Thursday, July 18, 2013

Crappy Old Book Review: Problems in General Science (1930)

Every now and again I write a post that's a failure. I begin with an idea. I follow it along. But I can't make it work.

Below is such a post. 

I thought I might review a crappy old text book. 

That the authors tip their hats to John Dewey should have indicated to me that this was a worthless pursuit. I do not like John Dewey.

Anyway-- I spent three days working on this so I'm going to post what I have. 

"Practical science gives man a control over the elements and forces of nature so that he can create an environment which meets he needs of present-day civilization."

Problems in General Science by George W. Hunter, Ph.D. and Walter G. Whitman, A.M., published by American Book Company, New York and other places, in 1930.

Crappy old science textbooks crack me up. 

The title pages almost always include the credentials and affiliations of the authors. By today's academic "standards" the authors of crappy old texts are relative nobodies. Take George, for example. George did receive a Ph.D., but he was a Lecturer in Methods of Education in Science at the Claremont Colleges in California. Prior to holding the Lecturer position-- today, a very low rung on the academic totem pole-- he was head of the Department of Biology at DeWitt Clinton High School in New York. High School? Holding pens for savage young illiterates, according to William Lind.

Walter doesn't have a Ph.D. I'm assuming an A.M. is the same thing as an M.A., so Walter has a Masters Degree. He was in the Department of Physical Sciences at State Teachers College in Salem, Massachusetts. He was the Founder and Editor of General Science Quarterly which by 1930 had been renamed Science Education

(By the way, the academic journal, Science Education, is still around. The journal is currently accepting papers for a special issue "focusing on themes relevant to the intersection of learning sciences research and science learning in everyday life approaches and contexts." Click on the link above to see the state of Science Education. If you'd like to understand the quote, you can read the full call for papers here. Have fun!)

Back to George, Walter, and American Book Company. 

According to the stub at Wikipedia, American Book Company was a publisher of textbooks from 1890-1960. The contents of my crappy little old library support the stub. I have about a dozen books published by American Book Company. They're all texts, although one was published in 1963.

What's the point of looking at the title page of a crappy old book? The credentials and affiliations of the authors of a crappy old textbook? To be honest, I'm not sure. I doubt that a Lecturer and some fellow with a Masters degree would get a text published by a major textbook publishing house today. "Doubt" is too weak. It wouldn't happen today. Nevertheless, George published several books aimed at popularizing science.

But enough about George & Walter. What about the book? 

From the preface (p. v): 
Not only must science show a child how to keep well, but it must aid him in solving his home science problems, it must help him use his leisure time wisely, it must show him vocational possibilities, it must make him eager to learn where and how science plays a part in the problems of citizenship, and, at the same time, it must serve to develop his character. 
That's a pretty tall order. 
Science: 1. Knowledge, as of principles or facts. 2. Knowledge systematized and formulated with reference to general truths or general laws. 3. Esp., such knowledge relating to the physical world; -- called also natural science. 4. Any branch or department of systematized knowledge. [1]
But that is precisely what the authors aim to do: Use science and scientific problem solving to, not only as the caption above says, gain control of the elements and forces of nature, but also to improve individuals' lives and the "human stock" (Unit XX, Chapter III). 

The book has 21 "units" each with 2-9 chapters. The majority address standard general science topics-- the elements, disease, machines, transportation, communication and the like. Some notable unit titles:
  • How to Control Our Environment
  • Air in the Service of Man
  • How We Use and Control Fire
  • How Water Serves Man
  • Light in the Service of Man
All of the chapters titles are questions, "Problems" for students to solve. For example, from Unit VIII, Personal Health and Our Environment:

I. What are the best health habits for boys and girls of high school age?
II. What has my environment to do with my present health?
III. What is the Pure Food and Drug Act and how does it work?
IV. Why are alcohol and other narcotics dangerous?
V. How does the community care for its citizens?

What are the best health habit for teenagers? Glad you asked. I'll give you the highlights.
  • The bedroom floor should not be carpeted.
  • Sleep near an open window. In winter, cover the head with a hood and bundle up.
  • Avoid fried foods. 
  • "Don't overeat; lower animals do this."
  • "One of the best habit to form early in life is that of regularity of bowel movements."
  • Bathe twice per week except in the summer
  • Keep watch over thoughts. Purity of mind affects health. 
  • Sit up straight.  See bowel movements.

And so on.


I grow tired of this book, which ends with a discussion of eugenics.

[1] Webster's Elementary-School Dictionary: Abridged from Webster's New International Dictionary. American Book Company, New York. 1925.

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