Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 70.djvu/542

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

grudged the time spent in practising the goose-step, since there was no doubt as to the enhanced rate of progress when marching began. But times are changing. We will not say that competition is increasing—our fathers made the same assertion, and their fathers before them—but it is spreading. The public-school boy, notwithstanding the severe discipline of the classics, finds it hard work to hold his own against boys who have not had the benefit of this drill. Conditions have recently changed in a remarkable way. It is no longer a competition between boys all of whom have had either a grammar-school training or none at all. Public elementary schools, higher-grade schools, county schools, technical institutes are pouring their students into the upper ranks of the labor market. These students may be superlatively ignorant of classical grammar, but they have certain kinds of knowledge and certain forms of dexterity which make them hard to beat. A very large number of public-school boys are obliged to find a sphere for their more generalized attainments on the ranches of North America and the sheep runs of Australia and New Zealand. If, reluctantly, we abandon the classical drill which has secured our confidence by three centuries of undeniable success, we must be well assured that the tactics which we teach in its place are effective in the modern world.

That the study of language ought to occupy a predominant position in school life is overwhelmingly proved by grammar-school experience. I think, too, we must also allow that the fact that the school-boy never contemplates the classical languages as possible means of communication is in their favor.

The conclusion which appears to me to be established beyond all possibility of doubt, both by the positive evidence of the value of a grammar-school training and by the negative evidence of the difficulty which attends the acquisition of foreign languages in adult or even adolescent life, is that training in language is of the essence of education in early years. It is of the essence of education in early years because it is only then that it is effective; and, further, because training in expression means giving precision to thought. Thinking and expressing thought in words are so inseparably connected that widening the range of expression is equivalent to expanding the field of thought. The benefit of a classical education depends to a large extent upon the fact that for years a boy's finger is kept between the pages of a dictionary. He learns new words and comes to feel the importance of accurate definition. Words are the tesseræ of thought. Their arrangement in patterns is thinking. The mosaic of words shows by its richness or its poverty, its boldness or its uncertainty, its simplicity or its confusion and redundancy, the quality of thought. Expressing is thinking. The schoolmen of the Middle Ages attached so much importance to dialectic that they came at last to confuse success in the