Writing and diction

Style lesson — Contractions

(c) 2012  Earl L Haehl Permission is granted to redistribute this in whole as long as credit is given.  Book rights are reserved.

We are creatures of habit. That is pronounced “we’re creatures of habit.” One of the problems with modern English writing is the contraction. And as I looked back through my posts over the past few years, I find that I have been a chronic offender.

It is easy to get that way and back when I was writing for newspapers in the late Pleistocene, contractions were encouraged to save space. And they have antecedents in history and literature. Sam’l Johnson, DHL, had a publisher who saved two letters by using an apostrophe as did Dan’l Webster. I was unable, however, to convince the English department of this.

Back about the end of May, I resolved to correct this lapse in my writing style because I am writing for a general audience and should not rail against those practices I follow. You note that I have not resolved to give up circumlocution or complex sentence structure because I wish my readers to be able to decipher and translate such style—it helps in understanding lawyers, politicians and flacks as well as pedants such as myself.

Part of the problem with contractions is the fact that the contraction of “it is” can be confused with the possessive form of “it.” Actually there are two contractions for “it is”; it’s and ’tis. They are fine in poetry and music. “’Tis” is also appropriate in dialog to enhance character. The possessive form of “it” is “its” with no apostrophe. Or to use them all in one sentence. ‘Tis a sad thing when a machine thinks it’s appropriate to disobey its operator.

Compleat Idler

The Compleat Idler

(c) 2012  Earl L Haehl – Permission is granted to redistribute this in whole as long as credit is given.  Book rights are reserved.

This is about the art of idling, a nasty habit affecting young men aged 10-17 and older. I do not know whether young women engage in this as there were none in any of my circle of idlers. It is something adults discourage and they may occasionally be right. However, I am going to tell a few stories in what may be called an apologia. And be aware that in these articles there may be words or tags that you do not recognize. That is the signal to crank up Startpage.com.  I took the title for this category from Isaak Walton whose book The Compleat Angler is a discourse on society from a Royalist Anglican point of view in the seventeenth century,

What you may discover are hobbies, sources of information, games, activities and books. The one element I will not discuss is smoking because it is not necessary to the culture and may have helped me to cardiac rehab.

“Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.” It’s one of those quotations that has many variants—an idle mind, idle hands the devil’s tools. In New England Puritan society, idleness was frowned upon, especially among apprentices who were supposed to be learning trades. Idling was not condoned on the Sabbath as that was allowing the Devil in. New England Puritan society affected the whole of New England because the Puritans were the dominant culture—and this culture moved on as the great American migrations mixed people up.

My mother’s culture was Yankee on both sides. They settled in Nebraska and brought their culture with them. My father’s German Protestant culture had similar attitudes regarding work. A point of clarification must be made. Idlers are not lazy—they are just energetic about different things.

At age eight I began going out to my grandfather’s shop or picking up a Red Ryder and walking the dry irrigation ditch after school instead of digging into the insipid story in the reader I was talked to. I loved working with tools and I had built a lego fortress and put a couple new tubes in an old radio so I could listen to shortwave while I did homework. So it was in Spanish—so I did not understand it—it was relief.

When we were in San Diego I managed on two consecutive evenings to pick up KOA-Denver on the AM band by attaching a wire hanger to the loopstick. I should have been doing my book report. The purpose of a book report, according to the curriculum manual I glommed onto in Methods/Language Arts is to encourage students (they may have said “pupils”) to read works that are not in the curriculum. My experience had been the opposite. I read a lot of books from the library—it was Great Expectations and Silas Marner that I suffered through, waiting for Saturday when I slipped on my brown hiking boots, jeans and hooded sweatshirt to go wandering down to the cliffs. It was Saturday that I could go to the library, or my friend Mike and I would hop the bus for San Diego (we lived in Point Loma) to haunt bookstalls and discuss philosophy with a couple old guys in a coffee shop. This had little to do with the business at hand, but we learned about Spinoza and Pascal.


Compleat Idler, Education, Free Society

Who is Silence Dogood?

(c) 2012  Earl L Haehl – Permission is granted to redistribute this in whole as long as credit is given.  Book rights are reserved.

