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SHALL BAD ENGLISH BE ABOLISHED?
THOMAS J. ALLEN, PROFESSOR OF RHETORIC IN AURORA COLLEGE, AURORA, ILL.
THETHER English can be taught positively is at least question
able. It might be argued that, as we learn to speak by imitation of those around us, and as we learn to write after the style of those authors whom we read most, the most that can be done is to listen always to good speakers and to give our days and nights to Addison, Burke and Macaulay. Bunyan acquired a noble English style by reading the Bible. Franklin mastered the art of clear, forcible and dignified expression by paraphrasing choice passages from the masters of English prose.
If the student could hear and read only good English it would not be necessary to teach him what to avoid. But the average student hears, almost constantly—even in the class room—and reads in newspapers, books and magazines, incorrect, weak and inelegant English, which he must either unconsciously adopt or consciously reject.
"A rose by any other name would smell as sweet." Any word or form of expression will convey that meaning which, by continuous use, is associated with it. Such common errors as "I guess I will go to the post office," "I'm not feeling good," are so familiar that even persons of good education use them, and no one doubts about the meaning intended. Such palpable errors seldom occur in writing, because we exercise greater deliberation in writing than in speaking. But so long as young people are accustomed to hear and read poor English, just so long will there be a tendency to use poor English in speaking and in writing. No one chooses to use incorrect or ungraceful English; the habit is formed early, and in many cases becomes so firmly established that it cannot be entirely overcome, at least in speaking. The first step in the correction of a fault in language, as in manners, is to become conscious of it. In the teaching of every art there is danger of developing super-consciousness, but that is not the greatest danger to which the pupils of incapable teachers are exposed. Professor Channing was unquestionably a most capable teacher of the art of writing, yet the best, apparently, that Oliver Wendell Holmes could say for his teaching was that he learned from Professor Channing how not to write." How not to do it is an important chapter in every art. Richard Grant White recognized the importance of a due treatment of the misuse of words. For the average student the chapter on "Misused Words," in his excellent work, Words and Their Uses, is perhaps the most helpful in the series.
But the placing of incorrect models before students is bad pedagogy; and on this principle defective English should not be used." Perfect English should always be used. But where shall we find it? Certainly not in our text-books on English. There, indeed, we may find some of our best illustrations of how not to write. Few teachers can talk for ten minutes without furnishing "stock specimens" of bad English-not to be corrected.
Perhaps Burns was mistaken, or, as those would say who have learned to write perfect English by the study of good models exclusively, he mistook; for Burns was neither misunderstood nor mistaken by anybody when he wrote:
O, wad some power the giftie gie us,
It wad frae mony a blunder free us
Perhaps, after all, it is better not to call attention to faults; it may be that they will correct themselves. Perhaps "in the hands of any but a highly intelligent teacher exercises in the correction of English may do more harm than good." To assume that all teachers of English in colleges, or even in secondary schools, are "highly intelligent" would be unwarrantable; nor should it be assumed that the writer of every text-book on English is "highly intelligent." The fact that some are using text-books containing, on almost every page, examples of English that might be used as "stock specimens of bad English for correction," while objecting to the use of specimens labeled "bad," indicates a lack of that higher intelligence that seems to be essential for teaching " English as She is (not) Spoke."
If the average student could hear and read only good "English," there would be nothing to unlearn, nothing to avoid; but as he has already acquired the habit of using "stock specimens" of bad English, as his newspapers, his teachers and associates will daily add to his stock, it is advisable to cultivate the tendency to criticize the language he hears and reads.
The use of choice English must be a matter of choice. The use of the best implies the rejection of the inferior; and this implies the exercise of the critical faculty. The student must learn to correct his own faults. Many of his faults are the common faults illustrated by the stock specimens." The objection to the use of defective English for analysis results from failing to discriminate in the application of the principle that bad models should not be set before students. The most that can be claimed for the exercise is, that it is one of the proper means for cultivating good style, and that, judiciously used, it serves a purpose which cannot be served by any other means. It is admitted that the author of the text-book, and the teacher who adapts it to the needs of a particular class, should be intelligent. These conditions have always been recognized.
There is some difference of opinion as to how the specimens for correction should be used. The author of the text-book that makes the most use of the method runs the correct and incorrect constructions in parallel columns, placing the correct form first, that it may first catch the eye." Happy thought! If the author's recommendation were followed one of the incidental advantages derivable from this method would be avoided; the student would lose the benefit to be had from trying to improve the construction.
One author holds that if the error intended to be corrected be obvious the student derives no benefit; that if it be not obvious he may change something that is not wrong. Therefore he would omit the wrong word or words and require the student to supply the proper words. This is a good exercise, but it does not meet all the requirements. Turning to the first draft of what I have just written here I find several corrections on each page. In each case it was necessary
to determine whether the sentence contained an error or a weakness in construction which might be corrected by substitution, by recasting the entire sentence, or by changing the position of a word or clause. If I have failed, as one must always fail, to detect all the cases in which the style might be improved by the exercise of this faculty for correcting, it is because I need further training in the correction of errors. If, through the good offices of the Society for Psychical Research, I might be "controlled" by the spirit of Thomas B. Macaulay, I should revise it again, as he, and every other great master of English, revised and re-revised his own specimens of bad English. A majority, perhaps, of teachers of English in schools and colleges believe that, in the hands of a teacher of average intelligence, guided by an author of high intelligence, "the use of stock specimens of bad English" cannot fail to be highly beneficial.
