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CLASSICAL INSTRUCTION IN THE HIGH SCHOOL.
BY WALTER G. WEBSTER, A. M., PROVIDENCE HIGH SCHOOL.
T may be observed at the outset that the secondary school, standing, as it does, midway between the primary school and the college, is thereby doubly conditioned; we must take our pupils at such age and with such preparation as they attain after nine years of study in the lower schools, and we must graduate them upon such conditions as are laid down in the college catalogues. Preparation for college, however, should not be regarded as the sole aim of the secondary school. The public schools and the colleges should stand in such relation to one another as to present an organic scheme of education, of regular and harmonious development. The course of study in the secondary school should be so arranged as to have a certain completeness of its own, so that a pupil on finishing the course might feel that he had obtained results exceedingly desirable and satisfactory in themselves, even if he should go no farther.
The average age of all the pupils who have entered the classical department of the Providence High School at the beginning of the year for the past eleven years is 15.34 years. Two considerations present themselves in connection with this matter of age.
First, scholars entering the high school are still in the critical period of transition from childhood to manhood, and all that is said with regard to the physical well-being of pupils of the grammar grade, still holds good during the earlier years of the high school course.
Second, quite a different consideration. Emphasis is often laid upon the gap which exists between grammar and high school studies, upon the lack of continuity between the two courses. I venture, therefore, to offer the following suggestion, viz., whether it might not be expedient to increase the high school course from four to five years, and admit pupils from the grammar school one year earlier.
As it is now, a considerable number of pupils enter the Providence High School each year from various sources other than our
grammar schools, who consequently lack the preparation which is there received. To remedy this difficulty certain reviews of grammar school studies are pursued, though briefly, during the first year. Thus at the beginning of the year a rapid survey of English grammar is had, the better to enable the scholars to pursue the study of Latin grammar; and toward the end of the year a few weeks are devoted to a review of the main principles of arithmetic. If another year could be prefaced to our present course, it could be well filled by a union of grammar and high school studies. Thus, arithmetic, grammar, physiology, and American history could be continued, and the study of Latin begun.
Another advantage from such an arrangement would be that the study of Latin being begun in the first year, the second year would be thereby relieved for other studies for which time is now lacking.
The main lines of high school work, as determined by the conditions for admission to college, are doubtless familiar to us all. The change in the spirit of these requirements during the last ten or fifteen years is noteworthy. The aim of the present system of instruction in the ancient languages is the acquisition by the student of a certain grasp of the language itself, rather than the mere reading of a given amount of Greek or Latin literature; the theory and it is a true one being that as the language is made more living and vital to the pupil, he will in the end be able to do more than before at its literature, by reason of greater facility and consequently increased interest and satisfaction.
Another noticeable feature in the present college requirements is the increasing attention which is given to English. Thus, our New England colleges agree in requiring from all candidates for admission the careful study of a specified series of masterpieces of English and American authors.
The object of this paper may perhaps be accomplished by stating succinctly the present course of classical study in high schools, and suggesting any modifications or additions that may appear desirable. Different schools vary considerably in the distribution of the work, i. e., in the relative amount of time given to the several studies, and to a certain extent in the order in which they are taken up. The Providence High School may present a fair illustration of the amount of work which it is usually sought to
accomplish, and for convenience I shall use it as a sort of basis or starting-point of discussion.
In this high school, Latin is pursued daily through the entire course of four years, and Greek in the same way during the last three years. Mathematics, — algebra and geometry, are carried on as a half-study, i. e., every other day, throughout the course. The grammar of the ancient languages is also pursued through a portion of the course, apart from the translation of authors. Greek and Roman history occurs as a half-study during the first year. French makes a half-study during the last year. Exercises in declamation and English composition are carried on through the whole four years, and in addition, special courses of reading in ancient history and English literature are laid down, upon which the scholars are subjected to the writing of sight or extempore essays, during the last three years.
Of some of these subjects, especially the languages, it is necessary to speak somewhat in detail. There is probably no occasion for specifying the precise amount of Latin and Greek that is read, the details are given in the college catalogues; though it may be said that we are accustomed to read as prepared or as sight-work rather more Latin than is strictly required.
