A very bright daughter of a friend told me she was going to read Geography at University. I couldn't resist asking her a simple 'prep school' geography question ; 'Where is the Gobi Desert?' Now actually the Gobi Desert is not some tin pot little affair but covers some 500,000 square miles of Northern China as well as a fair chunk of Mongolia but she looked at me blankly and hadn't a clue what continent it was in let alone what countries . I tried another question; 'where is the Mekong river? ' another blank stare.
What on earth do they teach in schools nowadays? When I did my common entrance aged 12 an important part of the paper was a map of the world on which you had to identify certain rivers, mountain ranges, countries and such like. Virtually every twelve year old in my class would have been able to pinpoint both the Gobi Desert and the Mekong river on that map but this very intelligent eighteen year old couldn't do either.
And that perhaps is what's wrong with so much modern teaching - there are no foundations. No one makes children learn the names of countries, capital cities, oceans, and deserts in Geography any more, just as no one makes children learn the kings and queens of England and important dates any more. No one either - apparently - makes children learn poetry any more either but then the poetry which is taught in school is banal boring modern blank verse so it is hardly surprising everyone switches off in class. Teach the children proper poetry - The Charge of Light Brigade by Tennyson, the Pied Piper by Browning or Lepanto by Chesterton to give but three examples and they would be a very poor lot of children who wouldn't be gripped and inspired but that would never do would it -these poets wrote poems everyone could enjoy without having them explained to them by so called experts so clearly they are not good and -even worse- they are not - that awful word - relevant .