School System Realizes Discipline is Important

A recent opinion piece published in the Wall Street Journal makes the seemingly obvious assertion that students should be required to “sit up and pay attention.” The success the author, Eva Moskowitz, has had with underpriveliged children in New York using this philosophy highlights the truth of the assertion. Read the article here.

Ipad woes in Los Angeles schools should be a warning to the rest of us

education technologyThe education technology train wreck in the Los Angeles Unified School District should serve as a lesson to schools on the inadvisability of trying to throw technology at education problems. It’s hard to fathom the mindset of people who think that simply distributing iPads will solve the education woes of schools.

As I observed in a recent Classical Teacher magazine article, technology can serve three purposes:

  1. Increasing administrative efficiency
  2. Improving instruction
  3. Improving student learning

Pullquote-RightIn regard to the first purpose, computers can indeed do wonders to ease the burden of record-keeping, grade reports, and keeping track of students. In regard to the second, technology can help a teacher get her or her point across better–through PowerPoint presentations, etc. (and of course even overhead projectors count as technology).

But it is the third goal of educational technology that is the most problematic. As education researcher Larry Cuban has pointed out, the research simply doesn’t support the idea that digital technology has improved student learning. In fact, some suggest it has done the opposite.

But even if it was possible for digital technology to assist student learning in some measurable way, there are numerous questions as to whether schools are even equipped to do it, particularly on a wide scale. How do you make sure the technology will do what you want it to do? How do you ensure that school staff know what it is supposed to do? Does anyone know what it is supposed to do?

How are schools supposed to handle the administration of widespread individual devices like iPads anyway? Modern individualized digital technology by its very nature defies this kind of administrative centralization. Herding cats would be easier.

And then there is the problem that we live in a world in which many students themselves know more about the technology their teachers.

Technology by its very nature is limited in its educational application. It can play a part in knowledge transmission and testing, but it is less well-equipped to further other learning goals, such as skills development (which requires hands-on coaching) and the understanding of ideas and values (which requires discussion).

But there is no sign that the educational establishment has a competent understanding either of technology’s capabilities or its limitations.

Tech startup CEO tells why he isn’t looking for computer science majors

computer-programming-1How many times have you been asked why you’re teaching so much Latin and literature in your school and so little computer science?

One response is to point out that the thinking skills you get from studying an inflected grammar and the interpersonal skills you learn from literature are far more useful. But here’s another perspective from a tech CEO, who says that tech education, even at some of our most prestigious schools, doesn’t make graduates any more attractive to him:

The thing I don’t look for in a developer is a degree in computer science. University computer science departments are in miserable shape: 10 years behind in a field that changes every 10 minutes. Computer science departments prepare their students for academic or research careers and spurn jobs that actually pay money. They teach students how to design an operating system, but not how to work with a real, live development team.

There isn’t a single course in iPhone or Android development in the computer science departments of Yale or Princeton. Harvard has one, but you can’t make a good developer in one term. So if a college graduate has the coding skills that tech startups need, he most likely learned them on his own, in between problem sets. As one of my developers told me: “The people who were good at the school part of computer science—just weren’t good developers.” My experience in hiring shows exactly that.

This is a shame because the young people who get degrees in computer science or engineering often have the makings of great software developers—the interest is there. But the education is a failure.

Today we insist on higher-education for everything—where a high-school diploma for a teacher or a reporter was once adequate, a specialized degree in education or journalism is now required. But my lead developer didn’t graduate from college, and neither did my other full-stack developer. I do have one developer with a degree in electrical engineering: Did he learn any of his development skills in college, I ask? No.

From “Why I’m Not Looking to Hire Computer Science Majors,” by Daniel Gelernter, CEO of tech startup Dittach in the Wall Street Journal, August 29-30. (There may be a paywall to negotiate)

Grammar and the Fall of Education

From the excellent Imaginative Conservative blog:

Old SchoolDionysios Thrax, an ancient Greek grammarian, outlined the hierarchical structure of grammar from the least to the greatest. He began with prosody, followed by an understanding of literary devices, followed by considerations of phraseology enhanced by etymology. At the upper reaches of grammar we find analogy and metaphor, followed by the highest aspect of grammar: the art of exegesis. Exegesis has its etymological roots in a word that means “to demand”; we demand from a written work what it is most deeply trying to convey considering its origins, the author’s intentions, the validity and value of its assertions, as well as the range, breadth, and depth of its knowledge. This complete understanding of grammar has long since been abandoned.

