Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Choice Curmudgeonry

With a hat tip to Gerard Van der Leun of American Digest. . .

John Derbyshire, author most recently of "We Are Doomed: Reclaiming Conservative Pessimism," had in the WSJ a few weeks ago a short list of books for the curmudgeon.

It is a fine list and includes H. L. Mencken and Gulliver's Travels. As such I was reminded of some of my favorite curmudgeonly passages from Mencken and Swift.

Gulliver's Travels. Part III, Chapter VIII.
A further Account of Glubbdubdrib. Antient and Modern History Corrected.
Having a desire to see those antients who were most renowned for Wit and Learning, I set apart one Day on purpose. I proposed that Homer and Aristotle might appear at the Head of all their Commentators; but these were so numerous, that some Hundreds were forced to attend in the Court, and outward Rooms of the Palace. I knew, and could distinguish those two Heroes, at first Sight, not only from the Croud, but from each other. Homer was the taller and comelier Person of the two, walked very erect for one of his Age, and his Eyes were the most quick and piercing I ever beheld. Aristotle stooped much, and made use of a Staff. His Visage was meagre, his Hair lank and thin, and his Voice hollow. I soon discovered that both of them were perfect Strangers to the rest of the Company, and had never seen or heard of them before; and I had a Whisper from a Ghost who shall be  nameless, "that these Commentators always kept in the most distant Quarters from their Principals, in the lower World, through a Consciousness of Shame and Guilt, because they had so horribly misrepresented the Meaning of those Authors to Posterity." I introduced Didymus and Eustathius to Homer, and prevailed on him to treat them better than perhaps they deserved, for he soon found they wanted a Genius to enter into the Spirit of a Poet. But Aristotle was out of all Patience with the Account I gave him of Scotus and Ramus, as I presented them to him; and he asked them, "whether the rest of the Tribe were as great Dunces as themselves?"

A Mencken Chrestomathy. XVIII. Pedagogy. The Education Process

If I had my way I should expose all candidates for berths in the grade-schools to the Binet-Simon test, and reject all those who revealed a mentality of more than fifteen years. Plenty would still pass. Moreover, they would be secure against contamination by the new technic of pedagogy. Its vast wave of pseudo-psychology would curl and break against the hard barrier of their innocent and passionate intellects– as it probably does, in fact, even now. They would know nothing of learning situations, integration, challenges, emphases, orthogenics, mind-sets, differentia, and all other fabulous fowl of the Teachers College aviary. But they would see in reading, writing and arithmetic the gaudy charms of profound knowledge, and they would teach these ancient branches, now so abominable in decay with passionate gusto, and irresistible effectiveness, and a gigantic success.
A Mencken Chrestomathy. XVIII. Pedagogy. Bearers of the Torch

This central aim of the teacher is often obscured by pedagogical pretension and bombast. The pedagogue, discussing himself, tries to make it appear that he is a sort of scientist. He is actually a sort of barber, and just as responsive to changing fashions. That this is his actually character is now, indeed, a part of the official doctrine that he must inculcate. On all hands, he is told plainly by his masters that his fundamental function in America is to manufacture an endless corps of sound Americans. A sound American is simply one who has put out of his mind all doubts and questionings, and who accepts instantly, and as incontrovertible gospel, the whole body of official doctrine of his day, whatever it may be and no no matter how often it may change. The instant he challenges it, no matter how timorously and academically, he ceases by that much to be a loyal and creditable citizen of the Republic.

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