A defence of classical education
|Richard Winn Livingstone|
From the introduction:
The war has indeed revealed grave shortcomings of detail in English education . . . ; but on the whole, it has been a vindication of its essential soundness. It has proved us a nation not only sound and strong in character but far more adaptable, both in soldiering and in industry, than either we or our enemies suspected.
The grave defect of our national education is that there is not enough of it. Sept. 191 6. The nation is discontented with itself and with its education. It is probably too discontented. Self-criticism is a constant trait of the Anglo-Saxon, and his dark views of himself are always to be accepted with reserve. None of us would really exchange our governors, with all their vices, for those of any of the other belligerent countries, and this is a real, though unconscious testimonial to them.
Nor could we in two years have created our present Ministry of Munitions, and have organised an army of four million if our science and education had been as bad as some people suppose. When the black fit passes, we shall take a more reasonable view of our deficiencies; still, no one would deny that they are there. What is the cause of them?
The classics are favourite scapegoats. And this view is the odder because it is one of the few which can certainly be disproved. It is very hard to assert anything definite in education, because of the great difficulty of knowing the precise effect on a boy of any particular branch of study.
We teach our pupils, as doctors prescribe for many diseases, without any certainty as to the exact effects of the treatment; and education is an even less exact science than medicine. But in denying that the classics are responsible for our 'want of science,' we are for once on the absolutely certain ground; for here we have definite facts to go upon. Whatever faults the Germans have, nobody denies that they are a ' scientific nation ' this quality of theirs is continually held up to our admiration, and it is implied that they have become.
A critic has warned me that to quote Germany is to prejudice my case; but such persons as are likely to read this book will be able to judge dispassionately, even in present circumstances, of what is good and what is bad in German * scientific' by giving physical science a predominant place in their higher education. Nothing could be further from the truth.
On the contrary, their secondary education is far more classical than ours, and they have far more compulsory Greek and Latin. Let me briefly review the development of their secondary schools since 1870. Before that date it was impossible to enter a German University, except through the classical gymnasium^ which exacts a high standard in Greek and Latin; but in 1870 it became possible for students from the purely modern Realschulen to proceed to the University if they wished to study Mathematics^ Natural Science or Modern Languages.
Students of all other subjects were still under the yoke of compulsory Greek or Latin. This yoke was removed in 1901 from all, except students of medicine, who must know Latin, and theologians, who must know Latin and Greek. Now there are three points to be noted here :
(1) The makers of the greatness of modern Germany are the generations educated before education. Here I have only to deal with its power to produce certain intellectual qualities, and not with those features of it which stifle the independence of political opinion and stimulate a maniacal nationalism. the vast majority of these were educated in the classical gymnasium with its compulsory Latin and Greek.
(2) Even in 191 1, of over 400,000 boys receiving secondary education in Germany, 240,000 were at schools in which Latin is compulsory, and 170,000 of these at schools where Greek is compulsory also.
(3) In the remaining, purely ' modern,' Real- Schulen, so far from physical science occupying the chief place in the curriculum, only two hours out of twenty-five per week are allotted to it in the lowest forms and six out of thirty-one in the highest.
The moral of these facts is that the highest scientific eminence can be attained by a nation in whose secondary education physical science is subordinate.
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