Grammar has suffered the same fate as theology and philosophy in this reductive age. Grammar has been cut off from its transcendent and philosophical roots. Grammar ought to embody the rules for the structure of language, which intend to reflect the hierarchical structure of the Cosmos. The lowest level of grammatical concern for the ancients has become the highest in the modern school. Prosody has gone under the knife of dissection to the point that literacy has become a sort of pseudo-linguistic analysis of the written word.

Read more here.

Why the liberal arts are worth preserving

achillesslayshectorFrom the August 7th Wall Street Journal article, “The Suicide of the Liberal Arts,” by John Agresto:

To restore the liberal arts, those of us who teach should begin by thinking about students. Almost all of them have serious questions about major issues, and all of them are looking for answers. What is right? What is love? What do I owe others? What do others owe me? In too many places these are not questions for examination but issues for indoctrination. Instead of guiding young men and women by encouraging them to read history, biography, philosophy and literature, we’d rather debunk the past, deconstruct the authors and dethrone our finest minds and statesmen.

… Finally, a word to secondary schools and their teachers: You may be the last hope many of your students will have to think broadly and seriously about literature, science, math and history. If they don’t read Homer or Shakespeare, or marvel at the working of the universe, or read and understand the Constitution, they never will. The hope of liberal learning rests on your shoulders. Please don’t shrug.

When properly conceived and taught, the liberal arts do not by themselves make us “better people” or (God knows) more “human.” They don’t exist to make us more “liberal,” at least in the contemporary political sense. But the liberal arts can do something no less wonderful: They can open our eyes.

They show us how to look at the world and the works of civilization in serious and important and even delightful ways. They hold out the possibility that we will know better the truth about many of the most important things. They are the vehicle that carries the amazing things that mankind has made—and the memory of the horrors that mankind has perpetrated—from one age to the next. They teach us how to marvel.

I think Agresto may needlessly downplay the role the humanities in making us better people. It is in history and literature, after all that we see the best and worst in human beings, learning how to imitate the former and avoid the latter. But he does say the can’t do this “alone,” about which he is probably right.

Read more here.

Liberal arts graduates are in more demand than you think, even in tech businesses


“Throughout the major U.S. tech hubs, whether Silicon Valley or Seattle, Boston or Austin, Tex., software companies are discovering that liberal arts thinking makes them stronger. Engineers may still command the biggest salaries, but at disruptive juggernauts such as Facebook and Uber, the war for talent has moved to nontechnical jobs, particularly sales and marketing. The more that audacious coders dream of changing the world, the more they need to fill their companies with social alchemists who can connect with customers–and make progress seem pleasant.”

Read more here.

The Latin oration at this year’s Harvard Commencement

What Two Scholars Found When They Looked at the Quality of Education Research (And It Isn’t Pretty)

statsHow many times have you been told that some trendy new education practice is “research-based”? The implication, of course, is that the mere application of this scientific-sounding label to the practice should cause the hearer to lay aside any further critical inquiry on the matter.

When it comes to education (and many other things for that matter) the expression “research-based” is the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. The expression is the equivalent of the philosopher’s QED (Quod Est Demonstrandum: “It is demonstrated”). It is a discussion-ender about the legitimacy of the practice. The only response considered appropriate is to nod in obedient acceptance.
But what exactly does this expression mean?
What it means is that there has been some study (perhaps more than one), conducted by someone, somewhere, that seems to indicate that the practice is effective. Or, more likely, that someone has heard someone else say that such a study exists. It almost never indicates that the person making the reference has actually read the study (or studies) to which he refers.
But there is something even more worrisome and it comes in the form of a study–one that you can actually read yourself.
In a study released last year by the Educational Researcher, Matthew C. Makel of Duke University and Jonathan A. Plucker of the University of Connecticut, Storrs, conducted a wide-ranging meta-study of educational research, to determine how many of the education studies published in the 100 most prominent education journals met one of the most basic research criteria. The question they asked was: What are the replication rates of education studies?
Replications, say the authors (quoting another researcher) serve five functions:
  • Controlling for sampling error
  • Controlling for artifacts
  • Controling for fraud
  • Generalizing different/larger populations
  • Assessing the study’s general hypothesis
H. M. Collins calls replication “the Supreme Court of science.”
Replication is a common procedure in both the hard sciences (biology, medicine, genomics, computer science), as well as the soft ones (economics, political science, and sociology).
And when you consider the low rate of successful replication in the hard sciences, say the authors, the need for replication in the social sciences (such as education) “becomes even more acute.” One review found that only 44% of studies in health care research are successfully replicated; another found only 11% replication success rate of highly cited cancer trial studies.
The rate of successful replication in psychology is peculiarly high–91.5%, “making psychologists nearly five times better at predicting results than actual rocket scientists. It is an outcome the authors attribute to “collecting the data until the desired result is found, not reporting unsuccessful trials, and eliminating observations and variables post hoc that do not support the targeted hypotheses.”
So, when the Markel and Plucker looked at all the studies ever published in the top education journals, what did they find?
  • Of the 164,589 studies published in these education journals, only 221 of them were replications–an overall replication rate of .13%.
  • Of the studies that were replicated, only 67.4% were successful.
  • Also, 48.2%, nearly half of the replications, were conducted by the same people who did the original study.
Now let’s do a little math here: If you multiply .13% (number of replications) by 67.4% (the success rate), you get .08762%. That’s the percentage of education studies with successful replications. What does it say about education research that only roughly .09% of it has been successfully replicated–and almost half of these replications performed by people who had a stake in seeing it successfully replicated?
This is a colossal indictment of the legitimacy of education research.
So the next time you hear a professional educator touting some exotic new education idea as “research-based,”  ask him this question: “Has the research been successfully replicated?” Chances are he won’t know. When he confesses his ignorance, tell him that there is a higher than 99.9% chance that it hasn’t.

