Greek in Modern Education, PR Article cont.

The Seven Liberal Arts and Classical Education at The Common Room, part IV

Background- this article was published in the 1891/2 edition of the Parents’ Review edited by Charlotte Mason. The author is Oscar Browning. When I finish this article, I’ll start on another- very few of the PR articles from volume II, this volume, are available to the general public, and I’d like to get them all online. If you’re interested, a list of the table of contents is up at Ambleside’s website. If you want to look it over and put in a request for a particular article to be next, I’d be interested in hearing from you.

But the question is not whether Greek shall be reduced in our schools to the position of Hebrew, but whether it is to remain compulsory on all who proceed to a University of education. To decide this we must take a survey of the present condition of knowledge. All education which is worth the name conduces to a definite end. But nowadays it would be difficult for a master to say at any given moment which particular end he is aiming at in the education of a particular boy. Our public-school education which gives the tone to all the rest has never been subjected to a thorough revision. We retain the old classical basis which was once an end in itself, and we add to it mathematics, modern languages, history, and science. We attempt to embrace everything and to surrender nothing. We do not even allow specialisation, because in our schools questions of discipline, and even of society, are quite as pressing as questions of education. There arises, therefore an internecine strife between these conflicting claims; each study gets what it can in the struggle; and as when thieves fall out good men come by their own, so, while masters are squabbling as to what they shall teach, athletics and amusements, which have a clear and simple end in view, and which always know their own minds, step in and occupy the field. Therefore, as Mr. Gladstone wrote thirty years ago, the most crying want in the education of the present day is to distinguish between what is principal and what is subordinate.

Now, as has often been remarked, there are four main lines on which education may be based- the classical, the mathematical, the scientific, and the modern literary. This last has never been developed to the fulness of its power, but I believe that it is capable of very large extension. Leaving this latter alone, let us say a few words about the educational value of the three first. What effect do they severally produce upon the mind regarding them as organs of thought?

I am disappointed that he left aside the modern literary track, because I suspect this is the one that interested Charlotte Mason (and interests me) the most.

Science makes great pretensions for itself in the present day. Mr. Herbert Spencer has said that it is the only thing worth learning. It bases its claims partly on its intrinsic importance, partly on the stimulus it gives to the faculty of observation, but principally on the certainty of its conclusions. It claims to teach what is, to believe in nothing, to ask its learners to believe in nothing which cannot be seen, weighed, and handled. Now in this very certainty its weakness lies. In all the domains of human speculation, just as we become certain we become false. The mind of man is incapable of ascertaining absolute truth; all it can reach is a very high degree of probability. There is no reason to suppose that if the Creator could give an account of His own work it would correspond in any particular to what we have imagined that we knew about it. Time and space have no real existence, but are merely limitations o our own minds; the law of gravity, the discovery of which is reckoned as a triumph of inductive reasoning, might be found to have quite another explanation. In the complicated affairs of life, in law and politics, in love and war, we have to proceed by probabilities; certainties are impossible to us. The same is, of course, true of religion. A mode of reasoning, therefore which is based on certainty has not only a narrow scope, but it unfits us for the solution of these most important questions which can be decided by probability alone.

Hmph.

A similar charge may with good reason be brought against mathematics. They teach accurate reason, but they do not, except in their highest branches, stimulate the imagination, or accustom the mind to that familiarity with probabilities which is after all the highest degree of certainty which the human mind is capable of acquiring.

The great merit of classics is that their study does develop this habit of mind to a very great degree. Let me take two examples. A number of persons translate a passage of Shakespeare into Greek iambics. A competent scholar will have no hesitation in saying that one version is better than the other, and a consensus amongst competent scholars on the point would be found which would astonish anyone who was not familiar with these matters; yet these judges would not be able to assign reasons for their opinions which would satisfy the average mind, for instance a British jury. No reason could be given which would not break down under the cross-examination of an experienced counsel. Yet the opinion would be no less valid for that. It would be derived from an absolutely certain instinct, derived from a habit of weighing probabilities which had become a second nature. So also in asuggested emendation of a corrupt passage a practised scholar would be able to say that a particular reading must be the right one, or perhaps more often that it could not possibly be the right one. Yet it would be difficult to explain in words precisely the reasons which determined this decision. Iy is this training of a careful and well-balanced judgment that gives to classical studies their special and peculiar value.

I’m curious (and I really do not know)- would the informed consensus of these competent scholars be duplicated by another set of competent scholars 150 years later?
I know we have at least two sometimes readers and the spouse of another reader who have studied Greek and Latin- if you’re reading, would you concur with what Browning is saying? Can you figure out what’s saying and explain it to the rest of us?

I should therefore be inclined to conclude that of the three curricula which I have mentioned, the scientific, the mathematical, and the classical, the last is by far the best if it is applied to a mind suited to it. It is not difficult to ascertain at an early age whether a boy is likely to turn out a scholar or not. The class of mind which attaches a value to language, and is capable of appreciating minute differences of style and idiom, is one which reveals itself by unmistakable signs. It is true that there is a school of educationists who think that all natural tendencies should be repressed, and that the presence of a special faculty is a reason rather for repressing, or, as it is called, correcting it, than for developing it. This I do not believe. Observation of growing minds has taught me long since that more time is gained, and the best results are produced by training the mind in that direction to which nature points, and that the cultivation of one faculty is the best means of strengthening all the rest. But of this classical curriculum Greek is the most important part.

