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MARGARET HUNT HETZEL, RIVERSIDE, CALIFORNIA.
UR calm outlook upon future life, our freedom from
an unwholesome, narrow and fearful orthodoxy, our ability to see the world as a place for enjoyment
and achievement, is due in a great measure to such JIMINNANHNILINE mhmmm men as Wordsworth, Tennyson, Browning and Ste
venson; for these men rose out of the religious and scientific turmoil of Darwinism to a fine, clean, phi
losophy of reason and faith and love of humanity.” Thus spoke Professor Ackson of Princeton University to his English students at Berkeley, not long ago, so pointing toward the large aim of instruction in English. In educational institutions, from the kindergarten through to the first years of college, we name Professor Ackson's generalization character building, if we are teaching English vitally. True, much drudgery in mere scaffolding-grammar, syntax and rhetoric-must rise, in building toward so high an ideal; the danger lies in having, when all is done, nothing but scaffolding.
To literature we owe much, to rhetoric we owe something, to grammar we owe a little of our appreciation of the finest in art and life. The road by which we have traveled in the development of English in high school, and some of the mistakes we are making, are surely worthy of consideration.
Secondary instruction in English has been dominated by three successive ideas since 1870. The first ideal was grammatical correctness, based upon laws of syntax. Rules were learned and recited glibly, if not always intelligently.
“A noun-is-the-name-of-a-person, place-or-thing," illustrates a rule popular in the early “seventies.” Backed by this historical jargon, a boy once insisted that a noun was always a violin-player. Why? “The name of a person who plays a thing!”
The second ideal was brought about by the Harvard require ment for English entrance examinations in 1874, namely: clearness and accuracy of written expression, to which a knowledge of English grammar should be wholly subordinate; that is to say, rhetorical correctness and style were the magic keys to unlock the doors of Harvard to the freshman.
From 1885 to 1889 a third ideal took form as a result of the Yale entrance requirements, namely: the applicant for admission should be familiar with and should appreciate English literature.
An ideal more balanced and practically superior to the first two followed in 1894, and stands at present as the basis of our work in English teaching today: A student should have a working knowledge of the language of the mother-tongue in order to understand the thoughts of others when spoken or written; he should be able to express his own thoughts intelligently by means of speech and writing; he should be able to gain pleasure and profit from reading the literature of his own language.
As to the first idea-grammatical correctness. Language does not follow the laws of reason and logic. Great differences exist in language-forms in different sections of the same country. A magazine writer discovered recently, on the northeast coast of the British Isles, a charming little village where, "Him waits for I," and "Be us to meet she ?” are perfectly good English, spoken indeed by "the Four Hundred.” Moreover, schoolbook language and spoken language differ essentially, even among the most fastidious. Learning alone cannot produce a literary style. That famous Irishman, Dennis, in Hale's “My Double and How He Undid Me,” was taught three sentences with which to meet all possible social conditions while he was masquerading as Rev. A-, to give the overworked preacher a rest. All went well till Dennis's feelings were aroused; then the three polite verbal classics vanished. Dennis—the real Irishman, bubbled up in honest, vehement brogue. Men who never learned a rule of grammar speak correctly—the rule-expert plays havoc with “shall," "will," and “ought.”
Two generations ago the question of grammar or no grammar was argued by Beck and Wurst on the affirmative, and by Jacob Grimm on the negative. The former concluded that, since instruction in language is, in its own nature, theoretical, the grammar of one's native tongue ought to be the proper grammatic school in which the intellectual powers of a student be developed. Grimm argued that speech is a natural unconscious growth, and should not be stunted by rules of an ancient pedant, or by unfruitful abstractions of a dead language.
After twenty years of fight over the question of grammar or no grammar, a reaction came in favor of Grimm; thus caging the grammatic ogre temporarily. Dr. Samuel Thurber maintains that formal grammar is important thus far: distinction of subject, predicate, principal and subordinate elements, meanings of parts of speech, and analysis of selections from classical writers.
The value of analysis of classical selections is open to grave question. A class of high school juniors, questioned recently on their first-year work in "Ivanhoe,” remembered nothing save the fact that they diagrammed passages from it.
