The Latest Word on the SATs

Argot.  Coprophagia.  Execrable.  Eponymous.  Entropy.  Polemic.  Dolorous.  Visceral.  Sclerotic.  These may or may not have been words in the Scholastic Aptitude Tests of yesteryear.  They almost certainly will not be found on the SATs of tomorrow.


The College Board, the sponsor of the annual test for college-bound high school students, announced today that they will be revising the Verbal portion of the test, as well as the scoring.  The SATs will return to their original 1600-point scoring system, and will make the essay portion (which in recent years had gone from critical writing to self-expression) optional.


They cited the inability of lower and middle-class families to provide their students with the preparation classes necessary for their students to define such words as “coprophagia.”  If students knew what that word really means, there would be a new-found enthusiasm for vocabulary-building.  They’ll just have to look it up themselves.  That is, if they feel like making a trip to the library to find a dictionary in which that word is listed.   Unfortunately, the student would tell you to go engage in coprophagia.


According to the article in The (Bergen County) Record, “The College Board announced Wednesday that it is overhauling the SAT to make the college admissions test more focused, useful and geared toward what students really need to know to thrive in college.


“To debut in Spring 2016, the new version will include more ‘relevant vocabulary…”


The Record story continues, “About 1.7 million American students in the Class of 2013 took the SAT.  Only 43 percent scored well enough to be considered college-ready, a share that has been flat for five years.


“Many of the test changes reflect the Common Core, a set of ‘voluntary’ guidelines for what children should learn in each grade that New Jersey and most states are rolling out now.”


The words listed in the first paragraph did not come from an SAT Prep Book (although they could probably have been found in one in earlier times, say, prior to 1970, when SAT scores began to plummet) but from the most recent issue of The National Review magazine.


Of those nine words, I recognized eight.  Of those eight, being an average reader, I could confidently define only three (“argot” – a language of a certain class; “visceral” – instinctive

and “dolorous” – sad) out of context without consulting a dictionary for accuracy.  However, as I’ve been a long-time reader of The National Review, I’m familiar with the other words.  The only word I’d never seen before was “coprophagia.”  Argot, execrable (“detestable”), eponymous (“something which is named for a person”), entropy (“the degree of disorder in a system”), polemic (“the art or act of arguing”), and sclerotic (“a disease characterized by abnormal hardening of the tissue”).


Six of those words could be found in the garden variety, paperback Merriam-Webster dictionary.  “Coprophogia” required consulting the “Dad Dictionary”, my father’s library-strength, 1937, Webster’s New International Dictionary, Second Edition.  I keep this dictionary in the living room where I do most of my reading.  (My library of books surround my computer, where I do my writing).


Common Core, the College Board, Liberals (as opposed to Progressives – and there is a difference, as you will soon learn), and students themselves say that there’s no reason why the average student needs to know the difficult words that used to appear on the SATs.  They see know reason why they need to learn words like:  “occlude,” “insular,” “incipient,” “noxious,” “dormant,” or “refute.”  (All words that are part of flashcard set for GRE – Graduate Record Exam – preparation for a master’s degree.)


The reasons why students need to continue to learn these words and the reasons why certain parties are discouraging them from learning them, appealing sympathetically to lower and middle class sensibilities, can be found in the same issue of the self-same magazine the words in the first paragraph were found – The National Review.


The National Review does not have the word “Review” in its name for nothing.  The magazine reviews books of particular interest to Conservatives.  In this issue, Ronald Radosh, an adjunct fellow at the Hudson Institute and a columnist for PJ Media reviews The Revolt Against the Masses:  How Liberalism Has Undermined the Middle Class by Fred Siegel.


Radosh says that the old consensus was that liberalism was the center of American ideology, with left and right fringes making counterarguments, with “the wise liberals of the center” keeping it under control and “there would always be a movement to a progressive future, in which advanced liberal thinkers would present ideas and policies that would pave the way to a more just social order.”


But, according to Radosh, “Siegel’s book is nothing less than a brilliant frontal assault on our understanding of the very nature of liberalism.  Liberalism is not, as some Conservatives would have it, a continuation of Progressivism into the mid-20th Century and beyond.


“Rather, it is an ideology of elite intellectuals who believe that the ideas they pronounce are not only inherently profound but are in fact, the roadmap to a good society.  As Siegel writes, the term ‘liberal’ was ‘coined by writers and intellectuals who defined themselves by their hostility to the middle class and the moralistic Progressives who had imposed Prohibition in 1919.”


