Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 34.djvu/555

This page has been validated.

and in the wrong way. When examination after examination becomes the main object, there is sure to be a great deal too much teaching, so much as to leave no time for learning on the part of either teacher or taught. The legitimate duty of a university teacher is to guide his pupil to the right books, the great books of the subject in hand, and to act as a commentator on them. But this implies that the object is, not the passing of an examination, but the study of a subject. When the teacher's business is understood to be to "get a man through" an examination—whether the result of that examination is to be a mere pass or a first class with its "pecuniary value"—study of the subject, study of the great books on the subject, passes away. The teacher puts himself in stead of the books; the thing becomes, in plain words, cram.

This is the tendency of the modern fancy for endless examinations. Of course it does not prevail equally in all subjects or with all teachers. It can not prevail so fully with the older subjects, where something of the better tradition of the past is still kept up, as it does with subjects of later introduction. Every man sees his own grievances more clearly than those of his neighbor, and to me it seems that what is called "modern" history is the worst off of all. It is at least worse off than "ancient" history, from which it is so senselessly parted in a separate school, to the great damage of both. For about "ancient" history there still clings something of the traditions of better times, times when men read great books with a tutor instead of filling their note-books with the tips of a crammer. I once asked a man who came to my lectures, "Have you a book?" meaning, in my ignorance, a copy of the author whom we were going to read. He answered, "I have a note-book." That seems to be the net result of forty years' tinkering of everything, of multiplied examinations and multiplied teaching, to drive away "books" and to bring in "note-books." And the professor can do nothing; he can only work away in a corner with a few who are still ready to toil at the text of books, while the combined lecturer flourishes amid a whole library of open note-books. For the professor is useful only to those who seek for knowledge; the combined lecturer, it is fully believed, can guarantee "the pecuniary value of a first class."

Every examination is in itself an evil, as making men read, not for the attainment of knowledge, but for the object of passing the examination, perhaps of compassing its "pecuniary value." But it may be hoping too much to hope that examinations can ever be got rid of altogether. If they must be, then, instead of being many and piecemeal, they should be few and searching. Instead of giving a man time to forget his various subjects one by one, they should make it needful for him to remember his work as a whole. In Oxford we ought to have (1) a matriculation examina-