Popular Science Monthly/Volume 24/January 1884/The Classical Question in Germany
|THE CLASSICAL QUESTION IN GERMANY.|
THE struggle between the adherents of the old classical curriculum and the representatives of modern culture has nowhere been carried on with more bitterness than in Germany. In no other land have the respective antagonists shown more narrowness and bigotry, or been less inclined to allow their opponents the possession of common sense or pure motives.
The representatives of the classics, intrenched behind a strong wall of tradition and usage, were from the first in the enjoyment of all the honors and privileges. They were supported by the mighty power of a public sentiment which had been begotten at a time when the classics and mathematics formed the only subjects worthy of serious study, and had been nourished by a long line of illustrious men whose only school-education had been a training in Latin, Greek, and geometry. They were upheld by the powerful force of a government which made the acquisition of such an education the condition of all its favors. They looked down, therefore, naturally enough, with a certain contempt and loathing upon those rude materialists who insisted that there was something in the modern world worthy of serious study. The other party, on the contrary, driven to extremes by the bigotry and obstinacy of their opponents, were compelled to make war to the death, by denying all virtue of any sort to a classical training. They insisted on purely modern subjects as opposed to classics, on a multiplicity of branches in preference to a few, on technical education for particular callings instead of a liberal training for good living.
But in the course of events we find both parties in that country receding from their extreme positions and gradually approaching each other. We find the "classicists" agreeing that the study of modern languages may also be made valuable; that modern literature is adorned with names which rival in luster the greatest of the Greek or Roman. They give up slowly more and more of that valuable time formerly spent in conning Greek and Latin grammars, or in learning to write Greek and Latin verses, or to talk a jargon which they dignify by the name of classical Latin, to the study of French, Italian, Spanish, German, and English. They allow the elements of the natural sciences one after another, to creep in, and even grant some hours a week to modern history. They still devote the most of their attention, however, to Latin and Greek, and justify their course by the claim that the shortest road to modern literature is through Athens and Rome; that modern languages are so intimately connected with the classics that, after mastering the latter, the acquisition of French, English, Italian, and Spanish, is a matter for leisure hours, a mere after-dinner amusement; that the nomenclature of the modern sciences is so largely Greek that time would be saved in learning them by first mastering Homer, Xenophon, and Plato; that modern history is only the second chapter of the world's history, and can be rightly understood only after learning what goes before.
Their most thoughtful opponents have also given up many of the claims advanced by their prototypes. They allow that there is a vast difference between knowledge and power; that a mass of undigested facts in the memory is as depressing for the mind as a mass of undigested food in the "stomach is for the brain. They, or at least the most advanced among them, allow that the old humanists followed sound pedagogical principles in selecting but few subjects, and in lingering over them long enough to secure that mental power and grasp which come from the detailed and long-continued study of any great branch of human knowledge. They grant that the secondary schools should give a liberal education, in the sense of an education which shall prepare the students, not for the particular calling which they may afterward take up, but for right and intelligent living, in any sphere to which circumstances may call them. They maintain, however, that for the purposes of such an education modern subjects are as good as or better than ancient; that French and English, if properly taught, can afford, so far as is desirable, the same kind of mental discipline as that obtained from Latin and Greek; that modern literature embraces classics as worthy of detailed and continuous study as ancient literature; that the proper study of the modern sciences develops certain faculties with a completeness of which no other instrument is capable; that modern history offers subjects as worthy of labor, as fruitful in results, as anything which ancient times can afford.
The objective points of the contest have also changed in the course of time. The old philanthropinists demanded the total abolition of all classical study as a waste of time. The classical party of that period resisted the introduction of any studies but Latin, Greek, and mathematics. The "modernists" of to-day demand the abolition of Greek as a required study in a liberal course. Many of them, indeed, would like to send Latin the same road. The modern "classicists" are on the defensive, and constantly grant more concessions, or see them wrested from them.
This discussion, which in one form or another has appeared in every civilized nation, has been everywhere marked by bitterness and prejudice, and has resulted in a slowly-growing victory for modern culture. The question has attracted renewed and wide attention in this country of late, owing to Mr. Charles Francis Adams's attack upon the requisition of Greek as a part of the course in Harvard College. The old weapons on both sides have been again brought out and burnished, and made to do valiant service in the good cause. The result of the criticism and counter-criticism has been to demonstrate pretty clearly that, however we may feel about it, the fact is, that the cause of the "modernists" is gaining ground. President Porter, in a rejoinder to Mr. Adams, in the "Princeton Review" for September last, remarks, in substance, that the proposition to drop Greek from the list of required studies was somewhat "hesitatingly urged many years ago by the adventurous and sanguine President of Harvard College." If the writer is not greatly mistaken, President Eliot did not only urge it years ago, but has vigorously and persistently urged it ever since, and it is probably only a question of time when his policy will be adopted, whether urged by him or by some one else.
