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THE NOBLEST OF PROFESSIONS
SUPPOSE no generation of men has possessed a theory of education sounder in principle or more ingenious in detail than ours. We know what we ought to be doing, and several ways in which we might be doing it; and all this knowledge is so important and so satisfying as to obscure the minor consideration that we are actually doing something quite different. Hence, the wonder and even indignation with which, from time to time, we find ourselves regarding a fact which is intelligible enough, Heaven knows, in the light of that consideration. I refer to the low status of the teacher as a human being among other human beings.
By the teacher, I mean most teachers, in a crude numerical sense, most of those who sit behind desks in schoolrooms, whether the individual chances to constitute a primary or a post-graduate cog in the "educational" machine. It may not be a reasonable thing to lump all these persons together. They all sit behind desks; have they anything else in common? What is this pedagogue, when we come to think of him?-it will not be often; most of our thought is devoted to his precious charges. What is this teaching person?-a priest? or a sad ass? or simply a poor, devil being crushed under the educational car? Does he practise "the noblest of professions," or, on the whole, a rather mean trade? Is he a scientist sworn to apply the rules of "pedagogy," or a missionary devoted to the diffusion of the gospel of "culture"? Socrates, Erasmus, the Arnolds, William James: why is this not "the noblest of professions"? Ah, but what of the dull girl (underpaid, perhaps, but certainly dull) who usefully whacks the three R's into the resilient head of the public infant! What of the Ph.D. of a postgraduate instructor, who, himself as full
of meat as an addled egg, is incapable of whacking anything into anybody's head? Think of the number of guileless but mischievous persons who have taken up teaching as a makeshift (yes, there are parallel cases. in the ministry. and elsewhere), and who have kept on teaching, because it really doesn't matter to them what they do, or because they can't think of anything else to do. What with our lack of a religious establishment, and the small and diminishing number of our government sinecures, they would be hard put to it to lie down with equal comfort in the shadow of any other profession or trade. After all, the worst thing about it is that all people of this class are not drones; many of them become respectable mechanics, abundantly able to do what they are paid to do: actually, if not theoretically, successful teachers. Think again of the class, which passes almost insensibly from one side of the desk to the other; men of acquisitive mind, with a natural bent towards the academic life. Does even this favoured class find in the routine of teaching an opportunity and an incentive for the exertion of its best powers? The question of first motive is not the important one; people drift into all professions and trades, and in teaching, as in other pursuits, often do good service. But in what, practically, does the good service of a teacher consist, in most cases and in the long run?
We can all imagine the ideal teacher; most of us are able to connect that ideal, by however slender a link, with the memory of some particular person. Happily for us, there do exist teachers with an insatiable desire to impart, and an indomitable instinct to arouse; whose hand cannot be subdued to what it works in. They are, and must be to the end of the chapter, persons. Their method of teaching is as truly a part of them as their style would be in literature, or their
tactics in war. It is sufficiently clear that if all those men and women who sit behind desks in schoolrooms were of this type, we should need no text-books, we should need no stated pedagogical theory. These masters, in truth, afford the only reliable data for the formulation of such a theory; precisely as literary masters afford the only reliable data for grammatical and rhetorical theory. The work of such men embodies principles which the rest of us, in our laborious way, make shift to reduce to rule. In constructing our code we have taken one step towards efficiency-an efficiency which, alas! is not required of us, and which few of us are strong enough to pursue without hope of approbation. In teaching, as in other callings, the veritable master is rare; but here, as elsewhere, there are numerous degrees of usefulness below, yet not remote from, any degree of mastery. The sad fact remains that the kind of usefulness required of the ordinary teacher is at a polar remoteness from that excellence to which, as it appears in the exceptional teacher, we yield a complimentary homage. To force our pupils to learn things, to excite them to a shallow mental activity, is to make ourselves indispensable; to arouse and cultivate in them, at whatever expense to ourselves, a strong and intelligent desire for true education, is, however admirable à proceeding in theory, a practical impertinence.
