Friday, 25 May 2007

Something Called Education

There is no clearer sign of a widespread blight in culture than that language, a vital organ of intellectual and cultural life, is degraded. That it should be purposely degraded, furthermore, by those whom one might expect to be its guardians, is a sign of a yet greater disease. An illustration:
English Leadership Quarterly ran an article urging teachers to encourage intentional writing errors as “the only way to end [the English language’s] oppression of linguistic minorities and learning writers.” The pro-error article, written by two professors at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, actually won an award from the quarterly, a publication of the National Council of Teachers of English. So you can now win awards for telling the young to write badly. [1]
It is too much to hope that the principal vectors of this disease (or the professors of progressive education, as they prefer to be called) are capable of shame. On the contrary, as one blighter unashamedly tells us, all criticism that does not come from his part of the swamp, as it were, is misplaced:
The professional literature and the media are blitzed with publications that are critical of educational ideology, research, and practice. Many authors of these publications are concerned about basic skills in literacy which they perceive to be inadequately taught in schools. . . .
. . . Their expertise, however, is not fined-tuned [sic] in the literacy field. Specifically, they have not been trained in advanced graduate work concerning the research, theory, and practice of helping children become literate. [2]
Thus: only the author and his fellow ideologues, “fine-tuned” by years of graduate research and practice in “educational ideology”, can tell whether they have failed to teach children to read and write properly; and if it appears to you that they have failed spectacularly, then you must be mistaken.
[1] John Leo, “The Office of Assertion: Some Thoughts on Writing Well”, City Journal, 21st May 2007.
[2] Joseph Sanacore, “Needed: Critics of Literacy Education with a More Inclusive Perspective”, International Journal of Progressive Education, Vol.3:1, February 2007.

Fewtril #202

The sight of people competing to be victims seems to be odd and against the order of things until one considers that they are in fact competing to be victors.

Fewtril #201

The defenders of a dying creed often hasten its death by the manner in which they choose to defend it—by a solicitous desire not to offend its enemies, which stirs in those enemies neither pity nor respect, but contempt and a gleeful and ruthless resolve to see it off. More desperate still is when the defenders broaden the scope of their creed until it is hardly distinguishable from those that surround it. Thus, it dies not from murder but from abject suicide in obeisance to its enemies.

A Prescription

“Be more stupid and you will feel better” — such was Professor Immermann’s prescription for the ailments of his most brilliant patient, Friedrich Nietzsche.
Quoted by Curtis Cate, Friedrich Nietzsche (Woodstock & New York: The Overlook Press, 2005), p.184 (from Briefwechsel, II/4., p.358, (ed. W. de Gruyter), Erwin Rohde to Friedrich Nietzsche, 23rd December 1873.).

Fewtril #200

One becomes so accustomed to the evasiveness and dishonesty of politicians that one immediately thinks something is amiss when one of them gives a straight answer, or admits without hedge or prevarication that he simply does not know something. It might even strike one as gauche and crass that he could step into the public arena without all the skills and tricks of his craft. Since much of his purpose lies in deception, he looks incompetent when he is not being typically deceitful.

Fewtril #199

No explanation can be found for why a fundament of the world exists; for by definition it is something which has no worldly reason for its being: it just is. If there is such a fundament, then everything based thereupon has a point beyond which there is no more reason — and thus, no more explanation — for its being. If there is no such fundament, then everything is infinite in its reason for being, and thus there will never be found a fundamental reason or explanation for its being. How would we know when we had found a fundament—say, a basic phenomenon, a basic physical law, or somesuch? A non-fundament may surpass our understanding and so defy all further explanation, whereupon it may appear falsely to us as a fundament. On the other hand, we may hit upon a fundament, but not recognise it as such, and thus all further “explanation” of its reason for being will be false; for if an enquiring mind always asks why, and is never satisfied with the non-explanation of “it just is”, then a fundament of the world is the point at which an enquiring mind would be unsatisfied with the truth.


“They are quite anxious. They have enjoyed the prosperity, the happiness, under the kings. This is an irreversible process our king has initiated, we just can’t go back.”

Electoral candidate Lekey Dorji on the Bhutanese people’s reluctance to be governed by a democracy, quoted by Steve Herman, “Bhutan Continues Dry Run Towards Democracy”, 22nd May 2007,, via Theodore Harvey, Royalty and Monarchy.

Wednesday, 9 May 2007

Fewtril #198

We can hardly imagine what fools we look to posterity, and in what present and prepossessing absurdities we engage, until we catch a glimpse of ourselves in the mirror of history.

Fewtril #197

The stupid never make clever mistakes; such are the preserve of clever men, who complicate matters by also making stupid ones.

Fewtril #196

When one speaks of social decline or decadence, one is referring to the prevalence of people who are corrupt or decadent; and thus, it is not unlikely that the further a society declines, the fewer people there are who can speak of its decline, since those who are corrupt or decadent do not see it that way.

Fewtril #195

Nothing noble is ever done solely for the sake of its usefulness, but if nobility has a use, then it is in that bloody-mindedness that withstands even those things that one has been seduced into believing are inevitable.

Fewtril #194

Everyone claims to live by the principle that we should not harm the innocent, which is perhaps why we have so many theories that find us all guilty.

Fewtril #193

One may easily get another to admit his shortcomings provided he hasn’t already bragged of them.

Fewtril #192

The more we study great men, the more we learn of their great inconsistency in character and behaviour, and of the often inscrutability of their causes and motives. Such might be true of most or all men, but because we study only great men in depth, we are inclined to see such degrees of inconsistency and inscrutability as marks of greatness alone.

Fewtril #191

One will occasionally have inexpressibly profound feelings about something – one feels one knows the hidden truth about it, but cannot quite grasp it. This may well be the beginnings of a profound thought, but then again it may not, and one ought not to flatter oneself into believing that it is.

Fewtril #190

Often when we claim that the people of a more genteel and honourable age were not so different from us, it is noticeable that we emphasise and exaggerate their vices and shortcomings, as if to diminish and downplay our own.