The Method of Teaching in Practice

§ 3. Written Exercises. [ 53 ]

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Themes, in the broadest sense, including imitation exercises and free essays, are of the greatest importance. They force the pupils to concentration of thought, and give them patience and facility in writing. As we said before, it is most advisable, also in the teaching of English, to make the students write at least some sentences every day. A short Latin theme should be given almost daily, and a Greek theme at least once a week. It is a good custom in many Jesuit colleges in this country to give an English composition for Monday. If the principle maintained by St. Ignatius in the "Spiritual Exercises" is true, that one advances according to the amount of his own self-exertion, not that of his director merely, then these provisions for much and frequent written work were well made. It is not easy to conceive, in the light of this rule, how any one can complain that in the Jesuit system the pupil has nothing to do. He rather has everything to do; the professor goes before him, indeed, and shows him how, but then demands personal application, and that of not the lightest kind, from the pupil who means to advance. [ 54 ]




The subject of Latin and Greek themes, whether they are a translation of the teacher's dictation or a free work of the pupils, should be taken, as far as possible, from the authors read in class. Shorter single sentences must be translated especially in the lower classes, in order to apply and practise the rules of grammar. But the exercises should as early as possible consist of connected pieces, descriptions, narrations etc. and should contain the vocables of the Latin and Greek authors read during that period; in short, the exercises should be based on the authors read in class. During the greater part of the last century there was an excessive use of so-called exercise books, consisting either of unconnected sentences, or of such connected pieces as had no relation to the authors studied at the time. Of late years this practice is condemned more and more, and we think rightly so. The new "Prussian School Order" prescribes the former system. [ 55 ] And recently an American writer could state that "the grammatical training is now brought into more vital connection with the study of classic literature. The writing of Latin verse is generally discarded. Prose composition is receiving increased attention, and is now more imitative in its character than formerly, being commonly based on the Latin and Greek masterpiece which the class is studying at the same time." [ 56 ] Is this a new invention? It is exactly the method prescribed by the Ratio. Thus the 30th of the Common Rules reads: "The theme should be dictated not off-hand but after careful consideration and generally from a written copy. It ought to be directed, as far as possible, to the imitation of Cicero." Two things are contained in this rule: First, the teacher is to write out the dictation himself, not to take it from an exercise book; secondly, the dictation is to be based on the author studied at the time. Cicero is mentioned because he was formerly the author read with preference. Besides, other rules say that the dictation may follow other authors, especially historians. [ 57 ] The rules for the teachers of the different classes enjoin that the same method be followed. [ 58 ] Thus the professor of Humanities is told that "it is often advantageous so to compose the theme that the whole may be gathered here and there from passages already explained. "




Indeed, this system affords many great advantages. The reading is made useful for the writing, and the writing helps considerably for the thorough understanding of what has been read. The students will have to ponder over the author, to examine the words, the figures, the phrases, and so they imbibe little by little the genius of the language. Thus imitation-exercises are made useful and easy at the same time. The dictionary need not be consulted for every expression, a custom which entails much waste of time with relatively little fruit. We quoted Dr. Stanley Hall's words, [ 59 ] that "one of the best German teachers told him that the boy should never see a dictionary or even a vocabulary, but the teacher must be a 'pony'." This is the old principle of the Ratio. The teacher is told that "after the dictation of the theme he should straightway call for the reading of the theme. Then he should explain anything that may be difficult, suggest words, phrases and other helps." [ 60 ] Is not here the teacher, what modern educators want him to be in their 'ideal school,' the boy's dictionary, vocabulary and 'pony'? But above all this practice produces unity in the various exercises. It is needless to say that the same principle can be followed with best success in the teaching of English. The compositions ought to be based on the work studied in class. [ 61 ]

The imitation exercises should, however, not be a slavish imitation of the author; there may be a great variety in these exercises. Father Jouvancy gives some valuable hints on this subject. [ 62 ] "Translate," he writes, "a passage, say from Cicero, into the native tongue; afterwards, without looking at Cicero, retranslate it into Latin. Then compare your Latin with that of Cicero and correct yours wherever it is necessary. Experience has proved that many have greatly benefited by this excellent practice. Another time you may write out a sketch of an argument or write down the train of thought found in the original author, then work it out, clothe, as it were, this skeleton with flesh and nerves. This being finished the new production is to be compared with the original; not only will the difference appear but also many improvements will be suggested. There is a third way of imitating authors. Take a beautiful passage from an author, change the subject matter into one similar or opposite. Then, following in the foot-steps of the author, use, as far as possible, the same figures, periods, connections, transitions. Thus in the oration against Piso, Cicero shows that a seditious mob is not to be honored with the name of the 'Roman people.' In a similar manner it may be shown who really deserves to be styled a Christian, a gentleman, a scholar." Jouvancy justly remarks that this method of self-training is the best substitute, if another instructor and guide cannot be obtained. For the great authors themselves become the teachers, guides and correctors of the student.

