Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 11.djvu/252

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the collects and gospels. Dates, rules of grammar, and the like, may be 'crammed' by mnemonic lines," etc.

We object to this distinction. "Bad cram" means a great deal more than Prof. Jevons here indicates; and his "good cram" is either "bad cram" or no "cram" at all. He is mistaken in limiting what he calls "bad cram" to loading the memory with formula without understanding principles, as in the illustration he offers of Euclid's "Elements." It is possible to "cram" the apprehension of a subject as well as its verbal forms. We knew a young lady in one of our leading academies, the only female student in a geometry-class of twenty, who, under the spur of feminine vanity, kept her position at the head of the class for the whole term, giving the demonstrations every time when the gentlemen broke down, and having the clearest understanding of the subject which such a prolonged ordeal compelled, while the whole experience amounted to nothing for permanent effect. The boasted discipline was a pure illusion. She lived for a whole term in a sort of atmosphere of geometrical excitement, and upon leaving the school the mathematical fever subsided and the geometry disappeared like a dream. It was a case of pure "cram." Time was not taken for digestion—for the deepening of acquisition and the consolidation of mental habits. "Cram" refers not so much to any form or kind of acquisition (although some favor it more than others), but rather to the rate of any acquisition. Its essential element is excessive and unnatural forcing—a stuffing of mental aliment, that may be excellent in itself, but out of relation to natural appetite or healthy assimilation. Prof. Jevons says that the epithet "cram" affords an admirable "cry" for the opponents of the examination-system; that "it is short, emphatic, and happily derived from a disagreeable physical metaphor;" by which he probably means that its metaphorical use in education is derived from a disagreeable physiological experience. But is its mental application really so metaphorical, after all? One may eat so as to keep pace with the digestive and assimilative processes of the system, or he may exceed that rate in taking food, which is cramming. But is not mental acquirement also based on physiological activity, and subject to a time-rate depending upon cerebral assimilation? The "cram" of the dining-room and the "cram" of the school-room are, at bottom, the same thing, merely involving different physiological organs.

Prof. Jevons, indeed, yields this point explicitly. He concedes the physiological basis of mental culture, in saying: "It is the very purpose of a liberal education, as it is correctly called, to develop and train the plastic fibres of the youthful brain so as to prevent them taking too early a definite 'set,' which will afterward narrow and restrict the range of acquisition and judgment." But if it is plastic fibres and cells that we have at last to deal with, what escape is there from the conclusion that true education—the leading out of the faculties—must take its rate from the measured processes of nervous growth?

Prof. Jevons's "good cram" is defined as arduous and thorough study directed to the winning of honors at a competitive examination. But thorough study, carried on under the conditions favorable to enduring acquisition, is not "cram" of any sort, because the term in its essential meaning excludes thoroughness. We shall not deny that much vigorous, persistent intellectual work may be accomplished under competitive inspiration, in which no "cram" is involved; and we think Prof. Jevons commits a harmful error in applying the term "cram" to such study, and undertaking to qualify it by an adjective that simply neutralizes it. Under such an authoritative sanction, all