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Many other answers showed a similar absence of knowledge upon this most interesting branch of natural history, and one which may be made easily intelligible even to children.
The equally simple and interesting question as to what geographical range of animals or plants means, is thus answered:
(1) What is meant by geographical range is, that they are arranged according to their shape and size.
(2) The geographical range of a species of animal or plant is that part of a country in which no species of animal or plant will live, only the species which first originated there.
In 1882 we had a question analogous to that so badly answered in 1873 : “What is the cause of the long days and nights of the Polar regions?" and the answers showed little improvement in the teaching. Here are a few of them :
(1) The reason why they have long days and nights is because at the poles they have only six hours sun, and the sun does not rise at 6 o'clock a.m. at the poles as it does here, but does not rise till nine and ten o'clock a.m.
(2) Because the sun only visits the polar regions a particular part of the year. When the sun is gone the day only lasts a few hours.
(3) The poles being so far from the equator. That is, it takes the light a certain time to travel that distance.
(4) At the N. Pole the Aurora Borealis ; at the South Pole the South Australis sheds its light upon the Polar regions, the long nights are owing to the Aurora disappearing. Long days may be also owing to the Colures; long nights to the moon not affecting the Polar regions.
(5) In summer Europe, Asia, Africa, and America, being the bulk of the land of the world, require a great deal of heat from the sun. Again, when it is winter in Europe, etc., it is summer in Australia. Now Australia being a very small part of the earth it will not require as much heat as the other continents did. Consequently more heat can be given by the sun to the Polar regions than in our summer.
(6) The cause of the long days is due to the slowness with which the moon sets, or, more correctly, the long nights, and when the moon does set it remains a long time forming the long days.
(7) The reason they have long days and nights is that the people always catch the sun or the moon; another reason is that they are nearest the sun.
(8) The cause of the long days and nights of the Polar regions is that the days and nights are just the opposite to what it is stated in the
question, namely short days and long nights, it being one continuous winter from one years end to the other, summer being only for a few weeks at a time, and then the days are comparatively short compared with ours.
(9) The long days and nights are caused by the quantity of snow that falls at the poles.
(10) The cause of the long days in the Polar regions is this: when the sun is observed there (which it seldom is) the rays are reflected as it were, and it forms day. The cause of the long nights in the Polar regions is this : the sun only makes his appearance for a very short time, during this time it is day, but after the sun disappears it is night, which by that means is very long. It is to be understood that it is a certain part of the year during which the days are long, and the other part during which the nights are long
It seems to me a very sad thing that under a vast Government organization at a very great cost, it should be possible for such results as these to be produced. Many of these candidates have evidently good capacity, but are sent up to be examined on subjects of which they are disgracefully ignorant, either from want of any teaching whatever, or through their teachers being themselves disgracefully ignorant -and there are clear indications that the latter is very often the case.
Six years later (1888), we find equal ignorance on another subject of great interest, and as to which knowledge was easy to obtain even without special training. The question was, "How is the depth of the ocean determined ?"
(1) The depth of the ocean is determined by the water carrying the sediment to the mouth of the ocean and depositing it again.
(2) The depth of the ocean is determined by discharging a wire or rope from a cannon, the wire being long with a point fixed, which when it touches something hard an electric current passes immediately to the ship; they thus go on till they find the lowest sounding.
(3) The depth of the ocean is determined by means of the barometer, an instrument invented for measuring the heights of sea-levels, etc. The barometer is placed by the side of some mountain, and in this manner they calculate taking the readings from the barometer.
(4) The ocean contains poles, insects live at the bottom of the ocean and bore holes in the poles, when the poles are reached they reach the bottom of the ocean.
(5) The depth of the ocean is determined because it i always movin and wearing away the bottom.
(6) The depth of the ocean is determined by fixing a piece of rope to a heavy piece of metal which is lowered into the water, and as soon as it touches the bottom the weight is no longer felt and the rope is cut off at the surface of the water ; the rope is then measured. It is brought up by a diver.
(7) The depth of the ocean is determined by sounding or pianoforte wire which is let down until it reaches the bottom of the ocean ; great care must be taken to catch the sound.
Equally gross ignorance is shown as to the mariner's compass, the question being whether it always points due north; if not, why not?
(1) The mariner's compass do not always point due north because if it did on board a ship, the captain of the ship would want to go south and it would guide him the wrong way, instead of south it would guide him north, so it is made to turn N.S.E.W. The mariner's compass is made to turn round in any way in which the captain wishes to turn it, so as to guide him which way he wants to go. If he wants to go to the south he puts the point to the south, etc. They are used by men who want to go to different parts of the world. Say if a man is lost in travelling to Germany he looks at his compass, and if it is north he puts the point north, or if it is south, etc.
