Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Cardinal Newman on Learning Grammar

I think this applies to education in general as well (by the way, I may have quoted this before, but I'm not sure and as I stumbled upon it this morning, I thought I'd go ahead and post). This was written in the 1850s. It seems so simple and common sense and yet something which has been to a large extent lost in an educational system/culture that pushes for large quantities of accomplishments over understanding...
And this is the sense of the word "grammar" which our inaccurate student detests, and this is the sense of the word which every sensible tutor will maintain. His maxim is "a little, but well"; that is, really know what you say you know: know what you know and what you do not know; get one thing well before you go on to a second; try to ascertain what your words mean; when you read a sentence, picture it before your mind as a whole, take in the truth or information contained in it, express it in your own words, and, if it be important, commit it to the faithful memory. Again, compare one idea with another; adjust truths and facts; form them into one whole, or notice the obstacles which occur in doing so. This is the way to make progress; this is the way to arrive at results; not to swallow knowledge, but (according to the figure sometimes used) to masticate and digest it. (The Idea of a University, from "Elementary Studies")
I think it's also good for teachers and homeschool parents to have a similar attitude. I've never thought that telling a child "I don't know" to a particular question was harmful in any way - particularly if it is followed up with a willingness to find the answer with your student/child or try to get back to them. This quote also suggests to me the necessity of humility and docility in learning.


Ana Braga-Henebry said...

Aah... great read to go with my morning coffee--"I don't know" comprises a significant percentage of my answers to questions these days.
May I should pick up Newman's "Idea of a University" and read some more.

Doctor Thursday said...

Excellent quote! I wholeheartedly recommend Newman's Idea of a University (and also his University Sketches) for anyone interested in learning about learning. They are well worth the effort spent.

But I have more to say on this larger matter:

Let us also recall that a home school is, necessarily a "miniature university" for all subjects must come within the compass. You are right, sometimes to answer, as even a multi-degreed professor might, "I do not know" - but let such answer always be given with the extension all disciples (the Latin for students) ought to give:

"I do not know; let us go find out."

All the real discoverers said that - now it's our turn. We are all still discovering the truths of God's universe.

And while I am on this topic let us not forget St. Paul, a truly great student of Jesus Christ, "in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge." (Colossians 2:3)

Willa said...

That's a great quote. I've read and re-read parts of "Idea of a University" but not the bit about Elementary Studies.

"Let us go find out" is a neat imperative for homeschooling and life, too : ).

Lots for me to think about. Thanks!

Suzanne Temple said...

This is an excellent quote and the idea that we should think and rethink what we really know and know what we don't know is important for growth intellectually and spiritually.