Monthly Archives: November 2019

“What have you done for others?”

 

 

“You probably know that I am [doing volunteer work]. _______ has done numerous, exceedingly generous activities to help the disadvantaged. Can you name one thing you have ACTIVELY done to help the needy? …What have your contributions to society been? … What have YOU done for others?”

 

 

— email to me from a relative, July 2018

 

 
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And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. ….

 

— Matthew 5-6 (The Sermon on the Mount)

 

 

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He who would do good to another must do it in Minute Particulars.

— William Blake, Jerusalem

 

 

 

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The full Blake passage reads:

 

Labour well the Minute Particulars: attend to the Little Ones;
And those who are in misery cannot remain so long,
If we do but our duty: labour well the teeming Earth.…
He who would do good to another must do it in Minute Particulars.
General Good is the plea of the scoundrel, hypocrite, and flatterer;
For Art and Science cannot exist but in minutely organized Particulars,
And not in generalizing Demonstrations of the Rational Power:
The Infinite alone resides in Definite and Determinate Identity.

 

T. S. Eliot (who, unaccountably, found fault with this passage) wrote that “Blake was endowed with a capacity for considerable understanding of human nature.” (T. S. Eliot, “Blake”; in The Sacred Wood: Essays On Poetry And Criticism). So true. And, in my opinion, Blake never said anything more true than He who would do good to another must do it in minute particulars. These words are seared into my consciousness, and they greatly influenced my thinking.

 

 

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I do not have a preference for organized charities (or charity). Though I do not, and one should not, find fault with them a priori, or with those who volunteer or donate. They may be supported for reasons, partly, of self-interest, or to make someone look good, say, in their public profile or on a resume or college application. Note that I said they “may be.”

I prefer to do good in minute particulars. In little ways. I am always trying to. In my immediate environment. Where I live. Among friends and friends of friends or relatives. And, mostly, for people whom I encounter anonymously in the City.

There is no point in my giving particulars — it would not be true to the spirit of what is said above.

And, by the way, I fully agree with what Blake wrote – the thrust of the entire passage quoted above — developing his idea of particular versus general good more fully: “General Good is the plea of the scoundrel, hypocrite, and flatterer; … / And not in generalizing Demonstrations of the Rational Power: / The Infinite alone resides in Definite and Determinate Identity.”

Much of what is done by social engineers and reformers – supposedly for amelioration of conditions of the oppressed – actually is done with the most mean spirited intentions one can conceive of, and actually does harm to individuals, as I have shown in many of my posts.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   November 2019

learning a new language

 

 

I have begun studying German.

I knew a smattering of German already.

I was motivated to take the course from my love of studying foreign languages. And to learn a language which is so important in Western culture and scholarship and in music. I have recently heard performances of outstanding vocal works with a libretto or lyrics in German by composers such as Haydn, Brahms, Hindemith, and Franz Schreker.

I am in my fifth or sixth week of an introductory German course at a language school in Manhattan. A very small class, which is great. A great teacher …. Peter, German; he lives in Manhattan now.

 

 

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As I and my fellow students were laboring over reading sentences out loud yesterday, trying to pronounce the German words, it called to mind for me what it was like learning to read in the first grade. Reading out loud (in the first grade) in small groups (“reading circles”) and laboring to sound out the words on the page, in our reader, Dick and Jane. Plus phonics instruction, so tedious, as I recall it being then.

I remember when I learned to read; from one moment to the next I moved on from slowly spelling out the words to reading fluently and my life changed forever! — comment by Elisabeth van der Meer, on my post about reading, October 21, 2019

I had a similar experience struggling to learn and sound out the Russian alphabet and to read from the printed page (in Russian) in an introductory Russian class in my sophomore year at Brandeis University.

 

 

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In a language course, especially an introductory one, the teacher is everything. I have had some outstanding language teachers, such as Miss McCauley for French (in high school) and Luciana de Ames, a Spanish instructor at Columbia University.

And Walter Stock, in a Gaelic course at the Gaelic Society of New York.

In the late 1960’s, I saw an advertisement in the Village Voice for Irish (Gaelic) courses at the Gaelic Society in Manhattan. To the question, why study such a language, one that I would never need to use, I would have answered (and would still), why not? A language is a window into a culture. And, the grammatical or linguistic aspects of different languages have always fascinated me. To study a Celtic language! The Celtic languages are related distantly to a broader hypothesized family of languages including our own.

Mr. Stock would begin by going around the class, saying, “Dia duit” (hello) to each of us. He had us involved and enthused. He was a born language teacher.

After a few weeks, Mr. Stock, to my profound disappointment, had to leave because of professional commitments. The class was taken over by an Irish woman who lacked pedagogical skills. I quit after one class with her. She began the class by telling us to open our books. Then, sitting at a desk at the front of the room, she read from exercises in the book with the class presumably following. There was no interaction or class participation. Mr. Stock, her opposite as a teacher, not only got us speaking Irish from the outset, he was knowledgeable about languages and linguistics and was always pointing out interesting linguistic features and similarities between Irish and other languages. Peter, our current German teacher, does the same thing.

I still have my two Gaelic textbooks.

 

 

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It is so hands on (foreign language instruction). It reminds me of a subject like math. You have to make sure that the class does not get lost. Everything is progressive. Step by step, incremental. Interaction in the class is important. So that students in a language course can practice and so that everyone is keeping up. Or, in a math class, say. to make sure the material was understood and pupils can do the problems.

It’s not like a history or sociology or class, say, where one can skip a lecture or two.

The teaching style of my high school mathematics teacher, Mr. Badoian, seemed at times too “authoritarian” or top down. As if he were a football coach making us run endless drills. But I see now (and Mr. Badoain was a great teacher) that there was no other way. It was a lot different than my English class.

By the way, my father was a piano teacher. It was a lifetime occupation. I wonder how all of this applies to him. Teaching a musical instrument must involve similar challenges and demands.

 

— Roger W. Smith

   November 3, 2019

 

 

 

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