AN UNCOMMON THOUGHT

"The real trick to life is not to be in the know, but to be in the mystery."
-Fred Alan Wolf

21 January 2017

Safeguard.


WHAT is the PURPOSE of EDUCATION?

Why does the state take an interest in education? The prevailing view, at least since the end of the last war, has been that the state takes an interest in education because it is the right of every child to receive it. Hence the state becomes the universal provider, and as such must treat all its dependents equally, and make no special favours on grounds of wealth, talent or social status.

From this, by a kind of creeping egalitarianism, we edge towards the conclusion that the state must make no distinctions, that children should not be sorted by their abilities and aptitudes, and that even exams should be downgraded or at least not made to look as though they were the final goal. When it comes to schooling, the educationists add, we, the experts, are bound to be better informed than the parents, who should feel no qualms in surrendering their children to the beneficent care of a state that acts always on our wise advice.

The assumption has been, in other words, that education exists for the sake of the child. In my view the state takes an interest in education only because it has another and more urgent interest in something else — namely knowledge. Knowledge is a benefit to everyone, including those who do not and cannot acquire it. How many of our citizens could build a nuclear power station, judge a case in Chancery, read a grant of land in mediaeval Latin, conduct a Mozart concerto, solve an equation in aerodynamics, repair a railway engine? We don’t need to have the knowledge ourselves, provided there are others, the experts, who possess it. And the more we outsource our memory and information to our iPhones and laptops, the more those experts are needed. If that is so, then the state must ensure that education, however available and however distributed, will reproduce our store of knowledge, and if possible add to it.

There may come a time when children and their teachers cease to hear about the Dark Ages. People may then no longer understand that knowledge can be lost as well as gained, as our store of knowledge was lost for 400 years, before being slowly and painfully recuperated. Here, it seems to me, is where the educationists have misled us. The state, they have told us, has a duty towards each child, and no child must be made to feel inferior to any other. Although that is true, the state has another and greater duty which is a duty towards us all — namely, the duty to conserve the knowledge that we need, which can be passed on only with the help of the children able to acquire it.

To put the matter simply, knowledge benefits the child, but not as much as the clever child benefits knowledge. Hence the state has an interest in selection, so that those with an aptitude for knowledge can be given the chance to acquire it — to acquire it without the many distractions that come from being surrounded by others who have no interest in the life of the mind.

I was fortunate to attend a grammar school, which made available to me the kind of knowledge that people of my parents’ class did not easily have the chance to acquire. Hence I have played my own special part in absorbing, processing and passing on the knowledge that is still enshrined in our curriculum. I take this as a justification for my existence, that I have passed on to others something that, but for the kind of education I enjoyed, might have died.

Critics tell us that selection divides children into successes and failures, and that the failures are ‘marked for life’. I see no reason to believe that. Future generations need knowledge; but they also need skills, strengths and technical know-how. Schools that provide those benefits — like the German Technische Hochschulen — are as important as grammar schools: and if children have the possibility of freely passing between schools in the process of discovering their aptitude, then selection need in any case never be final.

In the world of education those thoughts are heresies. After years of ‘child-centred’ indoctrination the educational establishment has become lost in a kind of fairyland, believing that education is really a form of social engineering, and that its primary purpose is to boost the pupil’s ‘self-esteem’. Once we see that the primary purpose of education is to safeguard knowledge, all the fairy castles of the educationists tumble in ruins. Hence they are up in arms, and, as so often, in arms against the truth.

Roger Scruton

20 January 2017

Gordon Lightfoot, "Early Morning Rain"

I'm a long way from home
Lord, I miss my loved ones so
In the early morning rain
With no place to go

19 January 2017

Leads.


