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It is coming to be understood that the object of education is rather the attainment of power than the acquisition of knowledge. To know either many things or very much about any one thing is less important than to know how to do things. The recognition of this principle is transforming methods of teaching in all departments. Research is the new watchword. Once regarded as the special function of the most advanced students, research is now seen to be the proper activity even of children in the lower grades. The elation of discovery is the best stimulus for minds of all classes and at all stages.
How to apply the principles of research to the teaching of literature is now the main problem to be solved in the department of English. Once it was the custom to give students of literature books to learn about authors. Then the manuals and histories of literature were displaced, and the masterpieces themselves were introduced into the schools, to be read and expounded in recitation. The ancient practice of annotating Latin and Greek texts for school use was allowed to set the example for books in the mother tongue, and these too appeared, and are still wont to appear, with explanations and definitions to facilitate the getting of lessons.
At the present moment the teaching of literature may be said to have developed to the point when question and answer, problem and solution, obscurity and elucidation, are simultaneously thrust upon the learner's attention, in order that he may for not one conscious moment entertain the feeling of curiosity and interest, that he may be saved all need of exploration, that he may be excused from independent thinking and have merely to bend over his book and learn his lesson. Such is the note stage thus far reached in the evolution of literature teaching
In order that our condition may not become one of arrested development, teachers must accept cordially and without misgiving the idea that the making of notes is precisely the business of the student himself, and that he cannot be denied this exercise without suffering irreparable loss. Youthful curiosity at length becomes atrophied if left unemployed. The work of research that the maker of notes has to undertake is too pleasant and stimulating to be withheld from the learner. For the teacher to explain everything in advance, or to allow notes to explain it in advance, and then to expect of the class only to say back what has just been said to them, is to reduce teaching to the lowest depths of imbecility.
I have always found that pupils like to be given something to do. They like to be set at work to find out things not obvious at a glance. They like to conquer difficulties. They like the adventure of searching a library for a hidden reference. What a note gives them they accept without emotion, — almost without consciousness, — such long years have they spent already over the books and paper in their desks. For further
burrowing in that petty area it is no longer possible to rouse their zeal. They are old enough to go hunting in larger fields. High school youth are in the note-making period of mental growth. They should annotate their own texts, and should be taught to scorn silly offerings of help. They too can handle dictionaries and encyclopædias, tease librarians, rummage in histories and biographies: and this is all that the note-maker can do for them.
Having found the presence of a mass of explanatory notes an obstacle to my endeavor to interest my pupils in their English reading, I have essayed to suggest a better method of procedure by preparing texts in such a manner as rather to call for research than to make research needless by giving its results. A note that tells at once what is wanted forestalls the teacher. I would co-operate with the teacher by aiding him to set the pupils at work. Accordingly I have offered no notes whatever on passages easily explained by reference to dictionaries and encyclopædias, except perchance to give a warning that such research should not be omitted. Only when I have found the way of research a little dark or crooked have I hinted at the path to be pursued. The “notes” in this volume, therefore, are distinctly meant to send the learner away from the little books in his little desk to the larger and more abundant books of the school library, and to the public and other libraries to which he may have access. I have myself found it a joy to conquer these small difficulties: this joy I would share with my pupils.
For the general reader an English text may be furnished with any amount of labor-saving apparatus. The
general reader wants to luxuriate in his reading and not be constantly sent to books of reference. To him it is intolerably tedious to be obliged to make work of his reading. But the pupil in school is the very antithesis of the general reader. The pupil will not read to while away his time, but to learn how to investigate ; he is not to court his ease at his tasks, but to whet his curiosity and give it free range; he is not so enamoured of his school desk and his long hours at it but he will be at least willing to rise and try new postures and new muscles. Pedagogic annotation, therefore, should not be directed toward the saving of labor : much rather should it be full of exhortations and promptings to labor. This point, dear learner, you do not understand; but the way to attain an understanding of it is a pleasant one ; here are a few directions to enable you to make a start. In this spirit, I conceive, should English texts for schools be annotated.
Intelligent reading implies the use of certain literary apparatus, access to which is possible to almost every member of an American community. The function of the school, with regard to this apparatus, is to show its value and to train in the methods of putting it to use. High schools should graduate their pupils expert in the handling of dictionaries and encyclopædias, quick to surmise which way to turn to find information about men and things. To make the little text-book selfsufficing is to make it false to the facts of real life, for the real books of the world are bound together by infinite links of mutual explanation, and every book of value must be read with reference to other books. Pupils are to be trained in the art of literary exploration. They