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  English Education
By Yue Tan David Tang

Having glanced through all the suggestions so far posted, may I to them add one: a serious study of the English classics. It is my firm belief that in order to master the language, it is no less important to observe the classical order than to learn the current styles, the latter being very available in newspapers and journals. While classical training lays the foundation, current styles erect the superstructure. Current styles, not including the most avant garde, are often vivid and immediate; yet not so fastidious in the choice of words and depth of thoughts. Please do not mistake my view as one of completely anti-modern; there are indeed very good contemporary writers, in prose as well as in novels. But any careful reading of them can always locate a trace of classical training in their works, be it an allusion, a form, a sentence construction, a style, etc. Language is a lover of tradition; women of the elegant sort are those who cherish a deep and genuine appreciation of manners. In the good old days till the seventies, all university students in Great Britain had to read Latin; it was just a common belief then that the kids could benefit from an intimate discourse with Cicero, Horace, Virgil, and the like. Of course, to demand the same curriculum today is laughably idealistic; yet, how about several essays by F. Bacon, a play by W. Shakespeare, some letters by E. Burke, some chapters from the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, an excerpt from The Wealth of Nations, a novel by J. Austen, and a good choice from the Federalists? If time permits, and if no other book by the ancient Greeks could be taught, I would suggest the students spend at least a week or two on the Republic. The Penguin edition is good enough, I believe.

Surely, students in the lower forms must learn grammar, meticulously and thoroughly, for the failure of which shall immensely impair their subsequent pursuit of the classics. Starting from Form 3, if not earlier, conscious effort must be applied to the expansion of vocabulary, not at the expense of motivation, nor in the spirit of speed reading. As soon as they are deemed ripe, students should be encouraged to embark on the aforesaid odyssey. Frustration can be anticipated; but it is always much more fruitful to read a Baconian essay or an Austenian novel than to bury oneself in tons of past papers. Exam-oriented drills can be a matter for Form 5. Good seeds in the upper forms should be introduced to further literary pursuits of their own, for, given the range of activities in Form 6 and the pressure from public exam in Form 7, concrete curriculum of the previous kind is only a fantasy. Besides, a higher degree of intellectual freedom at this stage can serve a better preparation for university education too. Mr. Allan Bloom, Professor at the University of Chicago, wrote a book, entitled "The Closing of The American Mind," on the spirit of a true liberal education, celebrating, not rarely, the value of classical training in the humanities. A declaration to alarm the American colleges, it can also be a fount of inspiration for devoted educators in secondary schools...

Yue Tan David Tang
5th May, 2001

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