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It’s a kind of crazy day, the longest one I have in the week, so these are just some notes on the comments.

1) It’s my fault that I wasn’t explicit about this, because I haven’t talked about it earlier, that I know, but–the “fuller and more nobly human life” is NOT a life spent in study and scholarship.

I think the ancients and many of the cultures since were wrong–I think that not only can the mechanic and the farmer and the merchant live that fuller and nobler life, but that they’ll have an easier time doing it than any scholar would.

That life is not a matter of learning philosophy and history, but of practicing virtue.

And yes, I know that’s a can of worms, but I will get to it in a day or two.

2) I don’t understand why I have to care about HOW CHILDREN LEARN if I’m NOT TALKING ABOUT CHILDREN.

Virtually everything I say here about education has to do with college students, not fourth graders.  Surely, at twenty, we should all be past that “if it’s not relevant to my life, I don’t care!” bit. 

Beyond that, I worry about high school–but there, again, we’re NOT TALKING ABOUT CHILDREN.  

At sixteen years old, most people have the right to marry, and at eighteen–when lots of them are still in high school–they have the right to vote. 

About the lower grades I have only this to say:  the material used in whatever teaching method is decided on should provide knowledge of things like American history and classic children’s stories so that the references are available so that later, when the come up elsewhere, they won’t be totally unfamiliar.

That said, as far as I know, the tests for NCLB do not include American history or government, basic geography or any of the other things we usually considered part of K-8 education in the old days.

And I agree that Charlou’s model of teaching sounds awful, but I wasn’t talking about teaching methods.  And the “it’s not relevant to their lives” thing leaves me cold.

My model of education for the lower grades would be this:  decide what you want students to learn.  Teach it to them in whatever way seems best to teacher.  BUT–if they don’t learn it, they fail, and if they fail there are consequences, including staying back, not being allowed into college, not being employable. 

That is, I think, the best that can be done.  I don’t expect that they’ll all learn it.  So what?

3)  On AB’s post–a couple of things.

First, I expect that the humanites AS HE’S BEEN TAUGHT THEM have been a waste of time.  But we talk about that a lot here. 

The issue, however, is not the humanities as they are now taught, but the humanities as they are PROPERLY taught, which is something else altogether.

4) On the rich and smart thing–the phrase is “if you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich?” 

And my late husband’s very working class family (shop foremen and union workers every one of them until my husband made the break for Syracuse) definitely think there is a connection between being “smart” and being rich.

What they DON’T think is that “smart” is the same thing as what their schools said it was.

What they do think is that what schools call “smart” is really irrelevant and stupid, and nothing to do with REAL intelligence at all,  which is proved not by being good at school but by being able to function well in the world. 

5) That whole post is a testament to what I’ve been saying all along–that the liberal arts (which means not just history and philosophy and literature, but chemistry and physics and mathematics) is no longer being taught AT ALL.

Nobody knows what they are, or what they mean, or why they need to be seen as a whole. 

And being half-taught and taught piecemeal, they are indeed a waste of time.

But the real liberal arts are the one necessary thing.

And I’ll get to all of that–and the practice of virtue–at a later date.

Written by janeh

September 15th, 2011 at 9:57 am

Posted in Uncategorized

5 Responses to 'Interim'

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  1. michaelwfisher@cox.net

    15 Sep 11 at 10:45 am

  2. Excuse me.

    When you say that students should have learned this that or the other thing before they got to the community college where you are teaching, then you are talking about grade school and high school education.

    When you and others have been talking about achievement tests, then you have been talking about grade school and high school achievement tests, unless what you are talking about are SATs, GREs, MCATs and the like, and the comments people have been posting with their praise or condemnation of achievement tests certainly didn’t sound to me like they were talking about SATs and the like.

    I could go back and pull quotes from the postings for the last three months to prove that “we” (including you) have been talking a huge amount about grade schools and high schools and how they educate (or don’t educate) our children.

    Now you answer my posting by saying, Oh, I have just been talking about college students.

    I say that is cheating.

    I expected far better from you, especially after your diatribes about how other people have used unfair methods of debating on other chat rooms you have been involved in.

    If “we” were only talking about college students, then you should have said wait a minute, we’re not going there, the first time someone brought up pre-college education. But you didn’t. You argued your point of view right along with everyone else — your point of view being that your students should have learned x-y-z before they got to your class, so the grade schools and high schools are failing.

    You say “We’re not talking about children,” but if you read the comments other people have been posting, there sure are a lot of them where they are talking about children, and it’s not just my comments. So is that the royal “we” or what?

    Let’s have a little intellectual honesty here. You can’t say that we are not talking about pre-college schools here if you at the same time bash pre-college schools for not giving your students the background you think they should have. Because then that’s all it is — bashing. It is bashing because you bring up the subject, then say that you aren’t going to discuss WHY your students come to you culturally illiterate, you just want to complain that schools are failing because students come to you culturally illiterate. Do you see the problem here?

    “The issue, however, is not the humanities as they are now taught, but the humanities as they are PROPERLY taught, which is something else altogether.”

    From your sentence above it appears that you want us to discuss a world that does not exist and that never has existed. You want to discuss the humanities as they are properly taught, but you don’t want to discuss teaching methods. You don’t want to discuss the humanities as they are now taught, but you want to complain that they haven’t been taught well enough in the schools (which schools are those, since we are not allowed to discuss grade schools and high schools on this blog?).

    You talk about how liberal arts need to be seen as a whole, and yet you don’t want to discuss education as a whole, you just want to discuss your little part of it. I cry FOUL!

