[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.]
[L.Q. cover, quotes, and images are from Lapham’s Quarterly June/July 2022:Education, except where noted.]
[Click or right-click on an image may give the option to open it separately.]
[NEW to Lapham’s Quarterly? See the standard notes at the end of this review. After 50+ LQ summaries I jump right in.]
[This is a READING section, for those who might stumble in looking for words visual (Photos) (a picture is worth a thousand…). My edits/summaries of the L.Q. historical journal continue.]
My high school chum and best friend ever, departing this earthly realm a few years ago while much too young, thus leaving me to fend for myself without his wise counsel, often said that the solution to this or that problem, large or small, was EDUCATION! I cannot disagree.
Lapham’s Quarterly, my favorite reading source, still struggles to publish post-pandemic. I struggle to get back to the rhythm of reading it and commenting. Perhaps I will publish my own thoughts ‘in the rough’.
The PDF version arrived via email 28 July 2022, the print copy due late August. (Tick, tick, tick. Now past.) I am quietly ecstatic.
Who graces the Table of Contents and pursuant pages this issue?
Rudolph Steiner for one, requiring my quick segue to Wikipedia, as I thought I had heard of him. A Theosophist, also ‘prone to pseudo history’. His development of biodynamic agriculture is still practiced on a global basis. I see it as akin to eco-organic farming. More esoteric, IMO, was his anthroposophical medicine (and those that know me think ‘I’ make up strange words!), still in practice, and characterized a la Wiki on the subject, “as pseudoscientific quackery with no basis in reason or logic”. There is not much of that going around in these days of contemporary science, I say facetiously while consulting my crystals, but the word ‘goop’ comes to mind, among others. Steiner’s Wiki is very lengthy, admirable as such. He was a busy person. I’m curious to read his contribution this issue.
Okay. I couldn’t wait. Steiner expounds on the spirit in the child:
“Before the change of teeth, you can still see quite clearly at work the effects of the child’s habits of life before birth or conception, in its pre-earthly existence in the spiritual world. The body of the child acts almost as though it were spirit, for the spirit that has descended from the spiritual world is still fully active in a child in the first seven years of life. You will say: A fine sort of spirit! It has become quite boisterous, for the child is rampageous, awkward, and incompetent. Is all this to be attributed to the spirit belonging to its pre-earthly life? Well, my dear friends, suppose all you clever and well-brought-up people were suddenly condemned to remain always in a room having a temperature of 144 degrees Fahrenheit? You couldn’t do it! It is even harder for the spirit of the child, which has descended from the spiritual worlds, to accustom itself to earthly conditions. The spirit, suddenly transported into a completely different world, with the new experience of having a body to carry about, acts as we see the child act.” (P. 28-29)
Hmm. Spiritual. ‘Descended from the spiritual world.’ Ay, there’s the rub. (W.S.)
Some of the usual suspects are present, and others not so usual. Shakespeare, Lincoln Abraham, Nietzsche Friedrich, Maimonides, Julia Ward Howe, Fidel Castro (?!?), Kim Il-Sung (?!?), and Maria Montessori. Notably absent, I think, is Horace Mann, for better or worse ‘the father of American Education’, as well as any Greek or Roman philosophers other than rhetorician Isocrates. Did they not educate? They do have an Aristotelian quote facing the Inside Cover:
The roots of education are bitter, but the fruit
—Aristotle, c. 330 bc
Agnes Callard proves me wrong in the first extract, as she comments on Aristotle, Plato, and Socrates. I sit corrected.
Author Paul Tough does the Preamble duties in Hearts and Minds. I think he sums modern education in the first paragraph:
“As the Covid-19 pandemic entered its third year, with inflation rising and the supply chain faltering, many American voters were fixated not on the economy or the virus but on a quite different topic: education. In Virginia, a private-equity multimillionaire won the governor’s race by promising to keep public schools safe from gender-neutral bathrooms and critical race theory (Virginia, page 77). Across the country, school board meetings were disrupted by death threats and chanted slogans, and school board elections—usually sleepy contests with minimal turnout—became pitched battles over history textbooks, mask mandates, and the contents of school libraries.” (P. 13)
We continue to be at extremes in this country. Pro-life vs. Pro-abortion, pro-guns/2nd Amendment vs. lives of school children. U-name-it. Arghh just doesn’t say it enough.
