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GUIDELINES FOR THE TEACHING OF ENGLISH IN THE SECONDARY SCHOOL
Compiled from various sources


Goals of the English Program

The primary characteristic of classical education is the use of the language curriculum, based on the study of literature in English (also in Latin and in foreign languages). Far from weakening the importance of this curriculum, modern conditions seem to cry out for its return as a humanizing instrument. A growing carelessness and vulgarity of speech, confusion of thinking, and the passivity of the mind fostered by our present forms of entertainment are the intellectual ills of the age. The remedies will contain the two ingredients which are the outcomes of a humanistic training óculture and discipline.

The first outcome of the language curriculum is culture. It is the appreciation which comes from carefully reading and understanding and sharing the best and noblest thoughts of good and noble persons. Certainly, youths in secondary school are made to grow through contact with selected literature, with a cultured teacher for guide and interpreter.

The second outcome of the language curriculum is discipline. It comes from consciously forming habits and performing acts according to a pattern. The rules of language supply the pattern. If we force the student to express himself in exact terms, we shall drive him to perceive objects precisely and to think exact thoughts. Briefly, that is the purpose of the language discipline in high school.

The Need for a Classical Curriculum

To be true to our traditions, we must plan positive measures to support and promote our classical program. It is not enough, for instance, to give the classical program equal weight and emphasis with the scientific program. The balance is already cast heavily to the advantage of the latter, and just to restore the equilibrium we have to strike hard for the humanistic program. This is so because of the technological cast of the age and because of the extraordinary efforts that are now being made to recruit scientists and engineers.

Furthermore, there is now more reason than ever in our past to uphold the humanistic elements in our secondary-school curriculum, because not all our graduates elect a liberal college program. For many, the chief humanistic influence will have to be applied in high school, for they will not be subjected to it in college.

The every-day writing and speaking of large numbers of Americans has reached an abject level of carelessness and obscurity. The fast pace of American life, with its tendency to abbreviate, the relative passivity introduced by its pictorial forms of communication, the manifold appeals to manís sensory nature and impulses óall these discourage the wise cultivation of the rational processes and the appreciation of beauty. It is well for us to realize that we must counteract these influences before we can hope to make our young men susceptible to spiritual forces. One of the most effective ways we have of preparing the ground for the spiritual seed is the training in English by which we discipline the mind and awaken an appreciation of the true, the good, and the beautiful.

Developing Writing Skills

Training in English need not be stereotyped or antiquated if the teacher thoroughly understands the nature and idiom of his own language. The best British and American authors of the past century prove that modern writing can be good literature. But the use of slang, sport-coined words, and streamlined speech under the guise of modernity and the plea of developing a direct language, is all too often an excuse for total ignorance of fundamental laws of linguistics and authentic idiom.

Unfortunately, we ourselves have been corrupted by the linguistic vices of the times. Teachers should realize that one of their most effective influences in the formation of the student is personal contact. Greater reserve, refinement, and distinction of speech at all times on the part of our own teachers would enhance in the studentsí eyes the objectives of a good English course. Teachers need an occasional reminder of this.

Again, teachers in every subject must be seriously concerned with the use of at least correct written and oral expression in the work of their classes. In a very real sense every teacher is an English teacher.

In each school the objectives of the English course should be carefully worked out, clearly and explicitly stated, and proposed for the conscious aim of teachers and students.

In broad terms it may be said that the purpose of the composition phase of the courses should be a sure mastery of the mechanics of expression, grammatical correctness, and a familiarity with the general forms of composition ónarration, description, exposition, argumentation.

Grammar and Composition

It is futile to attempt to teach the forms of composition to students who do not have a grasp of the functions of the parts of speech or the construction of a sentence. The foundation of our first-year students being what it is today, it is surely necessary to review English grammar during the first year, especially for students coming from other schools. Not to do so will be to balk the attempts of teachers in the upper classes to make any real progress in composition. This training in grammar must be adapted to the actual condition of the students in each class; but it is to be hoped that it will not consume so much time that the composition which is the proper work of high school will have to be neglected.

The formula for composition is about one part theory to three parts practice. Too often the prescription is reversed. Too often teachers talk endlessly of rules and definitions when the boys should be exercising themselves in the application. Furthermore, the correction of exercises is indispensable. The teacher should organize his classes so that the correction of papers will be a regular feature. Yet the effort at correction will be largely wasted unless the student is put to revising and rewriting the composition in the light of the corrections. It is more effective to have one exercise written, corrected, and rewritten than to have two distinct exercises written once and done with.

