Tuesday, January 12, 2016

the education of Carlyle

Thomas Carlyle wrote his condemnation of education as "Tenfelsdrockh's Accounting of his Education":
My Teachers were hide-bound pedants, without knowledge of man’s nature, or boy’s; or of aught save their lexicons and quarterly account-books. Innumerable dead vocables (no dead language, for they themselves knew no language) they crammed into us, and called it fostering the growth of mind. How can an inanimate, mechanical gerund-grinder, the like of whom will, in a subsequent century, be manufactured at Nurnberg, out of wood and leather, foster the growth of anything; much less of mind, which grows, not like a vegetable, by having its roots littered with etymological compost, but like a spirit, by mysterious contact of spirit. Thought kindling itself at the fire of living Thought! How shall he give kindling, in whose own inward man there is no live coal, but all is burnt out to a dead grammatical cinder? The Hinterschlag professors knew syntax enough; and of the human soul thus much; that it had a faculty called memory, and could be acted upon through the muscular integument by the application of birch rods.

Alas, so it is every where; so will it ever be, till the hodman is discharged, or reduced to hod-bearing, and an architect is hired, and on all hands fitly encouraged; till communities and individuals discover, not without surprise, that fashioning the souls of men by knowledge can rank on a level with blowing their bodies to pieces by gun-powder; that with generals and fieldmarshals for killing, there should be world honored Dignitaries, and were it possible, true God-ordained Priests, for teaching. But as yet, though the soldier wears openly, and even parades his butchering tool, no where, as far as I have traveled, did the school-master make show of his instructing-tool; nay, were he to walk abroad with birch girt on thigh, as if he therefore expected honor, would not, among the lighter classes, a certain levity be excited? – Thomas Carlyle
I think you can see why I like colorful old texts. You have to work at them at least a bit to discern their meanings. Can you visualize a mechanical gerund-grinder? What a completely unlovely and useless machine that would be. Would it not be better to have teachers inspired toward more creative usefulness? Is there a reason that a man who teaches poetry, not be a potter as well, drawing his metaphors from the wheel and from the clay, just so? That what he teaches be drawn too, from the inspiration of real life? Today in the wood shop at Clear Spring School, we will continue making box guitars. I am working on my third guitar and a "panjo."

In the meantime, we have most of the details worked out for my week of woodworking with the Portland Woodworking Guild from March 18 through March 25. I will supply contact information for anyone wishing to attend.

Make, fix, create, and extend to others the joy of learning likewise.


  1. In case you need a better citation for that quote from Carlyle, it's from Sartor Resartus, Book 2 Chapter 3, (page 81 in the Oxford World Classics edition). The protagonist of Carlyle's satire is named Teufelsdröckh, a taylor/philosopher who expounds on his "philosophy of clothes." The whole book is a hoot.

  2. Thanks. I was alerted to the quote from Susan Blow's book on Symbolic education. I've heard of the book before and it appears I need now to read the whole thing.