Saturday, September 04, 2010

`Fair Material Properly Trained'

“It is a fact of nature that there are more born poets than born teachers. But the world’s work cannot depend on genius; it must make do with talent, that is to say, fair material properly trained.”

Painted on the concrete of the playground at my grade school are outlines of the United States, the continents and an oversized computer keyboard complete with space bar, “ALT” and “ESC.” I watched a group of fifth-graders, boys and girls, playing a variation of hopscotch among the keys and laughing uproariously. From a distance I could discern no pattern to their jumping and as I approached they giggled guiltily. None would explain the game until a boy said, “Watch this,” and leaped gracefully from “F” – now I had it figured out – to “U” to “C” to “K,” and bowed. I admired the quietly subversive sense of comedy -- swearing, in effect, like mimes – and couldn’t bring myself to admonish them. “Don’t do it when the little kids are around,” I warned rather weakly.

"In bearing, in manner of thinking and talking, a teacher should quite naturally appear to be a person with a mental life, a person who reads books and whose conversation with colleagues is not purely business shop; that is, not invariably methods and troubles, but substance as well."

Later, I told a teacher about my playground encounter and she asked, “Did they spell it right?”

[The passages quoted above are from Jacques Barzun’s 1991 essay “The Art of Making Teachers” (A Jacques Barzun Reader, 2002).]


Anonymous said...

You should more clearly distinguish the Barzun passages from you own. Not everyone will notice the quotation marks; some and perhaps many of your readers will think that all four paragraphs were written by Barzun.

Cynthia Haven said...

I have Chesterton's book on Aquinas somewhere around the house. This from the chapter titled, "The Permanent Philosophy":

For what St. Thomas means is not a medieval picture of an old king; but this second step in the great argument about Ens or Being; the second point which is so desperately difficult to put correctly in popular language. That is why I have introduced it here in the particular form of the argument that there must be a Creator even if there is no Day of Creation. Looking at Being as it is now, as the baby looks at the grass, we see a second thing about it; in quite popular language, it looks secondary and dependent. Existence exists; but it is not sufficiently self-existent; and would never become so merely by going on existing. The same primary sense which tells us it is Being, tells us that it is not perfect Being; not merely imperfect in the popular controversial sense of containing sin or sorrow; but imperfect as Being; less actual than the actuality it implies. For instance, its Being is often only Becoming; beginning to Be or ceasing to Be; it implies a more constant or complete thing of which it gives in itself no example. That is the meaning of that basic medieval phrase, "Everything that is moving is moved by another;" which, in the clear subtlety of St. Thomas, means inexpressibly more than the mere Deistic "somebody wound up the clock" with which it is probably often confounded. Anyone who thinks deeply will see that motion has about it an essential incompleteness, which approximates to something more complete.

The actual argument is rather technical; and concerns the fact that potentiality does not explain itself; moreover, in any case, unfolding must be of something folded. Suffice it to say that the mere modern evolutionists, who would ignore the argument do not do so because they have discovered any flaw in the argument; for they have never discovered the argument itself. They do so because they are too shallow to see the flaw in their own argument for the weakness of their thesis is covered by fashionable phraseology, as the strength of the old thesis is covered by old-fashioned phraseology. But for those who really think, there is always something really unthinkable about the whole evolutionary cosmos, as they conceive it; because it is something coming out of nothing; an ever-increasing flood of water pouring out of an empty jug. Those who can simply accept that, without even seeing the difficulty, are not likely to go so deep as Aquinas and see the solution of his difficulty. In a word, the world does not explain itself, and cannot do so merely by continuing to expand itself. But anyhow it is absurd for the Evolutionist to complain that it is unthinkable for an admittedly unthinkable God to make everything out of nothing and then pretend that it is more thinkable that nothing should turn itself into everything.