Erasmus: Do you see that burning boat, the Emile?
Anthony: See it!? Its smoke is clogging (sputter!) my lungs.
E: Let’s steer toward her and offer assistance.
A: We are nearly there.
E: Ahoy, there. Is anyone hurt?
Captain: We have lost our compass, and don’t know which direction to take.
E: Whither are you bound?
C: We have been foundering on the Sea of Learning, but are destined for the School of Athens to replenish their supplies, and to carry tidings of recent innovations. To be blunt: they’re doing it all wrong.
Erasmus: Wrong? This is serious. How may we help you?
Anthony: Your vessel is taking on water. Be brief or risk losing the entire cargo.
Captain: We bear three great chests, each filled to capacity with valuable books and instruments.
E: Our boat is small, and yours will rapidly vanish beneath the waves under excess weight. Quickly explain the provisions you bear to Athens, and we shall determine which may be thrown overboard in order to save the rest and transport you to safety.
A: I see that one is stamped FRAGILE. What does it hold?
C: That most precious of cargoes is the sea chest of common core standards. We can’t get rid of them. Without such standards, each tutor in the School of Athens might be subject to her or his own whims. Aristotle, that infamous pupil of Plato, is said to have become so independent that he prefers to found his own academy on different grounds! Such independence and strong-headedness in a pupil defeats the purpose of the school. It is beneficial to require uniformity and conformity with a proper set of standards so that all the educated people of Athens may enter into dialogue about ideals, politics, religion, literature, and philosophy. In truth, there is a rising fear in Athens that if we cannot supply the relief that these standards represent, the administration risks students making their own uninformed decisions about learning, the tutors risk losing resistance to the growing student forces, and the parents — adamant that their children grow up to become well-remunerated and famed gladiators in the Arena; or masters of practical arts such as accounting and reinventing wheels — threaten to remove their children from the School of Athens and place them in trade schools!
A: Such fears are not without foundation, Erasmus. Clearly, Captain, you cannot do without that chest.
E: We shall see; it certainly appears important. What about that trunk off to the starboard, which looks a bit like a theater trunk. Are those handbills pasted on it?
C: Certainly! Handbills from recent productions of Antigone, The Frogs, Oedipus the King, and Medea. You also might see a few smudges of theatrical powder, greasepaint, and the soot from a stage explosion or two to set off the imaginations of the audience, slightly singeing the back portion of the dancers’ costumes. This trunk comes direct from the Fringe Festival at Thebes with the most recent imaginative writings, paintings, scultures, masks, and poems; traditional and recent musical instruments are included, along with plans for creating one’s own. The trunk also contains pigment, parchment, canvas, clay, textiles, and toys. Its direction label reads simply PLAY.
E: I am surprised your crew has not been tempted to open the trunk and inspect its contents to relieve the boredom of a long voyage.
A: Is that a feather boa peeking out from under the lid there?
C: May I say, sirs, the evenings do get long, and the men need a bit o’ fun. No harm done to the contents, mind you. In-tact! In-tact.
E: It certainly seems a shame to cast that trunk overboard.
A: What is in the third and last casket, over to portside?
C: It’s a bit of a jumble, really. Telescopes, lenses, magnifiers, mirrors, measuring tapes, cooking ladles, teaspoons, beakers, scales, pencils, ink. Tools for measuring the intensity of light, of color, and thickness of the blood, one’s temperament or the temperature of the air; it contains the means for assessing, exploring, experimenting, and discovering things about the material world, and even a few spells and such for transforming elements of one sort into another. TOOLS FOR DISCOVERY it’s marked.
E: It seems we have a dilemma. If any of these chests is not delivered to Athens, we risk opening a Pandora’s box, and education might run amok.
A: It is a choice between “what is important to learn”, “tools for learning”, and “imaginative play”? It seems easy to cast away the first trunk, which contains mere standards, for it is obvious to anyone that Greek, Latin, and the modern languages are the foundation of all learning. You needn’t have a box o’ books to tell you that.
C: And as to tools, Greek and Latin again, that happy couple, taught me all the grammar and logic I ever got; I put my bid in for the trunk with the instruments, though. Where would I be without my navigation equipment?
E: It doesn’t appear to have helped you in this instance. We must think quickly. What are the true essentials of learning? What can no pupil do without, if he is to learn?
A: A pair of shoes; a good meal.
C: Curiosity, an adventurous spirit!
A: The ability to make connections between the schoolroom and the real world.
C: he should know enough about the past and present to make predictions about the future–
A: …Know who we are, where we came from, where we are headed–
C: …Ancient wisdom, new ideas, the tradewinds; if there is no understanding of tradewinds, there is no commerce; without commerce, you may as well scrap any ideas of work and finance. We’d all be slaves.
E: You are saying that a kind of freedom depends on our choices here. Without freedom, students are condemned either to serve others, or to make decisions without any knowledge. Their hands would be tied. Further, certain dispositions must exist in order to learn: a pupil is fed, clothed, and curious. Which of the trunks contain apparel, nourishment, or curiosity?
C: None, I’m afraid, except PLAY. But those are only costumes.
E: And it is Curiosity that determines whether a student opens the sea chest of learning in the first place. If we could discriminate between the items in these trunks most likely to invite learners and their pedagogues to open the lids and discover for themselves….
Captain: I have it! Rename the caskets MYSTERY, PUZZLES, and DANGER!
Erasmus: You may be on to something. But we still have too much weight; you may solve the Athens problem, but not the immediate one. See those rain clouds? In a moment they will hover above both our vessels, sinking yours and drenching everything. We must get at least one trunk stowed away in our own ship or else this entire colloquy will have been pointless.
A: What if we reorganized the caskets, so that the learning standards incorporated certain tools, and play? For instance, Captain, suppose I was curious to learn how to reach the nearest shore from here. Which equipment would I require?
C: Well, the spyglass for one. And I’m not sayin’ a well-thumbed copy of the Good Book wouldn’t harm ye none. A current map, showing the reefs nearby. Some astronomy charts, and an atlas. It helps to know which way the wind is blowin’. You also want to be able to imagine yourself arrivin’ alive. That means planning out your water usage, figgerin’ out how long the journey will take. Lots of planning involved. And teamwork. You wouldn’t want to have to do it all alone.
E: What if we send only a token to Athens. A symbol of imagination, a symbol of technology, and a symbolic standard? It seems we are saying the best pupils will make what they must out of a few ideas. Necessity and curiosity will urge them to utilize any tools and talents they can bring to a problem. Won’t the tutor offer them the incentive to learn?
A: One can only hope; my own pedagogue offered me the switch more often than the carrot.
E: We might reassemble a mixture, as you say, in a single trunk, emptying the other two. What if we labeled one TRANSFORMATIONS, filling it with costumery, cookery, alchemy, metaphysics, and Ovid?
A: I see, and another DISCRIMINATIONS — filled with tools for making fine distinctions BETWEEN books, animals, stars, and trade routes? That would teach pupils to listen to senators’ arguments and determine their validity and truth.
C: But don’t you see, we would still be missing the point of it all, “Explorations!” I would include philosophy, literature, music and art, as well as shipbuilding.
E: Effective, but we are back to the problem of 3 trunks again. It seems an impossible task.
[Part 2 to follow in the next post]
WHAT PLAN WOULD YOU SUGGEST FOR SAVING THE Emile?