The Original Question about Value of Naming

Peter Rauch anamaria at GRINNELL.BERKELEY.EDU
Fri Jul 19 12:19:04 CDT 1996

> Date:         Fri, 19 Jul 1996 11:16:49 GMT
> From: Mike Morris <Mike_Morris at NYNET.NYBE.NORTH-YORK.ON.CA>
> .... I
> originally asked this group about the educational value of having urban 7th
> graders learn the scientific/common names of organisms .... ie. what to do on
> a hike when a student innocently asks "what flower is that?" or "what is that
> brownish bird?"

Admittedly, the discussion hasn't focused on the very specific issue
of "the educational value of learning the names...."; although much
has been implied about that value in the discussion, surely much more
could be said, and explicitly.

> ... there is a group that
> think names (scientific, common, or otherwise) are a blight on the field of
> outdoor education because, for 7th graders only casually interested in the
> outdoors, the names of organisms tend to become an end in themselves ...

On the other hand, do you know of _any_ 7th grader who does not have
a name for absolutely everything in his world (even if it is only
recognizing that one organism is a "flower" and the other is a "brown bird")?

> "OK,
> I know the name, therefore I know everything important about this plant!"
> When you see students for only a short time and you want to maximize the
> potential for learning, you need to know how to handle these student
> inquiries.

The challenge, seems to me, is upon the outdoor educator to know enough
to provide that balance (maximize the learning). For example, "That
plant (flower) is distantly related to the celery you eat, and is
called Poison Hemlock. It's called _poison_ hemlock for a reason! Did
you know that Socrates was supposed...." Of course, you'd want to make
absolutely sure that the kids didn't tune out right after the
"...celery" part.  Contrast that reply with "That's Conium maculatum
and it's distantly related to the celery you eat.... _maculatum_ refers
to spots --see the blotches on the stems?" ;>)  Now, you can go on with
stories about what "related" means, or with whether or not having a
common name like Poison Hemlock is a useful complement to the
scientific name, or any of a hundred other stories. Or, maybe it's time
to talk about that brown bird over there (" all know what a Robin
looks like, right?  That bird looks a little like a robin, doesn't it?
Same sort of face and beak, posture, shape and proportions, smaller.
Well, it's another kind of thrush and is in fact related to the Robin
which is a thrush, and this one's called...."

The problem and issue aren't in the use/non-use of names, but in the
skills of the teacher to weave that story around the names. I think.

Hey, everybody, there's a Crotalus over here...., or is that a Crotalaria?

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