James Franklin opened the lock and pushed the door open to the New England Courant. There was no sign of his apprentice Ben. Looking down he saw a folded paper and picked it muttering about that “Dogood woman.” As he walked to his desk he began reading. When he got to “As for Idleness, if I should Quaere, Where are the greatest Number of its Votaries to be found, with us or the Men? it might I believe be easily and truly answer’d, With the latter,” he noticed Ben slipping into the room and moving behind the press.

“About time, Ben,” he groused. “We have another missive from the widow. You might as well set it in type. And be sure the punctuation is right.”

“Do you not wish to read it first.”

“I will read it and be infuriated with the rest of Boston. Why did I let Father talk me in to allowing you as apprentice?”

“I can set type.  And I can read.”

“Be at it then and after sweep around the press. You are the idlest apprentice in Massachusetts Bay.”

James Franklin did not know the identity of Silence Dogood. Goodwife (pronounced “Goody”) Dogood slipped interesting letters under the door of his print shop in Boston. They poked at the customs and what was happening in the colony from a decidedly puritan point of view although in a strangely familiar style.

James Franklin was a busy man. He had no time to go around looking for a middle-aged woman who would probably lecture him on his habits. And it would do no good to send his 16-year-old apprentice Ben who would most certainly use the time in sport and idleness with his contemporaries.

Ben had spent eight months in school as his father wished him to prepare for the Anglican clergy. And being bored he dropped out. Ben could read the Bible and the Prayer Book (even though it was disapproved by his dissenting family). And he began running with a crown of idlers who read the latest journals that had been discarded. The Spectator from London included the best essayists in England and occasionally Dean Swift from Dublin. They even tried writing articles in the styles of the writers. And they got good, but the best was was Ben Franklin, the chandler’s son.

Someday James would teach Ben to write, but not now. Ben offered and was scolded for idleness. But Ben spent spare time writing commentaries. He heard James and his friends discussing the affairs of the day them and heard gossip in taverns or coffee houses on his way home and occasionally managed to snag an unused periodical or book. And every so often he would slip a commentary under the door.

James Franklin was a busy man. He had no clue as to the identity of Silence Dogood.  He was furious when told.


New England Courant The first regular newsletter in the colonies. Published by James Franklin except when incarcerated. It was transferred by letter to his former apprentice, Benjamin Franklin, to prevent its seizure by forces of the Crown. James, upon release from custody, found a letter from Ben transferring back as Ben was striking out in the world—eventually landing in the great port of Philadelphia where he would also have trouble with the authorities. James, himself, departed Boston and published in Providence as the dissenter Roger Williams had done in 1634.

Quaere Ask or inquire. The term is still used by law professors and their former students but spelled query.

Votaries Devotees.

Silence Dogood One of many noms de plume of Benjamin Franklin. It mocks the naming of women in Puritan society and “Do good” is a command.

Dissenting Josiah Franklin was a Congregationalist as opposed to the Church of England which was epiacopalian in governance. Churches other than the CofE were called dissenting bodies.

Dean Swift Jonathan Swift, the Dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin, was a brilliant essayist and a disgruntled clergyman. Remember this when reading Gulliver’s Travels or any of his politically incorrect essay.

Chandler Candle maker. Although a dissenter, Josiah Franklin plied his trade for the Anglican churches which could better afford his wares than the Meeting Houses where he worshipped. His desire that Ben be an Anglican clergyman was a desire for upward mobility.

Compleat Idler, Free Society

What a difference fifty years makes

(c) 2012  Earl L Haehl – Permission is granted to redistribute this in whole as long as credit is given.  Book rights are reserved.

Fifty or so years ago in a high school parking lot, the place does not matter but we can call it Littleton (in those days they rode horses in the downtown and had one zip-code) or Scottsbluff or any of a number of towns in eastern Colorado and western Nebraska, about five guys were standing around the open car trunk admiring Fred’s new Remington with the Weaver 6 power scope. The principal, the coach and a couple teachers came out to see what was going on.

“Well,” said the principal, “it looks like somebody else is going to be gone opening day.” There was laughter as well as a suggestion by the Latin teacher that they just close school that day.

In those days you could walk the a school parking lot and pop trunk lids and find a rifle or shotgun in most cars. It was not a big deal.  When you got something new the coach had to see it.

