Education is a progressive discovery of our ignorance.Will Durant (1885-1981) U.S. author and historian.
Rote learning or memorizing is considered obsolete in today’s education. When the English teacher assigned the poetry project, learning 30 verses by heart of any poem the student desired, only 10% of the class was able to recite their lines on the appointed day. Most complained that it was too difficult, not realizing, for example, that singers and actors cannot survive without exercising their memory muscles. These were seniors who, a short time later, would graduate and enter adult life, whether college or the work force.
I remember observing medical students cramming data night after night and using time-tested mnemonic techniques to remember the leg muscles or the cranial nerves or the main arteries. A good memory is essential for success in any professional position and while some people are born with photographic memory, a rare occurrence, most of us can exercise our memorizing ‘muscles’. Yet very few elementary teachers do that with their children when the mind is still uncluttered. As these students reach high school, they are shocked to discover that indeed they need to remember complex equations and technical words among other things.
Another good training from yesteryear that is no longer applied in elementary is grammar, including Latin and Greek root words. We are forced, yes forced, in high school to dedicate precious instruction time to explaining what parts of speech are. It is inconceivable in these modern times to graduate generations of young Americans who admit shamefully, or not, that they don’t know their own language. It forces colleges and businesses to offer remedial courses, an expensive proposition which delays progress by both employees and students.
Language is the foundation upon which the whole educational system rests; without good reading comprehension, without good writing expression, this society cannot function properly. The bilingual method through which many Hispanic supposedly learn English is not working. Many a freshman student has confessed to me that they didn’t understand large parts of their textbook, their tests, the teacher’s lecture, or the instructions given to them. These teens had been in the system for 5 years or more, ample time to learn and practice English. The main reason, I suspect, is found in the fact that Spanish continued to be used by teachers at the elementary and middle school levels. It is easier for the educator to translate instruction instead of trying to explain it in English, thus depriving the child of the opportunity to learn this country’s language.
In my part of the education world, 95% of students speak and hear Spanish constantly when they are home or with their friends. Even the schools fail to prohibit the use of their home language while in class. Some high school teachers believe they help their pupils by using Spanish during most of the class, not realizing their message is harming the teens: They believe that using Spanish only will be sufficient to earn a good living in America. It is true that many businesses in the Rio Grande Valley employ individuals who cannot speak English, people who have been in this country long enough and should have learned this important lesson: One cannot prosper in any job without a fluent mastery of Shakespeare’s idiom. I recently had the unpleasant experience of going out with friends to a new tavern that served good food and plenty of beer choices. Two of my buddies did not speak Spanish but had to listen to a waiter who didn’t speak a word of English. I had to translate for them but I could not understand how a business owner who invested $250,000 in a restaurant could not have hired bilingual people. His business will probably fail because we have a lot of winter Texans during this season who expect good service in English.
We have sufficient problems in education due to excessive emphasis on testing results without adding a deficient preparation in the all important language skills. A complete reevaluation of our teaching methods must be initiated ASAP.