Radosh tell us that Liberals of the 1920s were of the belief that “men like them were born to rule, and to ensure that power would not be taken by the heathen and backward regular people.  Hardly enamored of the concept of democracy, they hoped that men like them would develop policies that would save the country from the common people.  Siegel calls them the architects of ‘gentry liberalism,’ who criticized the middle class and their dull lives, and who could elevate themselves above the masses.


“American democracy, as [H.L. Mencken, a journalist and critic of American life, who gave the 1925 Scopes trial it’s sobriquet “The Monkey Trial”] said, was nothing less than ‘the worship of jackals by jackasses.”


In yet another book review, this time authored by Arthur Herman, a Pulitzer Prize finalist, entitled “Save the Next Generation,” Herman reviews The New School:  How the Information Age Will Save American Education from Itself.  This review is the counter-point to Radosh’s book review (it’s also where the word “dolorous” is employed).


To paraphrase Herman a bit, “Everyone – certainly every reader of National Review – knows America’s public schools are a disgrace.  He or she also knows that, barring a few elite institutions such as Harvard, our higher education is headed over a fiscal cliff.”  Not to mention an intellectual.  Notice Herman’s use of that key word, “elite.”  There’s that word again.


The author of the book, Glenn Harlan Reynolds, a professor of law at the University of Tennessee and creator of the Instapundit website, believes “that using the new technology of the Internet to solve the problems that beset our schools and universities might liberate today’s students from their current educational catastrophe.”


Herman first addresses the economic “catastrophe” of the American educational system where, despite the increase in our financial outlay for education, American scholastic achievement “has largely flatlined since the 1970s, with U.S. students ranking 14th in reading, 17th in science, and 25th in math.  Not a stellar record for a world superpower.”


“…50 percent of college graduates aged 25 or younger are today unemployed or holding down jobs that don’t require a college degree.”


As I recall, at the age of 24 or so, my first real job was as a secretary, not a writer.  The writing job wouldn’t appear for another 18 years or so.  I remember literally stumbling over myself as I raced for the exit at the end of the day, desperate to escape the stifling atmosphere and breathe freely.  Students at the bachelor’s level generally don’t get the jobs they desire.  They find themselves at the bottom of the ladder in some menial clerical job until the company decides that the new employee has paid their dues.


For master’s degree graduates, the situation is different.  They generally do find themselves in a position befitting their education, if not exactly their desire, as 25 year-olds are only beginning to discover what they really want from a career.  Big Brother, his MBA in hand, started out in the Sales Department of his company.  But he found his true calling in the Facilities Management department of his company, where he has been a manager for at least 20 years or more.


To the average Human Resources Department, a Bachelor’s degree is only a little more valuable than the high school diploma (without which – the h.s. diploma, that is – they won’t even interview you).  It’ll get you a job as an Administrative Assistant or a customer service representative.  The Master’s degree is what companies hold in esteem and if you want to climb the corporate ladder, you won’t even make the first rung without it. 


Management is where it’s at, and the Master’s (in business, the MBA) is the key to the clubhouse door, and that’s a fact.  Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, not even Glenn Beck.  He’s the boss of his organization, and Master’s degrees may hold no special value in his organization.  But everywhere else, which is the real world, that’s reality.  At the very least, if you plan to work in the business world, get yourself a business degree.  Unless you intend to specialize in some sort of work (like Communications or Human Resources), a Bachelor’s in Business is the surest route to the menial but much-needed jobs.


Reynolds’ assigned villain in the decline of Western education is education reformer Horace Mann, “who, after a visit to Germany in the mid-19th Century, began pushing the Prussian model for America’s public schools.  ‘Men,’ Mann liked to say, ‘are cast-iron but children are wax’ – to be molded according to a state-directed curriculum with centralized control and uniform teaching methods (even though both of Mann’s children were home-schooled).”


“Mann’s dream of a state-directed curriculum,” Herman notes, “never materialized, but the rigid uniform model has survived as the template for public schools ever since.  ‘Like a factory,’ Reynolds writes, ‘[the school] runs by the bell.  Like the machines in a factory, desks and students are lined up in orderly rows’ – while the subjects, textbooks, and exams are all the same, forcing students of differing abilities and tastes to fit into a single mold.”


Progressive writer and education reformist John Dewey felt the same way as Reynolds does today about the manner in which children are educated.  He deplored rote memorization, textbook reading and endless drills.  He felt children should be free to educate themselves and that at best, the teacher should serve as a sort of co-facilitator, not an authority figure.


