From time to time, there's some discussion about our failure to educate the average child. This issue, and some others, seems to me to be based on a couple of fundamental principles. It might be useful to take a look at them. Because if our conception of education is confused and disconnected, it's only natural that we'll end up with a tangle of tests to assess what wasn't planned very well to begin with.
Educationally speaking, we're not doing too well. A while ago in Across the Bridges, we read about how bright, sensitive schoolboys who had graduated with honors were rapidly going downhill. Why? Tough times sometimes reveal a streak of goodness, or even a trace of heroism, in the average man. But there's also a tragic lack of education. He seems to have no insight, no imagination, no power of reflection. Among the working class, there's a 'dangerous tendency that we all need to try our hardest to resist,' as a Mr. Burns said at a public meeting a few years ago. He said that 'the spirit of mob rule is being encouraged. In exhibitions, sporting events, laws, the individual person is becoming less significant, and the mob is becoming more important.' 'In all our modern events, the tendency is to bring huge crowds together to see other people play. And I don't just mean at sports, but other things, too.' Is there any more accurate diagnosis of today's industrial movement? And we ask again, Why? Enough has been said about the young men from exclusive Public Schools who fail in England's territories overseas. But even the ones who have some success overseas because of the spark of virtue in them, still fail just as often because they don't have the insight, imagination, and intelligence that's supposed to come from education. What about the 'educated' young people who stay in this country? I'm an old woman who remembers how people used to talk about 'countenance' a lot, back in the 1860's and 70's. People commonly remarked that a person had 'a fine countenance' or 'a noble countenance.' The phrase has dropped out of use now. Is it because good countenance doesn't exist anymore? Countenance reflects thought, feeling and intelligence. We don't see any of those things in people's faces these days, just flat indifference, even though the person is apparently in fine physical health.
If this is our complaint, then we have education to blame, even though our teachers are more dedicated and devoted than ever. They benefit because the giver always receives a blessing, but the children are suffering, poor things. They receive generously, poured into as if they were buckets, but little comes of it. Teachers are enthusiastic enough, but there's a tendency among us to devalue knowledge and underestimate our students. Education is made of knowledge in the same way that bread is made of flour. There are substitutes for knowledge just like there are substitutes for flour. Before there was such a thing as the free lunch program, I heard of a little girl in East London whose mother gave her a penny to buy lunch for her and her little sister. The little girl confided to her teacher that a penny's worth of licorice candy 'fills your stomach' more than a penny's worth of bread [but is hardly a nutritious lunch!] Yet our schools use a method very much like filling the stomach with licorice candy. We use grades, rewards, scholarships, and first place standings, which are all ways of temporarily satisfying the child without really giving him the knowledge he needs. And that's the point. He needs knowledge as much as he needs bread and milk. He's as hungry for knowledge as he is for lunch. An abundant regular diet at frequent intervals providing lots of variety is the necessary right of every child--not just for his growing body, but for his curious mind, too. Yet we try to satisfy him with licorice candy.
Or we do even worse than that! We say, 'What practical value does education have? Give a boy the vocational skills he needs, whether it be in accounting or masonry. Get rid of Greek and geography and whatever else has no utilitarian value. Teach him the tools of his profession and the tricks of the trade, and you'll have done the best you can for him.' And this is the most tragic fallacy, thinking that a child should be brought up only for the best use he can be to society, with no thought for what's in his own best interests and what's best for him. A recent survey of the condition of education seemed to feel like vocational training was the answer for our educational concerns. We start children on a life journey that's too dry and confined. One of the main purposes of education is supposed to be personal pleasure and joy in living. Socrates understood that knowledge is for enjoyment. He thought that knowledge was, not one of life's pleasures, but the source of pleasure.
Children should get educated for their own sakes. The ability to think the best of people, to give other people's motives the benefit of the doubt, to find the greatness in a person's character, to change one's perspective and judgment of current events based on illustrations gained by reading history and literature that parallels modern situation, to be able to view things comprehensively before forming a judgment--these things are available to everyone depending on the measure of his mind. But that's not all knowledge does. A person who can live contentedly on his own intellect and can entertain himself during dull hours (although worries and sad times will affect even the most resourceful person) is to be envied, especially in these days of intellectual drought when most people have to rely on spectator amusements to pass the time [and Charlotte was saying this before TV was around!]
Now that we've gone on and on about the importance of knowledge, you might be wondering, 'What is knowledge?' And we can only tell you what it's not. It's not instruction or information. It's not becoming scholarly or having a lot stored up in a person's memory. Knowledge is something that passes from mind to mind, like the light from a torch. But the torch can only be lit by the mind that generates the original idea. [Which makes teachers merely torch-bearers, not the fountain of all knowledge that they sometimes fancy they are!] We know that thought brings forth more thought: it's only when an idea sparks our own mind that our own mind is vitalized to bring life to ideas of its own. And it's these ideas of ours that direct what we do and how we act. We hardly need to convince anyone that reform is badly needed. But now we actually begin to see what could make reform work. To educate a child, you need the direct, first-hand impact of great minds to interact with his own mind. We may not know lots of great minds in our circle of friends, but most of us can get in touch with great minds by reading books. If we want to know whether a school is truly providing an intellectual diet that really feeds its students, all we have to do is look at their booklist for the current term. If the booklist is short, we know that students aren't getting enough mind food. If the books aren't varied enough, we know they won't be well-rounded. If the books are second-hand compilations [which textbooks are] rather than original works, then they won't have any real food in them to nourish the mind [much like vitamins that may have some chemical value, but no real food.] If the books are too easy [not just reading level, but if they don't make him question], if they're too direct and tell him what to think [rather than challenging him to form his own opinion], then students will read them, but they won't chew on them and assimilate them so that the books become a part of them. A person needs a good meal to stimulate his body to secrete digestive juices. In the same way, the mental energy need to be stimulated so that the mind will digest and extract what it needs. And it needs a large variety and generous amount from which to select the nourishment it needs. And it needs it to be disguised as something appetizing and appealing. As our example, we have the highest authority [Scripture] demonstrating that the indirect method is the best way to dispense literature, and especially the indirect form of poetry. It's true that the Parables of Jesus are mysterious--but is there any knowledge in the world more precious than what they contain?
So our tendency to undervalue children is damaging. We water down their books and drain them of their literary flavor because, in our ignorance, we think that they can't understand what we understand ourselves. And, even worse, we explain and then ask questions. A few educational catch-phrases might do us some good: 'Don't explain.' 'Don't question.' 'One single reading of a passage is enough.' 'Make the student tell back the passage he's read.' The student has to read in such a way that he knows, and the teacher's job is to see that he knows. The activities of generalizing, analyzing, comparing, judging, and so on, are things that the mind does for itself. That's part of the process the mind goes through when it's actively learning. Do you doubt it? Try it yourself. Before you go to bed, read a chapter of something like Jane Austen, or the Bible. Then put yourself to sleep by retelling it back to yourself in your mind. You'll be surprised at the degree of insight and visualization you gain from this kind of mental exercise.
As I've already said, a seven-year-old can retell Pilgrim's Progress chapter by chapter, even though he can't read it himself, and a half dozen other of the best books we can find for him. At age eight or nine, he'll work contentedly with a dozen books at a time--history, adventure, travels, poems. Between the ages of 10-12, he reads a good number of seriously written books about British and French history, Shakespeare's historical plays, Plutarch's Lives translated by Thomas North, and a dozen other worthy books. As he progresses in school, his reading becomes wider and more difficult. But everyone already knows what kind of books are appropriate for high school students. The problem isn't the kind of books given in high school, but the amount--not enough are used. The reading list is too meager to make a full, well-balanced man. Lots of first-rate books should be scheduled in every term. The one point I must make is that, from the time a child starts school at age six, he should be distinguished as being 'an educated child' as compared to other children his age. He should love his school books, and he should enjoy his end-of-term exams based on those books. Children brought up mostly on books compare favorably to children educated with more lectures and less books. They're enthusiastic about a lot of things, keenly sympathetic, have a wider focus, and make sound judgments. And all because they were treated from the beginning as human beings capable of serious conversation and able to remember and think ahead to the future. They're people who enjoy leisure time, too, and have time for hobbies, since their school work is easily completed in the mornings.
