kitchen table math, the sequel: Cultural amnesia & the road to educational destruction

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Cultural amnesia & the road to educational destruction

It may have been here at KTM that I first learned of the professor of Greek who lost part of his memory in an auto accident. One of the things that this professor could no longer remember, by an ironic twist of fate, was Greek. He ended up having to relearn the Greek language and used the textbook he himself had written to do so. The Editor of The Classical Teacher, Martin Cothran, draws upon the story of the Greek professor as a metaphor for our society’s own cultural amnesia.

What a fitting metaphor, I thought, for the plight we face in education today. As a civilization, we are the authors of a great and glorious educational tradition, one which took centuries, even millennia, to achieve. Yet here we sit, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, having forgotten what we knew, and having to relearn it from our own books. We have created a famine, to quote the Bard, “where abundance lies.”

Unlike the Greek professor who forgot Greek, however, our memory loss is self-inflicted. Our education establishment here in the United States spent the better part of the twentieth century throwing its heritage overboard in a mad rush to load up on the latest educational fads and gimmicks. And most of these innovations have themselves been discarded in their turn, only to give way to new ones equally transient.

No wonder the education reform ship never seems to get underway.

We can now look back on a long chronicle of failed attempts at "school reform," very few of which have even attempted to take a prudent look at our cultural heritage for instruction and insight. We have attempted instead to "build bridges" to future centuries, only to find out, once there, that we had been going down the wrong road in the first place.

Wide is the gate and broad is the way that lead to educational destruction, and there are many who go in by it. But we don’t need to be looking for a bridge to a future century; in fact, we might learn more by taking a look back at past centuries to see what our educational institutions were doing right.

Progress,” said C.S. Lewis, “means getting nearer to the place where you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.”

The civilization that had to teach itself with its own books, Martin Cothran, The Classical Teacher, summer 2008.
I also recommend many of the articles that are posted over at such as Joe Knows Latin by Joe Paterno and Why Read Homer's Iliad? by Cheryl Lowe.

You can request your own free copy of The Classical Teacher, which is actually a catalog of Memoria Press material, by subscribing here.


Catherine Johnson said...

oh my gosh -- synchronicity!

Ed and I were talking at lunch about "lost knowledge" (and about whether knowledge was actually lost during the Medieval period).

Then tonight I spent an hour excerpting the Hirsch article on Romantics versus classicists!

Can't wait to look at that site!

Catherine Johnson said...

This reminds me -- I have to get the story Ed's Dutch friend told us posted. (Had to do with parents choosing between contemporary education & classical.)

ElizabethB said...

That's my favorite homeschool magazine, I loved the Joe Knows Latin article!

I've already convinced my husband that the kids need to learn Latin, but I saved that article for him in case he ever has doubts. (If I give it to him too soon, I might have to try teaching them Latin before they're quite old enough, we'll start Latin in a few more years. I already bought a bunch of Latin books, although. I couldn't help myself, and it's not like they're going to get out of date. I have one from the 1800's that I plan on using as well as some current ones.)

Catherine Johnson said...

having forgotten what we knew, and having to relearn it from our own books


I think Jane Jacobs writes about this ---

I love that site!

I'm going to subscribe to the magazine.