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Friday, December 11, 2009

An Eleven Plus Prescription

Picture the scene. You are still at school approaching your examinations. You have been told what to learn. You mutter that there is so much to learn. Think of a different country. Children of the same age group are also at school. (You met some of them when you went on your school exchange.)

You were told about a professor in this far off country – who was still in his prime. He had been teaching for nearly fifty years. He worked out how many punishments he had inflicted. He proudly stated that he had delivered over 900 000 strokes of the cane. He added the rider, we are told, that around 800 000 were for Latin. (On good authority – this is a true account of a named German Professor!)

Latin, for a period, became narrow in outlook and the approach was profoundly grammatical. The professor must have had many opportunities to wield the cane! For years and years Latin was concerned with grammar and syntax. One great argument in favour of Latin was that studying the subject offered unparalleled mental discipline.

Today, we understand, teachers are successful in teaching Latin as a living language – rather than as a dead and foreign language.

The eleven plus world still appears to have some narrow views of the contents of some eleven plus examination. Some eleven plus examination boards, for example, appear to rely on a prescriptive `twenty one types of verbal reasoning’.

“If you learn these twenty one types – you will pass the examination.”

“If you miss one of the twenty one types then it is likely that you will fail.”

“There is no use learning twenty three types – this is only confusing your brain. You will waste your time.”

“Stick to the prescribed syllabus.”

Just because these twenty one types of verbal reasoning have been around for years and years – is this a reason for their retention? The twenty one types must dominate the eleven plus education of some of our children. If the aims of a grammar school in today’s world include the desire for an intellectual and scientific education – then why would those schools insist on selecting children who have bee drilled to do well on the `Twenty One’ types?

Just as Latin had to be memorised so some of today’s children have to memorise twenty one different methods of attacking verbal reasoning questions.

We look at in horror at the old professor who tried to beat Latin into his pupils. What should we think about those who maintain that twenty one different types of verbal reasoning question is all that has to be learnt?

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