Sweetness & light

One imagines the disembodied souls of the schoolchildren, wandering the streets of Parkdale while they sleep.

“Give me Dante! Give me Petrarch!” they cry.

But instead, when their souls return and they wake, they will be given a stone.

Gentle reader may take this as a criticism of our education system, which carries on through the media, cradle to grave. Its principal purpose is to kill poetry in the children, and keep it dead through old age. The drilling starts in kindergarten, and by the age of seven they are already spouting the industrial oils. The State (fully integrated with big business) insists on this.

Our rulers want a citizenry that is regulation-compliant, a drone force that will work their shifts and pay their taxes. They need obedient subjects for their scheme of progressive social engineering. Whether in peace or war, they need cannon-fodder.

I do not restrict poetry to Dante and Petrarch, though I’m inclined to, while reading them.

Amor, non già per mia poca bontate,
Ma per sua nobiltate,
Mi pose in vita si dolce e soave …

“Love, not indeed for my slight goodness, but of his nobility, placed me in life so sweet and calm …”

The Creator hath endowed us with poetical minds, and we have been trying to rewire them as adding machines.

A few essential things must be taught to children, after which they may learn anything on their own. How to draw, how to paint and colour; how to carve from wood and mould from clay; how to dance, and how to sing, with beauty; how to read music, and play an instrument; how to read, and to write with a legible and elegant hand; and too, how to count and play with numbers.

What else? My curriculum is already rather full.

Add a few languages to this, starting with Latin. Their native language will thus be improved. And there is a wonderful opportunity, while they are still very young and joyfully mnemonic, to cram them full of declensions and conjugations, of exotic vocabulary and the syntactic techniques to put their new words into motion. Let them memorize thousands of verses, whether or not they fully understand them, while they still can. The capacity will begin to evaporate as they ripen in years. Let them absorb into their souls the rules of scansion, the rhythms of prose.

I’ve left out the field trips and the nature study.

Let them find, in the poetry of this world, the rudiments of their respective vocations.

That is the work of the primary schools, where through childhood boys and girls might mix. The work of the secondary schools is more technical, more focused, more specialized, more “optional.” By this I mean voluntary, for those not cut out for academic work should go off to fish instead, to plough, to milk cows, or apprentice as auto mechanics. They must not be pulled, nor the “high schools” dragged by unwilling learners. From puberty, too, the sexes must be segregated, to keep the little ones’ eyes on their work; and preserve their innocence as long as we can.

What I’m suggesting has been touted before, from Plato onward. It used to be called, Education through Art. Herbert Read even wrote a textbook on it (3rd ed., 1958), starting with that old chestnut by George Bernard Shaw, to the effect that poetry (which he called, “fine art”) is the only teacher except torture.