Some people, I am told, have memories like computers, nothing to do but punch the button and wait for the print-out. Mine is more like a Japanese library of the old style, without a card file or an indexing system or any systematic shelf plan. Nobody knows where anything is except the old geezer in felt slippers who has been shuffling up and down those stacks for sixty-nine years. When you hand him a problem he doesn't come back with a cartful and dump it before you, a jackpot of instant retrieval. He finds one thing, which reminds him of another, which leads him off to the annex, which directs him to the east wing, which sends him back two tiers from where he started. Bit by bit he finds you what you want, but like his boss who seems to be under pressure to examine his life, he takes his time.

Wallace Stegner

Chopin, Mazurka, Op. 17, No. 4

Vladimir Horowitz performs ...

Better.

van Gogh, The Mulberry Tree, 1889


Surely a canvas I've covered is worth more than a blank one. This, dear Lord is all I have -- my right to paint, my reason for painting -- and believe me, my pretensions go no further.

And after all it has cost me: this dilapidated carcass and a brain addled from living as best I can and have had to because of my own philanthropy.

My concentration is becoming more intense, my touch more certain. So I can almost dare to promise you that my paintings will get better. Because that is all I have left.

Vincent Van Gogh

18 January 2017

Scrutopia.

Roger Scruton, at home in Scrutopia ...

Making.

Witkiewicz, Jesieniowiska, 1894


The best teachers have showed me that things have to be done bit by bit. Nothing that means anything happens quickly--we only think it does. The motion of drawing back a bow and sending an arrow straight into a target takes only a split second, but it is a skill many years in the making. So it is with a life, anyone's life. I may list things that might be described as my accomplishments in these few pages, but they are only shadows of the larger truth, fragments separated from the whole cycle of becoming. And if I can tell an old-time story now about a man who is walking about, a forest lodge man, it is because I spent many years walking about myself, listening to voices that came not just from the people but from animals and trees and stones.

Joseph Brochak

17 January 2017

Dvořák, Symphony No. 9 in E Minor, "New World"

The Largo performed by the Vienna Philharmonic, directed by Herbert von Karajan ...


Happy birthday, Guarini.

Guarini, Palacio Carignano, 1679


Guarino Guarini was born on this day in 1624.

This.


You may have noticed that the books you really love are bound together by a secret thread. You know very well what is the common quality that makes you love them, though you cannot put it into words: but most of your friends do not see it at all, and often wonder why, liking this, you should also like that. Again, you have stood before some landscape, which seems to embody what you have been looking for all your life; and then turned to the friend at your side who appears to be seeing what you saw — but at the first words a gulf yawns between you, and you realize that this landscape means something totally different to him, that he is pursuing an alien vision and cares nothing for the ineffable suggestion by which you are transported. Even in your hobbies, has there not always been some secret attraction which the others are curiously ignorant of — something, not to be identified with, but always on the verge of breaking through, the smell of cut wood in the workshop or the clap-clap of water against the boat’s side? Are not all lifelong friendships born at the moment when at last you meet another human being who has some inkling (but faint and uncertain even in the best) of that something which you were born desiring, and which, beneath the flux of other desires and in all the momentary silences between the louder passions, night and day, year by year, from childhood to old age, you are looking for, watching for, listening for? You have never had it. All the things that have ever deeply possessed your soul have been but hints of it — tantalizing glimpses, promises never quite fulfilled, echoes that died away just as they caught your ear. But if it should really become manifest — if there ever came an echo that did not die away but swelled into the sound itself — you would know it. Beyond all possibility of doubt you would say,“Here at last is the thing I was made for." We cannot tell each other about it. It is the secret signature of each soul, the incommunicable and unappeasable want, the thing we desired before we met our wives or made our friends or chose our work, and which we shall still desire on our deathbeds, when the mind no longer knows wife or friend or work. While we are, this is. If we lose this, we lose all.

C.S. Lewis

Revealed.


The sense of beauty puts a brake upon destruction, by representing its object as irreplaceable. When the world looks back at me with my eyes, as it does in aesthetic experience, it is also addressing me in another way. Something is being revealed to me, and I am being made to stand still and absorb it. It is of course nonsense to suggest that there are naiads in the trees and dryads in the groves. What is revealed to me in the experience of beauty is a fundamental truth about being - the truth that being is a gift, and receiving it is a task. This is a truth of theology that demands exposition as such.

