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Monday, November 26, 2018

Place of Greek in Modern Education, Part IV

Background- this article was originally published in the 1891/2 edition of the Parents’ Review edited by Charlotte Mason. The author is Oscar Browning.  All the Parents' Review articles we find are freely made available to the general public at Ambleside’s website
He has been discussing the place of Greek and Latin in a classical education and whether classical education as such should continue to hold the place it did in British public schools, but now he wishes to address another topic:
I must now pass to another subject. I mentioned above that there appeared to me to be four possible curricula in these modern days- the classical, the mathematical, the scientific, and the modern literary. The last of these has yet to be created; but I believe that if it were properly developed it would be found to be in educative effect and instructive value in no way inferior to the other three. A serious attempt was once made to introduce it during the Second French Empire by Napoleon III. and his minister of education, M. Duruy. It went by the name of Enseignement Secondaire Special. But there were great difficulties in the way. First, books had to be written for it. It was then discovered that there were no competent teachers, and a normal school had to be founded to provide the necessary instructors. The scheme had got no further when the Second Empire broke up, although I believe that something has been done to carry it by the present Republican Government.
The central idea of such an education is that it should fit a man for the problems and the work of modern life; that it should not be scientific nor mathematical, nor should it be professional. It should deal as classical education deals with that higher preparatory education which ought in every case to precede the professional or breadwinning training. A man disciplined in it would understand the best thought, the best literature, the best art of the day; he would be acquainted with the problems with which the wold has to deal- political, social, and moral; he would be cosmopolitan in taste and culture; he would be at home in any civilised country, and his interest in the life which he had to lead and the environment in which he would move would not be depressed and overweighted with the burden of an exhausted erudition.
There is nothing more remarkable than the general ignorance of classical scholars. It is difficult for them to put themselves in touch with the modern world. If you speak to them of politics they are apt to think that it is an animal in the Zoological Gardens. Grote was a politician before he was an historian, Gibbon acknowledges his obligations to his experience as a member of parliament, but Curtius, the German historian of Greece, is a mere scholar. He describes events by putting texts together, but he has no skill in animating events with the life of action. Heine visited Poland at the age of twenty-one, and wrote an account of that country which is said never to have been surpassed in truth and insight.
This is what I should like any scholar trained on modern lines to be able to do. He should have the linguistic facility of a Russian, the political understanding of an American, the erudition of a German, and the common-sense and sound judgment of an Englishman. Nothing should be thrown away in his education. Nothing should be regretted or thought better of when forgotten. He should not begin with a laborious scaffolding of a dead past. He should proceed from the known to the unknown. He should study the past only to understand the present better. I would of course begin with languages. He should learn French, German, and Italian, as many English children learn them from their nurses or their governesses. But as soon as I could I would make him aim at a scholar’s perfection. He should grind at grammar, and labour at translation and composition enough to satisfy the severest pedant. He should also be made to feel that the principal use of language is as a key to literature, that the power of mere speaking was a mere courier’s gift, and that the worth of language lies in its giving approach to the thoughts of men. He should know his Dante as well as a University scholar knows his Poetae Scenici. He should have studied with diligence and enthusiasm Goethe and Schiller, Racine and Pascal. But the main training of his mind I would draw from history, and especially political history.
I have now taught history at the University for about the same length of time as I had previously taught classics at school, and every year I have a stronger belief in it as a means of the higher education. Setting aside those students who have a marked aptitude for moral or natural science, or who are born classical scholars- and these classes form a small proportion of the whole- I know of no study which produces such results as history, if only the history be properly taught.
Sounds good to me.


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