A friend of mine lives in the New England States. Some of his youngsters are now in collegiate. They attend a well-appointed, well staffed, "good" school. My friend was shocked by and highly critical of the thinness of the curriculum. Each day comprised eight 40-minute periods. For the first two years four were devoted, one to each of four subjects which the students selected, for example mathematics, science, language, and social studies. The other four periods were "activity" periods. These were the occasions for school assemblies, for football practice, for orchestra rehearsal, for painting the scenery for the school play, for school clubs, plus one very good requirement that each student was expected to devote one activity period per week to an individual project on which a report was to be submitted at the end of the year. But my friend decided that positive action was necessary when he went to a teacher-parent association meeting addressed by the supervisor of schools for the State, who defined the objective of education as very simple, namely that of producing "happy well-adjusted children."
Now education is for the future precisely because it is the nature of things that children grow up and assume their share of responsibility as individuals in the whole complex which we call civilization. We, you and I, sometimes still see Peter Pan and I hope we always shall. But unless we are greatly mistaken the future is not a Never-never land for children who never grow up. At the particular phase of education which we call collegiate, the students are growing up and education at this level is most definitely and positively not a perpetuation of childhood.
I must contrast such a stupid illusion with the statement made in 1950 by a committee
reporting to Dr. Conant, who was then president of Harvard University and, in fairness,
point out that this also came out of the New England states, which summarized the
objectives of education as training
(1) to think effectively,
(2) to communicate thought,
(3) to make relative judgments, and
(4) to discriminate among values.
To which I would add a very important fifth - to develop the ability to do something well. How does your teaching fit in with this forward look?
Is Greek taught in any of your schools? Greek was too demanding, too difficult to justify the proportion of school time necessary for a competent knowledge of it. So it has substantially disappeared. What was the value for the future in the study of Greek? Surely it was a first-hand knowledge of one of the finest hours of the human race in trying to think effectively, to communicate thought, to make relative judgments, and to discriminate among values. Need this be lost? You who are heads of Classics Departments, how about making a deal with your colleagues who teach history? Get someone who reads well - preferably yourself - to read some of Gilbert Murray's translations to History classes, or in some of the school clubs. You know Greek literature is worth preserving for the future. Then help preserve it. And you might try some translations from the Latin too.
How about Latin? For other than training future Latin teachers there are two reasons in Ontario now for studying Latin in collegiate, namely to provide a background for the study of other languages and because Latin is the universal language of one great world-wide religious organization. Either reason for studying Latin is sound - but why start in Grade X? To survive as anything but a fringe subject Latin is going to have to be presented for the future in a different manner.
English? English is for the foreseeable future. Not in the dry rot of pedagogy but in something rhythmic, precise, virile, beautiful. Something to be loved and something to be used.
Modern languages? Language is a means of communicating thought, of understanding people, diminishing the things which separate us. What is of more vital importance for the future? French? - I'd make it compulsory and start it well back in the Public Schools. Quebec starts in Grade III and, in my opinion, they are right. I know teachers are not available now but I think we should be planning on getting them. And anyone who classifies French as a "foreign language" ought to have his head examined.
Foreign languages should be optional but, if studied, should be studied seriously from the standpoint of communications between human beings. German, Spanish, are keys to meeting great people and great thoughts. We should be starting to do something about Russian, and the sooner the better.
Now let me be controversial. We don't start languages nearly early enough. What do you hope to accomplish starting German in Grade XI? Why not Grade IX at least?
I would advocate the same approach for the future in history and geography. Make them what they are - a background of human experience on which effective thinking may be built.
My own personal competence tends to the scientific and mathematical. The merits for the future in mathematics are that it is the most precise means, the most precise language, of communication that we have and that by it we define not merely the extent but, no less important, the limitations of our knowledge. In science the future lies in the everlastingly unexplored and undiscovered frontier of truth which we approach from day to day.
But education is for the future not of school subjects but for the future of individual men and women. Maybe that is why last year my insistence that a principal "how" in teaching was that you should work and teach recognizing that all pupils are important but by far the most important are your best students, provoked most interest and most discussion. Your best students are supremely important. Arnold Toynbee states one reason in his Study of History. He writes:
A human society is inherently incapable of playing an active creative role in human affairs. The society is not, and cannot be, anything more than a medium of communication through which the individual human beings interact with each other. It is human individuals and not human societies that 'make' human history.
