Wisdom, Art, Math, Science. . . Oh My!

Wisdom, Art, Math, Science. . . Oh My! September 11, 2020

There is something good about school that we must never lose. Take one week in fifth grade, Cobbles Elementary, see what a spread of mental delights these public school teachers provided and realize this glorious intellectual feast lasted for years.*

We got a “mystery kit” to work on identifying a mysterious element. We got the first glimpse at one type of scientific method. Off we went to art, where we got make sketches and use simply huge pieces of paper. We were told “everyone can do art.” Music had us singing everything from the Beatles (it was the 1970’s) to church choral music (it was a public school in the 1970’s). Back to homeroom to read about Titanic, urban fiction (it was the 1970’s), with spare time for free reading. I found Langston Hughes that year. I keep revising that book report.

Some days we got “Gym” and there we played games, learning “new ones” . . . what did I do before there was soccer (it was the 1970’s in America. How could I know the Three Lions would not win another World Cup for decades)? Somebody, sometime, taught us to bird watch, that did not stick, but I respect the craft. Over in “Shop” we made things with our hands and we did the same in “Home Economics.” The food we baked in Home Economics was better than the key holder I made in shop. (Everyone took both: it was the 1970’s.) I found that many of the lads liked talking about the NFL, so nerd that I was, I went the library, got books, found Bart Starr and was a Packer fan for life.

And then it all ended. At sometime someone someplace decided we all had to quit being hapless amateurs (“Let’s write a haiku!”) and do what we did best to get into a good major at a good college. We would then narrow down until other than consuming someone else’s entertainment we would become experts in one small thing and do that one small thing until we could no longer do so. Perhaps, we are promised retirement, if one has money, can look like fifth grade again, just slower. How were we able to do a school play, even write plays, in fifth grade and are incapable of doing so as grownups?

Time, we are told, but we have time for consuming other people’s entertainment or at least many of us do.

I was blessed, because in was the 1970’s and my Mother was a rebel against the 1970’s. Partly this was because she was and is a Christian and partly because she kept thinking and not conforming. If everyone was doing “it,” then Mom would question “it.” She was Socrates every Saturday. (“What about Isaac Asimov? What is he saying?”) One day, in one of these discussions, I said: “I am not going to stop watching cartoons. I like them.”

Mom said: “Good.”

That was so freeing. She was not saying to be childish, but that some categories were artificial and could get in the way of being the person God made me. Love all you can licitly. That’s what Mom taught me, though it me a decade to stop messing this up. She would buy us (my brother and me) notebooks to study Japan. We would make crafts. (I was bad.) She helped us rip out part of the basement so we could put a room down there. She finished furniture.

Mom refused to narrow down to just one thing. There is the thing you do for which people might pay you. Oddly they pay me to teach college, a thing I would do for free. They do not pay me to plunge the toilet tonight, a thing for which I wish there was payment. It was much later when I discovered that Mom and I had stumbled into a Platonic Principle (!)

The dreams were something like this: the same dream often came to me in the past, now in one shape now in another, but saying the same thing: “Socrates,” it said, “practice and cultivate the arts.” In the past I imagined that it was instructing and advising me to do what I was doing, such as those who encourage runners in a race, that the dream was thus bidding [61] me do the very thing I was doing, namely, to practice the art of philosophy, this being the highest kind of art, and I was doing that.**





*We agree that cutting the arts in today’s schools is a sin.

**Plato. Plato: Complete Works . Phaedo 58-62. Hackett Publishing Company, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

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