That such imitations may be masterpieces in themselves, is proved by more than one instance. A great number of the works of Latin writers are imitations of Greek types. And many fiery harangues of the speakers of the French Revolution are fashioned after Cicero's invectives against Catiline and Anthony. [ 63 ]




Every one sees that this excellent method of imitating good authors can be applied to the study of English with the greatest advantage. [ 64 ] He who takes a descriptive passage from Washington Irving, or an argument from Burke, Pitt, or Webster and works it out according to these rules of Jouvancy, will surely improve his style — provided he keeps for a long time to the same author. For changing from one author to another, as a butterfly flits from flower to flower, like all desultory work, will produce very little result.

The correction of the written exercises is a very troublesome and uninteresting work, the worst drudgery of the teacher's daily life. But it is, as the 21st rule says, of the greatest importance and therefore to be done conscientiously. The Ratio advises the teacher to correct the exercises in class, while the boys are writing or studying for themselves. One boy after the other is called up to the teacher's desk, and his mistakes are pointed out to him; he may himself be asked why it is wrong and correct it himself; particular instructions may be given, a word of praise or of rebuke may be added. Such private corrections afford many advantages. But much time may be lost to teaching and for this reason the rule says "those themes which, owing to the great number, cannot be corrected in class, should be corrected at home." Many teachers have the following system. They correct all themes at home and return them to the students the following day, with the mistakes marked. Then, if it is a dictation, a boy is called up to translate, the other boys correct him, all comparing their own translations. The pupils will see in most cases why their translations are marked, if not, they should ask immediately, and the teacher may ask other boys why such and such a translation is a mistake. A correct copy should then be made, dictated by the teacher; in lower classes it may be well to have it written by someone on the blackboard.




It is evident that great neatness is to be insisted on in the themes. It is easier to keep paper neat and clean if the themes be exacted on single sheets: But the boys will, as a rule, be more careful, if they have copy books, which are to be used until they are filled. They do not like to see many mistakes in their copy books. In the German and Austrian gymnasia there exists an admirable system. Every exercise in the copy-book has at the top the running number, opposite on the margin the date. Corrections of the teachers and marks are made in red ink: the pupils' corrections are to be added at the end. Every month one review in Latin and one in Greek, written in ink on single sheets of the same size and kind, marked by the teacher, are to be handed in to the Director of the institution, who at any time may also ask for the copy-books of the class. The Government-Inspectors, who from time to time visit the colleges, carefully examine the copy-books, thus controlling the work of teachers and pupils alike. This system has many and great advantages. It requires hard and conscientious work on the part of the teacher especially, but is producing admirable results. A similar system exists in some Jesuit colleges. During the semi-annual examinations all the copy-books are exhibited in the class room or wherever the examination is conducted, to be inspected by the President, and the Prefect of Studies. It is very important that the copy-books be returned as soon as possible, as the work done by the pupils is still fresh in their mind. An exception to this rule must necessarily be made in the case of English composition, especially longer essays, the correction of which naturally requires more time.




This exercise of writing Latin and Greek themes, particularly free Latin compositions, has within the last decades met with great opposition. And yet, no exercise is more useful and more necessary if a solid knowledge of these languages is to be obtained. The reading of authors alone will not suffice. This is the conviction of the most experienced schoolmen. Even Greek exercises must be written, that a firmer hold may be obtained on the facts of accidence, of syntax, and of idiom. [ 65 ] And without any practice in writing the understanding of the classical authors will scarcely be more than superficial. [ 66 ] Even the writing of Latin verse may not be so useless as some represent it. Quite recently one of the most distinguished scholars of Germany, Professor von Wilamowitz, of the Berlin University, made a strong plea for this much decried exercise. [ 67 ] Similarly Dr. Ilberg of Leipsic, who wrote last year: "The 'antiquated' art of writing Latin verses does not deserve the contempt and the sneers with which it has been treated. It is an exercise which requires not only knowledge of the language, but also exertion of the imagination. The writing of Latin verses belongs to those exercises which challenge the pupil to produce something of his own, and which make him enjoy the pleasant sensation of having achieved something." [ 68 ] Hence Sir Joshua Fitch goes beyond the bounds of moderation when he asserts that "enormous injury is done to the rank and file of boys by this antiquated and soulless exercise; which inevitably produces weariness and disgust, and sets a false and ignoble ideal of scholarship before the pupils." [ 69 ] There is in this sweeping condemnation, as in most similar indictments of old customs, a false supposition. We doubt whether any one considers the "manufacture of Latin verses the ultimate test, the ideal and crown of scholarship." Still, it is one of the many means, although a very subordinate one, of acquiring an accomplished and all around scholarship. Above all, the writing of verses will help to appreciate more fully the classical poets.