It isn't necessary for me to talk about modern foreign language, math, nature study, handiwork, etc., since schools are pretty much agreed about how to teach those subjects. As far as Latin and Greek, the question of teaching them and having time to cover any work in them is crucial. But I think teachers at the boarding schools would discover that students who have learned to read and think, and have kept the habit of almost perfect attention that all children are born with, will be able to complete more work in the Classics in their original languages in less time. Students' minds are more alert because they've gotten used to being busy with lots of different subjects.
Maybe some enlightened teacher will perceive the difference between scholarly book-learning and real knowledge. That's a distinction that practical men like Napoleon have always understood. Maybe there's never been any one life that was more influenced by 'humanities' than Napoleon's. Has there ever been a better example of the power of an informed mind to conquer the world? Napoleon is proof against the criticism that knowledge of books has no practical value. There wasn't any single episode in his career that wasn't suggested or inspired by some historical precedent or literary illustration that he had read about. We all know he was no great scholar, but he did read diligently, even while other absorbing affairs were going on. He read books like Homer, the Bible, the Koran, poetry, history and Plutarch's Lives.
Nations become great when inspired by books, just like people do. We've all heard how heroic young Queen Louisa of Prussia came to see that her country's downfall wasn't just due to Napoleon, but also to her people's ignorance. She knew that if her country was going to rise, it would have to be through the study of history. So, while she was living in Memel, as poor as a peasant, she studied the history of modern Europe. Some followers of Kant formed a league to arouse Prussian students to the duty of patriotism. Fichte effectively issued the trumpet call, and Prussia became a nation of students. The result was that Queen Louisa's son established the German Empire. Unfortunately, the day has come when Germany has condemned the teaching of humanities, and as a result, humanity has followed Germany into exile. A noble ideal of education exalts a nation as much as righteousness. But, sadly, we all know the universal chaos and disaster that comes from a corrupt materialistic theory of education, the kind promoted in Munich.
The Danes, who were mentioned before, were inspired to rise from illiteracy because of the threat of Napoleon. After England seized their battleships to help slow down Napoleon, the Danes decided to become the best farmers in Europe. They were successful in doing that because of their schools and continuing education, where they don't teach technical skills, but a wide course of history and literature. And the Japanese revolution about fifty years ago [possibly the Boshin War of 1868, which led to the reforms of the Meiji Restoration?] was also carried out by a literary people. History tells of few finer revolutions than that one.
If we don't want to be left behind by the East and the West, we need to do what other countries have done. We need to 'add knowledge to our virtue.' It is still within our power to climb up that Apostolic educational ladder, even though we're starting on the bottom rung. Even that much is no longer possible for every nation. It's up to us to add virtue to our faith, and knowledge to our virtue. It's unbelievable that the youth of such a great nation as ours should grow up without those inspiring ideals. These ideals mature slowly enough even when they're introduced at an early age. They come mostly from wide reading that's been wisely planned.
Here's part of an enlightening letter. It will help explain the concern I'll detail in this chapter.
'One thing I want to bring up is my disappointment in that last paragraph, the one about classical education. I wish it had been explained more. I'm convinced that your general perspective is all true. In fact, my own experience proves that early education done with reading and enjoying great books in our own language scheduled each year so that they suit the age of the child, is the best foundation for all later education. Here's my story: My three daughters grew up hearing Walter Scott and Shakespeare. Later, when they were between 10-12, they decided to read Plutarch's Lives, John Bunyan, Defoe--but in that time, they also refused to do math and geography. They said math was too monotonous, and geography, which they loved, should be learned by going to places instead of learning about it in school lessons. I knew better than to try and force the issue. So I meekly suggested that they find something else to study instead. And they had a response already prepared for me. 'That's just it, what we want to learn is Latin and harmony.' And this is where your point comes in, which you wrote about in that paragraph that was way too short: 'If children have read and thought, and have maintained the habit of paying almost perfect attention that they were born with, then the work they need to do in the classics can be done in a lot less time. The student's mind will be more alert because it's busy with different subjects.'
Six months later, my daughters knew more Latin than I learned in six years of studying under famous, respected teachers! They could rattle off quotes from Horace correctly, they knew the first two Eclogues and half of the Aeneid by heart, they thought of Cicero's letters to Atticus as a 'penny post' affair, and were a little too familiar with the private life of Seneca. None of this interfered with their painting, or horse-riding, and they maintained their expertise at baseball and horse-racing. That's my story. In my mind, it proves that early education from great books with broad-minded ideas and noble virtues is the only TRUE foundation of knowledge. It's the only knowledge worth having.'
This is an interesting letter, and it brings us back to the question that I thought I had answered thoroughly. I'm a little hesitant to tackle it because an outsider might see aspects that even an expert could overlook. The main criticism against exclusive boarding schools is that they spend so much time on Classics that there's no time left for any other character-building literature. It's easy for us to say, 'Give up teaching Greek to gain more time.' But those schools in conjunction with the universities they lead to, are our crowning educational achievement. There may be other experimental efforts going on in the field of education, but those schools are tried and true. The men they turn out have more quality, culture and ability than any others. Even a student who gets only a B.A. in one of those schools does better than B.A. students from other schools. And an art degree is pretty common at most other schools.
To get back to my original concern--is book-learning pretty much all there is to knowledge? Wellington attributed the winning of Waterloo, not to the battle-field, but to the classrooms at Eton. Caesar, Thucydides and Prometheus Bound have won more battles off the military fields than on them. Just a little bit of meat goes a long way, so even the average boy at one of the boarding schools becomes a capable man from the bit of literature he gets there. Unfortunately, as capable as he is, he's also ignorant. He doesn't know the literature and history of his own country, much less any other. He thinks of knowledge as something to be filed in storage rather than a state that a person is in, or isn't in. Once he earns his degree, he closes his books and packs them away. He might read the headlines in the newspaper every morning, or maybe even a magazine or two, but otherwise, he fills his time with sports, games, TV, or his own projects. We wonder vaguely how we might get some knowledge into such a person, and impart a taste for knowledge in him. We consider dropping Greek to make room for other things, but, on reflection, this doesn't seem like such a good idea. Culture begins with the knowledge that everything has always been known, and everything has already been said as well as it can be said two thousand years ago. If we can only drum this knowledge into a student slowly over twelve years, then we can prevent him from thinking too much of himself, or joining the mobs crying for power and revolution. There's no better way to know what people are like inside than to know something about what they said in their own words and language.
Let's not forget that we, as a nation, have to make up for something we've already lost. Not so long ago, the entire population, whether rich or poor, were intimately familiar with one of the three great classical literatures--the Bible. Men's thoughts were influenced by it, their speech was molded by it, their conduct pretty much governed by it. The rustic adventure of Genesis, the passionate poetry of Isaiah, the divine philosophy of John, Paul's rhetoric, and the rest of the Bible are written in what Matthew Arnold calls 'the grand style.' This is the undefiled wellspring from which Englishmen have gotten the best of their literature, philosophy of life, ideas about history, and the most vital knowledge there is, although we're now trying to do without it. I'm talking about the knowledge of God. Yet we wonder why our politicians have forgotten that they're supposed to be public servants, and why the general population, who were brought up on Dick and Jane instead of great, noble literature, behave with obstinate recklessness, like ignorant people.
Let's get back to the main point. How can we educate the ignorance of the average people and still retain an elite classical culture in exclusively schooled students? I'd like to suggest again, with humility, that exclusively schooled students are ground through a mill that should turn them out as scholars. Scholarship is an excellent distinction, and we as a nation need some of our students to be scholars. But if an Army gives all of its soldiers a badge of honor, who among them would value it? Some things are more esteemed simply because they're a rare distinction. To ask all schools to make Rhodes scholars of all their students is as ridiculous as the little boy who wanted to be a Red Cross Knight when he grew up. It can't be done. Some men are born to be scholars and it seems natural for them. The rest of us respect them, but we don't envy them, because being a scholar isn't the highest calling there is. Being a scholar doesn't necessarily mean that a person is in touch with living ideas. Making scholars out of our entire population isn't one of our goals. And we aren't concerned with the one out of a thousand who's a genius. He doesn't care what we add to our curriculum, whether it's classics, or foreign languages. A silly story, a puppet show, a dandelion blowing in the wind is enough for him; he'll learn on his own. Let's focus on the average child.