The discussion as to the relative merits of the classics and other subjects, as constituents of a liberal course of study, has always been marked by a great deference to authority. The assertions of eminent men, as to the advantage or disadvantage to them of the classical course which they pursued while young, always play a prominent part. The testimony of eminent educators, as to their observation of the effect that a study of the classics seemed to have on the minds and hearts of their pupils, is quoted and requoted. The tradition and usages of hundreds of years are strongly appealed to in order to show the superiority of the one system over the other.
The present discussion in our American press has been no exception to the rule. But, in addition to the regular authorities which are quoted on all occasions, a new witness has been appealed to in this controversy, whose testimony on the question is regarded by many as decisive and final. This is the experience of the Germans, embodied in what is known as the "Berlin Report," and which has been widely urged as an authoritative answer to Mr. Adams's argument. It seems to be supposed that this thorough-going people have entered into the subject experimentally and on an extensive scale, with a view of settling it effectually. They have made, it is asserted, a fair trial of these two systems of education, and, having weighed both in the balance, they have found the modern system wanting to such a degree that they have concluded to discard it forever. There seems to be wide-spread misconception about this German experiment, and the conclusions drawn from it are so unwarrantable that a review of the main features of the case may be useful in correcting erroneous impressions.
As is well known, there are two classes of schools in Germany which prepare boys for the university—the Gymnasien (gymnasia) and the Realschulen (real schools). The former are the classical schools, whose curriculum consists in the main of Latin, Greek, and mathematics, and graduation from which confers the right to enter any department of the university. The real schools are institutions whose course of study embraces less Latin than the former, and no Greek, the place of the latter being represented partly by more of the modern languages and partly by natural science. The gymnasia are old schools, being the legitimate successors of the schools which dated from the revival of letters. The real schools are products of the modern spirit, and, although dating from about 1740, they did not acquire a recognized standing until late in this century. The earliest of these schools were the answer to the demand for "practical" education in the narrowest sense of that term. It was not until 1859 that the Government of Prussia fully recognized them. In that year, the schools passing under that name were classified, according to length of course, into first, second, and third class. The course of the first class was made of the same length as that of the gymnasium—that of the other classes was shorter. From that year the friends of the real schools demanded that graduates of schools of the first class should be admitted to the universities. Their claims excited at first only a smile of derision, but so vigorously did they push matters that the Government, in 1869, was persuaded to take the first move in the case by asking the faculties of the various Prussian universities for their opinions on the subject. This called out a series of reports which were very strong against admission. It is curious that in this series of reports language was used from which we might infer that the universities had already tried the experiment; as when it is asserted in one report that the gymnasium students soon overtake real-school students even in natural science that at a time when real-school graduates were not admitted to the universities. The Government decided, however, to admit the real-school students to certain branches, which it did by the order of December 7, 1870.
Until 1871, then, the graduates of real schools were not admitted to any department of the universities in Prussia as candidates for a degree. In that year they were allowed to matriculate in the university for the study of modern languages, mathematics, and natural science. After an experience of about eight years, on the 18th of December, 1879, Professor Droysen, of the University of Berlin, moved that the faculty of that institution request the Government to reconsider its policy in regard to the admission of real-school students to the philosophical faculty. After some discussion, Professor Hübner, the dean of the faculty, was requested to ask the various professors for statements of their experience with the two classes of students. These statements were laid before the faculty, and the most important being incorporated in the form of a report, were sent in, March, 1880, to the Government, with the petition that the latter would reconsider the whole matter—the real object of the report being to move the Government to rescind the order of December 7, 1870. These were not the first statements on the question, for the Minister of Public Instruction had already, a short time before, made inquiries of many leading professors in the various universities as to their experience in the matter since 1871. The most of them held views similar to those of the Berlin professors. The set of statements, with the petition above referred to, constitutes the "Berlin Report," and, on account of its formal and authoritative character, has excited world-wide attention and discussion.
