Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Some Books and Some Thoughts on Education

That our Pope Benedict XVI speaks numerous languages seems to our modern ears a surprising and uncommon skill. Contemporary American education is remarkably deficient in teaching language -- including English.

As I was cleaning up my living room, I came across a book, "THE MUMMY, A Handbook of Egyptian Funerary Archaeology", by E.A. Wallis Budge, written in 1925. In that text, I noticed that numerous references, written in French, Latin, German, Greek, Coptic, Hebrew, Arabic, and Persian are given untranslated, the author no doubt assuming knowledge of the modern and Classical languages and at least the ability to sound out the other ones phonetically, since their distinctive scripts are typeset beautifully. He consistently does translate hieroglyphics, being a recently translated language.

And this was written long before the age of 'multiculturalism', which actually teaches nothing about other cultures, but instead the proper feeling towards those of other cultures. Multiculturalism doesn't teach you how to actually talk to someone of another culture, or even read their literature, like the old Classical Education did.

Intrigued by this, I went upstairs and found my old volume of "The Encyclopedia of Architecture" by Joseph Gwilt, a reprint of the 1867 edition. Latin, Greek, Hebrew, French, and Italian text are left untranslated, the reader, no doubt, is assumed to know those languages tolerably well. This book is a both a product of Classical Education and is a source of Classical Education itself, since it contains within its 1364 pages history, geometry, mechanics, material science, carpentry, contract law, ascetics, art, drawing, metallurgy, economics, sculpture, and geology in great detail. It describes church architecture in such detail down to practical techniques for designing rose windows and the proper proportions for pointed arches and columns in Gothic churches. It describes traditional church architecture (and all architecture for that matter) in a very detailed and practical way. The typesetting and illustrations are superb. The book's author clearly had an excellent education of the old style, both practical and theoretical, and not dumbed down nor resorting to feelings.

That above book, by the way is "full of stuff". Practical, usable, informative stuff. I heard on EWTN recently about a child who got his hands on the Baltimore Catechism and had the same reaction: that catechism is "full of stuff", things that much contemporary catechesis fails to mention, and it says it in a very clear and direct way.

Now I was interested in finding out what is being taught today. I looked at the Missouri National Education Association website, and was disappointed to find that most information was on internal political matters. The online list of research documents wasn't much help: political issues overwhelm everything else. Inclusiveness, sex, gender issues, change, race, contemporary ethics, critical thinking, at-risk students, diversity, hate crimes, Church-state relations, inequality, equality, alternative education, and defense of the status quo were the primary subjects discussed. I would guess that a product of this kind of education could neither design, build, nor worship at a Gothic cathedral.

No comments:

Post a Comment