In this connection we must say a few words on another exercise, much insisted on by the Ratio, viz. speaking Latin. Few points of the Ratio have been more misrepresented and derided than this. But this without good cause. Facility in speaking Latin is not the principal aim of the Jesuit system. This follows from the tenor of the whole Ratio, and is sufficiently proved by our former statement that branches of study are merely the means to attain the one object of all instruction, the cultivation of the mind. A language — so our modern educators say — is learned much more quickly, if spoken; it becomes easy and familiar and, in a way, natural. That the speaking of Latin is, after all, not so absurd, may be seen from the fact that some of the ablest scholars of the nineteenth century have advocated it. Thus the great Latinist, Dr. Seyffert, says: "Without speaking, the writing of Latin will always remain a half-measure and patchwork." Also Dr. Dettweiler, one of the best modern authorities on the study of Latin, recommends the speaking of this language. [ 70 ] However, the attitude of the Society in this point has changed. The Society adapts itself in this respect, as in many others, to the tendency of the times. This may be inferred from a comparison between the Ratio of 1599 and that of 1832. The old Ratio enjoins the teacher to insist rigorously that the boys speak Latin in all matters pertaining to school work, except in the lowest class, where they do not know Latin. [ 71 ] The corresponding rule in the revised Ratio reads as follows: "The teacher should take great care that the pupils acquire practice in speaking Latin. For this reason he should speak Latin from the highest grammar class on, and should insist on the use of Latin, especially in explaining the precepts, in correcting Latin compositions, in the concertationes (contests between the boys), and in their conversations." The revised rule does not prescribe the colloquial use of Latin as early as was done in former days. But still it must be remembered that the practice of speaking Latin must be gradually introduced, and, therefore, the lower classes are supposed also to have Latin in use, although not so extensively.




Be it remarked, however, that the colloquial use of Latin is, by no means, insisted on in the Ratio for its practical value; for Latin is no longer the universal language of the educated world, as it was some centuries ago. From time to time, indeed, we hear of efforts being made to restore Latin to its old place. Thus in the oration at the Leibnitz celebration of the Royal Academy of Sciences at Berlin, May 29, 1899, the chief speaker advocated the introduction of Latin as the international language of learned men. However, such efforts are too few, too sporadic, to influence the wider circles, at least for the near future. Nay more, it seems almost certain that Latin will never acquire that domineering influence which it formerly exercised. In those days the national languages and literatures were not fully developed. But now they have. attained a high degree of perfection, and have gained a stronghold on the mind of the people. Besides, most of the books of great scientific value are either written in German, English, or French, or are speedily translated into one of these languages, and in our days, no one can lay claim to scholarship who does not master one or other of them besides his mother-tongue. The Society of Jesus has simply, in the words of the Jesuit Ebner, watched the trend of events, and adapted herself and her teaching in this point, as in others to the new conditions. [ 72 ] She strives to teach Latin thoroughly, and therefore urges the colloquial use of Latin as a most valuable means to that end, although at present not in the same degree as in former centuries when facility in speaking Latin had, moreover, a directly practical purpose.




The educational experiments of Germany during the last ten years afford an interesting illustration of what has been said in this chapter. It is known that, after the Berlin Conference of 1890, Latin lost fifteen hours a week in the nine classes of the gymnasium. The Latin compositions particularly were reduced considerably, almost completely abolished. What was the result? Very soon complaints were heard from all sides that in consequence of these changes the teaching of Latin had been greatly injured. [ 73 ] It became evident that more extensive writing of Latin was necessary to obtain the linguistic and logical training of the mind, which is one of the foremost objects of Latin instruction. Only these exercises, the practical application of the rules of etymology and syntax, the careful examination of the peculiarities of style in the higher classes, and constant comparison with the mother-tongue, by means of translations and re-translations, give a thorough knowledge and insight into the language. [ 74 ]