These reports are now quoted by many as a final settlement of the much-disputed question between the "classicists" and the "modernists," and by many more as expressing the judgment of educated Germany, at least, on the subject. Thus, President Porter, in the article above mentioned says: "The question of the superiority of a classical to a modern training has of late been subjected to a practical trial on an extensive scale, by a comparison of the results of the gymnasial curriculum and that of the Realschule, as a preparation for a university course and indirectly for civil administration. In most of the German states—in Prussia pre-eminently—an attendance upon the university course, with a certificate of fidelity and a succession of satisfactory examinations, had been the essential prerequisites to many of the most desirable official positions in civil life. To admission to all the privileges of the university an attendance upon the gymnasium with the classical curriculum was an essential prerequisite, carrying with it the consequence that to all the higher posts of civil life a course of classical study, including Greek and Latin, had till recently been a conditio sine qua non. The Realschulen, which gave a shorter and a more scientific and popular course, in which Greek was not included, and the Latin was scanty, furnish an example of a modernist education. It was very natural that this condition of things should be felt to be inequitable by the teachers and pupils of these schools, and that an earnest movement should be made to set it aside. In several of the states it was successful. In Prussia, against strong conviction to the contrary, it was allowed for a term of years by way of experiment, that the 'modernists' (the Abiturienten der Realschulen) should enter the university and enjoy all its privileges. When this term had expired, elaborate reports were called for from the leading instructors in all the universities, of their judgment as to the proved capacity and success of the students who had attended upon their classes, from each of the two preparatory institutions with their separate curricula. With but few exceptions the reports were decidedly in favor of the classical curriculum as giving a better training even to the students of the mathematical and physical sciences."
"We wish to call attention here to the fact that President Porter's first sentence, though evidently without any intention on his part, is misleading. He says that "the question of the superiority of a classical to a modern training has of late been subjected to a practical trial." Not at all; but simply the question of the relative superiority of the graduates of the German gymnasia and real schools, as they exist to-day in Germany, as indeed President Porter himself states in the next to the last sentence quoted above. This last is a very different question, indeed, from the former. The one is, so to speak, concrete; the other, abstract. The professors were not asked for their opinions as to whether a classical is better than a modern training, but is the gymnasiast, as you know him from the existing schools, better fitted for your work than the real scholar who during the last eight years has attended the university?
If it should appear upon examination that the curricula of the real schools are not what is demanded by the most thoughtful "modernists," that the teachers are not, as a class, equal to those in the gymnasia, that the pupils are, as a whole, inferior in natural ability, that the real schools are not fostered by the Government to the same extent as the classical schools, it will be evident to every one that the significance of the Berlin report for the real question at issue viz., classics at their best vs. modern subjects at their best on an equal footing in every respect—becomes very slight.
As appears from what we have said above, President Porter is mistaken when he says that the graduates of the real schools were admitted to all the privileges of the university. They were only admitted to certain branches in one faculty, viz., the philosophical faculty. They were not, however, admitted for a definite number of years, as President Porter states, but for an indefinite period. The ministerial regulation admitting them says nothing whatever of any number of years for which it is valid. It holds good until supplanted by one prohibiting the admission of real-school students, and there is no sign that such a regulation will ever be made.
To begin with, then, all this quoting of the Berlin and similar reports in favor of retaining Greek as a required study in our liberal curricula is aside from the point, since that report was made on a very different subject. The attempt to apply conclusions on concrete questions in one country to concrete questions in another is at all times a misleading and often a dangerous procedure.
Now as to the report itself, it may fairly be objected by the real-school men that the real schools have not had a fair trial, that the period of probation has been so brief that any report made now, whether favorable or unfavorable, must be regarded as premature and at best merely provisional. The real schools of the first class are not yet twenty-five years old. The regulation admitting their graduates to partial university privileges bears date, as said above, of December 7, 1870. In less than ten years they were expected to win a place by the side of their rivals, which even their bitter opponents (for the professors who made the reports were all graduates of the gymnasia) should acknowledge to be an equal one, and if they should not succeed in doing this they were to be condemned as unable to fit boys properly for the university. Further, they were expected to do this with almost no aid from the Government, while their rivals were largely supported by contributions from the state. How just this complaint is may be seen from the reports of government aid accorded in Prussia to these two classes of schools. In the year 1869 the Government contributed 714,148 thalers out of a total expenditure of 2,851,253 thalers for gymnasia; and in 1874, 1,319,990 thalers out of a total of 4,385,940 thalers for the same purpose. In the former year the real schools of the first class cost 666,368 thalers, of which the Government contributed 15,558 thalers. In the latter year the respective sums stood 1,251,921 and 97,421 thalers. It thus appears that the Government paid in 1869 nearly forty-six times as much toward supporting gymnasia as it did toward supporting real schools, and in 1874 over thirteen times as much. In 1869 it paid over twenty-five per cent of the total expense of all gymnasia, and less than three per cent of that of the real schools; in 1874 the respective rates stood over thirty per cent and less than eight per cent. It will thus be seen that the Government has proceeded on the plan of allowing the real schools to pay their own way. The wonder is, that they have such good results to show for their work under such circumstances. It should be also considered in this connection that the proper equipment of a real school, with first-class apparatus, etc., costs much more than that of a gymnasium. Another fact should be borne in mind, that owing to this lack of support the number of such schools is much smaller than that of the gymnasia, and they have consequently not had so extensive a field to draw from as the latter. Another important point must be mentioned in this connection. Up to 1871 the graduates of the real school passed immediately into active life instead of attending a higher institution of learning. The matter and methods of the school had, therefore, exclusive reference to that fact, and under the new system they must have time to modify and adapt themselves to the altered circumstances. Any practical teacher will appreciate the importance of this consideration. These are some of the objections which the defenders of the real schools have to urge against any unfavorable report made at this stage of the work. Against this particular series of reports, made in the manner in which they were, they have still more serious objections, which we shall notice later.