Greek is not only more educative than Latin, but is far more suited to be learned by tender minds; Greek not only appeals to the mature intellect by its subtlety and refinement, but by a certain childishness and simplicity, to the intelligence of a boy or girl. It is difficult in Latin to find any classical author which is really suited for beginners. On the other hand a child will take quite naturally to the Odyssey. The way of telling the story suits it, and there is a charm in the narrative which sounds like a fairy tale. Therefore I say fearlessly that if classical education is to be maintained, and if one of the two classical languages has to be sacrificed, I would rather it were Latin than Greek.

Also there is great danger of the standard of classical education being seriously lowered by the sacrifice of Greek. When I had an opportunity, some five-and-twenty years ago, of examining the education given by the French Government schools, I was horrified at the slow standard then attained in the Greek language- and I may say in the Latin also. Scholarship as we understand it was almost unknown in France and Italy, although it then held its own in Germany, which was indeed a model to other nations in this respect. In France, at the beginning of the eighteenth century, an agitation began against the study of Greek, similar to that which is now going on in England. The University of Paris was not strong enough to withstand the tide of popular opinion and surrendered Greek as a compulsory subject. The Jesuits- a very powerful and independent teaching body- were able to keep to it, and the consequence was that the education of the Jesuits took a very high position in France, and left the University far behind. Indeed this had much to do with the influence which the Jesuit teaching had over the whole of Europe. You will have gathered from what I have said that I am strongly of opinion* that Greek should continue to be an essential part of classical education as long at that education is preserved, and that to give it up would probably prove the deathblow of what is called scholarship in England and would seriously tend to lower the whole standard of the higher culture.

* that is how it is worded- not ‘of the opinion.’ I don’t know if this is just a typo in the volume, or how a scholar such as Dr. Browning would have phrased it.

Maybe I am just tired, but it seems to me that Browning thinks Greek is the better choice because he did better at Greek in school himself. And this statement, “the classical, the last is by far the best if it is applied to a mind suited to it” carries with it a qualifier that seems to me to make it true of just about anything. I would agree that education worth the name has a definite end in view. And certainly, as Mr. Gladstone said, now over 130 years ago, we want to distinguish between what is principal and what is subordinate.

Also: Keep in mind that one of the very interesting things about Oscar Browning’s arguments is that he didn’t really know he was refuting any erroneous ideas about what classical education was- he was just stating what everybody knew about it in 1891 (he was the headmaster of a classical school as well as the graduated student of another, and I believe that in the years he wasn’t a headmaster, he had been a teacher in other classical schools).

Dorothy Sayers would not write her new version into the record until something like fifty years later.

(for some reason, the following shortlinks sometimes only take readers to the front page of the main blog. If this happens to you, copy and paste into your browser the longer links I added below each hyperlink).

Part one

Greek in the Public Schools In England in 1891

Part two

The Seven Liberal Arts and a Classical Education- a Parents’ Review article cont.

Part three

Parents’ Review Article on Greek cont.

Part four

Greek in Modern Education, PR Article cont.



Part five

Greek in Modern Education, PR Article cont.

Part six, Conclusion

PR Article on Greek in Modern Education- Conclusion

This entry was posted in Charlotte Mason, Parents' Review Articles and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.

2 Comments

  1. sora
    Posted August 19, 2007 at 12:38 am | Permalink

    This is Matt. Sora asked me if I wanted to comment.

    The author exaggerates both the unanimity of judgements in classical studies, and their inexplicability. I have often suceeded in persuading other classical scholars of the rightness of my view, or been persuaded of the rightness of theirs, on the basis of shared, and explicable, criteria which I learned in my training as a classicist. The very existence of professional journals in which classics scholars argue with each other about emendations (and other things) presupposes shared criteria.

    But, in the author’s favor, I can attest that it is VERY hard to make non-classicists see just how absolutely conclusive a particular point is, or how utterly wrong another is. Criteria like lectio difficilior are simple enough concepts, but their application requires a broad familiarity with ancient texts and the workings of the languages. To an audience who lack this familiarity, the reasonings of classicists must of necessity be opaque.

  2. Matt
    Posted August 19, 2007 at 12:40 am | Permalink

    The author exaggerates both the unanimity of judgements in classical studies, and their inexplicability. I have often suceeded in persuading other classical scholars of the rightness of my view, or been persuaded of the rightness of theirs, on the basis of shared, and explicable, criteria which I learned in my training as a classicist. The very existence of professional journals in which classics scholars argue with each other about emendations (and other things) presupposes shared criteria.

    But, in the author’s favor, I can attest that it is VERY hard to make non-classicists see just how absolutely conclusive a particular point is, or how utterly wrong another is. Criteria like lectio difficilior are simple enough concepts, but their application requires a broad familiarity with ancient texts and the workings of the languages. To an audience who lack this familiarity, the reasonings of classicists must of necessity be opaque.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

*
*



  • Amazon: Buy our Kindle Books

  • Search Amazon


    Try Audible and Get Two Free Audiobooks

  • Brainy Fridays Recommends:

  • Search:
    Christianbook.com