Line from Tennyson Poem: Thinking about Education

Alfred Tennyson, 1st Baron Tennyson FRS (6 August, 1809 – 6 October, 1892) was the Poet Laureate of Great Britain and Ireland during much of Queen Victoria’s reign and remains one of the most popular British poets.

One of his most famous poems is Locksley Hall (1835-1842).

In the poem, Tennyson predicts the rise of both civil aviation and military aviation with the following words:

Saw the heavens fill with commerce, argosies of magic sails,
Pilots of the purple twilight, dropping down with costly bales;
Heard the heavens fill with shouting, and there rain’d a ghastly dew
From the nations’ airy navies grappling in the central blue;

A key line in this poem is: “Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers.”

This Tennyson line is not identical with what we are attempting here but it is helpful in terms of its basic intuition as to what “evaporates” from the mind and what might remain.

Our quest is more: develop through all these examples a sense of “omnidirectional zooming out” from any one field, lecture, book, movie, topic, question, quiz, discussion in schools and universities and create your own inner “map room.”

One “strange” characteristic of this particular map room is that it does not “banish the intensely personal” but considers that the basis and not some kind of illegitimate distraction. But that’s not all: it proposes that you hold in your mind the truth the education is itself found between the intensely personal and the global surround of techno-commerce, and that means that “the omnidirectional quest to understand” must always be aware of these levels and dimensions at the same time and in the same mind and person. Everything else is specialized training or platitudinous “motivational speaking.”

What we are introducing here is “equidistant” from all that and insists on an “all at once” evolving overview as odd as that may appear when you start.

You can neither “major in everything and all fields” and you also cannot neglect the deepest dimensions, taken together. This is the “razor’s edge” one must walk on.

Essay 110: Education and Famine Analysis

The great historian Élie Halévy’s (died in 1937) History of the English People in the Nineteenth Century, a multi-volume classic, gives us a sense of nineteenth century famine dynamics for the 1840s, which combines failed harvests and failed incomes and failed speculations together:

“It was a ‘dearth’ (i.e., scarcity)—a crisis belonging to the old order—the last ‘dearth,’ in fact, Europe had known up to the present day (i.e., before 1937). The unsatisfactory harvest of 1845 was followed by the disastrous autumn of 1846. The potato disease was worse than it had been the year before. The cereal harvest, moderately good in 1845, was a failure not only in the United Kingdom, but in France and throughout Western Europe. In 1845, Great Britain could still purchase corn even in Ireland, while the Irish poor were starving to death. Nothing of the kind was possible at the end of 1846.

Britain could not obtain wheat from France or Germany. In short, it was no longer Ireland alone, but the whole of Western Europe that had to be saved from famine.

“The United Kingdom, France, and Germany must import Russian and American wheat, the only sources available to supply the deficit.

“In consequence the price of wheat rose from 50 shillings and 2d. on August 22 to 65 shillings and 7d. on November 18. The price of wheat rose once more. It exceeded 78 shillings in March.

“In Germany and France, where another ‘jacquerie’ seemed to have begun, hunger caused an outbreak of rioting. The same happened in Scotland and the south of England…but England suffered in common with Ireland and Continental Europe, and a drain on English gold began, to pay for the Russian and American wheat.

“Later there was a fall of 50% in four months. The corn factors (i.e., corn dealers) who for months had been gambling on a rise had no time to retrace their steps and were ruined at a single blow.” (“Commerical Failures in 1847,” Eclectic Review, December 1847)

(Élie Halévy, “Victorian Years (1841-1895),” Halévy’s History of the English People in the Nineteenth Century, Volume 4, pages 191-193, Ernest Benn Ltd., 1970)

Note that in British usage, “corn” refers to all feed grains (primarily wheat), not corn (in the American sense) or maize. For example, see the Corn Laws.

We sense from Halévy’s description of the “food insecurity” of the nineteenth century in Europe, why the Revolutions of 1848 were to a large extent severe food riots and how food poverty and speculation interacted with risk and uncertainty prevailing.

This should be read and pondered in connection with Prof. Amartya Sen’s classic from 1981, Poverty and Famines, which highlights the famine of income and buying power, as opposed to famines based on outright crop failures. Pearl Buck’s classic novel, The Good Earth (1931), fits this topic set, as it analyzes in human terms the pattern of Chinese famines. It is interesting to note, parenthetically, that the movie of The Good Earth could not feature Chinese actors in lead roles due to racial craziness at the time. Stepping back, we see a world of food insecurity aggravated by the spectre of racism further poisoning social relations worldwide.

Halévy states: “It was a ‘dearth’ (i.e., scarcity)—a crisis belonging to the old order—the last ‘dearth,’ in fact, Europe had known up to the present day…”.

It would be instructive to ponder whether this really was “a crisis belonging to the old order” given the catastrophes and food crises that could come with climate change from 2019 on out. Will we have “global ‘dearths’”?

Essay 82: Scientism and Its Discontents: Movie About Hawking

Scientism is the view that science is truth and the rest is false, idiotic, or childish.

There’s a wonderful scene in the 2014 movie, The Theory of Everything (Eddie Redmayne plays Hawking) where the young Hawking is courting his wife to be at an evening party and he represents the quest for the theory of everything, hence the name of the movie.

His girlfriend expresses doubts about this and speaks a few words from the William Butler Yeats (died in 1939) poem “The Song of the Happy Shepherd” [full text]:

“Seek, then,
No learning from the starry men,
Who follow with the optic glass
The whirling ways of stars that pass —”

The poet (and Hawking’s fiancee in the film) are suspicious of the science-and-nothing-else cosmologists and astronomers “who follow with the optic glass the whirling ways of stars that pass.”

William Butler Yeats (13 June, 1865–28 January, 1939) was an Irish poet and one of the foremost figures of 20th-century literature. A pillar of the Irish literary establishment, he helped to found the Abbey Theatre, and in his later years served two terms as a Senator of the Irish Free State.

Yeats says in his works, “Education is not the filling of a pail, but rather the lighting of a fire.”

Our desire to “re-enchant” education might cause us to modify this Yeats aphorism slightly, “Education is not merely the filling of a pail, but rather the lighting of a fire.”