Monday, July 11, 2016

Literature as Logos

This, so far as I can see, is the specific value or good of literature considered as Logos; it admits us to experiences other than our own. . . . it may be the typical (and we say ‘How true!’) or the abnormal (and we say ‘How strange!’); it may be the beautiful, the terrible, the awe-inspiring, the exhilarating, the pathetic, the comic, or the merely piquant. Literature gives the entrĂ©e to them all. Those of us who have been true readers all our life seldom fully realise the enormous extension of our being which we owe to authors. We realise it best when we talk with an unliterary friend. He may be full of goodness and good sense but he inhabits a tiny world. In it, we should be suffocated. The man who is contented to be only himself, and therefore less a self, is in prison. My own eyes are not enough for me, I will see through those of others. Reality, even seen through the eyes of many, is not enough. I will see what others have invented. Even the eyes of all humanity are not enough. I regret that the brutes cannot write books. Very gladly would I learn what face things present to a mouse or a bee; more gladly still would I perceive the olfactory world charged with all the information and emotion it carries to a dog.

This is the next-to-last paragraph of C.S. Lewis’ Experiment in Criticism. How does he do this? How does he put into words everything I’m feeling?

When I read that, I put the book down and sat there for a moment, sobbing.

Why does it hurt so much to be human?

The next paragraph says:

“Literary experience heals the wound, without undermining the privilege, of individuality.”

Yes. That’s it. “The wound of individuality.” I didn’t know what that feeling was before, but now I do. (This is why I love you so much, dear saint! More than anyone, you help me understand what I’m feeling and thinking.)

But in reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like the night sky in the Greek poem, I see with a myriad eyes, but it is still I who see. Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Cyphering books

In my casual research on mathematics and its teaching I came across something interesting -- I'm just sharing it here in order to keep track of it myself, and to offer it up to anyone else who may be interested.

I found the latest fragment in a book called Rewriting the History of School Mathematics in North America 1607-1861: The Central Role of Cyphering Books, which I will probably never buy because it costs over $100. 


A cyphering book is something like a copy book, only for rules of computation and examples of how each rule works, plus exercises which the student solved himself. Each student wrote out his own cyphers in his own notebook, copied from work the teacher gave him. The cypher book was intended to serve him the rest of his life as a reference manual.

A page from Abraham Lincoln's cyphering book

Back to Rewriting the History . . . . It turns out that something I had been suspecting is true -- which is not surprising, because there's nothing at all revolutionary about it, but it's always fun to find actual proof -- and that is this: The way we teach arithmetic today has more to do with book-keeping than with mathematics.

Remember last summer when I mentioned that the ancient Greeks made a distinction between arithmetic and logistics? Logistics is skill in computation for practical purposes. There is nothing at all wrong with teaching logistics. After all, we want our kids to be able to function in our society, so of course they need to know how to keep a budget, how to double or halve a recipe, how to buy enough paint or carpet or lumber for a project, how to figure out what kind of insurance they need, or whether they can afford a mortgage, and all those things. Many of our kids will need more complicated math for programming computers or analyzing data. So I'm not saying we classical/CM educators shouldn't teach our kids that kind of math.

But I do think it's lopsided for that kind of math to make up the bulk of our curriculum.

The bit of Rewriting History that's available for viewing on Google gives a rough of idea of the development of the modern situation.

Beginning in the 1200s, trade between city-states and republics proliferated to the extent that successful merchants needed to hire skilled "reckoners" to calculate profits, predict risks and control losses, figure weights and measures, deal with simple and compounding interest, keep track of partnerships, and all kinds of complicated things. 

As demand for this skill increased, reckoning schools sprang up around Europe. But get this. Boys of ten or eleven years of age would be sent there for a two-year course which prepared them for work in the actual business. And they didn't have calculators.

Of course, the universities were still concerned with the mathematics as liberal arts, and the book goes on to describe the changing attitudes there, but that's the extent of what I can read online for free.

Maybe I should as for this book for Christmas.


Thursday, March 10, 2016

My blog is now a teenager

Remember when
I used to update the blog's theme
to go with the seasons?
I've never had a teen-aged blog before. I wonder how it will behave? I have a blog post brewing that I'm strongly tempted to call "Charlotte Mason was wrong about math," just to see what kind of reaction it elicits. Can't decide whether to squelch that or roll with it. ;-)