Interview with Martin Cothran on Common Core at CiRCE Institute

MartinCothranYou have written and spoken quite a bit in opposition to Common Core, especially the science standards it promotes. Why is this so important to you?

The Common Core standards are important because of the number of children that will be affected by national standards which are eliminating content knowledge and trying to replace it with amorphous “critical thinking skills.” I’m obviously not against critical thinking skills, since that’s what the liberal arts are. The trouble is that public school policy-makers have no clue what constitute critical thinking skills. It’s a nice-sounding phrase that has no definitive meaning. The lack of content knowledge will further corrupt the process of passing our culture down to the next generation, which is the most important educational goal.

Read the rest here.

Defending the Poor Shakespeare

Modern literature studies always raise the question “Who was Shakespeare?” Some claim he was the Earl of Oxford using a pseudonym while others say he was a man from a poor background in Stratford-upon-Avon who actually had the name of Shakespeare.

Whatever side of the discussion one takes, this article’s defense of the poor Shakespeare through classical education should cause one to think (see the second section, ‘Snobbery’). It is true that in his era, the small town grammar school would have given him the tools he needed to write such masterful plays. By the age of eight, all the school children would have been speaking Latin–a skill that would open them the doors of Roman literature. Once those doors were open, nothing would have stood in the way of a boy who thirsted for wisdom and knowledge. If his desire was strong enough, he would have been able to educate himself to a level that surpassed even that of the aristocracy.

Why does our modern educational system insist on keeping those doors closed to all?

Defending Latin in Public Schools

I just found this article about Latin “not being dead yet.” It is a great apology for Latin–it points out that it should be for everyone, not just for the “smart kids.”

It covers just about every reason why one should learn Latin. What astounds me is that a journalist can understand and present the argument so clearly while the educational establishment continues to ignore it.

Latin should be required in all schools. Read the article to find out why.

Learn English Through Latin

It is amazing how many people are now defending learning Latin in school. This blog post points out its fantastic benefits in learning English grammar and vocabulary. I found it to be very well written and to the point. Honestly, even though I work day in and day out promoting Latin, it nearly knocked my socks off with its straight-forwardness. It is well worth the read.

But Latin teaches something much greater than the English language when a student learns it early: critical thinking skills. The effort a student must put into analyzing grammar forms and then synthesizing them into a translation forces that student to start thinking in an organized, systematic way.

Modern languages like Spanish or Portuguese just don’t do the job. Since their nouns and adjectives are not declined as they are in Latin, the student misses the whole exercise of learning the parts of a sentence–and consequently miss the majority of the critical thinking development.

What other benefits do you see to learning Latin?

Education and Politics

In the midst of a recent conversation, a logical syllogism started to form in my mind:


1. Modern progressive education teaches students what to think and not how to think.

Modern political discussion is rife with people who spout ideas without reasoning.

Therefore, modern progressive education has lead to the polarization in today’s politics.

2. Classical education teaches students how to think.

People who know how to think will have reasonable political discussions.

Therefore, to help society have better political discussions, students should be taught with a classical education.


Is this argument flawless? Post your comments below!