Turning aside now to another phase of the subject, let us see whether any influences have been at work which tend to give the gymnasia a better class of material to work with. If the boys who enter the gymnasia are decidedly superior in ability to those entering the real schools, we shall have a partial explanation of the better results achieved by the former.
The first point to be mentioned in this connection is that the traditions of Germany are classical. For decades and decades nearly every prominent man in law, medicine, theology, teaching, and (so far as nobility has not been accepted as a substitute for education) in the civil and military service of the country, has enjoyed the benefits of a classical education, if for no other reasons, simply because he was obliged to "enjoy" them as a condition of entering these careers. We all know how easily we associate two things which we always see together, in the relation of cause and effect. And so this eminence and culture which, owing largely to the artificial pressure we have mentioned, have for years and years in Germany been found in connection with a more or less complete knowledge of Latin and Greek, have come to be associated with the latter as effect from a cause. The sign has come to be largely accepted in place of the thing signified. It can not have escaped the observation of any reflective person who has ever lived in Germany, that there is a very wide social chasm in that country between the so-called liberally educated (die Studirten) and those who have not pursued such courses. There is, so to speak, an educational hierarchy, and the only path to it lies through the gymnasium. As in all hierarchies, so in this, there is an immense amount of Pharisaism, a touch-me-not and a come-not-near-with-unholy-hands kind of spirit which looks down on everything not of its type as something infinitely lower. The Studirter looks down, not only on the merchant or the artisan, but also upon the Volksschullehrer (common-school teacher) with a calm sense of superiority and a provoking self-conceit no matter how successful the career of the latter may have been. A small professor in a small university, of small ability and still less success, commiserates the most successful common-school teacher because he has not studied Latin and Greek; and we must add that the latter envies the former, taking the sign (Latin and Greek) for the thing signified (culture). No Studirter thinks of seriously discussing any question with a Non-studirter, but disposes of all difficult objections by the crushing answer that his opponent is an ungebildeter Mensch.
The artisan or merchant sees that no amount of culture derived from the study of modern subjects, or in the pursuit of his calling, or from the vigorous contact with active life, can secure for him a social recognition or equality with the Gelehrter; the common-school teacher sees that no career of public service in his sphere, however useful or successful, can secure entrance for him into that charmed circle of the Gelehrtenthum, and silently resolves that his boy must have a different chance from that which he has had. Of the force which this traditional influence exerts no one can form an adequate idea who has not had the opportunity of associating intimately with the various classes of the people; for, although a similar spirit may be met in America, it is of such small influence as hardly to be discernible.
A classical education has, then, come to be the proper thing in Germany for every aspiring man. It is a stamp of gentility, an absolute essential to high social position and influence. Every parent desires to give it to his boy, if for no other reason, simply on account of this different social position which it confers upon him. To give him this education he must send him to the gymnasium.
But there is another and still more powerful influence at work to secure the attendance at the classical schools. We have already corrected President Porter's statement that the graduates of the real schools are admitted to all the privileges of the university. They are not allowed to enter the law, medical, or theological faculties, and their privileges in the philosophical faculty are practically limited to the study of natural science, mathematics, and modern languages. That is to say, if a father wishes to keep open to his son when he becomes twenty years of age the choice of the learned professions, and the possibility of obtaining any of the higher positions of the civil service, he must put him through the gymnasium in the first place.
Of course, under such circumstances, all professional men desire their boys to follow one of the learned professions, and send them consequently to a gymnasium. During an extensive tour in Germany last summer, the writer had the opportunity of meeting a large number of university and other professional men. In answer to the question which was quite regularly asked, "What school do your boys attend?" they replied, almost without exception: "The gymnasium, of course; we send them to the real school only when they are too stupid or too lazy to keep up in the gymnasium." Thus the educated and intelligent classes send their boys, who, to some extent at least, have inherited their intelligence and ability, to the gymnasium. Those members of the mercantile or artisan class, who have bright boys from whom they hope much, strain every nerve to support them at the school which forms the sole avenue to all government honors and social position.
