THE TOWER OF BABEL
Another series of language examinations starts today. It brings to mind one of the most difficult problems of the local educational scene the language requirements. The difficulty arises from the fact that they have not lived up to their avowed purpose. In their attempt to instill a good lingual foundation, the language requirements have succeeded in annoying some, placing others unfairly on probation, and acquainting the majority with English translations of fairy tales and a few erroneous fragments of grammar. An elementary introduction to a language is almost valueless, and it is hard to see how French 2 or its like can inculcate a reading knowledge. The present system takes the student's attention from the studies where his interests lie to the least stimulating courses offered by the College, at the very period when the difficult transition from school to university makes intellectual awakening to first function of the latter. The result is intellectual nausea instead. The first step in curing this disease is to abolish the language requirements.
There is little doubt that these linguistic barriers are based on a belief that an acquaintance with a foreign language is part of the mental make-up of on educated gentleman, and if the requirements gave, or could possibly give, this cultural amenity, the CRIMSON would not be making a brief for their abolishment. But it is impossible for them to fulfill their functions. The College, as has been pointed out before, is not the place to begin the study of a living tongue, Large classes, poor teachers, and the fact that requirements of and sort are distastefully out of step with Harvard's educational idea make the situation here peculiarly bad. If all education is self-education, how can it be possible to stuff a reading knowledge down unwilling throats, with translations available and cheap and the Widow available but expensive.
On the other hand, the preparatory school is the obvious place to begin the study of a language. Practiced pedagogy, small classes, and the secondary school function of mental training rather than mental stimulation, all point to the high school as the logical and only place for elementary instruction. To force the school to recognize this function, Harvard, if it wants tri-lingual graduates, must demand trilingual ability from its candidates for entrance. Admission to Harvard, then, should depend on Latin or Greek and three or four years' work in modern language, or, for an S.B. candidate, on a combination of any two of the four major continental tongues including at least a three years' course in one of them. But as the College Entrance Examination Boards give an examination based on only two years work in Spanish or Italian, some scheme, either an additional College Board, or an anticipatory examination, or a certificate, should enable an entrant to prove a three year study of these tongues. For the Western high schools have in many cases substituted Spanish and Italian for German in their curricula. Thus arises one of the main blocs of dissatisfaction with the present requirements. For a student who has presented Spanish or Italian for admission, must now turn to elementary French or German or both to keep himself from language pro, instead of continuing the study of a literature in which he has been interested and whose least stimulating phase he has surmounted. In this way admission, depending on a certain grade in the language College Boards, should pass off all language requirements.
The above strictures, however, as to elementary languages as taught in Harvard College do not apply to the more advanced courses, where the literature is studied by university methods rather than the grammar by second-rate high school instruction. Of course, the College must continue to offer elementary language courses, which will be then confined to at least nominally interested students, without the bored and hampered clutter of dean-driven sufferers. But although French 2, which would be abolished under the proposed scheme, and German A, which would be confined to pupils for scientific or cultural reasons interested in beginning the study of Teutonic writings, have almost no stimulus to thought, it is plain that such courses as French 6 and German 2 have cultural advantages on a par with those afforded by the study, for example, of science of philosophy. It is logical, then, to require a year of advanced work in any language as part of the distribution scheme. Once admitted to Harvard, a student would continue with the study of a language presented for entrance, or with one for which he has had the requisite previous training. And instead of wasting good College time in childish section meetings, he would early be exposed to a first-rate literature course, of his own choosing as to language. There, even if the student resorts to trots and tutoring, he would at least be introduced to a masterpiece or two.
Thus, as the present language requirements are worthless, the remedy is their relegation to the limbo of noble experiments. But as work in foreign literature cannot be considered either useless materially or uninteresting culturally, the CRIMSON suggests the substitution for them of a rigid entrance emphasis on lingual ability and the addition to the distribution plan of a year of language study sufficiently advanced to be worth while.