A few days ago, a gentleman named John Anderson passed away “peacefully in his home,” according to the web page of The Hill School, one of the nation’s finest secondary schools. Why should you care?
Because there is a terrible sickness afflicting this nation. We have known about it for some time, but despite trillions of dollars, the advice of “experts,” and the efforts of millions of hard-working and selfless people, it prevails. That sickness is called education. But there is a solution.
Let me tell you about John Anderson.
Many, many years ago, about sixteen kids scared out of their wits, of which I was one, assembled on a Monday at 8:20 AM in a classroom in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, for their first class of their 8th grade year. That class was Latin, a topic with which none of us had any — even a nodding — acquaintance. The teacher was John Anderson.
After a few introductory remarks, Anderson turned to the blackboard and very quickly scrawled something that appeared to us to be utter gibberish:
hic haec hoc
huius huius huius
huic huic huic
hunc hanc hoc
hoc hac hoc
hi hae haec
horum harum horum
his his his
hos has haec
his his his
What were we to make of this?
He informed us that this was the “declension” of the singular and plural of the Latin word for “this,” in the “nominative, genitive, dative, accusative and ablative cases.” We had no previous experience with any of these words. More to our puzzlement, it seemed to us a uselessly complex way of obscuring a simple word, which in English had only one expression: “this” is “this.”
Furthermore, Mr. Anderson advised us, we would, prior to Friday, recite this “declension” by memory in six seconds or less. Well, that’s thirty words. Can you recite thirty words in six seconds or less?
We were appalled. We stumbled through the rest of our classes that day in a dense fog, dumbfounded by the weight of this insane assignment, and that night, we gibbered with fright about the impossibility we were now compelled to attempt.
On Wednesday of that week, John Anderson said: “How many of you can now recite “hic haec hoc?” Several hands went up. He smiled, and continued with the vagaries of Latin verb conjugations.
On Friday, holding a stopwatch, we were examined. Everyone passed.
“You all looked at me on Monday as if I were crazy. Over the next several years at this school, and for the rest of your lives, you will will confront challenges that will seem impossible. But now, you know that, if you put your mind to it, you can do anything!”
John Anderson was a great teacher. He was not famous, or wealthy. But good fathers and husbands, and mothers and wives, and lovers of literature and the arts and the classics, and citizens who put duty and family first and everything else second, and presidents of major and minor companies, and lawyers at global firms, and statesmen, and remarkable and more quiet scholars, and artists and writers of major and minor distinction, and a much a larger group of those of us less distinguished, sat in his classroom, and learned their lessons. There can be no finer honor.
Next: Why John Anderson is, and always has been, the solution to our educational dilemma.