As a result of the many and insistent complaints against the poor English written by college men, the Overseers of Harvard decided to carry on an investigation. William R. Castle, Jr., '00, formerly Assistant Dean, was appointed to spend this year in a study of causes and possible remedies.
That few college men write good English, has been the contention of many reformers. Mr. Castle, as a result of his investigations thus far, admits the truth of the assertion. In order to consider all possible sides, Mr. Castle has gone through the papers of all departments, studying the work of the same undergraduate in different courses and in different years. He has read 200 examination papers sent from England. This work has been carried on with a view to finding where lies the heaviest burden of fault, on the college, preparatory, or grammar school; and the mistakes in Harvard's method of teaching English.
As to the first, Mr. Castle says, "Surely the preparatory schools should assume the responsibility of teaching their students the simple rules of English grammar during a period when their minds are most capable of assimilating those rules. . . . Apparently we must take over a large part of the burden, although we never can do it with the full success that the elementary schools could have."
Mr. Castle suggests several remedies in the system in vogue here. He believes in a closer co-ordination of the various departments. This has been done in part by the grouping of English A students into Government and History sections. This does much to keep the "freshmen from writing badly on nothing."
Another innovation proposed is the establishment of an "English Review" Mr. Castle says, "My suggestion is, that the English department maintain with as little expense as possible a weekly publication in which the works of the students in English be widely printed. The students would soon enough discover their errors with their own two eyes and strive more willingly to correct them."
Mr. Castle closes with the following remarks: "I must admit that I found the teaching of English per se in the preparatory schools much better than my reading of entrance examination papers led me to expect. The deduction seems to be that there is a deficiency in our whole American scheme of education which makes it incapable of training our boys into habits of clear and logical thinking. Without, it no number of parrot-sung rules can avail. With it the writing of good English becomes immediately possible. The two hundred papers which I have read from the pens of English boys reveal at once the habit of clear thought to which their education has trained them. We must investigate their system and adopt it to our needs."