Friday, November 25, 2005

The essentials of preparation

From Escape From Skepticism
about high school level education (emphasis mine)

"Such a liberal education must of course presuppose some kind of good general schooling; and here, I would want to lay emphasis upon two things.

"In the first place, the student who embarks upon a liberal education at the college level should already possess a certain ability to think and a good command of his own language. This might seem a very obvious and unexacting requirement. But certain supposely "progressive" tendencies in present-day education -- on both sides of the Atlantic -- have made it an embarrassingly high requirement in fact: the skeptical philosophies already mentioned, together with a feeling that the pursuit of excellence is elitist and undemocratic and that the schoolchild must be allowed to "do his own thing", have created a situation in which many a highschool graduate has an extremely poor vocabulary and hardly any ability to use his mind and his language accurately. For most practical purposes, he comes close to being inarticulate and illiterate...."

"I suggest two remedies at the highschool level, ancient and rather unfashionable but well-tried and effective. As a first training in the accurate use of the mind, I recommend Euclidean geometry to begin with, and the rudiments of formal logic to follow. And while a good command of language can be acquired by much talking and listening, by much reading and writing, it is helped along wonderfully by the intensive study of Latin. There is no better way of causing a schoolboy to attend to the exact meaning of a word or a sentence: there is no better education in the difference between saying what you mean and uttering vague sounds which more or less suggest the sort of thing you have in mind. The study of any foreign or ancient language will have this effect in some measure....but the study of Latin will introduce him to a greater literature, of closer relevance to his inheritance as a Western man and a Christian, and as a mind-sharpener, it is without rival.

"Let the student approach his lbieral education at college, therefore, with at least an initial facility in the use of language and thought. The college will develop this: it should not need to start at the beginning.

But there is a second preliminary requirement, one which needs rather careful statement...(while the education should tend towards certainty, it should also tend away from the temptation to pride and arrogance)... It will not offer knowledge as any kind of swaggering proprietorship over reality: its essentially religious character means that it will encourage the student to look upon the Creator and His works in a habitual spirit of awe and reverence and humility and to act with a corresponding gentleness and restraint.

If this is to happen in fact, the student's prior formation will need to be of the heart, not only of the soul and the intellect: he must be habitually open to large and generous responses of the emotions and the imagination. He is to inherit the freedom of the mind, and he must prepare himself by deserving this, by discarding that servile mentality .... This is the school's task, the home's as well: and it is to be mostly achieved by those cultural interestst and activities to which as one time the name of "Poetry" was given, though in a much wider sense than that word bears today.

As a literary man, I would lay much emphasis here upon poetry in the modern and narrower sense; but I would want it to be assimilated and enjoyed and absorbed into the mind, rather than being laid out on the dissecting-table. Let it be chanted appreciatively in chorus, memorable prose as well: let it sink into the mind. It is better to know twenty good poems by heart than merely to have read two hundred; it is better to sing, or to play some instrument even badly, than to listen to the radio. Let there be much solitary reading: let the easy tears of adolescence be shed freely over all the heroic myths and legens and tragedies in the world. And let there be some formation in courtesy -- chiefly that formation which comes from lviing among courteous people, but also the kind that comes from instruction in good handwriting or formal dancing, in all the arts and rituals of civilized living.

Such things naturally do not add up to the full content of a high school education: they are offered as a rough indication of the respects in which too many young people, although technically qualified for a liberal arts colllege, are impperfectly prepared for the freedom which it should give them. It is a great thing to apprehend the truth. But before that, one needs to be the kind of person to whom the truth can safely be entrusted. The liberated slave who retain an essential servility of the mind is going to dishonour the name of freedom."

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