Span of timethe Decline of Education
My father never went to college. He attended high school in a
southern Missouri town of 3000+, then attended a private 2-year academy roughly analogous
to junior college today, except that it was very smallhad to be; a day school, and
Missouri had no paved roads.
The Happy Days
Here are some of the subjects he studied in
back-country 19th century schools: Latin, Greek, physics (natural philosophy), French,
geometry, algebra, 1st year calculus, bookkeeping, American history, World history,
Twenty-eight years later I attended a much larger city high
school. I took Latin and French but Greek was not offered; I took physics and
chemistry but geology was not offered. I took geometry and algebra but calculus was
not offered. I took American history and ancient history but no comprehensive
history course was offered. Anyone wishing comprehensive history could take (each a
one-year 5-hrs/wk course) ancient history, medieval history, modern European history, and
American historyand note that the available courses ignored all of Asia, all of
South America, all of Africa except ancient Egypt, and touched Canada and Mexico solely
with respect to our wars with each.
I've had to repair what I missed with a combination of travel and
private study ... and must admit that I did not tackle Chinese history in depth until this
year. My training in history was so spotty that it was not until I went to the Naval
Academy and saw captured battle flags that I learned that we fought Korea some eighty
years earlier than the mess we are still trying to clean up.
From my father's textbook I know that the world history course he
studied was not detailed (how could it be?) but at least it treated the world as round; it
did not ignore three fourths of our planet.
Now, let me report what I've seen, heard, looked up, clipped out of
newspapers and elsewhere, and read in books such as WHY JOHNNY CAN'T READ, BLACK-BOARD
Colorado Springs, our home until 1965, in 1960 offered first-year
Latin-but that was all. Caesar, Cicero, VirgilWho dat?
Latin is not taught in the high schools of Santa Cruz County.
From oral reports and clippings I note that it is not taught in most high schools across
"Why this emphasis on Latin? It's a dead
language!" Brother, as with jazz, in the words of a great artist, "If you
have to ask, you ain't never goin' to find out." A person who knows only his
own language does not even know his own language; epistemology necessitates knowing more
than one. human language. Besides that sharp edge, Latin is a giant help in all the
sciencesand so is Greek, so I studied it on my own.
A friend of mine, now a dean in a state university, was a tenured
professor of historybut got rifted when history was eliminated from the required
subjects for a bachelor's degree. His courses (American history) are still offered
but the one or two who sign up, he tutors; the overhead of a classroom cannot be
A recent Wall Street Joumal story described the bloodthirsty job
hunting that goes on at the annual meeting of the Modern Languages Association; modern
languageseven Englishare being deemphasized right across the country; there
are more professors in MLA than there are jobs.
I mentioned elsewhere the straight-A student on a scholarship who did
not know the relations between weeks, months, and years. This is not uncommon; high
school and college students in this country usually can't do simple arithmetic without
using a pocket calculator. (I mean with pencil on paper; to ask one to do mental
arithmetic causes jaws to dropsay 17 x 34, done mentally. How? Answer:
Chuck away the 34 but remember it. (10 + 7)2 is 289, obviously.
Double it: 2(300 - 11), or 578.
But my father would have given the answer at once, as his country
grammar school a century ago required perfect memorizing of multiplication tables through
20 x 20 = 400 ... so his ciphering the above would have been merely the doubling of a
number already known (289)or 578. He might have done it again by another route
to check it: (68 + 510)but his hesitation would not have been noticeable.