"Look, father, what a great star! It's big enough to make the night light without the moon. It isn't always there; what's its name, and where does it go?"
The boy was in the receptive 'How I wonder what you are' mood; anything and everything I could have told him would have been his––a possession for life.
So says a father about his inquisitive son in Mason's Formation of Character (p. 123) . Dad drops the ball in the next part, but then resolves to change things in the end. More on that in a minute.
In astronomy, for example, emphasis is laid upon phenomena that the child himself can observe, and he is instructed how to go about it. The rising and setting of the stars, the phases of the moon, the uses of the telescope, are explained in simple words. The mystery of these and other matters is not magical, as the child at first supposes. It is to deeper mysteries that his attention is here directed. (Vol. p. 267)
|Pictures taken with the 8" Schmitt-Cassegrain Telescope - M51- The Whirlpool Galaxy|
|M57 - Ring Nebula - "The Cheerio"|
|"I see the moon and the moon sees me..."|
"That's not a star, it's a planet, Tom," with a little twaddle about how planets are like our earth, more or less, was all I had for his hungry wonder. As for how one planet differs from another in glory, his sifting questions got nothing out of me; what nothing has, can nothing give...
"Have they names? What is this, and this?"
"Those three stars are the belt of Orion"––the sum of my acquaintance with the constellations, if you will believe it! He bombarded me with questions all to the point. I tried bits of book knowledge which he did not want. It was a 'bowing' acquaintance, if no more, with the glorious objects before him that the child coveted, and he cornered me till his mother interfered with, 'That will do, Tom: don't tease father with your questions.' A trifling incident, perhaps, but do you know I didn't sleep a wink that night, or rather, I did sleep, and dreamt, and woke for good. I dreamt the child was crying for hunger and I had not a crust to give him. You know how vivid some dreams are. The moral flashed on me; the child had been crying to me with the hunger of the mind; he had asked for bread and got a stone. A thing like that stirs you. From that moment I had a new conception of a parent's vocation and of my unfitness for it. I determined that night to find some way to help ourselves and the thousands of parents in the same ignorant case.
Through this vignette (ficticious?), we learn that the father truly did seek reform and the PNEU was founded to help parents properly educate their children. There is much in the little story for us to learn, I think. But now, persevering reader, I have a question for you! I feel that being out in the night air with a knowledgeable guide is the best way to go about astronomy. To help us along, we are using "The Stars" by H.E. Ray. It does the job, but I would hardly call it "awe-inspiring". Have you found a living astronomy book that does just that? Would you kindly leave a note and tell me the title?