And some things, which should not have been forgotten, were lost.

Different people have different styles of blogging. Some people like to link to news items. Some people like to lilnk to something and then comment on it directly. And some self-indulgent narcissists like to link to something, talk about it briefly, and then muse on a tangentially related point. Since I am of the latter sort, I should link to something.

How about this wonderful article about teachers who are attempting to teach grammar?

I can attest to the sad state of grammar easily enough: my students are at UCLA, one of the flagship universities of the UC system. The number of them who simply do not understand how a sentence works is alarming. These are not dim people… They are quite sharp, and I consider it a privilege to work with them. But a nontrivial number of them are deeply ignorant about how their own language actually works. (I am not talking about ESL/ELL students, by the way.)

Anyway, it pleases me to see, through this article, at least some anecdotal evidence that grammar might be making a comeback — even if the problems with the letter the students are criticizing at the beginning are actually more stylistic than grammatical. But what I wanted to focus on more specifically was these two paragraphs from the article (which in any sane world would be a single paragraph, but journalists seem to think that the best paragraph is a sentence).

After the sixties, grade-school students, by and large, didn’t learn grammar the way their parents had, and now, decades later, they don’t reinforce the rules very well with their own children. Without this reinforcement at home, much of the burden to teach students correct English lies with teachers.

The problem with that idea, of course, is that many teachers today didn’t learn much grammar when they were in school, either. “It’s now been gone for a generation,” Concilio says. “A lot of people, I think, really don’t understand the value of it.”

Things get lost. Sometimes they get lost and come back,and sometimes they are lost forever. It took a thousand years to “fix” Latin, if you want to call it fixing. Renaissance humanists were right: the Latin of Cicero and Priscian was cleaner, more elegant. It was better than Medieval Latin, even of the academic sort.

Recently, commenters on this site were talking about proofs in Geometry. I see a connection here. First, the curriculum lost logic (dialectic). That happened a long time ago. Then we lost grammar. Then we started to lose geometry.

What is happening here — and I don’t want to be alarmist by any means, because a trend can happen without being either universal or unopposed — is e undermining (or perhaps abandonment might be a better term) of the model of a trained mind that was formerly the productof the seven liberal arts. Those arts — both the Trivium and the Quadrivium, but especially the former — were as much about methodology of thought as they were about content.

Everyone goes nuts, holding professional development days and sinking money into seminars, technology, and new curricula, in a rather silly quest to teach “critical thinking”. What you see in the quest for critical thinking is a recognition that something has been lost.

It has been lost. To a great degree. It used to be formalized and structured… And now we cast about for it haphazardly. I am not saying that we should use ancient texts and teach with handwritten codexes. The method can be modernized, and taught using modern technique. But it must be taught or it… won’t be. (There’s some logic for you.)

Thanks to people like the teachers in the linked article, we’re hanging on to it. But things can be lost. And if we are not careful, they will be.

Comments

  1. Everhopeful says:

    Great post–Amen!

  2. lightly seasoned says:

    I’m not sure how you reconcile the idea of the liberal trained mind with the emphasis on a business model for education. I mean, Latin declensions and syllogisms aren’t STEM skills. Don’t get me wrong: I’m a great fan of a classical education and managed to cobble one together for myself, but I don’t see it making the list of most lucrative majors.

    Grammar is a problem. I mentor new staff specifically in that area. I’ve interviewed prospective English teachers, some with many years of experience, who were quite unapologetic about their dislike of grammar instruction. I think they expected sympathy or something (I’m not “old school” age) — I knocked them out of the running immediately.

    • I’m not sure how you reconcile the idea of the liberal trained mind with the emphasis on a business model for education. I mean, Latin declensions and syllogisms aren’t STEM skills.

      Being able to read for comprehension and write clearly is essential to the top STEM jobs, and it’s amazing how many people cannot do it.  To the extent that Americans still do STEM jobs in America instead of being pushed out by H1B’s, proficiency in English is a large factor in their continued employability.

    • Foobarista says:

      Strictly speaking, 1/3 of the Trivium (logic) and half of the Quadrivium (astronomy, geometry) would be considered closer to STEM than what today is thought of as “humanities”. The point is to be fully well-rounded in the arts of rigorous scientific and mathematical analysis as well as being able to construct and recognize a logical (and illogical) argument. We do reasonably at the former in many STEM disciplines, but the latter is lacking in modern education.

    • Foobarista says:

      Strictly speaking, 1/3 of the Trivium (logic) and half of the Quadrivium (astronomy, geometry) would be considered closer to STEM than what today is thought of as “humanities”. The point is to be fully well-rounded in the arts of rigorous scientific and mathematical analysis as well as being able to construct and recognize a logical (and illogical) argument. We do reasonably at the former in many STEM disciplines, but the latter is lacking in modern education.

  3. I have this problem myself–I’m an enthusiastic classical homeschooler, but I’ve had to teach myself what to do. After years of putting my kids through rigorous grammar books, I have a pretty good grasp of that. We’re working on logic but I have a really hard time with it. We’re doing algebra now but I’m planning on strong geometry–it was my favorite kind of math when I was in school.

    Lightly seasoned, it’s true that a classical training is not the same as a business training. Partly for that reason I tend to believe that classical ed should happen before college. By the time a student gets to college or vocational training, it’s too late to do most of it and time to train for a career—but the classical training should act as a solid foundation for learning anything well. Math is a major component of classical education, and IMO science is as well. We do a lot of science, and Aristotle would have too. 🙂

    • lightly seasoned says:

      I don’t mean business training; I’m talking about the business model that requires x results for y investment. Classical education doesn’t show a lot of concrete results in the short term. Just because I can tell you the previous sentence is a simple sentence with a direct object and two prepositional phrases doesn’t mean I’m a better writer. At first. But that sort of structural knowledge is the foundation for good, well organized writing later on. The results, good writing, won’t show up on those tests in elementary school because those basics won’t make a whole lot of sense to the student until later on.

      I’d be hard pressed to do much more than find the area of a square or triangle these days, but I do think my training in geometry was important in training my mind. Just because I’d probably do a dismal job on any graduation exam that had geometry or quadratic equations on it doesn’t mean that knowledge has been “useless” to me.

  4. Stacy in NJ says:

    One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
    One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
    In the Land of Mordor where the Shadow lies.

    I’m not sure about the utility of classical education or if its scalable, but I did enjoy the LotR reference. 🙂

    • Once is okay, but don’t make it a Hobbit.

    • North of 49th says:

      So did I.It grabbed me immediately:-) The quote comes from Galadriel in the film(Fellowship of the Ring), but IIRC it’s said by Treebeard in the book.

      • Mark Roulo says:

        Gandalf first speaks these two lines from the poem, both in the book and in the movie (both at the council in Rivendell).

        • Stacy in Nj says:

          What a bunch of nerds.

          • Flattery will get you nowhere.

          • Stacy in NJ says:

            Ahhh, how about if I sing Soft Kitty?

          • If you can sing Lou Berryman’s part of “Why am I painting the living room?”, “Alice Hotel” or “Crab Canape”, I’ll be impressed.

            I’ll also join in.

          • Stacy in NJ says:

            First, I’ll need to learn to play the accordion.

          • If you can’t have fun a capella, you’re just not into it.

            Today was awful cold to say the least
            And then the sun slipped out of sight
            It ain’t a fit night out for man or beast
            We’re gonna make our move tonight
            We’ll pick the mothballs off the uniform
            We’ll get the white shirt stiff with starch
            We’ll get the polish for the flugelhorn
            And do the February March