Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 24.djvu/423

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CORRESPONDENCE.

CORRESPONDENCE.
 

SCIENCE IN CLASSICAL SCHOOLS.

Messrs. Editors:

PROFESSOR COOKE, in his remarks on "The Greek Question," does injustice to the best classical schools in express terms, and his statements ought not to pass unchallenged. Classical culture as preparatory for any of the "learned" professions, literary or scientific, needs no defense. But Professor Cooke, if he knew the facts, should not have held up foreign universities as wholly successful in the change he proposes. He should not have said that "among others the University of Berlin, which stands in the very front rank, has already conceded, to what we may call the new culture, all that can reasonably be asked." Is it not true that these concessions were made against the unanimous protest of all the faculties; that, after earnest comparison of the progress of scholars from the Realschulen and the Gymnasia, the scientific professors are unanimous in their demand that classical training shall be restored even for those intending to enter scientific professions?

Professor Cooke, mentioning by name certain well-known classical schools, tells us that "the attempt to introduce some science requisitions into the admission examinations has been an utter failure"; that "the science requisitions have been simply crammed, and the result has been worse than useless"; that "it has, in most cases, given a distaste for the whole subject"; that "true science-teaching is utterly foreign to all their methods"; that "the small amount of study of natural science which we have forced upon them has proved to be a wretched failure, and the sooner this hindrance is got out of their way the better"; that it is hopeless to look for any change in the classical schools. These are heavy charges, if true; but do they represent the facts?

Harvard College was among the first to shake off old methods, and to introduce a system of examinations which should distinguish between those applicants who had been crammed and those who had been taught. Her professors have showed them-selves able to set papers in all branches, which proved those admitted worthy to join her classes. Professor Cooke would probably not admit that his colleagues in the scientific departments have been behind their classical associates in this respect. What, then, has been the record of the Roxbury Latin School in the six years that boys have been presented in Physics? Though every boy has been allowed to try the examinations in Physics, even if we judged him deficient, only two have been rejected out of above eighty presented. In one year, out of fifteen boys presented, sixteen honors were taken in subjects purely scientific, viz., seven in Prescribed Mathematics, two in Prescribed Physics, one in Prescribed and Elective Physics, and six in French.

It is certain that many of those eighty boys have not been crammed, and that few of them have gained "a distaste for the whole subject." For, though the time for the subject has been limited, and the apparatus meager, I have seen them eagerly making apparatus to illustrate their lessons, and discussing, at every opportunity, disputed points. In one instance three boys worked for weeks on a machine to prove their teacher in the wrong, while nearly the whole class enthusiastically supported their mates with sincere but mistaken conviction.

Perhaps one ought to speak modestly about true science-teaching being foreign to all his methods, but I will say that the trustees, taking advantage of a slight change made necessary by the rejection of Arnott as a standard of preparation, and of a fine addition to our building, have fitted up a working laboratory for our physics, and have furnished suitable apparatus. Then every boy of my present class, aided only by a paper giving directions for manipulation, is performing every experiment for himself, is putting his questions to Nature, recording and interpreting the phenomena observed.

We do not regard the study of science as forced upon us. For years before any science was required a good portion of two years was given, and still is given, to the study of botany, though our boys are not presented in that subject. And the authorities of this school are so thoroughly in sympathy with the advancement of science that, whether physics shall be required by Harvard or not, more and not less time is likely to be given to its study in the future.

With centuries of testimony for the "old classical culture," testimony unshaken by repeated assaults, of course the social prestige of our classical schools and universities holds its own. Of course, parents wish their sons fitted for and trained by classical colleges. Of course, "nine, at least, out of every ten, offer maximums in classics," and continue as they have begun.