Does not this fact go far towards accounting for the low average of intelligence among our lower teachers, of true cultivation among our higher teachers, of a dignified effectiveness upon whatever professional level we may choose to turn the searchlight? Narrow minds, petty souls, flabby wills, making a go of it in this noblest of professions; it is a spectacle to be deplored rather than marvelled at. The limitations of the teaching class, as a class, are, we have often been told, due to the small consideration with which its lower ranks, at least, are treated by a gross world. They are not paid enough, they are not given a chance. socially, and what not. Isn't this rather putting the cart before the horse? Who says that they fail to teach what they are expected to teach, that they are paid less
than their task deserves, that they are given less social consideration than other menials of their class? Yes, menialsso far as their work is concerned. One may have the luck to have a gentlewoman for a housemaid; she adds, perhaps, a touch of refinement to the processes of dusting furniture and making beds. But she is paid, and ought to be paid, for doing what she is required to do; hers is honest work, but we do not commonly invite her to the family table, or assure her that she is practising the noblest of professions. The best luck we can wish her is escape into some walk in life in which gentlewomanliness is, as it were, a part of the job. It is all very well for us to exhort the man behind the desk to put all his strength into his work. The situation remains the same; small powers backed by a neat system are quite sufficient for the task he is paid to perform.
That task is a fatally simple one: to assign lessons, to hear recitations, to hold examinations, and to turn in marks. Any fair mental mechanic not incapable of keeping order can do this. It is no trick at all. Do you fancy yourself something more than mere mechanic and disciplinarian? disciplinarian? Do you imagine yourself doing far more than you are paid to do, arousing and inspiring your pupils to greater effort than is absolutely required of them? Try it. If you are one man in a thousand you will succeed in lifting yourself by your own boot straps; two or three of your pupils may succeed in lifting themselves: you are a great teacher. But you no more earn your salary than the droning fellow in the next room, who causes his pupils to acquire facts, to retain them for purposes of examination, and to expel them accurately at a given moment. We have a beautiful theoretic ideal of education; but what, if not this, is our practical working ideal? Any system of education has its true root, not in the character of the object desired, but in the character of the object required. So long as our universities continue, year by year, to stamp the hall-mark of the educated man upon hundreds of ignorant and but semi-literate "graduates," we have no cause to wonder at what takes place on either side
of the desk in the primary and secondary schools. All good things are desired and made possible in our big colleges; yet if a man, by dint of a decent mental endowment and a fair memory, is able to "pass," to get behind him, out of his system, a certain number of courses, he may become a Bachelor of Arts, and if he cares to take the trouble, a Ph.D. By that By that time he will be fit to teach, and "no mistake."
portion, their duty; and comes to be, in how many cases, their joy and their undoing. To take pleasure in lording it over undeveloped minds, and to shuffle in the presence of those who should be met on terms of equality: these are the two concluding scenes in the experience of how many men, who in other callings would, at least, have remained human. Their only hope of salvation is to do something outside of the classroom influence; something that brings them into association, and, if possible, competition with other men; and to do it well.
But what we set out to do was not primarily to pronounce our present system of education a total failure; nor was it to lament the fate of the pupil. Over that young person everybody is prepared to yearn. It is in the name of the teacher that I am calling attention to the discrepancy between our theory and our practice: surely a melancholy fact for him that after a few centuries' talk about education being a "drawing-out," and what not, his real business should have turned out to be a mere filling-up. Did you ever have a class grin at you, or scowl at you, for babbling about subjects that were not to "count" on examination? How can such treatment help affecting a teacher of any sensitiveness, which is to say, of any potential effectiveness? He must resign himself to beat the air, or resign himself to be a drudge. He must express the best of him through some avocation, or express it not at all.
