Cal  Thomas

HAWKSHEAD, England - At the grammar school where the romantic poet William Wordsworth studied in the late 18th century, one can still learn lessons that might, indeed should, be applied in English and American schools.

Apparently believing more than 200 years ago that an idle mind can be the devil's playground, Wordsworth and his classmates spent 11 hours a day in school, five days a week, and half a day on Saturday. They didn't study sex education, or the environment, or any of today's trendy subjects that masquerade as a real education.

Instead, says the school's guide, they studied just three academic subjects: Latin, Greek and mathematics. If they missed three church services during the term, they could be expelled. No ACLU existed then, thank God (then, you could).

One nonacademic subject they also studied was a little booklet called "The Rules of Civility; or The Maxims of Genteel Behavior." While many of the rules can be discarded today (such as the proper placement of one's sword at meals), others recall a lost tradition in human relationships designed to protect and honor half of the human race and to civilize the other half.

There are instructions on how to respect and treat women, often referred to as "ladies." My personal favorite teaches the "proper" way to greet ladies: "It is not becoming a Person of quality, when in the Company of Ladies, to handle them roughly; to put his hand in their necks, or bosoms; to kiss them by surprise; to tear their fans; to snatch away their Handkerchiefs."

England may not be returning to such days, but it is paying homage to the past by reverting to the way it used to teach children to read before the social experimenters began using kids as guinea pigs for their untested schemes.

Beginning in September next year, English grammar school children will again learn to read using "synthetic phonics," requiring they be taught the sounds and letters of the alphabet within the first 16 weeks of school. In recent years, teachers were instructed to encourage children to memorize words by their shape and guess at them by their context. The results proved disastrous.

As in America, phonics in England was abandoned in the 1960s in favor of "look and say." That this approach produced kids who couldn't read, or read up to their grade levels, did not seem to bother education "experts" and bureaucrats who refused all appeals for returning to the old, successful method.

Cal Thomas

Get Cal Thomas' new book, What Works, at Amazon.

Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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