“Within the stultifying pedagogy of the day, [Stefan] Zweig perceived a political message, one that promoted conformity to authority of all kinds: “We were to be brought up to respect the status quo as perfect, our teachers’ opinions as infallible, a father’s word as final, brooking no contradiction, and state institutions as absolute
and valid for all eternity.” (P. 15)
“She [Montessori] agreed with Plutarch that “the mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be kindled” and argued that schools could best stoke students’ fire by allowing them the freedom to experiment, play, and learn on their own.” (P. 15)
“Texans’ fury over public schools found its ultimate expression in 2021 with House Bill 3979 (Austin, TX, page 165), which requires social studies teachers to explore controversial issues “from diverse and contending perspectives without giving deference to any one perspective.” After the governor signed the bill into law, an administrator in a school district near Fort Worth informed teachers that they were now required, when assigning books describing the evils of the Holocaust, to include texts that offered “opposing” perspectives as well.”
[I recently was present at a talk by a Holocaust affirmer, as opposed to denier. …. ]
“It soon became apparent that Texas’ new law was intended not so much to protect academic freedom as to curtail it in highly specific ways. For instance, the law carves out a notable exception to its doctrine of “diverse and contending perspectives” in the classroom. Slavery and racism must now be taught in our public schools in one way and one way only: as “deviations from, betrayals of, or failures to live up to the authentic founding principles of the United States, which include liberty and equality.” Texas social studies teachers may want to skip over the authentic founding principle, enshrined in Article I of the Constitution, that anyone who was enslaved was to be counted as three-fifths of a person.” (P. 14)
“By 1972, when Gallup asked American parents why they wanted their children to be educated, the most frequent response was “to get better jobs”; “to make more money” was the third.” (P. 18)
RE: this last quote, should I insert JOHN RUSKIN here? He’s not included in this issue, but may be pertinent. How many of us WANT to learn?
“…and I receive many letters from parents respecting the education of their children. In the mass of these letters I am always struck by the precedence which the idea of a “position in life” takes above all other thoughts in the parents’—more especially in the mothers’—minds. “The education befitting such and such a station in life”—this is the phrase, this the object, always. They never seek, as far as I can make out, an education good in itself; even the conception of abstract rightness in training rarely seems reached by the writers. But an education “which shall keep a good coat on my son’s back;—which shall enable him to ring with confidence the visitors’ bell at double-belled doors; which shall result ultimately in establishment of a double-belled door to his own house;—in a word, which shall lead to ‘advancement in life’;—this we pray for on bent knees—and this is all we pray for.” It never seems to occur to the parents that there may be an education which, in itself, is advancement in life;—that any other than that may perhaps be advancement in Death;”
“Practically, then, at present, “advancement in life” means, becoming
conspicuous in life; obtaining a position which shall be
acknowledged by others to be respectable or honourable. We do not
understand by this advancement, in general, the mere making of
money, but the being known to have made it; not the accomplishment
of any great aim, but the being seen to have accomplished it. In a
word, we mean the gratification of our thirst for applause.”
“The seaman does not commonly desire to be made captain only because
he knows he can manage the ship better than any other sailor on
board. He wants to be made captain that he may be CALLED captain.
The clergyman does not usually want to be made a bishop only because
he believes that no other hand can, as firmly as his, direct the
diocese through its difficulties. He wants to be made bishop
primarily that he may be called “My Lord.” And a prince does not
usually desire to enlarge, or a subject to gain, a kingdom, because
he believes no one else can as well serve the State, upon its
throne; but, briefly, because he wishes to be addressed as “Your
“Majesty,” by as many lips as may be brought to such utterance.
This, then, being the main idea of “advancement in life,” the force
of it applies, for all of us, according to our station, particularly
to that secondary result of such advancement which we call “getting
into good society.” We want to get into good society, not that we
may have it, but that we may be seen in it; and our notion of its
goodness depends primarily on its conspicuousness.”