This, then, is the effect of his pursuit the pursuit to which, for one reason or another, he is committed for life -upon the character and human usefulness of the ordinary teacher. How far does it fit him to deal with the larger world in which, outside school hours, he must take his place? Doesn't it evidently unfit him? Isn't it clear that his calling, far from constituting a point of contact, obtrudes a considerable obstacle in the way of a normal relation to other men, and a normal attitude towards life? Parsons are inclined to a similar disabil-, ity; but individually they have their chance. The authority they exercise need not be a petty one; it is hardly the fault of the task if their remoteness be not a remoteness of superiority. Certainly this cannot be said of teachers. Small authority over inferiors is their
Is this easy? If one's straw is all used for fuel, how is one to make up his tale of bricks? So much time occupied, so much crude energy put forth towards the attainment of a dubious end, and what are most of us good for? There will always exist a happy minority who cannot be downed, will not be baulked of efficiency, will find their way into waters upon which their bread may be scattered with some possibility of salutary return. We, it is more than probable, are of the luckless majority; we succumb to long hours, hard labour, and, it may be, the cynicism of the half-hearted drudge. We end by losing faith in ourselves, and becoming mere gerund-grinders, or, at worst, parasites, safe among our kind in the contemptuous toleration of a busy community; day nurses, true pedagogues, sure of our pay, if we do not thump our charges with actionable zeal. We bear a visible brand: anybody can "spot" us on the street or in company. The clergyman or the physician has his recognisable earmarks, but they are less naturally considered a stigma. Why? Because the successful clergyman is seldom merely a clergyman, or the physician merely a physician. He has a better chance than the teacher of continuing to be, or getting to be, something more than a special functionary. He is brought in contact with men; his work itself gives play to his best powers. He is, more often than not, pleasant to meet in a casual way, a delightful companion at close quarters, able to hold his own in any genial contingency. To be a "fine teacher," on the other hand, is not at all to qualify oneself for such a part. It is not the dull teacher, the unsympathetic
teacher, the pedantic teacher, who falls a victim to small authority. Consider the mean expedients of alleviation to which the teacher of naturally strong parts is reduced by his disgust of routine. How should they fit a man for converse with his equals this cheap sarcasm hurled at some defenceless one who has said something stupid, or something original; that small jest, à propos of some particular "passage," of which school tradition has informed the class days in advance, and to which only a few bold spirits dare pay the deserved tribute of a sneer. Being up in pedagogical theory does not prevent this kind of damning indulgence. It represents, we suppose, only the instinctive revolt of human nature against the admission that it is a machine. No doubt, the London cabby and the Billingsgate fish-wife are obeying the same impulse in their pursuit of a forcible rhetoric.
THE PRESENT TEACHING OF ENGLISH LITERATURE*
Thirteen years ago the English_Conference appointed by the Committee of Ten recommended to that body a plan for the study of English which has formed a basis for what may be called the official thinking on the subject. Its tenor agrees with the general college requirements for admission, with the Uniform Board examinations and so forth. It offered a sort of ideal towards which teachers of English might strive if they liked. That report recommended the discontinuance of the study of English literature in a special text book, offering in place of it a series of masterpieces from Chaucer to Tennyson and Lowell, and presenting the idea that the history of English literature was best known in the form of a number of great works of literature.
That was a dozen years ago: during the past few years there have been published a considerable number of text books on the history of English literature and American literature, so that now almost no educational publishing house is without some recent work of the character. The effort of the Committee of Ten, or its English Conference, to turn the study of English literature into new channels has, therefore, not been entirely successful.
Well, as we have intimated, the fit result of this habit of petty authority, coupled with a sense of actual futility, is a stiff and surprised sheepishness in the presence of one's fellow-man. There one does not find himself to be a person of recognised authority and wit; does not feel himself to be a person of easy and acceptable presence, a man among men. Yet he is, according to the official tests, a perfectly successful teacher: do not his pupils invariably pass their examinations? Discipline and drill have been demanded of him, and he has supplied those commodities to the complete satisfaction of all concerned of the pupil, the parents, the school authorities, the college examiners, the committee on degrees. Incidentally, to be sure, he may have stultified himself morally and intellectually, may have disqualified himself for life. H. W. Boynton.
English Literature by Alphonso Gerald Newcomer. Scott, Foresman and Company, Chicago.
A First View of English Literature by William Vaugn Moody and Robert Morse Lovett. Charles Scribner's Sons New York.
These books have been of a various character. The books published ten years or so ago, like the first books of Mr. Pancoast, tried to join to the study of masterpieces a consideration of the history of literature or vice versa. Mr Pancoast's book was published in 1892. It tried "to answer the needs of those who are beginning to teach according to the new methods." In accordance with that idea the book contained a great number of complete works of important authors. The Nonne Prestes Tale, The Merchant of Venice, L'Allegro Il Penseroso, The Rape of the Lock, The Ancient Mariner were given practically complete. Since that book there have been a number more of somewhat the same character.
