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THE SPELLING REFORM.
It is hard to spell English. Many good men make mistakes. Children spend a good deal of time in learning to spell; and after all they never learn to spell all the words in our language.
Some people are therefore trying to avoid the difficulty. Eminent scholars have given their support to the plan; and a good deal of talk and a good deal of ink have already been expended on the subject. This may be an interesting way to spend one's leisure, if anybody has leisure to spend; but the attempt to provide a mode of spelling, ready made, must be abortive; and no possible and useful thing ought to be slighted in the pursuit of a chimera.
A language grows; it is never made. Spelling is a part of the language and must change by slow degrees. There is no language where the voice of hard spelling is not heard. No language since the creation ever had its spelling "reformed;
reformed;” none ever will. Time is wasted in learning to spell, they say; if we only had the reformed spelling, two years would be saved in the education of every child. Possibly; but we haven't got the reformed spelling.
Why not "reform" the irregular verbs? the derivatives, so that the same suffix will indicate the actor; the same suffix the object; and so on? And next, why not "reform" the modes and tenses of the verb? In this way two years more may perhaps be saved in the education of each child.
The whole language may next be "reformed " so that a child may know it at birth, and save in all six years of study. Let us memorialize Congress to appoint a commission to investigate this subject. Noted linguists might agree upon a perfect language — might agree — but who would adopt it and speak it? Was a language ever so adopted? One amateur said, enthusiastically, We can give concerts; another said, Yes, but who will take them?
If reformed spelling is to save two years' study, and reformed language four, then reformed arithmetic should save two; reformed geography two; reformed reading two; and we have fourteen years saved from a course of ten years — which ought to add four years to a person's life! By all means this subject should engage the attention of Congress at once.
How are such reforms as these usually received? The decimal system of money is vastly easier than the English system, but England for one hundred years has stuck to her L. s. d., and yet the English are not a stupid people. The Metric system of weights and measures is much simpler than the one we use; but it is introduced very slowly. Both these changes are infinitely easier than the proposed change in the spelling.
There is a good deal of inertia in human nature, and especially in the changes that go on in a language. Like friction, this inertia is sometimes troublesome; but we could not do without friction without this inertia.
In this talk about saving time, there is a great fallacy. Save all the time you will; yet the education of a child will take time. The mind must have time for growth, just as a plant must have time. The manure that would make a plant grow in no time would kill the plant; there would be no plant to grow. So with a child; the method of education that takes no time would leave no mind.
However this may be, don't let the “reformed spelling " take any time from useful school work.–Pa. School Journal.
The head of a great university has lately ventured publicly to assert that only one thing is essential to culture, and that that one thing is a thorough and elegant mastery of the mother tongue. If we inark well the exact sense of the word essential, remembering also to insist that other knowledge is important and all knowledge desirable, the truth of the statement may be conceded. The Greeks, the most polished people of antiquity, studied no literature beside their own, and learned no alien tongue for any literary purpose.
The French, the most polished people of the present, and the only modern people whose literature is read by all others, possess to a remarkable degree the same self-sufficing characteristic. These two notable facts in the history of civilization support President Eliot in his unexpected and audacious confession. We believe that he is right, whether he speaks of the culture of a nation or of that of an individual. Nor is the knowledge which he praises merely a grace; it is a means towards soundness of judgment, it is a help to pure reason. Obviously, the man who always chooses words with precision and arranges them with
lucidity will argue more accurately than the man who expresses himself vaguely and blindly. “ Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man,” said Bacon. Yes, if the writing itself is exact, but not so certainly otherwise.
Now, if this knowledge of English is thus essential, why not teach it? Is it a prominent branch of education in our universities? Not at all: not in Harvard and Yale, I am sure; probably in no other. It is a humble attendant on other studies, counting almost as a supernumerary. There are professorships of rhetoric and of English literature, but they are held in light esteem, I believe, by the other chairs of the faculty, and they are allowed to demand but little of a student's time. Their courses are made so easy that the idle seek them as
optionals.” Only think of their being classed as optionals, when their proper result is an essential! Oh, but the students are supposed to know English when they enter college. Are they? Ask the disgusted professor of rhetoric. He will tell you that in nine-tenths of the exercises submitted to him, spelling and grammar and construction are at fault. And to correct this disgraceful ignorance, there are six to eight “compositions" a year. There should be several times as many. In leaning to write well there is but one secret of success, and that is frequent, laborious practice, coupled with assiduous correction. I venture to assert that the journeymen printers of our land write more fluently and grammatically, on the average, than the seniors in our universities. Why? Not through superiority of intellect, certainly; not because they know Greek and Latin and mental philosophy; but solely because the handling of English is their daily work.