An Interesting Way to Practice Latin

Whether or not you have a passion for Latin, you’re inevitably struck when you hear about a radio news program broadcasting in the ancient tongue.

While the Classical Core Curriculum is not designed to teach the students to speak Latin, it will definitely prepare them to understand these fun podcasts.

You may ask what the advantage is of such news programs. If it were nothing more than sparking the students’ interest, it would be enough. But it is also keeping the importance of Latin in society’s sight. Vivat Latina!

Latin helps boost scores on the SAT

We have always said that Latin boosts students’ scores on the SAT. However, concrete data has never been provided. Here is an article that gives average scores for the SAT, not only of Latin students versus the average, but also compared to students of Spanish and French. The stats are about a third of the way down.

Sapientia et Virtus

Our motto is “Sapientia et Virtus” which means “Wisdom and Virtue”. Why?

When many people speak about classical education, they focus on the superior academics found at a classical school. This is true, but classical education is not just about information. It educates the mind in a deep way, not just filling it up to repeat it on exams, but leading it to wisdom.

But there is more than just the mind–classical education also trains the soul. We always advocate teacher-directed classrooms to help foster discipline and self-control. The literature classical students read teaches them about virtue and vice.

That’s our motto in a nutshell. Just thought you should know.

Docere, Delectare, Movere

The motto of Highlands Latin School is “Docere, Delectare, Movere,” or “To Teach, To Delight, To Move.” That school, where the Classical Core Curriculum is developed, believes that the key to teaching is making sure that the students enjoy learning.

But a distinction has to be made: the students are to delight in learning not because they are having fun but because they are taught to enjoy the pursuit of truth. At Highlands Latin School you will typically see students sitting quietly at their desks (which are in straight rows facing the teacher), working away or paying attention to the lecture. Almost every child on the planet will tell you there are more enjoyable things they could be doing–and most teachers would tell you their are more engaging ways to teach–but in general the students do not complain or dread the school day.

The teachers take advantage of the occasional game or activity, but most class time is dedicated to serious intellectual pursuit. And yet you can see the children’s eyes light up when they can answer a question correctly or when something becomes clear for them. “Man by nature desires to know” as Aristotle would say, and Highlands uses that innate desire to foster a love for learning. Challenging the students to learn, keeping the bar high, motivates students more deeply than “fun” activities. Teaching truth, goodness, and beauty is the key to delighting in learning.

Learning Virtue

by Paul Schaeffer

In elementary school I learned the story of Cincinnatus from the book Famous Men of Rome. When I try to recall the stories I learned that year, he is the first one to come to mind. Romulus and Remus came second, followed by Horatius. So I had to ask myself, “Why would Cincinnatus come even before the founders of Rome?”

The answer was simple: because Cincinnatus embodied all that was noble in Roman culture. He was a man of simple taste. Though he was from a noble family and a man of great renown, he lived on a small farm outside the city. When the Roman army found itself in dire need, the Senate thought it appropriate to name Cincinnatus dictator for a period of six months. They found him plowing in his field and asked him to take control of the situation. By the end of the day, Cincinnatus had raised a new army and marched to the rescue of the regular Roman soldiers. He immediately defeated Rome’s enemies and marched back in triumph.

This story sounds like all the other stories of Rome’s greatness, but what really stuck with me was what Cincinnatus did after coming back to Rome. He had the right to hold on to his dictatorship for six months. And yet, within a few days of returning home, he renounced his office, gave the power back to the Senate, and returned to his farm. I recall my teacher emphasizing this point: a noble, upright person should not have an inordinate desire for power, but serve his community in the office that they entrust to him. Since Cincinnatus had done his duty, it was right for him to give up his office once he returned home.

I tell this story to show how classical education can affect a student. After almost 20 years, I still remember that lesson about virtue. Not only do I remember it, but I also let it influence what I do. After all, isn’t classical education about teaching students how to think and what to do?

Latin inspired the standard for all poetry

by Charles Moore

A great explanation and defense of Latin poetry. Read it here.

The Science of Teaching Science

by Paul Schaeffer

My high school chemistry teacher’s favorite word was “wonder.” Nothing was done in class because some outside power required us to do it. After a while, we all knew that we learned what we did because it was worth knowing–and that’s why we wanted to learn it. The first day of class he taught us to use our sense of wonder in our observations.

“When you observe something, use all five of your senses,” he said. “Look at it, touch it, smell it, taste it, drop it on the floor to hear what it sounds like.”

