The new year has prompted me to reevaluate my objectives for my children’s education. I want them to be thinking, productive people, certainly, but I also want them to discover the joy of learning, so that they may become life-long learners.
I just started reading Climbing Parnassus, by Tracy Lee Simmons. It is a “defense and vindication of the formative power of Greek and Latin.” The author makes the point that though these languages may be considered dead, they were never mortal. I’m starting to think so, too.
Education, that vague and official word for what goes on in our schools, has also been a trinket on the shelves of snake oil salesmen and a plaything for social planners in America for well over a century. They too have been driven by the spirit of ceaseless innovation, and we have paid a high price. The peddlers have shrouded the higher and subtler goals of learning which former generations accepted and promoted. These bringers of the New have traded in the ancient ideal of wisdom for a spurious “adjustment” of mind, settling for fitting us with the most menial of skills needful for the world of the interchangeable part. They have decided we are less, not more, than wiser people have hoped humanity might become. We are masses to be housed and fed, not minds and souls seeking something beyond ourselves. Ask anyone today, for instance, to identify the aims of a “liberal education” and expect a long pause. Everett Dean Martin – he who informed us of our predilection for “new gospels” – wrote a book in 1926 titled The Meaning of a Liberal Education, and in 1973 another scholar produced The Uses of a Liberal Education. We might detect in the latter title a falling away from an older ideal. Instead of seeking to discern what a liberal education can bring to us, we now ask what we can get out of it; there’s a difference…
The modern mind, schooled to be practical, stands ill prepared to wrestle with these questions because they are at bottom philosophical ones; our practicality has, ironically, rendered us incapable of answering them…
We have adopted the leveling assumptions we’ve inherited – whatever works for you – and fed off intellectual capital earned by others who, we presume, have already done the hard thinking for us. We pride ourselves on self-reliance while following uncritically the roadmaps of others. For an independently skeptical people, we ask few questions.
Wow. This guy is totally speaking my language. The content is what I’ve been harping about for so long – the main reason for reverting, yes, reverting, because not all innovation is “progress” and not all “progress” is advantageous, to the classical curriculum. The question of what the main goal of education is, and how our schools are (or are not) answering that question.
I bought yet another Latin book for my oldest to go through this year. We’ve done two others, and they were fine for a younger child, but as a linguist myself (I’m fluent in five) I demand a solid study book for my 11-year-old now. This one looks serious enough. I’ll keep you all posted on his progress.
But there is one more thing I’d like with a reluctant Latin teacher: Latin is not nearly so hard as English! It is very disciplined. It has been described as training in precise and logical thought. Most of all, it is fun. Latin is a great puzzle, with rules to apply and riddles to solve. It’s a game. And because there is really no correct way to pronounce it, it has not that particular ability to embarrass the speaker into silence.
I just took a three day practicum for a new classical program near me. An hour each day was devoted to Latin study. In those three hours, I became fully convinced of how enjoyable learning Latin could be. The challenge it poses is not tedious but exciting. Discovery is exhilarating. Learning about one of the main roots of our own language adds tremendous depth to understanding, to expression, and comprehension also of our culture, the roots of which can also be found in this language. Nothing worth doing was ever easy – but a worthwhile endeavor pays enormous dividends in the end.
And I think I want a little piece of the immortal for my kids, and myself, too.