by Anniel 7/16/14
Remember a time in America when classroom educators freely discussed the bible and the biblical tradition? The great literary corpus of all western civilization is so much nonsense without the knowledge and tradition the bible provides. All students are impoverished in mind and spirit when that knowledge is denied them.
A grandson has come to live with us so Bear and I can help him get his high school diploma. He is eighteen, but has not yet graduated for a variety of reasons, including an auditory processing disorder. He is currently enrolled in an internet independent study program and has been struggling just to try and understand what the instructors want. I am nothing short of appalled by what the program claims to teach when the instructors themselves don’t understand the materials and leave the kids so woefully unprepared.
Two days ago Jack and I went through the pain of some punctuation, grammar and organization involved in writing an essay. I hope what we discussed takes and we can expand on it. But yesterday, at least for me, was absolutely mind blowing. Jack read me a poem he was to answer some questions about. I immediately recognized the work, but his reading showed he didn’t understand a single word, nor did he know how to read a poem, or even follow the punctuation. I asked him the title of the piece, he said it was untitled on the worksheet. Who wrote it? Again, the worksheet didn’t say.
The poem was the sonnet On His Blindness by John Milton. This is one of the masterpieces of English literature, but how can anyone possibly critique a poem with no identifiers and absolutely no background about the times or the author? How can you even tell Milton has gone blind at a young age from the allusions in the first two lines?
When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days in this dark world and and wide,
For all we know Milton is poor and just had his last candle burn out. And which light is he discussing – His sight? The light of his poetic talent? Or maybe the light of God? Understanding Milton requires thought on all of those issues. How does anyone know what made Milton great without pondering such questions? How can one ponder without considering Milton’s faith in God and His will?
During our hours long discussion of the work, and poetry in general, I was transported back to my high school Junior year English Literature class with the redoubtable Miss Reynolds. Though she was a teacher par excellence, and she brooked no nonsense, she was far from beautiful and had a grating voice. Naturally the kids detested her. But she was so passionate about language and literature that I came to love her, though I never told her so. I wish I had.
The only book I kept from high school was the one from Miss Reynold’s class, simply entitled English Literature, copyrighted first in 1937. But this book is so much more, besides literature it also covered English history and art. I carried that book with me everywhere I went. I read it to my children and taught them from it’s pages. It was always where they could use it. The spine finally broke, the pages turned yellow, grew fragile and torn. I almost cried to think I might lose it completely. Two years ago Bear, bless him, found a like-new copy for me on Amazon Used Books.
So yesterday I got my book out and my grandson and I read about John Milton and his life. We discussed what he was really saying about God and his blindness, and I was struck again with what we used to learn, really learn, in school. How can anyone call themselves educated in anything today? I talked to Jack about the line where Milton says, “who best bear his mild yoke,” and why he said it was mild to one who trusts God. One of the questions Jack had was if this particular statement was hyperbole, understatement, or metonymy. I honestly thought the question pertained to the word mild, and the question made no sense. The line is simply a statement of fact for Milton. Jack guessed the answer as metonymy, which means substituting one name for another, which even doubly makes no sense, unless the word they wanted the answer for was yoke, and what would yoke possibly be a substitute for? The correct test answer was understatement, which makes no sense on any level about anything. By the time Bear retreated into silence and Jack and I stopped trying to understand if we had just missed something, it was long past bed-time.
This morning I have again been reviewing my precious book. Near the front is a chart spread over two pages. Across the top of the two pages ten categories are listed, such as Period and Date; Language and Contribution; Moulding Institutions; etc., while down the left hand side the different phases of English history are divided into eleven time periods. If you want to know what the great literary contributions of any group are, say from the Ancient Celts, who were the group in England from ? B.C. – 600 A.D., you simply find them on the left, go over to the column marked Great Books and find the books were Stories of Conchibar, the Saints, and Arthur.
If anyone thinks our current Education system has anything to do with education, think again. That two page chart in my old text book is more history of our English language, literature and political and religious foundations than our children will ever be taught, even in college.
It seems we are doomed to repeat the lessons of history over and over again.
I’m not sure how redoubtable I am, but maybe my book and I can awaken in Jack the same love of learning Miss Reynolds helped awaken in me. I may even bequeath the book to him so he can teach his own children from it some day.