Do we not find here the explanation we are seeking? Is not this the secret why the boys who graduate from the gymnasium are as a class superior to those who finish a real-school course? They are the brighter boys of the community; they are, as a rule, of educated blood, from homes where education and refinement prevail, and life within which is of itself an education, where they find wise and discriminating assistance in their studies, and encouragement and incitement to effort.
But the case is not by any means fully stated. The gymnasium not only gets better material to work upon than its rival, but it has also a superior corps of teachers. The writer was told by a gentleman who was a graduate of a real school, and who had been a teacher in one for some time, but had afterward made up the Greek and Latin of a gymnasium course in order to qualify himself for teaching in a gymnasium, that no teacher of ability and enterprise would remain in a real school any longer than he was obliged to remain there. "There is no career in that line of work," said he, "and only block-heads and lazy hides (Dummköpfe und Faulpelze) stay in it." Of course, that was a great exaggeration, and yet it contained an element of truth, viz., that a process of selection is going on between these two schools, not only in regard to pupils, but also in regard to teachers, and the gymnasium has its pick of both.
The reason is not far to seek. It is to be found in the higher social position which tradition assigns to the office of gymnasial teacher, and the better career which the Government opens to it. How idle, in the face of all these facts, is the assertion that the Berlin report has settled the question between the real school and the gymnasium, or that it is of paramount significance in the deeper question of classical against modern training!
To get a fair idea of the significance of this report, let one imagine the state of things which would exist in this country if the law of the land had for generations permitted no one to practice law or medicine, or enter the ministry or the civil service, or become a teacher in our higher schools and colleges, who had not first completed the classical course in an average college, and then attended a professional school for three years. Suppose that, after such a law had been enforced for a century, a proposition were made to allow such scientific schools as could spring up under those circumstances to present their students for certain subordinate places in the civil service and in the academic career. Can there be any doubt that the adherents of the classical culture would point with pride to the fact that every eminent professional man for several generations had been the graduates of classical schools, and would make that a reason, as they do now in Germany, for refusing to admit any man with a different education to the practice of those professions'? "Would they not dwell on the great danger to the national civilization which would arise from the fact that an element of discord would be introduced into the culture of the people by educating the young along two widely different lines?
Would not our professors complain, as does one in Berlin, that they could not make so many references to Greece and Rome in their lectures, since some of their bearers would not understand them?
Let us suppose further that the above proposition should be accepted, and that after eight years a committee of the opponents of the measure should be called upon to express their opinions as to the results of the experiment. Could their report be considered as settling anything between the two opposing parties—the defenders and opponents of classical culture? Could the statement of these witnesses, that the students who, under such conditions, came from the scientific schools were not fully equal to those coming from the classical schools, be regarded as forever disposing of the claims of modern culture? The answer to this question can hardly be doubtful. And yet those who quote the Berlin report, as settling this much-vexed question, must maintain that such a report as the imaginary one above described would be satisfactory and conclusive.
We have thus far proceeded upon the assumption that the Berlin and similar reports were prepared by unprejudiced men, after a careful and detailed examination of the records made by the graduates of these two schools, and uninfluenced by extraneous considerations. We are compelled to believe, however, after a somewhat detailed investigation, that no one of these assumptions is true.
The men who were asked for their opinions on this subject were almost, if not absolutely, without exception graduates of the gymnasia. That lay, of course, in the nature of the case. Real-school graduates could not enter the universities until the spring of 1871. Allowing four years for the average length of time spent in the universities, the first real-school men were graduated in 1875, and in 1879 the first of these reports was prepared. As the candidates for admission to the university faculty must study one year more before entering the lowest grade of academic positions, and as promotions are very slow in Prussia, it would be a very rare thing for a graduate of 1875 to have reached a professorial chair by 1879. Those who made these reports were therefore men from rival schools, men imbued with prejudice in favor of the preparatory curriculum which they themselves had completed, men entirely under the sway of the traditional feeling in regard to the classics, and, of course, inclined to look with disfavor upon real-school men as representing a movement which questions the worth of classical culture. It is a well-known fact that there is usually a strong tendency for a man to attribute his general success in life to the particular things which he did, or left undone, and that it is an easy thing to regard an incidental as an essential. The worthy German professors are no exception to the rule. Many of them were so strongly convinced of the superiority of classical to modern training
that they went out of their way to declare that a study of Latin and Greek is absolutely essential to high excellence in any department of intellectual effort!
