Published Date

January 1, 1898

From The Study of History in Schools (1898)

We have no intention of framing a secondary-school course, in which each study shall be carefully related in time and space with every other. Such a process is, for the present at least, a task for each superintendent or principal in the conduct of his own work. Certain suggestions, however, are pertinent, and may be helpful.

We believe that, whenever possible, history should be a continuous study. In some schools it is now given in three successive years; in others it is offered in each of the four years of at least one course. Some practical teachers, impressed with this need of continuity and feeling unable to give more time to the work, have thought it wise to give the subject in periods of only two recitations per week for one year or more; and such a plan may prove desirable for the purpose of connecting two years in which the work is given four or five times per week, or for the purpose of extending the course. Probably two periods a week, however, will seem altogether impracticable to the great majority of teachers, and we do not recommend that this step be taken when the circumstances allow more substantial work. A practical working programme in one of the very best western schools presents the following course:

7th grade, American History—4 periods
8th grade, American History—2 periods
9th grade (1st year of high school), Greek and Roman History—3 periods
10th grade, English History—3 periods
11th grade, Institutional History—2 periods
12th grade, American History—2 periods

Another school of high grade, where effective work is done, gives history in three periods per week for two years, and in five periods per week for two more years, viz:

1st year of high school, Oriental, Greek, and Roman history—3 periods
2nd year, mediaeval and modern European history—3 periods
3rd year, English history—5 periods
4th year, American history, economics, and civics—5 periods

In both of these schools some of the historical work is optional or elective, other parts are required. These courses are given here simply to show how a long, continuous course may be arranged in case the circumstances make it inadvisable to give work four or five times per week for four years. We do not recommend courses in which the study comes twice a week, but only say that in some instances they may prove advisable as a means of keeping the parts of the course in connection. We can not see our way clear to proposing the acceptance of a two-hour course in history for entrance to college, if units are counted or definite requirements are laid down.

A secondary-school course in which there are many distinct subjects may furnish to the pupil only bits of information, and not give the discipline resulting from a prolonged and continuous application to one subject, which is gradually unfolded as the pupil’s mind and powers are developed. A course without unity may be distracting, and not educating in the original and best sense of the word. At least in some courses of the high school or academy, history is the best subject to give unity, continuity, and strength. Where a foreign language is pursued for four consecutive years, it serves this purpose; but in other cases it is doubtful whether anything can do the work so well as history. Even science has so many branches and distinct divisions-at all events, as it is customarily taught-that it does not seem to be a continuous subject. Doubtless there are relationships between physiology, chemistry, physics, botany, and physical geography, and of course the methods of work in all of them are similar; but to treat science as one subject, so that it may give opportunity for continuous development of the pupil, and for a gradual unfolding of the problems of a single field of human study, seems to us to present many almost insurmountable difficulties. A committee of historical students may be pardoned therefore for thinking that history furnishes a better instrument than science for such purposes. The history of the human race is one subject; and a course of four years can be so arranged as to make the study a continually developing and enlarging one, as the needs and capacities of the pupil are developed and enlarged.

History should not be set at one side, as if it had no relation with other subjects in the secondary course. Ideal conditions will prevail when the teachers in one field of work are able to take wise advantage of what their pupils are doing in another; when the teacher of Latin or Greek will call the attention of his pupils, as they read Caesar or Xenophon, to the facts which they have learned in their history classes; when the teachers of French and German and English will do the same; when the teacher of physical geography will remember that the earth is man’s dwelling place, or more properly his growing place, and will be able to relate the mountains, seas, and tides of which he speaks with the growth and progress of men; when he will remember that Marco Polo and Henry the Navigator and Meriwether Lewis were unfolding geography and making history, and that Cape Verde not only juts out into the Atlantic, but stands forth as a promontory in human history. Is the time far distant when the march of the Ten Thousand will be looked upon not merely as a procession of optative moods and conditional clauses, but as an account of the great victory won by Greek skill, discipline, and intelligence over the helplessness of Oriental confusion? And will Caesar long be taught only as a compound of ablative absolutes and indirect discourses, rather than as a story, told by one of history’s greatest men, of how our Teutonic forefathers were brought face to face with Roman power, and how the peoples of Gaul were subjected to the art and the arms of Rome, and made to pass under the yoke of bondage to southern civilization and southern law? The teacher of history, if he knows the foreign languages which his pupils are studying, may connect the words they have learned with concrete things; and he may, above all, help to give the young people who are trying to master a foreign tongue some appreciation of the tone, temper, and spirit of the people, without which a language seems void and characterless.

History has a central position among the subjects of the curriculum. Like literature, it deals with man, and appeals to the sympathy, the imagination, and the emotional nature of the pupils. Like natural science, it employs methods of careful and unprejudiced investigation. It belongs to the humanities, for its essential purpose is to disclose, human life; but it also searches for data, groups them, and builds generalizations from them. Though it may not be a science itself, its methods are similar to scientific methods, and are valuable in inculcating in the pupil a regard for accuracy and a reverence for truth. It corrects the formalistic bias of language by bringing the pupil into sympathetic contact with actualities and with the mind of man as it has reacted on his environment. It gives breadth, outlook, and human interest, which are not easily developed by the study of natural phenomena. Thus, as a theoretical proposition, at least, the assertion that the story of life and the onward movement of men, not their language or their physical environment, should form the center of a liberal course, would seem to leave little ground for argument.

We may add to all these considerations the fact that even in the natural sciences, as well as in other subjects, the historical method is not seldom used by advanced scholars and thinkers. The scholarly scientific investigator knows from careful study the development of his subject; he sees the successes and the failures of the past, and recognizes the lasting contributions that have from time to time been made in his field of investigation; he often studies the civilization that gave birth to bygone and obsolete theories, and comes thus to a knowledge of his department of work as a growing and developing department. So, too, the advanced linguistic scholar is frequently engaged, not so much in the study of language, as in the examination of successive intellectual movements which have found expression in literature. This practice of linking the present with the past, of watching progress and studying change, has become one of the marked characteristics of modern learning; and it indicates that history, in the broad field of human affairs, is a subject which is contributory to others, is indeed a part of them, and occupies a central position among them.

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