Self-Education vs. Higher Education

Self-Education 06

Hippocampus Press – 2017

On the universal degeneracy of so-called higher education in the contemporary USA, I have made myself clear in any number of articles and essays since the mid-1990s.  Recently at The Orthosphere I described the last few years of my college teaching career at what I called “Upstate Consolation University,” supplying anecdotes about students and colleagues who reflect equally the functional illiteracy that has afflicted American culture for the last forty years, at least.  Can PhDs really be illiterate?  Yes.  While they have the specialized knowledge of a trained bureaucrat-scholar, they yet lack anything resembling the broad education of actual eminent minds in decades and centuries now remote and by the current generation completely forgotten.  The young faculty members lack philosophical depth – and that translates into an inability to employ intuition or imagination so as to transcend the boundaries of their narrow graduate school instruction.  Are American undergraduates illiterate?  Yes.  But they are more (or is the word less) than illiterate.  I would say that they proudly know nothing, except that pride requires knowledge of something and undergraduates have no knowledge of their lack of knowledge.  Still and all, their attitude is a prideful one with no discernible basis.  The cohorts of college graduates will not preserve the civilization that they inherit.  Indeed, they are not aware of inheriting it; their awareness fixates itself entirely on their devices.  Being past that, but holding it nevertheless as a background or context to my late-in-life contemplations, I pursue the leisure of my retirement, which consists mainly in eclectic reading of items high and low, with the recognition, late in life, that what is classified as high might really be quite low and vice-versa.

Self-Education 03

Howard Phillips Lovecraft (1890 – 1937) – With a Rare Smile

An example – the “pulp” writers of the mid-Twentieth Century.  People generally use the phrase “pulp fiction” in the pejorative.  They assume that the storytelling purveyed by the large-format, cheap-paper, narrowly genre-focused monthlies and quarterlies of the 1930s, 40s, and the first half of the 50s amounted to no more than the vulgar titillation of combined violence and eroticism meant to divert attention from the tedious reality of life during the Depression and the subsequent world war.  According to this view, the authors of such diversions were penny-a-word hacks with no interest in human nature. They were mere commercial suppliers-of-prose who catered to an equally vapid audience of the unlettered whose primary attraction was to the lurid cover-art displayed so prominently on the racks of the corner newsstand.  It would be cliché to state that this view covers a significant portion of “pulp” fiction, but to paraphrase the writer Theodore Sturgeon, most of anything is junk.  What surprises me in my revisitation of the “pulps,” is how profoundly educated many of the writers were, how deeply their prose penetrated into the human condition, how thoroughly they perfected their literary style.  In the cases of three writers who exert a particular attraction on me – H. P. Lovecraft (1890 – 1937), Clark Ashton Smith (1893 – 1961), and August Derleth (1909 – 1971) – the stylistic refinement is evident not only in their fiction but in the robust informal prose of their letters.  These letters have been meticulously collected and edited by David T. Schultz and S. T. Joshi, the latter known as a prolific scholar of Lovecraftiana, and published by Hippocampus Press in handsome soft-cover editions printed on high quality paper.

The massiveness of the correspondence awes the reader.  The single-volume Derleth-Smith correspondence, under the title Eccentric Impractical Devils (2020), runs to 601 pages.  The two-volume Smith-Lovecraft correspondence, under the title Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill (2020), runs to 808 pages.  There are comparably large two-volume editions of the Lovecraft-Robert E. Howard and the Lovecraft-Derleth exchanges.  I mentioned above that I let my first-hand experience of contemporary institutional decadence play a contextual role in my leisurely exploration of the genre archives of the mid-Twentieth Century.  As it turns out, neither Lovecraft nor Smith completed his secondary education let alone attended college.  In the cases of Lovecraft and Smith, even primary school attendance was hit or miss, due largely to chronic sickness in the childhood years.  Whereas Lovecraft grew up in Providence, a genuine city, Smith and Derleth were denizens of small towns, the former of Auburn in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in Northern California and Derleth of Sauk City, in Southwest Wisconsin.  All three men came from economically challenged family milieux, but civic amenities, especially libraries, served them abundantly in youth.  All three became inveterate readers well before adolescence.  They advanced to adult books very early in their readerly careers.  All three became published authors, even though in venues of limited circulation, in their teens; and by their mid-twenties they were active commercial writers.  Lovecraft and Smith never attended college.  Derleth graduated from the University of Wisconsin with baccalaureate in 1930, but on the evidence his education was mostly extra-mural.

The epistolary exchanges between these men who wrote for a living, but never sat through a creative writing seminar, exemplify abundantly their richness of self-taught lore.  Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill, Vol. II, contains a letter addressed by Lovecraft to Smith postmarked 18 November 1933.  The two men often exchanged stories in manuscript and offered one another constructive criticism.  Smith had previously sent Lovecraft one of his tales of “Averoigne,” a fictitious early-medieval territory in what would become France centuries later.  The story, “The Holiness of Azédarac,” had meanwhile appeared in Weird Tales for November 1933.  Because it was freshly in his mind, Lovecraft commented on the printed text.  Lovecraft makes points, not so much literary-critical, but historical and philological.  While Smith knew French – he taught himself in his mid-thirties so as to undertake the translation of Charles Baudelaire’s Fleurs du mal into English – his idea of how Latin transformed itself into la langue galloise implausibly foreshortened the timeline.  “The thing is,” Lovecraft writes, “that I’m in doubt about the picture of Roman Gaul in A.D. 475… especially the idea conjured up by the phrase ‘an obsolete variant of the French of Averoigne.’”  Lovecraft explains that, “in 475 no such language as French existed, the vulgar Latin of Gallia not being sufficiently differentiated from the parent stock to be any sort of separate speech.”  He reminds Smith that “Gaul was the last center of culture in a declining empire”; and that the classical tongue held on stubbornly in the region.  He lists a number of Fifth Century Gallic literary notables: “Ausonius, Avienus, Sidonius, Apollinaris, Paulinus, [and] Vigilantius.”

