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In practically all branches of study open to Harvard undergraduates, the student can go as fast and as far as he pleases. To this there is one notable exception in the case of English Composition, perhaps the most fundamental and yet the most alighted study of the curriculum. Granting that the elements of grammar and decent writing can be learned only in the home and graded schools, there still remains a field for development of the ability to write the English language well which it is the duty of the college to cultivate. There are steps in the teaching of English as important, if not as clearly defined, as in Mathematics, and part of the steps can only be taken by minds of college age. Yet to all intents and purposes, only men who have received B or above in English A may study English Composition during their second year in college. Only those who least need the training may secure it.
Before we speak of the theory of this policy with regard to English Composition, it would be wise to run over briefly the history of the study at Harvard and to fix several points in mind. In the first place, Sophomore Composition some years ago was a prescribed course. Then, when a later ruling did away with its prescription, allowing Sophomores to elect English 22 or 31 if they chose, the enrollment in Composition among Sophomores fell off appreciably, showing that some men had no desire to continue their Freshman work in English A. But the registration in the Sophomore elective Composition courses still remained very large; in 1904-05 it was one hundred and forty, which was an average enrollment. The present rule governing Sophomore English Composition went into effect in 1906-07, and in the following year the enrollment of Sophomores in the courses affected had fallen to nineteen. These figures show clearly that elective Composition was popular among Sophomores; and there is every reason to believe that it would be equally popular today. This is the one demand to which the University does not cater. The University lunch-counter forces jam on the unwilling 'Freshman but, after creating the taste, is invariably all out of jam for the Sophomore of average digestive powers. Like Alice through the Looking Glass, he is offered "jam tomorrow and jam yesterday, but never jam today."
The reason for the complete reversal of policy with regard to English Composition was, we believe, an economic one. The new policy continues, apparently, from force of custom, though it has its advocates. They argue, among other things, that the average man taking a Composition course regards writing correct English as a stunt, like tight-rope dancing, to be performed only on special occasions in the class-room. This argument has some truth in it, but it is fair to suppose that a man will in the end fall quite involuntarily into the use of his special parlor accomplishment in his daily work. Moreover, this is an argument which could he applied with even more deadly effect to a dozen other courses which the College advertises. As for a second argument which says that English Composition should not be elective for Sophomores on the ground that literary geniuses are born and cannot be made with a hundred years of teaching in a class-room, it is enough to say that it is no argument at all, since College courses should be planned with the training of the average man in mind. There is still a third argument silently voiced in the University's rule which allows only two elective Composition courses to count for a degree. It is based on the idea that Composition is a cinch, that it requires less work than ordinary courses and should, therefore, not be encouraged. In reply, we say that Composition is a cinch only when the instructors choose to make it so for their own ease. It is not hard to make Composition courses difficult, though it does require some thought to bring them to their greatest usefulness.
Opposed to these rather petty arguments are the great facts that men are anxious to take more English Composition and that it is not to make them great writers but more efficient men in any field that Composition is taught at all. No matter what the sphere of life, the man is abler in proportion as he can express himself more clearly and fluently in his mother tongue. The absence of a course in English. Composition which C men in English A can take during their Sophomore year is a gap which should be filled; let the average man feed upon jam if he likes it.
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