Percy Arthur Barnett.

Common sense in education and teaching; an introduction to practice online

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universal vehicle of literature. Bacon, as we have seen,
speaking urbi et orbi and writing for all time, deliberately
chose Latin, and though after Bacon's time the rapid
development of national literatures was promoted by the
continued ferment, intellectual and social, which began
in the revolt against Latin Catholicism and extended in
subtle forms even over Catholic societies, yet the literary
purists still harked back, all for illustrations and some
for their models, to Roman writings ; and Latin was still
therefore the educated man's chief possession. Nor, in
the third place, was it a small matter that the Romance
languages in their earliest forms, and the Teutonic tongues
(English notably) in their borrowings, were so deeply
indebted to Latin. A knowledge of Latin was clearly, if
not the key to a knowledge of most European tongues,
yet oil to the lock ; and though philology was ill under-
stood nay, for that very reason the significance

Latin and Greek 2OI

and importance of Latin "jumped to the eyes". The
philologists of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries
not only recognised the old services of Latin, but dragged
it into further use in defiance of philological laws which
later generations were to discover and formulate. Again,
there is a fourth reason to justify the old place and dignity
Df Latin. Not only literature as such, but the nomen-
clature of the sciences also was largely based on Latin,
just as, when Latin gave out, in later times it has been
supplied largely by Greek. We still profit by this plan.
The chemists and physicists of London, of Paris, of Berlin,
and of Rome, use terms in describing their work which are
Cither identical or recognisably similar. The language of
theology and philosophy, the sciences earliest current in
[Europe, was Latin before it was Greek ; and though we
Slave added largely to the connotation of the early bor-
rowed words, we are still driven for scientific philosophical
nomenclature at least as much to Latin as to Greek.

The dead languages, moreover, just because they are
dead, are particularly useful when we have to make new
words to express novel ideas or things. Because they are
dead, the new term can be made more restricted and pre-
cise in its meaning, freer from ambiguous current associa-
tions, than any term we could transfer from speech still
used and therefore still changing in connotation. But
the seventh and final reason for the position assigned to
LatirTTn the schools seems to be stronger than all the
Dthers. The dead languages of Greece and Rome are
the unalterable records of the past, social, political, and
religious, which constitutes the main basis of the exist-
ing western civilisation. The seventeenth and eighteenth
centuries were inclined rather to take Greece and Rome
as models, having in some respects themselves maintained
the exclusive political and social traditions of antiquity,

2O2 Common Sense in Education

and not recognising, as we must do, the gradual modifica-
tion and evolution of societies towards a presumably
higher type. No doubt, Greece and Rome still provide
us with copious instances of error, if not of models of
political and social propriety ; but their value for us lies
precisely in the facts that, taken altogether, they are a
stage on the way to the higher type which we may expect
civilisation to evolve, and that we cannot understand
and properly estimate our own position unless we recog-
nise and respect their contributions to the civilisation
which we received in so great measure from them. But
it is easier to understand the relation of Rome to modern
civilisation than to understand the relation of Greece,
which is, at least in point of time, a stage farther removed.
It is natural therefore that the traditions, history, and
literature of Rome should have the first claim to be
noticed and should have taken firmer root in the schools.

Let us see whether any of the conditions that operated
Claims of * o lve the dead languages, Latin particularly,
the dead such a commanding position in education are
languages j n operation in our own day ; for although there
to-day ma y k e g OOC j p rac tical reasons for abandoning

these studies, we ought to be quite sure that we are not
losing in the process something of enduring value.

We are required first of all to take into account the
position which centuries of use have established for the
study of the languages of Greece and Rome in our schools
We cannot, even if we ought to, shake ourselves free from]
such long associations in the course of a generation or two,;
It is a valid argument in favour of the pursuit of any\
branch of knowledge that " most educated people " arej
familiar with it. The best parts of life are not neces-|
sarily the pursuits which provide our livelihood ; socia.
sympathy and the grace and ease of social intercourse!