Self-Education 01

Clark Ashton Smith (1893 – 1961) – As Usual, Unsmiling

Lovecraft’s grasp of the lore compels him to continue for fifteen hundred or maybe two thousand fascinating words.  The historical label “Late Antiquity” did not exist in 1933, but Lovecraft understands that he discourses about an age no longer classical, or pagan, but not yet medieval, in the high sense, either.  He mentions the tail-end of the Germanic migrations and the disappearance of the Celtic dialects that these hastened.  Whence this treasure of knowledge?  “I’ve always been tremendously interested in the melancholy petering out of the Roman civilisation, & nowhere was the process more vividly illustrated than in the Gaul of the age of [St.] Ambrose.”  Thinking analogically, Lovecraft adds how “sometimes I fear the present is soon to become a sort of rough parallel.”  Smith had the same conviction – the Twentieth Century amounted to a period of civilizational dissolution.  After the lengthy excursion on the geo-politics of the Sixth and Seventh Centuries Lovecraft returns to the matter of language: “The famous Oath of Strasbourg – A. D. 842 – is the last surviving example of the popular Gallic language of the Dark Ages… called [in its day] Lingua Romana as distinguished from Lingua Latina.”  For Smith’s edification, Lovecraft reproduces two passages from the “Oath” in Latina, Romana, and Modern French.  He concludes with this: “All we can say is that by 842 the popular Latin had begun to display a definite differentiation in the direction of the modern Language later called French.”

At this point Lovecraft veers into a discussion of the latest editions of the science- and weird-fiction periodicals.  When he has treated that topic sufficiently, he takes up the witch-mania of the Late Medieval Period, making learned references to the bibliography of the subject, including Margaret Murray’s Witch Cult in Western Europe (1921) and Montague Summer’s Geography of Witchcraft (1927).  The tone throughout indicates that Lovecraft gets much pleasure out of his topics; he assumes that Smith will extract pleasure in the same degree.  Given the sustained character of the correspondence, which went on until Lovecraft’s death in 1937, and the regular copiousness of the crossing missives, this can only be true.  In their letters, Lovecraft and Smith shared their respective self-acquired educations, which already overlapped in many ways.  A letter (mid-March 1933) in Eccentric Impractical Devils has Smith giving advice to Derleth concerning Derleth’s French, not quite up to Smith’s level, in a story entitled “The Paneled Room.”  Derleth had solicited Smith’s scrutiny, writing, “I am no good in that language.”  Where Derleth had written, “O Virginie, petite, voicé le docteur Grandon,” Smith corrects voicé to voici.  Where Derleth had written, “L’Enfant a tout dequieté,” Smith corrects a tout dequieté to est très fort tranquille.  And so on…   It is not an obligation for Smith, but a courtesy happily fulfilled for a friend whom he had not yet met in person.  Derleth, not incidentally, would become Smith’s publisher through the agency of his Arkham House Press, established in 1939 to preserve Lovecraft’s writings.

The Hippocampus books add up to several thousand pages of epistolary traffic covering the middle of the last century.  The range of topics, many of them erudite, stretches wide.  Eccentric Impractical Devils includes a letter (11 February 1949) from Smith to Derleth that delves into the origins of genre.  Derleth had sent Smith a copy of his quarterly Arkham Sampler (Winter 1949) containing a symposium on science fiction.  Smith read it “with great interest.”  He reacts to it with some focused criticism.  He writes how “it struck me that most of the contributors… failed to emphasize the historical aspect of the theme and were too exclusively preoccupied with its contemporary development.”  Smith insists that “for the proper understanding of the [science fiction] genre and of fantasy in general, some consideration should be given to its roots in ancient literature, folklore, mythology, anthropology, occultism and mysticism.”  Smith remarks that no contributor to the symposium mentioned Lucian, Apuleius, or Rabelais as “among the forefathers of the genre,” all three being “of prime importance.”  Smith sees Lucian and Apuleius as presenting complementary if opposing views.  Lucian, a materialist, aggressively satirized religion and metaphysics.  Apuleius, a prelate in the Cult of Isis and an adherent of the Platonist school, celebrated the mysterious and the occult.  Apuleius’ novel The Golden Ass, Smith writes, “expressed… the power and glamour of a sorcery that was regarded as science by a moiety of his contemporaries.”  If Lucian’s skepticism were helpful in some contexts, so would be Apuleius’ convictions regarding “that mysticism which is seemingly eternal and common to many human minds in all epochs.”

Self-Education 02

August Derleth (1909 – 1971) – Amidst His Books

Modern “education” aims at inculcating dogma – narrow dogma, anti-intellectual to boot.  The magnificent self-education of someone like Smith enables a nuanced or one might say non- or even anti-dogmatic view of philosophical controversies.  Another fitting word would be openness.  Smith stood open to experience and never discounted the possibility of transcendence.  He cultivated transcendence in his writing, especially in his poetry, but in his prose too; and the probability is – he experienced it.  The Selected Letters of Clark Ashton Smith (2003) edited by Dr. Schultz and Scott Connors and published by the revived Arkham House Press supplements the Hippocampus editions.  It includes a letter (11 July 1950) from Smith to Samuel J. Sackett, an English professor at UCLA, who had noticed Smith, took him seriously, and proposed to write about him in scholarly venues.  Smith defends his “ornate literary style” to Sackett, replying to criticism over the years by people who found affectation in his prose and reacted to it with Puritanical indignation.  Smith writes: “As to my own employment of an ornate style, using many words of classical origin and exotic color, I can only say that [it] is designed to produce effects of language and rhythm which could not possibly be achieved by a vocabulary restricted to what is known as ‘basic English.’”  He adds that, “An atmosphere of remoteness, vastness, mystery and exoticism is more naturally evoked by a style with an admixture of Latinity.”  Smith relays to Sackett his admiration of Thomas Brown and Edgar Allan Poe, who likewise drew on a massive lexicon.  He also mentions Herodotus, from whom he borrowed ethnic terms, John Mandeville, and Gustave Flaubert.

In addition to the Smith-Derleth exchange, Hippocampus has issued the two-volume Lovecraft-Derleth exchange (2013), which takes the title of Essential Solitude.  Hundreds of Lovecraft’s letters to Derleth survive, but only forty in the other direction.  Derleth’s epistolary style tends more toward the functional than toward the literary.  Derleth also entered into a more conventional, business-oriented life than either Lovecraft or Smith.  His correspondence often concerns practical matters related to the establishment and operation of Arkham House and to his own progress as a professional writer.  The signs of an autodidact nevertheless make themselves known.  Derleth’s article “Lovecraft, Outsider,” which is included in Vol. II of Essential Solitude, remarks and appreciates his correspondent’s intellectually self-made status: “Because of his early ill health, H. P. Lovecraft became an omnivorous reader; he read everything upon which he could lay his hands.”  More than that: “His enforced seclusion lent to him a perspective more farsighted than he might otherwise have had; thus he was able in his correspondence to take a long view of present-day phenomena, and whether he wrote of Mussolini, of Poe in Providence, of Proust, of proletarian literature, of the cinema, he maintained an absolutely impartial point of view.”  Whether this statement is entirely accurate or not, it indicates that because Lovecraft escaped an institutional education, he could see things from his own angle.  This made Lovecraft’s judgments valuable to those who lived in closer proximity than he did to social conformism, yet distant enough to savvy that conformism posed a danger.  Lovecraft had been very much a mentor to Derleth, who was twenty years younger than the Rhode Islander.

