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XI. REPORT OF THE COMMITTEE ON BUSINESS ENGLISH.
The movement for business English is too important and widespread to be overlooked. At the same time, the subject is so new, practice is so diverse, and opinions concerning the matter are so confused, that the time has not yet come for a definite formulation of a course in business English. This report will therefore be confined chiefly to a statement of the principles that should govern the construction of such courses in individual schools.
At present the amount of time devoted to business English varies greatly. One extreme is represented by those schools in which the pupils in commercial curriculums receive exactly the same training in English as the other pupils. The principals and teachers in these schools say that “English is English” and that by teaching their boys and girls to read and write and speak they are preparing them for business life. On the other hand, very few high schools devote more than two years to business English, and but few of their syllabi show any profound influence of the vocational point of view. The general practice in schools that make this differentiation seems to be to give one or two years, usually toward the close of the highschool period, to commercial correspondence. Occasionally this appears as an elective in addition to the regular English courses.
This variation in the time allotted to business English arises from different conceptions of the purpose of such a course. Only two such conceptions seem to the commitee to be tenable; namely, (1) that this course is a part of the general preparation that all pupils should receive, and (2) that it should be a direct preparation for specific vocations. This report will adopt the second point of view and treat business English as part of the training for commercial occupations. Far from minimizing the importance of the other point of view, the committee approves the incorporation of business English in the work of other curriculums, but it thinks that the conduct of such instruction is satisfactorily covered by the principles enunciated in the reports of the other subcommittees.
The vocational phases of vocational curricula have two chief aims: (1) The direct preparation for specific vocational activities and (2) the development of general intelligence and adaptability to changing conditions in the business or industrial world. In choosing the content of instruction in composition and literature for business English classes these aims must be kept constantly in mind. The
fact that this course is to be a direct preparation for specific vocations should determine the degree of emphasis upon certain details, even upon certain forms; and the degree of adaptability necessary, because of ever-present rapid change in the commercial and industrial conditions of modern life, requires the avoidance of overspecialization and formalism.
A corollary of the vocational point of view is that a vocational curriculum should contain, among other things, work dealing directly with the future vocation, and other studies taught with constant reference to that vocation, from which they will derive their meaning and motive. For business English, then, even more than for the other English classes, choice and emphasis of subject matter must be fitted to the particular class. The teacher must keep in close touch with commercial life and with the present activities and future plans of the pupils. If it is possible to separate bookkeepers, salesmen, and stenographers, adjustment to actual needs may be made much closer than it could otherwise be.
Oral composition should have as large a share of the time here as in any English class. It is only the stenographer for whom business is chiefly a matter of writing, and the language sense that stenography requires may be very successfully cultivated through oral exercises. Oral composition may be made also to contribute very large to the development of personality, which is the chief key to larger success in both commerce and the professions. Even such elements of personality as the voice may be cultivated here with immense profit, both vocational and social.
Commercial subject matter for oral composition is plentiful. Sales talks, reports upon commercial activities, debates, free conversation upon business situations and ethics will be interesting to the pupils, and are certainly as good material for training in the efficient use of the mother tongue as can be found.
The chief objection urged against oral composition is that it is likely to degenerate into a “talkfest" in which principles are forgotten and the pupils gain nothing. Probably there is no subject so well fitted as business topics to compel attention to the principles of effective speech. Moreover, for many who take this course free conversation in an atmosphere that makes all eager to appear at their best, and therefore careful of their language, is highly profitable even when it is not accompanied by direct teaching.
Written composition.-In written composition the business letter will naturally receive much emphasis. Care should be taken not to emphasize form more than content. By refusing to consider any business letter that is incorrect in any detail of the accepted form the teacher will be free to devote his attention to the thought and its clear expression. Assignments should be of the nature of prob
Tems presenting the elements of actual business situations that boys and girls can understand and calling for the exercise of tact and judgment.