Roger Scruton

A section of Scruton's talk, "The View from Nowhere," which was part of the Gifford Lectures' The Face of God ...

Lezhneva.

Julia Lezhneva performs in a program of arias by Mozart and Handel ...

16 January 2017

Poetry.

Cuvelier, Fountainebleau Forest, 1869

How I used to love the dark, sad evenings of late autumn and winter, how eagerly I imbibed their moods of loneliness and melancholy when wrapped in my cloak I strode for half the night through rain and storm, through the leafless winter landscape, lonely enough then too, but full of deep joy, and full of poetry.

Herman Hesse

Himself.


Children should be able to do their own experimenting and their own research. Teachers, of course, can guide them by providing appropriate materials, but the essential thing is that in order for a child to understand something, he must construct it himself, he must re-invent it. Every time we teach a child something, we keep him from inventing it himself. On the other hand that which we allow him to discover by himself will remain with him visibly.

Jean Piaget

Fibich, Poem

Lars Roos performs ...

Lessons.


One of the most celebrated artists of the 20th century, Paul Klee was also a prolific teacher, serving as a faculty member of the Bauhaus school between 1921 and 1931. Promoting a theoretical approach to artmaking, the painter taught a variety of courses across disciplines, from bookbinding to basic design, and left behind over 3,900 pages in lecture notes. These documents, partly compiled in Klee’s Pedagogical Sketchbook (1925), reveal the artist’s innovative and unusual lesson plans, which often provided students with a step-by-step approach to artistic expression. We’ve pulled some of his key lessons about art and design. Let’s start with the basics.

CONNECT

Continue.


Learning is not a product of teaching. Kids are born learning. They learn how to walk, how to talk. They’re basically little scientists. If we don’t stop that process, it will continue.

Grace LLewellyn

Telemann, Concerto in D major for Violin, Cello, Trumpet, and Strings, TWV 53:D5

Remains.


Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything he learned in school. It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education. 

Albert Einstein

RUSH, Freewill

Own.

Human freedom is finite freedom. Man is not free from conditions. But he is free to take a stand in regard to them. The conditions do not completely condition him. Although our existence is influenced by instincts, inherited disposition and environment, an area of freedom is always available to us. Everything can be taken from a man, but the last of the human freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any a given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

Dr. Viktor Frankel

Today.

1970.


"Brown Sugar"

Happy birthday, Service.


Robert W. Service was born on this day in 1874.

CARRY ON!

It's easy to fight when everything's right,
And you're mad with the thrill and the glory;
It's easy to cheer when victory's near,
And wallow in fields that are gory.
It's a different song when everything's wrong,
When you're feeling infernally mortal;
When it's ten against one, and hope there is none,
Buck up, little soldier, and chortle:

Carry on! Carry on!
There isn't much punch in your blow.
You're glaring and staring and hitting out blind;
You're muddy and bloody, but never you mind.
Carry on! Carry on!
You haven't the ghost of a show.
It's looking like death, but while you've a breath,
Carry on, my son! Carry on!

And so in the strife of the battle of life
It's easy to fight when you're winning;
It's easy to slave, and starve and be brave,
When the dawn of success is beginning.
But the man who can meet despair and defeat
With a cheer, there's the man of God's choosing;
The man who can fight to Heaven's own height
Is the man who can fight when he's losing.

Carry on! Carry on!
Things never were looming so black.
But show that you haven't a cowardly streak,
And though you're unlucky you never are weak.
Carry on! Carry on!
Brace up for another attack.
It's looking like hell, but -- you never can tell:
Carry on, old man! Carry on!

There are some who drift out in the deserts of doubt,
And some who in brutishness wallow;
There are others, I know, who in piety go
Because of a Heaven to follow.
But to labour with zest, and to give of your best,
For the sweetness and joy of the giving;
To help folks along with a hand and a song;
Why, there's the real sunshine of living.

