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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: February ::
Re: Education
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.0598  Thursday, 28 February 2002

[1]     From:   Paul E. Doniger <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 27 Feb 2002 19:56:32 -0500
        Subj:   Fw: SHK 13.0568 Re: Education

[2]     From:   Andy White <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 27 Feb 2002 20:14:16 -0500
        Subj:   Education

[3]     From:   Sophie Masson <
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        Date:   Thursday, 28 Feb 2002 21:10:40 +1100
        Subj:   Bilingualism

[4]     From:   Sophie Masson <
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        Date:   Thursday, 28 Feb 2002 21:40:27 +1100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0583 Re: Education


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Paul E. Doniger <
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Date:           Wednesday, 27 Feb 2002 19:56:32 -0500
Subject: 13.0568 Re: Education
Comment:        Fw: SHK 13.0568 Re: Education

Andy White has hit on an important issue: the lack of foreign language
 training in elementary school:

> We who live in a linguistic monoculture cannot begin to fathom the
> effect that a grade-school education, conducted almost exclusively in a
> foreign language, can have on one's grasp of language.  What's more,
> Shakespeare was not taught "Latin Appreciation," he was taught to use
> classical Latin as a model for his own Latin (and English) discourse.
>
> Compare that with our own paltry grade-school system, which (in the US
> at least) teaches English alone, and which offers classics of English
> literature not as models for imitation, but as useless artifacts to be
> read, enjoyed and then put back on the shelf where they (allegedly)
> belong.  ... .

As long as we allow education to be dominated by property tax financing,
we will never convince administrators to hire language teachers in the
primary grades. We need to re-think the financing of education and give
the professionals (educators!) the power an opportunity to make profound
improvements (not write more standardized tests!). I remember the thrill
of discovering Shakespeare -- IN PUBLIC SCHOOL -- at the age of twelve.
Had I had some language training before that age, I might have
understood him better then and not have had to wait until much later to
discover so many other great "classic" authors.

Paul E. Doniger

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Andy White <
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Date:           Wednesday, 27 Feb 2002 20:14:16 -0500
Subject:        Education

It's certainly true that there are folks who question the wisdom of
committing to universal education; but as I understand it (and I do hope
to be corrected on this) one of the reasons England has so much social
unrest -- soccer hooligans, etc. -- is because it has a habit of locking
the doors on education for the bulk of its population.  It may seem
frivolous and a waste of money and time, to allow every adult in America
access to higher education; but the alternative is a highly stratified
class system, which we pointedly rejected with the GI Bill, and thanks
be for it.

As for Dr. Wallace's "Empire Strikes Back" scenario, I heartily agree --
but Latin, for better or worse, continued to be the diplomatic language,
the language of the liturgy, etc., for some time after Shakespeare.  If
you expected to have any career of note, Latin was the key.  The
vernacular was just something one used to buy bread or ale.  You're
right, too -- had Shakespeare taken too much Latin, his plays would be
forgotten.  It is precisely his _lack_ of a Latin sensibility that makes
his plays so successful.  Not that anti-Shakespeareans would ever care
to admit it, but it's the vernacular wordplay, not the Latin, that makes
this stuff work on-stage.

The process of a vernacular becoming a language worthy of study in its
own right is one that had played out in Italy some centuries before
Shakespeare, and it is interesting that during the 18th and 19th
centuries, in Eastern Europe, one of the signs that a vernacular,
national language had come of age was that its greatest poets translated
the plays of -- guess who --
Shakespeare.

Cheers,
Andy White

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sophie Masson <
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Date:           Thursday, 28 Feb 2002 21:10:40 +1100
Subject:        Bilingualism

Re the thread that's really part of the education one--I think that no
matter how proficient WS was in Latin or not, the sheer fact of being
exposed to another language from an early age confers, on an intelligent
person especially, a great agility of mind and an imaginative openness
that's hard to overestimate. Not everyone of course benefits from it in
the sense of becoming a linguistic genius, but for a literary-minded
person, it makes a huge difference in the proficiency even with one's
native, or most used, language. It expands your vocabulary, allows you
to conceive of metaphors and similes that are not necessarily found in
one or the other language, and to jump around in a way that is not
always easy for someone who's never had the opportunity to speak and
read more than one language.  It does not happen overnight--opponents of
bilingual education often argue against it on the grounds that people do
not become instantly proficient in the language of the country where
they're living. But it does pay off in the end, with patience and a
sense of long-term purpose. Learning another language as an adult is
great, too, but it simply cannot replace that childhood thing, when the
brain is learning its ways of operating, and when kids soak up things
without even realising they are.

