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Lane Cooper - Louis Agassiz as a teacher – 08 Vary the objects being studied in order to improve perspective and objectivity

Identifier

024963

Type of spiritual experience

A description of the experience

LOUIS AGASSIZ AS A TEACHER ILLUSTRATIVE EXTRACTS ON HIS METHOD OF INSTRUCTION WITH AN INTRODUCTORY NOTE BY LANE COOPER [PROFESSOR OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE AND LITERATURE IN CORNELL UNIVERSITY MARINE BIOLOGICAL LABORATORY LIBRARY WOODS HOLE, MASS. W. H. 0. I. 1917 ]

HOW AGASSIZ TAUGHT PROFESSOR WILDER

 From an article by Professor Burt G. Wilder, of Cornell University, in The Harvard Graduates' Magazine, June, 1907..

The last course that I heard from Agassiz in Cambridge began on October 23, 1867, and closed on January 11, 1868. It was memorable for him and for me. At the outset he announced that some progress had been made in the University toward the adoption of an elective system for the students, and that he proposed to apply the principle to his own instruction, and should devote the entire course of twenty-one lectures to the Selachians (sharks and rays), a group in which he had been deeply interested for many years, and upon which he was then preparing a volume. This limitation to a favourite topic inspired him to unusual energy and eloquence. My notes are quite full, but I now wish the lectures had been reported verbatim. This course was signalized also by two special innovations, viz.: the exhibition of living fish, and the free use of museum specimens.

The second lecture of the course already mentioned is characterized in my diary as ‘splendid,' and as 'for the first time illustrated with many specimens.' At one of the later lectures, after speaking about fifteen minutes, he invited his hearers to examine living salmon embryos under his direction at one table, and living shark embryos under mine at another. ……

…That, so far as possible, all biologic instruction should be objective was with Agassiz an educational dogma, and upon several notable occasions its validity had been demonstrated …….. He placed before me a dozen young 'acanths' (dog-fish sharks), telling me to find out what I could about them. After three days he gave me other specimens, saying: 'When you go back to the little sharks you will know more about them than if you kept on with them now ' meaning, I suppose, that I should then have gained a better perspective.

The source of the experience

Agassiz, Louis

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Observation contributed by: Rosie Rock-Evans