Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 77.djvu/512

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

when there is little leisure for the enjoyment of a book that requires deliberate reading. If the modern strenuous curriculum of work and games has abolished the loafer it has also abolished leisure, and has therefore removed one of the opportunities that used to exist for the cultivation of literary and artistic tastes and pursuits by those to whom they are congenial. The art of expressing one's ideas in simple, straightforward language is to be acquired not so much by study as by practise. There is no essential reason why children should write worse than they speak; they do so because they have constant practise in the one and little practise in the other. Our grandparents felt less difficulty in expressing themselves clearly than we do ourselves: of this their letters are evidence. It may have been partly due to the fact that they had more time and encouragement for leisurely reading, though they had not so much to read; but I believe that the letters which they wrote as children were their real education in the art of writing English. Much would be gained if boys and girls were constantly required to express their own meaning in writing. The set essay and the précis play a useful part, but do not do all that is needed. Translation does not give quite the necessary exercise. What is required is constant, with certain periods of conscious, practise, and that is only to be obtained by making every piece of school work in which the English language is used an exercise in lucid expression. Very few paragraphs in anything written by the ordinary schoolboy—or, for the matter of that, by the ordinary educated Englishman—are wholly intelligible, and teachers can not devote too much pains to criticizing all written work from this point of view. If we first learned by practise to express our meaning clearly we should be more likely to acquire the graces of an elegant style later. I must add that I believe the training in the manipulation of words would be improved if all children were required to practise the writing of English verse—not in efforts to write poetry, but narrative verse used to express simple ideas in plain language—and I believe that this would enable them the better to appreciate poetry, the love of which is possibly now to some extent stifled by the pedantic study of beautiful poems treated as school tasks.

In such a subject as English composition, in which reform is so badly needed, something, perhaps, would be gained by an entire break with existing traditions—a break of the sort which would be required if it became suddenly necessary to provide for an entirely new type of student.

Now, there is one new and interesting development in which, for the first time, an opportunity offers itself of dealing with a body of students who, although possessed of more than average intelligence and enthusiasm, have not received the conventional training which leads to a university course. The tutorial classes for working people which have now been undertaken by several universities, and which already