There is a lot of talk in my neck of the woods about education. Schools are rated by how much “progress” their students have made since last year. States are ranked by their level of education. Even Countries are ranked. It’s getting so teachers are not tasked with teaching kids the basic building blocks of an education, they are teaching to take the State mandated tests. Heaven forbid, the kids actually learn anything as long as they can pass the tests and improve their school’s rank.
Boy, it felt good to get that off my chest. In this quest for a better education, we tend to lean toward the latest programs and teaching methods. There has not been a political campaign in the past 50 years, where one candidate, or both, has declared themselves to be the “education candidate”. Generally, the candidate’s promises consist of spending more money on ___, with you left to fill in the blanks. Well, in the humble opinion of this old man, more money on new programs is not necessarily the answer. Maybe we need to look back to the old days to find the methods that work best.
The old days for me mean the late 1940’s and the early 1950’s. Before the days of phonics, new math, calculators and spellcheckers, there was rote memorization. After learning to count and to add and subtract, we faced the daunting task of learning the multiplication tables. How many times did I write 2x2=4, 2x3=6, 2x4=8 and on and on? We wrote them on paper, on the blackboard and anywhere else we could find. We took the multiplication tables home and our mom or dad would sit with us and ask, “What is 2 times 2?” and we would dutifully answer ,”4”. Then go on to the next one over and over.
My dad would try to trick me by asking, while we were doing the 4’s, “What is 4 times 5”? After my answer, he would then ask, “What is 5 times 4”? It took me a while to catch what he was doing, but eventually I learned the Times Tables backward and forward. The interesting part is that I learned my multiplication tables without a calculator or without the benefits of new math that attempted to explain why 2 times 3 was equal to 6. I didn’t care why it equaled six, I just knew it did! I also knew 3 time 2 equaled six!
Spelling was another subject taught by pure mind numbing rote. We would take a list of 20 words home on
Monday and learn them for the test on Friday. Dad was the math drill sergeant, but Mom was the spelling master and she was tougher than Dad ever was. I had to know how to spell the words by Wednesday evening and then the work began. My Mom spent Thursday nights with me spelling the words forward and backwards. Yes, backwards! Her philosophy was simple, if you could spell it backwards, you could spell it forwards.
This technique for learning spelling had three significant benefits. First and foremost, I learned how to spell a lot a lot of words. And honestly, English spelling is not easy. Many words are not spelled the way Phonics would dictate. Phonics is a good example. Phonically, it should be spelled Fonix. Another fun example: I read a book, the book is read, and the cover of the book is red. Ain’t English fun?
The second benefit of the rote learning of spelling is a neat parlor trick. You see, if I can spell a word forward, I can spell it backwards often just as fast as forward. Quick, spell "phonics" backwards. This dubious talent also helps me with some interesting observations such as the name "Leon" is "Noel" backward. There, are you impressed?
The third, and perhaps most useful benefit of rote learning of spelling comes from the fact that there are some words I can’t spell because I have difficulty visualizing them. On the surface, this would seem to be a disadvantage. But as a result of my limited spelling ability, I have learned a lot of synonyms for words I can’t spell. For example, there is no way I can spell "synonyms" in the prior sentence. Had I not had the miracle of spellchecker, I would have simply written, I know a lot of words that I can spell which mean the same thing as the words I can not spell.
The old ways worked because we had good teachers who were allowed to teach and educate. Their methods may not have been the most costly, the most modern, the most scientific, but they got this old man through a good education, a good life and a good family. From the Fall of Life those things matter more to me than being number one at taking a standardized test.
That’s my View From The Fall
"A person's life can be compared quite nicely to the four seasons of the year. This blog is from someone in the Winter of Life enjoying the fruits of his "Summer and Fall" and looking forward to assisting the growth and nourishment for the next generation.
My Father and Grandfather passed on their wisdom through their actions and their stories. This is probably be the most impactful way to pass on wisdom. But the written word can have an affect on lives that extends beyond the memories of a couple of generations. This blog is an attempt to reflection on my life experiences and pass these reflections to future generations of my own family as well as any others who might come across these pages.