Sesame and Lilies
This material may be protected by copyright.
The three sections of Voices In Time this issue are Morning Bell, Story Time, and Homework (inescapable, of course). School days.
The essay starting on page 30, ‘1791: Paris — Common Good’ should be available to all. It’s a plain-spoken, straight-forward statement on universal education. It’s by Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, ‘Talleyrand’, a bishop and high official in Napoleon Bonaparte’s government, who made it through the French Revolution with his head still attached. Having said that, it’s also reported ‘…he made the case that—even on revolutionary principles—women should receive only enough education as suits their domestic purposes.’ Hmmm. Perhaps the sensible extract will be available free when this issue is published.
[[ Should the issue be compared to Ways Of Learning, Fall 2008, on which I commented in a November 11, 2014 post? The variety of perspectives on education I’ve read so far this issue seem to present many different ‘ways’.]]
From Patrick Traherne and A Schoolmaster’s Diary. 1909, Radchester:
”My first impressions of Radchester are not very comforting. It is like coming to a desert island to be pitchforked out at a wayside station miles from anywhere, with only the sea to the east, and flat dike lands to the west, north, and south. There are no houses within sight. Certainly, there is nothing to distract one’s attention from one’s duty: outside the lodge gates, all is barren.” (P. 40)
“In English I took it for granted that they knew something about the subject; I am gradually finding out that they know nothing. What is worse, only a very few of them want to know anything. They exhaust all their energies and keenness on games; they have none left for work. It is looked upon as a gross breach of good form to take anything but the most perfunctory interest in class. I find that I am falling into the most insidious of traps. I am picking out favorites. There are two boys, Benbow and Illingworth, both in my English set, who have shown up essays quite outside the common: they care about things; they read; they express a novel point of view; they are rebels against tradition. I have given them the run of my rooms and implored them to borrow what books they like from my shelves and to come to tea whenever they like.“ (P. 40)
I highly recommend this extract, as well as the unabridged version at Gutenberg.org, of which this extract is abbreviated from Chapter I. The abridgements are noteworthy. Lapham’s Quarterly states up front that it does this with all items, as it sees fit:
“Many of the passages in this issue have been abbreviated without the use of ellipses; some punctuation has been modified, and while misspellings have been corrected, archaic grammar and word usage mostly remains unchanged. The words are faithful to the original texts.” (P. 7)
A paragraph missing from the extract:
“The monastic system is getting on my nerves. I find myself longing to hear a baby crying, a girl laughing, or any noises of the street. We are too much aloof from the outside world. I thought reading would be a sufficient antidote. Most of my colleagues don’t read at all. They “haven’t time.” Lately I have taken to going off to Scarborough on Saturday evenings, treating myself to a good dinner at the Regent (we are allowed no drinks in Common Room except water: Hallows alone drinks seltzer), and then going on to a show at the theatre or promenading the Winter Gardens and watching the shop-girls and men dance. These people have an irresistible fascination for me. It is a wonderful relaxation to chatter amiably to these girls and men, and hear their point of view of life, so many poles apart from that of the Radchester Common Room. From one of these in particular, a very pretty girl of about eighteen, with masses of corn-coloured hair and violet eyes, a complexion like a Devon dairymaid and a figure light as a fairy, I have learnt a good deal of another side of life. Her name is Vera Buckley: she works in a large milliner’s shop. We meet and dance together now every Saturday night. At first when she learnt that I was a schoolmaster at Radchester she was suspicious and cold, but now we are firm friends and she talks unflaggingly about her hopes and fears, her likes and dislikes. She is a welcome change from the Tapers and Tadpoles of Common Room, who argue interminably upon the day’s play and the moral defalcations of boys in their respective houses and forms.” (P. 26)
It makes Traherne no less human. Sadly, there is a glaring lack of information on Mr. Traherne, though the diary itself is available everywhere, it seems. Yet another fine writer, relatively unsung. It was assembled and published posthumously by his friend S. P. B. Mais.
