The K-12 public education system is essentially wrecked. No longer can any professor expect an incoming college freshman to know what Okinawa, John Quincy Adams, Shiloh, the Parthenon, the Reformation, John Locke, the Second Amendment, or the Pythagorean Theorem is. An entire American culture, the West itself, its ideas and experiences, have simply vanished on the altar of therapy. This upcoming generation knows instead not to judge anyone by absolute standards (but not why so); to remember to say that its own Western culture is no different from, or indeed far worse than, the alternatives; that race, class, and gender are, well, important in some vague sense; that global warming is manmade and very soon will kill us all; that we must have hope and change of some undefined sort; that AIDs is no more a homosexual- than a heterosexual-prone disease; and that the following things and people for some reason must be bad, or at least must in public company be said to be bad (in no particular order): Wal-Mart, cowboys, the Vietnam War, oil companies, coal plants, nuclear power, George Bush, chemicals, leather, guns, states like Utah and Kansas, Sarah Palin, vans and SUVs.
Read the other nine.
#1 on the list bothers me the most.
VDH has succumbed to Make My Subject Mandatory syndrome.
I don't go around telling people to be like me. Tangutology is never going to catch on, unless I make that movie I mentioned to you on Sunday. And even then, it's not for everyone.
I do admit I think a mandatory semester-long survey of human language is a good idea. Most people know more about the stars and planets than about human language down here on Earth. But four years of linguistics? No.
Let's suppose VDH's four-year classical language program materializes. What would really happen? The medium would get in the way of the message. I speak from experience. I've studied 17 languages - both classical and modern - in classrooms and worked on others on my own. I've seen my classmates at Berkeley struggle with untranslated classical literature. I seriously doubt the average American kid could do any better. When one is done deciphering a page, one may not even remember what it's about. I don't think I lost out on much when I read Sophocles (excuse me, Σοφοκλῆς
in translation. Would military officers be better trained if they read Sun Tzu in Classical Chinese? Even the Tangut read Sun Tzu in translation.
Of course, there are schools that still teach classical languages. But are European gymnasia
really churning out young VDHs?
Posted by: Amritas at November 24, 2008 11:12 PM (a1nQd)
I think VDH and Whittle should run for president. The only problem is chosing who would top the tickt!
Posted by: MargeinMI at November 25, 2008 02:26 AM (rhOmf)
What I took away from that was that young Americans don't know the basis of our society any longer. I agree with that.
Because they do not have the historical basis of their country and their world, they will believe anything they are told. They do not know Margaret Sanger was a racist, or that Planned Parenthood was started as a part of the Eugenics movement.
That moment when the PP Clinic agreed to take donations earmarked for a minority abortion was lost on them because they did not know WHY it was so shocking in context.
They fall for the "America is most evil and racist" canard because they do not know that slavery existed (and continues to exist) in other non-white cultures since, well, forever.
They do not know that Martin Luther King, Jr. was a Republican or that the Democrats were the ones pushing against the Civil Rights movement.
During the most recent Lebanon/Israel war someone my age actually had no idea that the conflict between those two nations stretched to a time before the kidnappings of the IDF soldiers. No idea! And this was someone with a Masters degree!
I truly believe that those who do not know the past are condemned to repeat it, and I begin to see that all around us. I don't think we should wallow in our history like some nations do, to the exclusion of our future. But, I think we've forgotten who we are, and we can't be a successful nation unless we know.
Posted by: airforcewife at November 25, 2008 04:23 AM (Fb2PC)
Amritas; I would amend his #1 to have students make it through basic Latin, like the semester's worth that I took in college. That much would help immensely for kids to understand the English language, as well as any others they cared to learn. I have found that teachers rarely teach grammar anymore; I learned nouns and verbs, but I even got through 2 years of French without really understanding conjugations. Latin helped me a TON.
And I agree with AFW in that learning the history and literature, etc., from which our culture developed is even more important. I studied history in college, but you'd be surprised how many teens and college students these days have never read Homer, even in translation, and think that "Beowulf" is a movie that came out last year, without connecting the name to one of the oldest texts in the English Language (Anglo-Saxon). A solid basis in classical history and literature, as well as early American history and literature, would probably do a lot of kids a LOT of good.
Posted by: Leofwende at November 25, 2008 08:27 AM (jAos7)
Nice addendum to VDH. I have no objections to what you're saying, or to most of VDH's list.
My specific objection is to the notion that classical languages are part of the solution. European elites graduate from gymnasia with the kind of Greek and Latin training that VDH values. They understand the roots of the West more than most monolingual Americans. Yet they are the architects of Eurabia!
Knowledge is only a part of the problem. The whole mindset of the West has to be changed. That will be much harder than the already difficult challenge of improving educational standards. Schools can force kids to memorize enough Greek and Latin to pass an exam, but they can't make kids think, or feel an appreciation of freedom.
I agree with your amendment.
high school textbook I ever used after I graduated was my Greek and Latin roots book. It was required for my 10th grade English course.
I never said we should toss out classical literature. But is it really so important for every single high school student to decipher them in the original? Frankly, VDH sounds like a snob.
Posted by: Amritas at November 25, 2008 08:38 AM (+nV09)
Amritas...Michael Hammer, the noted management consultant, has interesting thoughts
on the role that subjects like Latin could play in the education of the aspiring executive. He quotes a senior exec at a pharmaceutical company:
"All one need learn is Latin and computer programming--Latin for communication and programming for thinking."
Dr Hammer is not suggesting that Latin per se should be mandatory, but rather than students should be exposed to *both* a difficult humanities program *and* a difficult hard-sciences-type program.
Posted by: david foster at November 25, 2008 10:52 AM (ke+yX)
I like Leofwende's idea - I know that my 8th grade English teacher drilled us on Greek and Latin prefixes, suffixes, in-fixes, all... along with the relics of sentence diagramming. I loved it because it's helped me recognize and understand a LOT more, and not just linguistically...
And I'm there with you on the persistence of the language, Amritas - reading the classics (and I'll spare everyone my rant on making hormonally-ridden teens read depressing modern "classic" lit...) broadens not just your direct knowledge, but the way your mind *can* work. Although there's definitely something magical about listening to the Canterbury Tales read aloud in the Old English... *happy sigh*
Posted by: kannie at November 25, 2008 10:56 AM (iT8dn)
My 10th grade Lit teacher gave extra credit to anyone who could memorize the first 10 or so lines of the CT's Prologue in Middle English. That's probably one of the several events that led to me studying Medieval History and Literature in college. I did my senior Lit thesis on the Knight's Tale. Love it. Love Beowulf more, since it's older (especially adore my facing-page translation), but still love it.
Studying the history and the literature is good, as long as the teachers and professors can leave their personal agendas out of it. During college I was regularly frustrated out of my mind by Lit professors and Lit research articles (far more in my Lit than my History major, which at least attempted to be objective) who insisted that this or that author was gay or who insisted that this author's "blackness" and that author's "femaleness" was the main theme in everything they ever wrote. Ugh.
Posted by: Leofwende at November 25, 2008 12:20 PM (jAos7)
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