Latin and Greek 203

are matters of real and abiding importance. On the
other hand, Latin and Greek derived their early import-
ance from distinctly practical considerations, and with
great material discoveries come also new ideas of life.
'Philosophical science, for instance, has demonstrated the
vast importance of the process of evolution in relation to
all things human, and attention will therefore be more
closely directed to such pursuits of physical investigation
as those which established the value of the evolutionary
theory. Persons of -education thus attach less and less
importance to the old training in classical letters.

We must therefore admit that the claims of Latin and
Greek on the grounds of their established position be-
come less pressing. For the theories of development by
which we are all sensibly or insensibly affected weaken
the hold of the past upon us, and direct our view forward
rather than backward. Authority is less, unauthorised
discovery is more.

The ancient languages are no longer the sole or the
chief or even common vehicles of literature. Be it for
good or ill, we have seen that traditional authority
appears to have less weight than heretofore, not in
science only, but in matters of opinion also ; and the lan-
guages in which authority spoke its mind, and to which
it was necessary to go in order to learn that mind, may
be of less moment than the more modern tongues with
their newer associations.

And yet the very immobility of classical Latin and
Greek is a point of exceeding value. Some people still
think that the first great discoveries and generalisations
of morals and politics (not to speak of religion, which will
have its special importance for millions) are best expressed
in the simpler and less ambiguous speech of the dead
Latin and Greek. It is probably to some extent an

204 Common Sense in Education

instinctive appreciation of this that has preserved for
Latin its place in the liturgy of Roman Catholicism,
which thus affirms a primitive unalterable basis for right
conduct and religion for all people alike, under all skies
and in all circumstances. On a like ground, too, most
Jews all the world over conduct their worship in the
tongue that first gave expression to their religious ideas.

Latin and Greek are still useful for the general study
of languages, both practically and philologically. Under
the first head, Greek is of far less value than Latin.
Latin is undoubtedly a very direct help to the acquisi-
tion of all the Romance languages French, Italian,
Spanish, Portuguese.

For a knowledge of Aryan philology (if Aryan is the
right word), both are absolutely indispensable ; and phil-
ology is a branch of natural science properly so called,
of exceeding importance as subsidiary to history and
sociology. On these considerations it is needless to

Latin and Greek are indeed useful for nomenclature,
but no very extensive knowledge of either as a language
is necessary to this end. At the same time, the point is
a respectable argument in support of those who would
maintain that at least Latin is valuable in education, even
if no great progress is made in the real acquisition of the
language as literary expression.

But the claim made on behalf of the classics as litera-
The Greek ture * s a verv strong one. As an instrument of
and Latin education the Latin and Greek literatures are
classics as valuable on two chief grounds, simplicity and
richness. The great primitive masterpieces that
have served as models for two or three thousand years
are necessarily nearer, as a rule, to the appreciation of
young people who are to be trained to understand and

Latin and Greek 205

;like literature than the more elaborate compositions of
later days ; and they have the incomparable advantage
of being mostly the true and spontaneous expression of
their times. They are at once the means of cultivating
' ; taste and also first-hand documents of history, in which
our pupils can make discoveries for themselves.

And for richness, every one of the great divisions of
literary composition is represented by some noble exem-
plars. In point of poetry we have not yet improved, as
Matthew Arnold points out in his " Wordsworth," on the
classification of poetic composition which we owe to the
Greeks ; and in every kind the Greeks at least have done
supremely well. In point of prose, Greek and Latin
historians and philosophers are amongst the greatest of
the great, models and possessions for all time.