In a letter to Lovecraft (31 May 1933), Derleth engages in literary judgments.  The topic is M. P. Shiel, a fin-du-siècle British writer who wrote genre novels and enjoyed a brief phase of popularity from about 1895 to 1910.  To Smith Derleth writes, “Shiel is… one of the great living stylists, quite up to [Arthur] Machen, though Machen is of the old school, and Shiel is of the new.”  Derleth writes that the “sheer beauty of [Shiel’s] style continues to fascinate me” because “he makes language flow like limpid water.”  How does Derleth know of Shiel?  He spent time in bookshops, especially second-hand and antiquarian bookshops and studied bookseller catalogues.  In my own experience, browsing among used books can constitute an education all by itself.  One of the deficits of the present day in 2021 is that second-hand booksellers have all but disappeared from the brick-and-mortar infrastructure.  It is true that one can still search out second-hand items online, but what Ralph Waldo Emerson called the Angel of the Library shies from the searcher’s digital quest but readily joins his reconnaissance of dusty, narrow corridors crammed with hundreds of volumes.  One book leads to another.  Patterns emerge.  Contemporary technologies have canceled this manifestation of magical action – or as Carl Jung named it, Synchronicity.  Jung’s mysterious force, when it starts working its spell, leads its pupil to more than books.  Derleth reveals musical knowledge.  He mentions to Lovecraft (3 July 1933) that he has commenced a one-hundred-line dramatic monologue entitled “Liszt hears his Second Concerto: Weimar, 7 January, 1857.”  To pair with his recording of Liszt’s score, Derleth purchased “the wondrously beautiful and weirdly somber SWAN OF TUOMELA [sic], by Sibelius, a work which has an unplumbed depth of melancholy hidden in its deep tone.”

Self-Education 08

Hippocampus Press – 2020

The privately acquired knowledge of a Lovecraft, a Smith, or a Derleth puts the graduate-school learning, entirely putative, of young academicians to shame.  To what degree of awareness of high culture or genre culture can a newly minted assistant professor of Women’s Studies at a second-tier state college stake a claim?  What in the way of perspective can she possess?  Let the same questions be posed in regard to a twenty-two-year-old girl (with short-cropped blue hair, no doubt, and rings in her nose and lips) who has spent four years in the classrooms of Women’s Studies professors and proudly waves her un-repayable, borrowed-money baccalaureate at the commencement ceremony.  One sees thus the rapidly diminishing return of the pernicious anti-process.  The problem magnifies itself in that all humanities professors now possess the knowledge, such as it is, only of Women’s Studies professors.  Who in college today will ever hear the names Ausonius, Avienus, Sidonius, Apollinaris, Paulinus, and Vigilantius?  Thirty-seven years ago Penguin published a volume under the banner The Last Poets of Imperial Rome.  It featured Ausonius (310 – 395), whose long lyric poem “The Moselle” must have recommended itself to Lovecraft.  I found a beat-up copy in a shadowy corner on a low shelf in a once-rich but latterly decayed second-hand bookshop near Ithaca, New York, in 1990.  That establishment, the Phoenix, went out of business twenty years ago.  Nothing has replaced it.  I still own the Penguin anthology, which also translates poems by Claudius Claudianus, Aurelius Prudentius Clemens, and Ancius Manlius Severinus Boethius.

Lovecraft’s 1933 concern, in his letter to Smith, that the present age might constitute a parallelism, in its retraction of knowledge, initiation, and wisdom, with the Fifth and Sixth Centuries and their shrinking horizon of Classical Civilization has proven itself a prophecy, with a few cavils.  The term “Dark Ages,” which Lovecraft uses, now appears to clear-sighted historians as something of a misnomer.  The absolute break with Classical intellectuality posited by Eighteenth-Century “Enlightenment” types when they invented the Middle Ages — in order the better to praise themselves for being bright and beautiful — never happened in the way the mendacious story suggests.  When Western Civilization shifted from a Mediterranean orientation to an Atlantic one, it sustained continuity with its Mare Nostrum precursor.  Christian thinkers happily appropriated the Neo-Platonism of the Late-Antique pagans and recast it, with minimal modification, to accord with the New Testament.  Roman law still held.  It merged with the Germanic traditions of the Gothic princes who reigned as sovereigns in the former provinces.  The French writer Rémi Brague (born 1947) has put forth the hypothesis that Western Civilization since Rome has been self-taught and that its “text” was other than itself.  When Rome – quite early – became aware of Greece, Rome studied Greece and adopted its high culture.  The Goths studied Rome.  Far-sighted monarchs like Alfred the Great and Charlemagne hired clerics precisely to preserve, reassemble, and transmit the fragments of the earlier civilization.  The mode of instruction from Rome through the High Gothic was household education under tutors.  And household education is a type of self-education.  Generation by generation the family educates itself.  As Lovecraft’s prophecy intimates, the New Puritanism would forbid all that.  It would usher in an actual Dark Age.

Wiener Dog

 

24 thoughts on “Self-Education vs. Higher Education

  1. As is typical, TFB goes over too much ground for anyone to comment succinctly. Accordingly, within the small confines of an HTML combo box (and thus necessarily minimizing reply/comment), I’d place Lovecraft solidly within a Romantic genre, albeit belonging to a decidedly masculine* aspect (which was not always or perhaps even usually the case). For example, John Keats’ decidedly feminine oriented Endymion was wryly incorporated in Lovecraft’s pastiche, The Poe-et’s Nightmare:

    Where snores our young Endymion, swath’d in gloom:
    A smile lights up his boyish face, whilst he dreams of the moon…

    Lovecraft knew exactly what he was doing. Of course it is difficult for penmanship to approach Keats in deftness, yet from a masculine angle I’d rate HPL’s best work high; at times equaling Shelley’s pen, especially the latter’s Daemon of the World (abstracted from his larger Queen Mab).