He does need to learn Greek and Latin, but there's an easier way to do it. The little girls in the letter I quoted had the right idea. Vittorino's favorite pupil was a girl who spoke and wrote Greek 'with remarkable purity' at the age of twelve, after learning Latin at an even earlier age. I can assure you that she never went through the regular grind of a grammar school. Neither did the educated ladies during the Renaissance whose accomplishments dazzle us. We all know how early they got married while they were still practically children themselves. Yet, by that time, they had an amazing knowledge of the classics, although not many wholesome ones, they spoke two or three languages, they could mend wounds, nurse the sick, make herbal medicines, manage large households with servants, join in the hunt on horseback, and even make a kill, and do beautifully exquisite embroidery. British ladies from the Tudor age were also well informed and enjoyed learning more. Maria Theresa was never considered a great scholar, but she was able to make speeches, and talk to Magyar nobles in Latin. They couldn't speak her language, yet they were able to communicate. If this is how well the women were educated, how well-educated must the men have been!
Do we have less intelligence than they did? No. Then how did they do it? Every prep school already knows how! It's possible that the exclusive schools only admit students who are bright and prepared enough to pass their entrance exam. One Dean said,
'A boy learns as much Latin as he'll need to pass any exam by the time he's twelve. He spends the next eight years repeating and going over and over the same work. A clever twelve-year-old could easily pass a university entrance exam.'
A Dean in Newfoundland mentions in his 1905 report a boy who 'started learning Greek in October, and passed his Oxford exams three months later, in January.'
That means there's wasted time somewhere, and too much overlapping. Both are the result of the exams that determine who gets a scholarship. Something has to be done. Exclusive boarding schools, in spite of their great track record, aren't effective. They take average boys and turn them into decent all-around men. Whether that's better or worse is anyone's guess. The mob is clamoring for change, and our old foundations will be tossed aside unless we hurry to strengthen their weak places. Perhaps a commission should be formed, made up of a couple of deans, a few prep school teachers, University heads, and alumni who have gone on to public service and sent their own sons to these same schools. This commission could look into the question and come up with an exam that would keep ancient and modern scholasticism exclusive, yet not make it impossible to get in.
Once all the teachers agreed and were on the same page, they'd be sure to come up with a way for the average student to get enough exposure to the classics to make a life-long learner of him. He'd be like the 'Baron of Bradwardine,' going around with a compact copy of 'Livy' (Titus Livius) in his pocket to be read for enjoyment, not to be labored over a few lines at a time. The Seven Against Thebes, Iphigenia in Aults and other great tragedies left by the great dramatists would form a familiar background in his mind. He'd know a bit of the best books ever written in Greek and Latin, but with English translations. At the same time, he could be doing his share of the regular grind of grammar and interpreting two or three works that he's only skimmed before. But, as an average student, he wouldn't be expected to write poetry in Latin or Greek.
Meanwhile, his teacher would require him to read and know a hundred worthy books besides great novels. He could read them in class, after school, and over vacations. To test his comprehension, he'd do a single narration, either oral or written in prose or verse. 'He did his grind of grammar' is the experience of every boy who succeeds at school, in the same way that the ancient 'grammarians' did. But 10-12 years of school should do more for him than that.
I won't say anything right now about science. Most schools do fine teaching that. Our generation seems to me to need science for intellectual advancement. But our topic here is scholarship, learning about the humanities. Humanities includes men and their motives, the sequence of historical events, guiding principles to teach how to live. In fact, practical philosophy is required in these times with so much happening in the world. And it's important to be able to communicate well. You don't get that with any short-cut methods teaching economics, or selective breeding to advance the race, or anything like that. You get it from many years and seasons of sowing the seeds of poetry, literature and history. Our country is in desperate need of wise men, and we'll have to get them by educating our youth.
For sixty years we've been working as hard as a gardener in the field of education, weeding, pruning and watering. But our tree of knowledge isn't thriving like we expected. Its fruit, both good and bad, is hard and tiny. And there's so little of it that intelligent people who are trying to choose between them can't tell which are any good. To thoroughly inspect each piece of fruit would take a long time. But I'll just pick one at random. How about the sense of irresponsibility that seems to characterize our generation?
If this is the case, and if people tend to think the way they've gotten used to thinking, then education is to blame. It's education's fault if private property is damaged in broad daylight, or if men are so focused on doing something to help their own little group that they're oblivious to the way their actions [probably referring to labor strikes] are harming the country itself. And there are those who are happy with it [news reporters?] as long as it doesn't affect them. The sad truth is that all those people who are destroying private property, damaging what's in the public interest and bringing down public opinion, which is itself a fragile value to a nation--have all received an education. They can all express themselves clearly, think logically even though their reasoning may be selfishly motivated, and they all have some kind of marketable skill. WWI has changed a lot of things and made people less selfish. But if we don't try to take the opportunity to make the changes last by improving education, then things will become even worse than they were before.
We are no worse than our ancestors. In fact, we are as good as they were--but we are ignorant. The worse crime that ever happened [the Crucifixion] was responded to with the words, 'You did it because you were ignorant and didn't know better.' And that crime was committed only because men who are well-read but not wise tend to follow 'specious' arguments with logical precision. There's an Eastern myth where Lady Lugard tells how 'the Copts have a saying that, when God created all things, He gave a mate to everything. So, when Reason went to Syria, Rebellion went with him.' We won't pursue how the others paired off, but it does seem evident that when stern Reason sets out in search of a logical issue, it's usually accompanied by Rebellion.
It's a grave mistake to think that reason can replace knowledge, that reason is infallible, or that a reasonable conclusion is always a right conclusion. Reason is a man's servant, not his master. It acts like a good and faithful servant, as a sort of Caleb Balderstone (from The Bride of Lammermoor by Sir Walter Scott) who is even willing to tell a lie out of loyalty to his master. Reason will attempt to logically prove any argument that a man's will decides to entertain. The will is the spirit of man. It's the will that makes choices. The man has to have knowledge in order for his will to make fair, wise decisions. Shakespeare was as great a philosopher as he was a poet. That's what he set out to teach us in every line. His characters 'Leontes,' 'Othello,' 'Lear,' 'Prospero,' 'Brutus,' demonstrate the same thing: that a man's reason will try to bring infallible proofs to any notion that a person decides to take up. There's no shortcut and no way around it, the art of life takes a long time to learn.
It used to be that a working man only spoke for his own family. He picked up enough knowledge to get by from his church, by watching his neighbors, village politics, and gossip at the tavern or from the local paper. But things have changed. Groups of working men have discovered that they can unite together in unions to act with enough momentum to paralyze or pressure their company to act, even when the men don't really know what's going on. Without knowledge, Reason can carry a man off into a wilderness, and Rebellion will join it. It's not the man's fault. It's exhilarating to sense your own mind's reasoning power acting as if it had a life of its own, coming up with point after point to support any notion. When a man is stirred to this tremendous power within himself and experiences his mind reasoning all by itself, how can he be convinced that his conclusions might not be correct, and that reasoning without knowledge is like a child playing with power tools? The man follows his reason and perceives this or that freedom that he fancies he should have. But it's written,
'But (write this upon your heart!)
even if spiritual things
Are lost because of apathy, or contempt, or fear,
You shall uphold inferior privileges
That may have been won through bitter struggle, and costly sacrifice.'
-- Wordsworth, from 'Obligations of Civil to Religious Liberty'
If the conduct and destinies of men are decided by knowledge, then it's worth our while to learn something about the nature of knowledge, even though it's vague. Matthew Arnold helps us by offering three classifications of knowledge that make common sense: knowledge of God, knowledge of mankind, and knowledge of the natural world. Another way to say it might be The Divine, the Humanities, and the Sciences. But I think we can go a step further. I think that Letters (a scholarly education), if they don't make up the main content of knowledge, are at least the container that knowledge comes in. Letters are the silver bowl, the exquisite vase, even the alabaster box that holds the ointment.