We ask, in the next place, whether Greek and Latin
are as valuable as they once were for training The c i assics
in logical method. The question however is as gymnas-
really whether they are as valuable as other tlcs
subjects in particular, the experimental sciences. We
may admit at once that as a training in the processes of
induction, they are certainly inferior to physical science
.properly taught in that they do not permit the use of
the most valuable of all inductive devices, experiment.
Of course it is open to us in language study, as in the
study of the applied physical sciences, to draw conclusions
from a multitude of instances ; that is, to make induc-
tions ; but the most valuable form of mental gymnastic
provided by the systematic and careful study of the
classics is the setting of authorities one against another
and the deduction of interpretations from ascertained
rules of syntax. As a training in the honest weighing of
evidence, the solving of a problem in translation or the
interpretation of a Greek or Latin text is of the highest

206 Common Sense in Education

value. And the language studies have this advantage
over the applied physical sciences, that the apparatus is
cheap and plentiful.

Finally, is the study of Latin and Greek still valuable
The classics as a key to the history of Western civilisation?
as aids to The answer is obvious. It is impossible to
history know what our civilisation means if we do

not understand the nature of the contributions made
by Greece and Italy : social, political, literary, legal,
religious. Unless we see things in succession we shall
have no proper perspective. The social reformer, there-
fore, the politician, the poet, the historian, the lawyer,
the clergyman, none of these, to be masters of their tools,
can afford to neglect the classics. They may, of course,
use translations ; but form and spirit are too closely
united in literature to make translations more than a

The last three reasons assigned for the permanent
value of Latin and Greek as school studies, namely, the
richness and simplicity of the literature, its excellence as
providing material for training in the logic of discovery
and its importance as the key to an understanding ol
the evolution of civilisation, these are enough to justify
conservation. But we must examine the criticisms com-
monly made upon the views here set forth.

Objectors will say that the literatures may be admir-
Objections to a ble, but few scholars arrive at the point o:
the classics really understanding and enjoying them ; anc>
as school this is a good and sound objection. But the
subjects objection can be attenuated by better teach-
ing. If we were to begin to teach Latin and Greek as
literature from the first, many more of our pupils woulc
be able to enter into the rich heritage which the scholars
of three centuries have preserved for them and whicr

Latin and Greek 207

las stimulated and enriched centuries of later literature
n all western languages.

Objectors say, again, that the judgment is trained by
istory studies and the capacity for making deductions
y mathematical studies ; so that linguistic studies are
ess necessary for these purposes ; and that of course the
ipplied physical sciences provide satisfactorily for induc-
ive training. Well, the study of comparative grammar
s a fine training in both inductive and deductive reason-
ng, but it may be admitted that in the former particular
he applied sciences are better than languages. On the
)ther hand, let it be remembered that a great deal of
he business of life depends on our being precise in the
neanings which we assign to words, and that the evils
f ambiguity in language would appear to be most easily
md naturally avoided by the careful cultivation of the
Drecise and honest rendering of a Latin or Greek passage
n the light of all the limited evidence that can be col-
ected for its one interpretation. To the last claim made
:>n behalf of classics, their importance as documents of
:ivilisation, no valid objection can be raised. They are
.bsolutely indispensable as monuments and landmarks ;
md the greatest and best men who have pronounced on
:ivilisation as a process without taking the literature of
Grreece and Rome into account are to that extent un-
rustworthy as guides to opinion.

But to get all available good out of classics as a regular
jchool subject, certain main points seem to ,

Classics must

:all for special consideration. First of all, we not t, e de-
nust abandon the memorising of accidence privedofin-
Dy which interest is so absurdly strangled in terestinthe
he early stages of study. We must begin with first stages
i book, preferably with a book treating a story already
veil known to the pupils. We must proceed summarily,

208 Common Sense in Education

covering ground at first rather rapidly, and cultivatin
accuracy gradually and in accordance with the pupil'
capacity to become accurate. You cannot be accurat
if you have no material ; you must start your pupil wit
something to go on. It may be well, no doubt, to stai
an adult pupil on grammar, but a young pupil should b
brought up on a plan nearer that of nature, on speed
For language, ancient or modern, is, in its essence
speech, and not logic.

