign.

Geography is not the study of the earth and man, but of an earth on which man plays his part, although an important one, in a unity of all phenomena. It is the province of science to analyze this organism and to study its parts; to dissect it and find the nature of its parts. For the child the important thing is the study of the living organism with all its parts functioning, and this is what constitutes geography.

The child does not look at himself as outside of nature but as a part of it. People and their industries, animals, birds, the solid land, the sea, the sky, hills, streams, etc., form one world of which he is a part. To learn how all these things affect each other, first in the place where he lives and then in other parts of the world, is the object and aim of his studies in geography.

We now come to a discussion of the order in which the materials of geography should be taken up. Most geographers hold that the subject should at first be perceptive. The pupil should become acquainted with and able to interpret the facts of his environment, and using this sense experience as a basis build up by the aid of descriptions, pictures and maps an understanding of other regions. This is so commonly accepted in theory that it needs little discussion here, but as a matter of actual practice in the schools of our country the time and attention given to the home region is usually absurdly inadequate. This is a relic of the older geography which was purely descriptive and in which the home had no place.

The fact that teachers are still generally untrained in the methods of home geography, and are thus unable to interpret and make use of the simple geographic materials of their environment has, together with the text-books

in use, greatly retarded the application of the newer views so generally held by those who have given the matter careful attention.

The school texts while introducing some material called home geography, which is of necessity very general in its character, adhere on the whole to the older order of topics. No matter in what part of the country a child's home may be he finds the subject developed in the same order. He is taken from New England down the Atlantic coast, through the southern, central and finally the Pacific coast states. If his home is in California the chances are that it will be slighted until after he has been over the whole circuit of our country. He not only knows little about his home which is to him the most important place in the world, but he has no foundation on which to build an understanding of lands which he has not seen.

There is not a single geography text in use in our country which has been written to meet the needs of the children of any particular section. The books are made to sell in any part of the country and thus no part receives the emphasis which it needs.

It is true that an attempt has been made to remedy this defect by the publication of state supplements. As far as the writer is aware not one of these gives anywhere near the amount of time to the home district or state that its importance demands. The state supplement does not fit in with the rest of the text and is the poorest excuse ever devised to help out our inadequate system.

With the small amount of knowledge of home geography on the part of the average teacher, the lack of any encouragement from the books in use, looking toward a more rational system, and the indifference on the part of superintendents, it is no wonder that the pupil, though he spends a large amount of time on the subject in the elementary school, goes out into life with the haziest ideas of the conditions under which he lives. He has acquired a lot of poorly digested facts about the countries of the world, which, because they are based on memory alone, and have not been worked out upon a basis of sense experience in his home region, are bound soon to fade from his mind.

It is instructive to learn how differently the geography of the home and native country is treated in the best German schools. In those of Munich, for example, observational or perceptive instruction occupies the first two years. Heimatkunde or home lore fills the third and fourth year, while geography as a formal subject begins in the fifth. The heimatkunde of these years corresponds in part to our home geography and in part to nature study.

The fifth year, except for a short general survey of the world, is wholly given to Germany. The sixth takes up Europe and the seventh the rest of the world. In the eighth year the pupils are brought back again to the Fatherland and study its commercial geography. Thus out of a total of six years, four years are devoted to the home land. All the work in geography is built around the home and Fatherland and the relation of these to other parts of

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