Sunday, November 6, 2011

Preserving the work of five millennia

As a homeschooling mom, sometimes I am overwhelmed with the amount of information still left to impart to our 13 and 15 year old daughters before they leave home.

Yet I forget how much information I learned as an adult. My girls will not cease to learn once they are no longer under our guidance. We've raised them to understand that education is not confined to formal circumstances, but is instead a lifelong process.

Recently a reader directed my attention to an article called A Culture in Regression. The opening paragraphs are eerie:

The night closes in. Read the surveys of what children know, what students in universities know. Approximately nothing. We have become wanton morons. As the intellectual shadows fall again, as literacy declines and minds grow dim in the new twilight, who will copy the parchments this time?

No longer are we a schooled people. Brash new peasants grin and peck at their iPods. Unknowing, incurious, they gaze at their screens and twiddle, twiddle. They will not preserve the works of five millennia. They cannot. They do not even know why.

Twilight really does come. Sales of books fall. Attention spans shorten. Music gives way to angry urban grunting. The young count on their fingers when they do not have a calculator, know less by the year...

That's a serious responsibility, don't you think? To preserve the work of five millennia?

To me, education isn't just cramming my kids' heads with algebra and chemistry. It's learning to appreciate the five thousand years of civilization preceding us that allows us to live the life of ease we live today. It's an appreciation of the incremental bits and pieces of information that are added to that General Body Of Knowledge from which we all draw. Like the slow building of a coral reef, this General Body of Knowledge can only grow through the contributions, large or small, of everyone.

I frequently lament how we've lost 5000 years of basic skills in only the last hundred years of easy living. Three generations ago, our forefathers collectively still knew much of the wisdom of five millennia. But do you think the texting monkeys you see hanging around malls know anything at all, except an intimate knowledge of their personal electronic devices? Maybe I'm wrong, but somehow I don't think so.

So education must be more than algebra and chemistry. It must be more than texting and social networking. It must include cooking, food preservation, carpentry, building, livestock care, gardening, basic medicine, and a zillion other things.

Do I know all those things? Of course not. But as the author of that column points out, older generations had "respect for learning whether one had it or not." Our young people have no respect, either for learning, or for their elders, or for societal norms, or any other gauge of civilization. All they can do, it seems, is text. Gaze at their little screens. Twiddle.

I may not be able to teach my girls everything I know. I may not have time, before they're old enough to leave the nest. But if I've taught them nothing else, I've taught them to be curious. We've filled our home with over 5000 books of every subject imaginable, from the light and frothy to the weighty and serious. Raising our kids in such an atmosphere, I hope we've done some good towards appreciating the work of five millennia.

My girls will leave the nest able to write clearly and distinctly; able to appreciate the birth of our nation and all the blood that went into it; able to dress appropriately and speak respectfully; able to work a job with diligence and high ethics; able to understand the sanctity of marriage; and able to recognize the blessings of God.

The rest is up to them. The work of five millennia will soon be resting on their shoulders, ready to impart to future generations.


  1. Today I was contemplating another skill that has largely fallen by the wayside in the US: learning a foreign language. I was reading a book about WWII, and the protagonist was from Poland. She had saved herself from slave labor in the ammunitions factory by virtue of the fact that she spoke German well enough to work in the domestic trades. While I see the need for practical skills like gardening, husbandry, and carpentry, I also see a need to learn lost arts like languages. Years ago, students learned Greek and Latin, as a matter of course. Now, if one says he is learning Latin, he is viewed as an oddity. While Latin may not have any practical everyday use, it is part of that five millennia of knowledge. Does anyone else have any thoughts about this? K

  2. I think it is important to preserve books written and published before the 1960's. The information is generally not altered by liberal thinkers. History in particular seems to be under assault. The truth seems to a matter of unabashed alterering. I have bought many books that are the truth, not the assault on it.

  3. I was kind of thinking about this at the tractor supply today. I needed some Diatomaceous earth for my quail. I got a kid on his first job to help me. He had no clue as to what it was or used for. His boss helped him locate it in the computer and he and I went and got it. He then asked me what it was for. That did show me some promise since he did ask instead of just giving it to me. After I told him how I used it as well as some of its other uses he said, wow I learned something today.


  4. Sad but true has the written word is not considered important today to so many. My sister retired last year from a local school as the libarian. She was going through books that were consideder obsolete by the school district and know I am always looking for older books. She told me if I wanted 1 I had to take the whole box it was in. So I brought home several boxes so go through. As I came in the door my husband said "What junk did you bring home this time?' I replied, "good junk, not just good junk, GREAT junk!" That was in May. He is still reading through the books. Most of them are copyright dated around 1940's. We have a treasure, what hurts is known that these books were bound for a trash bin because they were to old to be of use to the school.

  5. Agreeing! I see teaching my children to be "lifelong learners" as a central part of their education. I even wrote about this on my blog, a few years ago.

  6. One thing I see sorely lacking in today's youth is the ability to do deductive reasoning. They seem incapable of deducing answers from the information before them. Perpetual children, that's what this country is raising today.

    Just mention the concept of deductive reasoning to somebody under 40 today and you'll get a blank stare followed by a "huh?"

    Teach your children well, civilization hangs in the balance.