We must make up our minds that it is waste of tim
to teach those who cannot get far enough to profit.
school life that ends at fourteen should not be burdene
with Latin ; but after that stage, even a couple of yea^
at Latin, providing that a real book is used from tr
first, will bear good fruit, and put it in the pupil's pow(
to go on by himself, which he would never do if he ha
merely been struggling sadly with grammar and exercise
Teach him language by this study ; language first, log:

Translation back into the Latin or Greek of a passag
Regressive read is a fine exercise in expression, and shou
translation be practised from the first. 1 It is far better tha
the use of any series of exercises artificially systematise
on a scheme of grammar, however well graduated it ma
be, and however skilfully the series may be compile'
But minute philological inquiries and the severer " con
position " exercises of prose or verse, though not withoi

1 Of course an old device, as Ascham witnesses. " After th
the childe must take a paper booke, and sitting in some pla
where no man shall prompt him, by himself, let him translate in
English his former lesson. Then showing it to his master, let tl
master take from him his Latin booke, and pausing an houre
the least, let the childe translate his own English into Latin agai
in another paper booke."

Latin and Greek 209

value, may take up too much time in the case of those
who are not pursuing classical studies beyond their six-
teenth year. The cultivation of " taste " and the power
of expression can in these cases be satisfactorily provided
for by the use of corresponding exercises in English
prose or verse as complementary to the lesson in

Let us compare the commoner present practice with
what may be suggested as a better way. And objections
note that we should keep our eye on the aver- to current
age pupil, not the most highly gifted ; for our practices
current practice conspicuously demoralises or at least
wastes the time of the pupil of ordinary ability. It is not
pertinent though it is perfectly true to say that the
best pupils in the great schools are often quite admirable
scholars ; and that for elegant and exact scholarship, if not
for minute and extensive specialisation, our universities
are pre-eminent, so long as we select the individuals on
whom we are to base our favourable judgment. This is
true ; but where are the votive tablets of those who have
been shipwrecked ? Do the nine-tenths of those who fail
to reach scholarship standard get their money's worth ?

The chief objections to the present method of study
are : first, its unreality ; secondly, its small value to those
who spend only a couple of years in classical study ;
and thirdly, its exceeding slowness to all but the very
best scholars, that is, to those who are not spoilt. First
as to its alleged unreality. It takes some time under
our present system to convince pupils that either Latin
or Greek was ever really spoken. They give an intel-
lectual assent to our assurance, but if they get little
beyond the accidence, they are not called upon to act on
that assent, and do not believe the fact, for people believe
only those propositions on which they are called to take

2io Common Sense in Education

action. They have no moral conviction that the language
is anything but a clumsy puzzle. I remember well how
the dry bones of my Greek grammar began to stir with
life when I first took up a Greek testament and found
that, with my recollection of the English version, I could
make out the meaning. No language, ancient or modern,
can be learned with conviction until it is learnt as some-
thing organic " apperceptively," in fact.

Consider next the small value of classical study to
those who under existing circumstances spend no more
than two years in the occasional study of a dead language.
They probably begin it at too early an age, nine or ten
perhaps, and learn nothing but lists, lists, and lists again
declensions and paradigms, which are not even the
skeleton of the language, but rather its unarticulated

And then, again, its amazing slowness. For most
people, even some proud B.A.'s, have, after achieving
their degree and putting their books away, read no
author, perhaps no single work, all through ; and have
in all likelihood compassed at most about half a dozen
long excerpts from some well-known writers. At the
end of many years, then, the bulk of their knowledge is
little indeed.

By what means can we make the most of our lessons
in Latin and Greek? Let us set forth some general
cautions as preliminaries.

First of all, as we have seen, we must convince our
The means pupils of the reality of the study by introduc-
of improve- ing them at as early a period as possible to a
ment real- book ; and this will be all the easier if

only we are allowed to postpone the beginning of Latin
until the thirteenth year and of Greek till the fifteenth.
The fourteenth, as our American friends have found.

Latin and Greek 211

is, generally speaking, too late to ensure a profitable
beginning of Latin.

