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Principles In Teaching Geography

( Originally Published 1915 )


ONE OF the first principles in the teaching of geography, as also in the teaching of all other subjects, is that it should be based upon the knowledge and experience which have already been acquired by the learner. It can-not be based upon mere words or definitions ; these are, or should be, the generalizations resulting from many acts of observation, and not mere meaningless formulas to be repeated parrot-like by the pupil. As we have already pointed out, it is from the home or out-of-door geography that this necessary experience is acquired by the learner; for it is only by a careful study of the near that the remote and unseen can be understood.

It is difficult, if not impossible, to teach pupils with a meagre experience why there is a great city at the head of ocean navigation on the St. Lawrence River, or how Niagara Falls has affected shipping on Lakes Erie and Ontario as well as the position and growth of cities on these lakes. But with an adequate store of ideas derived from a careful and systematic study of home geography, the pupil has a solid foundation on which the teacher may build.

In addition to supplying true and vivid basal ideas, the study of home geography arouses a spirit of inquiry concerning the subject, which should lead to further investigation and study. This is the real goal of all teaching; for the important matter is not that the pupil knows certain things, but that he sees the meaning of what he has learned, and that he has acquired such a liking for the subject as will induce him to continue its study.


As we have already pointed out, the study of geography should consist not in the mere memorization of facts, but in the study of relations. At every step the pupil should be brought face to face with the notion of cause and effect. The mind delights in tracing the causes of things, and so long as the work on hand is of such a nature as to exercise the judgment, the pupil is interested. The boy or girl takes a pleasure in tracing the origin of cities and towns and in accounting for their situation; in showing why certain parts of the earth are desert regions, as along the west coast of South America; in explaining why the southern parts of South America and the northern parts of Europe in the same latitude, south and north, have similar rainfalls, etc. When we seek to determine the origin of the cotton industry of the west of England, the shipbuilding on the Clyde, the fishing industry of Newfoundland, the production of wheat in the Prairie Provinces or Argentina, the great coal and steel industries of Sydney, Cape Breton, we find our classes at once brightening up and doing their best to discover adequate reasons.


In teaching geography the inductive method is followed. That is to say, the pupils are required to observe particular examples and to compare these, in order that they may discover the general principle that is common to them all.

Observations upon natural phenomena should be made and recorded in all grades. These should vary from simple records of sunshine, cloud, rain, snow, and wind, to more difficult observations where the thermometer, barometer, and rain-gauge are used. A pupil who has followed the daily marking of the shadow line throughout the school year, will reach correct inferences which even some of the older pupils, who have learned their work from books alone, cannot make. Continued observation of land and water forms and comparison of related forms with one another are the only means of reaching correct generalizations. For example, how can a pupil get a correct notion of a valley who knows a valley from observation of only one valley, such as that of the Don, the Grand, the Thames, or the Trent? How can such a pupil ever have a correct idea of the valley of the St. Lawrence or the Mississippi? There must be, therefore, many observations of different valleys and comparisons of these, to eliminate the incidental and retain only the common features in the generalization.


It need scarcely be pointed out that the study of geography should, wherever possible, be correlated with the other studies of the school course. For example, history is unintelligible without geography. In the be-ginning, home geography and nature study are almost synonymous terms. Language lessons are frequently based upon the discoveries made in the pursuit of home geography and, when the pupil is further advanced, the geography lessons supply excellent topics for descriptive composition. In the representation of land and water forms, the pupil is given practice in clay modelling and art; and, finally, almost every department of natural science is required in explaining the phenomena which form the basal work in geography.

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