My high school's language department is SAD. (long rant)

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GlottalGreekGeek
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My high school's language department is SAD. (long rant)

Post by GlottalGreekGeek » Mon Dec 20, 2004 11:35 pm

In the THIRD YEAR French class, most of the students can't do comparatives i.e. "La maison est plus grande que la voiture" (The house is bigger than the car) , and the teacher was harping about how it was so difficult to master. Excuse me? French comparatives and superlatives are easy compared to say, English, where one has to know whether "The house is bigger than the car" or "The house is more big than the car" is correct. Of course, the students were getting confused on whether the "maison" (house) or "voiture" (car) was bigger because their volcabulary ... ne suffit pas.

The teacher always delays the due-dates of assignments, grades tests with loads of slack (yet most students still score poorly), and frequently a hour class period can go without a single word of French being spoken. Instead, we get to hear about our teacher's crappy life (boo hoo hoo), or hear lectures on how he's an incompetant teacher, how he got the job even though he was an incompetant teacher, how he will become a more competant teacher, or how incompetant we are as students.

At least he does speak French. That is better than some teachers. When someone tried to start a conversation in French with the previous French teacher, she replied "Oh, I don't speak French."

From what I hear, the Spainish class is just as bad. I overheard a girl who spent a year in Spain asking a third-year Spainish student (someone who I know is quite smart) how much Spainish she knew. It turns out that, in third-year Spainish, they still don't know how to use ANY aspect of the past tense. Nada! When the girl who was in Spain asked the student if she knew about the subjunctive, the student replied "I don't know. Is is really hard?"

Russian, the only other language at my school (no Latin, no Greek), does have a competent teacher from what I hear. But I keep on hearing about how the tests in that class are so easy, and I heard secondhand that they never cover the imperfect, except in the really advanced class reserved for native-Russian-speakers only. On the other hand, they actually do compete in a Russian essay contest for non-native-speakers, but I still wonder how much Russian they actually learn in that class.

Fortunately for me, I got one year of French, and afterwards dropped it. But it was quite a feat to get the office to allow me to do it, since two years of a language are required to get a diploma. Being bureaucrats, they couldn't accept that I knew more French than anyone in the third-year French class, and they kept on harping about how colleges wouldn't accept me for taking less than three years of a language. Eventually it was settled that if I got a good SAT score in French, colleges would accept me, and I could get my diploma. I have taken the test and awaiting the score. I got far from a perfect score, but I believe I did well.

Now I need to eat, but when I come back I'll give Part Two : Why the Language Classes are So Bad.

By the way, the exigence for this rant was Thucy mentioning that he got all that greek-prep from his secondary school.

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Post by classicalclarinet » Mon Dec 20, 2004 11:52 pm

Do you live in the U.K or U.S.?

My situation (with German) is nowhere as bad as yours, but I wish it could be better. The semester is almost over, but we have not finished even the second chapter of the textbook (which is does NOT measure up with the (High-School level) Latin books I've seen, in terms of content) My teacher is actually half German and half English, so I assume it's the class behavior and official curriculum that determines what we cover in class. If so, the curriculum, in my opinion, is too sleazy. 40 minutes of class time every school day for 4 years is just TOO much time to learn a language!

And I have not even mentioned the lack of classical languages at all. :P No Greek whatsoever, and only three levels of Latin (that's what the DISTRICT wide handbook says). Personally I don't even think there is more than one Latin teacher; he even used to teach in my school until he moved to another, newly constructed, one just this year!

On a side note, it's pretty amazing you were allowed to skip a graduation requirement. Is a good SAT score on the language a formal way to waive the requirement?

P.S. Am waiting for Epi with HIS rants about Asian girls. ;P

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Post by GlottalGreekGeek » Tue Dec 21, 2004 12:30 am

PART TWO : Why the language deparment is so bad.

While studying French independently, I looked for the state standards in French. Classes such as English, the Sciences, History, and Math have set regulations for how much material students must have covered in which year. There are no such regulations for language classes. The classes may be as poor as they please, even in the top ranking academic high schools, such as my own.

