MAXIMUM STIMULATION MINIMUM EXAMINATION
PROF. STEPHEN LEACOCK has made, in humorous vein, a serious plea for the reform of education. In reading his bock Too Much. College (Bodley Head, 7s. 6d.), in which this plea is argued and presented, one may disregard the humour and profitably consider the argument for reform and the nature of the reforms suggested.
That education is divorced from life is the main thesis and the reform proposed is the simplification of the curriculum.
He takes the reasonable view that education must last as long as life itself, but he regards the modern curriculum as a somewhat morbid growth that has spread, in the course of a thousand years' development from the church schools of the Middle Ages, until it stifles the best years of a man's life.
All that the school accomplishes might, he affirms, be accomplished in half the time occupied by present methods. Broadly, he desires to "make the whole school and college programme consist of a maximum of stimulation and a minimum of examinations."
Prune the Whole System
His suggestions involve the elimination of redundant consonants and competitive vowels from the alphabet; the rationalisation of our spelling; the separation of true mathematics from arithmetical puzzles, freak equations and inventive geometry; the complete scrapping of our present methods of teaching languages; the debunking of economics; the ruthless pruning of psychology; and the clearing of the rank undergrowth of fantastic " courses" with made-up names.
Professor Leacock would not scrap Latin, however, which he regards as " one of the vitamins of education." but he would relegate the study of Greek to philologists and apostles.
There is much to grind one's teeth at in this book, but more to wrinkle one's forehead over. Some truth lies in his major premise that education is eating up life. Undoubtedly education nowadays is less a preparation for life than the attempting to complete a rigid programme without any thought of living or the realities of life.
Education has not really improved since the Middle Ages—it has merely proliferated into all sorts of outgrowths which have tended to obscure its purpose.
To the argument that there are fewer illiterates than in the Middle Ages one may retort that there are probably far more literate ignoramuses now without understanding or aim.
One may well contrast many of the known products of the medieval schools with the " spectacled neophytes thirty years old, timid in the daylight, shuddering at life " who reach the end of the educational track as sad-eyed Ph.D.s.
More important still is reform for the sake of the school-leavers of from 19 to 18 years of age, It is arguable that the present elementary and secondary school system is unfair to the child who cannot benefit from the curriculum and to the child who can. The one is harried unnecessarily and the other is handicapped in the race for the higher education which he can absorb with comfort and use with profit.
The examination system may be blamed for some of this harrying and
handicapping. Examination to determine fitness for higher education is complicated by an age limit which is fixed arbitrarily on principles which are based partly on administrative convenience and partly on psychology—that psychology which Professor Leacock describes as a black-out.
It is axiomatic that any educational system must be subject to grave criticisms on one point or another. Our present system appears to suffer from forcible fixation within an administrative programme.