A common charge against Charlotte Mason educators is that we use too many old books. When it comes to teaching science, this objection is even more vehement. How can you teach science using books that were written ten, twenty, thirty or worse still, over a hundred years ago?
Yes, we do tend to use older books but that’s not because older books are intrinsically better than more modern titles. There are plenty of dud older books that we’d never use for the good reason that they aren’t well-written. The reason we’d choose an older book over a more recent is because it has a literary approach, i.e. it presents facts that are clothed in literary language.
More and more, education has become utilitarian in its approach, and this is reflected in the teaching of science and the content of the books that are used. David Hicks made this observation:
‘…as science took a technological turn and as education began preparing students for work rather than for leisure, for the factory rather than for the parlor, the school itself came to resemble the factory, losing its idiosyncratic, intimate, and moral character…
In its utilitarian haste, the state often peddles preparation for the practical life to our young as the glittering door to the life of pleasure; but by encouraging this selfish approach to learning, the state sows a bitter fruit against that day when the community depends on its younger members to perform charitable acts and to consider arguments above selfish interests.’
When a book is too direct and factual there’s the possibility that the student may not appropriate the material.
I’ve thought about this not only in relation to my children but also to my own reading. See my thoughts on uniting the literary & the scientific here.
Of course some things will have changed from when a science book was first written, but we could say that about a science text that was written a year ago. There are ways to bring the knowledge up to date without too much trouble while still giving your student the foundational concepts padded out in a literary medium. YouTube videos are one way that’s worked well for us. The chapter from the book is read first and then an appropriate video is shown after that.
We take care that:
Some of the science books I’ve been using this year for my 13 year old daughter are in the ‘old’ category. Some are more modern, but they are all good. The first three book below are scheduled for Year 7 (Form III) at AmblesideOnline.
The Life of the Spider by Jean Henri Fabre (1823-1910)
The Wonder Book of Chemistry by Jean Henri Fabre – translated into English in 1922
These two books by Fabre are my daughter’s favourites. Interestingly, Fabre was not only a scientist but a poet (see a short bio here). Charlotte Mason said of French scientists that,
I’ve used some of the University of Nottingham’s Periodic Table of the Elements to not only bring some of the concepts in The Wonder Book of Chemistry (and other books we’ve used in the past couple of years) up to date but also to see demonstrations of science experiments that we wouldn’t be able to perform safely at home.
Eric Sloane’s Weather Book (1952)
The BBC’s Wild Weather series narrated by Richard Hammond have been helpful with Sloane’s book which on the surface looks simple enough but contains some difficult topics where a visual or simulated demonstration is helpful.
Architecture Shown to the Children by Gladys Wynne (1913)
This year we started Architectural Science and Gladys Wynne’s book is our primary text. I’ve added in a couple of other books we have that relate to the science behind architecture such as String, Straightedge, & Shadow: The Story of Geometry by Julia E. Diggins (1965)
Although this would be classified as Mathematics and not Science, we’re using it alongside the above book as it relates to Architecture in the Ancient World. The Grand Design DVD’s are also an enjoyable addition from time to time.
Secrets of the Universe by Paul Fleisher – this was originally published in 1987 and is out of print but it was re-issued as five separate books in 2002. Moozle is reading this one at present:
This is a series that a few of my children have enjoyed and learnt quite a lot from. Fleisher has explained the concepts well and included experiments that are do-able in the home situation. This was one Moozle did on light reflection last week:
Signs & Seasons by Jay Ryan (2007) is a more recent science publication but I’m supplementing with The Constellations & How to Find Them by Sir William Peck (1942) as he writes from a Southern Hemisphere perspective
The older books really shine with this subject and just about every book I have related to this field is old. I have up to date field guides for studying birds and plants in our part of the world but reading the writing of earlier naturalists is very inspiring. An interesting article I found about this: What Early 20th Century Nature Study Can Teach Us.
Some of the books I use the most are:
Natural History in Australia by William Gillies & Robert Hall (1903)
Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Botsford Comstock (1911)
Bush Calendar by Amy Mack (1909)
I posted a list of some of these that are available free online here.
Mother Culture Science
These are some science titles I\’ve read for my own education, or have used with my older children in the high school years. I’ve linked to reviews I’ve written on them or where we’ve used them in high school.
Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood by Oliver Sacks (2001) – my own reading and one of my sons read it around the age of 16 years.
Longitude by Dava Sobel (2011) – this was a book I read aloud about 5 years ago to multiple ages
Madame Curie by Eva Curie (1937)
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (2010)
The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA by James D. Watson (1968)
Understanding Physics by Isaac Asimov (1966) – we used this in Years 9-11
Mr. Tompkins Inside Himself by George Gamow & Martynas Ycas (1967)
The following books are medically related, inspirational/devotional & highly recommended:
Fearfully & Wonderfully Made by Philip Yancey & Dr. Paul Band (1980)
Ten Fingers for God by Dorothy Clarke Wilson (1965) – a biography of Dr. Paul Brand