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Lou Talman

Posts: 876
Registered: 12/3/04
Extended Reply
Posted: Dec 14, 1995 11:03 PM
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This is a continuation of my hasty reply to Marc Vidulich,
who wrote:

>On 13 Dec, Lou Talman wrote:

>>Of course most of us will not become grand masters in chess
>>or major league baseball players. Most of us will not become
>>concert pianists, but that doesn't mean that most of us can't
>>enjoy music or learn to play an instrument *and be enriched

>>Even if one agrees with the statements about chess and
>>baseball (as I do), the conclusion in the sentence "If one
>>agrees..." does not follow. What does follow is that we
>>should expect neither grand-master-ship in chess,
>>major-league-player-ship in baseball, nor concert pianist
>>status from people who don't seem to be destined for one of
>>those states. I agree with Mark Van Doren, who wrote that
>>"no student should be permitted to be speechless in either
>>[language or mathematics], whatever value he sets upon his
>>special gifts, and however sure he may be at sixteen or
>>eighteen that he knows the uses to which his mind will
>>eventually be put."

>>I think this a very short-sighted, and ultimately
>>self-defeating, view of education. This kind of utilitarian
>>"education" prepares human beings to work their lives--not
>>to live them. And it certainly does not prepare citizens
>>for participation in democracy.

>I agree. This is the education my parents had, the education I
>had, the education I want my two boys to have. But...

Be very careful here. If the best is none too good for you and
your family, you must be careful not to suggest that others
are less worthy of it. And I note that you have said that it
is what *you* want for your boys. Do *they* want it? Will you
deny it to them solely on the basis of their decision not to
undertake it?

>One question I have is: how do we decide what of the vast
>amounts of material out there do we teach? Who will decide?
>You? Andrei Toom? Me? God help us!

Exactly--as I said before. God help us, indeed. Here is one
of the reasons why the educator must be the educated.

>Someone said an unequivocal "YES" to Shakespeare. How about
>Chaucer? Dante? Tolstoy? Or is Agatha Christie a substitute
>that would also work? Algebra, geometry, sure. Trig?
>Calculus? Chaos theory? Statistics? Probability?
>Non-Euclidean Geometries? Should EVERYONE memorize the
>periodic table or simply become familiar with it? Should
>EVERYONE be fluent in a second language or just take one or
>two years? If we learn western civilization/history why not
>eastern also? Should we teach grammar? (They don't in
>Ireland past the age of 12). Does EVERYONE need to know how
>to paint and sculpt or is a little art education enough?
>Should EVERYONE know how to read music or is being an expert
>on jazz okay? If all of this is essential to be an educated
>participant of democracy we might as well change the laws to
>keep EVERYONE in public schools until they're 26 not 16!

No, things are not of equal value. I have my own answers
to these questions based upon a couple of simple notions:
1) Everyone should have as much of language and mathematics as
he or she is capable of handling, and 2) One should concern
oneself with principles, giving attention to detail only
insofar as it points to and helps to ascertain and support
those principles.

>But how do you teach all of this enriching,
>essential-to-a-democracy stuff to people who DO NOT WANT IT?
>Many do but there is a huge population who DOES NOT WANT IT.

Well, you must start by showing them what it is good for and
why they ought to want it. The current mess in Washington (and
most of us, regardless of our politics, have little difficulty
in agreeing that it is a mess) points to the difficulties we
incur by allowing people to grow to adult-hood with, at best,
pseudo-educations. (How else does one explain a press that
concentrates on reporting who is how many points ahead of whom
in the polls instead of on who said what about issues?)

>What if, at age 17, I don't want to learn to play a musical
>instrument? What if I'd rather be rebuilding a Corvette
>engine? (How many of you "educated" people can do that?????)

By the age of 17, you should already have learned to play one.
Your question takes on an entirely different character if one
replaces "age 17" with "age 10". At age 17, there is no reason
you shouldn't rebuild a Corvette if that's your heart's
desire--and if you're not, as a consequence, ignoring more
important studies.

Rebuilding a Corvette is certainly one of the usefularts--that
is the arts with which we manipulate things. And music is one
of the fine arts--the arts with which we come closest to the
creative act. Between them lie the liberal arts--language and
mathematics, which are the arts with which we manipulate ideas.
No student, whether in your classroom or mine, should be
permitted to be speechless in either.

>Isn't university and the 50 or so years after "formal"
>education the correct time to allow those who want it the
>education they so richly deserve? Can we not teach our young
>the "basics" by the time they are 16?

No, and no. We don't even let our young drive until they are
16, and that's only a mechanical skill calling for a an
obvious level of responsibility. Even those who are
college-bound rarely reach the necessary level by the time I
see them in my classrooms. I have, for example, college
seniors who do not know that you count the objects in a
rectangular array by counting the rows, counting the columns,
and then multiplying. And it is not a question of "want"; it
is a question of pressing *need*. Consider Washington again.

>I really appreciate the quote from Mark Van Doren ("no
>student should be permitted...") but he obviously hasn't been
>in my classroom!

I will send you the full quote and the reference by private

--Lou Talman

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