Sunday, September 23, 2012

Dorothy Sayers and TLTOL (part thirteen)

Although I very much like the classical philosophy of education, I have been scared of requiring memorization from my daughter (age 8) because I didn't want her to fail at it or hate me for making her do it. I recall having been good at memorization myself when I was younger, but now I think of memorization as a difficult, unpleasant chore. I regularly slaughter song lyrics unless I'm singing along with someone else who knows the correct words, and I am not interested enough in memorizing anything to do the necessary repetition work. Frankly, I've been lazy about memorizing anything in English for the past 20 years. Yet I'm always grateful when a long-ago memorized quote or poetry snippet comes to mind at an opportune moment. I think I deny my daughter a blessing when I don't require her to learn anything by heart.

Dorothy Sayers is clear on the need to do some memorization during the Grammar stage. Here is the next excerpt from her essay, "The Lost Tools of Learning":
During this age we must, of course, exercise the mind on other things besides Latin grammar. Observation and memory are the faculties most lively at this period; and if we are to learn a contemporary foreign language we should begin now, before the facial and mental muscles become rebellious to strange intonations. Spoken French or German can be practiced alongside the grammatical discipline of the Latin.
In English, meanwhile, verse and prose can be learned by heart, and the pupil's memory should be stored with stories of every kind--classical myth, European legend, and so forth. I do not think that the classical stories and masterpieces of ancient literature should be made the vile bodies on which to practice the techniques of Grammar--that was a fault of mediaeval education which we need not perpetuate. The stories can be enjoyed and remembered in English, and related to their origin at a subsequent stage. Recitation aloud should be practiced, individually or in chorus; for we must not forget that we are laying the groundwork for Disputation and Rhetoric.

Thanks to Susan Wise Bauer's First Language Lessons curriculum, I finally started doing serious memorization work with my daughter. She has memorized two poems so far and seems to enjoy the process of memorizing almost as much as her feeling of accomplishment from having successfully learned the poems. Bauer makes memorizing almost easy in her First Language Lessons. She introduces the poem, does a little dictation exercise from it, and has the teacher read it aloud 3 times a day or so for a couple of weeks, eventually having the student recite longer and longer portions of the poem together with the teacher. My daughter does well with this method, and my fears about imposing detested memorization work on my daughter have been put to rest. Clearly I am the one with the issues about memorization, not she.

As to the other things mentioned in this excerpt, we are raising our children to be bilingual in English and German, and we surround them with all sorts of enticing library books full of "stories of every kind". One of the best parts of homeschooling for us is that the children have so much time to read and love those books.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Speaking of Latin...

My kids crack me up! A while back I joked in a family newsletter that I'd taught them enough Latin to not get shanghaied in Vatican City ("Non sum nauta." = "I'm not a sailor."). Just now, I was explaining how languages change over time and pointed out that Latin is a dead language which is only learned in school but not spoken by any groups of people. Dd5 piped up that Latin is spoken in that place where they kidnap people to work on ships. Ah, the cute misunderstandings of a kindergartner.

Dorothy Sayers and TLTOL (part twelve)

