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Elementary biology by Benjamin C. Gruenberg - PDF ebook

Elementary biology, an introduction to the science of life (1919)

Elementary biology


The material in this book, its arrangement, and the method of instruction that it implies is the outcome of some seventeen years of work and thought devoted to the teaching of science to adolescents and to adults. They represent what seems to me at present the kind of knowledge and the kind of attitude that is both wanted and needed and the kind that it is desirable, from a social point of view, that all of our citizens should acquire sooner or later. The point of view throughout is the fact that we have to do with constant changes that need to be understood and that need to be controlled

. On the one hand, I have tried to eliminate the anthropomorphism that seeks to answer the questions about living things in the form of " Why ? " implying a purposefulness in organisms that is a hindrance rather than an aid to analysis and understanding. On the other hand, I have sought to develop an anthropocentric interest that should humanize the study of living things in terms of appreciation and purpose.

 The understanding of how things work and the solution of problems by means of such understanding are preeminently human achievements, and this view is constantly emphasized from every angle. Man's conquest of his surroundings, through the application of more and more knowledge, through the making of his knowledge more and more trustworthy, furnishes a leading motif. In the selection and arrangement of the material I have tried to avoid the specialists' divisions into botany, zoology, etc.; to the student, these are arbitrary and seem to me to confuse rather than to illumine.

 I have tried to stress the dynamic by speaking of what plants and animals do, and how they do these things, rather than by speaking of the various kinds of organisms that there are, and how to know them apart. So far as possible each main division deals with plants and animals, including man, except where the topic is specifically related to one or another group. 

So far as possible, each unit of the text is related to something that has been previously learned, or to some outside experience of the reader. I have attempted to suggest the vastness of the living world, and the multiplicity of its interrelations, without discouraging the aspiration to become acquainted with it. I have selected types of problems that best illustrate man's method of adapting himself or his surroundings to his needs, and by means of historical references, I have sought to develop a recognition of the interdependence of workers of all nations both in thought and in productive labor, as well as our dependence upon the accumulations of the past. Finally, the idea of progressive change in the organic world is not only explicitly discussed in a special section but is indirectly suggested in the discussion of various processes and relations. As to quantity, I have assumed that there must be more material in a textbook than can be comfortably used by any class of students. 

This is in order to give the teacher an opportunity to select according to individual preferences, according to local and temporary conditions, and according to the interests of the students; and in order to give individual pupils an opportunity to find things of interest that are not " in the lesson." While the work of a class can never be completed in any sense, it is desirable that the text gives some suggestion of scope, and that it projects the imagination beyond what is actually studied. Moreover, the more thoughtful student should have before him, in connection with the topics discussed, a supplementary matter that will point out relations and applications in other fields of interest. 

As to method, I have assumed the correlation of textbook with laboratory work, with field excursions, with special topic assignments, and with the study of museum material. But while constantly referring to experiments and to objective data, the text is not interrupted with lab-oratory directions. I have sought here not merely to keep the reading continuous; I have meant to indicate that there is no one best experiment, no one set of facts, no one type specimen, to support a principle. 

The truth may be approached by many paths, and I have tried to avoid dogma both as to the approach and as to the conclusions. The relation of science to human welfare is illustrated by the introduction of an unusual amount of quantitative material, chiefly in the form of graphs. This is on the theory that it is not sufficient to show that a scientific principle is reasonable or helpful; it is necessary to show that there is a measurable difference in results when various principles are applied. There is no better way of insinuating into the thought of our students the real meaning of the pragmatic sanction.

As to the sequence of topics, I believe that since there is no end to the subject, one point is as good for beginners as any other. For practical administration of instruction, it is of course desirable to have a plan of some kind, and the experienced teacher will make up a new plan each year only to find it desirable to make changes in it before the year is over. There is no best sequence; the order in this book has been followed with classes that had to be taught according to a syllabus with a totally different arrangement, and the material can be studied quite as satisfactorily without following the chapters and sections in order. It has been repeatedly demonstrated that the material is used for beginners in the subject and that the text is adjustable to a variety of syllabuses, and these are the two important considerations from the viewpoint of the course of instruction. So far as possible, structural details are presented by means of diagrams and pictures rather than by means of elaborate descriptions. All the diagrams designed to clear up complex relations in space or time have been drawn especially for this book, as well as all the figures for which special credit has not been given. 

In this connection, I wish to acknowledge my obligations to those who have been good enough to lend me photographs and other illustrative material, as well as to the artists who have so patiently collaborated in develop- ing the drawings, Mr. F. Schuyler Mathews, Mr. Frank M. Wheat, Mr. Mateoto Nishimura, and Mr. Ernest Taubele. In the course of my work I have had valuable assistance and criticism from many colleagues and associates in the Commercial High School (Brooklyn), the DeWitt Clinton High School and the Julia Richman High School (New York), the American Museum of Natural History, Columbia University, and other institutions.

 To mention any of these would be to slight others; and while some have given me more time and more direct aid than others, I am too keenly aware of the influence of even passing and casual suggestion to know where to draw the line between those who have helped me and those who have not. I am the lens through which is focused here and now a fragmentary and fleeting view of the biological thoughts of a hundred men and women; and it is this cross-section of biology that I offer to my fellow workers, with gratitude for what I have myself received, and with the hope that it will be of help to them.


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