Our educational system is the legacy of the 18th century Enlightenment with its emphasis on quantification, mechanization, and method. The pre-Enlightenment renaissance individuala person who commands a broad understanding of many subjects and who likewise displays numerous talentsis today typically prized less, and paid less, than the talented specialistthe skillful surgeon, the clever tax attorney, the shrewd investor. Nevertheless, quantification and specialization have brought us many wonders, with teams of students, teachers, and researchers creating miraculous cures and performing towering engineering feats in highly specialized fields.
On the filp side, however, specialization has virtually necessitated an educational system that is compartmentalized, systematized, and (some would say) overly narrow. In most schools, math is confined to math class, grammar to English, and foreign language to the room where posters of the Eiffel Tower or The Alhambra hint at the world beyond.
In the worst form of our current educational system, we study not to KNOW but to PASS A TEST. We memorize facts and formulas only to forget, within days or weeks, what we have "learned." We confer diplomas on those who have met REQUIREMENTS but we cannot confer wisdom or a passion for ongoing self-education. Even our great colleges and universities cannot guarantee that their graduates are any more interested in this rich and strange world of ours than
|those graduates were when they initially enrolled. The self-taught person
who reads and inquires broadly may appear to be the exception, not the rule.
Fortunately, we know enough about how people learn to realize that a compartmentalized system of education is not always advantageous. In fact, research into mental cognition suggests that the brain is a highly integrated organ which thrives on associational patterns, curling past knowledge into current phenomena. No wonder we learn best when we are faced with real-life challenges, when the known and the novel intertwine. We also know that emotion plays a large role in learning. A compartmentalized approach to education generally works only for those who already have an emotional stake in a particular discipline.
The English Classroom
So what does all of this have to do with the study of English? The answer is simple. Because it is based on the ongoing and primary means of making meaning—LANGUAGE—English is the discipline that justifiably can address many of the others. To help understand our lives—to see our virtues and shortcomings as well as those experiences that ethics and morality do not touch—this is the province of English. In this course, we will try to look at more than just literature and language. We will attempt to look at the world.
Please continue to "grades and good schools"the next section.
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american memory image archive
(dr. arthur echerd)