    In keeping with a tradition, HPL had no sense of appreciation for modern poetry–compare his comments on Eliot’s Wasteland in his periodical The Conservative (published as a book by Arktos). So much ‘new modern’ material comes across for us today as contrived, and simply exists as ‘new and improved’ in order to be new. This is not and cannot be an authentic aesthetic justification. It’s the real tragedy of men who produced it, like Ezra Pound, men who otherwise had much worthwhile to say.

    Economics matter. Being poor and having to write for the ‘pulps’, selling words by the pound to meet deadlines in order to make a living, necessitated a compromise, for sure. His most inspired prose rises to the top, nevertheless.

    [* When judging literature it is sometimes helpful to gauge its Yang/Yin value. That is, is the context masculine or feminine? Sometimes that angle provides certain clues.]

    • Thank you for commenting. It would certainly be possible to write a similar essay drawing on the correspondence and non-fiction prose, say, of Virginia Woolf and Rebecca West, who attended school but were overwhelmingly self-educated. We would then have the feminine counterpart to my Lovecraft-Smith-Derleth story although West, if not Woolf, shows some masculine traits in her writing. If I live long enough, I might undertake the task.

      Smith worked as a handyman to eke out the living he made by selling stories to Farnsworth Wright at Weird Tales; he turned his life’s economy around in 1954 by marrying a woman of means and enjoyed the comforts of middle-class life in his last decade. Marriage did not work out for Lovecraft even though Sonia was probably willing to support him. He also rewrote and ghost-wrote stories for other, mostly amateur, writers, but he was always too generous with his time and effort. At the end of his life he was surviving (or not) on one meal a day consisting of a can of Hormel chili, tinned tomatoes, and biscuits.

      There is a lyric Lovecraft, but I refer not to his poems; rather, to his Dunsanyan prose. The Dream-Quest for Unknown Kadath is a prose-epic with episodes of prose-poetry inserted at fairly regular intervals. It strikes me as being modeled on early-Nineteenth Century poems like Keats’s Endymion. Would you be willing to add a few sentences comparing Endymion and Kadath? I am quite interested in what you might say.

      P.S. “TFB goes over too much ground for anyone to comment succinctly.” — This might be deliberate.

    • Yes. It strikes me that vocational training is a much surer bet than a liberal arts degree. And if the goal were knowledge and wisdom — then internalizing the reading-habit would be a better way to go about it than placing oneself at the mercy of the faculties. If you were a conservative who wanted to become a humanities professor, I would respond that the institution is implacably hostile to your ambition. It might have been possible for a traditionalist like me to sneak into an English department twenty or thirty years ago, but the Puritan vigil nowadays prevents it.

  2. To be clear and from my perspective, masculine and feminine is an aesthetic outlook of representation. The best of literature will always be male sourced, although that does not mean it is therefore ‘masculine’ literature.

    Some historical examples:

    Classic Greek poets were all masculine in outlook. Perhaps Aristophanes could be questioned, but how serious was he? It is an important question.

    What I consider to be the core (likely unredacted) text (i.e. without the no doubt later ‘Christianized’ additions) of the Anglo-Saxon Seafarer (900 AD?) is not only masculine, but could not ever have been written by a woman.

    Dante’s New Life (1294) is feminine, but within an esoteric understanding can probably be given a pass. I hope.

    Spenser’s Faerie Queene (1596) points to the feminine.

    Rousseau’s New Heloise (1761) has a feminine outlook, presupposing the Revolution.

    Keats’ Endymion (1818) demonstrates a feminine orientation and is in fact wholly feminine. Even as it exists as an aesthetic production likely unachievable by any woman poet.

    Madox Ford’s continuous WWI novel is borderline. Across the waters, his contemporary, Proust’s continuous novel, by contrast, is decidedly feminine (which we would expect given the author’s proclivities).

    In the non-West?

    The Russians we generally know–Dostoevsky, Chekhov, Tolstoy, Lermontov, Turgenev, plus the ‘modern’ Bulgakov (thanks for introducing him to me) are solidly in the masculine camp.

    Chinese classical stories were never feminine oriented, although subsequent to the 1949 revolution things changed. At least ostensibly. For instance, in the Chinese opera the popular Legend of the White Snake changed from Feng Menglong’s (1624) original folk version (warning the world regarding the duplicity of the feminine snake daemon) to the now modern version in which the white snake represents oppressed womankind.

    When did the transition manifestly occur? In the Euro west possibly the mid 19th century. Others would have better insight than I. Certainly Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen represented a modernist transition. Peer Gynt is masculine in one context, feminine in another. By the time of The Doll House and Ghosts it was all over. Both are wholly feminine, and could well have been written by any woman of literary competence.

    Lovecraft eschews the feminine altogether.

    • Ibsen’s Peer Gynt is prescient. Peer thinks of himself as a modern person, but he is controlled by his vision of Solveig, in her early-adolescent form. Immature females, reverting to their early-adolescent or eighth-grade bitchiness, seem to be in control of our society. I know not what to make of the Button-Molder.

  3. Interesting. Vocational training certainly is more financially rewarding.

    My degree was in Classics, and I started late in life, so I was very much aware that I wasn’t going to make millions. What I wasn’t ready for was how boring most people who study it are. The idea of broadening their horizons beyond even a specific author doesn’t usually occur to them. The pecking order and favoritism was also weird and annoying to navigate. I had worked in restaurants before and have always remembered the conversations from that time as much more interesting. I had a lot more spare cash too.

    Regarding Lovecraft, the best author of Lovecraftian fiction I’ve found who is still writing is actually unpublished and anonymous: ZeroHPLovecraft.

    If I’m allowed to post a link here are his stories and some articles:

    https://zerohplovecraft.wordpress.com/

    He’s a computer programmer who leans toward neo-reaction in his politics, hence his having to self-publish.

  4. “The idea of broadening their horizons beyond even a specific author doesn’t usually occur to them.”

    This is the restricted mentality of the academy. For the twenty years that I taught at “Upstate Consolation University,” I also hung out — and eventually became a regular — at a local tavern. The non-academic people whom I met there and eventually befriended included several individuals who were readers and whose purview was larger than that of any of my colleagues in the English Department. Needless to say, I got much more out of my off-campus society than I got out of my on-campus society. Out of the latter, I could well say that I got nothing. Except dirty looks and whisperings behind my back. Then the Wuflu lockdown closed the tavern. It will not reopen.

    Thank you for commenting. (I’ll look at ZeroHPLovecraft’s work.)