Today, such scenes are viewed through the filter of “zero tolerance” and handled by the “school resource officer” with backup from BDU clad SORT members who look like storm troopers out of Star Wars. There would follow a suspension for at least the remainder of the school year regardless of state attendance requirements, not to mention referral to the juvenile or adult justice system. Academic work completed during that time could not be counted.

Compleat Idler, Free Society, Surplus Stores

All others pay cash

(c) Earl L. Haehl  Permission is given to use this article in whole as long as credit is given.  Book rights are reserved.


Following is the first in a series of articles based on experiences as a surplus scrounger. The story is fictionalized to the extent necessary to pull facts together that happened at different times. Ruark did this in The Old Man and the Boy. This first installment is fairly light weight and family friendly. I will try to make these okay for general audience consumption. Suffice to say that what happened in the fifties does not happen now.

The sign on the cash register in the surplus store said, “In God we trust. All others PAY CASH!!!” I was maybe 11 when first I wandered in unattended by adults. Back in suburban Denver I had to get rides to surplus stores and that meant adult supervision lest I bring home a moldy pup tent and try sleeping in the yard. It was a new world to me and I walked through aisles of stuff I never knew armies had. I knew about the ammo belts with the pockets that held en bloc clips for the Garand—we were up on our World War II movies and a little sad that Korea was over before we got old enough.

For 98 cents you could get a military hatchet and it was 35 cents more for the canvas pouch. This was WWII stuff in the days before well heeled re-enactors. Canteen with cover – 98 cents. Mess kit the same. Up front there were real steel tools. A size small wool shirt almost fit me at the time—and I would be wearing a large soon enough. The CPO shirt went for 2 bucks and I had something to wear under the parka my folks got me to wear.

But it was a world of fantasy—mine was the F-86 cockpit canopy for $29.98 that I could get when I was fourteen and I could earn real money at the grocery store. And it was my first outfitter. With ten bucks I got my first tackle box, some hooks, a real bobber and a South Bend reel. I also picked up 200′ of casting line. Cash payment. I knew that my folks had an aluminum JC Penney card that they used once a year if they did not have the reserves in the bank for school clothes.

Praceically everything in the store was priced two cents shy of the next dollar. You got the feeling you were saving money when you went home to stash it in craft paper tubes. And if you used a couple of those 50 cent rolls the proprietor—we called him Mr Ace because it was Ace Surplus.

It was late December in 1956. My dad had to come back from Denver and I rode the bus with him. I had 35 bucks and I knew that it would not be long before I would no longer fit under the canopy. My thoughts were now of next year’s buck season. A cousin of my aunt had a ranch and I had spotted the muley buck I wanted. And Mr Ace had dropped the price on Mausers.

Now, back in the mid-fifties there were no Form 4473 requirements. The Model 95 I wanted had dropped from $14.98 to $12.98. I lived two blocks west of Broadway, then it was a block south to the Chevy dealership and another block to Gambles which was a third of a block to Ace Army Surplus.

Mr Ace knew exactly what my mission was as I stood looking at the “Mauser barrel,” an old beer keg wih four or five slats missing. The weather was warm and I wore the white sombrero with the “Wyoming” crease my aunt had given me.

“So you’re going to hunt up by Alliance next year?”

“That’s my plan.” This may have been the first adult conversation I had that did not involve books. My interactions with adults were generally on a level of myself being somewhat less than 100 percent human. I might, at some point in the future be worth their time, but for the time being I should keep quiet unless asked a question. My father, a Shakespeare scholar, and the children’s librarian who decided I was a little too advanced for the Landmark series were the only adults it was safe to have a conversation with.

Then came the inevitable question. “Does your mother know you’re here?”

“No. She’s in Denver.”

“Do you have $12.98.”

“I have 17 bucks on my person. Gotta get some ammo too.”

“You know you’ll only get $8 if you bring it back?”

“My risk.”

“My advice is to keep it at Henry and Blanche’s for a while.” Aunt Blanche was my grandfather’s sister. Uncle Henry was her second husband. And that way we could keep it there and I would go out to his farm and really learn to shoot.

I got my eight bucks when we made the decision—that’s the way parents would speak—to move to the promised land of California. I had a plan to fix up my bike as a three wheeler and the money could buy the necessary lawn mower engine to power it. But they, my extended family, would not be there and my dad’s tool box was lacking in wrenches. And like the dream of the buck, the dream of the powered tricycle faded into time.