If man can't think without words, and if the person who thinks with words is sure to express his thoughts, then what about that habit of speaking in single syllables that's becoming common among all classes? The trivial, silly chatter that many women and a few men like to engage in doesn't count. That isn't meant to express real, intelligent thought. The Greeks thought that the main purpose of education was to teach a person how powerful words could be, and train him to use words well. They understood that, if words come from thoughts, then thoughts also come from words. The Greeks didn't bother with learning and studying any other languages, modern or ancient, they just focused on their own. Thus, they became experts in their own language. With their well-developed language came great thoughts expressed in just the right form needed for the occasion--in wise laws, victorious battles, glorious temples, beautiful statues, and classic drama. Great thoughts promise great deeds. And great deeds only come to a people who are familiar with the great thoughts that have been written and said before. How did the youngest of our great Premiers bring about the 'revival of England'? He was strengthened with vast reading that made him believe that impossible things could be accomplished because he'd read of such feats before. He'd read about a thousand things spoken about so wisely that the only result could be a wise action. When we say that our nation is suffering from a contempt for knowledge, we mean that men are ridiculing Letters, which is the container for all knowledge.
Let's take a look at the three classifications of knowledge to find out which one we're most misusing. Some people think that they have all the divine knowledge they need by listening to a sermon every week in church. But, even though our preachers may have a degree, they still don't lift us as much as they should into that gentle realm where words fitly spoken bring about thoughts of peace and divine purpose. It's a worthy ideal to make worship the main purpose of our church services. But people need to hear about 'the Way that enables us to go, the Truth that enables us to know, and the Life that enables us to live.' And we need to hear it in 'words that burn' and ignite our spirits. We wish for the kind of preachers from the old days, who shook the pulpit and 'shook the nation's soul.'
Maybe it's true that the church doesn't feed us enough of the knowledge that gives life, but we aren't starved, either. We also get a small share of literature, poetry, and history--a phrase here, a line there, just enough to light up our day once in a while. Charles Fox said, 'Poetry is everything,' and the black conqueror of the Sudan said, 'Without learning, life wouldn't have any pleasure or flavor.' Knowledge is good for us, although we aren't sure why that's true.
But our intellectual life has a whole region that's sterile. Science refuses to mingle with literature, and insists on being the focus of our age. Whatever we study ends up stripped to the bone, and the principle of life goes out the window with the meat. History dies in the process, poetry lies buried, religion never wakes up. We sit down to study the dry bones of science and we think, This is knowledge, this is all there is to know!' One little girl answered an exam question asking what makes a leaf green, 'I think it's so wonderful.' She had found the principle of wonder and admiration that makes science come to life. Without that wonder, the value of science is strictly utilitarian, not spiritual. A person might as well collect matchbooks like the charming people in Anatole France's novels, instead of diatoms, if there's no wonder of the world in his soul. In the 1700's, science was alive, exciting, and it therefore was written about in literary language. We're still fascinated and emotional about people like Lister and Louis Pasteur. We feel like the scientists in one field are still passionate about humanity (scholars at the top of the field?) and are doing great work.
But, for the most part, science seems dull. The practical value of scientific discoveries doesn't excite the highest good in us, although it might make a strong appeal to our more sensory interests. But that's not science's fault. Science might be considered the vehicle God uses in our age to present revelation. It's the way we present it that's the problem. We use facts and figures and technical demonstrations that mean nothing to the general public. The wonder and the awe of the scientific law that it manifests is never shown. The Hebrew poet was glorifying life when he wrote, 'The grain is ground to make bread. People do not ruin it by crushing it forever. The farmer separates the wheat from the chaff with his cart, but he does not let his horses grind it. This lesson comes from the Lord All-Powerful, who gives wonderful advice' [Isaiah 28: 28, 29, NCV] Coleridge has revealed the deepest secret of both science and literature when he says, 'The concept of Nature is presented to selected minds by a Power that's higher than even Nature itself.' If a person would write about the true principle of wireless technology by saying what a discovery it was to find something that had been there all along, then we might be inspired and excited within our hearts. Yes, there are some scientists who are also humanities scholars, and there are some science books that are as inspiring as beautiful poems. But, for the most part, science is still waiting for its literature. In the meantime, we can't live in ignorance while we wait for it to be written. We have to use what's available. It's a shame that science is all too often taught in a way that leaves us sketchy about scientific thought, and narrow-minded.
We hear that in times of crisis, it does no good to blame this or that segment of society. We're all to blame, even for the offenses of each individual. We partly believe it because our fathers told us it was true. In the same way, the prophets humbled themselves before God and repented of their own great sin when speaking of the sin of the people. We're also humble enough to confess our sin when we're being punished, but we're also vague enough to be insincere.
Maybe our duty is to give serious consideration to the problems of our society. Maybe then we'll finally realize that man truly can't live by bread alone. Maybe we'll understand that intellectual 'bread' (or even cake) is all we ever offer to people in all socioeconomic classes. We are losing our sense of every kind of values, except financial. Our young men no longer see visions. Instead, they're attracted to a career only if 'there's money in it.' Nothing comes from nothing. If we bring up our children on corrupt dreams and selfish ambitions, should we be surprised if every man looks out for number one?
Every now and then, when we notice some social discontent, we see that the nation is ready to revolt. But do we bother to find the underlying cause of labor unrest, and then try to correct the public's attitude towards it? As I see it, the revolution we're experiencing might develop along two possible lines. The people may win the petty rights they want so badly, but it will cost them the loss of spiritual things like integrity that ensures fairness, honest exchange, and loyalty to a contract. We pride ourselves in thinking that those things are a distinctive of British character. But what about the fear that men's minor rights will be lost? Trade unions are nothing new. As we all know, for centuries and centuries England and Europe were under the governing authority of Trade Guilds. From our perspective, we can afford to admire them for the spiritual principles that they maintained, for their religious organization, for the thorough training they gave their apprentices, and for the obligation of each and every member to use honest weights and measures and produce work of the highest quality they could. But even with these ethical safeguards, they became too powerful and disappeared, as everything does when it's not useful any more. Or, could Socialism have a more perfect place to do good than the villages of Russia? But even that turned into a tyranny that was even more oppressive than the serfdom it was supposed to relieve. The Russian mir [village community living and governing communally; Marx based his visions of communism on their model] has disappeared, lost forever in the same black hole that swallowed up the guilds.
We should learn something from Wordsworth's prophetic lines. Whatever 'bitter struggle, and costly sacrifice' are paid to purchase inferior privileges by those tens of thousands of men who are boldly standing together in solidarity out of devotion to a cause that their Reason has justified, they won't be able to maintain those privileges if the true, spiritual things of life are sacrificed in order to get them. So we can predict that the present movement will bring in even worse things. It won't usher in the triumph of trade unions, or mob rule.
This should be our opportunity. We blame the working men [miners, in this case] for being irresponsible. They seem to be causing more hardships for the poor, and they force workers to stop being industrious. But those of us on the outside who are neither employees or owners can't afford to think or speak irresponsibly. We can contribute to finding a peaceable agreement. Everybody has a circle of friends and family whose opinions they can influence, even if it's only one or two people. We can raise the discussion to a higher level and bring the focus to spiritual things, like duty, responsibility, brotherly love towards all mankind that can make people think beyond the short term. We aren't able to stop the revolution that we vaguely sense is going on, nor should we try to. But we should try to influence it so that it will bring us out of the darkness of a narrow tunnel into enlightenment that's as bright as if coming out into an open, green field. When we consider the demands of the miners, we see that what they're asking for isn't much, and they aren't fighting for things that really matter. Even the shock of a revolution is worth it, if it convinces us that the strength of our nation lies in knowledge, and in the education of its people.
