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    Book Club: Ideas Have Consequences{Chapter 8, Part 2}

    August 30, 2012 by Brandy Vencel

    Yesterday, we discussed some of the comments that Weaver makes about education throughout chapter eight, The Power of the Word. Weaver sees education as not only contributing to the decline of language in our culture, but also as the easiest route for reformation.

    Teachers {and others in similar positions–pastors come to mind here also} have dropped the language ball:

    What has happened to the one world of meaning? It has been lost for want of definers.

    How many teachers and pastors do you know who are careful of the definition of words, of the protection of language?

    The breakdown of language necessarily results in the breakdown of community.

    Ideas Have Consequences
    by Richard Weaver

    [W]e witness today a breakdown of communication not only between nations and groups within nations but also between successive generations…Drift and circumstance have been permitted to change language so that the father has difficulty in speaking to the son; he endeavors to speak, but he cannot make the realness of his experience evident to the child. This circumstance, as much as any other, lies behind the defeat of tradition. Progress makes father and child live in different worlds, and speech fails to provide a means to bridge them.

    This is a good reason to read aloud together as a family.  I have found nothing to be quite so powerful at building our family culture as this habit {which includes the reading of Scripture, of course}. Reading aloud–and its great companion, memorization–have given us a common vocabulary and a common base of analogies to which we can refer. {And all you thought you were doing was reading a story!}

    Rehabilitation of the Word

    Weaver says there are steps we can take to counter what has happened. He’s speaking to my grandparents’ generation, but I don’t find his suggestions to be any less true. In fact, they are more important than ever. I suggested reading aloud as a way for the family to begin to restore the proper use of language {of course, they must choose good books for this to be true}. Weaver says there must be a rehabilitation of the word and that is a task…for education.
    What follows is basically a curriculum outline. It’s simple enough, having three main parts. We’ll go over each of them briefly.
    1. Great Poetry. Weaver warns against sentimentality on the one hand and brutality on the other. The antidote, he says, is good poetry, rightly interpreted. This poetry will offer the students

      a pure or noble metaphysical dream, which our studets will have all their lives as a protecting arch over their system of values

      I find a certain irony in this because we all seem to know that graduating students with a strong worldview is imperative if they are survive in the “big, bad world out there,” but we do it through analysis, which is about as opposite of poetry as we can get. I’m not saying there isn’t a place for analysis, or a place for a “worldview curriculum” {hey, my own husband wrote a book used here in private schools and churches for an introductory worldview curriculum!}, but Weaver says that first and foremost, the worldview is formed by good poetry. Perhaps this is because a worldview is formed in the affections first, and no amount of analysis can make up for lack of heart. I think that in addition to poetry, great books in general will work, though I’m sympathetic to Weaver’s preference for poetry here. Still, I can’t get out of my mind that Kirk thought that Pilgrim’s Progress was an inoculation against Hobbes’ Leviathan.

    2. Latin and Greek. Ah, the dead languages, for which my fondness is continually growing. I only wish I had time to actually study them well. The question here would be why languages? and thankfully Weaver answers the question.

      Nothing so successfully discourages slovenliness in the use of language as the practice of translation. Focusing upon what a word means and then finding its just equivalent in another language compels one to look and to think before he commits himself to any expression. It is a discipline of exactness which…is growing as rare as considerate manners.

      This is, by the way, why I am wary of pastors who are not familiar with their Greek. Weaver connects our carelessness with words to our materialism, saying that when we exalt things, we depress words. As many educated early Americans {men, at least} used to study their Greek and Latin, and were able to read their personal Bible in Greek, do you think that our materialism has anything to do with our abandonment of this tradition?

    3. Socratic Dialectic. This is where we learn to reason, and remember that Weaver already established that we reason using words. So this is still a restoration of language. Weaver says that our sloppy speaking has led us straight into the land of the excluded middle, which is to say, confusion.

      From this failure to insist upon no compromise in definition and elimination come most of our confusions.

      By learning to carefully define, we gain clarity! This extends all the way to our laws.

      Actually stable laws require a stable vocabulary, for a principal part of every judicial process is definition, or decision about the correct name of an action.

      The dialectic student, as he is trained in definition, will be trained in how to think.

    Doesn’t this make you want to stay the course, even when people may say that the education you are offering your children is not “practical.” By practical, they simply mean that it is not directly tied to making money {and they’re right–the focus is growing souls}, and that is exactly the sort of materialism that Weaver says depresses language in the first place.

    Read More:
    More book club entries linked at Mystie’s blog
    Buy the book and join in the conversation!

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    1 Comment

  • Reply Mystie August 30, 2012 at 9:32 pm

    I loved his defense of studying Latin & Greek that you quoted here! It is the reason I include Latin, and the reason I think people like Lewis & Sayers say it is an important skill to have forgotten. I just can’t get excited about reading the classics in the original really being worth the years of study, but the training in precision and grammar is why I believe it is important.

    While the culture chases after STEM, we will stay the course and put our eggs in the language-development basket. This was a good reminder that it is a good thing.

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