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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Climbing Parnassus: The Meaning of Education

There's so much to say about Climbing Parnassus by Tracy Lee Simmons that instead of reviewing, I'm going to write several spinoff posts.  Be advised, I have three planned so far and I'm only halfway through the book.  The quotability starts right in the introduction.

Now, once upon a time I puzzled upon learning that the Italian verb educare is a false cognate for the English to educate.  In America one is educated if he's been to college.  In Italian, a person is educato if he's well-behaved.  If he goes to school, he's istruito: instructed.  Being egocentric and not having researched the matter, I thought they'd just wandered in their usage.

But no, that was us.
Simmons writes of education for the ancients, "...among those gifts most sought was the civilizing, cultivating boon of eloquence, of right and beautiful expression."  In other words, learning served the higher purpose of refining, civilizing, the individual.  Classical learning seeks to develop character, integrity, the inner person first.

In contrast, we tend now to treat these aims as secondary at best.  We hope they'll come on their own, but we have to devote our time and resources to the kind of instruction that correlates directly with making money.  We shape careers more than people.

Simmons writes, "Many people today, without admitting it, prefer training to education, and they must have their heart's desire."

"Ah!" thought I.  False cognate, indeed!  Our word reflects our diminished view of education.  Italy, whatever its schooling system or philosophy, clings to a linguistic vestige of a deeper, less pragmatic vision.

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