In 1997 I drove south on Broadway. The Chevrolet dealership had moved. Gambles was something else and Ace Army Surplus was no more. It was like time had erased the small town and the location of the interstate had made it smaller.

Mr Ace is gone now. In 2007 my mother, the last of her generation on both sides of her family passed. There are fewer surplus stores to fire the imagination. And many of those left deal in the colorful cheap imported outdoor gear that does not raise images of blood and sacrifice—no, kids get the image of blood without sacrifice from video games.

And then came the response to “terrorism” and now the key to purchase at a surplus store is a debit or credit card. Proprietors are warned to take note of persons using cash and demand identification. Also to beware of persons buy bulk ammunition, MRE style foods, etc. Okay, so as a clerk I would give anyone buying MREs in bulk the business card of my heart specialist. But I wonder jf, in the pursuit of a safe society we are forfeiting a free society.


Roll the dice – answer the question

(c) Earl L. Haehl  Permission is given to use this article in whole as long as credit is given.  Book rights are reserved.

Here again to confuse your minds because tearing out loose cobwebs keeps you awake and active. I, myself, am learning Spanish (and unlearning Italian because they confuse one another) and studying some of the improvements in math I let by while being a bureaucrat. And you are unlucky enough to hear about it.

Did you all whip out your TI-83s to solve the puzzle. I hope not, because the answer is that on any roll of the dice there are six chances in thirty-six possibilities that the number seven will emerge. Each roll of the dice is a separate event.

Now the odds of there being 101 consecutive 7s are 101 in 3.919911741×10 to the 78th power. That is a whole lot of zeroes. But is can happen. And if you keep rolling the same set of dice it tends to happen because of wear on edges or corners. And if you’re Sky Masterson, it helps to sing “Luck be a Lady,”(1) What the odds say is that in a random world it doesn’t happen very often.

The other thing you can do with the dice is to have one person roll the dice for say a half hour to 45 minutes and another record the number that shows each time. Then look at the distribution to see if it resembles the pattern. If someone did several thousand rolls it would probably work out—to find subjects who would go through that much boredom without it phasing them you need ed psych majors—sorry but there are things a lab rat would not do.(2)

If the results do not correlate to the chart, just remember that statistics has never been an exact science and that there are always random variances. Normal people realize this. In college I had a set to with my biology lab instructor because my fruit fly counts did not match the ratios in the book so I handed him my covered petri dish and told him to have at it. When you’ve matched wits with a vice principal for six years a grad student in public health is not that intimidating. General rules do not govern specific cases.

A further discussion can result in some questions of the randomness of nature.
1. Why did the microburst only take out half of the Bradford pear and nothing else on the property?
2. According to Native American lore (or possibly pioneer lore since Native Americans have not said everything they’re alleged to), the City of Topeka was protected from tornadoes by the location of Burnett’s mound in relation to the Kansas River. Why did the 1966 Tornado come over Burnett’s Mound?
3. Does lightning strike twice in the same place?


1. From Guys and Dolls, a Frank Loesser musical based on some short stories by Damon Runyon. Sky Masterson is a character based on WB (Bat) Masterson, a fellow sports writer with an interesting past.
2. The terms ed psych major, law student, lawyer and lab rat can be used interchangeably.


Logic & Statistics The Question

(c) Earl L. Haehl  Permission is given to use this article in whole as long as credit is given.  Book rights are reserved.

Okay, homeschoolers out there and those who want to play with numbers. Back when I was in high school I was what we call a nerd. Those questions in calc that require graphing the answer we used to do with a slide rule and graph paper. What is the secret to math and logic? It’s a game.

The simplest introduction to statistics is the craft of the bookmaker. The game of chance presumes a random order. And the fall of the dice on the green table is not dependent on who is betting or how much. The dice are simply cubes with dots on them. When they roll they must land on one of those sides or we’ve found ourselves in one of the Rev Mr Dodgson’s mathematical fantasies where they could as easily balance on a corner or not land at all. I prefer dice to coins because with 36 possibilities they hold the attention longer.