HERE is a good deal of solid sense in these words with which Col. Francis W. Parker closed his address at Quincy, Mass., on April 20th: "We stand to-day at the beginning of an educational movement that means the salvation of the world; and its elements are faith, spirit, open mindedness and work. The teachers are not responsible for what wrong ideas may exist, nor can school committees be justly blamed. The common school was born of the people, it is supported by the people, and its faults are found in the people. The people must demand, and they will receive; they must knock, and it shall be opened unto them. We are bound by tradition, by mediæval ways and deeply rooted prejudice. The good that has been done is simply a foretaste of what is to come. Our ideals are low. The future demands an education into free government, a strictly American education, an education to meet the demands of these times, with their world problems that are weighing us down, and the ever increasing duties of citizenship. I repeat, not by the guns of a Dewey, or the battalions of Roberts or Kruger, must these problems be worked out, but in the common school, where the quiet, devoted, studious, skillful teacher works out the nature and laws of life, complete living, and the righteousness that is to be."
GREEK IN THE CURRICULUM.
PRES. J. A. BABER, SOUTHERN NORMAL UNIVERSITY, HUNTINGDON, TENN.
In the December number of the Forum, principal W. F. Webster, of Minneapolis, undertakes to show that Greek should not be a part of the high school curriculum. It seems to me remarkable how one can derive so many correct conclusions as does Mr. Webster from such premises and by such reasoning. I agree with his general conclusion, a negative answer to the above proposition, but it seems to me that he shows quite a lack of appreciation both of the Greek language itself and of the best methods of acquiring it.
In the first place, I do not think enough credit is given to Greek as a disciplinary study. Does it cultivate the memory? I think it does. Even the "holding in mind of paradigms, rules and exceptions" is not an unmitigated evil," the matter of interest, which Mr. Webster makes the turning point in this thought, depending entirely upon the ingenuity of the teacher and the method employed. Mr. Webster pronounces the condemnation of his own method of teaching and of learning Greek when he gives utterance to the following sentence: "Six hundred of the hardest hours a boy ever spends go into learning Greek grammar, which has no immediate value, either as a preparation for life's battle or in widening the youth's horizon." He thinks the fault lies with the thing done, whereas it lies in the way of doing it. There is nothing in law or morals that justifies such an abominable piece of pedagogical procedure as that of requiring pupils to memorize paradigms, rules and exceptions for a whole year before seeing the use or need of a single one of them. It is in palpable contravention of that well-established pedagogical doctrine of "learning by doing." It is making the study of Greek deductive instead of inductive, a thing we dare not do in the study of science or even of the modern languages. Why pursue the study of two different languages by methods that are diametrically opposed? Because of hoary-headed custom, only. It is gratifying to note the efforts of President Harper and others to introduce the inductive method of studying Greek and Latin, by publishing text-books based on this principle; but there are two unfortunate facts connected with this attempt, one of which is, the method does not seem to have been perfected in its adaptation to the schoolroom; and the second, the country has not accepted it. Nowhere has this great natural law of study been fully accepted or adopted except in the study of science. It is as applicable to language as to science. Just as the way to study botany is to take the flower in one hand and the text in the other and study each by means of the other, so the way to study Greek is to take the Greek in one hand and the grammar in the other, let the pupil see the actual product before him, its forms and peculiarities, and let him begin immediately to translate, thus getting the form, thought and spirit. He thus begins to observe, compare, generalize; going through precisely the same processes as did the author of the grammar, although not to so great an extent. I believe the peda
gogical soundness of this method of procedure is quite generally acknowledged among educators, and the principle upon which it is based is being applied in the teaching of all those branches that are of comparatively recent introduction into the curricula of schools, colleges and universities, and in a considerable percentage of those having long and honorable tradition, Latin and Greek being notable exceptions. It is not a fine spun theory but a very common-sense matter. Would you spend a year or so with a boy theorizing as to the process of plowing, or would you set him to plowing under your careful supervision, and let him actually realize that there are roots in the ground by getting a few warning digs in the ribs from the plow handles? That is an exception to the general rule of plowing which he will not soon forget, and which was mastered in a very short time. Right truly does Mr. Webster affirm that "this empirical reasoning is not the method that has won for us all the glorious advances in science, sociology and political economy." And it may well be asserted that it never will win for us anything but a reputation for stupidity and servility in following tradition. I can not refrain from turning upon Mr. Webster his own inspired utterance, in which he so gloriously says, "The spirit that dares to be in the right with two or three, aye, to stand alone, fronting a world of precedents and authority, comes not from the kneeling acceptance of man's teachings." And will he not now in this same spirit "right about, face" on the method of teaching Greek and Latin, and substitute a rational for his confessedly empirical method?
Mr. Webster further says: "The contention that language study does not to any great extent develop the logical faculty of the student is confirmed by the fact that languages are most readily and most accurately learned by children. No one will dispute the fact that a child learns German and French more easily than an adult; and when Latin was the language of learned circles children learned it as they now learn German and French." Let us examine this logic: Is it true that children learn all languages more easily than adults? Mr. Webster himself admits that it depends upon what language it is. They learn German and French more easily, he says, and when Latin was a spoken language they learned it more readily. The necessary inference from such a statement is, children do not excel adults in learning a dead language. And this is the truth, exactly. But this distinction so excellently, though apparently unconsciously, drawn by Mr. Webster, it seems to me, invalidates his argument based upon that, because a child learns some languages more easily than an adult, therefore language study does not use and develop the logical faculty. The very fact that a child learns a spoken language more easily than an adult and a dead language not so easily furnishes us the key to the problem. In the one case the language is learned by imitation chiefly without reference to the rationale; in the other case such a procedure is impossible. In the one case, to use Mr. Webster's own figure, pussy pulls the string, but in the second there is no string to pull. The truth is, the form of a dead language should never be studied apart from its philosophy, and in this higher, this philosophical aspect