Now in my 85th. year I ask myself what do I know?
In this sense, do I know anything at all that I could in one-to-one, apprentice type situations pass on to someone else? How to play the violin, for example, how to describe the night sky, how to repair an automobile engine, and, particularly relevant to my own life as being a few of my own personal failures, the Russian language, differential equations, and any number of other like fascinating subject matters, including my reading of just this morning, “Is there a gene for Racism?” (No)
Haven’t the greatest among us acquired the requisite skills and knowledge of which I speak? And haven’t they through their works passed on to us at least to some extent their skills and understandings? Reading them and getting to know and to the extent possible understand their work has been the real story of my life.
Just in modern times I think of Shakespeare, Galileo and Newton in the 17th. century, of James Watt, Leonhard Euler, and Adam Smith of the 18th., of Edison, Pasteur, and Darwin in the 19th, and in our own time of of Einstein, Mandela, and Richard Feynman (whose Physics Lectures I’ve been struggling with all my life).
I have somehow lived a life, my life, and as I say above, have learned little or nothing myself, of substance, of real significance, let alone anything at all that I could, with the confidence that I would be heard and understood, pass on to someone else.
And the great irony of this is that, if I have accomplished anything in my 84 years, it’s that I’ve helped to found a school, school being, of course, where skills and knowledge are passed on to others. I have to admit that on my part the skills and knowledge were not there. Not there to start with, although I must have pretended that they were, and certainly not there now in my 85th year when I’m literally grasping at the straws of knowledge that are still out there, and to me still unknown, and that I still might make, with yet more struggle and hard work, my own.
Furthermore what then might I say now about my own role in an independent middle and high school that I founded and where my wife and I both worked many years? My role couldn’t have been my own ability and readiness to pass on to the young my own skills and knowledge which were minimal or non existent. What then could it have been?
To that question I think I may now know the answer. I seem to have, for most of my adult life, that which began in France the summer of 1951, while accomplishing little or nothing myself, I seem at least to have recognized what many others have accomplished, if only just a few of all those skills and knowledge that man has acquired during the tens of thousands of years of the common history of us, of humanity, of homo sapiens.
The acquisition of course, is still going on, and it may very well be accelerating. So what was my role in the school I founded with my wife? It does seem to me to be that I have almost always understood what at best school, any school ought to be most about, this being to help the young to come to something like “my own view” and recognition of what is the true achievement, the true greatness of man. That which is not there to begin with. Is it there, we would ask and hope, at the end of schooling?