Colleges and universities do require a few years of a languages or a good SAT score. The important word is "or". As there is no regulations for what a language class has to cover, and no exam to prove that those regulations were met (or not met), there is no way to insure that students actually learn the language. And even though these students might have several years of a language class which was a waste of time, colleges accept them. Thus there is nothing to make the teachers move a class along, and there is no reason for a student to push themself to master a language.

One of the brightest - and hardest-working, boys in my class, who got the highest PSAT score in the school, is in 3rd year Spainish, spends 15 minutes every two days on Spainish homework, and gets A-/B+ in his Spainish class. I, who never took a Spainish class in my life, know more Spainish than him from French and keeping my eyes and ears open. Knowing that he is very shy about anything relating to dating, I once kept on saying to him "Te quiero! Por que no me quieres?". He stood there in non-comprehension until someone translated for him, upon which he promptly ran in the other direction. Now the reason this boy, who gets a 4.0, runs more extra-curricular activities than I can imagine, and seems to hunt for excuses to lose hours of sleep, is not learning Spainish. But there's no consequences for not learning Spainish for him, and he does not love linguistics as much as me, so why should he bother?

Based on talking to various college alumni, I gather that the languages classes there are not as lax, but unless you major in a language, they don't expect to actually learn one, unless you go to somewhere ultra academic/prestigious.

There is also the matter of teachers. For a private language class, anyone can teach, but if they don't teach the language to some degree, they aren't going to get a lot of customers. But for public schools teachers must get a teaching credential. I do not know enough specifics, but I gather that many teachers get a credential which allows them to teach a language without a rigorous examination of how well they know a language. Now many schools, such as my own school has started under our current principal, do make an independent inspection of how fluent a prospective teacher is, but fluency in a language does not mean competency in teaching. Hence, the aforesaid results.

What all this stems from is, of course, American society. In the past, there was the conception bleeding over from Europe that educated people had to be genuine polyglots, although never to the same extent as in Europe. This is why we still have language classes today. But Americans can get away easily without ever learning a language but English. Even in this city, with at least %35 of the population not speaking English as a first language, all the linguistic minorities cater to English, so English is the only language required to function well in society. Dead languages such as Greek, and a little later on Latin, are the first to be sweeped off, as impractical for global communication. But as English becomes more the world's lingua franca, even living languages are swept aside as they don't have obvious practical benefits for most Americans. Hence all the lack of regulation in public school language departments.

Are the students getting hurt. I say yes. Regardless of anything else, the German proverb "Whoever doesn't speak another language knows nothing of their own" holds true - most people who have seriously studied another language say that they learned more about how English works through that other language than they ever did in any grammar lesson in English class. There are many other arguments which can be made to show how students suffer from this dearth of good language education, but this is the strongest. The students in my English and Theatre classes who are familiar with more than one language frequently have an edge.

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Post by GlottalGreekGeek » Tue Dec 21, 2004 12:37 am

I live in California.

Almost any college will accept a SAT II score of 560 or higher in French, Spainish, German, Modern Hebrew, Latin, Italian, or whatever tests they have, instead of a language class. If you got a score that good, you obviously got your language training somewhere, and that is all the colleges care about. And since I did take one year of a language, useless as it was, and the colleges will accept me, I still get my diploma - provided, of course, that my SAT II score is as high I think it is.

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Post by classicalclarinet » Tue Dec 21, 2004 1:22 am

Good point.

It's amazing that your school does so well academically but has nothing of a foreign language department (no Asian languages, when you live in california??)
Forgive me, but aren't AP Language tests different than SAT language tests?

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Post by Eureka » Tue Dec 21, 2004 2:08 am

I had exactly the same experience at high school (and also primary school). It seemed that most of the language teachers would have been unable to work as teachers in any other subject. I often wondered how much of the language they actually knew, and none of them had any ability to put information forward or design lesson plans (the exception is my year 7/8 Latin teacher, who was a traditional Latin teacher from the old school of thought).

