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Preparing students for the ‘real’ world

Erin Manning passes along this excellent blog post [1] from a Classics education blog. The writer quotes a passage from Evelyn Waugh, and then:

As I wrote in a recent post [2], we have all the more reason to teach the Great Books to the Glee generation [3].  The parents in Waugh’s story are the parents of today, as they have likely been the parents of every age.  They want their children to go to school in order to get a good job that pays good money and comes with health insurance.  This is the reason for the constant rise in Spanish class enrollments, the addition of technology programs, and the demise of cursive writing in the primary schools.  The headmaster in Waugh’s story is the headmaster of today, along with the principal and the school board.

Yet Mr. Scott-King is an unlikely hero, for he has quietly taken his stand and dared to challenge the prevailing misconceptions of his day.  Why on earth would we want to prepare students for the world we see around us?  Do we really want to prepare them to work for Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac?  Do we really want to prepare them to be successful in the entertainment or sports worlds of today?  Would we not much rather, if we took but a moment’s pause to consider it, prepare them to change those worlds?  Would those who are Christians not much rather prepare them to be the salt and light that Christ commanded us to be?

Judas was well prepared for his world.  Hobbes only thought that life was nasty, brutish, and short.  Consider the ancient world, where there was poor medical care, poor sanitation, and the Romans ruled with the iron gladius.  Judas was well prepared for this world, for he knew that it would take bribery and betrayal to make things happen.  He put to good use the lessons of his education.

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8 Comments To "Preparing students for the ‘real’ world"

#1 Comment By Luna R. On November 11, 2011 @ 4:59 pm

“Spanish enrollments” are not a bad thing. Yes, Spanish is useful, but it can be just as “useless” (to use Andrew Sullivan’s term) as studying Latin and Greek if you study its literature, history, and philosophy. As someone who teaches and works with Renaissance and Baroque Spanish literature, teaching and writing on the works of Cervantes, St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila, Garcilaso de la Vega, Fray Bartolomé de las Casas, Lope de Vega, Góngora, Quevedo, Juana Inés de la Cruz, not to speak of the other periods and authors in the Hispanic tradition that I deal with, I have a hard time swallowing the generally deprecatory tone and desultory remarks of some classical homeschooling websites, to wit: “In order to maintain a highbrow curriculum, we strongly advise against Spanish.” ( [4] ) . This sort of remark is made because of IGNORANCE of, not acquaintance with, Spanish literature.
The problem with Spanish is that it has gotten a bad rap as “the easiest language”, therefore there is pressure to dumb it down even further. But as someone who teaches all levels of the language, including the most complex culteranista and conceptista poetry, I call bullshit on this attitude to Spanish.

I’ve defended the study of Latin, Greek, and classical literature all my life. I’d like the favor returned one of these days. And I believe it is ideal for Westerners to learn their own tradition first. But the “Western” tradition includes Spain and Latin America. And if someone thinks that the only book worth reading in Spanish is Don Quixote (one of my favorites, I’d like to declare) then you should read more widely.

#2 Comment By Luna R. On November 11, 2011 @ 5:06 pm

I apologize if I was intemperate in my remarks above.

#3 Comment By Lord Karth On November 11, 2011 @ 5:41 pm

I had the chance to read Mosen Millan in college, Sra. Luna. You are right.

Your servant,

Lord Karth

#4 Comment By Erin Manning On November 11, 2011 @ 6:52 pm

Luna, to defend the author of this piece and, perhaps, other classicists, I think the “Spanish” quote refers to how Spanish is generally taught (and, sadly, how parents seem to want it to be taught) in secondary education in modern American high schools. Consider that few students will make a real study of any language (including, alas, English) before high school, and that upon reaching high school the state will suddenly require two (or sometimes three) years of a course in a modern language. Students rarely graduate with the ability to speak and read the language fluently and to immerse themselves into the great classics of the culture, whether the language is Spanish, Italian, German, etc.