Carpenter and Baker suggest a golden mean with which to settle the grammar question, part of which is quoted herewith: “Keep grammar steadily in mind during a student's secondary training as a factor in composition and literature, but do not make it burdensome. Study grammar for a part of senior year work and connect it with composition and literature by means of well-chosen exercises. Place special emphasis on syntax, with abundant exercises where foreign pupils are in the majority. Here may be used to advantage Chaucer's ‘Prolog to Canterbury Tales,' and bits of Old English, for language studied historically may be both profitable and fascinating."
Rhetoric, as well as grammar, has ceased to be an art in itself, having come to mean, by process of evolution, but the scaffolding by which we build "the palace of thought.”
Up to 1880, rhetoric continued to be formal and artificial, and unaccompanied by composition.
Two movements in 1880 stimulated high school work in rhetoric for the sake of composition: first, the schools saw that they were neglecting composition. The conveyance was ready, but there was nothing to convey. Secondly, colleges began to exert pressure upon high schools by entrance examinations, demanding not only correct spelling, punctuation, and sentence structure, but individual expression and thought. Students had been able to give numerous rules for the making of a fine sentence; they could quote metaphor, apostrophe and hyperbole; but they could not produce from their apperceptive mass of rhetoric a correct sentence nor a coherent paragraph, and the idea that they or the teacher might originate a clear figure, was out of the range of possible human powers.
It was then, in the early 90's, that Barrett Wendell and Professor F. N. Scott worked out a theory that is current today in regard to the rhetorical side of English, namely: Not words and phrases, but structure of thought with a view toward a complete whole, is the main object; and further, the best way to obtain power of expression is to write, criticise, and write again. Fluency in writing, as in speaking, comes most effectively by practice.
The theory of Wendell and Scott has its danger in the neglect of the study of English literature. The ultimate end of composition in all art, is to express ideas; and the highest source of ideas, as well as ideals, is to be found in classic literature.
Grammar and rhetoric, then, have their places in secondary education only as a means to an end. These subjects, in the course of social and industrial changes are themselves changing. As population becomes modified by other races, as sciences and inventions develop new words, new elisions and new combinations enter into the English language. Grammar and standards of style must change to meet the present literature of action. Only so far as grammar and rhetoric bring us straight to the matter in hand will they be valuable; and the matter in hand is to appreciate what is finest in literature, art, and in life.
The high school teacher of English should be the master-craftsman whose business it is to direct the work and secure results; but English literature is as badly taught as any other subject in the course of study. The reasons for poor and indifferent work are many; but chief among them is the subjective character of the study itself. Rules for instilling an appreciation of a classic cannot be formulated. Just as impossible is it to make a rule for appreciating an opera or a painting. Appreciation of all these arts is communicable, however, and chiefly through personality and the creating of atmosphere.
Many teachers dislike literature; they admit that they do not understand it and never hope to do so. Consequently they ask questions in English that are as lifeless as statistics on Egyptian mummies, and expect the same kind of response to questions on a fine lyric as a mathematics teacher expects in answer to a demand to square a binomial.
“Stand and deliver, curtly ordered, may spoil a student forever.” A sentimentalist, a ranting enthusiast, is equally bad. The teacher with positive views as to the meaning of an author becomes crabbed and discouraged if his personal view is not understood. Another loves literature, perhaps, but handles it as if he were pitching hay or hoeing the garden. Still others scowl at pure beauty and try to point a moral in Coleridge's “Cristabel," or in something equally beautiful. A teacher who is over-ambitious for class standings discovers the poem or story for the student, thereby student self-activity is nipped in the bud. Too frequently one finds a teacher who, unaware of the ease with which the mind descends to the commonplace, keeps all literature down to a prose basis, insists upon paraphrasing, explains all figures, and holds up to the class as models of exposition, John's or Mary's version of Tennyson's
"Break, break, break
At the foot of thy crags, 0, sea.” Some of us are still slaves to a blue pencil and that old Puritan high-collar of criticism, "Correctness first, originality after.” If