Guardians of a body of knowledge;Letter

17th April 1998 at 01:00
I read John MacBeath's article, "Just think about it" (April 10) with an interest which at times bordered on incredulity. In summary, I believe he was advocating a reduction in the acquisition of facts so as to favour the promotion of "thinking".

No one should deny the importance of allowing children to develop these "thinking" skills. But I'm sure many people would dispute the dichotomy he draws between this vital skill and the acquisition of knowledge.

I am convinced I'm not alone in believing that an indisputable cog in the educational wheel is the learning - indeed memorising, if necessary - of facts. Capital cities, important dates from history and the chanting of times tables are some examples.

Indeed, we must as teachers see ourselves as guardians of a body of knowledge which is to be passed on to the next generation. To quote Laurie Lee, we are "hammering in the golden nails", which is the first step in the formation of students able to think for themselves and see contemporary civilisation in the context of history.

Lastly, the author quotes with satisfaction the letter he received from a German pupil which was written in "excellent" English; the best way to learn a foreign language is to acquire the facts of grammar and vocabulary without which communication is any language is impossible.

Perhaps the answer is to take a fresh look at the medieval tradition of the trivium of grammar, dialectic and rhetoric. I recommend a wonderful article by Dorothy Sayers entitled "The lost tools of learning", in which she shows the connection between the acquisition of knowledge at an early age and the development of the critical faculties in adolescence.

L. Franchi

Queens Way, Alexandria

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