Lapham’s Quarterly Fall 2008: Ways Of Learning

SIX out of five stars!!  (That’s not easy but it’s not the Math issue.  Read further.)
[CATEGORIES: Literature, Lapham’s Quarterly, Reading, Book Review]
[Click HERE to see my previous posts referencing Lapham’s Quarterly.]
[Some of LQ’s contents are available free.]
[Click on photos to enlarge, zoom, and in many cases see camera info.]

 Wed. 10/22/2014:  I’m continuing with my commitment to read all issues of Lapham’s Quarterly (2008-current) AT LEAST ONCE, preferably twice or more, before the electricity is turned off and the memory banks drained.

“All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in the rain.” –Bladerunner (the movie, not the murderer).

I’ve read 4 issues (2 current and 2 archive) in about 4 months.

L.Q. is not for speed reading however, at least not by me.  With recent encouragement from he-who-shall-not-be-named I am annotating my reading (a way of learning?) and thus feel like I’m reading most extracts 1 1/2 times the first time through.  I can’t wait for the second reading.  (Hmm, am I unable to live in the present?)  Meanwhile ‘time‘ marches on.

“Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.” –H.G. Wells 1920 (Inside front cover.)  [Isn’t that the truth these days. -JH]

Authors, to name a few: Jefferson, Montessori, Abigail Adams, Milton, Auden, Brecht, Orwell, Dali’, Cleaver, Aristophanes, Rousseau, Descarte, Da Vinci, Plato, Bronte, Dickens, Helen Keller, Emerson, Seneca, Nietzsche, Chaucer, Hesse, Plath, Woolf, Roosevelt (T.), Dahl, Diderot, Erasmus, Twain, Thoreau, and Boethius.

This issue sections of Voices In Time:
The Hypothesis
The Experiment
Product & Byproduct

The theme graphic this issue is The Art Of Knowing by Joyce Pendola.  Its micro print charts Cartography, Writing, Autopsy, and Construction from c. 3500 BC to 2008. Mentioned in Construction is the Home Insurance Building, Chicago, 1885.

The first skyscraper.
The first skyscraper.

Lewis Lapham’s preamble never fails to be eloquent and insightful.  It is titled Playing With Fire, perhaps an allusion to the opening quote:

“The mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be kindled.” –Plutarch (p. 13)

Thu. 10/23/14: WOW!  This is the best preamble I’ve read in Lapham’s Quarterly.  When L.Q. is finished formatting the new website you MUST read this in its entirety.  (If you do not deign to own the entire issue of course.)

Lapham immediately rails against the declining quality of education.  Who can argue with that?

He notes that Jefferson founded the Univ. of Virginia “to develop “the reasoning faculties of our youth,” … to advance “the prosperity, the power, and the happiness of a nation.”” (p. 15)

By 1909 then Princeton Univ. president Woodrow Wilson was stating “We want one class of persons to have a liberal education,” “…and we want another class of persons, a very much larger class of necessity in every society, to forgo the privilege of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific manual tasks.”  (p. 15)  Hmm.  ‘A very much larger [less educated] class….’ [How nice. -JH]

Lewis: “The framework of American education set up at the outset of the twentieth century has proved itself well-fitted to the specifications of the national security state that at the end of World War II replaced what was once a democratic republic.” (p. 16)  Cutting, Mr. Lapham.  Cutting.

“Students don’t go to school to acquire the wisdom of Solomon.  They go to school to acquire a cash value and improve their lot, to pick up the keys to the kingdom stocked with the treasure to be found in a BMW showroom or Arizona golf resort.” (p. 16)

“Under the rules of egalitarian procedure, the schools must teach everything to everybody (algebra and the novels of Jane Austen as well as the manipulation of the iPhone and the condom).  …Even more wonderful, they must entertain the fiction that everybody can learn to write as well as Jefferson or to think as clearly as Rene’ Descartes.” (p. 16)

“The tide of mediocrity flows into the classroom from the ocean that is the society at large, …the students headed into overcrowded classrooms where they major in the art of boredom and the science of diminished expectations…” (p. 18)

“Why would any politician in his or her right mind wish to confront an informed citizenry capable of breaking down the campaign speeches into their subsets of supporting lies? Burden the economy with too many customers able to decipher the hospital bills, or see around the corners of the four-color advertising, and the consequences would be terrible to behold.” (p. 18)

Did I say cutting wit?  Sliced, diced, chopped, and filleted might be more like it.

“To conceive of education as a commodity… is to construe the idea of democracy as the freedom of a market instead of a freedom of the mind.”  “…unless we stop telling ourselves that America is best understood as the sum of its gross domestic product, we stand little chance of re-imagining our history or reengineering our schools.” (p. 18)

“The truth… …It’s synonymous with the courage derived from the habit of not running a con game on the unique and specific temper of one’s own mind.  What makes men and women free is learning to trust their own thought, possess their own history, speak in their own voices.” (p. 19)

Amen…  Amen.