A logical question based on a legitimate statistic is as follows:

1. A standard die has six sides and the odds of it landing on any side if tossed is 1 in 6.
2. 2 dice each have the same independent odds of landing on any side. However, the odds of both landing on specific numbers in order to have a specified total is related to 6×6 or 36 possibilities.
a. 2 1+1 1 in 36
b. 3 1+ 2, 2+1 2 in 36, 1 in 18
c, 4 1+3, 2+2. 3+1 3 in 36, 1 in 12
d. 5 1+4, 2+3, 3+2. 4+1 4 in 36, 1 in 9
e 6 1+5, 2+4, 3+3, 4+2, 5+1 5 in 36
f. 7 1+6, 2+5, 3+4, 4+3, 5+2, 6+1 6 in 36, 1 in 6
g. 8 2+6. 3+5. 4+4, 5+3, 6+2 5 in 36
h. 9 3+6, 4+5, 5+4, 6+3 4 in 36, 1 in 9
I. 10 4+6, 5+5. 6+4 3 in 36, 1 in 12
j 11 5+6, 6+5 2 in 36, 1 in 18
k, 12 6+6 1 in 36
3. The most likely number to be thrown (barring weighted dice) will be 7. The odds are still against any specific number being thrown.
4. To decide what the odds of throwing any lot of 7s you add the top numbers in the top and multiply the bottom. So for the odds on two in a row are 1+1/6×6 or 2 in 36.
5. The question is: Randy has rolled 100 7s in a row. Presuming this to be random and not the result of funny dice odds of this occuring 100 in 6.533186235 x 10 to the 77th power.

. Now 10 to the 77th power is 1 followed by 77 zeros—they have a way to represent it, but not a name.  Realize that looking at those zeroes can give you one heck of a headache. This is a number for use in statistics or quantum physics. So what are the odds when Randy picks up the dice again that he will roll a 7?


Education, Free Society

The Classics v. Dewey

(c) Earl L. Haehl Permission is given to use this article in whole as long as credit is given. Book rights are reserved.

The problem with our schooling, especially after the primary level is the disjointed nature of classes. We compartmentalize into English, social studies, math, science, foreign languages, art, music, home economics, shop, physical education. And, as a rule, they are compartmentalized by different binders or by the tabs in a big binder. And then we have certain health courses the school does not trust parents to handle.

And there are tests. These tests are supposed to help place students in the “appropriate” program. In other words if a test showed a certain aptitude the student would go into an “academic,” “vocational,” “general” or “remedial” program. But fear not there are educational psychologists who intervene to tailor the results to the specific student.

It’s like the student is placed in a special needs category and is supposed to stay there. One year he is placed in kindergarten rather than first grade so he may be sent half day for speech, physical and occupational therapies. Then when he is promoted to first grade in a different school system, he gets placed in the “slow” group. Having been held back, he can only hope he is able to catch up in a system that does not believe in that sort of thing. While he is bored silly by Dick and Jane and Spot. (Hint: A segment called “Dick goes joyriding in Jane’s dad’s car” might liven it up.) Meanwhile he is in confirmation class where the primary text predates Bill Shakespeare and the reference text follows on. The result is an ability to read “early modern English” before Rudolf Flesch approved texts. And the past seven generations on his mothers side have learned to read this way. But it is 1951 and we have “professional” teachers and educators who know how this is to be done. He scraped through first grade and ended up in second grade in a mixed (2-3) classroom. Over the summer he had devoured (as the Prayer Book says, “read, mark and inwardly digest. (It may be in the Bible too, since it contains more than 4000 quotations from the Book of Common Prayer.) several of the small 25 cent (read $4.95) classics his aunt had sent him for Christmas over the past couple years. By May of the next year he had mastered the second and third grade material and was doing math with the sixth grade—apparently country schools in Wyoming are more flexible than schools in Suburban Denver. The young man was supposed to move to the 4-5-6 classroom, but politics being what they were the next two years were spent in the suburban school where the natural progression was in the other five Commandments that were dropped in Mel Brooks’ History of the World Part I. So it is back to standard progression all the way through high school. Having talked to admissions people he would have been admitted to the Regis College at the end of his junior year, but his parents preferred he do it the right way at this point and it was probably a matter of money as well.

The problem was that the classes are separate and need to be taken in a certain order. I have a certain knowledge of this and if you have made the guess that the above hypothetical is not only factual, but autobiographical, you get the cigar. It has been years since I have thought this all the way through and this is the first time I have written it down. Fortunately I have things to do rather than be bitter.