The amount of time that we wasted in these language classes, doing what in any other subject would just be called stuffing around (or perhaps some less polite terms would be used).

Is seems that finding people with teaching qualifications who also (at least vaguely) know a language is hard enough, finding competent ones is nearly impossible. And it’s a self-perpetuating problem, because the next generation will find it even harder.


However, it seems that people from non-English speaking countries are capable of learning languages at high school. That’s clearly because they think it’s important, while here, they would tend to be seen as a diversion (even though many languages can be very useful for business types).
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Post by GlottalGreekGeek » Tue Dec 21, 2004 2:13 am

No Asian languages at my school, although there is a significent number of students whose native language is Asian, and I live near a Cantonese-speaking neighborhood. However my middle school had optional classes in Cantonese and Japanese.

The difference between the SAT II and the AP language tests is that the SAT II is for getting into college in the first place, and the AP exam is for exepmting oneself from a college course. For the SAT II, there is the French with Listiening test, where you have to prove that you understand what the test tapes are saying, but is very light on things like grammar and analysis. Then there is the plain old SAT II French which is exclusively a reading test with multiple choice only, but the questions are more difficult. I took the later. However, for the AP French test, you are required to do the listiening comprehension section and record your own voice speaking in French, in addition to all the reading comprehension and grammar questions. Hence the greater difficulty.

Anyone who could pass the AP French exam could breeze through the SAT II French, so if you want to waive the class requirement, you might as well take the SAT II and then worry about the AP if you want to dump the college class.

EDIT : I believe there are many people who have excellent qualifications to be language teachers, except they don't want to put up with teaching credentials and public school bureaucracy for lousy pay, which is quite understandable.

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Post by Emma_85 » Tue Dec 21, 2004 10:53 am

The situation is just as bad in the UK when it comes to language classes, just ask Epi :wink: . Glad to say though that my school is pretty good when it comes to languages thankfully.
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Post by Emma_85 » Tue Dec 21, 2004 10:58 am

I still think that SATs are stupid tests. Multiple choice, huh. Here you have to write 8+ pages of French and get a bad grade if you have just a few grammar mistakes in it, plus you only have a French-French dictionary to help you. My French is very bad though, I can't write French for one thing, only speak it. I chose ancient Greek over French (you had to choose between the two languages). One day I might try to learn French properly, but at least I know enough to survive my shopping trips to France (I live near the border).
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Post by Misopogon » Tue Dec 21, 2004 2:06 pm

What all this stems from is, of course, American society.

This thread is pretty interesting.
It seems to me that it happens in all the English speaking world. For example UK is the only country in the EU where learning a foreign language is become not compulsory !
I think that the main problem in the English speaking country is that the society is not interested in learning languages, most people just do not see the reason for spending time in learning, say French, instead of maths or whatever more useful. Of course competence of teachers and method are important, but it can be improved if the people think it's important

Such behaviour has consequences. For example I have been an exchange student in England and I studied law at University for two semesters. Well, I was amazed that the cited references for all the textbooks about "international subjects"(e.g. European Union law or international law) were ONLY books written in English. That's would be very rare in Italy Germany or France.

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Post by Misopogon » Tue Dec 21, 2004 2:06 pm

cancelled
***sent twice by mistake, sorry***
Last edited by Misopogon on Wed Dec 22, 2004 6:50 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Post by Episcopus » Tue Dec 21, 2004 4:19 pm

GGG your language department is indeed poor, but to put this positively my school is the best in the respect of linguistic retardation. You are nothing compared to us! I feel so proud :D I love das Inverse theory.
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Post by rimon-jad » Tue Dec 21, 2004 6:03 pm

School which I attend is 6th best or like high school in Slovakia. The only avalaible and at the same time obligatory languages: English+German.
Man, this school really sucks!!!

