I’ve been reading about fools lately.
First there was Finzel the Farsighted, by Paul Fleischman. (1983, OOP)
“I don’t wish to worry you,” said Finzel, “but I’m afraid you’re not in the best of health.”
Pavel’s eyes opened wide. His hands began trembling.
“The lemon shows plainly that last Tuesday night you had the misfortune to come down with a cold….if I were you, I’d run straightaway home, jump into bed, and stay there.”
Pavel’s whole body began to shake. Though young and in the best of health, no sooner had he heard the fortune-teller’s words than he began to imagine himself ripe for the grave.
Then I came across Leo Tolstoy’s fable “Three Rolls and a Pretzel,” sometimes called “Three Rolls and a Doughnut.”
Feeling very hungry one day, a peasant bought himself a large roll and ate it. But he was still hungry, so he bought another roll and ate it. Still hungry, he bought a third roll and ate it. When the three rolls failed to satisfy his hunger, he bought some pretzels. After eating one pretzel, he no longer felt hungry. Suddenly he clapped his hand to his head and cried, “What a fool I am! Why did I waste all those rolls? I ought to have eaten a pretzel in the first place!”
Recently I was given a gift card for a local bookstore. I bought a recently-published, fairly large compendium that promised to teach a little about a lot of different Big Ideas. After reading what the author had to say about a couple of things I did know something about—like Christianity—I was unimpressed enough to return the whole thing to the store. (Something I don’t think I’ve ever done before.) It wasn’t because I’m that thin-skinned about religious matters, but because I felt I couldn’t trust his judgment enough to be accurate about the things I didn’t know anything about.
And in a way, that was a good thing. It reminded me that you can’t take shortcuts to learning, even with an erudite guide. Some things you’re just going to have to work out for yourself. Some learning is meant to take time.
The irony of the whole thing was that when I went back to the bookstore to get the credit put back on the gift card, a local cookbook author was doing a signing (and tasting), and I ended up buying a copy of her new book. So much for any lingering intellectual pretensions I might have entertained. I felt even less Mother-educated when I started re-reading Marva Collins’ Way right afterward, and realized that not only have I never read Candide, I wasn’t even sure who wrote it. (I looked it up. It’s by Voltaire.)
Should I have just kept whacking my way through the encyclopedia of thought?
Should I run out and get Candide from the library?
Should I spend less time reading cookbooks and more time reading Hard Books? (The cookbook I bought was a slow cooker book, so you could say that’s a sneaky way to get in more Real Reading Time.)
Well, I do have my own Real Reading list for the year, in addition to school books I’m reading with my girls. Marva Collins inspired me to read some of Emerson’s essays; I’ve read the entire C.S. Lewis Space Trilogy; and I’m waiting for the library to get a copy of All Things Shining: Reading the Western Classics to Find Meaning in a Secular Age, by Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelly. I’ve also been thumbing through my favourite illustrated edition of Paradise Lost. But not because I’m trying to sound intellectual—it’s just a very good book. Oh—and I recently came across a very inexpensive but very nice edition of The Compleat Angler. So I’m also learning something about fish.
And in the end, isn’t that what Educating Mother is all about?
No, not fish. I mean the process of reading and thinking for ourselves. Look at where you’ve been, how far you’ve come, how much you’ve already learned and built up. God allows our best learning to build up in small steps.
And there’s nothing foolish about that. (Even if we never get to the pretzel.)
Mama Squirrel is a mother of three in Ontario, Canada.
She blogs about homesquirreling and the rest of life at Dewey’s Treehouse.