English for the Dunces

Winston Churchill, My Early Life:

“I continued in this unpretentious situation for nearly a year. However; by being so long in the lowest form I gained an immense advantage over the cleverer boys. They all went on to learn Latin and Greek and splendid things like that, But I was taught English, We were considered such dunces that we could learn only English. Mr. Somervell a most delightful man, to whom my debt is great was charged with the duty of teaching the stupidest boys the most disregarded thing namely, to write mere English. He knew how to do it. He taught it as no one else has ever taught it. Not only did we learn English parsing thoroughly, but we also practised continually English analysis. Mr. Somervell had a system of his own. He took a fairly long sentence and broke it up into its components by means of black, red, blue and green inks. Subject, verb, object: Relative Clauses, Conditional Clauses, Conjunctive and Disjunctive Clauses! Each had its colour and its bracket. It was a kind of drill. We did it almost daily. As I remained in the Third Fourth three times as long as anyone else, I had three times as much of it. I learned it thoroughly. Thus I got into my bones the essential structure of the ordinary British sentence which is a noble thing. And when in after years my schoolfellows who had won prizes and distinction for writing such beautiful Latin poetry and pithy Greek epigrams had to come down again to common English, to earn their living or make their way, I did not feel myself at any disadvantage. Naturally I am biassed in favour of boys learning English. I would make them all learn English: and then I would let the clever ones learn Latin as an honour, and Greek as a treat. But the only thing I would whip them for would be for not knowing English. I would whip them hard for that.”

3 thoughts on “English for the Dunces

    1. Well, most of the other dunce cap pictures actually featured young pupils who had been subjected to that humiliation! Though, I will note that I was put in the corner once in Kindergarten, and attribute staying out of trouble in subsequent life to the memory of that soul-wrenching torment, and to this day I can still feel the glances of my peers burning their way through my back.

      Also, as far as I can tell, people expect to see a cats on the internet whenever possible.

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