So far I've stated that 'knowledge' hasn't been defined, and is probably undefinable. It's not something a person piles up in storage to access later, it's more like a state of being that people often leave, but they can re-enter. The hunger for knowledge is as universal as hunger for food. The best way we know how to pass on knowledge works well with an elite few, but not so well with everyone else. Those whose educations fill them with a collection of facts and statistics instead of enriching them with real knowledge will base their reasoning on those facts [in place of experienced, discerning judgment.] In England's current crisis [presumably the miner strikes], England has found that her people lack intellectual spirit. For various economical reasons, England has had a failure in her food supply--the supply of the proper mental diet for minds. I've explained how knowledge can be divided into three categories, as suggested by Coleridge, who has some authority. I've tried to point out how, even though knowledge can be divided into categories, the vehicle that carries it is one and can't be divided: It's generally impossible for the mind to receive knowledge in any way other than letters [books].
We know that medieval people had a better concept of knowledge than we've come up with. We think of knowledge as something compiled of shreds and bits and pieces--we have sketchy knowledge of this or that, with huge gaps in between.
Medieval people, with their scholarly minds, worked out a magnificent 'Philosophy of the Catholic Religion.' They were probably basing that on the scattered hints in Scripture. Their concept is pictured in the great fresco painted by [supposedly] Simone Memmi and Taddeo Gaddi that John Ruskin taught us about. It's also implied in the Van Eycks' 'Adoration of the Lamb.' In the first fresco, we see the Holy Spirit descending, first upon the four cardinal virtues [prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude] and the Christian graces [faith, hope and charity], then upon the prophets and apostles, and, under these, upon the seven Liberal Arts [grammar, rhetoric, dialectic, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music]. Each of these Seven is represented by its leading figure--Cicero, Aristotle, Zoroaster, etc.--and not one of them is a Christian or a Hebrew. This presents the idea that all knowledge (in its original, untainted form) comes directly from heaven and is planted in minds that are prepared to receive it, as Coleridge says. It's planted in whichever mind is prepared, without regard to whether it's the mind of a pagan or a Christian. This seems to me to be a truly enlightened, broad-minded idea that corresponds perfectly with the way the world operates. Another idea that's just as wonderful and even more specific is the Greek myth of Promethius. This makes us suddenly aware of how haphazard and useless our own notions of knowledge are. We're tempted to cry out with Wordsworth,
'God, I'd rather be
A pagan who was brought up believing an outdated creed!'
and yet know that God, at great sacrifice, brought gifts of knowledge to all mankind. That seems much better than to sit serenely with some vague misconception that knowledge arrives as confused odds and ends, and nobody knows how or from where it comes, or that knowledge is created by itself in the thoughts of a few men here and there who find in their own minds new insights about the ways of the mind and heart, or new perceptions about the ways of life. or an idea about improving the species.
Our confused theories of education stem from our jumbled concepts of knowledge. Let's quote a passage from Ruskin's description of the fresco in the Church of Santa Maria Novella that I mentioned above:
'On either side of the chapel, Simon Memmi has represented the power of God to teach, and the power of Christ to save. That's how the Florentines understood the world at that time...
'...Let's look at the intellect first. Under the descending Holy Spirit, we see the point of the arch, with the Three Evangelical Virtues (faith, hope, love) under it. Florentines believed that, without these, there could be no science or intelligence. Under those are the four Cardinal Virtues: Temperance, Prudence, Justice, Fortitude. Under those are the great Prophets and Apostles. Under the Prophets, pictured as if the Prophets were summoning them, are the allegorical figures of the seven theological sciences, and the seven natural sciences. Under the feet of each of these is the figure of the man who taught it to the world.' (from Ruskin's book Mornings in Florence.)
In other words, the Florentines living in the Middle Ages believed that 'the Spirit of God had the power to teach.' They believed that not only the seven Liberal Arts were completely under the direct outpouring of God's Spirit, but every fruitful idea or original concept, whether geometry, grammar or music, was directly derived from a Divine source.
Whether we accept it or not, we can't fail to see that this is a harmonious and uplifting blueprint of education and philosophy. The Scriptures abundantly support this kind of theory about how knowledge comes to us. It's too bad that the demands of Ruskin's immediate work prevented him from researching further into the ultimate origin of knowledge. But that doesn't mean we can't do some research ourselves. In the phrase, 'the power of God to teach,' we have an inspiring idea that's full of possibilities. If we entertained this medieval philosophy right now in our current crisis, what good might come of it?
First, there would be a great sense of relief when we had some unity of purpose and real progress in the way we educate the race. There's great ease of mind in knowing that knowledge is dealt out to us according to how prepared we are and what our needs are, and that God whispers knowledge into the ear of the person who's ready. God does that for the purpose of delivering that knowledge to the rest of us. The poem Abt Vogler [by Robert Browning] says, 'God has a few of us that He whispers in the ear.' Another poet [Rudyard Kipling, The Explorer] says,
'God chose me for His whisper, and I've found it, and it's yours!'
The next benefit is that knowledge would no longer be divided between sacred and secular, great and trivial, practical and theoretical. All knowledge is sacred, and is dealt out to us in proportion to how ready we are for it. Knowledge isn't a scrappy collection of shreds and bits, but a beautiful whole, a great unity that embraces God and man and the universe. It's one unit, but it has many parts and none is superior or less important than any other. All are necessary because each has a specific function. The third benefit is our understanding that knowledge and man's mind go together like air and lungs. The mind can only live on knowledge. Without knowledge, the mind goes stagnant, gets weak and dies.
Next, it isn't up to man to decide, 'I'll learn this or that, but the rest of it isn't my concern.' It's even worse for a parent or teacher to limit a child to less than he can get of the whole field of knowledge. The domain of the mind is every bit as much under a Divine Master as morality or religion. A child has to know just as urgently as he has to eat.
Next, life doesn't have just one segment of time singled out for regular intellectual meals. We have to eat food daily for our entire lives. And our minds also need mental food every day for our whole lives.
Next, we shouldn't confuse knowledge with the kind of 'learning' that happens in school. A person can 'learn' by amassing a pile full of facts, but it's only true knowledge that enriches personal growth and makes a child a better person. That is its own reward [i.e., it shouldn't be necessary to 'prove' the validity of a person's character growth with economic productivity charts.] We're sometimes amazed when a person who's known for their intelligence is well-grounded and modest. They're not trying to hide their talent. It's just that they truly don't feel that they have any unusual giftedness. They're just being themselves, yet we can feel the force of their personalities. People with confidence and integrity, with forceful personalities, who can make decisions and have sound judgment are just what this country needs most. If we want to train up this kind of person to lead in our country, then surely knowledge should be one criteria we want to instill.
There are various trendy 'new' educational systems that seem fun, but that feature only the tiniest grain of knowledge diluted in a gallon of warm, weak water. One theory says that it doesn't matter what a child learns, what matters is how he learns it. That makes about as much sense as saying that it doesn't matter what a child eats, what matters is how he eats it--so let's just feed him sawdust! Another theory is Rousseau's primitive man theory. It says that a child can only learn what he experiences first-hand through his five senses and from his own wits. One would think that there wasn't such thing as knowledge waiting to be passed on by a torch-bearer. Then there's the frivolous theory that originated in the Church of England and shows up in some of Scott's Waverley novels--in the games that Lady Margaret Belleden had her tenants play, for example. Those young men and women had been trained from childhood to be 'flexible, active, healthy, alert, prepared to dance and sing, and with eyes and ears ready for whatever was beautiful, intelligent, happy and able. (I'm quoting from a useful letter in The Times). Between our morris dances (folk dancing), pageants, living pictures, miracles plays and things like that, we're reviving the ideals of education in the Stuart days. It's not a bad thing to have a goal of bringing more joy to life. But we live in complex times and more is required of us. Real knowledge plays no part in the sort of self-activity and self-expression of this kind of educational theory, or a half dozen other educational theories I could bring up. Whatever we determine to cultivate will eventually be manifested in perfect displays of active fun, alert minds and enjoyment of performances.
The message we really need is, 'With all that is in you, get understanding.' In one sense, understanding is an active thing that the conscious mind does to assimilate knowledge. And that's relative--the mind can't do that if it hasn't already acted on the intellectual food that was presented to it. The Gospels keep repeating the poignant question, 'Why won't you understand?'
