From Twitter’s @LeMarquand came this picture:
An overstatement, sure. Not every high school went in for amo, amas, amat or saw students parsing snatches of The Odyssey in the original. But a goodly proportion did. Greek is now near extinction (have there been any sightings? Report them here), and there are only pockets of Latin left, and these at the kinds of schools where politicians blush to admit they store their children.
We’ve all seen those tests they used to give out circa 1900—questions like “Name the principle participants of the Battle of Thermopylae”, “Write your favorite Shakespeare sonnet and then analyze it”—and we all know what the questions are like nowadays—”A woodsman can chop 0.7 acres of trees a day. Describe how the woodland animals feel about this”, “Name at least three letters which come after A, B, C…”
At least one reason things have changed and, and a good one, is expansion. Not every kid went to high school a century ago, but now most do. And since intelligence is not as malleable as the enlightened believe it is, the expansion necessarily led to a decrease in content. What mattered to “educational leaders” was not the content but the graduation rate. Require Greek in an expanded system and that rate plummets. And so on for the other curriculum, which must needs be “dumbed down”, to use an impolite term.
The same thing has happened, and will continue to happen, at colleges. Yours Truly was assigned to teach a remedial math course at one college which I called (to myself) Algebra Sans Algebra (where I used algebra in its high school sense). This was largely to a group of students the university very proudly boasted of attaining.
They were nice kids. Unfortunately, only a fraction of them could remember how to multiply without a calculator. Forget division. But these were niggling details next to their inability to know when to use multiplication or division. They never learned in High School.
I’ve told this story before, but it fits again here. On the day of the final, our class now greatly reduced in number, one charming (really) young man came in a minute or two late. He apologized to us all and said that he was drunk, which he obviously was, and had just come directly from a party. But he knew his duty and sat the exam, on which he answered every question incorrectly. (I gave him a few points for showing up.)
The mistake the university made was scheduling the exam on a Friday. See, the weekend at many schools begins Thursday night.
Now this isn’t only the students. A few years back, universities were desirous of boosting the quotas of certain political numbers among the professoriate. Only way to do this quickly was to hire those possessing the necessary characteristics into their own, brand-new fields. Thus were born the various “Studies” Departments.
Since you had diminution of talent at both ends, students and teachers, and still the main (not the only) goal was a “degree” and not an education, the curriculum had to be eased or the graduation rates would be embarrassingly low. This is why, in many instances, real education doesn’t begin until graduate school—which is, naturally enough, undergoing its own expansions.
Oh well, anything else would be elitist, and there are no worse sins than sins against Equality.