  5. I long ago read a condemnation of autodidacts by a corporate scholar, which I now understand was equivalent to a condemnation of home cooking by the CEO of McDonalds. Like home cooks, autodidacts can fall into egregious errors, but like McDonalds, corporate scholars can never rise above bland mediocrity. People should not be taken in by the blue hair and nose rings in today’s humanities. These are just the “grey flannel suit” of that very buttoned down, corporate world, conformist world.

    I had long been vaguely aware of William James’ essay “The PhD Octopus,” and recently ran down and read the full text. Excellent, wise, and very sad to those of us who know that James was a Casandra to whom no one listened.

    “Our universities at least should never cease to regard themselves as the jealous custodians of personal and spiritual spontaneity . . . . They ought to guard against contributing to the increase of officialism and snobbery and insincerity as against a pestilence . . . and in season and out of season make plain that what they live for is to help men’s souls, and not to decorate their persons with diplomas . . . . Is individuality with us also going to count for nothing unless stamped and licensed and authenticated by some title-giving machine?” (Harvard Monthly [1903]; Memories and Studies [1911]).

    The reality is that our universities have never ceased to be jealous of personal and spiritual spontaneity, have been super-spreaders of officialism, snobbery and insincerity, have done nothing but decorate shriveled souls with diplomas, and are nothing but a license-granting, title-giving machine.

    You will appreciate this anecdote. A highly credentialed pseudo-radical spoke in our department. Adopting an attitude of conspiratorial intimacy with our resident pseudo-radicals, he meant to say that they would have to act surreptitiously. Being the university man, however, he believes that nefarious is a synonym for surreptitious.

    Universities exist to turn out men and women in grey flannel suits, with conventional grey flannel opinions and conventional grey flannel tastes. I can’t think who stands to grey flannel as Midas stands to gold, but the university has his touch.

  6. Eric Voegelin writes somewhere (I’m too lazy to search for the passage) of “badges of infinitesimal rank” as the most telling sign of institutionalized learning. Look — I’m infinitesimally above you in rank! Voegelin’s words mesh organically with the description of the university by William James that you cite. Richard Cocks and I once supervised a graduate student’s thesis in the English Department. The young woman combined insights from Voegelin and Rene Girard to comment on C. S. Lewis’s “Perelandra” Trilogy. At the defense of the thesis the Chair of the English Department and the Graduate Advisor were also present. It took about twenty seconds for Richard and I to remark that the young woman (a mother of two) stood intellectually so far above the Chair (a black lesbian) and the Advisor (a superannuated “gay activist”) that it was difficult to measure the distance. They could sense, however, that Jennifer’s argument was a defense of Christian principles and it obviously bothered them. At one point, toward the end of the voir-dire, the Chair and the Advisor suggested to the candidate that she declare her argument “just one of many” that might be made about Lewis’s work. Richard and I managed to nix the suggestion. Jennifer received her MA — but it was clear that the two possessors of infinitesimal ranks were embarrassed by their lackluster performance during the defense and angry at those who had caused it.

    I incline to think that actual learning cannot, in fact, be institutionalized. Learning must be a spiritually lively activity; it must partake in vitality, physiological as well as intellectual. As Plato averred — learning must be a response to Eros. The blue-haired, ring-in-the-nose pseudo women who now dominate the so-called higher education are a sign of what has become of Eros intramurally on the college and university campuses.

    • “Badges of infinitesimal rank” is a great expression, and I’m going to try to hunt it down. Among my colleagues rank is infinitesimally quantified by the number of dollars one has successfully cozened out of the bankers of institutional science. Cozening dollars is no mean feat, says one who has yet to cozen a dime, but I cannot see why this should serve as the benchmark of academic achievement. I would guess that around half of what I was taught in graduate school was false, pernicious, insane, or silly. Learning probably works best with a Platonic friend, but otherwise is solitary.

      • This just occurred to me: Learning is the solicitation of the dead by the living — and that very solicitation proves, in its generous response, that the dead are not dead, but living. Certainly Kipling, to name but one of the dead, is more alive than ten thousand English professors put together.

  7. One of the best narrators ever of H.P Lovecraft’s stories:
    xhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mLMlo_0oIs0&list=PLG8klsjxFY-NUysXKqNWeu2OkmOZGj7vD&index=2
    (remove the x in front of https to view)

  8. A bit off topic, but I’m always amazed at some of the books that I’ve inherited that were once owned, and read, by my southeastern Pennsylvania Quaker ancestors in the 1850s and 60s.

    None of them went to college. The men were all farmers, shopkeepers, or clerks. The women housewives and mothers. Yet they would buy as birthday or Christmas gifts for each other long books of poetry by both famous and not so famous authors. (Bayard Taylor was the most popular of the latter group).

    I’ve tried to read them, but even with a College degree, (SUNY Oswego, 1979!) I struggle to finish them. I’m now reading, with much more success, Lovecraft’s novella “The case of Charles Dexter Ward” that was first published in Weird Tales in 1941.

    • Peak literacy in the USA was probably around 1900. Literacy was still high in 1950, but it has declined since then — in the last few years precipitously.

      We moderns aren’t adept at reading verse, so it tends to be tough going for us. Even so, I last night read about ten or fifteen short poems by Gerard Manley Hopkins. And about six months ago — it took me a full month — I revisited Wallace Stevens.

      By a coincidence, I have just started re-reading Lovecraft’s “Shadow Out of Time,” in the “corrected version” based on his original and recently discovered typescript.

      Thank you for commenting.

      • Tom wrote:

        Peak literacy in the USA was probably around 1900. Literacy was still high in 1950, but it has declined since then — in the last few years precipitously.

        I’m always amused when I read (at certain “conservative” websites that shall go unnamed) that “literacy” in the good ol’ US of A is ever-increasing, never waning; and this, due in large part to public schooling and the “education” apparatus in the U.S., wherein is provided, or so we’re told, a “worldclass education.”

        Credit where credit is due and all that, these sorts of claims (generally from patriotic – ‘greatest country on the planet’ commenters), and in defense of their undying patriotism, the people who write such things are, in the main, or so I suspect, really just ‘salt of the earth’ types whose natural inclination is to defend their country (and countrymen) against foreign and alien attacks, or perceived attacks, regardless of the truthfulness of the assertion. I can’t very well fault them for that, but one of the main reasons I’m so often humored by this ‘patriotic’ defense of literacy (so called) in the current US in any case, is that, by “literacy,” I mean it in the classical sense; whereas the defenders aforementioned mean the term in the modern sense; which is to say, in the sense that (barely) a ‘smattering’ of ability to read, to write, and to cipher (somehow) equals “literacy.” You and I both know what the term meant in the classical sense; a sense in which the average modern likely has no, or virtually no, conception.