The Study of Literature

The purpose of the study of literature is primarily the appreciation of literature. Other schools put more emphasis than we do upon the acquisition of literary information, the history of literature and a formal study of the literary types (essay, short story, poetry, and the like). Our main goal should always be to gain, through our contact with beautiful texts, an understanding of human nature.

In summary, the objectives of high-school courses are almost the exact counterpart of what are felt to be the major deficiencies today: firm and accurate knowledge of grammar and syntactical construction; steady and notable progress throughout the four years in richness and accuracy of expression, clarity, and firmness in expressing simple judgments in successive sentences, without jumbling them together; a sense of coordination and subordination; the power to achieve force in expression by the syntactical structure, not by underlining or other graphic and artificial means; the definite beginning of artistic appreciation of literature.

Advice for Teachers

Let us make some important remarks about the laws of learning. There can be little doubt that our students generally fail to receive the maximum return from their classical training. The proportion of return will depend directly upon the way the courses are taught. Classical courses in themselves do not have some magical virtue for training the mind. In other words, transfer of training is not automatic. The mind can be trained and developed, but not in the sense that a body muscle is trained and developed. Mental training consists in communicating ideals and methods. Training received in one field can be transferred to another field, but only under certain restricted conditions.

An ideal is "an idea which has been linked up with a series of concepts, images, and sentiments; an ideal means practically a force." Each field of study has its ideals; each has its methods and its skills. If the ideals and methods are specific, the habit acquired will be specific; if they are general, the habit will be general. The specific ideals and methods of one field will not carry over into another; but the general ones will óif they are properly taught. Teaching these general ideals and methods properly includes teaching how to make the transfer from one field to another. This principle is very important, and its frequent neglect minimizes many of the potential outcomes of the classical curriculum.

For the full fruition of the study, students must be taught not only the process, but also the applicability of this process to other life problems and they must have some practice in making the transfer. This training will consist partly in teaching students to recognize the similarity between the old situation and the new, partly in exercising them in applying the ideals and methods.

To put this principle another way, the training of the human faculties cannot be mechanized. The mind is not a muscle. The memory, the judgment the power of observation, the taste, can never be trained in one field in such a way as to be found in the same degree in other fields. The transfer or the generalization of an acquired habit is in proportion to the generalization of the method or of the assimilated idea.

All learning must proceed from the known to the unknown. If a man cannot correlate an unknown thing with something familiar to him, he cannot get at its meaning. Therefore the teacher must know and use the learnerís "apperceptive mass" in order to teach him. The apperceptive mass is the sum of his experience contained in the phantasms, concepts and emotional associations which have been registered in his consciousness. One of the chief problems of the teacher is to draw upon the studentís apperception in such a way that when he proposes a new idea of a new object, the student will be able to associate it with some idea or mental image he already has. Because inexperienced teachers have not yet gauged the level of mental development of a class, they sometimes "talk over the studentsí heads," that is they do not make enough connections with the apperceptive mass. New teachers will do well to analyze consciously the thinking process of their students until they develop "resonance" with it.

The Importance of Motivation

The affective aspects of learning should not be neglected. Interest and motivation are indispensable to genuine learning. Learning should be directed toward goals which are meaningful to students and accepted by them. They cannot make a wholehearted effort if they do not know what they are expected to accomplish and what value that accomplishment will have; still less so if they do not desire the outcome.

In order to form a habit, the essential thing is not the repetition of the act, but the assimilation of a value (moral, intellectual, aesthetic). Mere drill, without purpose, drill which lacks a "desired end" in view, will not develop a habit. However, merely imparting of ideals, exhortation, or even inspiring example, without some drill in the practical realization of the ideals will not produce a habit, either. The result is that no habit can be formed in an environment which is hostile, artificial, or incapable of arousing the immanent powers of the soul.

The essential task of the educator consists in unveiling the values which are hidden under the various forms of creation. These values are true, the good, the beautiful, which are vibrant in all creation and which appear under a particular aspect in the great works of literature. These are all reflections of the Creator. This is the most effective motivation. It is for this reason, too, that enthusiasm is the great gift of the teacher.

Our aim is to form students óto build intellectual and moral habits. It is impossible to do this by any process in which the student remains passive. Right here is the explanation of the reason why our teaching sometimes fails. Too often the teacher reads a textbook to uninterested students. There is no formation of habits. The teacher can set up the model for performance, he can inspire the student to perform, he can coach him as he performs; but the student must perform the actions himself if he is really to master the process. Good methods are methods which enlist the active participation of the student. The teacherís function is to create the mental situation and to stimulate the immanent activity of the student. It is good to compare the teacherís position with that of a master craftsman teaching a craft to apprentices.