    “…humanities as they are now taught.” Let’s look at humanities as they used to be taught. What would it have been back in the good old days when they were properly taught? Maybe the top 1% of students learned the humanities? Up as late as 1900 about 70% of Americans lived and worked on farms, and if they were lucky, they got to spend enough time in the classrooms to learn to read and do simple arithmetic. If they learned anything about the humanities after that — and a lot of them did — they learned because they were self-taught. Of the 30% not living on farms, many of them were unskilled laborers, and many of them were completely illiterate. So they obviously didn’t study the humanities.

    I think you are comparing humanities as they were properly taught to the privileged few with humanities as they are now taught to a much broader base, and then you are saying that “we” aren’t doing as good a job now.

    I say that 100 years ago the students you have in class now would never have made it beyond sixth grade or maybe eighth grade (if they were lucky) because the schooling would simply not have been available to them.

    And yes, I have done enough research in pre-1930 records (censuses, county histories, and the like) to back up what I say. One of the Florida state censuses in the 1900s (think it was the 1931 or the 1941, but not sure which), for example, has a blank for “years of education,” and it is astounding for those of us used to universal education to see how many people (men in particular) had only 4 or 5 years of education, and how very, very few of them had completed high school.

    I have also worked with Canadian census records, and it is a similar story. Even into the 20th century, there were few high school graduates.

    So the humanities aren’t being “properly” taught as you apparently think they used to be taught? Well, duh!

    Did you know that John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church (even though he remained Church of England all his life) was also the founder of Sunday schools? They were not the wishy-washy feel-good Sunday schools we have today, but real schools that were held on Sundays because that was the only day the children (from age 4 on up) and adults didn’t have to work 12 to 14 hours per day. They were taught reading, writing, and arithmetic. We are not talking about a few here, we are talking about more than 50% of the population.

    Clean up your act, Jane. You are breaking too many rules of debate here and using unfair tactics. And your logic is really weak and flopping all over the place.


    15 Sep 11 at 1:41 pm

  3. I think this is the stage at which, in discussing how the humanities are “properly” taught, examples would be helpful: These schools between these dates taught humanities properly and this is what they taught, and (more usefully) these named individuals were properly educated in the humanities, and this is what they can be shown to have known and to have done.

    Otherwise, we’re comparing real systems to ideal ones. The ideal is invariably a vast improvement over the real, but it often fails to convince–perhaps especially those of us who read enough history to have heard a few verses of that particular song.

    But in response to various comments, I don’t think you can argue that someone is old enough to marry and raise children, vote or enlist in the Army, and is at the same time someone who can be compelled to follow this or that course of study because we older wiser people know better what’s in his interests. “You’ll thank me later” might work for high school. For college you should have to use the lost arts of rational argument and persuasion.


    15 Sep 11 at 4:29 pm

  4. I sometimes post in a very different group. In reply to one post, I received an email from someone who claimed to be a student at a university in Los Angeles. Her letter was dreadful, poor spelling, poor punctuation, no paragraphing and she couldn’t write a simple, declarative sentence with a subject, verb and object. I don’t know how she was taught or what tests she took but she didn’t show the basics of literacy.


    15 Sep 11 at 7:40 pm

  5. Lack of perceived relevance is probably the biggest problem in modern education. And it isn’t just in college; contrarily, the lower the grade level, the less the student is equipped to find any relevance in any academic subject whatever. Most (not all) college students appreciate that at least some of their classes are meaningful and that they do need the credentials. A second grader can imagine no practical use whatever for arithmetic or reading. Students performed better in the past, and some immigrant groups perform better today, because they represent a small subset of their culture, which places a high value on education. Mainstream American culture has never valued education (or anything else) except as a way to make money.

    Trying to force someone to learn something they don’t value and aren’t interested in is like passing a kidney stone. It’s miserable at best, progress is painful and slow, and the results go down the drain as soon as you are done.

    To my mind, “proper” teaching – especially, but by no means exclusively, in the lower grades – consists mainly of entertainment. Any buffoon can read from the textbook or grade homework. Most students are perfectly capable of learning without any assistance, *IF* they want to. The teacher can either make history seem like a fascinating world to explore, or a tiresome chore. Most teachers are of the latter quality, perhaps because they find teaching a tiresome chore, which is perhaps because parents think that teachers are responsible for learning.

    There isn’t much that teachers can do to make apathetic students learn. Answers to questions, and clear explanations, are useful, but these could come just as easily from texts (if most texts weren’t deliberately written to flatter the ego of the author by making the subject as opaque as possible, a practice also followed by some teachers). What a teacher mostly provides, if anything, is inspiration. Not an easy thing, I suppose, when battling cultural values and peer pressure.

    As to how I might have been taught the humanities, that isn’t really relevant; I’m speaking from observation more than personal experience. I’m almost entirely self taught, and that applies nearly as much to my career as to the humanities. I enjoyed most humanities type courses, but I could have learned the same things by reading, and saved myself the price of a new car. College is (I think it has been said here before) a credentialing service; if a history degree were a source of employment, I would have gladly pursued that. History is even more fun than engineering, and much easier. Like everyone else, I went to college for the degree, not the education.

    Even when deluded into thinking they were learning something useful in school, most of my fellow students regarded the humanities as either a painful burden or an opportunity to bring up their GPA. For me, I was just paying money to have things graded that I might otherwise have written for fun. Unlike some of them, I understood that learning does not begin until after school, and so I was not shocked when I had to do an actual job.

    I don’t think I ever heard anyone classify math and hard sciences among the liberal arts before. I kind of thought they were the opposite: liberal arts majors whine about having to take Algebra Lite or “Chemistry for Lazy Eight-Year-Olds”, and math/science/engineering majors whine about having to write a 1,000 word “essay”. Business majors, of course, whine about both.


    15 Sep 11 at 7:49 pm

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