Learning and Unlearning…

outhouse“Education is what survives when what has been learned has been forgotten.” – B. F. Skinner

There is a strong and resilient tradition of anti-intellectualism in America. It attributes vanity, pride and ignorance to too much learning, and takes pride in a lack of formal learning that avoids ignorance.

American anti-intellectualism is a natural response to the rejection of elitism (that birth or privilege determines value in life and society) and the strong democratic spirit of America’s history. (Yes, it sounds like a topic we’d hear in intellectual circles, and that’s ironic). There is a ‘common sense’ and ‘we hold these truths to be self-evident’ that’s as ordinary as the nose on one’s face.

It’s an everyday ‘smart’ that differs from being book-smart. And it routinely warns that books and education can easily ruin a good and get in the way of common sense. Sometimes.

So a young man went off to the university to study geology. He returned after his first year and warned his dad that the well was too close to the outhouse. The dad replied that the boy didn’t know what he was talking about and insisted that the well was fine where it was. The same thing happened after the boy’s second and third years of studying geology, and the dad said the boy only had ‘book education’ but not ‘life learning’ and said he wouldn’t listen until the boy had accomplished something.

After the boy returned with his degree in hand and made his case, once again – that the well was too close to the outhouse and that the family’s fresh water supply could be polluted by the outhouse – the dad finally relented.

He moved the outhouse and a week later the well dried up.


Confidence in disguise…

I feel famous on days like today,
plucky and serene, unhurried by
a schedule everyone else rushes
to keep, naturally pausing to look
into a mirror, chin raised and
finger tips guiding aside a wisp
of hair that falls back lazily,
attractively; exiting into a calm
day to match just me, stepping
onto the bus without a pause or
breaking stride, smiling in response
as strangers try to get my attention,
nodding and turning toward the
window as the sun itself brightens
while other squint uncomfortably;
my uniform hiding behind my
overcoat and scarf which is so soft
and flimsy it’s simply an accessory.

What is to be found in books…

In Books

On a bright, fresh Saturday morning
an old man walked from
the library with a large book of some subject
open before him, reading closely
it seems, stepping carefully along the walk
so much like every one of my children,
fascinated and eager for the stacks,
little fingers tracing the spines of
everything they reach, starting book
after book, story after story, then
begging to know how many
they were allowed to borrow, how many
worlds could be opened in their hands,
emerging from their libraries clutching tomes
with one open before each, reading closely,
never stumbling with a peripheral view
that just knew the way even while
occupied with a realm becoming theirs,
toward home and each
would migrate to a spot predetermined
to finish each too quickly, too passionately,
even our one who could never sit still
would perch unmoved for hours
and still does, having to be beckoned
back to now for mundane things
like food and sleep, and this is how I
learned to read, not in letters and words
and sentences, but in lives and worlds and
in books that were borrowed.