So I see a middle school set up on the classical format as a time to do two things. A held back student has the opportunity to move forward because of the format. And the liberal arts provide a level of unity in an otherwise disjointed and hostile wasteland.

The other day I was sitting in IHOP sipping raspberry iced and working on a blog article on the trivium and quadrivium.  Thanks to Cassiodorus and Beothius these concepts crept into the then neoclassical system of education for the elite.  We call it the late classical or neo-Platonic movement which lasted into the enlightenment.  Somehow the Prussian movement in education disregards the liberal arts as not relevant to learning a marketable trade.  (The Prussians also developed the drill and training system that is the basis of learning skills which have no use in civil society.)  I disagree and tend to believe (with Adam Smith) that the sons of nobility and the sons of crofters differ only in their early education.

The Trivium means three ways which meet.  Those are Grammar, Logic and Rhetoric.  (St Patrick, on a fine March day in the fourth century, used a shamrock to explain this to the Irish who had no trouble understanding the concept of Triune gods.1)  Some of my teachers taught this without naming it because the name was kept out of the lesson plan by some thankfully subversive teacher attempting to slip in the classic system unbeknownst to the director of curriculum.  When I went to the University of Denver (at that time still nominally Methodist) it was right there in the textbook–the Logic and Rhetoric of Grammar.  At this  point I was tired of diagramming sentences and I felt everything about writing could be found in Strunk and White–this was a book I found in high school journalism which I clung to with the fervor a newly converted Evangelical held for the 1611 King James Bible.  But I came, over years to the point where I believe, in writing at least, that logic and structure are as important as expression.  I believe anyone who has graded freshman compositions in the last 20 or so years would probably agree.

But that morning I was looking at the subjects we call the Quadrivium:  Numbers, geometry, music, astronomy.  I see the relationships.  To anyone who doubts the relationship of music to astronomy (the mother of all the physical sciences) I refer two names; J.S. Bach and Johann Pachelbel.  But today I realized that within each art of the Quadrivium the Trivium resides.  There is a grammar, a logic and a rhetoric(expression) for numbers, for geometry, for music, for astronomy.  And further, the roads do not run straight to the center, but rather weave and intersect at various points on the road to knowledge.

Some further explanation on each of the arts is in order. Numbers, in base 10, let us add, subtract, multiply and divide. We count money, we count days between phases of the moon to plant, we estimate differences, we place odds. Arithmetic (pr: erith-met-ic) is the base upon which numerical arts are based. And we move from arithmetic into algebra and eventually into the calculus that explains the physics. Educators may say there is not time in middle school for children to learn algebra—that is a high school subject. I answer that the time wasted in six weeks of mindless review every year from grade three on is plenty of time. By first semester of seventh grade—or second form if you call it that—the student should be ready. And we need to stop using the term children. As long as we do, we do not expect them to develop independence—the independence needed to succeed.

And by eighth grade we are ready for geometry. None of this artificial Dewey contrived readiness theory really matters here. Geometry is almost pure logic. Once you start showing side-angle-side = side-angle-side it makes sense. The students have the ability to use straight edge and compass. They can do the work. It would make sense to incorporate mechanical drawing into this year.

Music. In sixth grade in Nebraska we learned the structure of the band and orchestra—an orchestra is a band with strings except in Texas where you gotta have a fiddle in the band. We learned what the scales meant and we did an intensive study of Scherazad which took us into Persian stories of love and adventure. The teacher showed us how octaves are set, but did not go into the mathematical structure of sound and rhythm. Disney took up the slack in Donald in Mathmagic Land2. And the music of the spheres is apparent in much of the major works.

Astronomy: Physical science began with the study of the stars and the seasons, Numbering the days until the floods come. Seeing the myths played out in the heavens. Looking through this new optic device and charting movements. Watching galaxies explode and which way the gaseous clouds spread. And from this we develop physics and chemistry to explain this. The weather and the sun and moon. Navigation was based on watching the stars and then time. The Pyramids. As with chemistry, physics, biology snd the earth sciences, we cannot in a semester or a year get anything but an introduction. But this needs to be in the mix.

So this gives a basis to make the students better as they go into the four years of high school—or into a trade school. The classical curriculum will give a rational basis for the choice. And it will give students a rational basis to evaluate what they are told in high and to frame the proper questions to clarify the information.

