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In its economic desperation the University has been pushed into the corner where sacrifice of one thing is necessary to save another. The value of the section is being questioned, but to destroy or curtail the number of sections contradicts the policy of individualized education and reverses the trend away from the impersonal lecture system. Excluding tutors and the extra-curricular counselor, the Freshman finds in the section his only chance for direct contact with the teacher, and, considering that the secondary school technique still engulfs him, he depends heavily upon such instruction his first year. English A exemplifies the large Freshman course requiring, because of its purpose, both thorough organization and many sections. And English A also typifies one course that achieves but half of what it attempts.
The aim of this sole required course for Freshmen is to teach through discipline the how of writing. To speak is easy, even for the moron, but not to write. Expression on paper is perhaps the most difficult task that the educated man has to meet. A surprising number pass through Harvard knowing nothing about English literature and--most significant--ignorant of good grammar. To avoid a one-sided training, to stimulate the clarifying and transmitting of ideas, the University should compel, as a primary function, a writing course for every student, regardless of whether he escapes English A.
In order to reach the other half of its end, English A ought, first, to attain unity by determining a coherent program and, second, to place emphasis upon expository writing. In the fall the section men should convene and formulate a general plan of teaching that will be carried out by each. Similarity in method makes for consistency in accomplishment. The superficial coaching in the dramatic, narrative, and like forms of composition could well be eliminated, and instead more time given to the fundamental art of exposition. It is more to the point of a Harvard degree that the undergraduate know how to compile bibliographies, take notes, organize papers, and use a simple, clear style than to imitate Hemingway and Joyce. If Harvard desires well-rounded graduates, full of distribution and concentration, it must establish a course in practical writing for Freshmen and urge, at least, the taking of some composition course by all.
(This is the sixth in a series of editorials on Freshmen.)
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