All these reports, both those of 1869 and those of later years, so far as they were made by the faculties, were as a rule drafted by volunteers in the faculty, and some rabidly classical man generally offered to do the work. When his report was laid before the faculty, many voted for it, or refrained from voting against it, for the simple reason that they did not have time to offer such modifications as they would like to have seen made in the language or matter of the report. Thus, the writer was told by one professor in a university which sent in a very strong report in favor of the gymnasiasts as against the real-school graduates: "Professor So-and-so" (mentioning his name—one well known in Germany) "drew up our report. He is perfectly crazy on the subject, but there was no one else to do it, and after he submitted it we did not want to do such an ungracious thing as reject a service which nobody else would undertake. I voted for his report, though I should have been glad to have a much more moderate and judicial report than the one we sent in." It thus appears that these reports were prepared by men who were not only graduates of the gymnasium, but who were also, in some cases at least, regarded by their own friends as extremists. Add to this the fact that there were no representatives of the real schools in the reporting board who might have called attention to exaggerations or misstatements, whether intentional or unintentional, and it is pretty clear that these reports can not be called judicial, either in their form or spirit, but partake largely of the character of advocates' pleas.
It would be fair to suppose, however, that these men would at least examine the facts in the case as to how these real-school graduates turned out in after-life, before making a report on their comparative ability. But even this supposition turns out to be an unfounded one. As is well known, there is no general system of recitation and record-keeping in German universities, such as we have in our American colleges. The professor has, therefore, as a rule, no means of judging of a student's attainments. There are no examinations except the final one for a doctor's degree. The only institution bearing a resemblance to our recitation is the Seminar, a voluntary organization which many students never enter, and which varies greatly in character, according to the temperament of the professor in charge or to the subject-matter discussed. Being at times a society for the training of the members in the power of independent investigation and research, it becomes often a mere "quiz," or indeed but little more than a two hours' lecture on the part of the leader. With the exception of those students who enter the Seminar, the professor has no means of judging of the ability or training of the university students. The only test, therefore, is the record of such students in the final university examinations for a degree, which comparatively few students ever attempt, their record in the state examinations which nearly all try, and the final and decisive test of practical life and its demands.
Now, it is a pretty plain fact that the professors who made these reports did not take the trouble to investigate the results of these various tests, since it was reserved for a director of a real school to collect the first reliable and comprehensive statistics on the subject, and that after these reports were prepared. The data were furnished by the reports of the universities as to the number of degrees granted to real-school graduates, by the reports of government examiners as to standing attained in the public examinations of such students, and, finally, by the reports from the present positions and sphere of labor of all real-school graduates who had taken degrees from the universities, or who had passed into the ranks of teachers without trying the university examination. We have not room to introduce the statistics here. Suffice it to say that they make a very good showing for real-school graduates. The point that interests us most in this immediate connection is, that these facts were not ascertained or considered by the university professors who reported on this subject.
The same gentleman who collected these statistics tells a well-authenticated story of Professor Hanstein, of the University of Bonn, which very well illustrates the fairness, deliberation, and investigation which preceded and accompanied these reports. Upon receiving the notice asking for his written opinion, he remarked to his assistant: "So we have to commit ourselves in writing again, do we? Of course, the gymnasia students are superior." "But, Herr Professor," objected his assistant, "Mr. X———, who recently took his degree in natural science, passed summa cum laude, and he is a real-school graduate." "Yes; well, he's an exception." "And Herr Dr. ———, the Privatdocent here in Bonn, is also from a real school." "He's an exception too," answered Hanstein. "And a few weeks ago," continued his assistant, "one of our real-school students passed his teacher's examination in chemistry and natural history No. 1." "Exceptions—all exceptions!" replied the professor. "Yes, but, Herr Professor, there are only seven or eight of us real-school men altogether here in Bonn." "We? Are you a real-school graduate?" "Yes, sir." "Well, you are the biggest exception of all." And, with that, he turned and left the room. The story, which is vouched for, needs no comment.
There is still another point to be considered. The practical object of these reports, as some professors conceived it, was to ascertain whether the faculties were in favor of excluding real-school students from the universities, and indeed the language of the request justified that view. Some voted for the reports, therefore, because they thought that the attendance at the universities is too large, and that the exclusion of real-school graduates offers a convenient means of getting rid of the surplus students. The writer visited twelve out of the twenty-one German universities, during the last semester, in order to ascertain what is doing in the various departments in which he takes special interest. Everywhere the question was asked of university professors, "Do you think that too many are studying at the universities?" Almost uniformly the answer was returned, "There is no doubt about it." A few figures will make clear how rapidly of late years the number of students has increased. During the five years ending 1861, for every 100,000 inhabitants in Germany there were, on an average, thirty-two students in the universities. During the year 1881-'82 there were fifty-one students for the same number of inhabitants. Of these in the former period eight were enrolled in the philosophical faculty (the only faculty to which real-school students are admitted); in the latter period 20·7. That is, in a little more than twenty years the number of students in the philosophical faculty per 100,000 inhabitants has more than doubled. The average for the five years ending 1881 was eighteen, and the proportion is still increasing. This enormous increase in the number of students excites the gravest apprehension, and is characterized by thinking men as a sad state of affairs.
