Sunday, October 23, 2011

`To Pursue Liberal Studies the Rest of Their Lives'

Since last spring I’ve been away from the classroom – the formal one, I mean, with blackboards, desks and discontent – and hardly miss it. I miss some of the kids but education in public schools is, at best, an inadvertence. Teaching is what you know and how you embody it -- a heresy to school administrators. Even a dumb kid knows when a teacher is bluffing, and thus learns early the importance of bluffing. In the third chapter of Walden, a punningly tart sentence Thoreau devoted to individuals has grown institutional in application:

“We spend more on almost any article of bodily aliment or ailment than on our mental aliment.”

Much of Saturday was consumed with my sixth-grader’s linear algebra and a book project. I’m tempted to ignore the latter – a silly exercise devoted to a silly book – except to say that little hard knowledge was learned by anyone involved. The algebra, on the other hand, was bracing, like good coffee. I haven’t studied algebra in more than forty years, and it felt like a good workout followed by a good meal. This too recalls a passage from Thoreau, the one-time school teacher, who writes in the chapter of Walden cited above:

“It is time that we had uncommon schools, that we did not leave off our education when we begin to be men and women. It is time that villages were universities, and their elder inhabitants the fellows of universities, with leisure—if they are indeed so well off—to pursue liberal studies the rest of their lives.”

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