With the above Latin phrase, yes, I’m at it again.

Is this relentless snobbery or an effort to broaden our worldview? I hope for the second, but you’ll be the judge. The phrase comes from a book in which I made my first scribbles. Truly. Pages bear my first attempts to form meaning in lines that had none. Perhaps not much has changed, say you.

OK. A fair observation, but like many another toddler I believed stray pencil swirls were the true deal worthy of addition to a book of nursery rhymes.  

Did my parents with a grammar school education who supplied the book believe I’d understand Latin? Doubtful as is the book’s editor thinking the wee ones would instinctively grasp and become Latin scholars. I’d bed none, including those who put money behind a book project for children, involved thought anything so baseless and foolish. So, shy put it in if none for a second believed (do you?) toddlers were yearning for Latin?

Lacking certain proof, I’ll suggest they did so in the belief that children are not stupid and can accept the fact of a wider world where there is much outside their pudgy-fingered grasp.  

Beginning with a Latin phrase doesn’t sound like a piece about education, but, if patient, you might see it is. My suspicion is this. My parents and the book editor and publisher believed in education improving the individual at the pace of that individual.

The other interpretation, which in this case seems incorrect, is education done in service of the collective, of society as a whole. The two can never be entirely separated, making them, as I see it Ying-Yang parts of a whole. Strong well-educated individuals, it can be argued, make for a stronger society. But if one puts society or the collective in priority then strong individuals often become a problem for the one: One Will – One People – One Party – etc.  

So, what was this book that set baby Harry onto a path where infantile scribbles led to this? My Book House published in the notorious heated bed of 1937 Chicago with Olive Miller as general editor for the 12-book series. I can try to make the books sound in some way infamous or the editor a secret force for activism. But I can’t. That’s because the material in this book was a good faith effort to educate by using nursery rhymes.

Yes, yes, biased by using English and relying on European sources. Bear in mind a similar book from Haiti would be in French, Aruba in Dutch, or Mexico in Spanish. Also note Olive’s choice of material went well over the map to include Africa, Japan, China and etc. along with including notable authors. Kate Greenaway is in there along with Shakespeare, Tennyson and others.

I doubt Olive expected a 5-year-old to have scholarly appreciation. She simply selected worthy material covering a goody range.  

Her educational scheme, I suspect, focused on individual growth trusting that here or there an individual seed would take root in ways impossible to predict in soil over which she had no control. She was the sower. Not the crop or result. An educational approach emphasizing the collective might prefer highlighting Olive’s struggles in the patriarchy or their role in a trans setting. Emphasis in those areas says the social product is more important than the individual. Conflict between individual and society/collective is not an easy one, not do I think it can be solved. Both will be present and disharmony will be there.

Lionizing one or pre-scripting an outcome either way is concern no toddler doing his first scribbles or conscientious editor can either predict or control. Grand schemes of Atlas shrugging or the People as monolith will never, in my view, accommodate the complexity and uniqueness found in individuals and their societies. Trying to control the destiny of either seems to me cruel madness with Greek Gods looking down on scenes of comic tragedy.  

Nuff of that. Whenever the shriek winds of contention blow too hard I duck out of the gale and look around for solid ground. In general, people still care about and look after each other. The effort of parents who likely scrimped to provide Olive’s books for their small incompetent wasn’t entirely wasted. Was it? I hope not as I hope you yourself know some solid ground to root. I’ll spare you comment about building on shifting sand. We know it’s unwise, and yet we ourselves often do it and know others involved in the cycle like dogs caught up chasing their forever fleeing tails.

Tiring. Believe me. I know.  

As a break from the tempest how ‘bout if I ask you to name a worthy author from a mere four generations past. That puts us off the beaten path, a good place to be in terms of catching one’s breath and looking around for something solid. OK then. Did the name Booth Tarkington pop right up as an author of repute? Likely not.

Who remembers that star from a century ago? Few is my guess. Am I correct? Did Booth’s famous character Penrod come quickly to mind and lips or not at all?  

Penrod, not a name I’d inflict on a character, seems a cross between Sawyer, T and Finn, H, but with too-too much mawkish Tom and Huckleberry with nowhere to go. Now see, familiarity with T and H gives us some basis for considering Booth’s character, P. From a collective point of view author and character can be assessed in terms of class, race, or ethnicity.

Plenty to chew on and reject, though some of Tarkington’s observations are, if too slantedly pointed, apt enough in my view. I suspect the omniscient (always problematical) author tried too hard at building an edifice of thought with insufficient material. But also understand Tarkington is a Midwesterner, itself a failing to impress the real (Eastern) forces of American letters. But here, poor forgotten Penrod is both individual and part of our collective. To understand the narrative go back to sources.