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FOREIGN NOTES AND COMMENT
HREE months ago, the President
of Washington and Jefferson College said to the President of West Virginia University that he would be willing to come over and deliver the convocation address at the opening of the spring semester. He came. He spoke.
He raised this question: Are we living in an age of enchantment, or in an age of disillusionment? He cited instances of tried dependability in which educators of the "left" contended that so far as graduate or specialized work was concerned, the colleges might just as well close; their efforts were ineffectual, their results nil. He quoted other educators of the "right" who asserted with much show of conviction that the American college was never in a more hopeful condition. He himself said that the reason why so many students fail is to be traced not to their inability but to a wrong attitude toward studying. There is manifestly something wrong.
In the February number of THE BOOKMAN, Professor Irwin Edman of Columbia had an article which is so well known by this time that its title need not be repeated. I personally feel, however, that the opening paragraphs of this otherwise admirable essay are based on an erroneous principle.* Mr. Edman assumes that the student of today is more than ever interested in philosophy. That is excessive optimism.
The case is of unusual interest to me, because I recall a similar enthusiasm that I myself had when I was as young as Mr. Edman.
Take Mr. Edman's own field. Let him give a course on Spinoza. If he lectures about Spinoza, I am not at all certain but that his students will park around his desk at the end of the hour and ask for more, which looks most encouraging. But from my own point of view this species of encouragement renders the case relatively hopeless. For it makes but little difference what even the brightest undergraduate thinks of or about Spinoza. The thing for the undergraduate to determine, the objective for him to keep in mind is: What did Spinoza himself think? And
regardless of the admitted improve
ment that has been made in the writing of books, textbooks, this query can be answered only by individual effort. Moreover, it is one of the distressing facts of education that each student has to begin at the beginning precisely as if no man before him had come to see what Spinoza was driving at.
Let Mr. Edman proceed on this basis, for if he does not, the students are taking a course, not in Baruch Spinoza but in Irwin Edman. On this basis, let the assigned reading be Spinoza's own works the various treatises on ethics and mathematics. The assignments must of course be from the translated Spinoza, for no American student can read Spinoza in the original. With this method in vogue, Mr. Edman's disciples will show far less interest in "philosophy". Indeed, the more vigorous of them, the ones who are listed among the "big men on the campus", will probably assemble after the first lecture and say to each other: "Say, he doesn't really expect us to read that old bird! Why
what are we paying the University eight dollars a point for?"
Now, of this "something" that is wrong with American education, a great deal of it can be dismissed, summarily and forever, because of the unreasoned theory that numbers always suggest inefficiency and sometimes prove it. Find something that is big and you can, without searching, find the man who knows that it is bad. West Virginia, with a mere million and a half population, supports 242 high schools and academies. Other states are even more densely schooled. Where the army is big the guardhouse is full.
The real trouble with our education may be formulated as follows: The objective is the interested audience; the rarity is the thinking auditor. "Don't be dull", may be bad slang but it is regarded as good pedagogy. There is no doubt at all but that the student of 1925 wants all the advantages the college has to offer. He is wideawake. But he majors in that subject which the professor of it makes interesting. If he goes to hear a public address, he judges that address solely on the basis of whether it was read or spoken. If the speaker, in student language, stands up, speaks up, shuts up, and sits down, a favorable judgment is wafted along the ivy covered halls. If he reads a paper of unreserved merit the criticism is voluble and loud: I could do that myself.
The situation might be illustrated as follows: A really brave man goes to the dentist's chair with a query: Will it hurt? If told that it will, a little, he flinches at the mere sight of nickel plated steel. Inform even the most serious minded student that the course will require a measure of work done each day by him himself, and he flinches; he signs up for something else. The Dean of Harvard College was
asked not long since how much time the student had to put on his work outside of the classroom if he wished to pass the finals. And the Dean of Harvard College said: "None at all, if he pays attention in the classroom." We are not to hurt them; and we are to make it interesting.
This is the whole gospel of "The Decroly Class". The little ones are not to be hurt. They are to be taught to think through the medium of jeux educatifs. The great teacher is the one who understands the child mind and has the child do only what he likes to do. The environment is to be so organized as to afford perfect stimulation for the tendencies favorable to development. The child is to prepare for life by living: Primum vivere, deinde philosophari. When he reaches the stage where he is to unravel the mysteries of, say, a roll, whole wheat is to be laid before him; this is to be crushed; the resultant matter is to be mixed with water and baked. Then the child is to be taken straightway to a municipal kitchen and shown the difference, through the nibbling at professional bread, between perfect and imperfect work.