More important, however, than the amount is the method. One of the noticeable features in connection with recent classical instruction is the multiplication of introductory books, all pursuing a more or less inductive method, and aiming to introduce the young pupil from the very beginning to the study of the language as a medium for the expression of thought. We no longer have in regular order the five declensions of nouns, the inflections of adjectives and pronouns, and the four conjugations of verbs; but a variety of forms are immediately presented, sufficient to enable the beginner to translate and to compose short but pregnant sentences. He is made to feel that he is not merely studying about the language, and memorizing a disconnected mass of grammatical details, but that he is to a certain extent mastering the language itself, and learning to express thought as it was expressed by the Romans themselves.
This is a marked change from the way in which most of us were taught, but it is safe to say that we have entered upon a course in which we shall not retrace our steps; our attention must now be directed to determine as precisely as may be the degree of
induction which is best suited to the mental development of pupils of fourteen to sixteen years, and the best order of sequence in the presentation of forms and principles.
The question of the degree of induction is an important one from the fact that the advocacy of an inductive method pure and simple for pupils other than little children does violence to the constitution and workings of the human mind. This thought is well expressed by Miss Anna C. Bracket, in an article upon the teaching of French. She says:
"It would seem hardly worth while for a mechanic who was to learn the construction and mode of action of a new tool, to begin by throwing away all his old ones and by trying to forget all his previous knowledge of them. Rather should we suppose his experience and past knowledge might be of great advantage to him in acquiring new. Any new language is like a new tool to the mind. It is an additional means of perceiving and reasoning. The extreme advocates of what is known as the Natural Method seem to have overlooked this consideration. They ask us to forego, as far as possible, all the advantages of our previous training and accumulated experience, and to learn like little children. In so doing they overlook entirely another consideration which is implied in the phrase, as far as possible.' They forget that the adult-mind is so different in its workings from the child-mind as to appear almost of a different type. It is simply impossible, even were it desirable, to make the mind of the fully grown man or woman act as does that of a child."
Here, to be sure, the comparison is made between the adult and the child mind; but the same is true in its degree of the mind of the boy of fifteen years, as compared with that of the little child just learning to speak its own language.
Our method is then one of limited or modified induction. The scholar will perceive many facts for himself, experiencing thereby all the delight of a real discoverer; he is at the same time capable of appreciating the concise, technical statement of grammatical principles, of intelligently memorizing grammatical forms and lists, and of the acquisition by memory as well as from reading of a constantly increasing vocabulary. There are words learned by many of us in grammatical lists when we were scholars, which we may not often encounter in reading, yet which every now and then are of real and immediate service. There are rules learned years ago, of comparatively infrequent application, which, nevertheless repeatedly prove their value by explaining immediately what would otherwise be difficult and perplexing. They are like the keys which in stories the housekeeper of an ancient and extensive mansion carries at her girdle, some of much more
frequent use than others, but each useful in its own time, and apparent at once to the practised eye of its owner.
We are on the right track with our introductory books; further experience must determine what is the most intelligent and scientific adaptation of fact and principle to the mind of the pupils for whom they are designed.
Two books at least have been issued during the past year, which aim to introduce the beginner in Latin to the immediate reading of Cæsar. Experience might prove the feasibility and advantage of such a course, but I should hesitate to attempt it. I should prefer to begin with short and simple sentences, and gradually advance to the more complex expressions of connected discourse.
This may bring us to the question of the propriety of adopting Cæsar as our first Latin author. To many minds there are objections to this traditional course. In the first place, the beginner's book which serves as an introduction to Cæsar, presents a vocabulary so largely military that one might think the pupil would gain the impression that the Latin was exclusively a language of warfare. That presentation of a language will be most vivid and pleasing which treats as far as possible of familiar, every-day thoughts and objects; and while in a language like the Latin, this is by no means so possible as it is in the French or German, we may at least make a closer approximation thereto than can be made with the vocabulary of Cæsar's Gallic Wars. But more important than this is the fact that Cæsar presents grave difficulties to the pupil who has been studying Latin only six or eight months.
There is no other Roman author whom I should recommend to precede Cæsar; but we do possess quite a body of Latin, the production of modern scholars, classical in style, simple and easy in structure, and not without interest to the young pupil. Something of this nature might well be inserted between our First Book and Cæsar.
One of the most valuable methods in the study of Latin, as of other languages, is the practice of sight-translation, with the related work of re-composition, or the formation of sentences or connected passages based upon the authors read.
There is some difference in the order in which the Latin writers. are taken up in different schools. One method is to read the prose authors continuously, before taking up Ovid and Vergil; the