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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Frugality and Education as Necessary Evils: Milton and Mascara

Part 2 of my meditation on this topic. I realized that I did not touch on the issue of education. "Education as necessary evil": that just makes my blood run cold.

Of course, I am a teacher, so my thoughts are probably self-serving. After all, I teach Milton and Shakespeare, Homer and Virgil. Useless stuff to many, to be endured rather than cherished.

What is education anyway? From the blog Word Power: So there you have it folks, the word educate is directly derived from the Latin word educare, which was constructed by combining the two words, ex and ducere. The literal translation of educate is to draw out of, lead out of, etc. The Romans considered educating to be synonymous with drawing knowledge out of somebody or leading them out of regular thinking. The Romans developed the noun, educatio from the verb educare.

To lead out or to draw out. We see an enactment of this concept in Milton's Paradise Lost, where education leads Eve out of narcissism. And we see it later with Adam, when he asks God for a mate. God doesn't simply give Adam a mate (and He could, because He's God; and He knows he will, because He has foresight). Instead, God asks Adam a series of questions about WHY he wants a mate. At the end of this process of education, it is not God who knows (since He already knew); it is Adam who knows.

Another great moment from Milton, this time from an essay called "Of Education." The end then of learning is to repair the ruin of our first parents... Thus education can lead us OUT of ourselves and help us attain what Milton later calls a"paradise within."

From these lofty heights of high art, let us return to Walgreens and mascara. What education might be involved in that frugal episode? What did my 18 year old daughter learn when she asked me to look for her mascara of choice on sale?

1. WAIT: delaying gratification can be a useful life skill (have your pizza AFTER you finish your homework).

2. ANTICIPATE YOUR NEEDS: My daughter had some mascara left when she asked; she did not wait for a mascara emergency.

3. MOMS WILL HELP YOU REACH YOUR GOAL: We are a family and on the same team.

4. FRUGALITY DOES NOT MEAN DEPRIVATION: You got your mascara and some cashews.

So how can education be evil?


Revanche said...

Can I be a little bit cynical here? The major reason education is cast as an "evil" is because we're frankly ...spoiled and lazy. Once, the limiting factor of education was money: pursuing education was a luxury and more of those scholars valued it. Since the advent of public education, it's no longer a scarce or appreciated commodity, it's become despised and dismissed because we take it for granted. The association thereafter is then that education, in a general manner, is less than prized by the general population.

[I come at this from a very different background, knowing that just in my parents' generation one had very few choices in life and pursuing education was a luxury reserved for the wealthy or the very high-scoring, intelligent and lucky of the masses. As a male, your other "choice" was to become a soldier. Gives me a whole new appreciation for the kinds of educational opportunities my generation has.]

Duchesse said...

As I said in part one, the phrase "necessary evil" does not mean evil in a moral sense, but more broadly, something which has undesirable qualities BUT is preferable to its absence.

Some people don't enjoy learning, or find it difficult. The reasons may be temperamental, physical or the result of negative early experiences. Sometimes people are in the educational system so long they just get sick of the grind. I've always found time spent within the educational system okay-to- pleasant, more fun than 80% of the jobs I've had, but not everyone thinks so.

Frugal Scholar said...

@Revanche--Very thoughtful. I am not too far removed from immigrants (first generation on one side; second on the other). Perhaps that is why I retain such reverence for education!

@Duchesse--I know. You're right. But I'm right too.

Funny about Money said...

One reason education is so devalued in America as to be considered a "necessary evil" is that what we call education isn't: it's voc-ed. Or, more recently, one variety or another of baroque fraud.

We also have the confusion, in the minds of the right-wingers who have so long dominated the political and cultural scene, between "liberal arts" and "liberalism." Being themselves products of an educational system that is somewhat wanting, these folks don't know what "liberal" means in the term "liberal arts," and so assume a broad education is part of the vast left-wing conspiracy. Hence liberal education is as deeply hated as liberalism of the political and cultural varieties.

My favorite passage in Milton is from Areopagitica: "I cannot praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue, unexercised and unbreathed, that never sallies out and sees her adversary, but slinks out of the race where that immortal garland is to be run for, not without dust and heat."