Obviously, there must be more writing than there is in our schools and colleges, or we shall continue to lack President Eliot's essential to culture. Other studies must cede some ground to this one; and to that end there must be fewer enforced courses. Every one who knows the college youth knows that he is harrassed with many textbooks, and that he ends his four years with but a smattering of various branches of knowledge, having learned no one thing thoroughly. He must have time for his compositions, or he cannot do them well. Nor should he be called on for much original thought, - a frequent error of the professor of rhetoric. No profound or unusual subjects; only such as the student can write about readily; only topics within easy reach for one of his age and information; translations; sketches of personal adventure; renderings, in one's own words, from well
known authors; epitomes of professional lectures, or of text-books, even; replies to the effusions of brother students, such themes as these should be commended. The object is to bring about much writing, much handling of the mother tongue, much of that practice which makes perfect. The professor of rhetoric should remember that other professors reveal metaphysics, the lessons of history, and the secrets of political economy, and that his business is strictly and exclusively to reach a fluent, correct, and graceful use of English.
But if all this is done, other studies will be neglected. No doubt of it, and of course it is a pity; but still no doubt we must make a choice. Either a poor instruction in English and a smattering of many things, or a fairly good instruction in English and a smattering of fewer things, that is our dilemma. But is it worth while to make a nation of good writers? It has certainly been worth while to have Greeks and Frenchmen; the world has judged that they deserved a great deal of attention. “Ah, my Athenian friends, see what I am doing to win your praise!” said Alexander, as he plunged in the Granicus. - From “ Contributor's Club," Atlantic Monthly for September.
A large school requires the same treatment in kind that a small one does, except in the former case you will have the aid of others. I propose here to give the plan of a successful principal in New York city. The school is situated among the poorer classes, and hence there is little or no culture and home influence to aid. All are assembled each morning for morning worship. At this time, the principal announces the percentage of each class in attendance; for example, a room that has forty seats in it, may have two absent five per cent. is the mark for that class. A discussion of the subject will arouse ambition to excel, and so the idea of good attendance is constantly before the boys. At the end of the week a book is given to the class that has the highest standing. If two classes have the same, it is drawn for. When carried to the class room it is drawn for again, and belongs to a pupil. In one room the teacher has a book-case, and the pupil donates the book (with a suitable inscription) to the library; it is then loaned out to the pupils; quite a library has been thus collected. In another, a teacher has what is called a
trophy side, and the wall is filled with cheap, bright pictures, each of which has its history. One is for the best spelling, another for the best attendance. The greatest interest is felt in these. The subject of deportment is regulated in a similar way. The principal goes about several times per day in each class, “How many of this class have communicated or been reported? Please rise.” The number taken from the entire number gives the entire percentage of deportment; or the teacher may give the number. In this way the percentage of the class is known. This is announced day by day, and on Monday morning, the class having the highest, takes the prize, which is borne away in triumph, that class being entitled to the first dismission to its room in the morning.
It will readily be seen, in this case, that the reward is a very inexpensive one. I have known in some cases a bouquet to be the reward, in others a ribbon, in others a medal. In all cases, the value is in the distinction; for example, a teacher had a small silk banner made which was kept for a week by the winning class. It caused great emulation.
There is one feature about all these plans that some teachers forget. The school room becomes dull, the exercises tedious. Now, that one class achieves some merit, relieves the tedium, gives something to think about and talk about; the effect is that the pupils become interested in their school. A community of ten, fifty, or five hundred young persons can be absorbed in the events of that community alone by a skilled person. On one occasion a parent complained to me (and with justice, too, as I confessed) of the interest I had created in his children. They were up, he said, at five o'clock on cold winter mornings in order to be at school in season! I was obliged to make a rule that any pupil who came to school before half-past eight, unless he had special permission, would be considered out of order! This may be thought an extreme case. Yet the teacher who understands addressing human nature, finds himself puzzled how to obtain objects for emulation that are not too powerful; the unskillful person, on the other hand, is looking after more powerful stimulants.
These two classes remind one of the old and the new schools of medicine. Once the effort was to obtain the most powerful drugs to give to the languid and debilitated. Every kingdom of nature was ransacked for this purpose. As knowledge advanced, the new school sprang up, whose effort was to use no drugs at all; it maintains that