The Whale’s White Hump
- Education is a hot topic for many good reasons.
- Indoctrination or freethinking? Group or individual?
- As homeschooling explodes, are socializing fears justified?
Nearly 25 years ago, I had bought the Easton Press’s One Hundred Greatest Books Series to bolster my meager literary knowledge.
My girlfriend was a literature major, and I thought my reading would be a great way to increase our conversational repertoire.
Alas, we wound up breaking up anyway. And I was left with these beautiful books that came once a month.
Ahab and The Whale
The first book EP sends is Moby Dick, a thick classic steeped in the minutia of whaling ships. I felt I could tie knots and sail after I had read it.
All great literature makes us feel as if we are there, in the midst of the narrative, sharing the trials and tribulations of both the protagonists and antagonists.
Like all things, we like those that make us feel smart.
And Melville’s writing does that. He doesn’t condescend for a sentence, making Moby Dick such lavish and challenging reading.
I was determined to get through it, though I’d never read a 600-page or so book before.
Some of it was tough going to be sure; I felt like a rusty weightlifter trying to lift his usual after a few months off.
But I got through, and I’m all the richer for it.
All that most maddens and torments; all that stirs up the lees of things; all truth with malice in it; all that cracks the sinews and cakes the brain; all the subtle demonisms of life and thought; all evil, to crazy Ahab, were visibly personified, and made practically assailable in Moby Dick.
He piled upon the whale’s white hump the sum of all the general rage and hate felt by his whole race from Adam down; and then, as if his chest had been a mortar, he burst his hot heart’s shell upon it.
There may not be a finer passage in all literature.
I remember reading those famous words for the first time and thinking, “Yes. That’s it. That’s why we read these books. That’s why they’re called Classics.”
So you can imagine my dismay when I saw Star Trek: First Contact, which is the finest of all the Next Generation films.
To hear Sir Patrick Stewart, classically-trained actor, a veteran of the Royal Shakespeare Company, butcher this passage was an affront to me.
I felt like a 22-year-old Waldorf and Statler-like critic!
Oh, I know why he did it.
Who knows what a “mortar” is today? Or in 1996, for that matter, before Her Majesty The Queen knighted him?
“His hot heart’s shell?” What? What is he talking about?
You can find the misquote here, right on IMDB. The bolds are mine:
Captain Jean-Luc Picard: [Quoting “Moby Dick”] And he piled upon the whale’s white hump, the sum of all the rage and hate felt by his whole race. If his chest had been a cannon, he would have shot his heart upon it.
Lily Sloane: What?
Captain Jean-Luc Picard: “Moby-Dick.”
Lily Sloane: Actually, I never read it.
Captain Jean-Luc Picard: Ahab spent years hunting the white whale that crippled him, a quest for vengeance, but in the end, it destroyed him and his ship.
Lily Sloane: I guess he didn’t know when to quit.
At least he didn’t butcher the message, I suppose.
Why do I bring this up?
Because no teacher ever taught me that.
No one ever made me read Moby Dick.
That isn’t a rebuke to the Hasbrouck Heights Junior-Senior High School English Department, which was easily the best assembly of teachers in my high school.
But life influences, circumstances, and desires fuel our need to further our education at one time or another.
And the sooner, the better.
Rude reader Dan Kippenberger reminded me of all this with an excellent commentary on the state of education.
Or, in The State’s parlance, the education of the state.
And that, my friend, is the problem in a nutshell.
1619 or 1776? That is the Existential Question…
Dan wrote to me about the 1776 Report, issued by the Trump Administration, in response to the New York Times’ 1619 Project.
Of course, The Cathedral awarded the Pulitzer Prize to Nicole Hannah-Jones for her work on The 1619 Project.
It’s plain to see why Trump felt a duty to strike back, so to speak. Here’s a list of essays that make up The 1619 Project:
- “America Wasn’t a Democracy Until Black Americans Made It One,” essay by Nikole Hannah-Jones
- “American Capitalism Is Brutal. You Can Trace That to the Plantation”, essay by Matthew Desmond
- “How False Beliefs in Physical Racial Difference Still Live in Medicine Today,” essay by Linda Villarosa
- “What the Reactionary Politics of 2019 Owe to the Politics of Slavery”, essay by Jamelle Bouie
- “Why Is Everyone Always Stealing Black Music?”, essay by Wesley Morris
- “How Segregation Caused Your Traffic Jam,” essay by Kevin Kruse
- “Why Doesn’t America Have Universal Healthcare? One Word: Race”, essay by Jeneen Interlandi
- “Why American Prisons Owe Their Cruelty to Slavery,” essay by Bryan Stevenson
- “The Barbaric History of Sugar in America,” essay by Khalil Gibran Muhammad
- “How America’s Vast Racial Wealth Gap Grew: By Plunder,” essay by Trymaine Lee
- “Their Ancestors Were Enslaved by Law. Now They’re Lawyers”, photo essay by Djeneba Aduayom, with text from Nikole Hannah-Jones and Wadzanai Mhute
We all have our frames. And if you’re African-American, you’re going to have a different frame to the one I grew up with.
But alleging America is America because of slavery is ludicrous.
And that’s where education becomes a battlefield.
An Education For All Must Be An Education For One, First
Murray Rothbard wrote a monograph called Education: Free and Compulsory.
Of course, Rothbard, as a libertarian, believes education should be tailored to each child’s needs.
Not only is this right and the best way to give the child the ability to absorb new concepts, but the alternative is the gateway to totalitarianism.
It is evident that the common enthusiasm for equality is, in the fundamental sense, anti-human. It tends to repress the flowering of individual personality and diversity, and civilization itself; it is a drive toward savage uniformity. Since abilities and interests are naturally diverse, a drive toward making people equal in all or most respects is necessarily a leveling downward. It is a drive against development of talent, genius, variety, and reasoning power. Since it negates the very principles of human life and human growth, the creed of equality and uniformity is a creed of death and destruction.
He goes on:
Since each person is a unique individual, it is clear that the best type of formal instruction is that type which is suited to his own particular individuality. Each child has different intelligence, aptitudes, and interests. Therefore, the best choice of pace, timing, variety, and manner, and of the courses of instruction will differ widely from one child to another.
And further writes:
It is obvious, therefore, that the best type of instruction is individual instruction. A course where one teacher instructs one pupil is clearly by far the best type of course. It is only under such conditions that human potentialities can develop to their greatest degree. It is clear that the formal school, characterized by classes in which one teacher instructs many children, is an immensely inferior system. Since each child differs from the other in interest and ability, and the teacher can only teach one thing at a time, it is evident that every school class must cast all the instruction into one uniform mold. Regardless how the teacher instructs, at what pace, timing, or variety, he is doing violence to each and everyone of the children. Any schooling involves misfitting each child into a Procrustean bed of unsuitable uniformity.
I couldn’t agree more.
Luckily, many Black families feel the same way:
This is thrilling, excellent news. These kids aren’t victims. In fact, with the help of their parents, they will have shrugged off that awful millstone.
They’ll thrive in this environment.
Even the liberal New Yorker seems to cheer this trend on.
In the fight between state-sponsored mularkey and parents’ looking out for their children’s best interests, support the parents.
I just hope they read Moby Dick at a younger age than I did. Light that fire early!
All the best,