Forget what you saw in Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Apes can’t make sentences, even if someone has tried really hard to teach them sign language. The documentary Project Nim describes one attempt to teach sign language to a chimpanzee:
The chimpanzee used in this experiment was named Nim Chimpsky, which was a mocking reference to the linguist Noam Chomsky, who had predicted that no such experiment would work. Chomsky said that it’s about as likely that an ape will prove to have a language ability as there is an island somewhere with a species of flightless birds waiting for humans to teach them to fly. In other words, if apes could use language, they’d be doing so already.
Continue reading “Can an Ape Create a Sentence?”
Here is the climax of the movie The Miracle Worker, with Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke:
The Miracle Worker tells the true story of Anne Sullivan (played by Bancroft) and Helen Keller (played by Duke), as recounted in Helen Keller’s autobiography The Story of My Life. In this scene, Helen suddenly grasps the idea that the sequences of hand gestures that Sullivan has been making stand for the names of things! Once Helen grasped this concept, she started racing around, demanding to know what other things were called. No ape has ever done that.
Continue reading “This Miracle Occurs Only With Humans”
In the 1920s, a medical doctor named Samuel T. Orton was studying a new and disturbing epidemic that was being called congenital word blindness. Large numbers of children with normal vision, hearing, and intelligence were mysteriously failing to learn to read. Many of these children then went on to develop emotional and behavior problems. All of these problems were being blamed on some unknown disease of the child’s nervous system.
Dr. Orton found that the explanation was much simpler. He found that the schools were using an ineffective method for teaching children to read. Instead of teaching the children to sound out the words letter by letter (phonics), the schools were asking children to memorize whole words. This latter method has been called sight-reading, look-say, or whole word. It’s the center of the “whole language” educational approach that proved to be so disastrous in California in the late 1980s. When Orton’s “word blind” patients were taught phonics, they quickly learned to read and their emotional and behavior problems went away.
Continue reading “Does Your Child Need Drugs or Phonics?”
Massachusetts during the Colonial period and the early days of the Republic was probably the most literate society that the world had ever seen. According to the census of 1840, only 1.1% of adults in Massachusetts were illiterate. Literacy among native-born English speakers in Massachusetts was probably far higher in 1840 than it is today. The high rate of literacy in Massachusetts was no accident.
- Parents were required by law to ensure that their children learned to read.
- Local governments were required to provide schooling.
- The early schools used an effective phonetic method of teaching reading.
Continue reading “When and How Should Children Learn to Read?”
Logic is the study of arguments. By arguments, I don’t mean bickering. The word argument came from the Latin word argumentum, which meant evidence. An argument was originally the evidence you used to prove or disprove something. Logic is the study of how to use evidence to prove or disprove conclusions.
Before you can study logic, you need to know some basic grammatical concepts. That’s because grammar is the study of the structure of meaningful sentences, and arguments are made up of sentences. Yesterday, I gave a link to an excellent resource for studying English grammar. Today, I’m posting a link to an Internet resource for people who want to study logic. It’s from Lander University in Greenwood, South Carolina. I strongly recommend that people go through the grammar review before they start studying logic!
Capital Community College in Hartford, Connecticut, has made an excellent Guide to Grammar and Writing available over the Internet: http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/index.htm.
When I had to train copyeditors and proofreaders, I would have them spend their first few days on the job reading the material on this site and taking all the quizzes. If you were never taught grammar in school or if you simply want a quick review, this Web site is great.
Many people insist that political discussions in the United States are ugly and pointless because we have a “cultural divide.” Supposedly the U.S. population is divided into warring tribes who will never get along. It’s the Jets versus the Sharks, and there’s bound to be a rumble:
But if that were really true, then the cultural divide would be between families. It wouldn’t be within families! What we’re seeing is more like the Generation Gap that arose in the 1960s and lingered in the 1970s:
The popular television show All in the Family reflected a lot of discussions that were going on back then. Archie and Meathead could never agree on anything, but that’s largely because they weren’t supposed to. No good dramatist ever writes any dialog in which the characters agree with each other! Who wants to watch people sitting around agreeing with each other?
Continue reading “Why We Can’t Persuade Each Other”
Some people tell me that we have a cultural divide in the United States and that the ugliness of our political discussions results from a failure of the people on the two sides to communicate. In other words, “what we have here is a failure to communicate”:
Some people think that discussions of political issues are inevitably ugly. I disagree. I think that political discussions can be enlightening and enjoyable. Political discussions get ugly when people start using ugly debating tactics. They often use ugly tactics out of frustration when their efforts to persuade other people don’t work.
Photo by classic film scans
Some people think that discussions of some topics are always ugly. They think that the best way to avoid this ugliness is simply to avoid talking about politics, religion, money, or sex. But if you can’t talk about religion, then you can’t talk about what you think is true and what you think is right. If you can’t talk about money or sex, then you can’t talk about what you want. If you can’t talk about politics, then you can’t talk about what you think should happen. Worse yet, you would have no way to work with others to make the good things happen.
Continue reading “Political Discussions Don’t Have to Be Ugly”
Most people in the United States were taught that it is impolite to talk about politics, religion, money, or sex in public. As a result, we don’t know how to talk politely about politics. Furthermore, most of our political discussions turn out to be impolite discussions about religion, money, or sex. After having listened to these impolite political discussions for many years, I think that the problem boils down to a basic failure of our educational system.
Why Conversations Get Ugly
Our schools are not teaching the skills that one needs in order to participate in rational, productive conversations. Our political conversations get ugly because people have never learned how to “use their words” to find truth and settle conflicts. The disciplines that help people learn how to do this are called the liberal arts. They were called the liberal arts because they were the kinds of skills that were considered appropriate for free people, as opposed to slaves. Slaves could be taught the mechanical arts or the servile arts to make them more valuable as workers. Instead of being taught how to find truth for themselves and advocate on their own behalf, they were given Noble Lies (propaganda) to keep them in line.