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The great majority of graduates from public, high, and normal schools are sadly deficient in ability to interpret the printed page. Thirty years' experience in teaching forces on me that conclusion. In the following pages will be found what I think is ample proof of my charge, sweeping and startling as it is; but in this place I can say only that my statement, often made in public, is all too frequently challenged by those who, relying easily and nonchalantly on their ability to take in at a glance words, phrases, nay, whole pages, never have learned how much of the meaning they miss, and how often they misinterpret it.
No system of popular education can be considered adequate from which the graduates have not derived a serious interest in worth-while things and an ability to grasp the content of books or journals in which things worth while are discussed. And I believe, therefore, that our school system must lay greater stress than it has laid on silent reading—the importance of which seems to be underestimated. It is the only avenue of approach to the larger world for the boy and girl, or the man and woman whose school days are ended. Whether as a citizen who should for patriotic reasons have a lively interest in history, politics, sociology; as an artisan who seeks for help and advice in his life-work; as a lover of the beautiful seeking to come into contact with the best that has
been thought and felt by the human race; or as a mere, plain, matter-of-fact everyday man or woman of affairs who wants to know what is going on, it is the printed page more than anything else that can help.
There is a loud cry for better reading in our schools, and as the demand grows louder and more insistent, we are striving to meet it by classes in elocution, elocution contests, voice classes, courses in articulation, and of late, by the giving of plays. Indeed all of these ways of answering the demand are helpful (with a little less emphasis on the “all” when it comes to elocution contests as usually conducted); but while they develop ease and facility in expression, they do not go to the root of the matter unless they insist that the only basis for vocal expression must lie in a thorough apprehension of the meaning.
All this is veriest platitude; and yet I cannot escape the conclusion that in spite of all our training in silent and oral reading (I had almost added “and in English”), in spite of accepted theories about "getting the thought,” the average product of our schools, from grammar grade to college, cannot be altogether trusted to interpret a page of reasonably difficult English.
And the times, too, are none too favorable for such intensive study as I am pleading for. All is rush and hurry, and what does not come to us easily as we read, what is only a short distance removed from the simplicity of thought and language of our everyday life, is dismissed as being hard, and hence beyond our grasp. It is an age when the concrete and tangible
are the only things that seem to count with young people. It is so easy to skim over a text that has to deal with abstractions as close to life as "virtue" and “honesty." Typewriting, shop, mechanical drawing; nay, even chemistry, botany, physics, as the pupil comes into contact with them in the laboratory, are “easier," far easier, than one page of solid type.
No one is foolish enough to deny the importance of the vocational and scientific studies. But I would draw attention to the fact that in those subjects the material is tangible, easy to get at and to handle ; and above all they afford little training in the attention and concentration necessary to the mastery of the content of books. The data of science are concrete, and so novel, so inherently interesting, that students delight to spend hours in the laboratory learning how the wheels of the universe go 'round. Yet the very tangibility of the data is likely to create an impatience in the student for the serious study of books.
It is not that I plead for less of the methods of science, but for more: I urge that the vocational student and the young student of science include in their curricula more of the intangible material of the printed page; and that the student of literature include more of the rigid method of science in pursuing his courses.
But even in connection with subjects in which books are frequently used, we accept too easily careless, slipshod recitations. How strange it is that in so much of our teaching of reading from primary up so little help is given to the pupil to enable him to get the