I speak as a bilingual writer, incidentally, and recommend to anyone
interested in the general idea, Andrei Makine's beautiful novel, Le
Testament Francais (which in the UK and Australia is published under the
French title, but another in the USA, not sure what it is).

Sophie Masson
Author site: http://www.northnet.com.au/~smasson

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sophie Masson <
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Date:           Thursday, 28 Feb 2002 21:40:27 +1100
Subject: 13.0583 Re: Education
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0583 Re: Education

Andy White asks about educational standards in UK schools. Though I
can't enlighten him as to that country, I'd like to offer some
observations from another English-speaking country, Australia.

As both a parent of teenagers, and a frequent professional visitor to
schools(as a writer and organiser of creative writing workshops), I feel
that young people are incredibly short-changed in our educational
system.  Too much is geared to the easy, the unchallenging, the mediocre
and plain BORING. Educational administrators are frightened of young
people, and try to make things 'relevant' by adding what they think are
groovy or trendy bits which, alas, the kids see through in about 10
seconds flat. And they seem to be scared stiff of actually challenging
the kids, of immersing them in foreign, exotic and unusual worlds. It's
all pre-cheWednesday, boring and irrelevant, actually.

English is a case in point. My eldest son has had three years of high
school, and he is still doing stuff he did way back in primary school.
Not one novel study, not one discussion of plays, not one bit of help in
constructing essays. No sense that English is a wonderful, messy, baggy
subject with all kinds of exciting possibilities. Just 'contracts',
which succeed both in throwing the less able kids into the deep end
(they're just told to 'write a polished piece' without a bit of
explanation, for instance), and boring the brighter ones to tears. My
son is bored stiff in English but coasts through everything because he
reads a lot . He knows how bad it is: he tells me wryly, for example,
that because he used a word like 'vivid' in a 'sharing' exercise he did
at school recently, the poor teacher complimented him fulsomely. I'm not
blaming teachers incidentally. They have a hard battle. Too many of them
are expected to deal with all kinds of social problems, including of
course, a heavy use of drugs even at school.  (BTW, I feel that much of
the latter can be traced to sheer boredom).

Primary schools function much better. There's room for innovation, for
motivated teachers. High schools are ground down by the exigencies of a
curriculum which seems determined to destroy literary talent. (I might
add that the performing arts and visual arts are rather better, esp.
drama and music). And by the dumb idea that kids these days are less
intelligent and less capable than they used to be, which is utter
nonsense. It is exciting to  watch a group of kids buzzing over
something they normally would never get close to--for instance, when I
used Renaissance paintings in one group of Aboriginal kids, talked to
them about the period, people's ideas, listened to music from the time,
and then they wrote stories based on the paintings, and their own ideas
springing from them. The teachers with them at first looked aghast. But
in the second lot of workshops, everyone was absolutely buzzing. The
stories produced were extraordinary. Then there's the times in which
I've used ancient poetry, or metaphysical/mythological ideas, etc.
Everyone gets something from it, even the kids who you'd think might not
understand what you were talking about. And mine isn't an isolated
experience. Why, for heaven's sake, lock kids up in the 'now', in the
dull prose of newspaper sentiments and bien-pensant mediocrity? Why not
have expectations of them, and allow them, no, encourage the, to rise to
them?  Isn't education about real opportunity-not some kind of foolish
equalisation, but about possibility? Why lock them in dull stuff, then?
It drives me crazy.

I'm not saying incidentally that things were perfect before. But when I
remember the way in which our English teacher fired up our working-class
Catholic school about Shakespeare, and how she made us feel that this
was true, this was both now and then, the connections that we made, the
journeys we went on, I weep for the kids who are never going to get such
enthusiasm, such life-changing perceptions. Things seemed less
controlled, somehow, less wound into a stifling bureaucracy. We could do
several plays in one year, if we wanted to, or the teacher felt like it.
It was much more about REAL interaction between teacher and pupil. I was
a little migrant kid with no preconceptions about WS. I was annoyed
sometimes by people's preconceptions about my own heritage. But I was
given an extraordinary gift by that teacher. No-one thought that because
I was a non English speaking kid, I should be locked only into
ethnically-pure stuff.

A lot of pious guff is talked about multiculturalism and the 'youth of
today', but the modern generation gap is vast, even more so because the
generation in authority thinks, sadly, that it's totally trendy and with
it and understands 'the yoof'.' Nothing could be further from the truth.
At least in the past, you knew the gap was there, no-one pretended it
wasn't.

Sophie Masson
Author site: http://www.northnet.com.au/~smasson

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