“Never Let Schooling Interfere With Your Education,” by Grant Allen and popularized by Mark Twain. “One year in Italy with their eyes open would be worth more than three at Oxford.”
“What a misfortune it is that we should thus be compelled to let our boys’ schooling interfere with their education!”
In the early days of the American Republic, the Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville toured America and wrote of his observations. He marveled at the education of our children, believing an American education to be the best in the world. Women and children were well educated and could hold their own in any conversation on any topic.
Entrance exams into colleges such as Princeton or Harvard required reading and writing part of the exam in an ancient language (normally Latin, Greek or Hebrew) and a modern foreign language (usually French or German). That included proper grammar and using certain words correctly. One example of a geography question from the 1869 Harvard entrance exam: “Bound the basin of the Po, of the Mississippi, of the St. Lawrence.” One example of arithmetic from the same exam: “Find the cube root of 0.0093 to five places of decimals. Find the square root of 531.5 to three places of decimals.” A section followed this on Logarithms and Trigonometry.
After completing the Freshman year, another round of entrance exams were required to be admitted as a sophomore. The questions were somewhat more difficult. Write an essay comparing and contrasting the following “Leonidas, Pausanias, Lysander.”
While Alexis de Tocqueville was impressed with America’s classical education, he noticed a lack of training in modern thinking. At that time a public versus private education was determined by enrollment, not funding. A public education meant that it was open to everyone. A private education meant that the school was closed to everyone except members.
Even an exam from 1895 Salina, KS would be difficult, if not impossible, for the average college graduate of today. There is some question as to who was being tested; Eighth Grade? High School? Is it a teacher’s certification exam? To be fair, science and arts disciplines were not included in these examinations. No physics, chemistry, music, literature or physical education were required. Each of these disciplines takes time and that time is taken away from these other courses.
Yet today we have high school graduates unable to read their own diplomas. The shift in emphasis is not the reason for their inability to read. It is the lack of discipline, both personal and academic. The books Why Johnny Can’t Read: And What You Can Do About It and Why Johnny Still Can’t Read: A New Look At the Scandal of Our Schools by Rudolf Flesch examine both some of the problems and solutions.
We are perhaps the best informed and worst-educated generation the world has ever seen. Most American students have completely lost the ability to think through any issue. We have access through the Internet to any information we want. But what do we do with it? Problems that might take days, weeks, months or even years to solve are discarded in favor of easy quick solutions.
This mentality began with plays, then switch to movies. Even serial movies had some kind of an end. TV shows had either complete solutions in half an hour; at most an hour or soap opera formats where nothing was ever solved. The open-ended nothing is ever really solved format became the fast paced video game. Quick one-word or phrase solutions are available through Google searches, so we have no need to remember anything. Life has become unending self-gratification where nothing important matters. “Give it to me now” has been the motto of western culture for over 50 years. Did it begin with the Beatles? Elvis? Frank Sinatra?
Solomon reminded us that “there is nothing new under the sun.” Plato wrote of Socrates in his dialogue Phaedrus that writing in and of itself was a step in the wrong direction. Instead of the mental disciple required by oral traditions, humans grew lazy and relied on what was written down. They could read, so they no longer needed to remember or think. “This will create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, … they will trust to the external written characters.”
Plutarch tells us that Lycurgus, the founder of the laws of Sparta, believed the same way. “None of his laws were put into writing by Lycurgus, indeed, one of the so-called “rhetras” forbids it.”
Our generation easily dismisses the charge that they do not think things through with a “yeah, right,” neither openly accepting or rejecting, just wanting to “get on with life.”
“The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs and tyrannize their teachers.” (attributed to Socrates [Plato]. The exact source is unknown.)
These children killed Socrates when they grew up and came to power. These children also started the Peloponnesian Wars, one of the most barbaric episodes in human history.