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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 24.djvu/130

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for the first time, it is so small that I have never seen one. . . .

"Can a person be said to know a language which he can not read? And is it a result worth the time and labor expended upon it to attain such a doubtful acquaintance with a language or anything else, as that which the majority of our graduates carry away with them of these, at the close of their educational career? Might not the same amount of time and labor differently employed have produced at last something having a value at least appreciable? And is not the immense disproportion between labor expended and results obtained itself the best evidence that this labor has not been expended most wisely for the accomplishment of its own avowed end? For surely there can not be any language, dead or living, in the known world, which any intelligent person ought not to be able to acquire, so as at least to read it, in a course of ten years' study."

But it may be said that the American standard of classical attainment is low, and that we must go where the system has been more faithfully tried, for the highest evidence of its advantages. Very well, and it happens that this evidence is abundant. Classical studies have been tested upon the most extensive scale, and under all the most favorable conditions. For hundreds of years they have been the staple elements of English culture. The English universities and the great public schools of England form a consolidated system devoted for centuries almost exclusively to classical teaching. The system has had the authority of tradition, it has been backed by abounding wealth, it has had the patronage of church and state, and has been cherished by institutions of every grade, which have been independent of all disturbance from the caprice of public opinion. If "the perfection of the Greek language," as President Porter assumes, fits it as "an instrument for the perpetual training of the mind of the later generations," then the circumstances of English education have been most favorable for proving it. But what is the result? A thousand authorities may be summed up in the following sentence of a letter from Professor Blackie, of Edinburgh, to the late Dr. Hodgson. He says, "I entirely agree with you that the present system of classical education, as a general method of training English gentlemen, is a superstition, a blunder, and a failure." The evidence is overwhelming that the great mass of students, in the best English institutions, so far from gaining access to the sphere of classical thought, do not even get a decent knowledge of the bare forms of the dead languages themselves. To such an extent had classical study become itself an utter failure, and to such an extent did it stand in the way of all other studies, that it came to be widely denounced as a scandal to the nation, and the Government was called upon to interfere and put an end to it. They are very cautious in England about meddling with old and venerated things by the intervention of law, but they have a salutary habit of inquiring into them with great thoroughness upon suitable occasions. Parliamentary commissions were therefore appointed to investigate the condition of education, both in the universities and in the great public schools which prepare young men for the universities. The reports that resulted were monuments alike of searching inquiry and the total failure of the cherished classical education. The London "Times" thus summed up the report of the commissioners upon the teaching of the public schools: "In one word, we may say that they find it to be a failureā€”a failure, even if tested by those better specimens, not exceeding one third of the whole, who go up to the universities. Though a very large number of these have literally nothing to show for the results of their school-hours,