Culture, Education, History, Philosophy

It’s Still Good Advice From ‘The Moderator’

Finding myself wakeful in the middle of the night, I listened for a second time to an excellent discussion–which was brought to my attention on a Ricochet post from a few days ago–between Jordan Peterson and Victor Davis Hanson.  It’s an erudite (I would expect nothing less) romp through both mens’ minds when it comes to the sorry state of higher education today, as well as some discourse on a few peripheral or related topics.  And although I don’t usually look to Jordan Peterson for belly laughs, there were a few, particularly when it comes to finding that we share the same opinion about those he refers to as “bloody French intellectuals.” (The word “stupid” might have been in the sentence somewhere, also; I’m not sure.  If it wasn’t, it should have been.)

I find myself totally on board with these two on this subject.  And although I haven’t written all that much about post-high school education in these pages, I have sometimes written about my love of literature, and my childhood addiction–it’s never too early to start–to stories, songs, and poems, which I credit for forming a considerable portion of my character and for opening my mind to what I’d later come to know as “the humanities,” and even “Western Civilization” itself.

Shadow Lands and Cyber Worlds

“Once Upon a Time”

Regarding Stories

The Gift of My Childhood

It’s National “Hug a Rat Catcher Day!”

La Belle Dame Sans Merci

Reality TV, 1387 Edition

As I stagger on into my dotage, I find myself reflecting more and more on what was perhaps the most valuable gift of my childhood, that which encouraged and developed my imagination and–with it–the ability to think outside the box, and which enabled my ability to wander at will in worlds which–as I said in a couple of those posts–might not have been real, but which were certainly true.  I wish all children were given that gift, and I hope that those who were never lose it.  We are the people that Peterson and Hanson are talking about; a largely vanishing breed in these days when sterile, ignorant, uninspiring, and ahistorical claptrap and ranting passes for reasoned discussion, and we so often appear to share no common ground with our fellows.

Another post that came to mind, although for a different reason, is a bit of writing from slightly over three years ago called Good Advice From the Moderator.  It has to do with a school newsletter, published in Michigan in 1902, and–presumably with the children’s parents as its intended audience.  What struck me at the time was the high standard of literacy on display, and the expectation that those parents–many of whom I expect were immigrants, and large numbers of whom I expect didn’t have all that many years of schooling under their belts would have no difficulty reading and comprehending it.  In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was something of an extracurricular didactic exercise designed just for those parents, with the sure expectation that they’d actually want to better their own understanding.

And yes, implicit in those statements is the observation that we’ve fallen pretty far since then, both in our ability to comprehend the spoken and written word, and in our thirst for knowledge.  After all, why bother to learn anything when one can simply ask Mr. Google?

Here’s the post.

Good Advice from ‘The Moderator’

Recently, as I was on my way to Looking Up One Thing On The Internet,™ I came across Something Else™ that really tickled my fancy, even though, or perhaps exactly because, it had nothing to do with the object of my search. This is something that frequently happens to me, and which I usually roll along with, because when it all pans out, I sometimes come across stuff that interests me more, and enlightens me more, than the thing I started out investigating. And what I ran across this time was a Google Books citation of Volume XXII-No. 2, of the “Michigan School Moderator.” A bit more noodling around, and I learned that Volume XIV was from 1893, and so I think “my” issue is from 1902 or thereabouts.

It’s one of those marvelous compendiums of knowledge, example, and character-building advice that was so common in the late-nineteenth, and early-twentieth century, in which everyone assumed that the reader actually could (read), and no-one talked down to the common citizenry who were expected to absorb, understand, and learn from, the contents thereof. I love these sorts of books and periodicals, and when I run across them in second-hand bookstores, I usually buy them. The most recent example of this sort of things that springs to mind is Bill Bennett’s Book of Virtues, but if you know of other recent and similar attempts (Heather Has Two Mommies doesn’t cut it), please include them in the comments. When my ship comes in, I’ll build another bookshelf and make a volume purchase. (See what I did there?)

Of course, the name of the organ, “The Moderator,” caught my eye, lol out loud. (For newbies, and those who’ve recently emigrated from the Planet Zygax, I’ll just mention that I did my turn in the barrel as a Ricochet moderator for a couple of years, but relieved myself of my duties in March of 2019.)

And as I perused it, I was fascinated to discover improving articles, like the one by Mrs. Dwight Goss on “The Value of Truant Schools.” (She looks like a tough old bird, and I have a sense that she’d have made a good Marine Corps Drill Instructor, if what Mr. She has told me about them is true. Come to think of it, her vision of “the truant school” does sound an awful lot like boot camp.) Or Mrs. Bernice Shank’s discourse upon why it’s so important to teach “Language in Elementary School.” (She’s talking about English–what a novel idea.) And Miss Lucy Sloan’s “Study of [James Russell] Lowell’s ‘Vision of Sir Launfal.’” There’s Science. And Literature. And Mathematics. And Music. And Poetry. Interspersed throughout with news of the schools, invitations to sign up for correspondence courses, and news of current affairs. And all in forms, and at levels that I just can’t imagine being accessible to, or worse yet, of the remotest interest to, a substantial portion of the population today, even though so many of them are written by women, and none of them, at least that I have found, diminishes the importance of female education in any way. In fact, they do quite the reverse, as so much of the intellectual, substantive, and thoughtful content of the issue is written by women who obviously expect what they say to be treated as worthwhile and with respect. 

