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A Quarterly Magazine
THIRTEEN, FOURTEEN, FIFTEEN
HINDS, NOBLE & ELDREDGE
Whole No. 13
OLLEGE presidents are asking for men who can teach students to speak. Superintendents of city schools are looking for teachers of reading. The demand is much greater than the supply. Of a certain kind of teachers there are more than can find positions. These are the teachers who think that to commit a selection and recite it with beautiful gestures and with an exhibition of voice training is to interpret literature. School men are suspicious of what they call elocution. They don't want it. If they know it they will not engage an elocu“Elocution” tionist. One high school principal illustrated the difference in this way, "If you call a dog and he comes to you, that is talk: if he runs from you, that is elocution."
Volume IV. No. 1.
Schools and colleges that have teachers of "elocution" are trying to get rid of them. The tendency of the time is toward debate. This is because of the excellent training which debate gives, but quite as much a protest against the over-elaborate, sophomoric oratory, and against the unnatural elocution. There is also a growing protest against the severely analytical, the philogical methods of teaching literature. The demand of the time is for teachers who can help students to interpret literature, who can make students comprehend the emotions as well as the thought for which words are but symbols.
Changes in the educational world come slowly, almost imperceptible, but it is not difficult to perceive the changed attitude toward the teaching of reading in schools and colleges. Some leading school men have said that reading is the worst taught subject in the public schools. This admission is significant. It not only means that reading is poorly taught, but that other branches do not accomplish what may be reasonably expected of them in the development of the child.
As a prominent educator in North Carolina said, "There is too much grammar taught, and too much of the wrong kind of geography." He illustrated his point by deprecating the drills in the apothecaries' tables, and frequent reviews of a list of all the promontories on the eastern coast of America. "Think of the folly," he said, "of drilling a child of twelve to repeat the capital of Afghanistan." What a waste of time, when the child with the same effort might be brought to comprehend great thoughts and emotions which would develop character.
The reading lesson must be something more than calling the words correctly. The lesson in literature must be something more than the facts in the life of the author, even something more than the origin of the words read, and a knowledge of their different meanings in other centuries. As Professor Richard Burton, of the University of Minnesota, said of his courses in literature, "My test of a student's fitness to pass is whether or not they cry in the right place." And as Professor Hill, of the State College of North Carolina, adds, "and if they laugh in the right place."
Great insistency has been put upon the importance of discipline in education. One of the objects of school training is mental discipline, but we have gone too far in that direction. The end of education is character. Information and wisdom are essentials in education, but imagination and sympathy are even more essential. These are much more difficult to teach. The best subjects for developing them in the child is the reading lesson, by which I mean not the calling of words, but the sympathetic comprehension and the sympathetic expression of what is written.
The age is commercial. Men want their children to be educated so that they may succeed. Backed by their parents and encouraged by their teachers children insist on bread-and-butter studies,-just those studies that they can use in getting on in their calling. Many such studies should be given. But there is something more in education than that. Taste is as necessary as skill. Sympathy and imagination are even more important than wisdom and information. As
Bliss Carmen says: "An education which does not quicken the conscience, and stimulate and refine all our senses and instincts, along with the growing reason must still remain a faulty process."
We will not agree as to how far our nation has become purely commercial, but we must all agree that more attention is given to wealth and the mere comforts of life than to the needs of our spiritual lives. "One cannot but recognize the shameless materialism of the age, its brutal and selfishness, ignoble avarice, and utter the Schools disregard of all the generous ideals of the spirit. We have gained the whole world, but in doing it we have lost our own soul," to quote again from Bliss Carmen.
What are we to do about it? The business of literature is to minister to this condition. If poetry, the highest form of literature, is interpreted to the child, if the child, and the young man are taught to interpret poetry, the next generation must care less for material and more for spiritual things. As Shelly says, "Poetry is a record of the best thoughts and happiest moments of the best and happiest men." A man who has loved poetry in his youth is likely when he grows up to hold some such idealistic views of life as will prevent his entire devotion to money, or mere success in any line of endeavor. Consequently he may not succeed as some of his fellows in adding acres and a fat bank account to his store of goods, but he should add a great deal of character because of his love of the ideal. How can he help it, when he has been associating with the best and happiest men at their best and happiest moments?
How are we to secure these results in our schools? Give the children a teacher who can read well, and they will learn to love poetry. Reading can't be taught by precept. No child ever learned to love poetry by being told to love it. Let the teacher learn to read sympathetically, learn to interpret the literature, there will be no trouble then in getting the children to read well. The teacher who excels in arithmetic, grammar, or history, and who is fond of these subjects always has classes who are fond of them. The