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ENGLISH CONFERENCE

PREPARATORY ENGLISH.

PROFESSOR JOHN R. BRUMM, UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN.

To the question “What do freshmen know about English when they enter the University ?" I might answer no less honestly than briefly that I do not know and that freshmen won't tell. To rest the matter here, however, would be to accept the reward of mere virtue when a greater satisfaction invites—that of exercising the prerogative of omniscience for the fleeting moment during which it may be mine to sit in awful judgment upon the transgressions of my fellow sinners. And it is to a pleasure of this sort that I am about to treat myself. Not that I take personal credit for the seer's vision. The gift is mine by right of succession. I simply accept what many of you, each in his appointed time, have accepted at the hands of a program committee whose chief anxiety is that there shall be no peace among us. You, too, have borne the iniquities of your brethren into the wilderness of pedagogical speculation, only to return again to the blessed commonplace of prosaic endeavor and frequent failure. Presently, I shall take my place among you and share your regret that mortals should not rest content with things as they are in the unlovely, unpretending, familiar, work-a-day heart of them. But for the moment—and let none gainsay me this—the veil has lifted before mine eyes and I have seen the glory of a new day dawn.

It were worth while then to begin at an altitude. Our public school system is the one stupendous failure of modern times. There can be no blinking this fact. The Ladies' Home Journal admits the impeachment, The Woman's World dare not deny it, and even The Delineator is painfully perturbed. Helpless young women are being victimized by our public schools. They have been taught Latin and history and literature and mathematics when they should have been taught how to fry griddle cakes and wash imitation babies. Young men have been robbed of their birthright as boiler-makers and carpenters. And what has been the issue? Neglected homes, underfed husbands, drunkenness, divorce, and suicide, not to mention the recent triumph of the democratic party. Verily the high school is doomed. · And in its stead shall be reared that heritage of democracy gone mad, the trade school, where youth may learn the supreme lesson lifehow to make a living at the first job that awaits it round the corner on the day of graduation. E pluribus unum!

But the great day of democracy's triumph is not yet. Enlightenment seeps but slowly into dullard minds. In the meantime competent mechanic art and patient domesticity must continue to give precedence to our blind endeavors to make culture and right reason a part of the educational equipment of the graduates of our schools and colleges.

What, then, has been the object of the supposedly systematic training to which we have so long subjected the youth of this nation? To produce the cultivated man and woman, to extend the interests and broaden the sympathies for the widest possible social contact, to develop self-reliance and to inspire devotion, to banish provincialism and the vanity of little minds, to arouse a passion for knowledge and a passion for service—these are some of the phrases into which we compress the educational ideal toward which we are groping. Whether we define an educated man as a man "who does what he ought to do when he ought to do it, whether he wants to do it or not”-President Butler's characterization or whether we describe our endeavor in schools and colleges as an attempt to develop the “sense for superiority”--to use William James' phrase,-our ideal comprehends a very marked distinction between human skill as an instrumentality and liberal culture as a possession which yields life something beyond mere efficiency. We have long since declared ourselves against the democracy of inferiority and mediocrity, and have striven faithfully to inculcate in our boys and girls a preference for cultural rewards. It is here, I take it, that the issue is raised between our present-day opportunists, who demand practical efficiency, and those conservers of our ancient faith who are true to the quest of perfection.

And it is this popular demand for practical efficiency that is in no small measure responsible for much misdirection and futility in the teaching of high school English. The fault is in the air we breathe. We are being fashioned by economic conditions. On the one hand lies the economic reward that privilege or superior skill may command; on the other lies the goad of economic necessity. All about us are the distractions of noisy achievements. To cherish tranquility of soul, even when there is leisure to do so, is to fall under the suspicion of being un-American. The demand for practicality is growing increasingly insistent. Naturally enough, the utilitarian ideal has invaded the school room, with the result that we are not quite sure of our educational bearings.

We are pretty generally agreed, however, that the purpose of education is to furnish the mind with the widest possible horizon. This endeavor extends beyond the accumulation of facts and conceives of the learning mind as reacting upon these facts in some form of creative activity. Facts are to be seen in relationship, principles are to be derived, inferences are to be drawn. No subject in the curriculum can be isolated as a mere discipline; each must afford its own peculiar contact with life. It is quite obvious, therefore, that the clash between curriculum anarchists and reactionaries rests primarily, not upon the purpose of education, but upon the relative value of the various subjects taught. There can be no doubt that

accurate work, whether performed by the hands or by mental processes, whether it involve the use of carpenter's tools or the appreciation of a poem, is all of a piece so far as training value is concerned. All activity, mental or physical, is a matter of nervous stimulation and adjustment. But it does not follow from this that all subjects are of equal value for the cultivation of constructive imagination. This is true not in the nature of things, but in the nature of conditions. Conceivably, the study of agriculture might be as deeply inspirational in affording a sympathetic appreciation of nature's masterpieces as is the study of literature in its revelations of the human spirit. Likewise any vocational discipline might contribute, under proper conditions, to complete knowledge of life. But the fact is that this reach of potency requires a genius which our training schools for teachers have no immediate prospect of developing.

It appears reasonable to assume, therefore, that literature, and especially English literature, must serve as the chief cultural resource of the secondary schools. It has the primacy for humanity-values, affording, as it does, the most immediate and the greatest variety of contacts with life. Because it not only comprises masterpieces but also the interpretation of masterpieces, it is more wide-ranging in its appeal than any other subject. Clearly, the vocational disciplines are too narrowly circumscribed in their interests to serve this purpose effectually. Science, to be sure, has given wonderful breadth to the intellectual horizon of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Scientific inquiry has touched every phase of human thought and activity and has made this world of ours more habitable and life more stimulating and more alluring. We readily concede what John Addington Symonds says of it: that science is the "paramount force of the modern as distinguished from the antique and the mediaeval spirit.” It has acquainted us with nature; it has discovered to us the human soul; it has furnished us with powerful socializing agencies; it has transformed and recreated philanthropy, industry, and religion. But this is not the science of elementary study; it belongs to original research, touched by the constructive imagination of genius. As a cultural agency in preparatory schools, science is too seriously limited in its range of achievement to open wide vistas to the immature mind. At best it can give but a promise of greater things to be; it can furnish few immediate contacts with the pulsing life that environs youth.