This is what's wrong with our nation--we don't understand. I'm not just talking about ignorant people. Even educated men and women use erroneous arguments, rely on prejudices instead of principles, and mistake cliches for ideas. Perhaps these failures aren't ignorance so much as insincerity. But insincerity is a result of ignorance. Darkened intelligence can't see clearly. 'It's as bright as day for those who know,' but knowing doesn't come easily for those who 'cram to pass tests instead of to really learn,' as Ruskin says.
I don't mean to cast criticism on the vast excellent educational work that almost all teachers are doing. No matter which elementary school you go into, you're impressed with the competence of the teachers and how intelligent the children seem. I've already mentioned how well the public boarding schools do, and I'd like to give warm, hearty applause to High School girls, too. They're thoughtful and well-educated. They don't deserve the stings and arrows of criticism that are often thrown their way. As for our Universities, they remove the stigma that many of us have experienced. We sometimes feel that stigma when we're in the middle of one of the places where intellectual people gather. Those places add dignity and grace to metropolitan cities. Our new Universities are promising for our future.
We've undoubtedly come to a good place to start, but the journey is far from over. I don't need to repeat all the weaknesses that arise from ignorance, but I'll take a closer look at the field of education as it relates to knowledge and the inborn desires of the mind for the knowledge suited to it. For now, we need practical people to understand that what the nation really needs is abstract knowledge. The general weakness of the population to understand the science of relations [everything relates to everything else] should prove that, as well as the failure to understand the science of the proportions of things.
'I must live my life!' said the notorious bandit who terrorized Paris before the war. We've heard the same sort of thing a lot ['I gotta be me!'], even before The Doll's House made self-expression seem so trendy that it's practically a cult. Yet it hasn't done society any favors. A bad theory expressed brilliantly is more dangerous than a bad example.
We're all disgusted at a person who claims to live at everyone else's expense, or a youth who lives life to annoy and worry his parents. But we have a perfect opportunity to consider what kind of life a person should live, and what will best provide individuals with the opportunity to live their own lives.
We are trying to do something. We're trying to unlock the nature of children by using the right key. That key is knowledge--familiarity enough with birds and flowers and trees to know them by name, if not more. And the magic of poetry makes knowledge come to life. Adults and children should be able to quote a verse that will make the bud of an ash tree seem blacker, or add sweetness and wonder to a 'flower in the crannied wall,' or make a lark's song sound more thrilling. All of the field clubs around the northern towns have members who are accomplished botanists, bird experts and geologists. Their Saturday nature rambles don't just add zest to their week. They're also just plain fun. We hope that schools will offer opportunities so that women will be more prepared to participate in these excursions. Right now, the field work is so thorough that it requires more endurance than they're used to, and more than has ever been expected of them.
In one sense, we're doing well. Our bodies are made so that any physical movement that involves contact with the earth is a source of joy for us, whether it's a game of leap frog or flying kites. We've noticed this, so we're encouraging things like swimming, dancing, and hockey. All of these give immediate enjoyment and permanent health. We also know that the human hand is a wonderful and precise tool that can be used in a hundred different ways that require intricacy, accuracy and strength. Using the hand in this way brings pleasure in the process itself that's separate from the end result. We understand this, so we make an effort to train young students to accurately handle tools and do handicrafts. Maybe someday we'll see a revival of apprenticeship in various trades, and we'll start to see quality work again as people take pride in the work of their hands. Our goal should be to make sure that each person 'lives his life' with pleasure, but not at the expense of someone else. The world is such that, when a person truly lives his life [rather than just survives day to day], it benefits those around him as much as it benefits himself. Everyone thrives on the well-being of others. We also understand that the human ear is attuned to harmony and melody. Each person has a voice that can express musical notes and hands that are capable of delicate motion to draw out musical tones on instruments. The ancient Greeks were the first ones to realize that music is a necessary part of education. Art is also necessary. We are finally realizing that anyone can draw, and everyone enjoys it. Therefore, everyone should learn how to do it. Everyone enjoys looking at pictures, so education should train people to appreciate pictures of quality.
People can sing, dance, enjoy music, appreciate the beauty of nature, sketch what they see, be satisfied in their skill at crafting things, produce honest work with their hands, understand that work is better than wages, and live out their individual lives in any of a number of ways. In fact, the more interests a person has, the more enjoyable his life will be. When he's doing all of these things, his mind is agreeably occupied and challenged. He thinks about what he's doing, often with excitement and enthusiasm. He feels like he must 'live his life,' and he does. He lives it in as many ways as there are open to him, and he takes nothing away from anyone else to fulfill his abundance. In fact, the collective joy of well-being increases all around him through shared feeling, and others following his example.
This is the kind of ideal that's beginning to be awakened in our schools and in public opinion. It will provide the next generation with lots of ways to live their own lives--and in ways that don't encroach on anyone else. This worthy gift is what our generation can contribute towards the science of relations. Now we understand that a person should be raised and educated for his own benefit and what's best for his own personal growth, not primarily for the uses of society. Yet he will benefit society, because it's the person who 'lives his own life' most fully who is the greatest blessing to others. He'll be the one with the most skills because he wants to be able to do many different things in order to fully enjoy life. And, with the skills to live on his own resources, he won't be a drain on society.
But a person is more than eyes that enjoy beauty, a heart that finds satisfaction, limbs that delight in moving, hands that find joy in creating something that's done right. Anyone can have these things, except those who are totally depraved. But what about man's eager, yearning, restless, insatiable mind? It's true that we teach him the mechanics of phonetic reading in school--but we don't teach him to read. He can't focus his attention for very long, he has a poor vocabulary, and he's not in the habit of thinking of anyone besides himself. His best concept of fun is buying tickets to a football game.
We neglect the vast region that belongs to every human, and is, therefore, his birthright: his mind. I'm not talking about the physical tissue of the brain. If the mind is well-fed and exercised, it will take care of maintaining the physical tissue. But what we fail to do is to feed our children's minds enough mental nourishment. Picture the mind like a spiritual octopus, reaching out in lots of different directions, trying to pull in lots of raw material that the mind will turn into knowledge. Nothing in the world's infinite variety bores it. The heavens, the earth, the past, present, and future, giant things and miniscule things, nations and men, the universe--the mind is fascinated by all those things. But there seems to be an unwritten law we never suspected about what kind of raw material is assimilated and converted to real knowledge. It wasn't a coincidence that the Greeks made up the word logos. Logos, translated The Word, isn't just some meaningless title applied to the Son of God. And it's no accident that every time Jesus spoke, His words had the distinction of having exquisite literary quality. In fact, one girl remarked after hearing the lyrics to a hymn, 'That's not poetry. Jesus would have said it much better.' When Jesus prayed about His final days and work, He said, 'I have given them the words You gave to me.' One disciple spoke for the others when he said, 'You have the words of eternal life.' The Greeks understood better than we do that words aren't just things or events. With all primitive societies, rhetoric seems to have been an important skill. The wonderful old sayings that we discarded as outdated inventions are becoming popular again because we're finding that no modern mind can come up with sayings as good as the old ones. Men may change the world, but it's words that inspire them and motivate them to action. A person is limited by how many things he knows by their proper names and can qualify by using the correct terms. This isn't just some nitpicky rule. It has to do with the mystery we call human nature. Our newfangled method of education that emphasizes 'things not words' is inherently demoralizing. The human mind needs 'letters,' or literature, and desires them more urgently than the body craves bread. It was recent enough that some people still remember how newly-freed slaves in America devoured books with the appetite of the famished Israelites who fell upon food in Sennacherib's deserted camp.
A man is only able to 'live his life' in the proportion to how much his mind has been nourished on books. A lot of menial factory labor is done alone. Miners and farmers can't focus on the block being hewed or the furrow being plowed forever. How fortunate it would be if a worker could be going over in his mind the trial scene in Heart of Midlothian, or the antics in Guy Mannering. How beneficial if his imagination is busy thinking about 'Ann Page' or 'Mrs. Quickie.' His work will go faster if, within the deepest parts of his soul, a holy tune is playing. Yes, regular working people do these things. Many of them are able to say, 'My mind is like an entire kingdom within me!' And many can cry out with Browning's Paracelsus, 'God, you are mine! The human mind must seem precious to the greatest Mind. Spare my mind.' Many of us have seen the words, 'Have mynde' on the tiles that pave the choir loft at the church of St. Cross. But do we remember that the 'mynde' needs its meat as much as the body does?