Francisco Ferrer, on whom I embarked a side journey via Wikipedia earlier, voices the sort of free thought in education that perhaps contributed to getting him shot before a firing squad.
”Almost everywhere the pupils still learn textbooks on grammar, arithmetic, geography, and history by heart. That is to say that the child’s memory exclusively is addressed instead of his intelligence being solicited. Is it necessary to urge the result of such a method?
Hardly ever, even when it would be easy to do, is the living reality approached. Let us suppose ourselves in a village. A few yards from the threshold of the school, the grass is springing, the flowers are blooming; insects hum against the classroom windowpanes; but the pupils are studying natural history out of books!” (Montessorian, it would seem. Learning by doing.) (P. 55)
”Nor let us forget the question of examinations, that plague of all teaching. In reality the children do not study; they prepare for examinations. It begins among the very little ones, with the certificate for primary studies. Thus the exclusive aim of everyone’s efforts, the teacher’s as well as the pupil’s, is no longer to advance, quietly and surely, in the discovery of new facts and truths, but on a fixed date, to have handed out—all means being allowable, provided they lead to success—a certificate of knowledge. They are content with the sign; the thing itself is held cheap.
It must be admitted that almost the sole preoccupation is to furnish the pupils certain information, judged, no one knows very well why, to be indispensable. Without, moreover, succeeding in it!” (P. 55) [A la Ruskin, this time. ‘To be seen as to have been educated.’]
”Let us remember that our first care should be to prepare for life healthy and robust beings, beings conscious and clear-minded, endowed with a critical spirit, capable of discerning and deciding for themselves; and that it is thus that the school will labor most surely for human emancipation.“ (P. 57)
Speaking in the Ways of Learning issue, George Orwell, c. 1912 (p. 72) noted:
“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”…”
It is nothing short of a miracle that modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry.
—Albert Einstein, 1949 (P. 73)
Natalia Ginzburg, 1960:
We usually give a quite unwarranted importance to our children’s scholastic performance. And this is nothing but a respect for the little virtue “success.” It should be enough for us that they do not lag too far behind the others, that they do not fail their exams; but we are not content with this; we want success from them, we want them to satisfy our pride.”
“In fact, school should be from the beginning the first battle that a child fights for himself, without us; from the beginning it should be clear that this is his battlefield and that we can give him only very slight and occasional help there. And if he suffers from injustice there or is misunderstood, it is necessary to let him see that there is nothing strange about this, because in life we have to expect to be constantly misunderstood and misinterpreted, and to be victims of injustice; and the only thing that matters is that we do not commit injustices ourselves.”
“We are there to console our children if they are hurt by failure; we are there to give them courage if they are humiliated by failure. We are also there to bring them down a peg or two when success has made them too pleased with themselves.”
“What we must remember above all in the education of our children is that their love of life should never weaken.” (P. 73)
Such is Morning Bell, the first section of Education.
The standard notes:
1. Since L.Q.’s inception with the Winter 2008 issue its size is always 7″ x 10″ x 1/2-17/32″. It is white-covered, printed on high quality paper throughout, with richly printed reproductions of fine art from time immemorial, and 221 pages up to a page or two of addenda at the back.
2. Each issue contains extracts about the title topic from great authors and thinkers spanning all recorded history. It begins with an eloquent, to a fault, preamble/introduction by editor Lewis Lapham. The main body is called Voices In Time and contains 3 or 4 subcategories of the topic with about 25 extracts per section. Noteworthy sidebars, side quotes, and depictions of appropriate art from the ages are liberally distributed throughout. Several extended contemporary essays bring up the rear. There are several other small sections every issue (Among the Contributors, Conversations, Miscellany, ‘The Graphic’).
3. Per the L.Q. website:
“Lapham’s Quarterly embodies the belief that history is the root of all education, scientific and literary as well as political and economic. Each issue addresses a topic of current interest and concern—war, religion, money, medicine, nature, crime—by bringing up to the microphone of the present the advice and counsel of the past.”
4. I encourage all to subscribe to this fine publication. It is a rich supplement to anyone’s reading.