Hardcover, 718 pagesAcquired December 2010
Read June 2016
by H. G. Wells
Ways of Seeing: Science and Education
It's interesting to note that for all he valued science, was trained in science, and even taught science, that Wells doesn't have a terribly scientific mind himself, as he occasionally admits. For example, he described his childhood friend Sydney Bowkett as "one of those who see quickly and vividly and say 'Look,' a sort of people to whom I owe much. [...] Without such stimulus I note things, they register themselves in my mind, but I do not actively note them of my own accord" (79). Wells does, however, recognize a good scientific thinker when he sees one, praising T. H. Huxley (who was Wells's biology lecturer at South Kensington) for his ability to "see life clearly and to see it whole, to see into it, to see its inter-connexions, to find out, so far as terms were available, what it was, where it came from, what it was doing and where it was going" (169).
|I will never get tired of this picture of Huxley.|
However, the form of Britain's educational institutions worked directly against science education creating the kind of all-encompassing vision Wells hoped for; he claims that injecting science into the curriculum was counterproductive, as "when by means of clamour from without, such subjects as physical science and biology were thrust into the curricula, they underwent a curious standardization and sterilization in the process" (279). What should have been about teaching ways of thinking became something so uncontroversial that Wells observes at one point that you could take a biology course at university in the 1890s and never discover the existence of evolution!
I should note before I end that Wells does believe physics can be interesting-- it's just not immediately applicable to daily life. Not necessarily in a bad way, just in a way that means it can't be the subject of his thoughts for a sustained period of time: "I realize that Being is surrounded east, south, north and west, above and below, by wonder. Within that frame, like a little house in strange, cold, vast and beautiful scenery, is life upon this planet, of which life I am a temporary speck and impression. There is interest beyond measure within that house; use for my utmost. Nevertheless at times one finds an urgency to go out and gaze at those enigmatical immensities. But for such a thing as I am, there is nothing conceivable to be done out there" (183). It's a beautiful little image he conjures here, I think. Wells may find his primary sphere of interest within the house, but that does not mean everyone has to.
Be Back Tomorrow: H. G. Wells on writing.