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Post by GlottalGreekGeek » Tue Dec 21, 2004 9:50 pm

You do not have to be fluent in French to pass the SAT II, I agree. But wrong answers are counted against your score, and there are absolutely no aids (not even a French-French dictionary) allowed, and there are 80 questions in one hour. I estimate that a volcabulary of 1500 words is required to do well on the test, and 2000 words to ace the vocab section. There are also direct extracts from French literature (they didn't give the authors, but I recognized one as being Camus, and detected the high literary flavor in a number of the extracts), which you have to answer questions on which were only a notch easier than the equivalent English comprehension test would be. Of course, the questions which were the hardest for me were the ones based on advertisements, because advertisements like to keep certain pieces of information discreet/slanted/distorted.

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Post by Amy » Wed Dec 22, 2004 3:51 am

Today in Spanish we were doing a worksheet (on stuff we learned last year)
"Antes los buques no tenían motor, navegaban por medio de ____." (velas)

I wasn't paying attention so the teacher called on me to answer it and I did, and then she said to translate and I said it didn't make sense and she said yes it does, before boats didn't have motors and...and then I said well then it would be a semicolon and she looked at me like I'd eaten a baby. Everyone sprung to her defense "Well maybe it's different in Spanish! maybe they don't have semicolons" (stockholm syndrome, anyone) and she DOES NOT DENY THIS POSSIBILITY
...!!!!??!??

GGG let's not be bitter though since we get the opportunities in college. Congrats btw, Thucydides :D
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Post by GlottalGreekGeek » Wed Dec 22, 2004 5:53 am

Hey. I'm not bitter at all. I can sleep an extra hour on Tuesdays and Thursdays because I don't have to go to French class, I'll get the credit if my SAT score was good. I'm good. But this was something which had been on my shoulders for some time, and I wanted to purge myself.

EDIT : I also wanted to know people's reactions.

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Post by tdominus » Wed Dec 22, 2004 9:58 am

Misopogon wrote:What all this stems from is, of course, American society.
I feel you are being very optimistic if you think that the process of sinking intellectual standards is only occuring in the US. :)

Amy, it amused me greatly that you called it an instance of the stockholm syndrome. You could be right!

Ultimately the lesson is that one must study on one's own accord, and seek to find a competent teacher. Classroom-based teaching simply doesn't seem to be meeting the many challenges it faces.

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Post by Eureka » Wed Dec 22, 2004 10:37 am

tdominus wrote:Ultimately the lesson is that one must study on one's own accord, and seek to find a competent teacher. Classroom-based teaching simply doesn't seem to be meeting the many challenges it faces.
What do you think would be a better alternative to classroom teaching?

I think that, in general, teenagers will never study unless they are made to (either actively, via threat of punishment or promise of reward; or passively, via competition for university places). Classroom teaching at least has the ability to do that.
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happy whining

Post by mingshey » Wed Dec 22, 2004 12:28 pm

skip this if you are no feeling like reading a drunk rant.

you are happy whining. We have zero, null, completely free from, anti-, classical education policy and culture in Korea. (Sorry I'm drunk with aseveral glasses of beer, I guess it's about 3 to 4 litters I got, but I'm not sure. ) Everybody's interested only on money-earning items and there's no room for Western, let alone Eastern, classics in even the mind of education-involved authorities. The result is, even if you want to learn those impractical stuffs, there's no resource you can utilize. And if you are married, you are ranted against pouring your enthusiasm in those 'useless' stuff. I cannot even concentrate on pharr-b lessons that only takes an hour or less and I never get OK for a lesson. Yeah, my wife's no thappy with me studying Greek. (But she's strange. She picked up "Mica, mica, parva stella,..." just hearing me singing it to my daughter and she often sings to my daught into sleeping with that song.) Though I'm justifying Greek and Latin is to English what Classical Chinese is to Korean and if we're going to raise our girl very intelligently there must be somebody to initiate her, it's quite 1/supported discipline to continue on my own. Oh I lost what I'm talking for. forget it guys, and girls.