Commercial correspondence is one of the most important phases of instruction in composition, and yet it is one that most teachers of English dislike and in which frequently the poorest results are obtained. The great danger is the stereotyped formalism to which the customary emphasis of the types of letters is so likely to lead. Here, as elsewhere, to ask children to follow a ready-made rule or blindly to use a mature model is to court disaster. Let the problem be within the real comprehension of the pupils; let the solution be sought through common sense and the principles of composition worked out by the class, and there will be no complaints of ennui on account of the monotony of the work. The class may be divided into groups and actual correspondence set up, the writers 'really trying to get the readers to take definite action, just as they would in business. By means of carbons each may send out half a dozen letters. His rivals for business may do the same. Thus each member of the class will in his incoming mail have several appeals, from among which he must choose. Thus a genuine test of the selection of material, clearness, and force is furnished by the success of one plea where another failed. In such competition pupils will welcome all aids to expression.
Besides business letters, the written composition may include reports on commercial and industrial subjects, writing of advertisements with the emphasis on the English rather than on the display form, and composition of the newspaper or prospectus type. The essay, for which few have much use in later life, has little place in the commercial curriculum.
In the English classes for two-year vocational pupils, especially in those for stenographers, form must be emphasized and most of the time given to drill. But drill need not, must not, be a dull grind. Much that would be merely mechanical for pupils with other vocational aims may be tolerated here if handled with vigor and speed, yet the pupil's use of the form in accomplishing some end of his own choosing is the surest means of permanent acquisition. At all events, this emphasis upon form and drill must not be so mechanical as to permit slipshod thinking or inattentiveness. The business man prefers the stenographer who misses a word occasionally to the one who writes a meaningless sentence without question.
Undoubtedly grammar, spelling, and punctuation must receive a considerable amount of the attention of commercial pupils, but just what details of form should receive most emphasis can not be determined except by reference to the actual needs of persons engaged in the occupations for which the pupils are preparing. These needs
must be determined by scientific investigation. By means of a careful study of the language errors of the children of Kansas City, Prof. Charters has mapped out a course in grammar really adapted to the elementary schools. The same sort of thing needs to be done on the high-school level and in each community, for not all communities have the same needs. Mr. Ayres, in a study of 2,000 business and social letters, found that 720 words make up probably 90 per cent of the words used in ordinary correspondence. His list is most valuable as a core for an elementary-school spelling list, but it does not meet the needs of a commercial department, for the graduates, especially the stenographers, must be familiar with the spelling and use of 99 per cent of the words they will meet in their first year at work. Clearly further investigation is needed.
These investigations are made relatively easy by the fact that actual business letters ordinarily compose most of the dictation given stenographers, and the letters written in intraclass correspondence approximate those which pass through the mails. The material is at hand, there are many models to guide; why should not every school find out what its own needs really are?
Literature.—The views of teachers with regard to the place of literature in this course are widely divergent. In many schools, even high schools of commerce, the old college entrance requirements have absorbed the majority of the total time devoted to instruction in English. In others, the study of literature has been reduced to a matter of reading at home of sometimes as few as two or three books in a semester, with single periods for written reports. Again, the difficulty seems to be that we have not agreed upon the purpose of a vocational curriculum.
To prepare directly for vocational activities, pupils ought to have literature that is in the spirit of the present, that has a commercial tang, that treats of the problems and even of the activities and processes that they will meet after leaving school. Adaptability and general intelligence with regard to their vocations can be secured only by a habit of general reading upon special subjects, and this habit can probably be fixed best by the English department. This means a searching of current magazines, a turning over of the biographies of successful men, the reading of books upon salesmanship and kindred topics by the teacher of English in search of general reading for his pupils.
On the other hand, these pupils have the same need as those in other curriculums for standard literature. Literature, well chosen and sanely taught, may be of great assistance in building character and may provide a good antidote for the harmful pleasures that invite the weary workers in our cities.
Perhaps the best compromise between these just claims is to devote most of the class study of literature to the standard works, and to select the home-reading list largely from the vocational literature. This is not to neglect the difference between general and vocational curriculums, even in the class study of the standard literature. Literature is not really assimilated by a pupil until its message comes home to him, until it has been connected with his own life. Shakespeare may really gain most cultural value for boys and girls through their attempt to parallel his characters and situations in modern commercial life. Not only may Julius Cæsar throw light upon salesmanship, but salesmanship may illuminate Julius Cæsar.