We followed his counsels to the letter. Any chemical substance he gave us, we observed completely. We began to wonder!

The bad news was that occasionally he would let us taste a substance that was not conducive to our health (to put it euphemistically) . He did not want to shield us from real-life experiences, but taught us what unrestrained wonder could lead to. I no longer remember what chemical it was, but one day he passed out a white powder that we were to observe. We all dutifully tasted it (among our other observations). He continued with the lesson and our tongues started to go numb. Ten minutes later, he stopped in the middle of his lecture and said, “By now your tongues should be numb. I will be passing out some vinegar now which will act as an antidote.” And then there we were, all drinking small portions of vinegar to get our tongues working again! He had a deeper point: the pursuit of knowledge can be arduous and even dangerous.

The good news was that our sense of wonder, with his support, continued beyond physical observation. We learned about the pre-Socratic philosophers and the difficulties they encountered. We followed the quest of the Greeks to figure out what was the underlying substance of the entire world. We drank at the fountain of Socrates’ wisdom and continued into the world of Plato’s forms. All this time we were dying to know what really made up our world. And then we met Aristotle. We picked up his book Physics and struggled to follow his strict logic. We expected him to posit one underlying substance for everything as his predecessors had done. But no, he taught us that everything in this world is made up of matter and form.

The course did not stop there–we continued to learn about the development of the periodic table of the elements as well as different chemical properties. But we knew what the world was really made of. We understood from the beginning that the periodic table was a method of discovery and manipulation, not a philosophical interpretation of existence. So while we needed to understand modern chemistry, it was grounded in a classical understanding of the world. We were not stuck manipulating formulas for days on end, but rather our wonder drove us to think about reality more deeply and still drives me every single day.

Rhetoric: Much More Than Public Speaking

by Paul Schaeffer

Current educational trends either ignore public speaking all together or attempt to teach it by making the student do it repetitively. However, this approach does not seem to be working. Look at the people who make their living by speaking to the public: talk show hosts try to persuade their listeners by shouting more than their opponent while others bore their audiences to death with long, drawn-out monologues. The fruits of our education beg us to find out what current trends miss.

Aristotle defines rhetoric as “the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion.” Observation is active by its very nature. It requires processing and analysis. So then it must be concluded that rhetoric is not about flailing your hands as you speak, nor is it just a wild attempt at public speaking. It is a deliberate effort to decide which method would be most apt to convince your audience of your point. It is therefore a conscious process (something largely ignored in modern public speaking classes). In classical rhetoric, there are three methods of persuasion: ethos, logos, and pathos. Ethos is the quality the speaker holds as a respectable person. Because he is good, we listen to him. Logos is persuading by means of logical argument. Because it makes sense, we agree with it. Pathos is using the audience’s emotions to convince them of your point. Because we feel attracted to it, we like it.

While the speaker must take these aspects into account, it is very advantageous for the audience to be aware of the art of rhetoric. A listener equipped to “observe in any given case the available means of persuasion” will be able to glean the truth or falsity of arguments based on ethos, logos, or pathos. Whether or not a student will ever be in a situation where he needs to speak to a large group of people, it is worth teaching him rhetoric. It will make him a better speaker and a better listener.

How knowing Latin helped one reporter get the scoop of a lifetime

“Qui res mundi vellet scire linguam Latinam cognosciat.”

If you don’t know what that means, then join all the reporters who missed one of the greatest journalistic scoops of the 21st century.

When Pope Benedict XVI recently abdicated the papacy, he did it in a speech that was supposed to be about the canonization of three saints. But all of a sudden, he began almost whispering in Latin.

Giovanna Chirri, the Vatican reporter for ANSA, the leading news wire service in Italy, was covering the regularly scheduled speech. She immediately realized what the Pope was saying.

She knew Latin.

She quickly called Vatican spokesman Frederico Lombardi to confirm what she thought she had heard: that Benedict was going to do something that no pope had done for 717 years: voluntarily step down from his office. But Lombardi could not be reached.

Chirri then reported to her editor at the ANSA News agency that the Pope had just announced his abdication. But the editor got cold feet, and a heated argument ensued between the reporter and her editor, the editor doubting her story, and Chirri insisting that her Latin was good enough to understand what the Pope had said.

At 11:46 a.m. GMT, ANSA sent out the alert to a surprised world. Chirri had scooped the rest of the press corp because she knew Latin.

Oh, and that Latin sentence above? It means, “He who wants to know what’s happening in the world should know Latin.”

via Blogger

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