The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Mr. Gamble was an instructor at my grammar school. He taught English and Latin and was assuredly one of the most demanding of all my teachers. He was not satisfied with anything short of perfection in his pupils. I had a tremendous amount of respect for him – and I’m glad he’s dead.

 He was a man of average height, perhaps a few pounds overweight – but he carried that off well with his martinet-like erect stance. When Mr. Gamble taught me he must have been in his late 50’s. He was bald – other than having about a two inch tall ring of hair running around his head – each hair looking as though he had just left the barber’s chair – perfectly trimmed and in place. He had a large Roman nose which always drew my eye when I looked at him.

 The suits he wore were very conservative – either charcoal gray or navy blue pin stripes, with an occasional dark brown one thrown into the mix. There was always a perfectly arranged handkerchief in his breast pocket – folded in a triangular design. His tie was precisely knotted and his shoes looked as though they had spent an hour under a skilled shoe shine artist’s capable hands. You could practically see your reflection in the leather.

 While we might get away with talking for a few seconds after one of our other teachers entered the room – that just didn’t happen in Mr. Gamble’s class. As soon as he entered the classroom, there was total silence. Mr. Gamble indeed commanded respect – and we gave it to him.

 Mr. Gamble had a true love of language. You may ask why any school would even teach Latin – a dead language. But, of course, a great deal of Latin has filtered its way into English – and to know our own language’s roots is to gain a greater appreciation and understanding of the language we speak. You will remember that this was “back in the days” when schools emphasized learning broad vocabularies and actually taught grammar.

 Each of us knew the difference between “to”, “too” and “two” and “there”, “their” and “they’re” – distinctions which seem to be lost on a significant portion of those who speak and write English in America today.

Mr. Gamble died of a sudden heart attack a number of years after I had graduated. I was truly saddened by his death and remember crying when I heard about it. He was a demanding teacher but he did his job in the same immaculate manner in which he dressed. I believe that his pupils are better communicators because of what he shared with us.

When I said that I was glad he had died it is because I can only imagine how the cacophony of what today passes for English would have offended his hearing. We live in a world where “Yo”, “Bro”, “Dude” and “Awesome” seem to comprise the entire vocabulary necessary to communicate. And that is tragic since we have inherited an incredibly rich language – filled with meaningful words – which by and large go unused by the general population.

 If it is true that, “what separates man from the lower animals is our ability to communicate through language” – we are apparently doing our utmost to narrow the gap. I’m glad that Mr. Gamble has been spared all this. And I wonder if there are any other teachers who share Mr. Gamble’s passion for language – and how they must feel.

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