It may seem somewhat ludicrous to us to hear of an over-production of educated men. A German professor gave the key to the riddle, in a remark to the writer, that Germany is fostering the growth of an intellectual proletary—i. e., a class of professionally educated men for whom there is no room in the professions, and who are too proud to go into business of any sort. This state of affairs can not be fully appreciated without going further into detail than the limits of this article allow. Suffice it to say that the German universities are essentially professional schools. A man who enters such an institution intends to be a lawyer, a physician, a minister, teacher, professor, or member of the civil service of the country, and he receives there his professional training. It is easy to see that there can be an over-production in each and all of these fields. In this country such a state of things is easily remedied. If a man finds he has no chance to succeed as a lawyer, a year or two will turn him out a physician. If he fails in that, he can try theology, or he may go into business of some sort, or anybody can go into politics. In Germany the case is widely different. The Government demands such a long preliminary training and such intense and laborious effort in preparation, that, by the time a man finds there is no place for him in the profession he has chosen, his elasticity has gone, and there is no desire or ability to try anything else. To take up another profession he has become too old, and to go into mercantile or industrial life he is forbidden by his ideas of social position and scholarly dignity. To such a man two courses are open—to drag out a bare existence, with many wants which his education has developed, but which he has no means of gratifying, or—to commit suicide. Many take the latter alternative, and the enormous increase in suicides during the last few years is one of the saddest and most striking phenomena of German society, high and low.
That there is an over-production in the professional fields nearly all German thinkers agree. How can it be helped? The Government has lately called the attention of parents and teachers to the fact that the higher administrative positions in the civil service are all provided for, and that all vacancies for years to come can be filled from the present candidates. The opponents of the real schools now come forward and say: "We can help the matter very easily. Shut out real-school graduates from the philosophical faculty and there will be room enough for the surplus students of law and medicine to find careers." Some professors voted for exclusion because they thought that the shutting out of real-school students would meet this rapidly-growing evil of over-production in professional spheres.
We think enough has been advanced to prove—1. That the Berlin report has little bearing on the question we are discussing in this country as to the respective merits of classical and modern training, for the simple fact that it was on an altogether different point. 2. That as to the particular subject, in regard to which it was prepared, it can lay no claim to be considered final, because it was made prematurely, at a time when the institution judged could, by the very nature of the case, have had no fair trial, and because it was made by prejudiced parties without sufficient investigation, and influenced by considerations which should have had nothing to do with the decision.
As a matter of fact, the opinion seems to be quite general in Germany that the real schools are bound to go forward to new struggles and to new conquests. They have lost none of the ground which they have ever won; they are gaining new ground every day. It is a mere question of time when the medical schools will be opened to them, and some even dare hope that the law schools must yield also. They may suffer temporary reverses, but they are sure to win in the long run. One significant fact may be noted, which is beginning to tell in their favor. The men in Germany who have made the deepest and longest studies in the science of education are assuming a more favorable attitude toward the real schools.
The writer recently visited Professor Masius, who holds a chair of Pedagogics in the University of Leipsic. He was for years the director of a gymnasium, then of a real school of the first rank, and then for years a member of the Ministry for Public Instruction in Saxony. On being asked what his position on the question of real school vs. the gymnasium is, he replied: "If you mean to ask me, whether the real-school graduates I get in my work are the equals of the gymnasium graduates, I should say, no! If you mean whether our real schools, as they are, afford as good a liberal training as the gymnasia, I should say, no! If you mean whether a real-school, as fully equipped in regard to teachers and apparatus as an ordinary gymnasium, and with a simplified course of study, could give a liberal training equal to that afforded by the gymnasium, I should reply, I do not know, as the experiment has never been tried; but I am inclined to think it could."
The most advanced thinkers on pedagogics are coming to agree that the subject taught has much less to do with its value as a disciplinary and liberalizing study than the method of teaching it. Arithmetic may be so taught as to afford a much better training in language than half of our Latin and Greek teaching affords. There is a certain convertibility in the possible subjects in a curriculum with regard to liberalizing effects which is often lost sight of, but which our best thinkers on the science of education are more and more inclined to emphasize.
