“A little learning is a dang’rous thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:
There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
And drinking largely sobers us again.
–from “Essay on Criticism,” by Alexander Pope
Things are not always as they seem, the video.
Now I don’t know what the people who made the advertisement want to say, and hence I don’t know if I’d agree with their message — do they want to say the educational system needs change? do they want to say anything goes and don’t judge? do they want to say the educational system stifles creativity? — but to me the video illustrates how we should not jump to conclusions, should look at the big picture, and should, objectively, put evidence in its proper context, in its proper relationship with other evidence and principles.
The parents, teacher, doctors and nurses are presented as jumping to conclusions, as failing to engage in proper induction: they think each piece of paper is all, in and of itself, in isolation to anything. They fail to relate part to whole, detail to abstraction — a critical aspect of thinking rationally.
The Greeks were masters of relating part to whole.
Edith Hamilton said:
Character is a Greek word, but it did not mean to the Greeks what it means to us. To them is stood first for the mark stamped upon the coin, and then for the impress of this or that quality upon a man, as Euripides speaks of the stamp — character — of valor upon Hercules, man the coin, valor the mark imprinted on him. To us a man’s character is that which is peculiarly his own; it distinguishes each one from the rest. To the Greeks it was a man’s share in qualities all men partake of; it united each one to the rest. We are interested in people’s special characteristics, the things in this or that person which are different from the general. The Greeks, on the contrary, thought what was important in a man were precisely the qualities he shared with all mankind.
The distinction is a vital one. Our way is to consider each separate thing alone by itself; the Greeks always saw things as parts of a whole, and this habit of mind is stamped upon everything they did. It is the underlying cause of the difference between their art and ours. Architecture, perhaps, is the clearest illustration. The greatest buildings since Greek days, the cathedrals of the Middle Ages, were built, it would seem, without any regard to their situation, place haphazard, wherever it was convenient. Almost invariably a cathedral stands low down in the midst of a huddle of little houses, often as old or older, where it is marked by its incongruity with the surroundings. The situation of the building did not enter into the architects’ plans. They were concerned only with the cathedral itself. The idea never occurred to them to think of it in relation to what was around it. It was not part of a whole to them; it was the whole. But to the Greek architect the setting of his temple was all-important. He planned it, seeing it in clear outline against sea or sky, determining its size by its situation on plain hilltop or the wide plateau of an acropolis. It dominated the scene, indeed; it became through his genius the most important feature in it, but it was always part of it. He did not think of it in and for itself, as just the building he was making; he conceived of it in relation to the hills and the sea and the arch of the sky. (pp. 221-222, The Greek Way by Edith Hamilton, W.W. Norton & Company, (c) 1958, ISBN 0-393-00230-6.)
With our education corrupted by Dewey and Kant, Americans today, in contrast to the Greeks, tend to dismiss principles and abstractions; they tend to see — after a certain level of abstraction — most things as if they were isolated concretes. They don’t think “Leonardo Da Vinci was a model for us all because he embodied what is so great and essential to being human,” but they think “How cool is Britney Spears/Paris Hilton/Dennis Rodman because she/he is so different from everyone else!”
How sad. Spears/Paris/Rodman are about as unique and deep as the color of their hair or the vanity of their utterances.
Da Vinci was handsome, virile, strong, intelligent, rational, full of common sense, multi-talented, value-oriented, theoretical and practical. He was an individual, self-sovereign and his own man, who excelled at the virtues of living as a human on earth. We’d have more to learn by studying and listening to him in a day than we’d ever learn (positive) from Spears/Paris/Rodman across their lives.
But we’d have to focus in on the key attribute of men: our rational consciousness.
We should be deifying Frederick Douglass, not Dennis Rodman; Abigail Adams, not Paris Hilton; Sappho, not Britney Spears. We need to learn from Aristotle, Socrates, Plato, Thucydides, Herodotus, Euclid, Aristarchus, Thales, Archimedes, Minos of Crete, Lycurgus of Sparta, Solon of Athens.
We need to be like the child in the video.
We’re strangling our chilrens’ and our own creativity because we are not relating part to whole, finding new connections, bringing together seemingly disparate ideas or fields, engaging in induction, deduction, and rigorous observation — we are not embracing reason (because we were not trained to in school, and our contemporary does not value reason). The Greeks did; people of the Enlightenment and Renaissance did; people in early America did. In those times in history there was a massive release of creative energy. We need to emulate them for the characteristic that made it possible: devotion to reason (and by implication, freedom and reality). Creativity, creativity of things useful and beautiful, is unleashed and flourishes only with the full, rigorous use of reason.