Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Those Poor Boys in Volume 6

For the last few days, I have been thinking about the "pair of charming twins" Charlotte mentions in the last, or supplementary, chapter of Volume 6. These two young men had "the usual" preparatory school education and then "had ten or twelve years among most excellent opportunities" at university. They each had a burning desire to learn and were not afraid of the hard work of study. Yet "they left school thoroughly uneducated".

This is so sad. HOW did this happen?

I'm not going to tell you how it happened. I don't really know. What I am going to do is piece through the last chapter of Vol. 6 and see if I can figure it out.

The name of the chapter is "Too Wide a Mesh". It refers to the educational system in early 20th Century England. The system is compared to a fishing net in which the holes are so large that all but the biggest fish escape-- "escape" being, in this analogy, that they get away without an education.

Back to the brothers-- after University, one of them leads and adventurous life, while the other moves to the city and studies in his spare time, encouraging his brother to do likewise. He sets to work on a "queer set of books", meaning, I suppose, that his studies are haphazard rather than well-planned. He sets about to learn by exercising his mind with memorization. His own description of his efforts really makes it sound like intellectual calisthenics:

"Anyone can improve his memory: the best way is by learning by heart––no matter what––and then when you think you know it, say it or write it. After two or three days you are sure to forget it again and then instead of looking at the book 'strain your mind' and try to remember it. Above all things always keep your mind employed."

That "no matter what" really leaps out at me. Learning *anything* by heart will give you an education? I wonder what exactly he thought he wanted that he hadn't got at University? No doubt his school failed to educate him, but what was HIS definition of education?

I love Charlotte's description of the sort of "Mind Gym" this fellow set up for himself and his brother:

They ran an intellectual race across a ploughed field after heavy rain and the marvel is that they made way at all.

The waste of it. She says they had enough zeal to have been great statesmen if they had been properly educated.

The young man finally comes to the conclusion that he and his brother "go at a subject all wrong." Charlotte again:

These letters are pathetic documents and, that they are reassuring also, let us be thankful. They do go to prove that the desire of knowledge is inextinguishable whatever schools do or leave undone; but have these nothing to answer for when a pursuit which should yield ever recurring refreshment becomes dogged labour over heavy roads with little pleasure in progress?

Where is the delight? And yet they had enough enthusiasm and energy and will to supply ten young men.

Charlotte says one thing they lacked was a cultivated sense of humor. She seems to get a bit off-topic with the following statement, but think of it in terms of intellectual calisthenics:

Perhaps the youth addicted to sports usually fails to appreciate delicate nonsense; sports are too strenuous to admit of a subtler, more airy kind of play...

Charlotte's conclusion:

We have to face two difficulties. We do not believe in children as intellectual persons nor in knowledge as requisite and necessary for intellectual life.

:sigh: We have to actually give them knowledge rather than simply tools for thinking. God already gave them those. What they need is knowledge to chew on and digest. The really sad thing about these brothers is that they had mind-food right in front of them, but they were so occupied with the knives and forks that they never actually tasted it. Sort of like savages that have no idea of bread.

Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread?
--Isaiah 55:2a

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