        Allow me to come to the point of my comment:

        Several years ago, and at the urging of my older kids, I wrote a book for my younger kids and grandchildren, that I titled, The Life and Times of Matthew Fontaine Maury, Pathfinder of the Seas. Maury was, as you might know, largely self-educated. Indeed, in one chapter of the book, I cite him from a letter he wrote to his cousin, Rutson Maury, of New York, in which he (Matthew) complains of the incompetence of Navy educators, and the dire need to improve the situation.

        In 1839 Maury was involved in a carriage accident in which he sustained a crippling injury to one of his legs. This accident almost ended his Navy career just as he was beginning to make a name for himself as something as a national authority on Navy matters. During the interim between the accident and his “full” recovery, the owner of the Richmond-based monthly magazine, The Sourthern Literary Messenger, made Maury editor of the magazine. Maury had previously written numerous essays for the magazine under the no de plume, Harry Bluff, under the title, Scraps from the Lucky Bag. Within his little “scraps,” may be found, e.g. the initial idea for the establishment of a Naval Academy at Annapolis, among numerous other suggestions for improvement of the U.S. Navy later adopted.

        While Maury was editor of the magazine, an essay was published in same under the simple title, Education, by “A Native Virginian.” I’ve of course taken the long route to coming to my point, but here is an excerpt from the essay in question that I thought highly relevant to your essay, and that you might be interested in reading:

        The consequences have been ruinous. Young people go to school, to the colleges-aye, to the universities, too, and after a few years sojourn they come home finished scholars – have studied this science and that science – in fact, have glanced at all the sciences – but, in the meanwhile, the mind itself was never thought of. Its powers were never wakened up to inquiry, nor imbued with a love of knowledge. It was never taught to reduce its acquisitions to their original elements and make them a part of its own constitution – like the worm which feeds upon a plant, until it acquires the same color, and almost the same consistency of the plant itself. Oh! that this were the process of education – but far otherwise is the truth. What they learn is by the aid of the teacher alone, with but slight mental effort on their part. The pupil becomes a mere intellectual baby, carried along in the arms of his kind instructor. And, like all other babies, spoiled by too much nursing, he can do nothing, or will do nothing, without help.

        Prof. Smith once wrote (here at the Orthosphere) of the phenomena of being, or having been, “Spoiled by a false Education.” I wrote a comment to the essay, mostly citing Dr. Dabney, who had lots to say about the failure of what we moderns call public schooling. I believe I have not misunderstood him (Dabney) to say that the inescapability of failure of public schools is a feature, not a bug, of the system itself; that public schooling (such that it is) is founded upon a false idea of what education truly is; that the philosophy of education, to say nothing of methodology, in the U.S. is, and ever has been, all wrong. This is essentially, and at length, what the Southern Literary Messenger article I cited above is getting about. It’s roughly 8,500 words, but I wonder whether you might read it in your ‘leisure time,’ and comment upon it for my benefit, sir? In the interest of full disclosure, let me say that I agree with the great bulk of the essay’s contents; that, indeed, my method of educating my own children follows closely its conclusions on the subject. Keeping in mind and acknowledging, of course, that the author is also correct in his assertion that the best scenario is that scholars are helped along by proper educators who understand what their real role is. Here is the link to the essay in question:

        https://quod.lib.umich.edu/m/moajrnl/acf2679.0005.007/451:7?rgn=full+text;view=image

        Thank you for writing about this important subject, and offering your invaluable insights, by the way. I can honestly say that I read (although I don’t always comment upon) everything you write on this and other topics.

  9. Terry — I will follow your suggestion. It might be a day or so before I reply in full, as both your eloquent comment (it’s an essay in all but name) and your assignment require.

    • Dear Tom:

      Thank you for the timely reply to my request, as well as for the promise to fulfill the request. And last, not least, for the compliment to my comment/essay. All is greatly appreciated.

      Funny thing: I actually got the idea to download the Southern Literary Messenger article mentioned above from reading your essay here, as well as Prof. Cocks’s earlier essay from a month or so back that I think is titled, How to Approach a Philosophy Class. My idea was originally to write a (real) essay on the subject of around 2,500 words, or thereabouts, for submission at another site. I downloaded it in “text” format, for the purpose of being able to copy and paste from the essay, then spent the better part of three hours editing the article and putting it back into paragraph form. I haven’t gotten around to writing the essay as yet, but you’ve managed to convince me with your kind words and encouragement that I’m off to a good start with the elements of my comment above. Thanks for that, in lieu of your future answer to my request.

      -Terry

  10. “The mind itself was never thought of. Its powers were never wakened up to inquiry, nor imbued with a love of knowledge.” – “A Native Virginian”

    “Failure of public schools is a feature, not a bug, of the system.” – T. Morris

    Richard Cocks, our mutual friend David Lambie, and I get together once a week for beer and conversation. Richard and David drink India Pale Ales – I drink Clausthaler, a non-alcoholic but heavily hopped beverage that tastes like beer, since I can no longer tolerate alcohol (and more’s the pity). The conversation is at once humorous and serious; as Richard and Dave are philosophers, the talk tends to run philosophical. I have repeatedly asked the question – just to get the discussion going – what did you learn in high school or college? Dave knows some French and so do I. We both studied French in high school and college, so we must have “learned French” in high school and college. Language-learning at the basic level is rote-learning, not an exercise of the mind at the higher level. More primitively, we must, all three of us, have learned the grammar and orthography of our own language – in my case, because I am close to a generation older, by the proven phonetic method, but given Richard and Dave’s written competency, phonetics must have sneaked into their beginning instruction as well. Then there is basic geography, some elementary civics, and arithmetic, except that in my case it never stuck. So in answer to the question, did you learning anything in school, an honest but incomplete answer would be, yes.

    A slightly modified version of the question, did you learn how to think in school, I would need to answer differently. It is clear to me that I learned how to think, slowly but surely over the years, from my habit of reading. And I never acquired my passion for reading from school. I received cues for expanding my reading from one or two teachers in high school, and one or two in college, but that was on a strictly extra-curricular basis. Although it might seem arrogant to make the claim – as far as my memory serves me, the curriculum and what passed for “classroom instruction” taught me nothing. As these comments take their place under an essay that implicates H. P. Lovecraft, I might point to Lovecraft’s story “The Call of Cthulhu” as notable item in my learn-to-think-by-reading itinerary. The story begins with a series of linked theses: “The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.”