These are the principles on which the Ratio and Jouvancy had insisted centuries ago, and which were emphasized by the General of the Society in 1893, at the very time when the German schools saw fit to abandon them. But experience soon forced the German authorities to revert to what had been thrown overboard. In 1895 permission was granted to add one hour weekly in the higher classes, which was to be devoted to practice in writing and to the application and repetition of rules of grammar and style. For, as Professor Fries declared, [ 75 ] the curtailing of these exercises had proved to be the weakest point of the changes made after 1890. In the second conference, in igoo, the opinion of the most distinguished scholars was most positive in demanding a further strengthening of these exercises. [ 76 ] It was proposed [ 77 ] that a Latin composition should again be required for the last examination. Nay more, Dr. Kübler advocated — one would have thought it impossible after the vehement denunciations of this exercise — the practice of speaking Latin. "It has been exceedingly gratifying to me," he said, "to learn that the Ministry of Instruction will grant greater liberty for these exercises, especially that the speaking of Latin shall no longer be proscribed as heretofore." [ 78 ] Before him the commissary of the Government, Dr. Matthias, had declared that besides more frequent translations into Latin, more time and attention should be devoted to the practice of speaking Latin, a practice which in the Goethe-Gymnasium in Frankfurt (Reform-School) was carried on with most gratifying results. [ 79 ]

In this reaction we may justly find a vindication of the principle maintained all along by the Society, in spite of the censures of some modern reformers.

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[ 53 ] In a recent article in the Fortnightly Review, November 1902 ("Are the Classics to Go?"), Professor Postgate, a distinguished English scholar, writes: "If the 'dead' languages and literatures are not to retire into the background, they must be taught as if they were alive" (p. 878). — "Translations from English into Latin or Greek is a most valuable training and necessary part of classical training; but it ought not to have superseded original composition.... From the first, speaking and writing Latin should go hand in hand with reading" (pp. 879-880). Professor Postgate calls these "improved methods", improved, surely, if he speaks of nearly all systems in vogue during the last century, not however in regard to the system of the Society of Jesus, which always practised this system, as will appear from the next pages.

[ 54 ] Woodstock Letters, 1894, p. 329.

[ 55 ] Lehrpläne and Lehraufgaben, 1901, pp. 23, 25, 29, etc.

[ 56 ] Education in the United States, (1900), vol. I, p. 185.

[ 57 ] Reg. Prof. Rhet. 1. — Reg. Prof. Hum. 6.

[ 58 ] Reg. Prof. Rhet. 9. — Prof. Hum. 6. — Prof. Supr. Gram. 6.

[ 59 ] From The Forum, Sept. 1901; "The Ideal School."

[ 60 ] Reg. com. 30.

[ 61 ] How this can be done may be seen from a little book recently published by a Jesuit: Imitation and Analysis; English Exercises based on Irving's Sketch Book, by F. Donnelly, S.J. (Boston, 1902, Allyn and Bacon.)

[ 62 ] Ratio Discendi, ch. 1, art. 2, 4. — Cf. Quintilian, Inst. Or. X, 2.

[ 63 ] See Zielinski, Cicero im Wandel der Jahrhunderte.

[ 64 ] Compare the excellent observations on the value of the "Reproduction of the Thought of Others," in Genung's Practical Rhetoric, pp. 301-325.

[ 65 ] Bristol, The Teaching of Greek, p. 301. See on pp. 298-307 some excellent remarks on Greek compositions.

[ 66 ] Bennett, The Teaching of Latin, p. 172.

[ 67 ] Reden und Vorträge, Berlin, 1901.

[ 68 ] Neue Jahrbücher, 1901, vol. VII, p. 71.

[ 69 ] Thomas and Matthew Arnold, p. 39.

[ 70 ] Didaktik des Lat. Unt., page 110. — See also Rollin, Traité des Études, livre II, ch. III, art. 3.

[ 71 ] Reg. mag. schol. inf. 18. — See Woodstock Letters, 1894, p. 322 foll.

[ 72 ] Jesuiten-Gymnasien in Oesterreich.

[ 73 ] See Verhandlungen, 1901, pp. 282 foll.

[ 74 ] Ibid., p. 286: "Vielfache Uebungen hin and her, die ein stetes Umdenken der Vorlagen erfordern, sollen sein (the pupil's) Wissen geläufig, sein Können gewandt machen and ihn allmählich zu einem sicheren Sprachgefühl verhelfen."

[ 75 ] Verhandlungen, 1901, p. 288.

[ 76 ] Verhandlungen, pp. 21, 129, 139.

[ 77 ] By Director Kübler and Prof. Harnack, ibid., pp. 140 and 294. The latter declares Latin compositions to be absolutely necessary for a satisfactory instruction in this language.

[ 78 ] Ib., p. 139.

[ 79 ] Ib., p. 129.

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