It was with great excitement that I opened our newly acquired Handbook of Nature Study to read about squirrels with my daughter. It seemed the perfect follow up to the lesson we had just finished in Emma Serl's Primary Language Lessons.
I have long been intimidated by Anna Botsford Comstock's highly acclaimed, 885 paged handbook. I remember purusing it on numerous occassions at homeschool conventions, but never purchasing it as I had no idea how to incorporate it into our homeschool. Reading Pocketful of Pinecones a few months back removed any intimidation that I felt in using this handbook. As I came to understand its value in the Charlotte Mason activity of Nature Study, I added it to my shopping list and waited expectantly for its arrival.
Imagine my surprise then as I opened the book and began reading aloud a treatise against the NRA.
"We ought to yield admiring tribute to those animals which have been able to flourish in our midst despite man and his gun, this weapon being the most cowardly and unfair invention of the human mind. The only time that man has been a fair fighter in combating his four-footed brethren was when he fought them with a weapon which he wielded in his hand..." (Cornell University Press p.233)
I stopped short and skimmed ahead, looking for something that resembled a nature handbook rather than a PETA pamphlet. What I found was, "How any man or boy can feel manly when, with this scientific instrument of death in his hands, he takes the life of a little squirrel, bird, or rabbit, is beyond my comprehension." Oh, my!
What did I just purchase?
Now I must say that I am not fond of hunting. I remember well when as a young city girl of eight years I visited my aunt and uncle's farm where I was compelled to eat squirrel and rabbit. All I could think of was my deceased pet rabbit and the squirrels which romped merrily on the telephone poles outside my bedroom window. With tears running down my cheeks, I valiantly refused while my country family laughed. "It tastes just like chicken," they assured me. I didn't want to find out for myself.
Nevertheless, as an adult, I have come to understand and appreciate the oftentimes necessity of hunting. Where hunting restrictions abound, so do deer who overpopulate an area, cause problems, and end up as road kill. Better that they are enjoyed in venison stew. And even if I don't prefer to eat squirrel and rabbit, I am certainly not going to teach my children to disdain hunting, especially when there are many in their own family who enjoy hunting and reap its numerous benefits.
Here I was so excited to teach my children about squirrels, and instead I find myself having to wade through indoctrination about the evils of killing our "brethren" the animals with guns first. Lesson learned: just because a book is published in 1911 and receives rave reviews in homeschool magazines does not mean that you should read it aloud to your children before you've had a chance to pre-read yourself. Being over one hundred years old doesn't make it exempt from exercising discernment. As my husband reminded me, by 1911 Charles Darwin's teachings had taken hold in the scientific community, and with their literary counterparts, Thoreau was en vogue. Naturalists abounded. I should have thought that through a little more; my husband is so smart. It's interesting that in all the reviews I'd read, no one else had warned me. Consider this your warning.
In the end, it's obviously still an excellent resource, but like most things, it's flawed. I can only think of one Book that isn't.