Saturday, November 19, 2016


Educational Gaps

F.O. Matthiessen, "The Education of a Socialist," in Paul M. Sweezy and Leo Huberman, edd., F.O. Matthiessen (1902-1950): A Collective Portrait (New York: Henry Schuman, 1950), pp. 3-20 (at 5-6):
It is appalling how much can get left out of an American education. It was not until I had begun to be an instructor at Harvard that I read Francis Parkman's history, and found that Starved Rock and the Illinois River where I had gone canoeing near my grandfather's house was the scene of the most vivid pages in La Salle and the Discovery of the Great West. La Salle had simply been the name of my grandfather's town. That it was also the name of a French explorer was lodged somewhere abstractly in my memoy, but I had not had the irreplaceable experience of sharing, as a boy, in a rich consciousness of history. No school that I attended went at all imaginatively into the American past.

The dams of isolation that block the flow of a living culture are often erected unwittingly. Not until the death of Charles Griffes, in the flu epidemic of 1919, did I begin to realize that this shy bird-like little man who directed the choir and gave music lessons at Hackley was also a composer. In the barren atmosphere of a conventional boys' school, that was apparently not assumed to be a matter of interest. Yet, many years later, I read in Griffes' biography the record of his loneliness and frustration. In the winter of my last year at school, Charles Griffes, at the end of another corridor in the same building, was reading Dostoevsky and Flaubert. Even if I was not ready for them at sixteen, there is an unforgivable wastage in any institution where the important things are not mentioned, and where communication withers through disuse.

A good deal of everyone's later education consists of compensating for what he missed, and of having to unlearn what he was taught.
Hat tip: Ian Jackson.

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