On the Future of our Educational Institutions - Homer and Classical Philology

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"No one?" the philosopher's pupil inquired with a slight quaver in his voice; and both men were silent.

[3] It is not practicable to translate these German solecisms by similar instances of English solecisms. The reader who is interested in the subject will find plenty of material in a book like the Oxford King's English.

[4] German: Formelle Bildung.

[5] German: Materielle Bildung.

[Pg 69]


(Delivered on the 27th of February 1872.)

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN,—At the close of my last lecture, the conversation to which I was a listener, and the outlines of which, as I clearly recollect them, I am now trying to lay before you, was interrupted by a long and solemn pause. Both the philosopher and his companion sat silent, sunk in deep dejection: the peculiarly critical state of that important educational institution, the German public school, lay upon their souls like a heavy burden, which one single, well-meaning individual is not strong enough to remove, and the multitude, though strong, not well meaning enough.

Our solitary thinkers were perturbed by two facts: by clearly perceiving on the one hand that what might rightly be called "classical education" was now only a far-off ideal, a castle in the air, which could not possibly be built as a reality on the foundations of our present educational system, and that, on the other hand, what was now, with customary and unopposed euphemism, pointed to as "classical education" could only claim the value of a pretentious illusion, the best effect of which was that the expression "classical education" still lived on and had not yet lost its pathetic sound. [Pg 70]These two worthy men saw clearly, by the system of instruction in vogue, that the time was not yet ripe for a higher culture, a culture founded upon that of the ancients: the neglected state of linguistic instruction; the forcing of students into learned historical paths, instead of giving them a practical training; the connection of certain practices, encouraged in the public schools, with the objectionable spirit of our journalistic publicity—all these easily perceptible phenomena of the teaching of German led to the painful certainty that the most beneficial of those forces which have come down to us from classical antiquity are not yet known in our public schools: forces which would train students for the struggle against the barbarism of the present age, and which will perhaps once more transform the public schools into the arsenals and workshops of this struggle.

On the other hand, it would seem in the meantime as if the spirit of antiquity, in its fundamental principles, had already been driven away from the portals of the public schools, and as if here also the gates were thrown open as widely as possible to the be-flattered and pampered type of our present self-styled "German culture." And if the solitary talkers caught a glimpse of a single ray of hope, it was that things would have to become still worse, that what was as yet divined only by the few would soon be clearly perceived by the many, and that then the time for honest and resolute men for the earnest consideration of the scope of the education of the masses would not be far distant.

After a few minutes' silent reflection, the [Pg 71]philosopher's companion turned to him and said: "You used to hold out hopes to me, but now you have done more: you have widened my intelligence, and with it my strength and courage: now indeed can I look on the field of battle with more hardihood, now indeed do I repent of my too hasty flight. We want nothing for ourselves, and it should be nothing to us how many individuals may fall in this battle, or whether we ourselves may be among the first. Just because we take this matter so seriously, we should not take our own poor selves so seriously: at the very moment we are falling some one else will grasp the banner of our faith. I will not even consider whether I am strong enough for such a fight, whether I can offer sufficient resistance; it may even be an honourable death to fall to the accompaniment of the mocking laughter of such enemies, whose seriousness has frequently seemed to us to be something ridiculous. When I think how my contemporaries prepared themselves for the highest posts in the scholastic profession, as I myself have done, then I know how we often laughed at the exact contrary, and grew serious over something quite different——"

"Now, my friend," interrupted the philosopher, laughingly, "you speak as one who would fain dive into the water without being able to swim, and who fears something even more than the mere drowning; not being drowned, but laughed at. But being laughed at should be the very last thing for us to dread; for we are in a sphere where there are too many truths to tell, too many formidable, painful, unpardonable truths, for us to escape hatred, [Pg 72]and only fury here and there will give rise to some sort of embarrassed laughter. Just think of the innumerable crowd of teachers, who, in all good faith, have assimilated the system of education which has prevailed up to the present, that they may cheerfully and without over-much deliberation carry it further on. What do you think it will seem like to these men when they hear of projects from which they are excluded beneficio natur; of commands which their mediocre abilities are totally unable to carry out; of hopes which find no echo in them; of battles the war-cries of which they do not understand, and in the fighting of which they can take part only as dull and obtuse rank and file? But, without exaggeration, that must necessarily be the position of practically all the teachers in our higher educational establishments: and indeed we cannot wonder at this when we consider how such a teacher originates, how he becomes a teacher of such high status. Such a large number of higher educational establishments are now to be found everywhere that far more teachers will continue to be required for them than the nature of even a highly-gifted people can produce; and thus an inordinate stream of undesirables flows into these institutions, who, however, by their preponderating numbers and their instinct of 'similis simile gaudet' gradually come to determine the nature of these institutions. There may be a few people, hopelessly unfamiliar with pedagogical matters, who believe that our present profusion of public schools and teachers, which is manifestly out of all proportion, can be changed into a real profusion, an [Pg 73]ubertas ingenii, merely by a few rules and regulations, and without any reduction in the number of these institutions. But we may surely be unanimous in recognising that by the very nature of things only an exceedingly small number of people are destined for a true course of education, and that a much smaller number of higher educational establishments would suffice for their further development, but that, in view of the present large numbers of educational institutions, those for whom in general such institutions ought only to be established must feel themselves to be the least facilitated in their progress.

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