Or how does Dr. Ovide Decroly of Brussels explain to his youngsters the esoteric significance of of "shelter"? Upon one occasion they baked bricks, gathered some sod, built a house and roofed it. Then home and to bed. It was the end of a perfect day but the prelude to a tempestuous night. For on the heels of that architectural experience followed a mighty storm. The Belgian children went out the next morning only to see that their house had been destroyed: "But when they turned their glances toward the school, that was seen to have weathered the gale." Now they know what "shelter" But does not any child with
sense enough to come in out of the rain know such things instinctively?
The Decroly classroom is to be a laboratorium and not a mere auditorium. The epigram is happy, but the original author of it is Herr Kerschensteiner of Munich. The Montessori method is to be eschewed because it depends too largely on the abstract word. If the children are to study weights and measures, well and good, but they must not learn tables; let them take a healthy hare and see how its weight increases each twenty four hours as determined by the additional number of chestnuts that will have been necessary to keep the scales on the level. The children will enjoy this; and they will have in the end a better understanding of marron and lapin. and lapin. John Dewey's "How We Think" is quoted liberally and with approval by "The Decroly Class".
This is all very well; but it is old stuff. Belgium is welcome to it, and is to be congratulated on having tried for herself what other nations tried years ago; for nations, like individuals, have to solve their own problems and do so by beginning at the beginning. If Spinoza had a son living today, he would have to study Father's books just as if they had been written in hermetic isolation and were just now wet from the press. But this is nothing but Kindergarten, though the word is avoided throughout "The Decroly Class" as the word "Kaiser", referring to Napoleon, was avoided during the World War when the French branch of the Metropolitan Opera sang Uhland's "Grenadiers". And however well this all may be, what is Dr. Decroly going to do when his advanced babies reach Maeterlinck? Go out and fetch in bees and bluebirds in order to put sense into his countryman's literature?
A not wholly dissimilar idea is taken
up in Petrarch's "Life of Solitude", for the inimitable sonneteer wrote his book in order to show how a man may best educate himself. It is so ably edited by Professor Jacob Zeitlin, of the University of Illinois, that comment is unnecessary. Mr. Zeitlin has done his translation well, and he has supplied the translation with all the exegesis that the normal man wants or, to draft a pedagogical pet, that the subnormal man could grasp. I can only add that a writer would be considered daft, in 1925, who would write a book of this kind: Petrarch repeats and repeats; digressions he loves; of illustrations he is as enamored as he ever was of Laura.
Petrarch wants to know, or rather he would have his readers know, the best way to use leisure. For the American people this is a momentous issue. A few years ago, a laboring man worked 72 hours a week; now he works 44. What he does with the remaining hours is poles removed from humble comprehension. There are 168 hours in a week, 56 of which should be slept off. That leaves 112 hours, 44 of which go to work. No fewer than 579 years ago, this gifted Italian was worried over the wisest way to dispose of the remaining 68 hours.
Herein lies a lesson for professors. There are at present 1,000 colleges in the United States, or about 40,000 college professors. How one tenth of these accomplish so much in so little time I have never been able to understand. But what the remaining 36,000 do with their time is an even greater wonder. They can complete the required work of any one year in about 600 clock hours. That is two months' work. What becomes of the remaining 10 months? Or if the figures seem a bit austere, make them 750 clock hours and 3 months. What becomes of the remaining 9 months? Petrarch advises
us to flee the distractions of the crowd and think. He avers that you can have a jolly good time in that way. Knut Hamsun's "Segelfoss Town" is merely a continuation of what Hamsun has been doing for precisely forty years: showing that so called progress may mean retrogression. He has written here a jointless epic in which the talk goes on forever in order to prove that such a creation of civilization as, say, canned beans may give people more leisure than they had when the beans had to be hand picked but it is not making people any wiser or happier. If possible, Hamsun contends, these labor saving contraptions are teaching the run of mankind those lessons of idleness which, having been learned, result in ignorance and decadence.
The soundness of his view may be judged from an idea expressed in this, his latest novel to be imported. He is discussing the upper classes in Norway, the mental aristocrats.