Carry on! Carry on!
Fight the good fight and true;
Believe in your mission, greet life with a cheer;
There's big work to do, and that's why you are here.
Carry on! Carry on!
Let the world be the better for you;
And at last when you die, let this be your cry:
Carry on, my soul! Carry on!

Robert W. Service

Blueprint.


I want to ask you a question, and that is: What is your life's blueprint?

Whenever a building is constructed, you usually have an architect who draws a blueprint, and that blueprint serves as the pattern, as the guide, and a building is not well erected without a good, solid blueprint.

Now each of you is in the process of building the structure of your lives, and the question is whether you have a proper, a solid and a sound blueprint.

I want to suggest some of the things that should begin your life's blueprint. Number one in your life's blueprint, should be a deep belief in your own dignity, your worth and your own somebodiness. Don't allow anybody to make you fell that you're nobody. Always feel that you count. Always feel that you have worth, and always feel that your life has ultimate significance.

Secondly, in your life's blueprint you must have as the basic principle the determination to achieve excellence in your various fields of endeavor. You're going to be deciding as the days, as the years unfold what you will do in life — what your life's work will be. Set out to do it well.

And I say to you, my young friends, doors are opening to you--doors of opportunities that were not open to your mothers and your fathers — and the great challenge facing you is to be ready to face these doors as they open.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, the great essayist, said in a lecture in 1871, "If a man can write a better book or preach a better sermon or make a better mousetrap than his neighbor, even if he builds his house in the woods, the world will make a beaten path to his door."

This hasn't always been true — but it will become increasingly true, and so I would urge you to study hard, to burn the midnight oil; I would say to you, don't drop out of school. I understand all the sociological reasons, but I urge you that in spite of your economic plight, in spite of the situation that you're forced to live in — stay in school.

And when you discover what you will be in your life, set out to do it as if God Almighty called you at this particular moment in history to do it. don't just set out to do a good job. Set out to do such a good job that the living, the dead or the unborn couldn't do it any better.

If it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures, sweep streets like Beethoven composed music, sweep streets like Leontyne Price sings before the Metropolitan Opera. Sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry. Sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will have to pause and say: Here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well. If you can't be a pine at the top of the hill, be a shrub in the valley. Be be the best little shrub on the side of the hill.

Be a bush if you can't be a tree. If you can't be a highway, just be a trail. If you can't be a sun, be a star. For it isn't by size that you win or fail. Be the best of whatever you are.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Stay.


I’ve decided to stay. Words to live by. Words that kept you here, where you wrote volumes of words for so many readers, each sentence a firefly in the dark of their lonely.

CONNECT


Thanks, Harvey.

15 January 2017

Lifts.


A WINTER EDEN

A winter garden in an alder swamp,
Where conies now come out to sun and romp,
As near a paradise as it can be
And not melt snow or start a dormant tree.

It lifts existence on a plane of snow
One level higher than the earth below,
One level nearer heaven overhead,
And last year's berries shining scarlet red.

It lifts a gaunt luxuriating beast
Where he can stretch and hold his highest feat
On some wild apple tree's young tender bark,
What well may prove the year's high girdle mark.

So near to paradise all pairing ends:
Here loveless birds now flock as winter friends,
Content with bud-inspecting. They presume
To say which buds are leaf and which are bloom.

A feather-hammer gives a double knock.
This Eden day is done at two o'clock.
An hour of winter day might seem too short
To make it worth life's while to wake and sport.


Robert Frost

All.

Hals, Descartes, 1699


Finally, we ought to employ all the aids of understanding, imagination, sense and memory, first for the purpose of having a distinct intuition of simple propositions; partly also in order to compare the propositions.

Rene Descartes


CONNECT

L'Arpeggiata, Icones du Seicento

L'Arpeggiata performs a program of 17th century Italian arias ...

Typography.

