Our Changing Knowledge Base

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Lately, I have been thinking about my granddaughter’s education. I’ve been saddened by the fact that she may not be able to take Latin and that being in a non-religious family, she may not learn of much of the Bible. These two topics have enhanced my enjoyment of life probably because I am interested in literature; knowing a little Latin helps with vocabulary, and Bible characters and stories are referred to throughout Western literature.

I console myself with the thought that every generation picks up a slightly different body of knowledge and that while my grandchildren may not know everything I know, they will have skills and knowledge that I lack.

Once on a test, I was asked to choose the correct definition of “capillary.” I had no idea what the correct answer was, and finally I reasoned, “Well, Latin for head is caput, and hair is on your head, so I’m going to choose “hairlike.” I was tickled that I’d made such a little bit of knowledge go a long way.

And of course my Latin came in handy with vocabulary and with remembering certain abbreviations. I would never make the mistake of putting “ect.” for etc.” because I knew it stood for et cetera meaning “and other things.” It was also easy for me to remember the distinction between i.e. and e.g. The former is simply id est for “that is.” The Latin for “e.g.” does not come easily to mind, but I always remember that the “e” stands for what we would translate as “example.”

A wonderful gift from my knowledge of Latin came to me one day when I saw the new St. Joseph Cathedral being built in Hartford. The basic wood frame was up, with heavy beams soaring from curved bottoms to high straight tops. It looked as if a big ship were being built. The Latin word for boat leapt to mind, “Ahhh, navis, navis, navium,” I thought, “Boat in Latin and nave in churches.”

I have dabbled in Bible reading throughout my life, but can’t claim to have read it all. I heard Bible stories in church and in school. I especially remember my third grade teacher Mrs. Gilberto reading “Joseph and His Coat of Many Colors” to us in our public school. I feel lucky to have gone to school before the Bible was banned for fear of proselytizing or offending, and I am hopeful that educators will restore it as a work of literature much cited through the ages. Reading the Koran, the Bhagavad Gita, and other religious works should not be out of bounds either.

An admissions officer at a prestigious college complained a few years ago that kids were coming in without knowing mythology or the Bible. Perhaps I am beating a dead horse here and am just bemoaning an inevitable transition to a body of knowledge that will deal with things we have yet to see.

In any case, I hope that my granddaughter and her peers will enjoy the results of their educations as much as I’ve enjoyed mine.

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