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September 20, 2009

Cultural Literacy: Get some.

Doubtless there was an element of cultural snobbery in my initial preference for things Gallic: their Romantics seemed more romantic than ours, their Decadents more decadent, their Moderns more modern. Rimbaud versus Swinburne was simply no contest; Voltaire seemed just smarter than Dr. Johnson.

--Julian Barnes, b. 1946, in Something to Declare (Random House 2002)


Spread the word. Fly the colors. Get your head out of your ass. French school systems--with the arguable exception of the subject of history--are reputed to teach children of all social classes the Arts and the Humanities, and more. To them, a real education is not a luxury--but a necessity for life. Knowing something about the great ideas, great books, languages, dance, painting and world history should not be like an optional feature to a car--as Brit author Julian Barnes once characterized the Western view of 'an education' in Something to Declare.

A full and robust education is not just for the rich and well-born. Maybe that is what makes the French so, well, infuriatingly French.

After all, the French are, Barnes noted:

designed by God to seem as provokingly dissimilar from the British as possible. Catholic, Cartesian, Mediterranean; Machiavellian in politics, Jesuitical in argument, Casanovan in sex; relaxed about pleasure, and treating the arts as central to life, rather than some add-on, like a set of alloy wheels.

Come live in the world. In Olden Times, lawyers in the West aspired to be men and women of letters, people of the world, and real leaders. Ten or fifteen, maybe, still are. But it's not too late to get your head out of your wazoo. Stop watching television. Read "the old guys", study some world history, learn a language, take Spiegel, see a play, travel, and talk with people Who Are Different Than You. Invite your family and friends.

Spread the word. Fly the colors. Get your head out of your ass.

Education is not just about getting a trade, a profession or job.


Posted by JD Hull at September 20, 2009 12:59 AM


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