What is the present status of our middle schools and high schools? I do not have permission to attend classes at any school. I recall, however, a day when I did not have permission not to attend.
I hear on the news or read in the newspapers every day some good things and some very disturbing things about our American schools. Recently, I read a front-page story about the failure of students in terms of mathematics, reading and writing.
A high school teacher told me last week that writing is no longer taught in most schools, which he described as cursive or connecting your printing. Penmanship seems to be a thing of the past.
One front-page story said, “… nearly four out of five eighth grade students not proficient in math.” Writing and math were once expected to be good. Now we depend on computers to print and spell for us and calculators to do our math.
I hear people confess, “I’m not good at spelling.” The dictionary I use most often has 36 small print single space pages dealing with such subjects as “Guide to the Dictionary”, “Language and the Dictionary”, “Etymology” and “Americanisms” before reaching the first letter of the alphabet’s 26 characters. That letter is an “A”, on to “Z”. How many of us have ever read all those pages about the book we hold before arriving at the first word?
When in graduate school, I was an RA – “Residence Advisor”. I arrived late and had not met my roommate. He was sleeping soundly at 9 o’clock. About five the next morning I woke up briefly to a bright desk light. My roommate was reading the dictionary. Not much of a plot to the story, but many characters.
He was a scholar. He realized as a freshman that if he knew the meaning of words and some idea about how to pronounce them, he might do well as a student. He became the scholarly college professor, Dr. Lewis Burrell. An inspiring roommate.
Good doctor, you taught me to spend many hours reading the dictionary and especially Roget’s Super Thesaurus. In my library, numerous volumes deal with word meanings, English and others.
Noah Webster, 1758-1843, American lexicographer, was born in West Hartford, Connecticut, and educated at Yale. He published a spelling book, Webster’s Elementary Spelling Book or The Blue-Backed Speller. A century later, it was estimated that more than 60,000,000 copies had been sold.
His first dictionary, in two volumes, published in 1828, had about 40,000 more definitions than any earlier English language dictionary. Webster’s New World Dictionary on my desk must have 90,000 or more definitions in it. The expression, “According to Webster” means relying on real authority.
Read six good books on any subject with some major degree of understanding and you will know more about that subject than ninety-five percent of the people you will ever meet. We would be better off to have 300 of the best books, including three superb dictionaries, and really study those books until we knew and understood their content. Having many books is not necessarily a sign of education. Learn to read and you can know most anything else.
Albert Einstein, said to be educated, “It is essential that the student acquire an understanding of and a lively feeling for values. He must acquire a vivid sense of the beautiful and of the morally good. Otherwise he – with his specialized knowledge – more closely resembles a well-trained dog than a harmoniously developed person.”
Called the wisest of men, Solomon, said, “Incline your ear and hear the words of the wise, And apply your heart to my knowledge” (Proverbs 22:17). Let’s all try to learn something worthwhile today and every day.
Dr. William “Bill” Ellis of Scott Depot is a weekly syndicated columnist who writes on a wide variety of subjects. Ellis has spent 25 years as a radio and television broadcaster and as a guest speaker and teacher on college campuses.