    Anonymous Patriot

  7. Yes and no-you can store a lot of books in a Kindle. Yes, some people rely on the Internet(well, things connected to it) too much without realizing a great deal of it is "mirrored BS". I work for a university,and there are still plenty of good people around. It's just that obnoxious/stupid/annoying people get noticed more. 1 loudmouth gets noticed more tha 99 quiet,decent,hardworking types of all ages(there are older idiots, too). Twenty years ago, I wouldn't have thought homeschooling was a good choice(though I was partially homeschooled,I went to a public school as well). Now, I think it's a great idea-the Internet makes homeschooling easier(but isn't a susbtiture for Real Live Teaching Types). After talking with a few retired teachers, the school system has deteriorated into learning how to pass ceratain standardized tests. I've met 30-somethings that didn't know where their electricity came from,or that cattle and hogs became burgers and bacon-that's kinda scary.
    There's nothing wrong with advances in technology-just don't rely on it without ever questioning it..

  8. Patrice, Trish (above) is absolutely on the money. I'm a few years ahead of you on the homeschool curve--my youngest child just got married this summer, though I like to think of myself as not-quite-over-the-hill at 48. :-) One of the things that makes me most proud is when I can observe my now-adult children disagreeing (with me, with each other) and presenting well-thought-out arguments to defend their positions. My daughter is still in college, and navy bound for nuclear engineering, and she soaks up higher math like a sponge. My middle son is a diesel mechanic by trade...and an avid student of quantum physics in his free time. His younger brother has two jobs--one as a technical support person for a computer gaming system, and one as an Emergency Medical Technician. My oldest son is making a foray into film making and pursuing an in-depth study of Dante's Inferno and Early English and German epics. My longwinded point (and brad, admittedly) is that if you teach your children to be inquisitive, persistent, engaged, and literate, they don't stop learning simply because they achieve adulthood. Instead, they spread their wings and become these really interesting grown-ups who will continue to surprise and amaze you. I personally never went past Algebra II and Geometry in high school. I have never taken a physics class, and I certainly never had the stomach for anything in the medical field. My kids didn't gain any expertise in these areas from their teacher (me). What they did gain, however, was the ability and desire to pursue their interests on their own, and excel.

  9. This is one of my most common laments. I'm HEARTBROKEN when I see these kids - mouthbreathers all - who cannot even make change without assistance from a computer.

    Deductive reasoning? Ha! Not only is this not part of their education, it seems DELIBERATELY designed to exclude it!

    I facilitated (not "taught") my church's high-school SS "class" for several years, and this quickly became my primary mission: to teach these kids to THINK! I'm somewhat proud to say that I did meet with SOME success...

    My children are now nearly grown - my youngest will be 18 in just a few weeks. The elder ones have all now come back to tell me on multiple occasions how much they appreciate all the effort I put into them, and how much they regret their abuse of me while their rearing was in process.

    "WHY CAN'T YOU JUST ANSWER MY QUESTION!!!" was an oft-expressed frustration. My typical opening -- "Well... Let's think about this for a minute..." -- never once failed to elicit a rolling of the eyes and "the hairball noise" though they SHOULD have expected it after such long experience.

    "If I give you the answer, you'll always have to ask, but if I teach you how to FIND the answer for YOURSELF..."

    "I know - I know..." - accompanied by more eye-rolling - was the usual response.

    Elder-daughter is now in her third year of college, helping earn her way by working as an "RA" in the HONORS dorm. Nearly every time we talk she has another story for me about the utter stupidity of the (alleged) "adults" she's charged to babysit - and how utterly incapable they seem to be of figuring out the most basic unknown for themselves.

    "NOW I *GET* it!" is perhaps the sweetest refrain I hear from my kids (Naval Officer, Nurse, and two still students) at this point. If this were the ONLY thing I - as a parent - accomplished, I think I'd be satisfied.

    Still, the growing endarkenment weighs like the proverbial ton of bricks upon my soul. My only reason for hope is the knowledge that there *IS* a remnant of folks out there who - like me - have done all they could to ensure that THEIR children are equipped to preserve as much as they possibly can.

    God bless you - God help US - and GOD SAVE OUR REPUBLIC!

  10. As I look around at the contempt for learning, the home theaters, and the abandoned books, I think often of "Fahrenheit 451".

    Every time I go to a yard sale, thrift store, or library book sale, I feel an overwhelming urge to SAVE THE BOOKS!!! Unfortunately, I have limited resources, and limited space. I cannot save them all.

    I can and do save some, though.

    I look for early 20th-century books and older, primarily, as most of them have not been "corrected". You do have to be careful with some, though, because there were quite a few that were condensed for children, so you aren't getting the whole thing.

    Some modern reprints are photographic reproductions of original printings, so they haven't been changed. These are usually easy to spot, as they use old typefaces. Old typeface does not always equal photographic reproduction, though.

    I get the rolled eyes sometimes, too, when I start giving the backstory and context of something, instead of just answering my kids' questions. "I want you to be able to THINK!" is my retort.

    I recently had an eBay transaction with a woman who could not think. She had bought an item from me, and had not received it as quickly as she expected. The ensuing conversation through e-mail was not to be believed. I called our daughter in and went through the whole thing with her. She was wide-eyed in amazement by the end of it. I explained to her that this woman had never been taught how to think, and this was the result. "So when I challenge you, or begin explaining something, rather than answering your questions, please be patient with me, because I'm trying to save you from growing up to be like this poor woman."