"They wear glasses, a sign that as learning poured into their brains, it sucked out the sight of their eyes they cannot see." The theory does not work well in Hamsun's own case; and if it does he must have been born with wisdom in his very pap. For he has been addicted to glasses ever since he was a street car conductor in Chicago. Then it was that mist would settle on them, in the winter time, and make it hard for him to see the street numbers.
In Hamsun in general there is something of Rousseau, much of Dr. Decroly, more of many of our educators who lead, and still more of the contemporary student. The latter, like the characters of "Segelfoss Town", believe in "progress". They are as eager to get hold of thought saving devices as Hamsun's Per Bua was to stock up his Segelfoss store with readymade aprons
and bottled chowchow. If you think the student of today is to be blamed for this state of affairs, withhold your censure. Blame rather his elders who have talked him into talking about things.
But who knows? Possibly there is more than one Spinoza tucked away even now in the faculties of philosophy of our greater institutions. If so, by all means let us hear these rather than the one who, after having been hounded all over Europe by other "philosophers" merely because they chanced to disagree with him, died an obscure and welcome death at The Hague in 1677. ALLEN W. PORTERFIELD
leading philosophers of France, is best known for his perfect edition of the complete works of Pascal. He now devotes a book of 200 pages to the latter-"Le Génie de Pascal" (Hachette) - and no one is better qualified to do this task.
A foreign student of French thought will never pay too much attention to Pascal and to the controversies which he has provoked, and still provokes. Pascal lived through the great crystallization of French culture which took place toward the middle of the seventeenth century. He contributed to that crystallization as a scientist, as a debater, and as a religious thinker.
He fought the Jesuits in his time and they fought him back; even today such a master as Paul Valéry attacks his authority and discusses his genius. Indeed, with his unfinished, manysided work, Pascal breeds discussion and dissent, but of the loftiest kind and among the best minds of his time and of ours.
In his admirable "Méthode des Classiques Français", Paul Desjardins, after a study on Corneille and one on Poussin, explained "Les Règles de l'Honnête Discussion selon Pascal". It was, needless to say, written about "Les Provinciales". Léon Brunschwicg reviews not only this aspect of the hero but also Pascal's genius as a mathematician and a physicist, and, finally, "Pascal's Religious Experience", in the light of modern philosophy. As for the last thirty pages, on "Pascal's Solitude", they carry us very far into the "secret" of such a mind; and I am tempted to say, although Asia is not mentioned, that they reveal more about Eastern philosophy (so highly religious and based on solitary experience) than many big books devoted to that subject. But this would take us too far.
Let us quickly pass to another extreme. "L'Honorable Partie de Campagne" by Thomas Rancat (Nouvelle Revue Française) is not a book of philosophy and does not pretend to be more than a very clever, very humorous description of up to date Japan. Yet it is not devoid of a certain wisdom and of certain hidden conclusions. "East is East and West is West" seems the most obvious of them. A series of aspects of the same insignificant adventure, told by different people, that's all. A European takes a young Japanese girl to the country, not without selfish designs. The politeness of his Japanese hosts prevents him from ever being left alone with her. This is the story;
but the picture of actual details, and the psychology of the Easterner, are so keenly, abundantly, and humorously brought before our eyes that the book has been one of the great literary delights I have experienced this year. I wonder how little expurgation it would need to go into English.
The same publisher gives us "Marlborough s'en va-t-en Guerre", a new play on an old popular song, but a play with a most irreverent tendency. Here the legendary captain is shown to be a coward, a profiteer, a brute, and still worse. He is killed by a bullet in his back as he tries to gallop away from the battlefield. The story is brought back by his page, who is his rival in love. This noble soul (the page, I mean) feels it impossible to tell the nasty truth now that his enemy is dead. So Marlborough becomes a hero. And Marcel Achard, the successful author, inclines to believe that this is the way history often is written. A friend of mine said: "This play ought to be appreciated by ex-service men." ex-service men." I don't know exactly what he meant.
Non-literary shelf. Payot, the publisher, is about to give translations from English into French of three very important works dealing with international affairs. They are Bowman's" The New World", Lothrop Stoddard's "The Rising Tide of Color", and Wells's "Outline of History". Besides, Payot republishes a remarkable study by Dr. Legendre, called "Tour d'Horizon Mondial", mostly a survey of Asiatic affairs (the author having resided for many years in western China and traveled all through the Orient). There are considerations about Japan, Russia, Germany, and the British Empire which are well worth reading and meditating.
Joseph Conrad, who knew more about French modern writers than do