In Praise of Folly

I am the floodgate of a reservoir about to burst. I have bottled up a lot of thoughts over the past six months. They’ve got to start spilling out soon and here on the blog is a good place to spill them. But I’ve also been thinking about writing a book about the Duluth School District and Education and our current troubles. Its perhaps the third book I’ve contemplated writing about the subject of the schools in Duluth. Will I write it? I think so but maybe I’ll get hit by a car tomorrow and lose my focus.

I’ve been contemplating a writing career to finish my life for the past decade or longer. The Blog has simply been good practice rather like scales for a beginning pianist. Its been a lot of scales. John Hay’s and John Niclolay’s ten volume history of Abe Lincoln that they spent fifteen years pounding out comes in at 1.2 million words. I’m sure Lincolndemocrat exceeds that by an easy doubling of verbiage. Like I said, that’s a lot of scales.

To the sake of becoming a writer I’ve been eyeing my attic for many years and fighting with Claudia about turning it into an office. I recently “won” the argument when I gave up our going on a 40th anniversary river cruise through Europe this summer. I’ll spend the money instead on fixing up the attic. Its not the first time my headstrong selfishness has cost Claudia. Every one of my fifteen campaigns for public office leading to twelve discouraging defeats has been a cross for her to bear. That may explain her foray into a seminary these days.

I’ve got a lot of things I’d like to write at the moment of a more bloggy nature than booky nature. Today I may start a column for the Trib in light of our recent contract settlement. I’m thinking about calling it “What ifs?.” That’s a response to a brief conversation I had with the Trib’s education reporter, Jana Hollingsworth, who told me quite rightly that my prediction of a grim future for the District was pretty speculative. I replied that five years ago I predicted that we would spend down our once formidable reserve (it was around $30 million at the time) to zip. Just as I was confident that that earlier prediction would come to pass…..and it did, I’m pretty confident that without some vast mid-course corrections we will end up in Statutory Operating Debt (bankruptcy) in four or five years.

That’s a lot to write about so for this post I’ll just warm the kettle.

When we got home from a delicious breakfast at Sarah’s Table this morning I found the attic door open. Claudia was putting some things away and our cat Moloch had gone up to hide in the playground it affords him. I decided to go up and survey the attic as I try to figure out how I want my new office to be laid out. I paused in front of one of several bookshelves we’ve put up and perused some of the many books I’ve acquired. My eye alighted on the book by the early Renasaince Scholar href=””>Erasmus. I don’t remember buying it but I’ve always been an omnivore where books are concerned and probably found it at a book sale. I am not that familiar with him but I’ve read about him in passing many times. He was quite the intellect. I pulled the book out opened it up at random and began reading a paragraph which presages my own thinking about humanity. I’ll quote it in a moment.

It was rather like the passage I read 40 years ago or so when I decided to read a passage from the Bible at random every day for the rest of my life. That decision lasted all of one day. What I read then I recall as something like: “He who calls another man a fool is a fool himself.” That was a brilliant passage and was perhaps all I needed to make use of my aborted plan to read the whole Bible. By the way, I’ve never found a Bible passage in any concordance that has the quote as I remember it. Pity!

The Internet is now my concordance of all literature and I just typed in the first half of the sentence to the paragraph I read in “In Praise of Folly.” The whole paragraph perfectly describes what I call “Usism or Us-ism, or USism. Here is the beginning of the paragraph:

And now I see that it is not only in individual men that nature has implanted self-love. She implants a kind of it as a common possession in the various races, and even cities. By this token the English claim, besides a few worthier things, good looks, music, and the best eating as their special properties. The Scots flatter themselves on the score of high birth and royal blood, not to mention their dialectical skill. Frenchmen have taken all politeness for their province; though the Parisian, brushing all others aside, also award themselves the prize of knowledge of theology. The Italians usurp belles lettres and eloquence; and they flatter themselves upon the fact that they alone, of all mortal men, are not barbarians. In this particular point of happiness the Romans stand highest, still dreaming pleasantly of ancient Rome. The Venetians are blessed with a belief of their own nobility. The Greeks, as well as being the founders of the learned disciplines, vaunt themselves upon their titles to the famous heroes of old. The Turks, and that whole rabble of the truly barbarous, claim praise for their religion, laughing at Christians as superstitious …

Erasmus did all his writing in Greek and Latin which put it beyond the common man of his Era and led to a very small circle of readers. Fortunately for me, a bonehead who speaks but one language, its been translated into English.

If and when I get down to writing my Unified Theory of the Duluth Schools I plan to write it in English. I’m not smart enough to write it in educationese or accounting bafflegab.

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