    In my old age, I have come to reject the Lovecraftian viewpoint. Certainly, however, when I read the story for the first time, I stood ready to be convinced and maybe was convinced for a while. If, using our imaginations when we read, we bracket ourselves and temporarily take the perspective of the author, it would be difficult not to be converted to the authorial standpoint at least while we were reading. Gradually – the advancement took years if not decades – due to scads of other books I came to reject Lovecraft’s it’s-better-not-to-know thesis, but without demoting that author in my appreciation of his own imaginativeness and stylistic audacity. (Maybe it’s not Lovecraft’s thesis, but his narrator’s, after all.) Reading a densely written story or a complex and densely written novel requires a tactical suspension of disbelief and exercises the use of imagination and intuition – two products of the art of reading that can be reapplied to life. I could tell almost the same story about H. G. Wells that I tell about Lovecraft. I have come to reject many of Wells’ theses, but not his audacious thought, which I have consciously internalized to the extent that I am able.

    I state the obvious – but nothing is more imperative in 2021 than to state the obvious – when I aver that “public education” does none of these things. In “public education,” indeed, and at whatever level, “the mind itself was never thought of,” nor the “love of knowledge,” that essential of genuine intellectual progress, “imbued.” I am increasingly convinced that “failure of the public schools is a feature, not a bug, of the system.” When I think back on my last few years of teaching, what strikes me is not only the total lack of knowledge of the cohorts of undergraduates, but an emotional blankness, as well. The undergraduate’s resentment can be stirred – but resentment is the most primitive of emotions. I have made remarks on previous occasions to the effect that Eros seems to have fled the campus. The functional illiteracy of American culture in the early Twenty-First Century is one of the causes of that sterility. Romance and imagination are intimately linked. Kill imagination and you will effectively kill romance. You will even kill sexual yearning. You will see hordes of de-sexualized semi-adolescents whose substitutes for the adventure of life are their devices. Could anything be more sterile than a cell phone? Colleges are now effectively what Orwell in his famous novel called the Anti-Sex League. And all of the “trans” nonsense – that ugly, life-stultifying, suicide-producing nonsense – is therefore a direct consequence of the killing-off of the mind by the institution designed to do it, “public education.”

    Terry: I hope that you consider this an adequate response to your carefully crafted comment. It is, perhaps, too improvisatory.

    • Tom wrote:

      Terry: I hope that you consider this an adequate response to your carefully crafted comment. It is, perhaps, too improvisatory.

      Dear Tom, “adequate” is not the word for it; I consider your thoughtful, eloquent, learned reply ‘all I expected, and then some.’ I hope you won’t mind my borrowing from your response at least a couple of (prescient) lines at a future date. With attribution, of course. As per the usual, your essay has introduced to me books and their writers I would not have before known about.

      In my online conversations, and even lots of my “private” conversations, I tend to tell lots of personal anecdotes as one means of making a broader point. I promise to get back to this later with a fuller response. In which several personal anecdotes (some very recent, some more remote), by way of your excellent response to my original comments, were brought to mind.

      Bottom line: I’ve learned, yet once more, from your excellent writing, as is almost always the case. When you talk about the public schools teaching you little, as opposed to ‘nothing’ per se, I know exactly what you mean; and in point of fact have an anecdote of recent antiquity to tell in that vein. My own habits of reading have been, during my adult years, largely self-directed and therefore largely misguided; although I must say that they have nevertheless led me, at length, to sites like the Orthosphere and writers like yourself, and Professors Cocks, and Smith, Bonald, and so on.

      When I was in H.S., I was only ever encouraged to read one book that I recall. The teacher of that class gave us all an assignment wherein it was presented as our choice between writing a “book report,” or of writing an additional chapter to the book. I chose the latter, mainly because I knew that a book report, as such, meant that I would be required to read my own “report” before the class. Imagine my horror in later learning that I would be required to read the additional chapter to the book I’d written before the class, in an attempt to avoid that very thing. Our teacher made a huge deal of it t’boot; he ordered an upper-classman to type the additional chapter out, then ordered it posted on a library window facing our hallway as some sort of extraordinary achievement, that was really just an extraordinary choice by a tenth grader scared to death of reading aloud in class. Imagine my horror at seeing my own work (which of course I knew was less than ‘up to par’ by a longshot) hanging on the library window for all to see and read! That I was later required to read this before my class was almost more than I could bear; I had almost rather taken a “zero” or an “F” for refusing to read it. Almost.

      My teacher in question was probably the best teacher I ever had aside from my father; I probably learned more from him in a single year than I’d learned during the entirety of my public school career leading up to his instruction; the ‘smattering’ of ability to read, to write, and to cipher I had learned in the public schools previously, notwithstanding; not that the public schools I attended were primarily responsible for this ‘smattering’ of learning (they weren’t). He is still living, and I see him from time to time at school sporting events and the like. He once (maybe three years ago) brought up my choice of writing the addional chapter to the book as a youth; I thanked him for inspiring me to do something I would never have thought of of my own volition, nor without a personal (youthful-induced) motive in mind. …

      • Just after I read your exchange, an email pinged into my box announcing an upcoming lecture on the next educational panacea. The speaker will argue that preparing students for college is barking up the wrong tree. The problem is not the students. It is the colleges. Therefore the tree up which we should be barking is preparing colleges for students. In other words, colleges must be made into places in which the students of tomorrow will shine.

        Since I agree with you and Tom that institutional education is mostly a boondoggle, there is probably no reason not to make the boondoggle less painful for the halfwits who are forced to file through it. If the public school system is really just a jobs program and subsidized day care, we might as well make the jobs less difficult and the day care more agreeable. It seems to me that the pretense of education causes a great deal of needless suffering for “teacher” and “student” alike.

        This is one of the many ways that our egalitarian ethos harms persons of very little brains. So long as they do not impose their stupidity on me, I have no animus against persons of very little brains, and do not think they should be humiliated or bored out of their (mostly empty) skulls by incarceration in the public schools. Incarcerating persons of very little brains in public schools also harms the schools, however, because you can only pretend to educate the ineducable.

        Imagine a high school football team on which every teenager in the district was required to play and be played. The added melange of blobs and cripples would change football much more than football would change the melange of blobs and cripples. Before you know it, athletic bureaucrats would be giving speeches to complain that eating doughnuts on the bench is undervalued, and that the whole sport is infected with systemic athleticism.

      • The football analogy is a very good one, Prof. Smith. I don’t know that I can do it justice, but I’ll try at least (with a personal anecdote, so beware!)

