Summer is for reading, right? Of course. The mornings can be a little looser, the routines ease up to make sure there’s plenty of margin not only for reading – but for marginalia and commonplacing as well.
So I continue pecking away, a page or two a day, in The Great Tradition: Classical Readings on What It Means to Be an Educated Human Being, a collection of the writings about education from Plato to the modern era, the writings that have informed the development of western civilization and classical education.
Language is Cross-Disciplinary
Today’s excerpt was a bit of serendipity with another book I’m reading for summer teacher-training: Teaching Science So Students Learn Science – a book I learned about through this very Wednesday with Words link-up!
Yes, Cicero has a little something to say to those who want to specialize in mathematics or natural philosophy (science) without regard to oratory (rhetoric).
Your natural science itself, your mathematics […] do pertain to the knowledge of their professors, yet if anyone should wish by speaking to put these same arts in their full light, it is to oratorical skill that he must run for help.
It is speaking, being able to communicate your knowledge to others, that makes the knowledge useful, that makes it possible to do any good with the gain of it.
Neither can one be eloquent upon a subject that is unknown to him, nor, if he knows it perfectly and yet does not know how to shape and polish his style, can he speak fluently even upon that which he does know.
And John Mays, classical science teacher and author of Teaching Science So Students Learn Science, agrees:
Scientists do not merely solve problems. They must communicate with clarity to everyone else. Moreover, a student’s understanding of a scientific principle is very clearly indicated by the coherence and lucidity with which he can articulate it.
He dedicates an entire chapter to this point and its practical implications – that correct and clear language is vital to scientific progress and that it should be required in science classes as well as English classes.
It is essential, therefore, that in our science classes we hold students accountable for using language well.
Specialization is for insects.
A classical, liberal education is one where the broad spread of knowledge is presented, not one where students are encouraged or even allowed to specialize. They might later, but their broad education has given them the foundation they need to be able to think, to communicate, and to understand.
Narration, of one type or another, is the vehicle of learning.
John Mays wrote in that same chapter,
Show me a student who has understanding, and I’ll show you a student who clearly demonstrates her understanding through language.
Then he goes on to denigrate multiple choice tests or even one-word-answer tests. He extolls the short-answer method. Yes, it’s more work for teachers – and for students – but it actually allows the student to demonstrate understanding and allows the teacher to see where connections might be missing.
It’s more work for everyone, but it is part of the true learning process and actually means something, whereas the typical testing formats don’t really – though they are easy to enter into grade books.
Narration – whether it’s oral or written, whether it’s open-ended straight “tell me everything you know about” or more focused “explain why x works” is vital to the process of learning as well as the real assessment of that learning.
If we can’t talk about what we know, we don’t really know it.