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Long-suffering Freshmen have been nursed through English A as far as the memory of living man extends. The course has undergone many metamorphoses, some successful, some ghastly failures. The most recent reorganization was undertaken by Professor Hillyer. He cut out much dead wood, introduced many new, relatively young men, craftsmen in their own right, as section-men, and emphasized the conference plan.
Unquestionably these measures have borne fruit. Whether it is advisable to stop there, however, is an entirely different question. Recent changes in English A bring this problem into full focus. This fall an additional "escape" was offered to "upper seventh" Freshmen who did not pass their college boards with seventy-five or over. If this year's results are a reliable indication, this escape was little more than a knothole, for few passed. Further, the change itself may be considered as a confession of weakness; if the course could stand on its own feet there would be less anxicty to avoid it.
Then, too, Professor Hillyer's decision to give up the monthly lectures must be interpreted in a similar light. Indeed, the monthly lectures were the single thin thread of organization in the whole course, and many students thought the addresses, though necessarily sketchy the best part of English A. Now all that remains is a glorified prep school course, whose bloom is not always apparent.
It is true that the horrible epoch of the "process themes" (i.e. "write on something which you fear") seems to be disappearing, but the mordant vestiges still crop up occasionally. And the reading, soundly conservative though it be, usually bears little relation to actual composition.
The great need, as any corrector of examinations will assert with great fervour, is to teach students to organize ideas, to write with reasonable lucidity. Reading, of course, is necessary, but it should be strictly subordinated to composition. In the first semester in particular, it would be helpful to read fine models, such, for example, a chapter in Travelyan's "History of England", do a little correlated reading in the library, and then rewrite a chapter, not with the intention of aping the style, but with an eye to clear, precise, and thoroughly readable presentation of facts.
In the second semester a student should be able to follow his own bent more thoroughly than he can at the present time, and allow his imagination freer play in criticism, poetry, journalism, or wherever his interest lies. In addition, several weeks might be devoted to speech-making upon any topic the student elected, for organization of ideas are similar in both oral and written expression.
Lastly, a new program should be developed in conjunction with the second semester's work. While small conference groups should be retained as the fundamental organization, it would be an excellent idea to have weekly lectures given by specialists in certain fields, such as the drama, the novel, the poem, or the essay. Certainly the English Department has such specialists. These men, of necessity, would emphasize the form of each type of literature, but precisely what the student needs is an insight into the mechanics of writing and the organization of ideas.
The mere suggestion is probably an affront to professorial dignity; the grumblings about the "pressure of work" can almost be recognized now. Yet a few lectures a year are not going to break their backs, even if they assume the camel's form. English A suffers more from neglect than anything else. If English A is to be recognized for what it is, the most important course in college, if it is to accomplish what it sets out to do, make competent writers, it must be served by the moguls of the Department.
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