Charles F. Barker

For Educators

For starters, I wanted to share some thoughts on the study of geology that I really like and have compiled over the years. I give this hand-out to my students on the first day of class at WSU.

Some thoughts on the Study of Geology

 “There are other investigations which more nearly affect our social happiness than the philosophy of geology, but perhaps there is none which in an indirect manner produce a more wholesome and beneficial effect upon the mind …After the perusal of Mr. Lyell’s volume, we confess to emotions of humility, to aspirations of the mind, to an elevation of thought, altogether foreign from the ordinary temper of worldly and busy people…So disposed mentally, the heart overflows with charity and compassion; vanity shrivels into nothingness; wrongs are forgotten, errors forgiven, prejudices fade away; the present is taken at its real value; virtue is tried by an eternal standard.  There are sermons in the stones and tongues in brooks, but they want an interpreter: that interpreter is the enlightened geologist…”

-(Review of Scottish Geologist Charles Lyell’s Principles of Geology in the “Spectator”, 14 January, 1832)

“Self-discovery can be a splendid consequence of education, but it is a poor curriculum.  The young men and women who would really know themselves are best advised to know other things first; invertebrate nervous systems, perhaps, or plate tectonics.”

-Jon Westling, addressing alumni, graduates, and their families at the President’s Breakfast (Boston University, 1999)

The following introduction from a Geology Text of the early 20th century, warns against seeking and accepting answers from a book alone:

“Students, and too often their instructors, are apt to prefer a text-book upon which they can learn with implicit confidence, and which never leaves them in doubt upon any subject, but is always ready to pronounce a definite and final opinion.  They dislike being called upon to weigh evidence and balance possibilities, and to suspend judgement when the testimony is insufficient to justify a decision.  This is a habit of mind which should be discouraged; for it deludes the learner into the belief that they know the subject when they have only acquired some one’s opinion and dogma’s, and renders further progress exceedingly difficult to them. 

In no science are there more open questions than in Geology, in none are the changes of view more frequent, and in none, consequently, is it more important to emphasize the distinction between fact and inference, between observation and hypothesis.  An open minded hospitality for new facts is essential to intellectual advance” (Scott, 1902).


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