Well, we know how well that would really work out, with millions of children in need of education.  Somehow it worked out well enough for the World War II generation.  By the 1960s, the progressive reform movement was in full swing.  Around the fourth or fifth grade, my class was subjected to the Noam Chomsky theories of transgenerative grammar and Cartesian linguistics.  A mathematics scholar, linguist, and anarchist, Chomsky decided the best way to teach grammar was by way of long-division.


While our teacher was drawing out the lengthy diagram on the chalkboard, a group of students came up to where I was sitting.  Crowding around me, they asked, “Do you understand this?”


“No,” I replied, gazing stupidly at the blackboard, wondering what all this was.  They said that if I didn’t understand it, that made them feel better that they didn’t.  I was not the smartest kid in the class.  So I gestured to the smartest kid in the class, who was sitting one row to my left and one seat up and asked if he understood what all this was.  Actually, I put it more bluntly.


“Do you understand what all this garbage is?” I asked.


He winced.  He understood it  – and explained it to us – but clearly also saw it for it for the nonsense that it was.  Four years later, our class had to be retaught English grammar.


For a Progressive, Dewey’s book, Democracy and Education, made a lot of sense.  It wasn’t the propaganda I thought it would be.  He believed that there was an inequality in education favoring the wealthy and making machine cogs out of the rest of society.  He said education had been that way since the time of the Greek philosophers.


Essentially, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and the rest of the Greek gang were a bunch of eggheads.  They believed they were an elite group whose mission in life was to sit around thinking and teaching great thoughts and dictating those thoughts to their enslaved scribes.  They may or may not have known how to read.  But writing was, to them, a menial task beneath their station in life as philosophers and teachers, meant to be carried out by the menial.


That attitude persisted in worldly leadership up until the time of Alfred the Great and Charlemagne, who learned to read and insisted that his children learn to read and write.  Alfred the Great opposed the passive attention of church congregations, listening to masses in a language they could neither read, write nor comprehend.  The people mindlessly repeated whatever the priests read from the Latin Bible.  Alfred decreed that English (an evolved language derived from no less than eight foreign tongues, introduced into the British Isles by subsequent invaders) would be the official spoken and written language of England.


Schools of the time were only for future state and church officials.  By the time America was colonized, every town had a public school.  Latin was still the official language of the schoolroom and only taught to boys, who had been taught the basics by their tutors.  The chief task of girls was to learn to sew and cook.


By the time Dewey got around to writing Schools of Tomorrow in 1915 with his sister Evelyn, he had immersed himself in the philosophy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau.  He abandoned any previous notions he might have had for equal education for all.  In Schools, he and his sister surveyed a number of experimental progressive schools.  The curriculum was back to teaching students, males and females equally, carpentry, sewing and cooking.  Children were free to wander around the schools the Deweys visited, learning whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted.  The teachers of these schools pronounced their students extremely successful and that they could read and calculate as well as any normal public school student.


If only the statistics were available to confirm that assertion.  Alas, the Liberal/Progressives don’t believe in statistics or tests.  Nor do they believe in discipline, homework, or testing.  The standards which would ensure that all students were receiving the same, high level of education as their wealthy counterparts was, and has been, thrown by the wayside, though not by the wealthy.  Learning Greek and Latin early in school is what helps the wealthy scholars excel on the Verbal SATs later on.


And yet, I must admit, that once I got past the primary grades where I memorized the alphabet, the times tables, and the Pledge of Allegiance, I learned more from my parents than I ever did in the classroom.  Still, there’s something to be said for being able to memorize facts and it would have been better had I paid a little attention in class than daydreaming, as the Great Progressives suggested students do.


If education seems a little more mechanical than it did in the early 20th Century, there’s a lot more for students to learn, as Dewey readily admitted.  But that was only for students who truly wanted to learn and for whom the knowledge was important.  When I was a kid, I was taught to memorize the number 2562531. 


If I dialed that number today, some stranger would answer the phone.  Back in 1966, when I memorized that number, if I dialed I would have found myself speaking to one of my grandparents.  A number memorized at the age of seven is totally useless today, making the Progressive’s point.


On the other hand, I was taught (by Big Brother, not a teacher), how to multiply 25 by 2, 3, and 4 respectively, using quarters.  I whined about it.  But he pointed out that while a candy bar was 25 cents at the time, the price was going to go up eventually and I would have to know how many quarters I would need.  Hershey’s Rice Krispy Bars.  That got my attention.  But, according to Progressive and Common Core theory that knowledge would be useless rubbish today.