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Post by Episcopus » Wed Dec 22, 2004 6:49 pm

haha :lol: I am sure if I had a hot asian wife I would 1/be able to concentrate on GREEK either! Don't worry mate!

Independent study is the only way to go. Classrooms with a good teacher can be a good supplement for improving conversational and confidence elements but that's about it.
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Re: happy whining

Post by Paul » Wed Dec 22, 2004 7:24 pm

Hey Mingshey,
mingshey wrote:skip this if you are no feeling like reading a drunk rant.
Without question the best kind of rant. 8)
mingshey wrote: I cannot even concentrate on pharr-b lessons that only takes an hour or less and I never get OK for a lesson.
If an 'OK' will help restore familial harmony, just let me know...I'll see what I can do. :wink:

Cordially,

Paul

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Re: happy whining

Post by Carola » Wed Dec 22, 2004 10:07 pm

mingshey wrote: Everybody's interested only on money-earning items and there's no room for Western, let alone Eastern, classics in even the mind of education-involved authorities. The result is, even if you want to learn those impractical stuffs, there's no resource you can utilize.
This seems to be a world wide attitude these days. About half the people I speak to about learning Greek & Latin say "wow, wish I'd done that" and the other half say "how are you going to make money out of that?". I'm about 5 years away from retirement, why on earth would I be studying for a career??? You can always quote the example of Tolkein who was apparently a whiz at Classical Studies and wrote one of the world's best selling books, not to mention spawning an entire New Zealand movie industry! Most of the world's great discoveries were done by people who were doing "useless" things. How many thrilling discoveries were made by accountants? (and I mean no insult here - it's how I finance my classical studies!) Look at all the inventions that came from "useless" space exploration: new materials, better computers, better understanding of how our bodies work under stress ..... I could go on for pages! (But I haven't had any beer!) So stick with it Mingshey - you are a hero!

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Re: happy whining

Post by mingshey » Wed Dec 22, 2004 11:48 pm

Paul wrote:
mingshey wrote: I cannot even concentrate on pharr-b lessons that only takes an hour or less and I never get OK for a lesson.
If an 'OK' will help restore familial harmony, just let me know...I'll see what I can do. :wink:
Haha, thanks, but please don't mind. I actually learn more from the corrections than from the translations I've managed to do correctly. 8)

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Re: happy whining

Post by Bert » Thu Dec 23, 2004 12:48 am

mingshey wrote:
Paul wrote:
mingshey wrote: I cannot even concentrate on pharr-b lessons that only takes an hour or less and I never get OK for a lesson.
If an 'OK' will help restore familial harmony, just let me know...I'll see what I can do. :wink:
Haha, thanks, but please don't mind. I actually learn more from the corrections than from the translations I've managed to do correctly. 8)
You guys are funny. But Mingshey is right. I usually have mixed feelings, hoping for an OK, and also hoping for some corrections so that I can learn from them. So far I've been getting what I hoped for. :D

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Post by tdominus » Thu Dec 23, 2004 8:09 am

Eureka wrote: What do you think would be a better alternative to classroom teaching?

I think that, in general, teenagers will never study unless they are made to (either actively, via threat of punishment or promise of reward; or passively, via competition for university places). Classroom teaching at least has the ability to do that.
I feel that mentoring / one-on-one teaching adopted to the strengths and needs of a particular student is a superior system in many cases.

The notion of classroom teaching is a relatively modern one, and therefore worthy of much suspicion ;) I found it very interesting to look into the history of compulsory classroom schooling and the reasons for its introduction.

I see the breakdown and continually lowering standards as a consequence of it being mandatory and democratic in the worst sense of the word. Many teachers no longer feel any ideal other than, at best, producing workers.