Then he quotes from Henri Bergson -
It is useless to maintain that social progress takes place of itself, bit by bit, in virtue of the special condition of the society at a certain period of its history. It is really a leap forward which is only taken when society has made up its mind to try an experiment; this means that society must have allowed itself to be convinced, or at any rate to allow itself to be shaken; and the shake is always given by somebody.
We are the music makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams
Wandering by lone sea-breakers,
And sitting by desolate streams
World-losers and world forsakers,
On whom the pale moon gleams:
Yet we are the movers and shakers
Of the world, forever it seems.
We, in the ages lying
In the buried past of the earth,
Built Ninevah with our sighing
And Babel itself with our mirth
And o'erthrew them by prophesying
To the old of the new world's worth;
For each age is a dream that is dying;
Or one that is coming to birth.
Who are your best students? You may be surprised by my answer but I suggest you think about it before summary disagreement. Your best students are those who best gain experience from their activities. I think I would have framed on my classroom wall Aldous Huxley's comment: -
Experience is not a matter of having actually swum the Hellespont, or danced with the dervishes, or slept in a doss house. It is a matter of sensibility and intuition, of seeing and hearing the significant things, of paying attention at the right moments, of understanding and coordinating. Experience is not what happens to a man; it is what a man does with what happens to him.
By what symptoms may you diagnose this? Look for the youngster who goes beyond the curriculum and who isn't afraid of doing things. I have been told that there is an ancient Jewish legend - When Moses threw the wand into the Red Sea, the sea, quite contrary to the expected miracle, did not divide itself to leave a dry passage for the Jews. Not until the first man had jumped into the sea did the promised miracle happen and the waves recede. - and no less for the youngster who does things because he obviously likes them, who works with things because he likes them, whose actions say, as Chesterton said - "I do not think there is anyone who takes quite such a fierce pleasure in things being themselves as I do. The startling wetness of water excites and intoxicates me: the fieriness of fire, the steeliness of steel, the unutterable muddiness of mud."
Another method is to see how your students react to unusual or challenging situations. My pet hate in collegiate teaching is when mass production methods result in dictated notes to be memorized and parroted back for marks on examinations set and corrected by the same teacher. Last year I said, and now repeat, that I cannot think of a more effective way of inducing failure at a subsequent university level. Maybe I should really summon up my courage and suggest that Mr. Ferguson should, on a reciprocal basis of course, have some St. Catharines teachers set and mark some of the Christmas and Easter examinations given in his school. If continued over the years the quality of teaching in both schools might improve.
And when you find them - what do you do about it? You teachers with experience - make friends with them and having made friends do something with them. The possibilities are limitless. Why should the principal's office be haunted only by the late comer, by the trouble maker, by the purveyor of excuses? Why should your after school classes be monopolized by detention forms? Recognize and encourage accomplishment in all fields of endeavour, academic and athletic, extracurricular and curricular. Accomplishment is the result of the pursuit of excellence and there you have a real definition of the purpose of education.
And let me summon up my courage again. We may growl about it sometimes but we do live in a competitive world. Competition in school, academic or athletic, for the benefit of parents is hopelessly wrong. Competition for the benefit of students is, I believe, essential for the future. In talking about Greek and Latin I omitted one reason why they are for the future. Both civilizations failed and died. They became complacent, self-satisfied, rigid, conventional, sterile, non-competitive, and they died. "Around every Rome hover the Gauls, around every Athens some Macedon."
And this leads to my final word. What is the ultimate reward of accomplishment? The ultimate reward is more responsibility. The parable of the talents does not make nice reading and, with respect, I do not think it was in any way intended to make nice reading. But to him that hath much is given and from him much is expected. As moulders of the future much is given to you - can we give more than our children? - and from you much is expected.
And so the experiment ends and it ends as it did last year, -
There came to the Prophet a woman who held her babe against her bosom and she said: - "Speak to us of Children." And he said;
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of
Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the Archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as he loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable."
A presentation to the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation, Niagara Region, as Research Director, The Ontario Paper Company Ltd., Thorold Ontario.