“If I Could Go to School Again”
A heartfelt plea for more nonsense in education
Afamiliar and glamorous sight in Grand Central Station on Sunday evenings is the horde of beaut i ful college girls gaily rushing back from New York weekends. These lissome figures have always inspired so much romantic imagination in me that I was dismayed recently to learn that some of them get lessons in looking the way they do. One famous New England college, I discovered, has a course in ‘social postures’, which includes practising walking rapidly on high heels while carrying a suitcase.
Well, I thought, why not lessons in posture? I’ve noticed that people who have outward posture usually have inward posture. And I’m forced to admit that of all the courses I’ve taken in a long life, dancing lessons have been the most civi l ising. Dancing is a partial conquest of the awkwardness of the bodies with which we are born, and which soon lapse into mere lumbering transportation machines unless we learn some grace and rhythm.
In fact, if I had my life to live again, I think I’d look for schools that teach us how to have more fun, courses in nonsense and levity. I’d get expert instruction in drumming, skating, skiing, oil painting, bareback riding, playing the tuba, wire walking, turning cartwheels, bowling, photography and how to get out of playing cards.
I would acquire skills in at least one game that can be played past the age of 40. I spent whole years of childhood on football, wrestling, shoving, baseball and basketball, all of which are worthless to me now. I should have learnt ping pong, archery, or how to play the xylophone and zither. I’ve forgotten my maths and history. I wish I’d learnt to whistle.
I wish some teacher had taught me that a gr indstone af fords a much too narrow horizon, that I could change Poor Richard to read: “Dost thou love life?” Then squander lots of time, for squander ing is the stuff life is made of. So many teachers taught me how to be serious. If only more had taught me how to be frivolous!
Philosopher G.K. Chesterton wrote, “Angels can f ly because they take themselves lightly. For solemnity flows out of men naturally; but laughter is a leap.”
So if I had my education to take over, I’d find or invent a course in
So many teachers taught me how to be serious. If only more had taught me how to be frivolous
abandon. It would include a full term’s laboratory drill in how to get out of things: sand traps on golf courses and conversational traps at cocktail parties. I’d learn how to make friendships but also how to break them. I’d learn how to travel light and how to quit things I didn’t really like.
How to quit jobs, for instance. They gave us a lot of advice on how to get into jobs, but it takes a genius to know when and how to quit. Other lifesaving arts I wish I’d been taught are: whittling, how to live cheaply, how to avoid group singers, how to avoid being a live wire or encountering one, how to say ‘ Thank you’ and ‘I love you’ more often.
ISN’T IT PERHAPS a chief trouble with the world today that there are so many people in it who are trying to be useful before they know how to enjoy life themselves – or before they know how to be harmless? Being harmless applies to small things as well as large. For instance, it should be our duty to wash off the ring around the tub after our bath, to eat soup quietly, to drink no more liquor after we start to impose on the other fellow’s eardrums, time or heartstrings.
Above all, it’s our downright obligation to people to put up a pleasant front. Author and poet Richard Le Gallienne said, “Gaiety is one of the surest marks of the aristocrat, and it is one of the unwritten laws of French politeness that a long face is a breach of manners. To put a laughing face on the worst is not merely the top of courage, but it shows a well-bred consideration of our neighbours.”
The artist Francis Bacon wrapped up the objectives of education thus: “Studies serve for delight, for ornament and for ability. Their chief use for delight is in privateness and retiring; for ornament is in discourse; and for ability is in the judgement and disposition of business.”
Note that he puts delight first!