A Commentary (Oct 1927)
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[ 267 A Commentary The Monthly Criterion: A Literary Review, 6 (Oct 1927) 289-91 The Teaching of History In our July number we discussed the purposes of an organization called “The International Institute for Intellectual Co-operation,” which is a side line of the League of Nations. One of the stated purposes was “the development of instruction on international questions.”1 A more recent phase of the problem of League of Nations instruction in the schools has been fully discussed in the press. The general opinion of schoolmasters in England seems to have been right and just: there is nothing to be said against giving schoolchildren information about the aims and activities of the League; but to attempt to reform the teaching of History according to League ideals or from a “League of Nations point of view” would be dangerous and undesirable from every point of view.2 One point only: it suggests an interference with the proper liberty of the teacher. Teachers of History are sometimes accused of abusing their position to instil “propaganda.” Possibly they do, here and there; but you cannot teach history, make it interesting or even intelligible, unless you hold opinions, and the opinions of the teacher are more important than the opinions of the text-book. If teachers teach the wrong opinions, then the only problem is to get the right teachers, and to pay them adequately; and it is in any case undesirable that all teachers should be forced to profess the same opinions. The Cinema Quota The chief danger, however, of setting up machinery for even the most admirable propaganda, is that the machinery can very easily outlast its purpose , and go on working for bad purposes instead of good. One of the great problems of the modern world is to deal with the machines of this kind which are already in action. If they do not work consciously they will work blindly, and the difficulty is to know which is worse. From this point of view, the recent discussions about Cinema Legislation and film “quota,” both here and in Germany, must assume great importance even for those who care nothing for films and have no faith in its possibilities of art.3 It is not merely a question of protecting an industry which we could possibly do 1927 268 ] quite well without. It is a question of what happens to the minds of the thousands of people who feast their eyes every night, when in a peculiarly passive state under the hypnotic influence of continuous music, upon films the great majority of which have been confected in studios of the Holly­ wood type. On the other hand, they might not gain much by changing to Hollywood films made in Britain. If we see films at all, we should like to be able to see the best that every nation can produce: a desire which none of the projected legislation seems likely to satisfy. Might it not be a job for the office of the Lord Chancellor (or a separate Mastership of the Revels might be revived)? We trust that the brains of the “International Institute” are applied to this problem. The Teaching of English Everyone who is concerned with English literature, and indeed, everyone who is concerned with writing and with thinking in the English language, should find some interest in the Memorandum on the Teaching of English issued by the Incorporated Association of Assistant Masters in Secondary Schools (Cambridge: 3s. 6d.).4 The book is admirably arranged, and gives the curriculum for children of all ages up to sixteen. It would be possible, of course, to criticize the choice of books and texts of English literature. But that, again, is a matter in which the individual teacher should have the widest possible liberty – for you cannot teach children to like things that you do not like yourself. But while not everyone can be taught to appreciate literature, everyone can be taught, according to his ability, to think and write clearly. The Memorandum encourages the study of grammar (though one is surprised that it should have been thought necessary to defend that study). But it does not encourage the study of grammar after the age of thirteen. This is regrettable. Grammar should be made to lead up to the study of logic, modern logic, not the antiquated discipline of Barbara.5 Young people who continue the study of English after they are fifteen or sixteen, ought to learn how the language...