December 18: John Locke Is Permissive

I wonder if spelling will count even more in the URL era.

The classics can be relevant. Here's John Locke holding forth on how to teach your child Latin. The best way, as we all know, is to hire someone who will do nothing but talk to your kid in Latin, then he'll pick it up. This would be the most incredible career niche ever. Here's the second-best, but first-best in terms of sanity, way :
by taking some easy and pleasant book, such as Æsop’s Fables, and writing the English translation (made as literal as it can be) in one line, and the Latin words which answer each of them, just over it in another.
Oddly enough, the other day I read this story on the Loeb Classical Library from the Boston Globe:
As it happens, the Loeb Classical Library, those famous red and green books published by Harvard University Press, have the translations on the facing page of the text. For that reason they are usually banned from beginning and intermediate language classes, branded as unhelpful crutches.
Not to our 17th century dude, they aren't!

But then Locke is kind of laid back, in general. His thoughts concerning education remind me a little of a theory my dad, who spent 30 years teaching and administrating, said he encountered in grad school -- which is, we should keep the kids out of school till they're 12, and in one year we can teach them what we've been trying to teach them for the past seven. Certainly with boys I can see the utility of this. Locke knows what boys are like:
There is yet a further reason, why masters and teachers should raise no difficulties to their scholars; but on the contrary should smooth their way, and readily help them forwards, where they find them stop. Children’s minds are narrow and weak, and usually susceptible but of one thought at once. Whatever is in a child’s head, fills it for the time, especially if set on with any passion....It is a contradiction to the natural state of childhood for them to fix their fleeting thoughts. Whether this be owing to the temper of their brains, or the quickness or instability of their animal spirits, over which the mind has not yet got a full command; this is visible, that it is a pain to children to keep their thoughts steady to any thing.
Thank god that now we've got all these TV and video games to calm them down, right?

The other interesting thing I found was that Locke is at the very beginning of the swing away from the liberal arts. It sounds like he hates the idea of Latin being taught and thinks it's foppery. In fact, this passage might be the very first theoretical underpinning of the Business major:
Could it be believed, unless we had every where amongst us examples of it, that a child should be forced to learn the rudiments of a language which he is never to use in the course of life that he is designed to, and neglect all the while the writing a good hand and casting accounts, which are of great advantage in all conditions of life, and to most trades indispensably necessary?
Why, Locke goes on to say, teaching people Latin is as meaningless as church! (That's a paraphrase, of course; if Locke had actually said it that way he'd have been arrested.) It's hard to refute this, and yet government by MBA's doesn't seem so hot either. I still feel that the long view you get from the classics might help you avoid folly, even though one of the things the long view teaches you is that folly is unavoidable. Maybe there's something to that accounting jazz after all.

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