Cimarosa, Il Maestro di Cappella

Giovanni Antonini leads Il Giardino Armonico ...



What a blast!

Realization.


In a time when most construction was still quite primitive and utilitarian, the world’s great Gothic buildings were being assembled one stone at a time, through immense trial and error. Consider being chosen by the Church to design one of these structures: imagine your excitement at the undertaking being tempered by the realization that your grandchildren would be long dead by the time it was complete.

Vivaldi, Mandolin Concerto in C Major, RV 425

Avi Avital performs with the Venice Baroque Orchestra ...

Humility.


As the night wore on we talked about various things until, at one point, I asked, “Why grizzlies?”

He explained that after returning from the war he began doing a lot of camping in wild places. One of those places was the backcountry of Yellowstone and it was there that he started finding himself in the company of bears. During one of his very first encounters he had been soaking in a thermal pool when he was startled by a sow and her cub. The bear had treed him and Peacock had ended up naked and shivering up in the tree for over an hour.

Gradually, grizzlies became not the natural byproduct of his trips into the backcountry but the goal. Though he didn’t like the word, it was hard to say there wasn’t a spiritual aspect to his trips into grizzly country. He came to believe that many of our basic religious archetypes grew out of observing bears. After all, what better animal to embody resurrection, the death of a winter’s hibernation followed by the rebirth of spring’s emergence from the den?

Peacock loved guns and owned many but he refused to bring them along when he knew he would encounter the bears.

“That would defeat the purpose,” he said.

And what was the purpose? The purpose was to feel real humility, to be taken off the usual human pedestal. Which was easy enough when you were in the presence of an animal that might suddenly decide to eat you. Humility, Peacock came to believe, was the proper emotional backdrop for reason, and in the wilderness Peacock became at once more reasonable and more wild. He was always amazed at the way his senses grew sharper after only a few days out in it, the way he could see better and smell other animals. It was as if he clicked into being an older, more primal self. But manners were also important. At one point in the “American Sportsman” clip, he tells Arnold that he doesn’t bring guns into bear country because “it would be in poor taste.” Poor taste! I was reminded of something that Jack Turner said about Peacock in his essay. He wrote: “…his manners, as a guest in the wild, are impeccable.” (FN:102 AW) That too would be a result of the necessary humility of living near bears. This seemed fascinating to me: the man who was the model for Hayduke, one of the most famously rude of fictional characters, had actually learned to be polite in the wild.

CONNECT

Jerry Douglas, "Route Irish"

Hear.


There is another physical law that teases me, too: the Doppler Effect. The sound of anything coming at you- a train, say, or the future- has a higher pitch than the sound of the same thing going away. If you have perfect pitch and a head for mathematics you can compute the speed of the object by the interval between its arriving and departing sounds. I have neither perfect pitch nor a head for mathematics, and anyway who wants to compute the speed of history? Like all falling bodies, it constantly accelerates. But I would like to hear your life as you heard it, coming at you, instead of hearing it as I do, a somber sound of expectations reduced, desires blunted, hopes deferred or abandoned, chances lost, defeats accepted, griefs borne.

Wallace Stegner

Much.


WALT WHITMAN'S CAUTION

To The States, or any one of them, or any city of The
States, Resist much, obey little;
Once unquestioning obedience, once fully enslaved;
Once fully enslaved, no nation, state, city, of this earth,
ever afterward resumes its liberty.

Walt Whitman

Thank You, Jessica.

14 January 2017

Happy birthday, Fantin-Latour.

Fantin-Latour, Self-portrait, 1861


Ignace Henri Jean Théodore Fantin-Latour was born on this day in 1836.

To make a painting representing things as they are found in nature, I put a great deal of thought into the arrangement, but with the idea of making it look like a natural arrangement of random objects. This is an idea that I have been mulling over a great deal: giving the appearance of a total lack of artistry.

Henri Fantin-Latour

Fantin-Latour, A Basket of Roses, 1890


New Order, Power, Corruption, and Lies, 1983