Secondly, in the earlier stages, we should make little
of the grammar, teaching it rather incidentally than as
a separate subject. The main uses of case-terminations
may be taught from a series of instances collected, if
need be, by the teacher, and laid before the class ; but
the method of induction would be too tedious to use
throughout. A few of the more important syntactical
rules may be stated as occasion arises, and after the first
year the regular declensions or paradigms may be learnt
in the orthodox way.

Thirdly, cover plenty of ground and cover it quickly.
The possession of a sense of mastery is the only means
by which we can ease the toilsomeness which makes
Latin and Greek study such a drudgery. Our teaching
need not become less accurate by the use of this method,
but we must give more help and encouragement at first,
translating beforehand the verbs and the harder words
or hard constructions, aiming always at giving the work
a meaning, and supplying our pupils with a vocabu-
lary. Vocabulary and phrases come first, grammar next.
Pestalozzi formulated this plainly enough, when he con-
fessed in his introduction to his Science of Education
that at first he " erred in keeping far too closely to the
routine of the schools, teaching accurate grammatical
analysis, when for this beginning only the principal
signs of inflection should have been taught and ex-
plained. ..."

Fourthly, we must not in the early stages aim at the
critical mastery of a short text, but rather at cultivating
the capacity to translate backwards and forwards, by
exercising the class in rendering the original author into
English, and back again from the English version into

212 Common Sense in Education

the Latin. " Compositions," or original renderings from
English, should not be required till later stages, when
the pupil has passed into his sixteenth year ; until then
we should be content with exercises on the books read.

Fifthly, we ought to insist from the first on the strictest
scrupulousness in regard to pronunciation and quantities.
Those teachers who have used both the older English
pronunciation and the revised scheme (like that at the
end of Dr. Abbott's Latin Prose, or that propounded in
the little pamphlet issued by the Latin Professors in the
University of Wales, or that set forth in the U.S. Con-
ference reporting to the Committee of Ten) are thoroughly
satisfied that the revised is the better. It is certainly
demonstrably nearer the original, and it is far more
musical than the singularly barbarous longs and shorts
which English scholars have used for three centuries.
The false quantities of the imperfectly instructed are not
only excruciating to the more cultivated ear, but they
also make it more difficult to acquire a sound appre-
ciation of the melody and stateliness of verse or of
the subtler music of prose. At first, quantities must be
marked for the beginner, who should be encouraged also
to note quantities for himself; and as soon as he learns
to construe verse, he should be set to learn it by heart ;
and a little later, prose as well.

Sixthly, if we are able to choose for ourselves, we
should begin with authors in whom young folk may be
expected to take some real interest. To the boy or
girl on the threshold of Latin, Caesar's Commentaries
are indubitably dull and therefore unsuited and unsuit-
able ; such easy prose as Eutropius or Cornelius Nepos
or simple selected passages of graduated difficulty are
far preferable. But better than any of these, to my
mind, is the Latin Bible. The use of this for a year or

Latin and Greek 213

more will not seriously affect the young learner's capacity
to acquire a good style when he begins later to read
prose of the Augustan age, and it will confer the abso-
lutely inestimable advantage of facility. After the all-
important start, it matters less what authors are read.
The traditions of English scholarship are so sound that
there is an abundant supply of the noble classics, edited
only too well. But it is matter for wonder that later
Latin, singularly suitable as it often is for school use, is
so little favoured. Such books as the younger Pliny's
letters, for instance, are attractive, interesting, full of
useful matter, and excellent models of style ; but, of
course, they are not " Augustan ".

It will be noticed that we take it for granted that we
begin with Latin, and not Greek. This order Latin or
has in its favour : first, prescription ; secondly, Greek first?
the more general and obvious connexion of Latin with
the business and traditions of European society ; thirdly,
the not inconsiderable fact that there is no new alphabet
to learn. Except for this, it would be easy to agree
with Pestalozzi and to lead off with the Odyssey, which

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Online LibraryPercy Arthur BarnettCommon sense in education and teaching; an introduction to practice → online text (page 16 of 25)