In So Many Words

Info-Comics by Larry Paros

What's Going On In Our Schools

The major institutions of Academia are called "schools." Their primary activity derives from the Greek skhole, "lecture, or discussion." These roots also convey a sense of "leisure," or "spare time," the conditions under which learning might best take place.

This offers a clue as to their actual mandate — the need to provide a context for relaxed study, one that promotes the free play of ideas, and generates an interest in the arts and sciences. Alas, such matters are now considered academic in the narrowest sense, "dated and no longer relevant."

There appears instead to be schemes afoot to undermine that meaning. These schemes were hatched by Skhole which was also originally a "holding back," a "keeping clear" from skhein, "to get," from a Proto-Indo-European root segh, "to hold in one's power," steps which were necessary to achieve "victory" in wartime.

This would explain the schemes our schools today tend to fall back on, such as grill and drillrote learning and test preparation — all expressions of power in their battle to vanquish ignorance. What is rote in the educational process derives from the Old French rote, from which we get our route, leading us to travel the same road over and over again; though there's also the Latin rota, "wheel," for going round and round.

Concerning "drill," educators tend to confuse drilling, the relentless and repetitive nature of the tool with training or instilling what is to be learned and for later boring into students for answers, as if one were drilling into their head.

"Grill," it of course, originally meant to broil something on a grill or griddle, as is done regularly at backyard barbecues across America. Its meaning was easily extended by likening the poor soul being questioned by the police to a helpless rib-steak sizzling over coals. It was then but a short leap from. "Where were you on the night of September 27th?" to, "Recite the quadratic formula."

All these schemes are quite elaborative and well thought out. They should all work well, providing, of course, that the metal detectors are functioning properly. And that is anything but an academic matter.