Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Impetus of the Undistinguished Host

"Diomedes Wounding Aphrodite" - Arthur Fitger, 1905
In 1913-1914, Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch delivered a series of lectures at Cambridge that were collected into a book titled On the Art of Writing.  It is a book in which I have highlighted more passages than not, and one of those passages seems to speak especially to our present age.  In his second lecture, he advocates the writing of poetry among university students in addition to their reading and studying of it.  "Recollect that in Poesy as in every other human business, the more there are who practice it the greater will be the chance of someone's reaching perfection.  It is the impetus of the undistinguished host that flings forward a Diomed or a Hector."

What does this mean?  It means quite simply that we will never know whether the next Homer or Einstein is sitting in our classes unless we expose the greatest number of students to the widest possible curriculum.  Put another way, students cannot exercise genius in a field they do not even know exists.

It also acknowledges the truth that not everyone will be such a genius.  Thousands of warriors fought in the Trojan War, yet literature and art commemorate only a few, such as Diomedes and Hector.  An Einsteinian level of achievement by every student in the class is an absurd goal, and its failure of attainment is no argument against offering the class in the first place.  Not everyone need achieve the level of the hero or the genius, but if anyone is to have any hope of doing so, then the opportunity must be placed before all.

This is why each school must offer the widest possible curriculum to its students.  Art is on an equal footing with math, Latin with physics, and physical education with the Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate class.  To cut one for the sake of another is to decide a priori that no students will achieve great things in a particular subject.

Quiller-Couch also exposed a dishonoring truth in British life that shames America today.  "We may prate of democracy, but actually a poor child in England has little more hope than had the son of an Athenian slave to be emancipated into that intellectual freedom of which great writings are born."  Is this really so different one hundred years and an ocean away?

Citizens of the United States have the money to afford whatever sort of education we want.  We spend annually $12 billion on traffic tickets, $29 billion on candy, $31 billion on lottery tickets, $44 billion on tobacco, $50 billion on alcohol, $69 billion in casinos, and $76 billion on soda.  Homer and Einstein may be sitting in a class near you.  Is it worth  it to us to find out?

No comments:

Post a Comment

While I welcome thoughts relevant to discussions of education, comments that are vulgar, insulting, or in any way inappropriate will be deleted.