This is the actual reason there will be objection to this model. The “professionals” take their orders, not from rational discourse but from policy. And that policy emanates from UNESCO, AFT, NEA, the US Department of Education, Columbia University and the University of Chicago.


  1. For those of you puzzled about my reference to the good St Patrick, the Irish know that on a warm spring day they often find their morels among the shamrocks.
  2. Disney, 1959. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YRD4gb0p5RM

Can Middle Schoolers Learn the Trivium

(c) 2012 Earl L. Haehl Permission is given to use this article in whole as long as credit is given. Book rights are reserved.

One of the problems of students learning to write clearly is that they do not think clearly. It is more important that students are able to articulate ideas in a manner that is understood than that they be able to “express themselves” in whatever fashion happens to suit them at the moment.

In some ways schools teach their students what to think, but they have trouble teaching them how to think, partially because teachers are themselves conditioned rather than educated. By this I mean they are put through a curriculum that requires study of behavioral sciences and measurements that tell them how approach teaching as if method were somehow separated from and superior to subject matter.

So when you move students from a single classroom to a multi-classroom environment there are changes. For one thing, sixth graders, while they have a range of abilities, are essentially young men and women. There is no reason to treat them as children. They will either meet expectations or they will not. Baden Powell took 22 young men to Brownsea Island and gave minimal direction—relying rather on leadership and his leadership produced leadership in the young men and they formed into patrols and the experiment succeeded.

The question becomes: Can sixth graders handle the Trivium? Can the middle school crowd handle the Quadrivium? What we’re talking about here are the classical liberal arts: grammar, rhetoric, dialectic; arithmetic, music, geometry, and astronomy. It sounds daunting, but if broken down, it is not that difficult. It is simply that “educators” have decided on a curriculum that will stretch out the number of years in secondary education. In my grandparents’ day, eighth grade was a challenge and the eighth grade exams were difficult. These were phased out by the “reformers” because childhood needed to extended.

At the turn of the twentieth century this transformation into the modern school system was taking place. Arithmetic functions were taught from first through eighth grade and algebra did not come until ninth. Curricula were developed to be “age appropriate” per a curriculum which was predetermined. So the arithmetic functions I studied in eighth grade were the same ones I learned in a joint second-third grade classroom in a country school in Wyoming. And the first six weeks of math every year were “review.” The only saving grace we had in eighth was that the teacher decided to do a week on alpha-numeric codes and we had a week on statistics. Actually, we learned that dice when thrown have a one in six chance of landing so the dots on top add up to seven. But other than that it was boring.

The trivium is supposed to be learned first. Grammar is the structure of the language. English, like German, evolved from Norse with migrations from the north. What we often refer to as grammar is really a preferred style of writing and speaking. Diagramming sentences superimposing Latin structures on a language that is structurally different makes sense only to those indoctrated by schools of education—note: I was an expert at diagramming but my father majored in Latin and I took four years in class and another in independent study.

Rhetoric is how we convey ideas through writing and speaking, how we convince people we know what we are talking about.  The charge that writing is “just rhetoric” implies that this is somehow bad.  Those who do not study and learn are handicapped in work and ordinary discourse.  And yes, middle schoolers can learn the art.

Dialectic is on one of the lists–I prefer the term logic.  Those who do not learn logic cannot discern and process what they hear or read.  Because 1+2=3 is meaningful in a base 10 numeric system.  It does not relate the same in base three. Logic teaches how to break  down syllogisms to determine truth or deception.  Politicians, insurance salesmen and even teachers will make assertions that pass as fact.  They may sound reasonable but the key in logic is will they hold up?

The ability of the eleven to fourteen age group is assessed differently in an educational system than it may exist in fact.  I have worked with scouts who have passed the requirements for a badge called Citizenship in the world.  They not only have done the requirements but have explained to me the false premises in the support pamphlet.  And these are thirteen year olds.

Will they master the trivium.  Eventually, maybe.  What I am saying is that it is time to begin and there needs to be exposure to all the classical liberal arts at the point that the young are breaking away from being pupils to becoming students.


Eighth Grade Exam


Remember when grandparents and great-grandparents stated that they only had an 8th grade education? Well, check this out. Could any of us have passed the 8th grade in 1895?

