In “Can You Drop It on Your Foot?” (National Association of Scholars, June 02, 2011), John Maguire says:
Student papers are often unreadable not only because their grammar is bad, and sentences incomplete, but also because they are way, way too abstract. Abstractions really trap students. Assigned to write about some idea, students get caught in the sphere of abstract words and stay there. Abstract words multiply on the page in unpleasant clusters. If you ask freshmen to write about, say, The relationship between wealth and productivity in a market society, watch out. Few will notice that the four abstract terms relationship, wealth, productivity and market society need definition or examples. They will just move those abstract terms around like checkers on a board, repeating them, and hoping through repetition that something will be said. The resulting paper will be mush.
An alternate approach might be to start the course with physical objects, training students to write with objects, and to understand that every abstract idea summarizes a set of physical facts. I do in fact take that approach. “If you are writing about markets, recognize that market is an abstract idea, and find a bunch of objects that relate to it,” I say. “Give me concrete nouns. Show me a wooden roadside stand with corn and green peppers on it, if you want. Show me a supermarket displaying six kinds of oranges under halogen lights. Show me a stock exchange floor where bids are shouted and answered.”
Students led into writing this way at the start of a course…find it strange at first, but…they will learn after six or eight weeks of practice that it does work; about that time they start to smile because their thinking on paper is clearer, they can see what they are talking about, and their writing has become vivid.
© 2011 National Association of Scholars. All rights reserved.
All subjects, from math to physics to chemistry to history to philosophy, should be taught in the same way. Concepts are classifications of real, individual things, and if a student does not know what real things the concepts refer to, he does not know what he is thinking, writing, or talking about; the students mind is then being destroyed and divorced from reality. Not healthy!! Don’t do it, please! In education, as in all else, please be objective: follow a human method (logic) in knowing the facts.
Mr. Maguire’s advice is good advice for the SAT and ACT, too.