Well, not exactly.  I’m being paid, as a photographer – and correspondent – $25 per story or photo.  Two stories, two photos.  That’s $25 times four.  That means I made $100 this week (which is $100 more than I made last week).


There are good reasons for a good, solid education, the kind that the wealthy receive, including Greek and Latin beginning in the 4th grade.  We learn because 1) we don’t want to be lied to; 2) we don’t want to be cheated; 3) we don’t want to be taken advantage of; and 4) we don’t want other people to think we’re stupid.


It’s as simple as that.  Why Greek and Latin, you ask?  They’re dead languages, you argue?  No one speaks them anymore?  Not in their original form.  However, Greek and Latin are, respectively, the basis for science and Christian studies in the case of the former, and the basis for legal terms in the case of the latter.  If you learned Greek, you still wouldn’t be able to operate on yourself, but at least you’d understand your doctor (even if you still couldn’t decipher his or her handwriting).  And when you read a legal contract, you’d understand what it said.  You might even be able to read the Affordable Care Act, even if you still couldn’t understand why we need it (which we don’t).


For a Latin example, the word amentia, which means “madness or folly.”  Recognize it.  It literally means “out of” (a) mind (mentia).  Obamacarus amentiae.  Obamacare is folly.


Wasn’t that easy – and fun?


As for Greek, it’s a little more difficult to learn because it doesn’t use the Latin alphabet. Although the Latin alphabet, like so many things Roman, was derived from the Greek alphabet.  In order to read and write Greek, you must learn its alphabet.  However, the ancient Greek language was eventually alphabetized in Roman letters, transcribed from the ancient, or classical, Greek Euboean form (which was based on the 22 symbols of the Phoenician alphabet).


Since the living Greek and English languages were not in direct contact until modern times, borrowings were necessarily indirect, coming either through Latin (through texts or various vernaculars), or from Ancient Greek texts, not the living language.


Some Greek words were borrowed into Latin and its descendants, the Romance languages. English often received these words from French. Their phonetic and orthographic form has sometimes changed considerably. For instance, place was borrowed both by Old English and by French from Latin platea, itself borrowed from Greek πλατεία (ὁδός) ‘broad (street)’; the Italian piazza and Spanish plaza have the same origin, and have been borrowed into English in parallel. The word olive comes through the Romance from the Latin word olīva, which in turn comes from the Greek ἐλαίϝᾱ (elaíwā). A later Greek word, βούτυρον (bouturon) becomes Latin butyrum and eventually English butter. A large group of early borrowings, again transmitted first through Latin, then through various vernaculars, comes from Christian vocabulary: bishop < ἐπίσκοπος (epískopos ‘overseer’), priest < πρεσβύτερος (presbýteros ‘elder’), and churchkirk<κυριακόν (kyriakón – meaning “the Lord’s House”). Church came from the Greek by way of the Old German kirche.  In some cases, the orthography of these words was later changed to reflect the Greek spelling: e.g. quire was respelled as choir in the 17th century.


A better, more extending knowledge of language, of etymology gives the mind a better foundation for remembering the word.  Reading and writing – and yes, drilling – reinforces the word and enables the student readier access to the word and a greater, more skilled vocabulary.


Musicians, more than anyone, know the importance of drilling.  Any professional musician will tell you that it’s a combination of talent, desire, skill and practice, practice, practice.  Students roll their eyes on the prospect of doing endless scales, but it’s the only way they’ll be able to tell one note from another and one musical key from another.  Certainly, a good music teacher will also give the student musician easy songs to play; otherwise, music is no pleasure (except in my case, where I preferred the piano scales to the miserable, minor key music I was forced to play).  If it’s not pleasurable, then there’s no point to making music.


It’s the job of children to learn to become adults, no more how sympathetically or altruistically you may view childhood.  What would happen to society if children were not taught order, discipline, and responsibility?  Chaos would ensue.  We would have infantilized adults, dependent upon a superior elite ruling a government that would have to provide for all their wants and needs.


That’s what the elites, the Socialist, the Progressives, the Liberals, the Communists – whatever name you want to call them (Eggheads) want.  That is the goal of debasing the SATs.  That is the goal of shutting down the libraries.  That is the goal of discouraging college education.


That is the occluding, insular, and noxious goal of the incipient Common Core program which our dormant society must refute.











Published in: on March 6, 2014 at 8:41 pm  Leave a Comment  

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