Faith is growing weaker these days. Hope languishes in the seriousness of our times. But love and charity are as strong as ever. If it were within our power, we'd make everybody rich, or, at least, we'd take some of the money that billionaires have and share it with the multitudes who really need it. There will undoubtedly be some good, bold hero who will rise up like Robin Hood and do that sort of thing. Maybe he's already risen. Yet, after all the charity has been done, we'll find that we still haven't enabled the people to fully 'live their lives' until we provide them with a literary education so successfully that they'll want to continue learning on their own for the rest of the their lives. Someone might object, 'That all sounds good, but look at the masses. Are they capable of learning about literature? When they talk, they use the kind of language you find in newspapers. The only way they can understand books is if they're condensed and abridged to make them easier to read.' But, don't working men speak in journalese because their newspapers are willing to meet them halfway and present news in the language they understand? Neither their schools nor society has exposed them to real books. The fact that they adopt the language of the only source who will write for them proves my point: people have a natural aptitude to understand literature. I'm going to go straight to the top and appeal to the highest authority by citing Christ, who didn't shrink from presenting the most profound philosophical truth to the multitudes. Even Socrates didn't think the multitudes were worthy to receive such knowledge, but Jesus did.
I'd like to quote a letter from 'a working man' who responded to a letter of mine that The Times Weekly Edition did me the honor of reprinting. My apologies to the author. (By the way, I think it's wonderful that this kind of newspaper is being read by working men.) The man who wrote this letter says that he's 'Thankful there are still people left in England who think of education as something other than a way to earn a living.' And we should all be thankful that there are a few working class people who value education for its own sake, and don't want it offered to them simply as a means to increase their income.
The truth is, literature has a universal appeal. Books satisfy a certain desire in all of us. People like young Tennysons and De Quinceys will read profusely no matter what. They'll find their own books on their own. It's the average youth, or the slow ones that I urge us to provide with a literary education. Minds like theirs will respond to literature even when they won't respond to anything else, and turns them into intelligent young people who are open to learning more about lots of different things. For working class people who have more intelligence than the limits of the education they received, books are an accessible method for them to learn more. They've already learned to read, spell and do arithmetic, so it isn't necessary to make them take remedial classes in those things. They have intelligent, mature minds and can deal with finding answers to their literature questions when they need them. To help in this regard, every working men's club should have an encyclopedia. Some people naturally take to learning, and they'll tackle Latin grammar, Cicero, Euclid and trigonometry on their own. They're fortunate! But, in general, for most people of all ages and classes and frames of mind, literary books are a necessity. They need them every day to satisfy the intellectual craving that everyone has. Neglecting that need causes emotional disturbances that lead to evils that distress all of us.
So far, I've been trying to impress on readers the idea that knowledge is a necessity for people, and that, in the beginning, at least, it has to come from a literary [interesting story] source. It doesn't matter whether the knowledge is physics or literature. There seems to be some inborn quality in the mind that will only respond to a literary form and nothing else. I said 'in the beginning' because I think it's possible that once the mind is familiar with a certain type of knowledge, it unconsciously converts even the driest formula into living dialog. Maybe that has something to do with the reason why math seems to be the exception to the rule about knowledge being in literary form. Math, like music, is a language in itself. Its speech is logical without fail, and always clear. It meets the mind's requirements.
Viewing literature as the essence of education is nothing new. Neither is the belief that education means turning a youth into a library of facts. But now we know that the mind needs information presented in a methodical, orderly way. It needs that just as surely as it demands knowledge. Maybe our educational failures are the result of us adopting any haphazard educational scheme if the person suggesting it is persistent enough.
But no one can live without a philosophy that makes some sense of things by bringing out order, pointing out an end goal, and showing a way to work towards that end. That's true of any effort, whether it's education, or life in general. If we aren't able to come up with a way to make sense of things, we fall into depression--or even into full-on madness. So, we go through our lives picking up an adage here, a motto there, an idea somewhere else. Then we make a patchwork of the whole thing and call it our 'principles.' Yet it's no more than a collection of shreds and threadbare fragments that we cover our vulnerabilities with. All the quips and catch phrases we hear any day of the week betray lives built on nothing more than shabby dogma. It's undoubtedly true that people are better than their words, or even their own thoughts. We call ourselves 'finite beings,' but almost every person has an unlimited amount of generosity and nobility [or, at least, the potential for it]. When the Titanic sank, one lady remarked that men who gave up their seats on lifeboats for women and children were only doing their duty; 'it's the rule at sea.' But the men's deed shows us such heroic kindness in the sacrifice of their very lives! Human nature hasn't failed, it's still there. What has failed is philosophy, and the applied philosophy that we call education. All of the philosophies, old and new, leave us with a dilemma: do we do what's best for number one and work to improve our own nature and comfort, or do we seek to improve the lot of others through our own sacrifice? If a happy medium exists, philosophy doesn't tell us what it is.
There are some things we need desperately. We need a new set of values. Before WWI, we all read about how a few millionaires died in the Titanic. At that fateful moment, all their money meant nothing. It didn't matter to them. In fact, it's possible that they felt relieved of a weary burden. We don't need more money. What we crave is more life. We need more abundance in our lives, we don't have enough compelling interests. We rush from one meeting to another, glancing anxiously at the clock to see how we're doing with time. We're glad to have made it through another week--who can say that perhaps, at the final end, we might not just be glad it's over? We need hope. We keep ourselves so busy and excited about some new purchase, not realizing that the satisfaction we get is in the process of attaining and the effort, not the thing itself. Before the war, we read about Continental school boys committing suicide. [This could be referring to a sensory-based/existential Continental philosophy that made boys too introspective and encouraged them to question the ethical value of life.] What is there to live for? We want to be under some kind of authority. Servants like to know what's expected of them, soldiers and students enjoy discipline, there's satisfaction in the rigid rules of court etiquette, and we feel more dignified when we're acting under orders. Revolt is only a transferring of our allegiance. When we're tired of ourselves and knowing what we're supposed to believe and how we're supposed to feel, we want a fresh start. The change we half-consciously crave is a change of direction, and a different way of looking at things. We feel confined and wonder if a new situation would give us more room, we don't know. At any rate, we're uneasy. These are some of the private concerns that oppress us. What we need is a philosophy that deals with these spiritual needs. We believe that, if we had such a philosophy, we'd rise to it, however challenging. It isn't in us to fail. It's not human nature that causes our failure, it's our limited knowledge of the way things are.
We hear that people are getting more immoral. Is that true? The beautiful heirloom gowns that some families cherish aren't long enough to fit our tall, lovely daughters. We've become sincere, truthful and kind. Our conscience and charity sometimes makes us obsessive worriers--we lose sleep because we're anxious about the well-being of everybody else. We even go beyond the Scripture quote that says, for a good man, someone might die. In our day, we see almost any man risking his life to save someone else without even considering whether the person is good or bad. And we expect no less from firemen, doctors, coast guard personnel, pastors, and the general public. And WWI gave us lots of examples of the heroic potential within our men!
One ridiculous case concerning risks at sea almost resulted in a law that nobody could allow himself to be saved if others were in danger. It's preposterous, yet that's what human nature expects of itself. No, we aren't getting more immoral as a whole. Our uneasiness might be a sign of growing pains. We may be pathetic beings, but we're ready to break into songs of praise if we could ever find a full life of passionate devotion. If we only knew it, all of our heartfelt needs and burning desires can be met by the words in the Bible, and by the manifestation of Christ. What the world is waiting for is a Christianity unlike any it's seen before. Up till now, Jesus has existed for our own convenience. But what if the day came when we too tasted the 'orientall fragrancie" of our Lord? We'll cry, 'My Master!' when the King is among us, and we already have premonitions of His coming. But it takes more than prayer and fasting, good works and self-denial. There's something under all of this that our Master insists on urgently: 'Why won't you know? Why won't you understand?'