There is much more to this fine preamble than my meager copy-and-paste can convey. Find and read it when L.Q. is finished formatting their new website (here likely).

IMG_1405 - Version 3

Tue. 11/11/14:  I’ve finished reading this issue.  So much for the diary-style note-taking. There is much to read and I’m not interested in writing a book of analysis at the same time.

As noted I rate this issue SIX out of five stars.  As much as I like every issue of L.Q. this one is particularly superb.

L.Q. notes “Lapham’s Quarterly is a journal of literature and history…”.  If you think history isn’t useful, isn’t everything history as soon as it passes from the transient moments of now?  (See that ‘time’ link referenced above or read L.Q. Fall 2014:Time.) Isn’t everything we do in the present related to learning history, learning the fundamentals of communicating, caring for ourselves and others, learning to survive, learning anything?  I say so.  Our ways of learning directly impact how well we survive.

The first extract in Voices in Time often is contemporary, in this case 2008 for the 2008 issue.  It takes a whack at the quality or not of an elite education, to wit: “Witness the last two Democratic presidential nominees, Al Gore and John Kerry: one each from Harvard and Yale, both earnest, decent, intelligent men, both utterly incapable of communicating with the larger electorate.”  (p. 24) “…George W. Bush represents another.  It’s no coincidence that our current president, the apotheosis of entitled mediocrity, went to Yale. Entitled mediocrity… …it’s also the operating principle of corporate America.” (p. 25) Whether or not I agree, mon dieu and touche’ mon amis!!

Thinking for oneself was not always a requirement: “The very recognition of, and reliance upon, free will in the pupil is the first mistake of the old system and the clear confession of its impotence and futility.” (Fichte, Berlin, 1807. p. 38) [!]

Zitkala-Sa is poignant on her tribulation in American Indian boarding school in 1884 (p. 41) and Richard Rodriguez bemoans his success due to Affirmative Action.  (1982, p. 46).

I took it as good personal advice when Bertolt Brecht said:

“Learn the simplest things. For you
whose time has already come
it is never too late!” (p. 62)

As for Herman Melville, 1851: “A whale ship was my Yale College and my Harvard”. (p. 70)

RE: Orwell, I liked his presentation of the rigid class structure and how they were taught, aided by corporal punishment, just to pass tests, not un-similar to Colorado’s statewide school tests to ‘rate’ schools.

Orwell, c. 1912 (p. 72):

“Crossgates was an expensive and snobbish school…”

“All the very rich boys were more or less undisguisedly favored.”

“Occasionally, by special arrangement, he would take at greatly reduced fees some boy who seemed likely to win scholarships and thus bring credit on the school.  It was on these terms that I was at Crossgates myself…”

“This business of making a gifted boy’s career depend on a competitive examination, taken when he is only twelve or thirteen, is an evil thing at best…”

“At Crossgates the whole process was frankly a preparation for a sort of confidence trick.  Your job was to learn exactly those things that would give an examiner the impression that you knew more than you did know, and as far as possible to avoid burdening your brain with anything else.  Subjects which lacked examination value such as geography were almost completely neglected: mathematics was also neglected if you were a “classical”…”

“We never, for example, read right through even a single book of a Greek or Latin author: we merely read short passages which were picked out because they were the kind of thing likely to be set as an “unseen translation.””

“But the greatest outrage of all was the teaching of history.”

“History was a series of unrelated, unintelligible but—in some way that was never explained to us—important facts with resounding phrases tied to them.”

“I do remember more than once being led out of the room in the middle of a Latin sentence, receiving a beating, and then going straight ahead with the same sentence, just like that.  It is a mistake to think such methods do not work.  They work very well for their special purpose.  Indeed, I doubt whether classical education ever has been or can be successfully carried on without corporal punishment.”

[Not that there is anything right with that. —JH]

I liked Quintilian (p. 76): “Give me a boy who is encouraged by praise, pleased by success, and who cries when he has lost.  He is the one who will be nourished by ambition, hurt by reproof, and excited by honor.  In him I shall never have to fear laziness.”

I liked a LOT of this issue.  The contemporary full essays at the end were exceptional also. I could copy 3/4ths of the issue for your enlightenment and edification.  Perhaps some issue I’ll comment on the extracts that went over my head or I didn’t care for.  I trust it would be a shorter list.

I’m surprised when I look on for reviews of L.Q.  Many people have read them but few comment.  Many who do say WOW, this is great!

Find this issue.  Buy it, borrow it, read, read, read.  Perhaps you will see it as a way of learning… and living.


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