by Daniel B. Coupland, PhD
The title of Classical Academic Press’s Well-Ordered Language grammar series (grades 3-6) was inspired by a passage in a small book by Josef Pieper titled Abuse of Language—Abuse of Power. In the book, Pieper writes,
[T]he well-ordered human existence, including especially its social dimension, is essentially based on the well-ordered language employed. A well-ordered language here does not primarily mean its formal perfection, even though I agree . . . that every correctly placed comma is decisive. No, a language is well ordered when its words express reality with as little omission as possible.1
Language is the means by which we make sense of reality. It is the medium by which we perceive truth. Therefore, a well-ordered language—one that best represents reality with as little distortion as possible—would provide the best access to truth. Language education, then, should be focused on developing as complete and accurate an understanding of language as possible.
While the pursuit of truth through language involves careful thinking (logic) and eloquent expression (rhetoric), the youngest students must first acquire a solid foundation in the structure and function of the language itself (grammar). Mirroring the well-ordered nature of language, effective educators employ an approach to language instruction that is itself well-ordered, structured, and disciplined. Critics of a well-organized and disciplined approach often confuse its form with the disposition of those who employ it. The disciplined approach to language study can be employed through intimidation and aggression, but it can just as easily be administered with love and compassion. The disciplined approach—often mischaracterized as “drill-and-kill”—actually respects the humanity of the student because it acknowledges that children learn differently than mature adults do.
For children to feast upon the rich cuisine of that which is good, true, and beautiful, they should first be shown how to taste, savor, and digest what they encounter. Without proper instruction that will cultivate their taste, students may turn from the “feast” in disgust, reject further sustenance, and perhaps never return. By acquiring a well-ordered language, students will also acquire that taste for language that will lead them to the great feast that awaits. To impart this taste is to avoid one of the greatest errors of modern educational theory, which is the assumption that children can learn without first acquiring those tools of learning that we call the language arts.
- Josef Pieper, Abuse of Language—Abuse of Power (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992), p. 36.