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What Practical Values & Precepts Ought, in

Your Opinion, to be Part of Liberal Education?

[It stands to reason that there should be education for living as well as education for making a living. So, why isn’t there? Part of the answer, in my opinion, is because of the failure to reach even a rough consensus on a set of values. Christopher Derrick was stating a truism when he wrote, ‘It is a fact of experience and common-sense that education has to be governed by some set of human values, however sharply we may disagree about the content of these.’ And my friend Fred was merely stating fact when he wrote in an email, ‘Historically, almost all education systems, at all levels, had quite explicit points of view on values.’ Theoretically then, it should be possible to find some values and precepts that enough people can agree on to justify teaching them to a child. It turns out to be remarkably problematic. Why is that? Does it, for instance, have anything to do with the state-sponsored, university-disseminated secular liberalism of Western societies? Whether or not you believe this to be the case, which practical values, starting with the following, would you put forward as candidates for a broad consensus? (Note that the italicized theme quotes are unavoidably vague and mainly function as mnemonics.)]

The art of pleasing consists in being pleased.

William Hazlitt

There are many people who know how to love and yet don’t know how to please.

I shouldn’t be surprised if the greatest rule of all weren’t to give pleasure.


The most important trait in determining a person’s attractiveness is the degree of their negativity: the more negative, the less attractive.

Good criticism combines the subtle pleasure in a thing being done well with the simple pleasure in it being done at all.

G. K. Chesterton

Always try to fall in with the suggestions of family or friends unless a) doing so would violate an important principle of yours, or b) doing so would almost certainly cause you to feel resentment for some reason or other.

I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.

It would seem as if a living creature had to be taught, like an art of culture, the art of protesting when it is hurt. It would seem as if patience were the natural thing; it would seem as if impatience were an accomplishment like bridge.

G. K. Chesterton

Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.

Fredrick Douglass

The pleasure of the moment begins to wither almost as soon as it blossoms; our pleasures are soon swallowed up in time’s relentless torrent.

Fr. Michel Quoist

That unchecked indulgence in the more obvious types of pleasure is unsatisfying, is the unanimous teaching of those who have had the leisure and opportunity to try them in all ages. It is the more unfortunate that it is a truth which nobody believes to be true until he has discovered it for himself. . . . You cannot take the kingdom of pleasure, any more than you can take the kingdom of beauty, by storm.

C. E. M. Joad

Instant gratification is bad psychology. Pleasure must be earned because part of its very intensity comes from resistance or self-control. To gratify every impulse at once destroys this intensity, as the breaking of a dam reduces all water to the same level.

A certain amount of excitement is wholesome, but, like almost everything else, the matter is quantitative. Too little may produce morbid cravings; too much will produce exhaustion. A certain power of enduring boredom is therefore essential to a happy life, and is one of the things that ought to be taught to the young.

Bertrand Russell

Those who are now pursuing pleasure are not only fleeing from boredom, but are acutely suffering from it.

G. K. Chesterton

[Amrita Sher-Gil was one of India’s most emminent painters, a glamourous and tragic woman who died at the age of 28 under mysterious circumstances. Six years earlier she and British journalist Malcolm Muggeridge were having an affair. In the passage below from his diary entry for June 16, 1935, the magic or wonder is still present in some aspects of her person, but already he realizes that it will fade with time. Is there any value in telling the young (and even the not-so-young) that there is no sensual, emotional, or aesthetic pleasure that can’t be made tedious by repetition, and therefore to maximize your enjoyment you must not drink too deeply at any one source?]

At a quarter to seven I took a bath, and changed into a light grey suit and put on a blue tie and bright shirt, because this was how Amrita liked me to be dressed. She came at eight, in a green sari with a gold and red border. She talked about her lovers, her terrible obsession with herself very apparent. Then, she took off her jewels and let down her hair. It was like a third performance of a marvellous play, all the fascination, the sense of wonder at it, remains; all the same, you realize that though you might like to see it ten or twenty more times, there’ll come a time when you don’t want to see it any more, when it’ll be wearisome.

