Why Study Botany?

“…every wild flower that grows in their neighbourhood, they should know quite well; should be able to describe the leaf––its shape, size, growing from the root or from the stem; the manner of flowering––a head of flowers, a single flower, a spike, etc. And, having made the acquaintance of a wild flower, so that they can never forget it or mistake it, they should examine the spot where they find it, so that they will know for the future in what sort of ground to look for such and such a flower.”  Charlotte Mason, Home-Education

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“The Sense of Beauty comes from Early Contact with Nature.––There is no end to the store of common information, got in such a way that it will never be forgotten, with which an intelligent child may furnish himself before he begins his school career. The boy who can tell you off-hand where to find each of the half-dozen most graceful birches, the three or four finest ash trees in the neighbourhood of his home, has chances in a life a dozen to one compared with the lower, slower intelligence that does not know an elm from an oak––not merely chances of success, but chances of a larger, happier life, for it is curious how certain feelings are linked with the mere observation of Nature and natural objects.” Charlotte Mason, Home Education

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“Every Natural Object a Member of a Series.––Now take up a natural object, it does not matter what, and you are studying one of a group, a member of a series; whatever knowledge you get about it is so much towards the science which includes all of its kind. Break off an elder twig in the spring; you notice a ring of wood round a centre of pith, and there you have at a glance a distinguishing character of a great division of the vegetable world. You pick up a pebble. Its edges are perfectly smooth and rounded: why? you ask. It is water-worn, weatherworn. And that little pebble brings you face to face with disintegration, the force to which, more than to any other, we owe the aspects of the world which we call picturesque––glen, ravine, valley, hill. It is not necessary that the child should be told anything about disintegration or dicotyledon [two-leafed], only that he should observe the wood and pith in the hazel twig, the pleasant roundness of the pebble; by-and-by he will learn the bearing of the facts with which he is already familiar––a very different thing from learning the reason why of facts which have never come under his notice.” Charlotte Mason Home Education

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“Not that more is taught at an early age, but less, that time is taken- that the wall is not run up in haste, that the bricks are set on carefully and the mortar allowed time to dry.” Lord Stanley

You study Nature in the house and when you go out of doors you cannot find her. Prof Aqassiz
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Advice from 1882 which applies just as much, or even more today:
“Through the liberality of the publishers the book is well supplied with diagrams. It will not do, however, for the student to trust to these alone. No science can be properly studied from mere book-work(emphasis added) and this is especially true of such a science as Botany, which deals with various forms of natural objects. The student is strongly urged from the first to carefully examine specimens. A sharp penknife and a simple lens, which will only cost a few shillings, are all the apparatus required for dissecting and examining most flowers, and the commonest plants around us will well serve the student’s purpose.

For some parts of the subject, as for instance the examination of Cellular Tissues, a microscope is needful. …The student should also especially accustom himself to writing out descriptions of plants according to the model given at the close of the book.”

Elementary Botany, by Henry Edmonds, Brighton, May, 1882

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“As regards the science itself, it seemed to me to be very badly dealt with in the schools. In many it is not taught at all, and in others it is regarded as a kind of superfluous side study, of such secondary importance that it matters little in what way it is treated. And so it is subordinated to the school routine and pursued in a hurried and desultory manner by books and recitations and by memorizing second hand information. It is perfectly well known that in institutions of all grades students often go through the botanical text books without giving any attention whatever to the objects they describe, or, if they do so at all, it is generally in an incidental and irrational way, perhaps by attacking the most complex part of the plant first, and picking flowers to pieces so that the pupil may quickly indulge in the shallow pedantry of giving them their technical names. All this is unjust to the science. Like arithmetic, Botany is only to be acquired by first mastering its rudiments. And, as in arithmetic the student is compelled to exercise his mind directly upon numbers and work out the problems for himself, so in Botany, if worth pursuing at all it should be studied in its actual objects. The characters of plants must become familiarly known by the detailed and repeated examination and accurate description of large numbers of specimens. The pupil must proceed step by step in this preliminary work digesting his observations and making the facts his own until he becomes intelligent in regard to all the common varieties of plant forms and structures.”
from Second Book of Botany: A Practical Guide to the Observation and Study of Plants, Book 2, by Eliza Ann Youmans
published by D. Appleton, 1874

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This was true in 1874 and it is still true today. If a science program is taught via books and the rote memorization and parroting of second hand information, rather than students actually looking at the real thing and making first-hand, personal observations as much as possible, that is a program largely about passing a test, not learning about the beauty and wonder of the science. It may be school, but it isn’t education. Let the children study and observe for themselves what the author later calls ‘the order and truth of the things around us.’

Eliza Ann Youmans also quotes Dr. Whewell, once Master of Trinity College at Cambridge: “There are perverse intellectual habits very commonly prevalent in the cultivated classes which ought ere now to have been corrected by the general teaching of Natural History. [i.e. science, esp life sciences]. …In order that Natural History may produce such an effect it must be studied by the inspection of the objects themselves and not by the reading of books only. Its lesson is that we must, in all cases of doubt or obscurity, refer not to words or definitions, but to things. The Book of Nature is its own dictionary; it is there that the natural historian looks to find the meaning of the words which he uses.”
Incidentally, William Whewell coined the term scientist, and he was a devout creationist.
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More from Charlotte Mason (volume 6, which is mostly about education in high school):

They keep records and drawings, make special studies of their own for
the season with drawings and notes. 219

Form III (12-13): study habitats, the work of one term enabling them to
“make a rough sketch of a section of ditch or hedge or sea-shore and put
in the names of the plants you would expect to find.” “write notes with
drawings of the special study you have made this term.” What do you
understand by calyx, corolla, stamen, pistil? In what way are flowers
fertilized? How could you find the pole star? Mention six other stars
and say in what constellations they occur.

They study six or so books on natural history, botany, architecture and
astronomy- they observe and chronicle, but are not dependent on their
own unassisted observation. 220

Study of Natural History and Botany with bird lists and plant lists
continues throughout school life, other branches of science are taken
term by term. 220

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“To attempt the study of Botany without the practical examination of plants is futile. Students of plant life must look at plants…
Elementary Botany, by Percy Groom

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1.How and where to begin:
Begin at home and confine your lessons at first to such plants that grow in your neighbourhood, and with which children are all more or less familiar.
Manuals of the Science and Art of Teaching, ADVANCED SERIES No VI HOW TO TEACH BOTANY, London, 1880

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