Reprise from my own meditations on quotations:

Quotations, too, participate in various genres. Some are illustrative, some are authoritative, some are epigraphs. And like drawings, quotations often need to be accompanied by words.

This leads me to an example. For the longest time, I resisted A.S. Neill’s contention in Summerhill: A Radical Approach to Child Rearing that manners could not be taught. This opening to the chapter on “Manners” buckled against my experience and the wise practice of my parents who inculcated in me not only a sympathy for etiquette but also a moral value in treating everyone with dignity and respect. I sincerely thought that I was taught this. Neill tells it otherwise:

To have good manners means to think of others, no — to feel for others. One must be group-conscious, have the gift of putting oneself in the other man’s shoes. Manners prohibit the wounding of anyone. To be mannerly is to have genuine good taste. Manners cannot be taught, for they belong to the unconscious.

Well. For ages, I just thought this was wrong. Until it dawned upon me that we have different meanings of “to teach”. I now recall from the movies the line that proceed a wallop of a whipping: “I’m gonna teach ya a lesson.” Teaching for me is less about pounding points into some one as seducing through mimesis: modelling discrete elements that are readily imitated and encouraging repetition with variation to make what is acquired innate.

Most ironically, in my copy of Summerhill I had copied onto a yellow sticky a listing of virtues from the foreword by Eric Fromm and remarked how they aligned with the traditional cardinal virtues (prudence, temperance, justice and fortitude). And marvellously when I returned to the context, I found the important characterization of teaching as non-violent. See:

Neill shows uncompromising respect for life and freedom and a radical negation of the use of force. Children reared by such methods will develop within themselves the qualities of reason, love, integrity, and courage, which are the goals of Western humanistic tradition.

What is shown is open to imitation. What is sown without coercion is adopted without compunction. And sometimes not immediately. And sometimes not at all. It’s the difference between teaching and learning.

And so for day 884

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