The push for Spanish, especially, to be taught in this minimal way is clearly a push for students to be able to get jobs, etc. in bilingual environments. For example, I’ve seen cashiers in local stores who are not themselves Hispanic switch almost effortlessly from English to Spanish and back again, but their proficiency in many cases appears to extend no farther than being able to carry on a basic transaction-related conversation–though perhaps I am misjudging them, and would find that all of them have read Cervantes in his original Spanish and can discourse eloquently about his work.

But that brings me to dissatisfaction with the way languages are taught in schools in general, which is a different topic. Suffice it to say that foreign language is one area of homeschooling where I wish I’d done a better job. Then again, my youngest daughter, like her dad, simply enjoys languages and is working through some Latin with me as well as dabbling in Japanese and picking up some of the Spanish her sisters are doing, so perhaps my failings are just personal here.

#5 Comment By Luna R. On November 11, 2011 @ 9:50 pm

Thank you, Lord Karth. Erin, everything you say is true, but my point is not that all native speakers of Spanish are eloquent and proficient, it is that its literary tradition can compete with any other national literature in the Western and World canons. It is a prevailing opinion on that website that I linked to that the Spanish language has no literary tradition and therefore the study of Spanish should be avoided. This is just ignorance.

And as for the way this language is taught in secondary schools, I agree with you. It is sad for me to see the degradation in the teaching of Spanish, but it is part of the reduction of all foreign language programs to Spanish, and the general degradation of all education.

But it is not the fault of the Spanish language or literary tradition.

And your dissatisfaction with what you feel is your performance as a homeschooler is a waste of energy. There are some things that are harder to do in homeschool than others, foreign language being one of those things.

And as for Latin, I wish my sons had had the chance to study it in their (Catholic) schools. So, I join with the classicists in lamenting its decline. I myself studied Latin, Greek, German, and Russian in addition to Spanish. That was a great privilege. I just don’t want to see its literary tradition belittled.

Pax et bonum,

#6 Comment By JonF On November 12, 2011 @ 7:18 am

Re: The problem with Spanish is that it has gotten a bad rap as “the easiest language

I think Italian does give it some competition for “easiest” with a slightly more complex grammar but a slightly less alien (to anglophones) phonology. But what’s wrong with “easy”? Spanish is a major world language– by some estimates it has more first-language speakers than English. And for those in North America it is, yes, the most useful second language to have (French being a distant second, unless one is in the northeast maybe). Spanish is a good gateway to the Romance languages in general, and that includes Latin.

#7 Comment By David J. White On November 12, 2011 @ 1:20 pm

I am a teacher of Latin (and, occasionally, Greek), and I studied Spanish in high school and college. I will second the dismay with the dismissive attitude towards Spanish.

I would certainly add Borges to the list of authors who will richly reward being read in the original Spanish.

There are a great many problems with the way Spanish is often taught in this country. I noticed when I was in high school, French had a kind of cache, a reputation for being harder — and thus more respectable — than Spanish. I think it is a myth that French is harder than Spanish. Yes, perhaps French pronunciation is more difficult at first for Anglophone students — but I have noticed that many Spanish teachers will let students get away with a kind of sloppy pronunciation that French teachers generally don’t let their students get away with. In general, it seems to me that many French teachers often have higher expectations of their students than many (of course not all) Spanish teachers do.

#8 Comment By Stef On November 13, 2011 @ 6:38 pm

It’s pretty hard to be “salt” when you’re bankrupt from illness and no medical insurance. Parents who have practical aspirations for their kids aren’t coming from somewhere in left field, as the “classical homeschoolers” seem to think. They can count; they know how expensive things like insurance, tuition, even food are going to get in the coming years. They know that as parents, they are not going to be able to support their kids forever. Their aspirations may be misguided, and some of the tactics they use are completely counterproductive (like taking on lots of educational debt), but I have yet to see a rejoinder that adequately deals with the tough economic issues.