Is their advice perfect? Are their opinions uniformly commendable to our modern sensibilities and, in some cases, greater understanding? No, of course not. But what a solid foundation to start from and build on. (I didn’t see any strictures on the proper placement of prepositions in the English sentence, so I don’t expect any blowback from what, just there, I’m guilty of. Thanks very much for holding your fire.)

What really engaged my attention and made me chuckle, and what I recalled following an exchange in the comments section of a recent post on Ricochet about modern feminism, and roles and expectations for women, was this delightful little excerpt, titled “These Must Go.”

A trade magazine gives a list of the boys who are the first to lose their situations [Post Author’s Note: She means “be fired”] in any well-ordered business house. Here are a few of them:

The exquisite young man who parts his hair in the middle and is shocked at the idea of soiling his hands by a little honest work.

The luxurious youth who has twenty-dollar-a-week tastes and habits and a ten-dollar-a-week salary.

The young man who hasn’t sense enough to do anything unless he is ordered to do it; and the young man who is always doing things contrary to orders.

The remarkable youth, who invariably knows what a customer wants better than he does himself.

The young man who is ignorant of the use of soap and water, and hairbrush and comb and other toilet requisites, and the young man who is so wrapped up in the use of these that he has thought for little else.

The young man who wears flashy jewelry, exhales and odor of musk, wears wide stripes, daring cravats, violent checks, and is generally “horsey.”

To this may be added: The young man whose lusterless eyes and soiled fingers proclaim him a cigaret smoker.

It looks to me as if this list could–with a little work–be considered, in today’s phrase, quite “gender neutral,” and with the addition of a few more strictures, might still be of use.

I’d probably add something about “the young man with with a safety pin through his nose, and triangular metal blocks surgically inserted under his scalp, and who thinks himself a coxcomb in all senses of the word,” and “the young man who is constantly jawboning with his co-workers about how much he hates his job, at the same time as he is ‘serving’ a customer.” I daresay we could come up with many more of these if we put our minds to it. Advice for the ages, indeed.

Do you have a weakness for, or a collection of, old books or periodicals? A favorite second-hand bookstore or Internet source for same? Do you collect because you’re researching for a job or avocation, for financial reasons, or as a hobby, or do you simply collect what interests you?

Please share.

Just don’t be immoderate with your responses. And for heaven’s sake, don’t be “horsey.” Whatever that means.

2 thoughts on “It’s Still Good Advice From ‘The Moderator’”

  1. I have something of a weakness for old history textbooks. They fascinate for many reasons, not the least of which is that they are usually better written, and less copiously stuffed with drively charts, graphs, photos, or other superfluous illustrations (if you can write, and assume your reader can read, you don’t need photos and charts that often serve as the analog of the tourist SPEAKING SLOWLY AND SHOUTING trying to make a point to a disinterested listener who doesn’t speak your language). But the real interest for me is that these old books show what was important at the time they were written – revealing odd details and major squabbles of eras that today, even in the better textbooks barely merit a sentence. The past compresses, and meanings are lost as the living memories die off, and we can no longer understand or connect with those who went before. These old textbooks, even when they are hilariously wrong about things (e.g. racial theory, American jingoism) at least bring our ancestors back to life.

    Another way to think about this is to take some trinket or tchotchke you have about the house, and then try to convey to others why you have it, and what it means to you. “Well, you see, your great-grandfather got that for me when I was 5, and he died when I was 6 – it’s one of my last connections to him.” Now your kids may understand that, if they ask, and if you tell them. But what about that weird coin in the junk drawer? Or the key you saved from your childhood home? When we’re gone, those meanings, those reasons why those bits were saved, are gone, and it’s just so much stuff to someone else – like an old battered album of unlabeled photos from a distant aunt. Without the key of *meaning*, it’s just lifeless matter.

    The old history books are sometimes like finding the labels to the photos, or the memories of junk drawers, and thereby finding the lives that once animated these things with meaning.

    1. Lovely comment, and I wholeheartedly agree. My dad’s side of the family was very much given to sharing and passing both things and stories down the generations. My mother’s family was just the opposite, and I know very little, and have very little from that side. I remember citing an article some years ago which talked about how healthy it is to have a strong sense of family history, for the same reason that you like old history books–that it brings your ancestors–warts and all–to life.

      I also enjoy old history books. Old encyclopedias are a lot of fun, too.

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