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Post by Eureka » Thu Dec 23, 2004 10:09 am

tdominus wrote:I feel that mentoring / one-on-one teaching adopted to the strengths and needs of a particular student is a superior system in many cases.
True, but it’s prohibitively expensive.
tdominus wrote:The notion of classroom teaching is a relatively modern one, and therefore worthy of much suspicion. ;)
But the Sumerians had it. Perhaps we have different definitions of the word, “new”. :)
tdominus wrote: I found it very interesting to look into the history of compulsory classroom schooling and the reasons for its introduction.
What were they?
tdominus wrote:I see the breakdown and continually lowering standards as a consequence of it being mandatory and democratic in the worst sense of the word. Many teachers no longer feel any ideal other than, at best, producing workers.
It certainly caters to the lowest common denominator, and can often ignore the needs of better students (espescially government schools). It all comes down to morale in the end (which is closely related to funding).

However, many schools are very good (including some government schools), which proves it is possible.
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Post by classicalclarinet » Thu Dec 23, 2004 11:45 am

It seems to me that actually public education seems so go the other way many times (at least in my experience).
It certainly caters to the lowest common denominator, and can often ignore the needs of better students
Many "traditional" schools in NYC are overcrowded because of creation of mini-schools which, I believe, would favor better students. In my school, half of teachers I hear about teach at least one AP class! A few months ago I watched a program on PBS about public school education, where a normal high school in Ohio, with all its AP and advanced classes, bunched toghether many different levels of students in one class (as an experiment) which amazingly turned out to have a good outcome!

I've briefly read a news report that they were creating a 'elite students'' program in Korea. Imagine the (even more) extra pressure (hours of expensive extracurricular education) just to get into a 'good' school. :?

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Post by Amy » Thu Dec 23, 2004 12:10 pm

clarinet, you're arguing the enemy's point. My school also has an AP hierarchy going which I think is sort of counterproductive because the "smart kids" tend to be the ones with independent motivation to actually learn things - these are the people who would actually learn things without classes or mentors, and there's a lot of work of which not a lot is actual learning, but there's still no "free time". ...missed this week's Greek lesson for midterms btw...Paul I'll do it over break. Why are people doing this if they don't like half their subjects regardless of intelligence: what you said, clarinet, college!

I think homeschooling w/ occasional classes is the ideal situtation (however that is not financially feasible for most people.)
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Post by Bert » Thu Dec 23, 2004 2:29 pm

Eureka wrote:
tdominus wrote:I see the breakdown and continually lowering standards as a consequence of it being mandatory and democratic in the worst sense of the word. Many teachers no longer feel any ideal other than, at best, producing workers.
It certainly caters to the lowest common denominator, and can often ignore the needs of better students (espescially government schools). It all comes down to morale in the end (which is closely related to funding).

However, many schools are very good (including some government schools), which proves it is possible.
I think that it doesn't ignore the needs of the better students only, but also of the students who really have to work hard to scrape by.
I guess what I'm saying is that it doesn't cater to the lowest common denominator, but that it picks a spot somewhere in the middle. As long as an appropriate number of students ranks in the proper place of the curve.
The average range of students is able to do well, the above average risk becoming lazy students, and the below average end up becoming frustrated due to not being able to keep up.

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Post by Democritus » Thu Dec 23, 2004 5:07 pm

tdominus wrote:
Misopogon wrote:What all this stems from is, of course, American society.
I feel you are being very optimistic if you think that the process of sinking intellectual standards is only occuring in the US. :)
Indeed. You can find couch potatoes in any country that has couches and TVs. :)

Actually even Socrates decried the decay of society, back in his day:

http://plato-dialogues.org/faq/faq003.htm

Lest we forget, humanity is still capable of some extremely clever things right now. Some amazing things are happening:

http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/news/press-r ... newsID=516

tdominus wrote:Ultimately the lesson is that one must study on one's own accord, and seek to find a competent teacher. Classroom-based teaching simply doesn't seem to be meeting the many challenges it faces.
Classroom study can be poorly done or well done, it depends on a lot of different things. I learned all of my Latin and Greek in classrooms. :) The quality of schools varies tremendously from place to place. But I agree with you, inasmuch as the responsibility ultimately rests with the student.

Imagine if secondary education were voluntary. That would clear the classroom of many uncooperative people.

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