David R. Hershey dh321 at PGSTUMAIL.PG.CC.MD.US
Sat Feb 22 22:01:00 EST 1997

I agree about the relevance idea, something that botany teachers have been
calling for seemingly since the beginnings of botany teaching, without
much success. One of my favorite quotes is from Liberty Hyde Bailey
(1903) Botany: An Elementary Text for Schools. New York: Macmillan,

"A great difficulty in the teaching of botany is to determine what are 
the most profitable topics for consideration. The trouble with most of 
the teaching is that it attempts to go too far, and the subjects have no 
vital connection to the pupil's life ... Every person is interested in 
the evident things, few in the abtruse and recondite. Education should 
train persons to live, rather than to be scientists."

Lots of people get college degrees in fields that they will not work in
their whole lives. However, their degree should be of some benefit in
their life if only for personal satisfaction and for developing an
appreciation of the subject matter. A botany degree should give its owner
a lot of advantages and personal satisfaction. Being able to identify the
trees and wildflowers in your area brings a lot of personal satisfaction
as does growing all sorts of unusual plants with your children or being
able to help them with plant science projects. Botany has lots of
practical applications since most people will have home landscapes,
houseplants, and cut flowers that they can use their botanical knowledge
on. Unfortunately, there is often very little practical information in
most botany texts or botany curricula. 

David R. Hershey
Prince George's Community College
Largo, MD 20772-2199

email: dh321 at

On 22 Feb 1997, Bill Purves wrote:

> At 03:31 PM 2/22/97 -0800, David Robinson wrote:
> >If the majority of biology majors are not really committed to the hard
> >work and inquisitiveness that it takes to be a biologist are we
> >really doing them any great favors by being "namby/pamby" with them the
> >first semester? I'm not saying that we should purposely make the first
> >semester difficult just to "screen out" the students who are really
> >committed from the ones who are just attracted by the salary and prestige
> >of being surgeons. But I do wonder if starting out with the more
> >challenging concepts of molecules, cells, metabolism, and genetics 
> >is a better way to let students know if they "have what it takes to get
> >into medical school" right from the start, rather than encouraging their
> >delusions for a couple semesters more. Isn't this codependence?
> >
> >Alternatively, though, maybe we should be more concerned with biology's
> >generally lousy retention rates by making the courses more relevant and
> >interesting. Does biology always have to have the worse retention of all
> >the undergraduate disciplines?
> Interesting thoughts about a phenomenon we've probably all thought about!
> Two comments to the group:
> 1. If you're not familiar with Sheila Tobias's little book "They're Not
> Dumb, They're Different: Stalking the Second Tier," I commend it to
> your attention.  The book is published by Research Corporation (1990).
> If one buys into Tobias's thesis (as do I), one will incline to some
> version of David's "alternative" suggestion.
> 2. There are campus-political reasons, personal-satisfaction reasons,
> and others to be concerned about losses of majors.  But we might
> also think about the phenomenon of students arriving in droves,
> thinking (often with poor reason) that they want to become physicians.
> Do we want to retain them all as physicians? as bio or botany majors?
> What good reasons are there for any student to major in biology?  Do
> our programs serve their real needs?  If somebody does a lousy job
> in an introductory course, does this mean that the person has no
> future in biology? or in college?  If somebody finds a course "hostile,"
> is it the student's fault?  If somebody does a GREAT job in a biology
> curriculum, should we feel bad if she decides to go off and do
> something else?
> (bill)
> William K. Purves              phone: 909.626.4859
> 2817 N. Mountain Avenue   voice mail: 909.621.8021
> Claremont, CA 91711-1550         fax: 909.626.7030
> USA                    e-mail: Bill_Purves at
> __________________________________________________

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