Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

INTRODUCTION

I. THE NEED OF TEACHING COLLEGE STUDENTS

TO READ

In a more or less tolerable and tolerated way the study of elocution has taken its place in the college curriculum, its Cinderella existence there being due to a vague popular demand, to a somewhat lethargic academic recognition that without it the study of the English language is not faring so well as the study of foreign languages, and to an uneasy consciousness, unlocalized but vivid, that something in the educational scheme is vitally wrong and possibly it may be that students have not sufficient command of English to use it in their other studies. It has rather generally been sup

. posed that the extended practice of writing would remedy the defect. When it was found that it had not—that in spite of much theme work students still remained unable to make use of the English language as a tool to carve out other knowledge-Oral English was admitted as a sister Cinderella. Students were given extended practice in discussion and in public speaking. But in spite of the utility of both written and oral composition, the trouble still persists. What is wrong? Something is needed, it would seem, more basic than either. Had the college faculties listened to the voice of common sense, to the testimony of their occasional but invariable experience, and to the testimony of the continuous special experience of the elocution teacher, they would have found out the trouble long since. (What is wrong is that students do not know how to read.) They do not get the meaning of the printed page. What is needed

1

is systematic laboratory work in the science of reading; in [ [short

, supervised work in translating English] For a college to teach students to write and not to read would seem, on the face of it, an illogical discrimination. It is more rational to assume they can do both or neither. In actual practice, too, they do the latter a hundred times more than they do the former. Considerations of both common sense and utility, then, demand that education in English put more emphasis on the printed word and less upon the written.

These two aspects of the matter are so obvious, however, that if they possessed any power to convince they would have done so long ago. What is necessary, apparently, is to prove to colleges and to teachers that students read even worse than they write. Most teachers will agree that the average student arrives at college under-equipped in English. But though there is a widespread recognition that he is unable to make use of spoken and written English as an instrument for his own expression, it does not seem to have much urge about it in face of the many other things he should be learning at college. But this recognition, however uncompelling, is a grave understatement of the lesser part of the defect. The truth, as an elocution teacher sees it, is sensational. The average student cannot make use of Eng. lish written or spoken as an instrument of anybody else's expression. He cannot read or even listen understandingly. If every college instructor could be made to see this, he would perceive the futility of prescribing reading to eyes that see not and of lecturing to ears that hear not. Every elocution teacher knows that students are unable to read, merely because he has an exact opportunity of finding it out. The teacher of anything else may discover it by asking his students to read aloud a page which develops thought they imagine they have mastered.

THE STUDENT RECEIVES FROM THE PAGE ONLY

EMOTIONAL IMPRESSIONS The ability of the average student to grasp anything beyond simple narrative of events cannot be counted on; it grows less in exact ratio as event and emotional association grow infrequent; it usually disappears entirely with the disappearance of these two. That is to say, he has received with definiteness only emotional impressions. Even if these should happen to convey the outlines of the thought, he has kept no relation and no proportion. In place of an articulated skeleton, he has only a heap of bones.

Oral reading every elocution teacher has found to be an exact test of previous apprehension. As the page presents emotional associations less familiar or more separated one from the other, the impressions made by it become more and more bodiless. As the inter-relationship of the thought becomes more intimate, the impressions produced become more misleading because necessarily more separated by their infrequency. If the text taxes the reader with the necessity of balancing and comparing ideas, keeping several in hand at once, he gets practically nothing at all.] That is to say,

, just in proportion as connectives increase his apprehension diminishes. An exprest double antithesis, even when it presents emotional association, often floors an entire class. An antithesis which leaves one of its members to implication is likely to be undetectable by the average student on his first reading. Implication is, indeed, one of the last things to be grasped. The difficulty of making a class perceive that even the simplest speech implies as much as it asserts might well discourage any deliberate employment of subtleties on the part of the writer. The recognition that each sentence, as well as occupying its own position in space, has a backward and a forward glance,] is a nicety undreamed of

by the average student. in elocution.

Such are the disclosures of a class

EMOTIONAL SKIMMING A HABIT OF BOTH EYE AND EAR This blithe art of emotional skimming-ladling off what appears to be the cream of the page-is certainly somewhat perfected by reading overyoung such writers as Shakspere and Scott. Boys and girls on the lookout for emotional content only, especially when the intellectual content is outside of both their interest and their grasp, come naturally to feel from such writers that there is a vast deal on the printed page which is of no consequence to the main thought, and that it must be expected of the queer race of writers that they will pad out needlessly what they have to say. ] An exact counterpart of what a student receives from the printed page is furnished by his lecture note-book. Have you ever run through that most depressing reading in the world! It is a box containing the least important parts of a picture puzzle. Each part invariably telescopes the illustrationthe emotional association-with the idea illustrated the intellectual statement. Only the most highly colored parts remain; and all the perspective, without which it is impossible to reconstruct the picture, is gone. There is an emotional residue of some striking nouns, adjectives, and verbs, but the background has fallen out. In listening to a lecture, in writing notes into his note-book, and in reading to himself the printed page, what the average student has failed to appreciate are the connectives. Like Alfred Jingle's his nature is too brisk, or like Gertrude Stein's it is too soulful, to lose any time over such sluggish stuff. Not having learned how ideas are built together into a structure, he has no sense of the architecture of speech when he listens or reads. How the chief words are welded into sentences by the little ones, and the sentences are molded into a progressive development of thought by means of connectives, is beyond him. By eye or ear, he gets isolated ideas substantive after substantive, as the early engravers used to draw trees leaf by leaf; and like them he succeeds in getting an entirely wrong impression both of the part and of the whole.

What he fails to perceive are the constructive relationships. He generally appreciates the significance of "and" or “but”'; he may even see much virtue in “if”; beyond the coarsest of the conjunctions, however, he seldom goes. The entire range of finer and less formal affiliations might as well not be employed at all-or worse stili, they merely fumble the meaning of the major assertions already apprehended. When he listens, he cannot help hearing the significance of even the subtlest of connectives in the lecturer's voice; but unfortunately, since he understands their value instinctively, he does not feel the necessity of reproducing them—what is so immediately apprehendable in the context seems to him to exist in the assertions themselves. Consequently here, too, all relationship drops out. Thus the impression he receives when he crams up on his notes for examination is as crudely inaccurate as that which he gets from his other reading. In the one case he disregards the connectives on the page; in the other there are none to disregard.

THE VOICE THE BEST MEDIUM FOR TEACHING AND SECURING

THE RELATIONSHIP OF IDEAS Now, all the connectives of written speech are exprest instinctively in the voice, and with subtleties and countless minor variations and qualifications and dependencies which even the nicest writer is incapable of indicating formally. These shades of relationship, however evasive to the reader, are immediately intelligible to every hearer-merely because inflection is a natural language which everybody possesses quite independently of his acquired vocabulary. So natural a language is it, indeed, that a hearer who fails to

.

« AnteriorContinuar »