This is the eighth-grade final exam from 1895 in Salina ,Kansas , USA . It was taken from the original document on file at the Smokey Valley Genealogical Society and Library in Salina , and reprinted by the Salina Journal.

8th Grade Final Exam:Salina , KS – 1895 

Grammar (Time, one hour)
1. Give nine rules for the use of capital letters.
2. Name the parts of speech and define those that have no modifications.
3. Define verse, stanza and paragraph
4. What are the principal parts of a verb? Give principal parts of ‘lie,”play,’ and ‘run.’
5. Define case; illustrate each case.
6 What is punctuation? Give rules for principal marks of punctuation.
7 – 10. Write a composition of about 150 words and show therein that you understand the practical use of the rules of grammar.

Arithmetic (Time,1 hour 15 minutes)
1. Name and define the Fundamental Rules of Arithmetic.
2. A wagon box is 2 ft. Deep, 10 feet long, and 3 ft. Wide. How many bushels of wheat will it hold?
3. If a load of wheat weighs 3,942 lbs., what is it worth at 50cts/bushel, deducting 1,050 lbs. For tare?
4. District No 33 has a valuation of $35,000.. What is the necessary levy to carry on a school seven months at $50 per month, and have $104 for incidentals?
5. Find the cost of 6,720 lbs. Coal at $6.00 per ton.
6. Find the interest of $512.60 for 8 months and 18 days at 7 percent.
7. What is the cost of 40 boards 12 inches wide and 16 ft.. Long at $20 per metre?
8. Find bank discount on $300 for 90 days (no grace) at 10 percent.
9. What is the cost of a square farm at $15 per acre, the distance of which is 640 rods?
10. Write a Bank Check, a Promissory Note, and a Receipt

U.S. History (Time, 45 minutes)
1. Give the epochs into which U.S. History is divided
2. Give an account of the discovery of America byColumbus
3. Relate the causes and results of the Revolutionary War.
4. Show the territorial growth of the United States
5. Tell what you can of the history of Kansas
6. Describe three of the most prominent battles of the Rebellion.
7. Who were the following: Morse, Whitney, Fulton , Bell, Lincoln , Penn, and Howe?
8. Name events connected with the following dates: 1607, 1620, 1800, 1849, 1865.

Orthography (Time, one hour) 
[Do we even know what this is??]
1. What is meant by the following: alphabet, phonetic, orthography, etymology, syllabication
2. What are elementary sounds? How classified?
3. What are the following, and give examples of each: trigraph, subvocals, diphthong, cognate letters, linguals
4. Give four substitutes for caret ‘u.’ (HUH?)
5. Give two rules for spelling words with final ‘e.’ Name two exceptions under each rule.
6. Give two uses of silent letters in spelling. Illustrate each.
7. Define the following prefixes and use in connection with a word: bi, dis-mis, pre, semi, post, non, inter, mono, sup.
8. Mark diacritically and divide into syllables the following, and name the sign that indicates the sound: card, ball, mercy, sir, odd, cell, rise, blood, fare, last.
9. Use the following correctly in sentences: cite, site, sight, fane, fain, feign, vane , vain, vein, raze, raise, rays.
10. Write 10 words frequently mispronounced and indicate pronunciation by use ofdiacritical marks
and by syllabication.

Geography (Time, one hour)
1 What is climate? Upon what does climate depend?
2. How do you account for the extremes of climate inKansas ?
3. Of what use are rivers? Of what use is the ocean?
4. Describe the mountains of North America
5. Name and describe the following: Monrovia , Odessa, Denver , Manitoba , Hecla , Yukon , St. Helena, Juan Fernandez, Aspinwall and Orinoco
6. Name and locate the principal trade centers of the U.S. Name all the republics of Europe and give the capital of each..
8. Why is the Atlantic Coast colder than the Pacific in the same latitude?
9. Describe the process by which the water of the ocean returns to the sources of rivers.
10. Describe the movements of the earth. Give the inclination of the earth.

Notice that the exam took FIVE HOURS to complete. 

NOTE: My Grandfather Fosket may or may not have passed eighth grade but my grandmother had a “Normal Certificate” to teach. As I recall it was my grandfather who helped with my homework in elementary school. He had a grasp of reading that I seldom see among recent college graduates. He ran a successful trucking business until the repeal of the Volstead act made his “extra services” obsolete.