In this section from The Great Tradition: Classical Readings on What It Means to Be an Educated Human Being I felt validated in choosing English as my major and in my homeschooling approach. Classical education bills itself as strong in language – and it is – but lately it seems the voices want to clarify that
Wednesdays here in 2016 I will be sharing a quote and a musing. I’d love to get some discussion going about what it means to be carrying on this tradition.
Language is the basis of wisdom.
Yes, this is the bold claim Isocrates makes (page 48). It is by means of language that we both procure and use wisdom – for does not thought require language?
None of the things which are done with intelligence take place without the help of speech, but that in all our actions as well as in all our thoughts speech is our guide, and is most employed by those who have the most wisdom.
So practice in speaking and in using language (today we would add writing as a method of discourse) is of upmost importance not just to learn to communicate effectively with others, but even to be able to understand within our own minds.
While we call eloquent those are are able to speak before a crowd, we regard as sage those who most skillfully debate their problems in their own minds.
So by “speech” he is not talking about presentation skills, but simply having a treasury words at hand and actually using them – first in our own heads.
What does this mean for us?
Vocabulary is not about impressing others.
Knowing and comfortably using a broad vocabulary is not for sounding smart, but actually for being smart. If we don’t have the right word for what we mean, can we hold onto it? Can we own that knowledge? Can we make that connection? It’s just a vague, nebulous feeling or concept unless we have the words to capture it and think about it.
The more specific and accurate the words we have and use, the more specific and accurate the ideas we can process and understand.
Writing is for more than communication with others.
It is also for communication within ourselves. In thought and in casual conversation we are not forced to state our ideas logically and defend them, putting them in order. Writing makes such things more obvious. We have the ability to go back over our meaning and edit and improve.
The end result is not simply a piece of communication someone else can learn from. By going through the process we learn what logical reasoning and presentation is, we learn to stick to a topic and identify what is unrelated, and we are better able to think through issues even within our own minds.
Writing can improve our thinking.
Really, that’s the primary reason I write at all – sharing my thinking is only a secondary benefit to being forced to make my thinking straight and clear by seeing and ordering the jumble of words in my head.