Today I examine this segment of Dorothy Sayer's essay, "The Lost Tools of Learning":
Let us begin, then, with Grammar. This, in practice, means the grammar of some language in particular; and it must be an inflected language. The grammatical structure of an uninflected language is far too analytical to be tackled by any one without previous practice in Dialectic. Moreover, the inflected languages interpret the uninflected, whereas the uninflected are of little use in interpreting the inflected. I will say at once, quite firmly, that the best grounding for education is the Latin grammar. I say this, not because Latin is traditional and mediaeval, but simply because even a rudimentary knowledge of Latin cuts down the labor and pains of learning almost any other subject by at least fifty percent. It is the key to the vocabulary and structure of all the Teutonic languages, as well as to the technical vocabulary of all the sciences and to the literature of the entire Mediterranean civilization, together with all its historical documents.
Those whose pedantic preference for a living language persuades them to deprive their pupils of all these advantages might substitute Russian, whose grammar is still more primitive. Russian is, of course, helpful with the other Slav dialects. There is something also to be said for Classical Greek. But my own choice is Latin. Having thus pleased the Classicists among you, I will proceed to horrify them by adding that I do not think it either wise or necessary to cramp the ordinary pupil upon the Procrustean bed of the Augustan Age, with its highly elaborate and artificial verse forms and oratory. Post-classical and mediaeval Latin, which was a living language right down to the end of the Renaissance, is easier and in some ways livelier; a study of it helps to dispel the widespread notion that learning and literature came to a full stop when Christ was born and only woke up again at the Dissolution of the Monasteries.
Latin should be begun as early as possible--at a time when inflected speech seems no more astonishing than any other phenomenon in an astonishing world; and when the chanting of "Amo, amas, amat" is as ritually agreeable to the feelings as the chanting of "eeny, meeny, miney, moe." 

Hurrah! We have actually started doing Latin in our home school. We are approaching it with a very beginner-oriented text, William Linney's Getting Started with Latin. It's made up of tiny, sequential lessons, but after just three weeks of occasional Latin study, we can now say sum (I am), es (you are), est (he/she is), et (and), non (not), nauta (sailor), agricola (farmer), and poeta (poet). We throw in other words that we think are Latin (or not necessarily Latin) when we want to say something outside of what those few words allow. It's great fun. For example, thanks to the film O Brother, Where Art Thou, we can all say to Daddy, "Es pater familias." This morning, we were telling each other we were dinosaurs like this: "Es dee-no-sore-us." I'm sure there's a good Latin word for dinosaur; in fact, isn't the word dinosaur from the Latin for "terrible lizard" or something? Time to go Google.

Update: Silly me. Dinosaur comes from the Greek words for terrible ("deino") lizard ("sauros"). Dead Latin doesn't have a term for dinosaur, but apparently we can use the word "dinosaurum" if we must, according to Google Translate.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

In which I understand the Tiger Mother

A year or two ago, I read The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother and participated in a great discussion of it with a book club. I remember being fairly appalled at her description of the time she forced her daughter to practice a difficult piano piece until she got it right, making her stay at the piano and threatening to do all sorts of things if the child didn't get the piece down, including burning her stuffed animals. Thought I, that would never happen in our home, for I don't value musical achievement that highly. Ah, foolish woman, thought the universe...there is something that you value quite a bit: mathematics.

Yesterday was one of the those days that make a mother wonder if she's entered an alternate reality. The day started with the usual happenings, and then we began our math page for the day. Horrors! This one had sixty-four subtraction facts to accomplish. Never mind that they were all simple ones where the highest minuend was ten. No, the whole assignment page was numbers. Not a story problem about candy on the entire page! Dd7 (almost 8 years old now) hit a mental roadblock at the sight of that appalling exercise page. And I, tormented by visions of a daughter unable to subtract 2 from another number and sentenced to a life of English editing (not that there's anything wrong with that, but dd7 absolutely loves science), proceeded to force her to do it, making her start the page over every time she got a glazed look indicating that she was no longer doing math in her head and had instead turned her thoughts to her mother's meanness, the difficulty of the task, and the weave of her pants. Meltdowns, drama, tears, pouts, and occasional voice raising ensued--I think I was only guilty of the last, but I can't be sure. I found myself thinking of Amy Chua's threats to burn stuffed animals and understood where the threats came from. I'm happy to say my thoughts about threatening destruction to stuffed animals were never uttered aloud to dd7...but it could have easily come to that. What seemed to snap her out her stubbornness about the math page, after nearly two hours of Theater (a useful German word describing interpersonal drama, especially from tantrum-throwing children), was asking dd5 to do the subtraction facts aloud in front of dd7, which dd5 did in about five minutes.

After a lunch break, dd7 finally did her math facts in just a few minutes and her face wore a relieved smile. I was too exhausted to smile normally for hours afterward.