A Manual of Education

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A Manual of Education  (1910) 
by Stephen Leacock
Appeared in Literary Lapses, published in 1910.

The few selections below are offered as a specimen page of a little book which I have in course of preparation.

Every man has somewhere in the back of his head the wreck of a thing which he calls his education. My book is intended to embody in concise form these remnants of early instruction.

Educations are divided into splendid educations, thorough classical educations, and average educations. All very old men have splendid educations; all men who apparently know nothing else have thorough classical educations; nobody has an average education.

An education, when it is all written out on foolscap, covers nearly ten sheets. It takes about six years of severe college training to acquire it. Even then a man often finds that he somehow hasn't got his education just where he can put his thumb on it. When my little book of eight or ten pages has appeared, everybody may carry his education in his hip pocket.

Those who have not had the advantage of an early training will be enabled, by a few hours of conscientious application, to put themselves on an equal footing with the most scholarly.

The selections are chosen entirely at random.

                                  I.--Remains of Astronomy

Astronomy teaches the correct use of the sun and the planets. These may be put on a frame of little sticks and turned round. This causes the tides. Those at the ends of the sticks are enormously far away. From time to time a diligent searching of the sticks reveals new planets. The orbit of a planet is the distance the stick goes round in going round. Astronomy is intensely interesting; it should be done at night, in a high tower in Spitzbergen. This is to avoid the astronomy being interrupted. A really good astronomer can tell when a comet is coming too near him by the warning buzz of the revolving sticks.

                                  II.--Remains of History

Aztecs: A fabulous race, half man, half horse, half mound-builder. They flourished at about the same time as the early Calithumpians. They have left some awfully stupendous monuments of themselves somewhere.

Life of Caesar: A famous Roman general, the last who ever landed in Britain without being stopped at the custom house. On returning to his Sabine farm (to fetch something), he was stabbed by Brutus, and died with the words "Veni, vidi, tekel, upharsim" in his throat. The jury returned a verdict of strangulation.

Life of Voltaire: A Frenchman; very bitter.

Life of Schopenhauer: A German; very deep; but it was not really noticeable when he sat down.

Life of Dante: An Italian; the first to introduce the banana and the class of street organ known as "Dante's Inferno."

Peter the Great,
Alfred the Great,
Frederick the Great,
John the Great,
Tom the Great,
Jim the Great,
Jo the Great, etc.,
etc.

It is impossible for a busy man to keep these apart. They sought a living as kings and apostles and pugilists and so on.


                              III.--Remains of Botany

Botany is the art of plants. Plants are divided into trees, flowers, and vegetables. The true botanist knows a tree as soon as he sees it. He learns to distinguish it from a vegetable by merely putting his ear to it.


                             IV.--Remains of Natural Science

Natural Science treats of motion and force. Many of its teachings remain as part of an educated man's permanent equipment in life. Such are:

(a) The harder you shove a bicycle the faster it will go. This is because of natural science.
(b) If you fall from a high tower, you fall quicker and quicker and quicker; a judicious selection of a tower will ensure any rate of speed.
(c) If you put your thumb in between two cogs it will go on and on, until the wheels are arrested, by your suspenders. This is machinery.
(d) Electricity is of two kinds, positive and negative. The difference is, I presume, that one kind comes a little more expensive, but is more durable; the other is a cheaper thing, but the moths get into it.


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1923.

The author died in 1944, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 60 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.