        A couple of years ago, my wife and I attended a softball game between my old H.S. team, and one of our long-time opponents. It was a “no contest,” literally. Our girls won, hands down. Our sister-in-law was there, in attendance also. At first, and although we foreknew each other would be there, we all got ‘lost in the crowd’ from one another. Sometime in the midst of the game, our SiL spotted us and came over to sit with us. Their daughter, Bailey, was on the team – our team. At one point in our conversation, I wondered aloud where Bailey was. Our SiL informed me that she was in the dugout, ‘because she isn’t the athlete your kids are.’ Now, whether or not my kids are exceptional athletes or not, I simply pointed out to our SiL that, ‘that’s actually a good thing to my mind; I’ve been watching these girls play for the first few innings, and I must say that I’m rather disgusted by what I’ve seen so far. They really look like, and play like, freaks of nature to me; they act and play like boys, trapped in a girl’s body they’re trying to rid themselves of.’

        When I told our SiL all of that, she was shocked to hear it. Her daughter, my niece, Bailey, is and always has been a “girly-girl.” I wasn’t just talking ‘smack’ either when I said that her teammates in question looked and acted and played like freaks. I was being very honest about what I saw.

        Our H.S. football team is among the most successful in the state at getting to, and winning, state championships. Some years back some of the townsfolk thought this state of things just insufferable because, well, the girls were getting no credit and no equal sporting … opportunities. Next thing you know, the girls are in the (boys’s) weight room, pumping weights and building mustle, … and, in turn, dominating their opponents. Their opponents reacted with, well, you know,… and now the sport is dominated by freaks of nature who couldn’t beat a boy’s team if they tried. They’re fun to watch, though, I guess; if you like watching mustle-bound boy-acting girls making asses of themselves on a baseball diamond.

    • Tom,

      We have acquaintances (husband and wife, no children) who live up the road from us a piece. They have a nice shop building with a hydraulic car lift inside because the man loves working on and restoring old cars in his leisure time. He has one of the old “General Lee’s” cherried out, and he and his wife did all the work on it themselves, including the paint job. They’re not really friends of ours, but they’re friendly people who have taken one of my boys under their wing and let him use the shop and lift and any tools he needs to work on his pickup from time to time. A couple of weeks ago, our daughter and son-in-law came down to visit from eastern Oklahoma. While they were here, the water pump went out on their car. Our son asked the owner (Steve) if it would be ok to use the shop building to work on the car. He graciously opened it up to them, like they had for our son so many times before.

      Now, one reason I call this couple acquaintances and not friends, is that we have never gotten to know one another intimately, although we of course know who each other is and wave at each other when we pass on the road and stuff like that. But they are kind of private people who sort of stick to themselves, and so are we to an extent. They’re great neighbors because they never get in anyone else’s business or anything of the sort. Plus, and as I said, they’re really just all-around nice people as far as I know.

      I went to the shop to help our son-in-law work on their car, and it was during that three hours or so that I and the shop owner had our longest conversation to date. Towards the end of it, my wife came by, and almost simultaneously his wife came into the shop from the house. We stood around for another thirty minutes or so after the car repair was finished just ‘shooting the breeze’ and getting better acquainted. At some point of which his wife told us that “I just want to say that I really admire you two and the way you’re raising your kids. We both do. Gabriel [our son mentioned above] is one of the best mannered and nicest young man we have ever met. I sometimes watch you and your daughters walking on the road past the house, and I get choked up when I see you because I think to myself, ‘now that is a close-knit family; the way all families should be.'” Then she went on to mention our homeschooling the kids, saying, at length, that she thinks more kids ought to be homeschooled because, “when I think back on it, they didn’t teach me anything in the public schools.” When she’d finished speaking, I of course thanked her for speaking so highly of and saying such nice things about our little brood. But I also told her, with regard to her thoughts on homeschooling in particular, that “I can’t say the public schools didn’t teach me anything at all, but I know what you mean when you say that about your own education, and what I learned in public school didn’t amount to much in any case.” I used to say all the time that “my education didn’t stick, and I’m thankful for it.”

      Several years ago I was working on a house for a widowed woman who was raising, or finishing raising, about five boys. It escapes me now what happened to her husband to cause his untimely death, but as I learned more about her over the several days I was working there, I really came to admire her for keeping her head up and raising those boys to the best of her ability under less than ideal circumstances. She worked at the local hospital as an ER nurse, and as we conversed on numerous topics, she began to open up and share with me some of her experiences in the ER. One of which stories was about a 12 year-old girl who was brought in by her parents experiencing severe abdominal pain. When questioned about what she’d eaten, etc., etc., the girl simply wouldn’t answer, according to the story. Finally the doctor ordered an X-ray to be taken, and it was from the X-ray that hospital staffers discovered what the problem was. Turns out she had a hair brush in her rectum, and that she had put it there herself. I can’t explain why this was shocking to me, but I stood there literally with my jaw dropped, in total disbelief. I then asked, “where did she get the idea to do something like that?!” The woman answered, “at school, from one of her friends, where do you think she got the idea?” I remember thinking, upon receiving that answer, “well, duh.”

      I mentioned Dr. Dabney in a previous comment, who, as I said, wrote a lot about the kind of education that the government schools would invariably produce. One thing he predicted was that the government schools would turn out criminals of various sorts; another thing he wrote was, and I’ll paraphrase here, that anyone who has any appreciable experience teaching children in such a setting knows above all that kids teach each other more than they ever learn from the most conscientous or effective teacher. This has been my experience as well, both from the inside looking out, and the outside looking in. I don’t believe children were ever meant to be herded into a school or a “classroom” by the tens and twenties; to expect them to “learn” much of anything at all that is useful information intended to ‘fit them for usefulness in their future stations,’ in such an environment is really above my ability to comprehend.

      One more (humorous, this time) anecdote to close this out: A few years back our ten year-old son, Joshua (Josh) played on a little T-ball team that I helped coach. One day while in practice our main coach had the boys line up to run bases. All the boys instantly got in line, except Josh. The coach then said to Josh, “Josh, get in line with the rest of the boys,” as he simultaneously yelled over at the boys, “y’all stop picking at each other!” Josh just looked at him bewildered, and slowly made his way to the end of the line. The coach looked over at me and said, “oh, I forgot he’s homeschooled; he doesn’t know what it means to get in line.” I replied, “no; he doesn’t know what it means to get involved in all that nonsense you’re yelling at them for, but he does know that if and when he gets in line chances are they’re going to do all in their power to drag him down with them too, and then he’ll have me to deal with.”

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