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STATEMENT OF CHAIRMAN OF THE COMMITTEE ON
THE STATUS OF LATIN IN SECONDARY SCHOOLS—QUESTIONS, CRITICISMS,
The committee on ancient languages has proposed for answer, or at least for discussion, such questions as these: What is the present status of Latin in the public high schools? In the private schools? Is Latin losing ground, gaining, or merely holding its own? If it is losing ground, what are the principal causes of the decline? If there has been a falling off in the relative number of pupils studying Latin, are the causes to be found in the intrinsic difficulty of the subject, unwise choice of materials, ill-adapted pupils, faulty methods, poorly prepared teachers, crowded curricula, rivalry of modern foreign languages and of the so-called practical subjects, changing college-entrance requirements, narrow or mistaken aims of Latin teachers, changing estimate of educational values, social and economic conditions? If these are the main causes of the decline, are there effective remedies available? If so, what are the remedies? Shall we encourage the great mass of those entering high school to begin Latin, or shall we advocate the policy of limiting the numbers to the ablest pupils? If either plan is adopted, are our present courses, subject matter, and methods best adapted to make the subject attractive and useful to the children who take it? Facts, suggestions, personal experiences, constructive and destructive criticism will be welcomed.
We of the committee believe that Latin is not only one of the most effective educational instruments for general culture, but that it is as well one of the most practical subjects in the curricula of secondary schools. We believe that this assertion is capable of convincing proof. Much work has already been done to demonstrate the value of Latin. There is much more yet to be done. For example, we Latin teachers claim, and for good reasons, that our pupils gain excellent training in English from their Latin studies. Why not attempt to prove this by finding out some of the actual facts? A comparison of the English records of a few thousand Latin pupils with similar records of non-Latin pupils of the same grade for a period of three or four years would establish, at least in some measure, the truth or falsity of our claim. Investigations along similar lines might show what relation the study of Latin bears to success in other subjects.
In various schools throughout the country experiments are constantly made, both in subject matter and in method. The committee invites all innovators, experimenters, and pioneers to make reports of şuccesses and of failures. Some are trying the direct method; some
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are using the spoken language, wholly or in part, in recitations; some have discovered various ingenious devices for arousing and maintaining interest and for securing greater efficiency. Others have experimented with new materials and with new uses of old materials. Closer correlation with English and other subjects is on trial. The so-called practical phases are receiving attention. The committee would like to know what has been done and is attempted.
Mr. A. I. Dotey, of the De Witt Clinton High School, New York City, recently made a comparative study of the scholarship records of 1,397 pupils for the first six months in high school. Approximately one-third of these pupils began with Latin, one-third with German, and one-third with French. The purpose of the study was to determine the place in scholarship held by each foreign language group. A detailed study revealed many important facts, all of which, if generally known, should encourage teachers of Latin. Only one of the broad generalizations need be mentioned: The Latin group holds first place in scholarship in every subject. .
The writer made a similar study of two groups of pupils, of about 200 in each group. The first group elected Latin on entering high school; the second group, German. A comparison was made of success in English. The comparison was carried through three years— six terms. The Latin group was slightly more successful in English the first term, but the difference was not great enough to excite comment. In every succeeding term, however, the Latin group increased its lead over the German group, until in the sixth term the results in English averaged 20 per cent higher for the Latin group than for the German. Are such results typical? If they are, Latin teachers need have no hesitation in claiming that their subject is intensely practical. In the Stuyvesant High School, New York City, until matters of organization made it impracticable, the Latin boys did as much work in German, for example, in three years as the non-Latin pupils did in four, and often did the work better.
During the seven or eight months since its organization, the committee on ancient languages has held one meeting at Philadelphia. The chairman was present also at a preliminary general meeting in December. With a membership widely scattered, it has not been easy to get the views of the different members on any subject. The Philadelphia meeting helped to a somewhat better understanding of the aims and purposes of the committee. The urgent need of work along broad constructive lines was generally admitted. The same spirit of conservatism which for years has characterized the teaching of the classics still prevails even among members of the committee. This conservative spirit is proper and desirable. The
more radical members may need some check. They should be compelled to sustain the burden of proof when vital changes are proposed. That the time is ripe for a reformation, if not for a revolution, few deny. The responsibility rests with the Latin teachers, whether it be a reformation or a revolution.
Thoughtful teachers of the classics are beginning to suspect that some of the attacks directed against Latin are merited. But many teachers do not appear to see the threatening signs of the times. Some are indifferent through ignorance of the facts or through overconfidence. Perhaps they feel that the place of Latin in our scheme of education is so secure that there is no real cause for fear. To the committee this laissez faire attitude seems indefensible.
There are large numbers of teachers, classical and others, who deeply deplore the present-day attitude toward the classics and fear for their future in our educational system. Profound changes are taking place in our civic, social, industrial, and religious life. Our whole scheme of education, from primary school through university, is feeling the effects of these changes. The subjects and methods which were regarded most highly yesterday are discredited to-day, and the end is not yet.