My reason for bringing up the intimate needs of our heart is that even this relates to studying literature. If we want to seek knowledge, we have to do it in an orderly way, remembering what the most important knowledge is. I can write and touch the sympathies of my readers because we're all moved by the same concerns of our age. These are our secret preoccupations. We've just come out of a long period of alienation. We're tired of trivial things. We're ready and anxious for a new age. We know how to get there and we know where to find our travel instructions, but we need fresh enthusiasm and a new method for our studies. It's no longer enough to glance at a page, or read an assigned chapter hoping to find some word of help or comfort. We're actively engaged in studying and watching the development of a complete philosophy that meets every occasion of our lives--all the needs of our mind, and the worries of our soul.
It's arrogant to denounce the Bible when all you've read is enough to fill a page or two of Jesus' greatest sayings. That limits Divine teaching to the Sermon on the Mount, which we can rattle off in a few sentences. That's ridiculous and unacceptable. We should be working as hard at understanding the teachings of Jesus as Plato's disciples did at comprehending his words of wisdom. Let's take up our notebooks and study the orderly and progressive sequence, the penetrating quality, the irresistible appeal, and the uniqueness of the Divine teaching. For this kind of study, it might be good to use a chronological arrangement of the Gospels. Let's not just read for our own benefit, although we will benefit. Let's read for the love of the knowledge that's better than silver or gold. Soon we'll understand that this knowledge is the most important thing in life. We'll see what Jesus meant when He said, 'Look, I make all things new.' We'll get new concepts about the relative worth of things. New strength, new joy, new hope will be ours.
If we believe that knowledge is the main thing, that there are three kinds of knowledge, and that the foundation for all knowledge is the knowledge of God, then we'll bring up our children as students of Christianity. And we'll learn right along with them, continuing that study for our entire lives. We'll be prepared for Sunday sermons and find them as satisfying as bread to a hungry man. We might even realize what an enormous demand we make on our pastors to provide us with living, original thought. It's only when we familiarize ourselves with knowledge that science and nature help us understand more. As we learn more, they proclaim God in a way that we can hear. But if we're ignorant about the most important knowledge, we'll miss what they're telling us. Literature and history always have important things to say or suggest, because they deal with phases of moral government and moral anarchy. They indicate what the only key is to this confusing world. Literature doesn't just reveal the deepest things of the human spirit, it also profits us by giving us 'examples of life and lessons about how to act.'
We're at a fork in the road. Our most recent educational expert, someone who knows and loves children [Montessori?], is recommending that we discard stories and history tales that appeal to the imagination. She charges us to let children learn through use of things, and her charm and tenderness in telling us may blind us to the desolation of her message. We recognize traces of Rousseau and his book Emile in her teaching. Emile was a self-sufficient person who wasn't supposed to know anything about the past. He would see no visions, and be constrained under no authority. But the human nature of real children is stronger than some eighteenth century philosopher's theories that continue to be spread. Anyone who has ever told a child a fairy tale has seen the natural appetite for literature, and it's our job to provide that literature for them. Is it so hard to believe that words are more than food? And if we believe that, shouldn't we rise up and insist that children not be deprived of the abundant spiritual diet of words that they need? In spite of his false analogies and erroneous arguments, Rousseau was able to summon fashionable mothers and fathers all over the world to the work of education. His eloquence convinced them that it was their duty, and that the task was do-able. From our perspective of hindsight, we should value his legacy of persuading the past generation that education is the responsibility of every age.
Yet, even as we're just now emerging ourselves from the trap of materialism, we're all too willing to plunge our children into its heavy ways via 'practical' and 'useful' education. But children have rights. One of their rights is the right to be free within the world of their minds. Yes, let them use things, know things, learn by handling things, by all means. But the more they know of literature, the better they'll be at handling things, with proper instruction. I don't hesitate to say that all of a child's education should be provided through the best literary book available. His history books should be written clearly, focused, with personal conviction, direct, and appealingly simple. That's what characterizes works of literary value. The same is true of his geography books. The current trend to teach geography using the scientific method is designed to give a child a stuffy, prudish relationship with Mother earth. The human mind is unable to assimilate the sentences in most books written for children. Yet they're retained by the memory, so the child gets a false sense of having information, but it's only psuedo-knowledge. Most geography books need to be written in literary terms before they can be taken in. We put a lot of confidence in diagrams and pictures. It's true that children enjoy diagrams and understand them as much as they do puzzles. But they often miss the connection between the diagram and what it's supposed to be illustrating. We rely too much on pictures, slides, and films. But without work there's no profit. Probably the pictures that stay with us are the ones we imagined in our own minds from words we've heard or read. Pictures can help to correct our false notions, but the imagination doesn't work with visual displays. When we process the phrases of a description on the palette of our mind, we create our own pictures. (I'm not talking about great works of art; works of art are in another category.) Dr. Arnold was always uneasy with new places until he had enough details to form a mental picture of it in his mind. It's the same with children, and with all people who have original minds. We like to have a map to figure out where a place is, but, after that, it's details about the place that we want.
Readings in literature, whether prose or poetry, should generally illustrate the historical period being studied. But books containing selected portions of works should be avoided. Children should read the whole work they're introduced to. And here we have a serious difficulty. Plato wanted poets in his republic to be watched over lest they write poems that would corrupt the morals of the youth. When the floodgates of knowledge were thrown open in Europe, Erasmus was worried for the same reason. Even Rossetti had the same thought. I hope that publishers will help us in this regard. Ever since German bookseller Friedrich Perthes discovered the mission of publishers to further education, publishers have done a lot for the world. Might they help us now? They could remove the smallest bit of offensive material, under the guidance of an exacting expert. What peace of mind it would be for teachers to be able to throw open the world of books to their students with no fear of moral smudges left on students' minds from an offensive passage! And many people who don't feel comfortable in the world of literature would be happy to keep complete libraries of these editions on their shelves to be used daily with no worries.
Even the Old Testament itself, with a little guarded editing, would be more available for children to read. And not many people would object to removing a few obscenities here and there from Shakespeare. In this regard, we have a bit too much superstitious piety. In another matter, let's listen to the advice of that great 'remedial thinker,' Dr. Arnold: 'Let your reading time be adjusted to your personal schedule and inclination. But, whether you decide to spend a lot of time or just a little, let your reading be varied in the kind of books you read--widely varied. If there's one thing I'm confident of regarding the improvement of the human mind, it's this.' This gives us support for a varied, broad-minded curriculum. In fact, we find that the student who studies lots of different subjects knows them as well as the student who studies just a few subjects.
Children should read books--not about books and authors. Reading books about books can be done in the child's spare time. School reading should be carefully planned so that most of it is in historical sequence. Children should read with the goal of knowing, whether the book is Robinson Crusoe or Huxley's Physiography. Their comprehension should be tested with oral (or occasional written) reproduction of the passage, not with comprehension questions. And they should do this after only one single reading. Everything else that the mind does to process the information, the mind does on its own, in spite of our concerns about how to teach it. And, last of all, this kind of reading should be the main business of the class room [i.e., reading and narrating should be done during school time, not as after-school homework.]
We're standing at a crucial moment in the history of English education. John Bull [England's version of Uncle Sam] is contemplating. He says, 'I've labored to get higher education for women. But now, let them get back in the kitchen to learn the science (?) of domestic economy. For forty years I've tried to educate the nation's children. And look at the result--labor strikes and swelled heads! Let's give them apprentice schools instead so they'll learn the work they'll be doing for the rest of their lives!' But John Bull is wrong. Our failing has been that we've offered the pretense of education, the mere wordiness of knowledge, instead of knowledge itself. It's time for all those people who don't undervalue knowledge to roll up their sleeves and get to work. There's still time to save England and make her an even greater nation, worthy of her blessings and opportunities. But our beloved country won't stand still. If we let our people sink into the mire of a utilitarian, materialistic education, our doom will be sealed. This generation will see us take third place in the world. It's knowledge that exalts a nation, because righteousness comes from carefully planned knowledge, and prosperity is the result.
Our familiar counselor, Matthew Arnold, said, 'Think clear, feel deep, bear fruit well.' His caution fits our needs and is exactly what we need to hear.
2004 Leslie N. Laurio
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