John Mark Reynolds, keynote speaker at GodBlogCon, brings to our attention a study that shows the profound lack of literacy American high school graduates possess. Apparently 50% of students who participated in the study have the skill to do basic tasks with language such as summarize the arguments in a newspaper editorial (they still make arguments in those things?).
What does this all mean? Reynolds explains:
When someone tells you that the “new media” or the Internet is changing everything, ask them if arguments that form the basis of scientific, philosophic, and theological advances have changed. They have not. It is not just that we have not yet devised a way to create pictures of these things and get rid of words. . . it is the very ability of words to describe but not be reduced to our experience as easily as an image or icon must. Our failure to give our children the gift of language dooms them to serve those who have it, I fear.
Illiterate people are doomed to be slaves with souls stamped by tyrants to follow the will of those with words.
I work with high school students and am desperately trying to equip them with the tools to express and analyze their beliefs. I love my students, but it is definitely an uphill battle – and most of them are surely above the average level of their peers.
Recently, I listened to a selection of quotations from WWII hero Winston Churchill. He related that he was a “poor” student, so they wouldn’t let him take Latin. He was forced to endure English grammar class after English grammar class and the result, Churchill states, “was that I got the structure of the English sentence into my bones.” That must be what enabled him to prove himself the best speech maker of the 20th century and become the roar of the British lion that saved the West. Funny ideas those Victorian educators had!
If we want to get Christian ideas back into the marrow of our culture, one of the best routes is to give our young people a decent education with plenty of reading and writing. See how true this is in our own Matthew Anderson’s insightful post on the state of evangelical Christian youth. Find writing curriculum that actually works here. Read the Great Books. If you are in high school or a parent of high schoolers, take Torrey Academy classes. If you are ambitious, you could even take Latin (though Churchill apparently did alright without it!).
Slavery of the mind may be worse than slavery of the body because slaves of the mind don’t know they are slaves.