(2) The mariner's compass does not point due north because the wind affects it. If the wind is blowing hard the dial points slightly to the north, and when it is a heavy storm the dial points nowhere, but just swings backwards and forwards.
Another subject of the greatest interest and one that can be very easily taught to even young children by a number of simple and easy experiments, is that of the weight and density of the atmosphere, and the construction of the barometer. Some knowledge of these subjects is essential to a clear understanding of a great number of natural phe
Yet this is how, so late as 1889, some of these students replied to easy questions about it :
(1) The weight of the air can be determined by the law of gravitation. For example, take an apple from a tree and let it go. What happens ? It falls to the ground. This shows that the air is heavier and attracts the apple at the ground. Therefore we can say the apple does not fall, but it is the ground that attracts it. By that process we could discover or determine the weight of the air. We are able to move about because the earth attracts us, and so we are able to move about in this dense mass of air under us.
(2) To a person who has not studied the question air has no weight. If air has weight, why do we not get tired of bearing that weight? To prove to that person that air has weight, ask—How do you take headaches? We take headaches because the air gets light and some of the usual weight is taken off the head, and we get giddy.
These two young men write with an air of authority, as if they were teachers rather than learners, yet it is hard to say which of the two is the more profoundly ignorant. The other four, while equally ignorant, are more modest in their style.
(3) We are able to move under the pressure of the atmosphere by impurities and other bodies displacing the air. If there were no impurities in the air we could not move about. For example, water-vapour gets into the air, and displaces it making the air lighter.
(4) We are able to bear a certain amount of the weight of the atmosphere and a very little more would kill us.
(5) We are able to move about on the earth's surface because, although the atmosphere is pressing us down we have the sun attracting us.
(6) The reason that we are able to move about under the weight of the atmosphere is that the atmosphere is two hundred miles away from the surface of the earth.
Passing on to 1891, such a common instrument as the barometer, which can be so easily explained by simple experiments, is thus hopelessly blundered :
(1) Air occupies the space above the mercury. If a hole were bored through the glass above the mercury the air would escape and probably the tube would burst.
(2) The air would escape and the mercury would remain dormant.
(3) The principle on which the action of the mercurial barometer depends is, that it must be enclosed in a strong case and must not be touched in any way.
(4) A water barometer is longer than a mercurial barometer because it has to go down to the bottom of the sea to see how deep it is. A mercurial barometer has to see how high a thing is, and no hill is higher than the depth of the ocean except a few high mountains which nobody can get to the top of. Oxygen occupies the space above the mercury, and if a hole were bored the oxygen would flow out and the mercury rise to the top and flow out also.
In 1893, in order to correct some popular errors, the
following questions were asked : “Point out the errors in the following statements :
“(a) Earthquakes have raised to heaven the ocean bed.”
* (6) Volcanoes are burning mountains that vomit fire and smoke." To which the following replies were given :
(1) Earthquakes swallow the ocean bed.
(2) In ancient times volcanoes were called burning mountains, but we do not call them by that name now, because we have a new name for them derived from the Latin words volca to burn and noe mountain, and the two put together“ volcanoe.”
In the same year, in reply to the very elementary question, "How is angular space measured ?"-without a clear conception of which no knowledge of mechanics or any comprehension of many of the simplest facts of nature is possible-such replies as the following were given :
(1) By multiplying the number of seconds a body is falling by 32.
(2) Angular space is measured by a delicate instrument which brings the rays to one position on a stand or anything you like to put in the way, and they take the angle and measure it and keep on like this at all times of the year and then find the average.
(3) You take a pair of compasses and put a point on one star and a point on the other, and then you look between your legs where they join and judge the distance between them thus.
In 1895 we again had a simple question as to a very common instrument, the construction and use of which can be taught to any child—" Describe the mariner's compass and its chief uses ;”—and we had a set of answers as bad as those seven years earlier :
(1) The Mariner's Compass is a thin bit of steel cut into 32 points. (2) The Mariner's Compass is a box with a card and a lot of needles.
(3) The Mariner's Compass is a brass box with 24 circular cards hinged on, no matter which way it rolls it carries these around with it.
(4) The Mariner's Compass is a box and a card with 32 points.
(5) If a sailor was shipwrecked on a desert island he could find a north and south line if he had a Nautical Almanack.
(6) The Mariner's Compass is a circular bit of wood with a nail put through it, and into this is a pivot which is very easily shook about, and the Captain brings this to sea with him. Of course it has the Cardinal points on it, N.E., S.W. etc., and he knows where he is.