Persian University Letter No. 2
Inquiry Among the Prophezzors
My dear Usbek,
Since last I wrote you I have learned a great deal more about the strange ways of these education mongers at Dravrah. The most remarkable unanimity exists among the Prophezzors. They all say, "Yes, we are educating men," and each one convinces me for the moment that his own work is the principal cog in the machine. But when I push my question further and ask just what this important process is which they call "education" no two of them agree.
One of them, a Prophezzor of history I believe he was told me. "We store these young men's heads with facts. When they leave us they can rattle of all the scandals of the royal household from the time of King Feraburz down to the last imperial debauch. They can speculate in a way that is delightful to hear upon the probable sequences of events if the King's favorite mistress hadn't run away with the Fourth Knight of the Backstairs. In short, I make the Satellites see the collective importance of little things."
The next Prophezzor also a disciple of Clio denied the first outright: "My aim is to get these young men to view the world in the large. I train them to follow trends, to trace movements, to see universals. If you hold a coin near enough to your eye, it will blot out the sun. Perspective is the word Perspective!"
I next approached a dignified old Prophezzor whose erudition. I was told, is simply oppressive. "Knowledge is the basis of education" he explained. "Memory is the key to knowledge. My course on the poet Omar is the sine quo non of an education because it develops brain capacity. It is my practice to confront the Satellites with a brief quotation from some obscure poem. I then require them to cite chapter, verse, page and line, and to quote what precedes and follows, omitting every other word. None but the finest memory can do that." It was pitiful to see the four
ish of pride and conceit which accompanied this remarkable declaration.
The next Prophezzor had this to say: "Poise is the distinguishing mark of an educated man. And what is so conductive to poise as mastery of a foreign tongue? To acquire a new language is to acquire a new soul. It destroys narrowness, provincialism, and national conceit. It makes for sympathetic understanding. That is why we require the Satellites, all of them, to obtain a reading knowledge of either Chinese or Sanscrit, and an elementary knowledge of the other."
Another was equally assertive on his subject. "Science is the cornerstone of our education here at Dravrah. Every Satellite must spend two hours a week weighing, dissecting, analyzing, measuring, tabulating, deciphering, and cataloguing the natural elements. I teach these young men to think in terms of pounds, masses, kilometers, millimeters, gas meters, forces, actions, reactions, contractions, categories, Tropisnis, causes and effects. Precision in these matters discovers the why and wherefore which every educated man must know."
After hearing such varied opinions, my dear Usbek, I called to mind the table of the blind wise men of India who went to see an elephant, and after feeling different parts of him, fell to arguing over the essential nature of the beast. Each had some truth on his side, but all were wrong.
At last I met a kindly old Prophezzor whose face smiled benignity and humanity. When I asked what he was doing to further the cause of education, he shook his head. "It doesn't matter what you teach a young man, you can never educate him," he said. "It used to worry me when I saw how eagerly these upturned faces hung upon my words as if awaiting an oracle, and then how lightly they forgot what I had taken such pains to make clear. I discovered that the whole problem of education has been approached from the wrong end. It doesn't rest with us or our feeble efforts. In fact, we are not the educators at all. We think we are, and we make a great ado over systems, schedules, requirements, and examinations. The real educators are these young men, and most of them know it. Like young plants, they are building up their world from within and getting themselves adjusted to it just now, they are browsing about, picking up a precious bit of truth here in a lecture, there in a book, or yonder among their fellows. Our job is to give them a shock now and then and stimulate the endogenous development that each one must supervise for himself. That is all we can do, and when we try to do more, we hinder the process."
This unusual speech set me thinking my dear Usbek. If I am to discover the secret of education, it seems I must turn my attention to the young men, the Satellites. Mirza
The 2nd of the Moon
of Rhamazan, 1711