“If I Could Go to School Again”

A heart­felt plea for more non­sense in ed­u­ca­tion

Reader's Digest Asia Pacific - - Front Page - BY DON HEROLD

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!

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