Of these one of the latest is Gwynne's Masters of English Literature published a year or so ago. This book is planned not as a regular history of English literature but as an account of the more important authors. It has chapters on Chaucer, Spenser, Shakespeare, Ben Jonson and Herrick, Bacon etc. But the true character of the book is not indicated by the chapter headings: the chapter on Spenser, for instance, contains almost as much on Marlowe (and that as a dramatist) as it does on its especial topic; the chapter on Bacon is more than half on Bacon's immediate successors, especially Sir Thomas Browne and Jeremy Taylor. The book shows an effort of the different masterpiece idea to get the advantages of a history of literature. But is is all a question of selection: Mr. Gwynne names in the titles of his twenty chap
ters some twenty-seven authors but he actually treats in some detail of as many more, while his index shows mention of about a hundred and fifty. That is not so large a number as are dealt with by the writer of a regular history of literature for the school, but every one must omit a good deal in a school text book: Mr. Gwynne merely omits more than most of the writers of out-and-out histories.
Of these latter we note especially two that have come to our immediate notice. Prof. Newcomer's book was published early in the year: Messrs. Moody and Lovett's appeared in the fall. They are excellent books: each would provide quite a satisfactory textbook for the high school or indeed lower college classes. We shall not offer much of a comparison of them, if only that we have put one of them to a much more rigourous test than the other. In the general plan of typography the former appears superior; in the actual printing and especially in the pictures, the latter undoubtedly is so. The two books do not differ very strikingly in their arrangement of material: Prof. Newcomer treats of Old and Middle English a little more fully but not notably so; he gives some consideration to later Victorian authors whom Messrs. Moody and Lovett omit. But in general the two books cover much the same ground, and they cover it in much the same way: each has a well written narrative embodying exposition and criticism, each has aids such as tables, questions for review, bibliography and guide for further reading; Prof. Newcomer gives rather more in the way of short illustrative extracts. As to the soundness or the illuminating quality of the criticism, we like them both, with some reservations, and cannot say that either appears markedly superior. They are excellent books of their kind and there have been a number of other good ones within the last few years.
What is to be said of such books, recommending as they do a kind of study of English literature very different from that to be gathered from the official statements of the institutions in which their authors hold professorial chairs? This is certainly not the place to discuss at length such different modes of teaching. We shall merely note along with our mention of such books a matter of which the general reader may be un
offered a number of authors that were supposed, theoretically at least, to cover in a representative way, the field of English literature. From the present list one could select the following as a course of study, in addition to two plays of Shakespeare.
About a year ago a Conference in Uniform Entrance Requirements in English was held in which were represented the Associations of New England, the Middle States and Maryland, the North Central States and the Southern States. That Conference substituted for the previous requirement of nine or ten masterpieces to be studied, a list of about fifty works from which ten were to be selected under certain restrictions. The principle of this action (if there were any principle beyond that of compromise) would seem to be a more vigorous re-affirmation of the idea that the study of independent masterpieces is the true line of work. The former requirements
Neither list would be a good one so far as a knowledge of English literature is concerned. Neither is absurd but each is practically limited to a single rather narrow view of literature, and, further, each is such a selection as might naturally result from a special leaning or interest on the part of a teacher. A student who has rightly pursued any such course will have a certain appreciation of literature but very slight knowledge of the literature of England and America. We have therefore a certain sympathy with books like those which we have particularly noticed. They have their drawbacks, especially in the hands of a poor teacher. But they offer the opportunity of an acquaintance with our literature that we conceive to be very useful.
Edward E. Hale, Jr.
It is safe to say that Professor Titchener's Experimental Psychology is much the most important general work on the subject yet published by an English writer. The first volume, Qualitative Experiments, has been issued several years, and is now familiarly known. The second volume, Quantitative Experments, is but just produced-a welcome completion of the author's plan. Like Volume I., it comprises, as separately bound parts, an Instructor's and a Student's Manual, supplementing one another. The primary aim of the whole 'work is denoted by its subtitle, A Manual of Laboratory Practice, but the book (and especially Vol. II.) should not be narrowed to this connotation; for the manuals comprise
*Experimental Psychology: A Manual of Laboratory Practice. Volume II. Quantitative Experiments. By Edward Bradford Titchener. Macmillan Co., 1905.