The high schools have been slow to react to the stimulus of the times. The colleges are responsible in no small measure for this condition. The high school is not yet free from traditionalism and from the domination of college and university. The rigid entrance requirements still tend to cripple and limit the effectiveness of the high schools. In comparatively recent years colleges have developed the elective systems, so far as their own courses are concerned, but they have on the whole been slow to extend that policy to entrance requirements. But conditions are rapidly changing. The day is coming and is almost here when it will be generally recognized that the chief business of a public high school is to fit for life. The college in turn will recognize that this preparation for life is also the best preparation for college. The high schools belong to all the people and must serve the children of all the people. Whatever any considerable number of the people wish to have taught must be taught. If there is not a considerable number of people that wish their children to study a subject, very soon that subject will cease to be taught in our public high schools. In these democratic institutions every subject must stand or fall on its merits.
The fate of Latin lies in our own hands. Do we believe in the subject we teach? Do we believe that it deserves a place, and an important place, in our high schools? Latin lacks the novelty of some of the latest offerings. But time perfects and enriches some things. It should bring no discredit to the study of Latin that it has stood the schoolroom test of some 20 centuries. In the high
school course of the future what place will Latin take? What are the aims of Latin teaching? We Latin teachers must work out the correct answers to these questions, or others less qualified to decide will answer them for us in a way distasteful to us and injurious to the cause of sound education.
We have just asked ourselves, What are the aims of Latin teaching? The following are some of the aims which seem worth while: To enrich the English vocabulary, both by the addition of new words and particularly by a more perfect mastery and clear understanding of many of the words already in use; to develop an appreciation of word, phrase, and clause relations; to teach clearness and accuracy of expression, both oral and written; to develop habits of industry and application ; to make the pupil an intelligent critic of his own oral and written speech and that of others; to lay a good foundation for the study of English and of other modern languages; to read some of the great Latin masterpieces; " to give a wider view of life through familiarity with a great civilization remote from the present, both in place and time, 'in the cool, calm air of noncontemporaneous events.”
Many of the results of the successful teaching of Latin just mentioned are, so to speak, by-products. It is worthy of remark that these so-called by-products of the study of Latin—the illumination of an English word, of a grammatical principle, or of a fundamental !aw of language, the causal remark that throws a suggestive side light upon some vital fact of history, of law, of religious and social custom, and upon civilization in general-are the things which cling in the memory long after one has lost the ability to translate a passage from Cicero or correctly to classify a subjunctive or an ablative.
Few who are really competent to form intelligent judgments with reference to the matter would attempt to refute the claim so generally put forward by teachers of Latin, viz, that Latin offers the most effective way of teaching the fundamentals of English grammar or of the grammar of most other modern European languages. Formal grammar is, to the majority of pupils, a distasteful if not a profitless study. The results obtained are by no means commensurate with the time and effort spent. Modern educational theory and practice tend more and more to subordinate this study in our high schools. Most English teachers whose opinions the writer has asked declare that the difficulties of English grammar are much lessened, if they do not entirely disappear in the case of pupils who study Latin. In ihese days of crowded cirricula children who are studying Latin should be excused from formal English grammar and from formal study in their English classes of formation and derivation of English words.
It is one of the traditions of classical study that translation from Latin and Greek is a most valuable training in English expression. So far as the earlier years of secondary teaching are concerned, it is scarcely more than a tradition. It is not fair, however, to lay all or even a large fraction of the blame at the door of the teacher. Under the conditions which ordinarily prevail there is small opportunity for such training in the first year. Isolated words, phrases, and short, detached sentences which have practically no bearing on the interests of boys and girls or on the interests of anybody else afford very narrow scope for training in vigor and clearness of expression. In the second year the difficulties have been multiplied, for an author is read whose works contain all sorts of linguistic snares for the unwary. In order to translate into clear and idiomatic English, one must combine in himself the rare qualities of an accomplished Latin scholar with the powers of expression of a master of English.
The first, as well as the second year's work, is dull and difficult because we insist upon reading Cæsar in the second year. Elaborate analyses are made of the vocabulary and syntax of Cæsar, and practically all beginning books are crammed with these “ essentials.” The work of the first year is planned, not with reference to the capacities and interests of children, but with reference to the vocabulary and syntax of Cæsar. If the children succeed by heroic efforts in thoroughly mastering a “first year book," which, the editor declares, “ fits for Cæsar," they are destined to disappointment. Early in the second year they find that they are not fitted to read Cæsar. Even if pupils were able able to read the Gallic War with some degree of ease, it would be a pity to keep boys and girls of 13 and 14 plodding along on Cæsar's Annals for a year. Even the most fascinating story would grow dull if we had to read 10 or 20 lines per day for 200 days, and not everyone finds Cæsar fascinating. If Latin literature, ancient, mediæval, and modern, has nothing more appropriate to offer our children for the second year than the Gallic War, some gifted lover of Latin and of children ought to write, or translate, stories which in content and difficulty shall appeal to the interests and fit the capacities of young people. Latin does not wholly lack such materials.
The subjects for reading should be short and varied. Let us imitate our confrères of the modern languages, who do not make their pupils read dry military and political histories the second year or any other year, but offer bright, entertaining, and varied selections which, while not too difficult, entertain and at the same time instruct. To students in the modern languages, grammar is the drudgery which is relieved by the reading of appropriate texts. To students of Latin, the grammar is no less difficult, but the selections for reading are so