« PreviousContinue »
My Beloved Alma Mater
wbere witb Small Glasses but Great Teachers
1 First Began to Love and Revere Tbe Englisb Language and its Literature
" Everyday Englisb”
Everyday English ” has been written, not to exploit a theory, but to meet the loudly-voiced demand of American educators for a different sort of language training.
This demand has arisen because of evident need. It is well understood that language work is the weakest link in the long chain of public school methods. Should one still doubt this, let him consider two significant facts in the recent history of secondary schools: (1) Some of our best high schools now require a short but strenuous review of the very elements of English, -- oral reading, spelling, and penmanship; (2) Certain of our great universities have lately ruled that all would-be students must pass satisfactory entrance examination in reading, spelling, penmanship, and simple English composition. No course of study nor examination is suggested in number, geography, history, natural science, or nature study; for language alone gives rise to serious complaint.
The cause of failure to satisfy is not long to seek. Let it be remembered that America and her schools are continuously swallowing, constrictor-wise, huge masses of population from a score of foreign nations. This peculiar and difficult condition cannot be paralleled in any other country under the sun. For the sake of self-preservation, nation and school must digest all this raw material. In this fact lies our chief problem.
How have we met the problem thus far? Have we provided freely for children of foreign-born parents, who hear little or no English in the home, instruction in which special emphasis is laid upon vocabulary gain? These children, in learning to read, need to acquire, in the case of most words, not merely written signs for terms already possessed in oral use, but also the original ideas lying back of those oral signs, together with the oral signs themselves. The English-speaking child, for example, knows the object sofa, and the word sofa; he has, therefore, an idea corresponding to the object sofa, and he knows the name of that idea; he
has but to acquire the written sign, which association and the interest of recognition will enable him to master speedily. But the child of our emigrant citizen may have neither the idea of this object nor the oral sign for the idea; hence he must learn simultaneously both the oral and the written sign for what to him is a pure abstraction. Perhaps for years a considerable portion of his textbook vocabulary is made up of terms which for him have no inner content of meaning. This fact easily accounts for the amazing misuse of words in the written work of children from foreign homes. In the failure to provide adequate language training for these innumerable children who know almost no English, lies partial explanation of the waste of two or three years in the grades which prominent schoolmen are now vigorously trying to locate.
From three to three and one-half minutes of oral reading is the whole average daily allowance to the child thruout the intermediate grades, altho reading is to him more important than anything else in the whole field of education. For, in the sixth or the seventh grade he will doubtless leave school, as nine-tenths of all pupils annually do, with but a meagre vocabulary doubtfully possessed. He is therefore wholly unprepared to make his way amid modern civilization, which demands a generous and ready vocabulary. His chief need for life was knowledge of English speech ; he has dabbled in a score of subjects; he has learned indeed many useful things; but he has not gained the mastery of his own vernacular.
Have the children from English-speaking homes, however, forged ahead conspicuously because of their greater advantages in the possession of a considerable vocabulary of English words? If not, why not?
A second great cause for the failure of the schools to satisfy in regard to language lies in the fact that until very lately, nearly all language teaching, from primary grades to college halls, has proceeded upon the false assumption that living English is a dead matter of rules, which can be formulated, taught, and applied in practice. This is not truth, and no system founded upon untruth can endure. For the final court of appeal in matters of English speech is the law of good usage. But the memorizing of rules which are no rules has usurped the place of broad and generous instruction leading to full development of power of observa