What makes life dreary is want of motive.

George Eliot

People feel joy, as opposed to mere pleasure, to the extent that their activities are creative.

Ivan Illich

Playwriting gave [George Bernard Shaw] ‘moments of inexplicable happiness’ and when he tried to explain it to himself he was taken ‘out of the realm of logic into that of magic and miracle.’

Michael Holroyd

In the eighteenth century Coleridge, in his Biographia Literaria, had stated one human dilemma—we are naturally lazy and hate having anything to do: but we are easily bored and cannot bear having nothing to do. So we are forever inventing things to do which are equal to nothing.

Frank Sheed

When market dependence reaches a certain threshold it deprives people of their power to live creatively and to act autonomously. And precisely because this new impotence is so deeply experienced, it is expressed with difficulty.

Ivan Illich

Reading after a certain time diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking.

Albert Einstein

Reading is sometimes an ingenious device for avoiding thought.

Arthur Helps

When a thing bores you do not do it. Do not pursue a fruitless perfection.

Eugène Delacroix

The enlightened person is not easily bored. Nonetheless the enlightened person knows when he or she is being bored and knows for sure when she or he is not. No amount of spectacle or surface glamour should ever persuade you that you are not being bored when, in fact, you are.

Lister Sinclair (of CBC’s Ideas)

A former female associate of a prestigious Manhattan law-firm had this to say about her work: “At best it’s tedious, and at worst the tedium will kill you. It deadened my senses. I’d go out at lunch and find myself envying people who scooped ice cream for a living. At least they could daydream all day.”

I have tremendous likes and dislikes. I know exactly what I’m going to enjoy and what I can’t be bothered to plod through.

John Gielgud

Most people are deeply conditioned to distrust themselves.

Real knowledge is always acquired in the pursuit of real goals.

It can never be repeated often enough that nothing intellectual can be achieved in a field that does not attract us. Working in our vein, without a sense of effort, and, on the contrary, with a sense of ease and freedom, is the fundamental condition of a healthy mental operation.

Ernest Dimnet

Real interest is essential for concentration and creates it in an instant.

Ernest Dimnet

It is futile and vastly expensive to try to teach people things they are not motivated to learn.

Everyone knows that you can cram the material you need for an examination, but the moment you take the exam then you start to forget it.

As scarce as truth is, the supply has always been in excess of the demand.

Josh Billings

As soon as by one’s own propaganda even a glimpse of right on the other side is admitted, the cause for doubting one’s own right is laid.

Adolf Hitler

Propaganda cannot succeed without the complicity of those at whom it is aimed.

Jacques Ellul

The world always makes the assumption that the exposure of an error is identical with the discovery of the truth—that error and truth are simply opposite. They are nothing of the sort. What the world turns to, when it has been cured of one error, is usually simply another error, and maybe one worse than the first one.

H. L. Mencken

It is folly to expect people to do all that you would reasonably expect them to do.

A government that robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend upon the support of Paul.

George Bernard Shaw

I believe that force, mitigated as far as may be by good manners, is the ultima ratio [last resort, final argument], and between two groups of men that want to make inconsistent kinds of world I see no remedy except force. . . It seems to me that every society rests on the death of men.

Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes

In 1816, US Naval Commander Stephen Decatur raised a glass at a banquet held in his honour and spoke the famous words, “Our country! In her intercourse with foreign nations, may she always be in the right; but our country, right or wrong.”

There is no doubt that people with money tend not to get charged, not to get investigated, not to get tried, and not to get convicted. All along the line, the discretions get exercised in their favour.

Clayton Ruby

You get only the amount of justice you can afford, no more, no less.

Wilfrid Sheed

We are condemned to rub shoulders with injustice all our lives, and we are often judged by our acceptance of this fact. The spirit in which we manage it can even be said to be a measure of our maturity.

Peter Ustinov

It’s a sign of maturity not to be scandalized.

Flannery O’Connor

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