How, then, has the study of literature measured up to the demands made upon it, or rather to the possibilities open to it? Too often, it need scarcely be said, instruction in literature has taken the form of ingeniously compounded prescriptions which the hapless youth gulps down, sustained by the conviction that he is thus being fortified against the ague of college entrance requirements. More than any one other thing, it is this miserable incentive of preparing students to weather a college entrance test, rather than that of developing a taste for good reading and a creditable command of thought and expression, that defeats the real purpose of English study. To teach literature solely with the end in view of satisfying college requirements is about as efficacious as attempting to appease the appetite of a healthy boy by storing his mind with a knowledge of food values, in the meantime denying him real food. There can be no doubt that this incentive puts a premium on poor teaching; for it is only the incompetent teacher who will place dependence on the predigested variety of literary pabulum.

Another evil with which we have frequently to contend is the treason practised by school boards in their method of appointing teachers. It is quite possible under the present administration of many of our schools for a specialist in hygiene and botany whose name comes next on the waiting list, to be elected to a vacancy in the English department. “It is this or nothing," sighs the aggrieved specialist, as he proceeds to shape the literary destinies of a half-hundred innocent boys and girls, meanwhile praying devoutly for the early demise of some longevous botanist. Not infrequently the English instructor is a well-tailored young woman who first offered her services as a teacher of Latin or mathematics or history, but who, thanks to taste in dress and the fact that her application for an opportunity to teach her specialty was clothed in impressive English, suddenly finds herself mounted upon a jaded Pegasus whom she immediately subdues into a shambling hack-horse. Well, perhaps it doesn't matter very much after all, for Lester will have made his start in two or three years. Meanwhile, the wanderings of Odysseus and his illustrious warriors may easily be given secure literary anchorage in their geographical setting, thus affording the eager youth something to swear by, and later when he is less cautious-at.

We are asking that the high school graduate be sent to us with a disciplined mind, with some degree of cultivation in taste, and with a measure of spiritual enlightenment. Education, we believe, should bring, first of all, the rewards of culture-culture alike for the youth who must go early into the world as a bread-winner and for the youth who will go to college. But at present culture is on the defensive. The word is used flippantly, as signifying an incapacity to be pleased, effeminacy or dilettantism, supercilious exclusiveness and narrow self-interest. This is not the culture we would seek for our boys and girls, but the culture that comprehends the discipline of sound knowledge, a love for truth and integrity, the abnegation of self in useful service. This conception of culture is in no sense opposed to practical effiicency, but its first concern is not for material gain. It affords historical perspective and evaluates life in terms of social welfare. It is devoted to the creed that “man cannot live by bread alone” and that truth may be sought for its own sake. It would have us learn how to enjoy greatly and also how to suffer greatly.

Now this "tone,” this "sense for superiority," vague though it be in conception, is what we ought to develop in our students through the study of literature. How far our efforts in this direction may prove successful we can never know completely. There are, however, certain results, largely mechanical in nature, by which we are able to pass judgment upon the student's educational equipment. And it is to this kind of inquiry, as it touches the average freshman's familiarity with literature and command of expression, that I wish to invite brief attention. My conclusions are based upon testimony furnished by the University teachers of literature and of rhetoric.

I shall first present the substance of replies received from the teachers of literature in answer to the question, "What is the character and scope of the average student's knowledge of English literature when he enters upon his University study of the subject?” “He knows,” writes one instructor, "pretty much in proportion as he cares, and in more than half the cases that is little. He has more interest, or at least he is more easily interested, in eighteenth and nineteenth century writers than in earlier ones, except possibly Shakespeare. But his knowledge even of recent writers is slight and uncertain.” Another writes: “His knowledge is confined for the most part to a few great men; his information is not exact; he has little idea of relatiori in time, and little or no idea of the relation of literature to history. He places too much reliance upon the idea that English literature is with the language a birthright, and he also has very hazy notions of what is good literature."

Both the teachers of literature and of rhetoric are unanimous in declaring the freshman's knowledge of literature unnecessarily limited, vague, and haphazard. Few instructors find any evidence of real literary acquaintance beyond the prescribed preparatory reading, such acquaintance being confined chiefly to current novels and popular magazines. The George B. McCutcheon-Harold Bell Wright-Laura Jean Libby type of fiction has first place in the literary affections of those students who complain against the dreary grind of their earlier classical reading. It is also generally agreed among University instructors that high school graduates have practica!ly no idea of historical perspective. As one instructor expressed it, "Even though the freshman has studied the essays on Milton and Addison, he is apt to think Macaulay a contemporary of Chaucer."

The freshman's deficiencies in literature may be summarized as (a) a failure to appreciate pure literature, especially poetry, more especially lyric poetry; and (b) a failure to see the history of English literature. One instructor points out that the necessity for repeating in college courses much of the high school work is the most serious defect in the whole situation.

Among the remedies porposed for improving the preparatory training in literature are the following: (a) That each pupil be compelled to learn as a matter of course the chronological outlines (not a list of dates, but the succession of periods) of English literature. (b) That history and literature be more closely correlated.

Appreciation of literature, it is quite generally agreed, depends mainly upon the personality of teachers and pupils. The absence of a cultivated

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