✍ A Defense of Classical Education [1916]

por Teoría de la historia

Sin títuloMr. Richard Livingstone’s book is written with a view to English conditions. It is a serious attempt to analyze the educational values of classical instruction. Admitting the prevalent discontent with the education at system of England, much aggravated by the World War, and the tendency to decry it in comparison with the assumed efficiency of the German system on the ground that the Classics dominate the English system, while science is the foundation of the German, Mr. Livingstone asserts that the German system itself gives a large place to instruction in the Classics and maintains that the weakness of English education is due rather to ineffective teaching and to the small effort made to foster a belief in knowledge. He recognizes the value of physical science, but claims that it involves specialization before the necessary general training has been acquired, and further that life will compel commercial or professional knowledge but will find no place later for the study of the humanities. Physical science, too, leads to a knowledge of nature and natural processes, while the humanities assist us directly to a knowledge of man, develop flexibility of mind, and help us to see the world with imagination. In defense of Greek, Mr. Livingstone urges that the Greek civilization is the foundation of our own, and that the Greek literature, in particular, affords the keythoughts on which our intellectual life depends. While Latin literature does not stand on the same plane as the Greek, Rome represents character, thus supplementing the Greek, which was weak on this side, and the Latin language is unique in its power of concise expression. The study or the vernacular or of modem languages can not replace the Classics, because of the nearness and similarity of ideas involved, and also because of the artificial character of modem expression as compared with the completeness, simplicity, lucidity, and directness of the classical style. Latin grammar and prose composition are defended as tests of intellectual ability and as developing concentration of mind and precision of expression. All of these arguments and claims are very familiar to teachers in this country. And it may be said with all truth that in the main they are sound. As a reasonably full account of the advantages that should accrue from classical study they leave little to be desired. But as to their value in the controversy now raging as to the place of the Classics in our educational system not so much can be said. The difficulty, however, does not lie with the classicist, but with the general educators, who have not as yet made any serious attempt to attack the problem in any comprehensive way. As we see the situation, we should like to get definite answers to the following questions: (1) Is the basis of education in our Schools to be (a) internal, i.e. interest, whether spontaneous or stimulated by the teacher, or (b) external, i.e., the authority of the teacher or the School, or (c) a combination of both. The last seems to be the logical choice and is supported by many good critics. If we accept this as the correct answer, then comes the further questlon: (2) Among the subjects whose study is due largely to authority and whose aim is to develop the capacity for voluntary effort and attention, should a place be assigned to language? lf this is answered in the affirmative, we come to the final question: (3) Are the Classics better than the Modern Languages or the vernacular for this training? For the answer to the last questlon Mr. Livingstone’s book well supplements the Princeton volume and the Michigan volume. But these questions, particularly the first two, should be definitely settled for at least a term of years by some body whose findings would meet with wide acceptance by reason of the acknowledged competence of its members, not by men without vision, ideals or breath of training, such as are at present most in evidence. Classical teachers would be the first to welcome such a decision. Of particular interest to us in this country is Mr. Livingstone’s last chapter, Reforms. He realizes that the various advantages which be claims for the classical training are not obtained by many students, and sees the remedy in some change in the method of instruction, not, however, for all students, but particularly for students in the University. Students in the early years, corresponding to our High Schools, owing to their immaturity, should expect, he thinks, little more than good habits of study and a better feeling for English. The University training, however. is too rigidly linguistic, and should be modified by the inclusion of a certain amount of the Realien of ancient civilization, “a change”, as he says, “less of curriculum than of the angle of view”. He would articulate everything studied with the facts of our modern life, and interpret modern civilization as the development of ancient. This too is nothing new to us. But we would apply this remedy much earlier. I have recently been looking over a junior Latin Book by Messrs. Forsythe and Gummere. in which, even in the work of the Seventh Grade, a large amount of space is devoted to what are called on the title page Roman ldeas, that is, the Roman ways of looking at many familiar things, such as the universe, water, rue, the family, the School, and so forth. Incidentally, this slight study of such topics leads to many interesting lights on origins quite within the range of the child’s mind, and yet of considerable value in themselves. In most of our Colleges the steady insistence upon the monotonies of grammar and syntax which used to be characteristic of every teacher has almost entirely disappeared. Our danger now is rather that we should go to the other extreme and not lay enough emphasis upon the absolute essential of language study, that is, the language.

[Gonzalez LODGE. “A Defense of Classical Education by R. W. Livingstone”, in The Classical Weekly, vol. XI, nº 20, 18 de marzo de 1918, pp. 155-156]