Adler on covering ground

What is the point of covering ground, if the students’ feet never touch it, if they never learn through independent exercise to walk by themselves, with head erect and unafraid of all intellecutal opposition and difficulty…

I would feel happier about the graduates of Catholic colleges if they were really to understand a few truths well… rather than be able to recite… philosophical answers to problems they did not really understand or take seriously.

Reforming Education, chapter 13, The Order of Learning

Multum, non multa is a core principle of classical education: Much, not many. When Vittorino DeFeltre taught his charges in early Renaissance Florence, they started reading Homer around the time they turned 9, if my memory serves (maybe it was 6). In the original. Why?

Because he wanted them to learn to think deeply, which requires careful, precise, close readings of difficult works. No classical educator would believe that we take education seriously when a child can graduate high school without having ever read a text closely. They would laugh at our pre-occupation with “getting through the materials,” they would wonder at our obsession with learning trivia, they would cry when they saw that we don’t believe in truth or beauty. And I think they would scold us when they saw how we treated children, moving them from class to class, bell to bell, data to data, all so they can create the illusion of production so we can create the illusion of assessment.

I suppose I’m writing a bit harshly, but we need to think about these things. What we are doing to our children is inconsiderate.

5 Responses

  1. One of the reasons I hear for not teaching children Latin or Greek so that they can read the classics in their original language is that even supposing they master the languages sufficiently to do so it will take them so much longer to ‘get through’ them. Actually, it is one pillar of my defense that it forces the student to read closely and pay attention to details, allusions, and euphonies that would otherwise be missed. We can cover more ground in English, but at what cost?

    • Debra,

      Precisely. Why the hurry to cover ground? I like a general knowledge of history and literature, but its only when the child is forced to dwell on a given text for a long time that he learns how to read at the highest levels. And nobody can improve on the power of translation to learn how to read (and write).

  2. Yes, psueduo-progress. Progress against standards that don’t matter driven by an obsession with production and a strong resistance to contemplation.

  3. “so they can create the illusion of production so we can create the illusion of assessment.”

    I never thought of moving from class to class as mirroring the assembly line, but it seems obvious now that you point it out.

    How does the “illusion of assessment” tie into that? What exactly do you mean? Pseudo-progress?


  4. You are not writing harshly, but truly. Amen to this post!

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