It has been already remarked that it is a dangerous procedure to apply concrete conclusions in one country to concrete conditions in another. The quoting of German authority in favor of a gymnasium course in order to bolster up the classical course of an average American college is a good instance in point. The German gymnasium gives nine hours a week for five years, and eight hours a week for four years more, to the study of Latin—i. e., seventy-seven hours a week for one year. It devotes to Greek seven hours a week for four years, and six hours a week for two years more—i. e., forty hours a week for one year, or to both languages the equivalent of one hundred and seventeen hours a week for one year. It will be stating it beyond the truth to put the time devoted to Latin in our average American college up to the close of the sophomore year at five hours a week for six years—i. e., thirty hours a week for one year, and to the Greek at five hours a week for five years—i. e., twenty-five hours a week for one year, or to both together the equivalent of fifty-five hours a week for one year. The German gymnasium thus gives more than twice as many hours to Latin and Greek as the average American college course. Now, the leading German authorities who favor a gymnasium course have repeatedly opposed lessening the amount of time devoted to these two subjects, and have expressed their opinion to the effect that any considerable reduction in the number of hours would be equivalent to depriving the course of all its value—i. e., so far from approving our classical curriculum, they unite in asserting that it is worth nothing whatever!
A part of President Porter's argument in the article already referred to proceeds on the assumption that the average college boy acquires enough Latin and Greek to be able to read it easily. Whatever may have been true in President Porter's college-days, the fact must appear evident to any one who has ever visited the sophomore classes in Greek in our American colleges, that the average boy does not acquire ability to translate even such an easy author as Xenophon or Homer without difficulty—not even in Yale College; and the boy who takes up a Greek author and reads him for the pleasure that he derives from the thought is an avis rara indeed. It is the writer's opinion, based upon considerable investigation and comparison of notes with Greek teachers, both in America and Germany, that it is impossible for the average boy who spends the average amount of time on his Greek up to the close of his sophomore year to acquire the power of reading it easily. It is a universally admitted fact in Germany that the gymnasiast, who spends so much more time and labor than the American college boy, never acquires this power; and it is as true of the former as it is of the latter that the last day of his school-life is the last day of his Greek reading, with the exception of those following a profession which calls for a knowledge of the Greek, such as the philologists, philosophers, and clergymen.
One other point is worthy of notice. President Porter attempts to show that the main reason for unsatisfactory results in Greek study is the bad teaching of Greek which prevailed long ago, and which he hints has almost disappeared. That the teaching of Greek is now superior to what it was a generation ago we are very ready to believe, but it can hardly be said that there is any greater agreement among teachers as to the proper object of Greek study and the advantages to be derived from it. A visit to several of our leading colleges last winter, and conversation with the professors and instructors in Greek, revealed to the writer the very greatest differences of opinion, not only among the various colleges, but even among the representatives of that study within the same college. It is evident that the teachers who believe that the most important object to be attained is the ability to read Greek at sight, and to understand it without having to translate it, will pursue a very different method from those who see in the "incidental training" in grammar, logic, philology, etc., the chief benefit from Greek study. And yet the writer recently found these two opposite views held by two men in the same department of one of our leading colleges, the one of whom had one division of the sophomore class and the other the second division. It is hardly necessary to say that, however much the second may have benefited his class, the first did not get his division to read Greek at sight.
The writer does not wish to be misunderstood. He is making no attack on the study of Greek. He remembers well the keen pleasure and, as he thinks, profit with which he pursued the study of Greek under an exceptionally able series of teachers, and his viris illustrissimis summas gratias agit, semperque habebit. But he realizes well the great importance of these educational questions, and that many of them can never be settled except by actual experiment. It is of the highest importance that all things should be fairly tried, and that held fast which is good. It is demanded in the interests of society that modern education have a fair chance by the side of classical education. That chance it has, as yet, nowhere had. Our colleges, so far as they have admitted scientific students, have allowed them to come in with a very inferior preparation. The French and German, and for that matter the English, too, in most of our colleges, are mere child's play, where they are not broad and ridiculous farces, the butt of students and professors alike. Let some of our colleges inaugurate the reform: lay out a "modern" course for admission and for college on the same general principle as the classical course—few subjects, but long-continued and detailed study in each of them—and insist on as thorough and vigorous work as they do in their Latin and Greek, and then, after a fair trial, compare results. The friends of "modern" education are willing to abide by the outcome. In the mean time it will be wise for the classicists to avoid quoting reports that have nothing to do with the question, and appealing to authority which, upon investigation, turns out to be squarely on the other side of the point in dispute.
- This argument plays a large part in the German defense of a single school and a single course in preparation for all higher professions. "Our education," says one, "is homogeneous. Let the real school carry its point, and a hopeless and fatal element of antagonism will be introduced into our national life, and our higher scholarship, that fairest flower of our civilization, will perish from the earth!"