At my local library, no section of shelves is reserved for dictionaries. No stand with the quintessential library edition of the dictionary of the English language can be found.
I was astonished when I discovered this. My thoughts brought me to a memory of middle school, the school where I was given a foundational education.
I learned to read. I learned my multiplication tables, had to memorize the tables, in fact. I learned how to diagram sentences. I learned how to alphabetize. I learned to do research at the public library; how to use microfiche to read archived newspapers; how to use the Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature; how to cite different sources. And, I almost forgot to mention, I learned to use the dictionary.
In fact, the bright kids had the privilege of taking an extra course called etymology. These few kids got to do dictionary work as a reward for being smart, or so it seemed to me. Now I as a teacher - somewhat deemed the smartest in my class - was denied use of a dictionary.
Words are the building blocks of language and communication. The mastery of words is vital to the ability to communicate. To understand others and others to understand us. The way words are spelled, their meaning and from which languages they come and why - these are necessary to us as human beings. Language sets us apart from other animals, it is a product of the rational soul. And to know it is to be free. If I have to use dictionary.com, I am not mastering these aspects of language and communication. I will not internalize what I see on the webpage; the webpage may not even give me all the information that a real dictionary has. I become dependent, not free.
As a young student, my introduction into the liberal arts was nurtured. My education wasn't a formal liberal arts education, but it had the marks of it. At Sedes Sapientiae School, we provide the tools which are the liberal arts for each student to succeed beyond high school. In fact, I realized that most things that people accomplish academically or professionally are due to their foundational education. That education gives each person the freedom to actualize the potential he/she has. That education was truly the education for the free man.
A. Coccia, Head of School